Wednesday, May 31, 2023

A Feathery Gap

The parakeets are still coming around our bird feeders, along with the occasional pigeon, robin, starling or woodpecker. I feel like I haven't seen as many tits lately, either blue tits or great tits -- no tittering from the peanut gallery, please.

Last night a parakeet showed up that had a huge chunk taken out of the feathers on its head. It looked like it had been pretty severely wounded, whether through fighting, mating or getting its head caught in something, I'm not sure. It's the bird in front in the photo above. Here's a closer look:

The wound had scabbed over, though, so it appears to be healing. I wonder if the feathers will grow back? Poor noisy, squawky thing!

Incidentally, I took these photos with my big camera, which you may remember was malfunctioning and giving me error messages when I last tried to use it. I switched out the data card and that seemed to help, and though it still has trouble with my standard lens, the zoom and macro lenses seem to work.

I really just need to get the thing serviced. I like my phone camera but the Canon is capable of so much more. Maybe when we get out of school (in a little more than two weeks) I'll take it to the camera shop.

Here's the state of the bathroom. It's pretty much done and it certainly looks great. I have concerns about the durability of the floors, as I said yesterday, but we'll do our best to preserve them. And nothing's been painted because, as I also said yesterday, we have to wait for the walls to dry out.

Dave hates those glass shower partitions, but they're a thing in Britain. No one has shower curtains here. I don't know why. Dave insists the glass doesn't work since it only shields half the tub, but I told him we just have to make do. If everyone else in this country can manage, so can we. Another reason to be nervous about the floors!

And now, I'm going to vacuum the house because this place is incredibly dusty. But I don't want to invest too much energy in cleaning because the extractor fan is supposed to be installed today, and that necessitates drilling the wall, which will probably mean brick dust everywhere.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Home Again, with Daisies

Olga and I sat out on the patio of our hotel yesterday morning, taking in a final view before our departure. At least, we sat out there for part of breakfast, before it got too chilly and windy and we moved inside.

Reflections in a coffee urn -- can you find Olga?

Then I went for a quick swim in the hotel pool. I bought a new bathing suit several years ago at the Istanbul airport on our way to Egypt, but I never used it there or anywhere else. So I was determined to break the inaugural seal on the bathing suit on this trip. I used to love swimming as a kid, but for some reason I'm now pretty indifferent to it. I don't much care whether I never get in the water again.

I did feel refreshed when I got out, though, just in time to throw everything in a bag and for all of us to pile into a taxi to the train station.

The Micheldever train station has some pretty impressive daisies growing right in the middle of the platform.

The train trip and tube journey home were uneventful and soon we were back in our flat, where we were greeted with the news that our renovations are almost complete. Yesterday the builders did caulking around the new tub, and apparently we'll be able to shower this morning! They still have to do a bit of work around the edge of the bathroom floor, as well as a final cleanup because everything is dusty as heck. But we're getting there.

The kitchen was all hooked up and I was able to run a load of clothes and a load of dishes.

The builder, however, did sound a note of caution about the laminate floors in the bathroom and kitchen. He said they can't be allowed to get very wet (!) and that the flooring, although water resistant, isn't really made for those rooms. He thinks we should have vinyl flooring. As you know, I asked the landlords to consider putting down tile. But they chose laminate, and the builder thinks it will eventually become damaged by water no matter how careful we are. He thinks it will last three years. I wrote the landlords and told them that, which will probably annoy them, but hey, if they chose the wrong floors I don't want to be held ultimately responsible.

Also, we have to wait about a month before everything can be painted. Apparently the hallway wall is still too damp owing to the longtime slow leak from the old shower plumbing.

Someone is very happy to be back in her garden. (This was after lying out in the sun for an hour or so -- she got hot and sought out the shade in the flower bed!)

Monday, May 29, 2023

Winchester Cathedral

You know, I groused in yesterday's post about our meal, but I don't want to leave you all with the impression that we're not enjoying ourselves or that things overall haven't been going well. This has been a fun trip and it's been great to get away. I also want to make clear that I am perfectly aware that my lack of a decent martini is a minuscule problem in the grand scheme of things, so minuscule as to not even be worthy of the word "problem," and that I recognize how remarkably lucky I am to be getting a new bathroom and to be able to take off for an impromptu long weekend. Not everyone can do these things. I get that.

My mom used to joke about our family being "grumbly." It's basically how we make light of things -- it's our sense of humor, and it goes back generations. My great-grandmother was super-grumbly, so much so that she was a little scary to me as a kid, but it isn't ever meant very seriously. I hope in my writing here it's apparent that when I'm grumbling -- about the Russians, about Mrs. Kravitz, about my job -- I'm mostly just trying to be wry or funny. There is an edge of real annoyance sometimes, don't get me wrong, but I try to turn it into humor.

And yes, I am grumbling from a very privileged perspective. I don't want to seem so clueless that I don't realize that.

So, with that long explanation/apology for my tone out of the way, let's talk about yesterday. First of all, an amazing thing happened -- I GOT MY MASSAGE! I went to the spa and told the guy at reception that I'd like to go on a waiting list if anyone cancelled, and darned if he didn't call me about an hour later with an immediate opening. Yay!

Dave and I had already planned to go into the town of Winchester at noon, and the massage was at 11 a.m., so when my 50 minutes on the table was up I had to high-tail it to the front of the hotel and jump in the taxi with Dave and Olga. But it was worth it, and at least I was relaxed!

Our first stop: Winchester Cathedral. I've known the pop song for years, so how could I not seize the moment to see the real thing?! (Incidentally, the week I was born, "Winchester Cathedral" was climbing the pop charts and holding the No. 24 spot -- way behind the Monkees' "Last Train to Clarksville," which was the top hit of the week.)

Olga couldn't go into the cathedral, so Dave and I did it in shifts, with one of us dog-sitting in the park outside while the other looked around.

Look who's buried there -- Jane Austen! This was a complete surprise to me. Funny that her gravestone, while making reference to the "extraordinary endowments of her mind," never mentions that, oh yeah, she wrote novels.

There were plenty of interesting and beautiful memorials, such as this one to Francis Thomas MacDougall, a cathedral official who served as bishop in Malaysia, and to his wife Harriette, who "first taught Christ to the women of Borneo."

This opening in an interior wall is known as the "Holy Hole." Apparently pilgrims would crawl through it to be closer to the bones of Saint Swithun, some of which were kept there.

But the best part of the Cathedral, I thought, was the medieval flooring. "These mainly 13th century tiles are the largest and oldest area of tiling to survive in England," said a sign nearby that also requested we "walk on them with care."

Here's me doing just that:

The variety of patterns is pretty amazing.

After we'd both seen the cathedral, we went for lunch to a nearby pub, where we sat in the sun and split a plate of fish & chips while listening to a very good guitarist on a nearby plaza play "Here Comes the Sun" and other mostly '60s and '70s hits. (But not "Winchester Cathedral"!)

Then we couldn't find a taxi so we took an Uber back to our hotel, and it was a bit of an ordeal because we had the dog and some Ubers didn't want to take us. Even the guy who showed up gave us the impression he might not have if he'd read the dog note on our booking.

We took it easy in the afternoon -- Olga was exhausted -- and last night we let her sleep while we went back to Winchester to Rick Stein's seafood restaurant. I had Dover sole -- a whole fish, which was pretty large -- and although I probably could have had a real martini there I opted for a safer gin & tonic instead.

Back to London today!

(Top photo: Street art in Winchester.)

Sunday, May 28, 2023

No Sundaes on a Saturday

I've been coy about our weekend destination simply to add a little suspense to the ol' blog, but I suppose I can now reveal where we are. We came to a country inn near Winchester, in Hampshire. It's quite secluded -- there is literally nothing around us but farms, which is nice unless you're looking for a cup of coffee as I was this morning. (I resorted to the in-room Nescafe.)

We came down by train yesterday from London. The builders surprised us by turning up again in the morning, because we thought they wouldn't be working through the weekend -- but apparently they are. Even on the bank holiday! The supervisor said if they didn't our renovation job would run into the following week, but as it stands now they hope to be done by Wednesday. Woo hoo!

Still, all the more reason for us to "get out of Dodge," as people of a certain generation who are familiar with the TV show "Gunsmoke" might say.

We got off the train in the town of Micheldever (pronounced "Mitchell," not "Michael," I belatedly learned), and headed directly to this colorful little pub for lunch. Olga sunbathed and enjoyed some meat and cheese from my ploughman's lunch plate. We bought her a cup of ice cream supposedly made just for dogs, but it was strawberry and she wouldn't touch it. What dog wants a strawberry?

Then we caught an overpriced taxi to our hotel, the Norton Park Hotel, Spa and Manor House.

Here's the Manor House, which I haven't been in yet. Olga and I took a walk around the grounds and also saw the barn (top) and explored the very modern hotel. I tried to book a massage but alas! There's a wedding here this weekend and all the spa slots are taken. I'm going to try to get on the waiting list today just in case, but it looks like my goal of a weekend massage may not be achieved.

I may not get a spa treatment, but Olga found several opportunities to indulge her physical being... a woodland walk...

...and a canine mud bath. She plunged into this pond before I could stop her and, being from Florida, my immediate first thoughts were of alligators -- but of course we're in the green and pleasant land so no harm came to her at all.

We had dinner last night in the hotel bar, and that was a whole 'nother saga. It starts, as so many restaurant sagas do, with me ordering a gin martini in the vain hope that some bartender somewhere will know how to make one. This guy said he did, but what I got was so heavy on vermouth that I couldn't even taste the gin. (I'm trusting that gin was actually in it.)

Meanwhile, Olga did her best to lie in the sun, and wound up snoring so loudly that people around us were laughing.

We ordered our meals, which were meh, and then Dave said he wanted dessert. But for some reason the bar put a pause on all food orders for half an hour -- I assume this had something to do with the fully booked restaurant upstairs, which in turn probably had something to do with that wedding again. We waited and were eventually able to order a couple of sundaes that should have been relatively easy to assemble, but an hour later we were still waiting and so we cancelled them. No dessert for us.

Today we're hoping to get into Winchester to see the cathedral, and Dave made a restaurant reservation there for us tonight. Olga will stay snoozing in the room, and I don't think she'll mind.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

The Return of the Scabious

I discovered a blossom on our scabious plant this morning -- the one I salvaged from that huge floral arrangement from work earlier this spring. I thought it might be done blooming for the year, since it was already in flower when I got it, but I guess it's abandoning its hothouse roots and adapting to nature. More flowers to come, hopefully!

Speaking of nature, I think I figured out what was going on with those noisy magpies yesterday morning. Apparently magpies attack other bird nests (to eat the eggs and/or babies) and even kill adult birds, and we'd seen a wounded pigeon in the garden the day before. My guess is that pigeon was sitting on a nest and the magpies discovered it. A pigeon is no match for a magpie, never mind multiple magpies, and I think there were at least two. So I'm guessing there are now fewer baby pigeons in the world, and possibly one less adult -- which isn't a bad thing, as savage as that sounds. Wild Kingdom, as I said yesterday.

Here's where we are on the renovation project. As you can see, it's coming along, but there's still plenty to be done. The kitchen is also still entirely disconnected, even though the new floor is down. I don't know what we're waiting for there, unless a specific plumbing person has to come to reconnect all the appliances. I think everything is now paused until Tuesday, since Monday is a holiday.

It's a good thing Dave and I are getting out of here today. Not only do I need a real shower, as opposed to a sponge bath -- I also need a break from all this dust and chaos. Neither Dave nor I have tried to use the shower in the staff locker room at work, even though we could. I have a sort of mental block about that. Bathing at work seems weird to me. I suppose I should get over it.

Speaking of work, I saw yesterday in the staff lounge that there's a poster recognizing our team's quizzing victory back in February. It could have been up for weeks or months and I just now noticed it. Did we win that eagle trophy too? I can't remember!

Friday, May 26, 2023

Where's the Dog?!

This is a foam flower, one of two that seem to be just barely hanging on in our garden. Both of them got planted in a shady spot where they compete with a lot of other plants for light, and I think that's held them back a bit, but they're still with us and I like them.

I was awakened this morning at 4:30 a.m. by a couple of magpies having a vicious (and LOUD) squabble in a tree outside our bedroom window. I went out to see what the heck was going on but couldn't really figure it out. Was there a cat or fox threatening their nest? Or were they being the aggressors toward another bird? Who knows. Wild Kingdom.

It's already daylight by that time of the morning so there was no going back to bed for me. I hand-washed our dishes from last night (because our dishwasher is still disconnected) and tried to tidy up the house. I've found that even amid all this chaos it makes me feel so much better to keep whatever I can neat. I guess it gives me a sense of control.

I had a panic attack at work yesterday morning because when I left the house, the builder was already standing on the front porch waiting for his co-worker, so I left the front door open with him standing next to it. On my walk to work I began to get nervous that he'd walk away to his van or go somewhere else without closing the door, thus leaving Olga to roam the neighborhood unattended. So I figured I'd check the dog-cam when I got to work and make sure she was on the couch as usual.

Except...she wasn't! I kept checking for about 40 minutes and no dog. Finally I called the builder and he said she was there, and sure enough this happened within a few minutes:

She'd probably been in the dining room, lying in a sunny patch on the carpet.

I know. I'm a nut.

The renovations continue, but it's becoming apparent they're not going to be finished by the end of the week (since that's basically tonight). And we have a three-day weekend because Monday is a holiday. So Dave and I cooked up a last-minute plan to go away this weekend to a place where we can at least take a shower and I won't have to think about hand-washing dishes. A massage may be involved!

Last night, as we relaxed on our garden bench, Dave pointed at Mrs. Kravitz's garden and said, "Look at that beautiful yellow tree."

"That's a laburnum," I said.

A beat, and he replied: "Is the tree next to it named Shirley?"

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Foxglove and Tina Turner

During all the disruption of these improvements to our flat, I am so thankful we have the garden as a retreat! Here's what it looked like yesterday morning, with our gigantic foxglove in bloom. (And no, that's not my shadow to the right -- it's something up on the Russians' terrace.)

And here's a closeup. We didn't plant this foxglove -- it just appeared, the only one we have this year. At least it's BIG and demands to be noticed. (And this time, that is my shadow!)

I checked on Olga throughout the day yesterday via dog-cam. For a change, she did seem a bit disturbed by the workers, but mostly because they weren't paying attention to her. I saw her standing by the back door looking frustrated that they wouldn't let her outside so she could sunbathe!

I'd tell them they could let her out, but then they'd have to bring her in again, which sometimes takes some persuasion. At least she was enthusiastic when the dog-walker showed up.

Here's yesterday's progress. The new bathtub is in, complete with new plumbing. This should eliminate the slow leak. At left you can see that heat fan they're using to try to dry out the walls.

The old bathtub was in front of the house when I came home, but then in the evening, while lying on the couch, I heard a terrific banging coming from the street. I thought some kids were pounding on the tub and was going to tell them to stop it. But when I looked out the window I saw...

...a man and a woman who had broken the tub in half and were loading it into a van. I don't know whether they were supposed to come and collect it, or were scrap metal dealers who took it upon themselves to haul it away. Either way it's gone now.

The kitchen is still disassembled. I hope the workers get that put together today so we can cook and do dishes and laundry. They just need to reconnect the appliances.

I'm sure you've seen the news, announced yesterday, that Tina Turner died. Like bazillions of other people I owned her "Private Dancer" album in the '80s and I saw her live in Tampa 23 years ago -- ticket stub above. (Not particularly cheap even then, at $80.) Here's what I wrote in my journal the next day:

Went to see Tina Turner last night in Tampa -- my first concert at the Ice Palace. She is great. She's my new idol! She put on a tremendous show, complete with "nouveau Ikettes" and an incredible stage -- a multilevel platform for the musicians and dancers, and a huge swinging arm (boom) that carried her out over the audience. She looks so great, and she has amazing, boundless energy. She did everything, too -- "Proud Mary" (complete with the "nice and rough" intro), "Nutbush City Limits," "Private Dancer," "What's Love Got to Do With It," and some really unusual stuff like a slow, almost gospel rendition of the Beatles' "Help." I love her. I went with Nancy P., Mark Z. and Pat M. Then we went to Ybor for barbecue afterwards... Lionel Richie was her opening act, and he did a couple of funky Commodores numbers that livened the place up, but I could do without ever hearing "Hello" again.

She lived a remarkable life, considering her relatively humble origins in small-town Tennessee and the abuse she faced from Ike during her early years in show business. I remember marveling with my friends at how energetic she was at 60. Now I'm just a few years from being 60 myself! How time flies.

I bought a concert t-shirt at that show and wore it the next day on the airplane when I flew to London for my first visit. Little did I know then that I'd wind up living here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The Fridge in the Hall

The laburnum trees are blooming now -- I came across this one on my walk home from work yesterday. We actually have one right next door. Mrs. Kravitz planted it a year or two ago to replace the mulberry tree that she felled because it was "too messy."

Mrs. K has been super-chatty the last several times I've seen her. Yesterday evening she invited me over for tea and wanted to talk gardening. I demurred because I'd literally just gotten home and I wanted to try to get the house in some semblance of order after a day with the builders on site. I suppose I should be more open to her invitations -- I heard through the grapevine that she's complained to other neighbors that we're not as friendly as she would like -- but honestly I'd rather just steer clear of her. I think she's very transactional. Any kindness comes with a price, now or in the future.

At least we get along with her better than the Russians. They're not even on speaking terms with her.

Speaking of the builders, late yesterday morning when I was at work I checked in on Olga using our dog-cam to see how she was coping with all the commotion.

And there's your answer -- oblivious. Blog reader Frances suggested in yesterday's comments that Olga may be a bit deaf, a possibility we've also considered. She does seem slower to react to some sounds than she used to be. Then again, she still hears squirrels in the trees.

I think she's just very good at tuning things out, particularly when Dave and I aren't around.

This is the chaos that greeted me at the front door when I got home. That's our new bathtub in the foreground, and our new shower enclosure at left through the doorway. And you can see our kitchen appliances are all out in the entrance hall, including our refrigerator, which fortunately was still plugged in -- considering it contains a couple of packages of raw shrimp.

Here's everything from another angle. I cleaned the refrigerator after I took this picture. It was appallingly dusty and greasy in all the places I can't usually reach. And no laundry or dishwashing last night!

The appliances were moved because...

...the builders installed the new kitchen floor. It doesn't match our existing floors in the rest of the house, which was our hope, but it's much better than the wavy, warped floor that was in there before.

The bathroom, however, is still complete chaos. The tub is now dislodged and upended, and the builders have this weird heat fan blowing in the hall closet, trying to dry it out from our plumbing leak. I can't imagine it's going to be very effective in the short term. Particularly since I turned it off yesterday evening because the flat was beginning to feel a bit stifling, and we couldn't really be expected to sleep with that thing going, could we?

I bathed this morning in our bathroom sink, which is still connected and functional. It's a bit like being in the Peace Corps, bucket-bathing in the shed in my courtyard in Morocco. No scorpions, though.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

And So It Begins

Here's Olga on our walk yesterday morning, in front of a blooming hawthorn tree. I'm putting this photo at the top of the post because I have a belief that the first photo in the post should be something attractive rather than practical. But it's not the big news of the day. The big news is...

...THIS! Our bathroom renovation has begun.

I got a call from the builder yesterday morning saying he'd obtained keys and asking if he could park in front of the flat. (Mrs. Russia had told me he could, thank goodness. She and Mr. Russia own the parking space but have no car.) So I had an indication he'd begin work today, and this is what greeted me when I got home.

He'd ripped out all the floor and wall tile and the panel in front of the bathtub...

...which I was amused to see is sitting (precariously) atop broken chunks of brick.

He also scraped down the wall in the hallway, which you may remember has a moisture problem from a slow leak in the shower plumbing. The paint had bubbled up and was flaking off. The wall still feels very damp, so I'll be interested to see how he solves that. I wonder if he'll have to come back to refinish it once it's had a chance to dry out.

So, yeah, we are on our way. And as of now we have no shower. Fortunately I showered yesterday so I can get away with taking bird-baths for a little while, but Dave has hair so he will probably feel the need for one sooner. That's where showering at school will come in handy. We still haven't figured out exactly how that will work. I'm letting Dave blaze the trail.

Speaking of Dave, he's usually up by about 5:45 a.m., but today (as of 6:49 a.m.) he's still in bed. I suppose he figures if he can't shower he may as well sleep. (He also had a fifth grade concert last night, so maybe that gives him the right to go to work later.)

Olga gave no indication of being stressed about all this, even though strange people were in the house banging away all day. Every time I checked her on the dog-cam she was sound asleep on the couch as usual!

Monday, May 22, 2023

Literature and a Cocktail Failure

Before this rose bloomed, something ate away about half of the bud. I didn't think the flower would survive, but it managed to bloom anyway, a sort of cross-section of itself. It looks like the wild hairdo of a Disney villain -- Madame Medusa, perhaps? Or Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus":

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

I thought about taking a walk yesterday. I haven't been on the Thames Path since April 9! But then I got to doing stuff around the house and that kept me so busy that I never even got out the front door. (Well, that's not quite true, because I cleaned the front door and the windowsill next to it and the windows in the door itself, which all entailed opening the door.)

I did some other housekeeping, weeded a bit and mowed the lawn (again!). I did not clean the bathtub, even though it needs it, because supposedly the contractors are going to tear it out any day now. And if that's the case, why clean it? Is there any disgrace in letting the contractors discard a dirty bathtub? I say no.

Olga seemed quite content to snooze the day away, first on her bed out in the sunny grass and then on the couch (above). I think her nose gets cold!

I finally started the Russell Banks novel "The Magic Kingdom," which has been in my blog sidebar as "What I'm Reading" for about two weeks. In fact I didn't even crack the cover until yesterday. It looks promising -- the recollections of an 80-something-year-old man in Central Florida in the early '70s, reflecting on a lost Shaker colony in the area now dominated by Disney. That Shaker community really existed, though like many Shaker communities -- which prized celibacy -- it didn't last long. Anyway, I like Banks as an author and this was his last book. He died in January.

This unappetizing concoction looks like something I scooped out of the bird bath, but it's actually my cocktail-of-the-month from the Craft Gin Club. The accompanying magazine showed an elegant mixture with a lovely tequila sunrise glow, served in stemware, so I got out some stemware and made it just as the directions demanded. The rosy red cocktail syrup didn't settle to the bottom, even with careful pouring. (And no, I didn't stir it -- the swizzle stick is there just to make it look less desperate.)

It didn't taste bad, but once again, I found myself thinking I'd rather have a plain old gin & tonic.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Tree Fern and 'Charade'

This was our project yesterday morning. Our tree fern spent last year behind our garden bench, still in the plastic pot it came in, but standing in an empty, broken clay pot once inhabited by our banana. That pot was duct-taped to hold it together, so it was a very classy presentation.

The fern wasn't doing well behind the bench, where it's too shady and a bit too dry beneath the taller trees. But we weren't sure what to do with it.

Meanwhile, we had a blueberry bush in a big pot on the patio that you might remember actually gave us blueberries last year. It wasn't very attractive but we were excited about the fruit -- until we left it out over the winter, not realizing that apparently blueberries aren't hardy plants. It was deader than a doornail this spring.

So yesterday we disposed of the twiggy carcass of the blueberry and transferred the tree fern to its pot. We always understood that tree ferns don't have much rootball and that they mostly take in moisture and nutrients through the trunk. But this plant was so root-bound that we had to cut the plastic pot off.

Now it's happy in a much bigger, more attractive pot, and the duct-taped monstrosity is in the trash bin where it belongs.

There were also lots of bluebells in the pot with the blueberry but I transferred the bulbs to the tree fern pot. They're hardy plants so I have high hopes they'll survive and flourish next spring. The project made the robins happy -- we watched them snap up several choice grubs from the old blueberry soil.

I took time out so Dave could photograph me next to this foxglove. Look at that thing! I'm 6'2 and that stalk on the left is taller than me! 

I also cleaned up our front garden, which is mostly mounds of shrubbery but includes a patch of crocosmia that was being smothered by weeds. (I know Ms. Moon wages a fierce battle against her runaway crocosmia but we have to take care of ours!)

Then I took the dog to the cemetery. I'd been thinking we might try a longer walk but after that yardwork I wasn't up to it, and given Olga's energy levels she probably wasn't either.

That apple tree (I think?) was positively humming with bees.

I came home and sat out on the garden bench with this bizarre snack, which came in my most recent Craft Gin Club box. They're always including weird little snacks and things. Once it was escargot-flavored potato chips, now it's strawberries and cream coronation popcorn. What will they come up with next? (I'd rather have plain old salted peanuts, to be honest, but this popcorn was better than it sounds. As were the escargot-flavored potato chips.)

Last night Dave had to attend a student play at school -- they needed an adult supervisor and the drama teacher was unavailable. I was going to go with him until he told me it was a student-led, 90-minute production that was almost entirely sung and with only two cast members.

Instead I decided to stay home and watch the 1963 movie "Charade" with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Somehow I'd never seen this movie even though I've been humming the theme song practically my whole life. Hepburn plays a character virtually identical to Holly Golightly in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," made just a few years earlier, and there's a silly scene with Grant taking a shower fully clothed -- one of the weirder moments in mid-century cinema. (He camps it up, too.) Not a bad movie overall and I'm glad to finally chalk it off my list.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

A Fiery Confrontation or Two

I regularly pass this restaurant on my walk home from work (well, depending on which route I take) and I recently noticed that it had apparently experienced a fire. I looked up the news accounts and learned a fire was only half the story!

This place has been sort of cursed in recent years. It used to be a pub called The Salt House that many of my co-workers frequented. There was a huge neighborhood uproar when the pub closed and rumors circulated that it would become a shisha bar. Eventually, it became this place -- which opened just in time for the pandemic and the lockdowns and thus never seemed to quite get off the ground. (Granted, I only ever pass by during the day so maybe it was busier at night. I have no idea whether shisha was on the menu.)

At some point, after London reopened post-Covid, it became Monak, a "pan-Asian sushi restaurant" according to subsequent news accounts, and seemed to be chugging along if not exactly prospering. (Again, I never saw it at night.)

Then, on April 28, it caught fire -- and as I said, that's only half the story. Apparently around 10:30 that night, a gang of men wearing balaclavas barged in, poured gasoline around the place and set it alight -- while it was full of diners. People ran screaming out into the street.

Now it's closed up tight, with plywood over the broken windows and all the elegant furniture piled on the roof, and police are allegedly investigating. Since it was almost certainly a targeted attack it seems like it shouldn't be too hard to figure out who might be behind it. I would love to know the rest of the story so hopefully the authorities will sort it out. Stay tuned!

I am so glad it's the weekend. Yesterday was another only moderately busy day, but I did have to yell at my ninth-grade nemeses once again for horsing around on the library furniture. Three boys were sitting on chairs at a table and a fourth came and started pushing them around and pretty soon they were all piled up, an octopus of flailing arms and legs, atop the tilting chairs. They were in the middle of class and the teacher was so engrossed in her lesson that she didn't even notice. (She also allegedly didn't hear me yell at them, although I'm sure everyone else on our floor did.)

The contractors never showed up last week to install the bathroom extractor fan as promised, so who knows what's going on there. I assume they're going to do it along with the rest of the renovations beginning on Monday. We shall see.

(Second photo: Our dish drainer at work, apropos of nothing.)

Friday, May 19, 2023

East Village Flashback

I came across this picture while rooting around in my photo archives the other day. I took it almost exactly 16 years ago -- on May 21, 2007, when I lived in New York. As I recall, this mural was on the closed security gate of a shop somewhere in the East Village -- First Avenue? Second Avenue?

I don't think I ever blogged it, though I did post it to Flickr. Birds, leaves, teeth -- I'm not sure what's going on there but it's intriguing and certainly colorful.

Where were you on May 21, 2007?

I was definitely not walking around New York imagining that 16 years later I'd be living in London and working in a school library. Life takes some weird twists and turns sometimes. I hadn't met Dave yet, or even gotten together with my previous boyfriend, Bob. I had a cat rather than a dog. It seems like a lifetime ago.

Yesterday was a pretty low-key day. Work was uneventful, and afterwards I went out to a pub with some co-workers. It was a reunion of sorts, with two moms of previous students who had spent lots of time volunteering with the library and helping us out. My boss is retiring this year so they wanted to get together before she moves back to the states, to be replaced by a previous co-worker -- the woman I met up with in Bruges last spring, who is returning to our school after briefly moving back to Minnesota. Are you keeping track of all this? Believe me, it's a lot of coming and going.

Change is the only constant, right?

Thursday, May 18, 2023


Last night I went on an outing with my boss. (That's not her above.) We were at work a few days ago when one of our co-workers came in talking about the play "To Kill a Mockingbird," now on London's West End. The play is due to close pretty soon, and my boss asked me if I wanted to go. I said "Sure!"

So she got tickets and we went last night. We started first in Chinatown, where we had dinner. That's where this character (above) was wandering around. I had to snap a picture furtively because I didn't have any coins to put in his or her bucket.

The play is written by Aaron Sorkin of "West Wing" fame, and has a different cast from when it opened more than a year ago. Matthew Modine now plays Atticus, and he did a great job. The other actors were good but I detected more than a few British accents among the performers. They don't sound like any Alabamians I know. The sets were beautiful.

The play reimagines, or rather expands on, some of the characters in the book. Calpurnia and Dill both have more significant roles -- we even get a last-minute hint that Dill has a crush on Jem -- while Scout seems less central. Apparently Sorkin sought to treat Atticus less as the saintly figure he had become in modern culture and more as the conflicted southerner depicted in Harper Lee's more recently released "Mockingbird" novel, "Go Set a Watchman." But he's still largely the dignified Atticus.

Afterwards my boss caught the tube at Piccadilly Circus, and I kept walking down Piccadilly to Green Park, where I caught the Jubilee Line home. I was glad I did so I could see the gigantic peacock on the front of Fortnum & Mason.

Oh, and do we now have an extractor fan in our bathroom? No, we do not. I'm not sure what happened yesterday with the contractors who planned to install it, but there was no sign anyone had been here when Dave got home. Plus ├ža change, as the French say.

That doesn't mean we had peace & quiet around here, though, because...the Russians!