Sunday, December 31, 2023

Doppelgangers


And so it's time to wrap up another year of blogging. Once again I've managed to post every day, which for me is a matter of routine. Every morning I get up, empty the dishwasher, make coffee and blog -- without fail. Consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, and if that's the case my mind is the littlest of them all, but for me the routine is a source of comfort. Plus it helps me keep track of my life, marking the days and augmenting my otherwise terrible memory.

As I mentioned recently, I'm reading Naomi Klein's book "Doppelganger," about the public's tendency to confuse her with "the other Naomi," feminist writer and lately conspiracist Naomi Wolf. The book isn't just about the two Naomis, though. It examines all the ways that we all struggle with our own doppelgangers, a German word -- spelled in that language with an umlaut, doppelgänger -- that means an unrelated double (sometimes an evil double) of a living person. For example, do we create something of a doppelganger in our online lives? Is the person that we present to the world via the Internet a reflection of our authentic self, or a curated, idealized mirror image?

It's made me think about my blogging, of course, and how "real" I am in this space. I'm trained as a journalist and I'd like to think I more or less adhere to journalistic principles, not making things up or distorting events or my feelings about them. But I'm sure I don't always mention things that might reflect poorly on me (citrus tree theft notwithstanding), not even by design but somewhat subconsciously. We all want to make ourselves likable; it's human nature.

And to that extent, maybe we're our own doppelgangers even in daily life, out on the street or in the workplace. Maybe our public personas are always somewhat at odds with our inner selves.

When I was in high school there was another guy in my grade who looked somewhat like me. We weren't twins by any means, but we both had sort of long faces and big teeth and we liked preppy Izod shirts and we're both (as it turned out later) gay, and people used to confuse us all the time. I remember once standing in the commons watching a video of him performing a silly song or musical number for some school event, and a student in front of me turned around and said, "Now aren't you embarrassed?" And I said, "No -- that's not me!"

It was a very strange experience, being mistaken repeatedly for someone else. I wonder if it happened to him too. He had a higher profile in the school than I did, so maybe not.

Anyway, this book is food for thought, that's for sure.


How do you like my new hat? I ordered it online a few weeks ago and it came while we were at the beach. This is one example of an Internet marketing algorithm that hit just right. The ad popped up on Facebook or maybe in my e-mail and I didn't even stop to think how creepy it was that some techno-bot KNEW my husband's name is Dave. I just thought, "Oh, I have to have that!"

Speaking of Dave, he had an appointment with an ENT specialist yesterday because of the allergy-like inflammation he's been experiencing in his face and eyes. (You may remember this is what prompted him to hire the terrible cleaners.) He wasn't all that happy with the appointment overall -- and he's still slated to see a rheumatologist at some point -- but he got some corticosteroids to knock back the inflammation, which is a good temporary treatment. They did an exam that involved putting some sort of orange compound in his eyes, and when he got home I said, "Have you been sticking Cheetos in your eyes again?!"

As for New Year's Eve, we'll be staying home. We were going to go to a party but the host -- a guy we work with -- decided not to have it after all, which is frankly fine with me. After our week away I'm content to stay here.

Happy New Year, everyone! May 2024 bring us all a healthy, peaceful and more harmonious existence. (Unlikely in a presidential campaign year but let's be optimistic!)

(Top photo: A patio in Cricklewood, about a week ago.)

Saturday, December 30, 2023

A Successful Return


Well, Olga and I made it back home in one piece (or two pieces, I suppose). She is now in bed with Dave and I probably won't see either of them for a couple more hours!

After finishing yesterday's post I tidied up the cabin, took out the trash, vacuumed and took the dog for one last walk on the beach. She will not miss those pebbles, I tell you. I hesitate to say it, because I might jinx myself, but I think I actually did everything I meant to do before leaving the cabin, and didn't forget anything either.

There's always the question of partially eaten containers of food. Do I bring back half a box of cereal? Half a bottle of tonic water? A quarter of a stick of butter? In my case, the answer was yes, yes and no. I wound up with a carrier bag of food as well as my small backpack (taken up mostly by Olga's pink blanket) and the dog, not too much to manage.

We took a bus and then a train and then the Overground to get back to West Hampstead. Overall journey time, about three hours.


Here's Olga at the Pevensey and Westham train station. She traveled pretty well, though she always gets antsy if she can't look out the window, and she can't look out the window if she's not on my lap. So that's necessarily where she spent at least half the journey -- and she weighs 40-plus pounds!

Anyway, she and I are both glad to be home again, as is Dave.

(Top photo: Zombie Games Cafe in Cricklewood, a little more than a week ago.)

Friday, December 29, 2023

Olga the Conqueror


The weather got much better yesterday morning, so Olga and I decided to head to the commons next to the recreation ground in Pevensey, where she could have a long walk without having to deal with pebbles. We boarded the local bus and rode about ten minutes before getting off and making our way to the field.

It was a bog, as I thought it might be after all the rain we've had, but that didn't bother Olga!


I stuck to the drier paths as much as possible while Olga went wading.


There was enough dry grass for ecstatic rolling, beneath the medieval ruins of Pevensey Castle, which you may remember I visited on our last trip here.

We decided to walk over to the castle grounds...


...and there's no question Olga loved all that open, grassy space, once trod upon by William the Conqueror himself!

We made our way to Westham, the adjacent village, to catch the bus back to the cottage, but of course we had to wait 45 minutes for the next one. So we wandered through the churchyard of St. Mary's Church, checking out the historic graves.


The resting place of Charles and Ellen Elphick (he died in 1939, she in 1940) has been positively taken over by a couple of trees. I think it's nice. I'd love to become a tree after I die.

The bus finally arrived and we headed back. In the afternoon the weather got worse again, with more rain, so we timed everything right. I spent the evening reading Naomi Klein's book "Doppelganger," about how the public continually confuses her with the conspiracy-minded Naomi Wolf. It's interesting so far, though it must feel incredibly weird to Wolf to have Klein write this book.

And now I've got to get ready to vacate our little beach cottage and haul the pooch back to London on the train. I've enjoyed our time here and it gave me an opportunity to do what I wanted to do -- namely spend family time by the ocean, experience a winter storm, read a few books and catch up on all my New Yorkers. I'll be coming to you tomorrow from Home Sweet Home!

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Gerrit


When Dave and I first rented this cottage in July, we kept saying, "Wouldn't it be amazing to be here during a winter storm?" With the glass wall facing the ocean it would surely be a spectacle.

Well, yesterday I got to experience it. We had a named storm, Gerrit, which brought steady winds of 25-35 mph and gusts above 40 mph. The house rumbled and the ocean pounded and I stayed inside pretty much all day. We also had rain, though not as much as in some other parts of the country, where Gerrit caused flooding. The photo above shows Poseidon standing guard in the garden, seen through the rain on the window.

Here's what the weather looked like about 9:30 a.m. from the deck and then out on the beach:


You can see how rough the waves were compared to the video in yesterday's post. You'll also see Olga at the end, sensibly parked indoors on the couch. That's pretty much where we both spent the day. I only went out to the corner shop in the morning to get a few odds and ends for dinner. (Holly's collar is gone!)

Despite the storm, Dave set out for London and although he said his train was crowded with people returning from Christmas holidays, he got home fine. He took almost all our stuff, so I'm left with just a change of clothes, some toiletries and a book, and I'm happy about that. Dave tends to bring a lot when he travels, enjoying all the comforts of home, whereas I tend to feel oppressed by a lot of belongings that I need to keep track of. I feel a sense of relief knowing it's all back where it belongs.

I spent the day reading and last night I watched a documentary on Netflix called "Exposed: The Ghost Train Fire." It was about a disastrous 1979 amusement park fire in Sydney, Australia, that killed seven people, six of them children. I don't recall ever hearing of this incident, so it was all new to me, and the documentary was very skillful in its presentation -- what starts out seeming like a fairly pedestrian recounting of a terrible accident eventually turns into a sordid saga of political corruption reaching to the top of the New South Wales state government. I plowed through all three episodes in a single sitting and it was astonishing.

Dave and I watched a less satisfying film on Tuesday night -- "Saltburn," a gothic thriller set in an English country house. It was like "Brideshead Revisited" on cocaine, trying way too hard to be shocking. I didn't mind it as a two-hour diversion, but Dave was repulsed.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Shells, Sunshine and the Sovereign


Before anything else, let me just say that I hope I didn't sound like I was sneering at trailer parks in yesterday's post. Some of my best friends (and Dave's parents!) live in mobile homes and I didn't mean to be snide about them. I only meant that, in a real estate context, having a large historic house surrounded by a trailer park would count against its value. I think most real estate agents would agree with me on that. So mea culpa if what I wrote sounded otherwise.

ANYWAY...

Let's talk about yesterday! The weather was MUCH better than it was on Christmas. In fact for a brief time in the morning, we even had sunlight streaming in through our windows, which made Olga happy.



Doesn't she look blissed out?

In late morning I took a long walk down the beach to Normans Bay -- without Olga, she of the pebble-sensitive feet. I spent a lot of time beachcombing, which has to be one of my favorite things to do. It combines my enthusiasm for finding things with being outside and on the water.


This is the kind of stuff I find here -- cockles, boat shells, scallops, winkles, mussels, whelks and colorful rocks. Very North Atlantic, though some of these critters can also be found in Florida.


I threw all those shells back, but I did keep this one, a curious bit of oyster shell (I think?) that the sea has carved and smoothed into the perfect shape of a baby's ear. It seemed like such a rare and delicate creation.


Here's a little video I took near Martello Tower No. 55, now a private home. You'll see the tower and shingle beach, an iridescent jingle shell I found, and the low sun over the water. This was taken right around noon, so that's about as high as the sun gets at this time of year. (You can hear some kids shouting toward the end -- there was virtually no one on the beach but I had the bad judgment to make my video with a family standing not too far behind me!)

I walked back partly along the coast road to give my feet a break. Remember how I said I was concerned about the effect of the shingle on my shoes? Well, indeed, part of the sole has come away from the upper on one shoe and both have serious wear. I guess I need to get some decent wellies, which is what I see most people wearing out there.


This picture doesn't look like much, but it was hard to take! That's the remains of the Royal Sovereign Lighthouse, which until recently stood on a shoal almost 7 miles offshore. There used to be a large platform atop that column with the lighthouse perched on it, but the whole thing is being dismantled. The lighthouse portion has been brought ashore and will become part of a beachfront park; the platform was also taken down. So all that's left now is that lonely support column, which will be removed next year.

We have a spyglass in our cottage, which allows us to look out at the water. I took this photo by carefully positioning my iPhone camera at the lens of the spyglass. It was a pain in the neck and it took many tries before I got a usable photo. You're welcome! I wish I'd thought to do this during our visit in July, when the lighthouse was still intact. The platform was so weird-looking. Dave and I initially thought it was an oil rig.

Speaking of Dave, our plans are changing here at Stone's Throw cottage. Dave has to return to London today for a long-scheduled routine infusion of drugs to treat his Crohn's. He tried to postpone it but if he did, they wouldn't be able to get him in again until February, which is too long to wait for his medication. He's decided rather than travel up and back again, he's going to simply stay in London. So he's leaving this morning and taking our big suitcase home, and Olga and I will spend the next two nights here at Stone's Throw by ourselves before heading home on Friday.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Martello Towers


You may remember me talking about Martello Towers the last time we were here. They are round coastal fortifications built in the early 1800s, during the time of the Napoleonic wars, to protect Britain's coastline from French invasion. I saw one back in July in the nearby community of Normans Bay -- Martello Tower No. 55, to be precise.

When I looked at Google Maps not long ago I realized there are three more Martello Towers in our immediate vicinity -- Nos. 60, 61 and 62. Part of the reason for my long walk down the beach on Sunday was to find them. (Apparently Nos. 56-59, which would have been along the stretch of beach where our cottage is located, were either demolished or washed into the sea at some point.)

Above is No. 60, which is located right in the town of Pevensey Bay and has apparently been turned into a house.



Here's No. 61, which forms a sort of architectural centerpiece for two adjacent apartment buildings. This page says the tower itself is "unused."


And here's No. 62, which was recently listed for sale (asking price £695,000). Apparently it has been sold, which is probably why it's now covered in scaffolding. There are some photos (click the arrow on the banner photo at the top of the real estate listing) showing the interior. It would make an interesting house but I can see how it wouldn't be for everybody.

Plus, it's in the middle of a holiday caravan park (what we Americans would call a trailer park). I suspect that counts against it.

That horse, by the way, is fake.

Christmas was very low-key yesterday. I walked the dog in the morning, sticking to the streets and neighborhoods rather than the pebbly beach, and otherwise stayed indoors. It was rainy, windy and grim most of the day, with a thick gray covering of clouds and the horizon mostly invisible.

Holly's collar was still on the wall. I texted the owner again with the exact address where she could find it, but that's the last contact I'm making, for fear of being accused of stalking or harassment!

And then I spilled a glass of water across our coffee table, drenching my last two New Yorkers, which I think means I now have permission to throw them away unread. Hence, I am CAUGHT UP ON MAGAZINES!

We did watch "Maestro" in the evening. I had mixed feelings about it. It focused mainly on Leonard Bernstein's marriage and his wife, and although the movie was essentially about the tension in their relationship caused by his bisexuality and his affairs with men, it explored none of those affairs with any depth. In fact, it seemed to respect the same '50s conventionality that Bernstein was trying to escape. I'm not sure I got a sense that he was struggling at all -- he seemed very blasé about his infidelity, but wasn't he wrestling demons as much as she was? Weren't the social mores of the time suffocating for both of them?

This morning, the sky seems clearer:

Monday, December 25, 2023

Holly's Collar


It was blowing a gale out there yesterday, with wind gusts up to 40 mph and spattering rain. Fortunately it wasn't very cold -- about 58º F (or 14.4º C). Olga wasn't much interested in walking, so I took a long walk on my own westward along the beach, trudging over the shingle with the wind whipping my scarf furiously.

My legs got a workout, that's for sure. As some of you have mentioned in comments, walking on shingle -- as this sort of pebbly beach is known -- is not easy! By the time I got past Pevensey Bay town I was concerned about the state of my shoes and figured I'd come back via the coast road.

First I popped into town to buy a couple of last-minute items -- Dave wanted a few more potatoes, I wanted some apples, and we needed paper towels. I also went to the local bakery and picked up some shortbread Christmas cookies, which are so thick they're practically Christmas cakes!


They're cute, but they're not my favorite thing.


A couple of days ago, I found this dog collar sitting on a wall near our cottage. It had a phone number on it so I called the owner and told her more or less where it was. Well, yesterday the collar was still sitting there, so either I wasn't specific enough in my directions or she wasn't motivated enough to collect it. Poor Holly, still collarless.


I also found, on my beach odyssey, an almost perfectly spherical white rock about the size of a ping-pong ball. I couldn't resist picking it up as a souvenir. It's like a miniature version of the moon.

I got back to the house around lunchtime and spent the afternoon reading. It's so great being here, with only the sounds of the wind and the waves -- no Russians pounding and sawing upstairs (or playing video games or practicing the piano), no sirens, no distractions.


Last night we made cocktails and Dave even got the fireplace going. Olga looks exasperated by the whole affair -- I'm reminded of the phrase "hangdog expression" -- but it was actually quite easy. We tried to Zoom with his family but his sisters didn't show up, so we're not sure whether they were confused about the day or what. We talked to his parents, though.

I'll text my brother later today. It's strange to think this is the first Christmas without our mom. Because she'd been ill with dementia for several years before she died in July, I guess she felt absent (to me) even if she physically wasn't. As I've said before, that slow departure seemed to spare me a lot of grief, or at least spread it out over time.

Dave has plans for beef bourguignon for our Christmas dinner, and maybe we'll watch "Maestro," Bradley Cooper's movie about Leonard Bernstein. Otherwise there will be more reading and more windy walks!

Merry Christmas, blog readers!

Sunday, December 24, 2023

O Tannenbaum


Have I mentioned that our little beach abode comes with a Christmas tree? A festive touch for the holiday season! There are also random sprigs of plastic holly and pine dangling from various lampshades and shelves. (No elves on the shelves, though.) I could do without the latter adornments but they don't bother me enough to take them down.


Olga and I took an adventurous walk on the beach yesterday. I don't think she's crazy about the pebbles -- I remember thinking that the last time we were here, too. Dave's theory is that they hurt her toes. But I see other dogs romping around on the pebbles like they're nothing, so I'm not sure actual pain is involved. I think they're just different from what she's used to. Our girl is a creature of habit.


"STOP TAKING MY PICTURE!"


Anyway, we had a long-ish walk up toward town, and then in the afternoon we took another walk along the road in the other direction, through a nearby council estate (public housing complex). I found a little free library in an old phone booth, positively packed to the rafters with paperback books. I picked up a Michael Connelly "Bosch" novel that ought to be good reading on our trip to L.A. in February.


The weather yesterday wasn't too bad -- partly cloudy, with some spectacular crepuscular rays over the water. (I learned that term from former blogger Robin, who I miss in blogland but I still see on Facebook. Hi Robin, if you're reading!)

Last night the weather got rougher and windier and this morning the deck is wet, so we've also been getting some rain. The wind creates a sort of low rumble in the house, a fluctuating background hum that along with the susurration of the waves isn't unpleasant. We haven't tried to use the fireplace yet -- it's not very cold and we don't have much wood, and I'm leaving it up to Dave whether he wants to launch that project. So far it seems more trouble than it's worth!

How are we entertaining ourselves? Well, I spent almost all day reading, polishing off two more New Yorkers (my goal is to go home with NO magazines) and getting 100 pages into a novel, "Little Deaths" by Emma Flint, which I'm finding quite good.

We also saw two hilarious shows on the BBC last night -- last year's "Motherland" Christmas special, which included poignant moments, and "Mandy." And we're one episode away from concluding "The Crown."

The dog tried once again to wake me up at 4:45 a.m., but this time I was smart enough to check the clock and keep her in bed until 6 a.m. So hopefully I won't be a zombie all day.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

We're Here


Dave, Olga and I made it to Pevensey Bay yesterday. The trip was not without adventure -- we managed to board the wrong train, which we did because the ticket agent at London Bridge told us to go to Platform 7 NOW as our train would be leaving in a matter of minutes. We were a little too efficient and speedy and caught the train BEFORE our train, which turned out to be headed to Gravesend, east of the city, rather than southward.

We realized our mistake almost immediately and I was dismayed because I thought we'd have to backtrack, and we had an anxious dog and a HUGE suitcase, but it turned out when we got off at the next station we could simply catch another train from there headed in the right direction. So it all worked out fine.


Olga insisted on sitting on my foot as we waited for the right train. I don't know if that's because the pavement was cold or maybe she just wanted reassurance that I wouldn't sneak away without her.


She was happy when we were on board, headed to St. Leonards Warrior Square (which is a great name for a train station) and then Pevensey. Here the train was running right alongside the English Channel, which was just beyond those trees, as the sun was setting. Quite picturesque except for the dirty window.

Stone's Throw cottage is the same as it was when we were here in July, which isn't a surprise, I suppose. Poseidon still presides over the garden (top photo, at sunset) and all the furniture is the same. We haven't even had a chance to take a walk yet, because it got dark almost as soon as we got here. Instead we ordered groceries and take-away food, settled in and watched "Oppenheimer"...

...which was a good movie, but rather jumpily edited and perhaps a bit overlong. I fell asleep in the middle for about 15 minutes and woke up and felt no need to see what I'd missed.

This morning Olga was raring to go at 4:45 a.m. I got up only because I didn't immediately realize how early it still was. There's a timelessness during these dark winter days, being in a strange house with a glass wall looking out on only blackness. It's like being in a room with no windows. We'll see what daylight brings!

Friday, December 22, 2023

Cow and Lizard


The colorfully painted bovine outside the Cricklewood train station is decorated in holiday finery. This fiberglass beast has been there since 2018, apparently because the station stands on land that was once known as "Cow Green." It was donated by a local business and painted by kids at a nearby school.

I would have thought it was a bull, given the horns, but apparently cows have horns too.

I saw it yesterday when I took a walk through Cricklewood, for no particular reason other than to get out of the house and get some exercise.


The doorway next to the minimalist antique store on Mill Lane, which doesn't appear to be an antique store anymore, is decorated with a gigantic, eye-catching bow.


And here's how our high street looks in the early mornings, when I walk Olga and no one is out and about.

Today we're going to pack up and head on down to Pevensey Bay, where we'll be spending the next week on the pebbly, wintry beach. The weather calls for rain, which sounds fabulous to me. Lots of reading time by the fire! Olga will go with us on the train as she did in June.

I got happy news yesterday from Linda Sue, who bought the stuffed lizard that we saw in a Dulwich charity shop a few days ago, and that I regretted leaving behind:


"He is yours," she wrote. "Hand woven, hand dyed, hand stitched!"

Christmas has come early for me! Thanks, Linda Sue! As you can see, Mr. Lizard is temporarily resident at the Spider Hole until she and I meet up again.

Dave and I also exchanged our gifts last night, so we don't have to schlep them to Pevensey Bay. I got him a couple of kitchen gadgets that he wanted/needed, and he got me a shirt and a very bizarre book related to some YouTube channel he follows. I think he's the one who wanted the book, but anyway...the shirt has lemons all over it, which he said was a tribute to my recent citrus tree crimes. (The tree is outside now, by the way, where it will remain for the time being given that we're having relatively warm temperatures, only reaching the mid-40s at night.)

And now, off to the beach!

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Prepare to be Awed


I am getting a late start this morning, given that I didn't wake up until almost 8 a.m.! We were out a bit later than usual last night in order to allow the cleaners to do their thing in our flat. More about that in a moment.

First, yesterday began dramatically when I was walking Olga in the morning. Down the street there were about eight magpies all squawking and chattering from rooftops and aerials surrounding one front garden. (Magpies are VERY LOUD when they want to be.) I thought, "There must be a cat down there." But I looked and instead saw a hawk, sitting on the garden wall and eating a bird. I don't know whether that bird was a magpie, or the magpies were simply offended by the hawk's presence, but they sure were making a racket.

I tried to take a picture but they were across the street from me and I only had my phone, and I didn't want to get closer with Olga for fear of scaring the hawk away. I couldn't get a shot that looked like anything.

Nature, red in tooth and claw.


I wrapped Dave's Christmas presents. Don't they look good? I found that wrapping paper discarded in a trash pile around the corner after last Christmas -- an unused roll -- and salvaged it. So, yeah, that's free wrapping paper. I can't complain.

Finally, last night -- the cleaners. I say "night" but they really showed up at 5 p.m., so evening is a better word. They were a man and woman, and they didn't speak English -- I think they were Russian, as Dave said he heard Mrs Russia from upstairs chatting with them on the front porch. Dave and I had already worked out that we weren't going to ask them to move the houseplants, which are huge and numerous, because I didn't want the plants damaged and I'd already cleaned around them.

So we asked them to do all the baseboards, the molding, the tops of pictures, the kitchen cabinets, the doors -- places that I often don't think to clean myself. They were also going to vacuum and mop and do the bathrooms and all the normal stuff one would do when cleaning.

Then we went out to dinner at a modern French restaurant called Riviera down by St. James' Palace. I had two martinis to blast from my mind the fact that two perfect strangers were rooting around in our house. The martinis were very effective.

When we got home, I was prepared to be awed. Professional cleaners, right? I thought we'd walk in and go, "Wow! I never realized how much I'd been missing when I cleaned! This place looks AMAZING!"

Instead, we walked in and said, "Oh."

Because it looked pretty much the same. In fact Dave was quite annoyed because he felt they missed some spots. He wanted to leave a negative review but I urged him to just let it go. This has all been a learning experience and what we've learned is that we are (I am) quite capable of cleaning our own flat.

The baseboards DO look a lot better, I'll give them that.


As requested, here's a shot of my new shirt from the Bahamas via an East Dulwich thrift store. Sushi, anyone?

(Top photo: Camberwell, on the way home from Linda Sue's on Tuesday.)

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The Spider Hole


Adventures in South London yesterday as I went to visit Blogland's beloved Linda Sue on her sojourn in the Big Smoke! Linda Sue has been here since September and we'd communicated about meeting up, but between my work schedule and her settling in we didn't get around to it until yesterday. She is literally across the city from me -- I took the tube, overground train and bus to get to her in Dulwich, but the journey only took slightly more than an hour, so that's not too bad.

I met up with her at the Spider Hole, the flat she's renting until she goes home to Washington state next month. For those who don't follow Linda Sue's blog, where she has documented the strange drama surrounding this flat, she has nicknamed it the Spider Hole given its owner's enthusiasm for super heroes -- including Spider-Man, who figures prominently in the decor -- and its position, a top-floor walk-up.

To be honest, I was almost as excited to see the mythical Spider Hole as I was Linda Sue herself, given the celebrity status it has lately achieved on her blog. It was like visiting the Taj Mahal, but smaller.

We sat in her lounge (as living rooms are known here in the UK) and chatted a while before venturing out into the street to check out the local charity shops. It was raining pretty steadily -- not pouring, but not drizzling either -- so getting out and about was a bit of a challenge. But as I always say, if you wait for good weather to do things in England, you'll never get anything done. That's why umbrellas exist.


As befits Linda Sue, her neighborhood is a collection of quirky, artsy shops and murals and architecture.


Some artsy elements are large, while others are very small. This looks very John-in-Sgt.-Pepper to me, which I assume was the intention.


A sad, sodden book in a very wet gutter. I'm trying not to take this as a metaphor for the value of blogging.


I thought this shirt was pretty funny, but I didn't buy it. It casts WAY too wide a net, you know?

I did, however, get a cute Christmas ornament and a book about wandering in East London, and I was sorely tempted by a stuffed, handmade-looking toy lizard that I may still send Linda Sue back to retrieve.


We ended our wanders in the East Dulwich Tavern, where we sat by this cozy fireplace beneath coat hangers (?) and antlers decorated with holiday baubles -- that's my bag on the green stool, in fact. We talked and had lunch and a pint before Linda Sue dropped me at the Goose Green bus stop for the journey home.

The bus was taking its sweet time, though, and after Linda Sue headed back to the Spider Hole I decided to walk on toward East Dulwich station. It was a good thing I did, because I popped in to another charity shop where I found a fabulous shirt from the Bahamas featuring colorful reef fish swimming all over it. This poor shirt looked so out of place in rainy gray London that I had to buy it. I figure I can wear it when I go to Florida, and maybe in California in February.

I took a few more pictures before catching another bus at East Dulwich and heading home via a slightly different route. A fun day out, but somehow Linda Sue and I neglected to take a selfie together, so we'll have to get together again before she leaves next month. A plan for the New Year!

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Getting Things Done


Yesterday was a day for getting things done -- ticking items off my mental list, you might say.

First, I communicated with the travel agency handling our trip to South America next summer. I had to give them passport information, and Dave (who is 6'3") wanted to know whether we could get the equivalent of premium economy seats on our flights, so we're not squeezed into the smallest space available all the way across the planet. I'm still awaiting an answer on that second question.

Then I walked to the bank to deposit my £2 worth of pennies. I felt I had to walk, even though the closest branch of our bank is in St. John's Wood, because if I took the tube I'd spend more than I was depositing to get there. Plus I figured the walk would do me some good. I walked half an hour each way, waited in line about 20 minutes and all in all, it was the least efficient use of my time I could possibly have imagined, financially speaking. But at least those pennies are out of my life.


While in St. John's Wood I noticed that a huge area of land off Queen's Terrace has been cleared of buildings. Past the shopfronts where they filmed the TV show "Pistols" a few years ago, there was a long brick building that used to be military barracks. (You can see it in some of the photos in that linked post, as well as here on Google Street View.) All of that is gone, and this massive development is going to be rising in its place.

I was glad to see the Knights of St. John's Tavern has been preserved. You can see it behind that yellow crane (or whatever it is). I think this little row of shops, along with the pub, is historically protected.



I had to buy some light bulbs, and a card for our dog-walker. Then, when I got home, I had to install said light bulbs, and now there's enough light in the hallway for the cleaners to see whatever mythical dust they need to clean when they arrive tomorrow night.

Finally, I sat down and made our annual charitable donations to the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Planned Parenthood.

I think that was almost everything on my list. I'm more or less caught up on life!

(Top photo: In Hampstead Cemetery on Sunday. Bottom photos: Leaves found on my walk along Finchley Road yesterday.)

Monday, December 18, 2023

Another Night Out


Dave and I were out on the town again last night. I KNOW! Twice in a row! How has this happened, for two old TV-watching homebodies like us?!

Well, a year ago at Christmas, one of Dave's students gave him a gift certificate to Wigmore Hall, a classical music performance space near Oxford Street. The certificate sat in a drawer for months but I always knew it was there and that we needed to use it within a year. Sometimes I'd take it out and set it on the table next to Dave's chair in the living room, as a hint for him to pick a performance, but it would get covered over with schoolwork and inevitably I'd wind up putting it in the drawer again. Finally, several weeks ago, I got out the computer and presented him with some options, and we settled on a French horn concert by a musician named Ben Goldscheider.

So that was last night. Goldscheider, with violinist Callum Smart and pianist Richard Uttley, played four compositions, by Mozart, Gyorgy Ligeti, Clara Schumann and Brahms. It was really enjoyable. It's hard to beat a French horn for sound, with its beautiful round, full tones. The Ligeti seemed like it was probably the hardest piece, a dissonant 1982 composition that seemed full of '80s angst, the musical equivalent of a Brutalist building, or maybe Margaret Thatcher's economic policies. (Although Ligeti was Hungarian by birth.) As I told Dave, "I can't imagine what that sheet music looks like!"

And then, on the way home, we got to check out some of the Christmas lights in and around Wigmore Hall and Portland Square.


Here are the decorations on St. Christopher's Place...


...and here on James Street, both across the street from Wigmore Hall. Dave thought I should get a video for full effect.

Otherwise, yesterday was spent mostly at home. I did some work in the garden, raking fallen leaves and tidying up dead growth. I had planned to allow the leaves to break down and feed the soil, but they were so thick on the grass I thought they might kill it -- and indeed some areas were yellowing. I'm not fussy about the lawn but I don't want dead patches. I didn't try to pick up ALL the leaves, just the densest mats. I dumped them in the back of the garden so they can break down there, and left the ones that are naturally mulching our flower beds.

Two nights from now, we have to get out of the house again because Dave has hired professional cleaners to come in and give the place a three-hour once-over. He's been having a lot of allergic symptoms and he thinks there's still lingering plaster dust from our recent renovations. I'm trying not to be defensive about this, because I'm in charge of cleaning around here and I think I do a darn good job -- and to be honest I think hiring cleaners is a waste of money and I don't want people touching my stuff. But I'm acquiescing in the interest of potentially improving Dave's allergies. I don't think it will make a whit of difference but I'm going along to get along.