Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Books, Bread and Birds

Well, I wish I had something interesting to write about today. I really don't, unless you want to hear about my ongoing efforts to get library books back from recalcitrant teenagers. My latest struggle is with a boy who has a book that was due last September. He seems completely unconcerned about the need to return it, despite a million weekly overdue notices and appeals from me via e-mail and in person, even when I emphasize that it's community property and others may be waiting for it. The other day I asked him if he'd been looking for it, and he said, "No."

I think some kids just don't understand a library. When I come after them for keeping materials too long, I sometimes get a sort of attitudinal (but not literal) eye-roll. Like they're thinking, "What?! It's just a book."

And it's true that nowadays, books are more plentiful and more easily acquired than ever before. But I always try to explain to them that it's not just the hunk of paper. There are principles involved here. We are teaching them how to use community resources, so that when they go to college they aren't completely bewildered by the college library, and we're also teaching them respect for institutions and their fellow students.

Of course teenagers never want to hear about principles and respect from a preachy librarian.

Mysterious Pile o' Bread on Finchley Road

Otherwise, life's been pretty routine. Have I mentioned that Dave is having hernia surgery on Feb. 20? Yesterday I got cleared to take that day off so I could be with him in the hospital and shuttle his doped-up self back home afterwards. February is going to be a busy month for us, with tree surgery, Dave surgery and our trip to California...

...which, I was just reading yesterday, is currently being inundated with rain from "atmospheric rivers," whatever those are. Can I pick a vacation destination or what? Hopefully things will be drier by the time we arrive on the 10th. I was really hoping for some sunshine. I mean, it never rains in Southern California, as the song famously taught us!

Here's something fun I was playing with this morning. It's my Merlin Bird ID app, which listens to birds and identifies them. All I have to do is step outside the back door, turn on the app and it tells me what's singing in the garden. So this morning I was hearing, as you can see, a blackbird, a robin and (momentarily) a blue tit.

Here are the bird songs themselves, which the app records in an audio file that I uploaded to SoundCloud:

Blackbirds are often what I hear singing most prominently in the pre-dawn darkness. Which always makes me think of The Beatles.

If you're wondering about that mysterious colorful ball shown on that audio clip, it's my profile photo on Google. This happened completely accidentally. It's a picture of the Kaatskill Kaleidoscope, which I visited way back in 2008. I uploaded a low-res video of the kaleidoscope -- my first upload to YouTube -- and YouTube turned it into my profile photo. It then automatically became my Google profile photo, because Google owned YouTube, and I've just never bothered to change it.

It's funny how so many things online happen accidentally. My e-mail address was assigned to me by AOL back in 1995, and includes a combination of my name and a completely random set of numbers. That has become my online identity for so many things, even though those numbers mean nothing. How did this become me -- a fuzzy picture of a kaleidoscope and a random numerical sequence?

I guess I found things to write about after all.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Bob Marley in Neasden

When I walked through Neasden on Saturday morning, I noticed that many of the buildings and shopfronts were decorated with murals of Bob Marley. The one above is probably the largest, by Mr Cenz. Here's a video showing it being painted last summer.

At first I thought it was simply a theme agreed upon by all the local businesses -- someone loved Bob Marley. But then I read that Marley and the Wailers actually lived in Neasden back in 1972. They rented a house a short walk from this high street, a center of Jamaican and Caribbean culture in the UK.

I didn't go see the house itself, which has a blue plaque designating its significance. (Here it is on Google Street View.) But I liked these shopfronts.

The eyes on this one look a bit wild from a distance...

...but perfectly normal up close.

The one on the right isn't Marley-esque...

...nor is this, but I liked them anyway. Why are those chickens so happy? They should be terrified.

I had a Bob Marley CD at some point but I wouldn't say I'm a huge fan. I do remember playing it while sitting on the patio with some friends at their house in Orlando, the sun shining down, the swimming pool sparkling, the Coronas on ice, and in that kind of environment the music fit right in. (Probably should have been Red Stripe rather than Corona, but oh well.)

Anyway, it was interesting to learn this little bit of local history!

Monday, January 29, 2024

Still Stylish After All These Years

Early yesterday morning I was sitting in the living room when a pinkish light began to permeate the space. The living room faces west, so I couldn't see the rising sun, but I knew we must be having a nice sunrise. So grabbed my phone and ran to the front window in the dining room, which faces east, and this is what I saw.

Thanks for your comments on my Ikea post yesterday. Incidentally, I instinctively wrote it "Ikea," but I note that many people online (and many commenters) wrote IKEA. I wondered which was correct. IKEA, it turns out, is an acronym -- it stands for founder Ingvar Kamprad, who lived on a farm named Elmtaryd, near the Swedish town of Agunnaryd. Hence, IKEA. Who knew?

However, the Associated Press's style rules, which dominate the news industry, say that an acronym should be capitalized only when the letters are pronounced individually, as in IBM, CIA or FBI. When they function as a word, as in Ikea, only the first letter is capitalized. Which I guess is why I instinctively wrote it that way.

It's interesting how AP style has continued to influence my writing life, even though I've been out of professional journalism for 13 years now. (And I never saw myself as a consistent style maven!) I still have a tendency to capitalize Internet, for example, because that was the rule under AP style -- until it changed in 2016, after I left the news business.

Yesterday morning I walked Olga around the neighborhood. We found some new graffiti at the basketball courts -- remember this artist from the graffiti I found recently in South Kilburn? She gets around! (I'm assuming that's a self-portrait.)

When I got back home, I cleared some stuff in the garden. We've made the sad decision to remove one of our buddleia bushes near the back door. Its roots are prying apart the mortar in the rock wall surrounding the flower bed, and it's gotten so big it's hard to walk past it. So I cut the whole thing down to the ground, as far as I could, which will make Mrs. Kravitz happy -- it's the one she complained about. I also pruned another buddleia nearby. It seems very spacious out there now.

Then I took Olga to the cemetery, where this primrose is already blooming in the grass. It seems early -- they normally appear en masse about a month from now. Maybe this one's just an outlier.

Finally, remember the documentary I mentioned called "Victim/Suspect," that examined cases in which women reported sexual abuse only to be turned into suspects themselves? Well, last night we watched a somewhat similar Netflix documentary called "American Nightmare," which recounted the story of a woman who was kidnapped from her home in California in 2015. At first the police didn't believe her story, which was eventually revealed to be true. It was such a riveting (and infuriating) account that we binge-watched all three episodes!

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Doing My Part for the Swedes

As I expected, my hellebores -- which looked so awful after our freeze about a week ago -- have bounced right back. They're hardy little devils.

Yesterday's big adventure did indeed prove to be the Ikea Shopping Cart Repatriation Project. You may remember that someone abandoned an Ikea shopping cart on our street last week, and it's been sitting in various places on the sidewalk since then. I called Ikea about it last weekend, and they said they'd send someone to collect it, but no one I spoke to acted like they'd ever had to deal with this problem before -- which did not give me high hopes. The nearest Ikea is about four miles away, so how it got here in the first place is a mystery.

Every time I passed it this week, I thought about what to do next. You may say, "Why do you care? What business is it of yours?" And it was NONE of my business, really, except that it made my street look trashy and it bothered me.

I could have just called the council and reported it as rubbish. Maybe they'd have picked it up, and maybe not, but I didn't want to see it just hauled to a landfill. Having once worked in retail I know shopping carts are not cheap, and why waste it?

I thought about trying to take it on a bus, but I'd have to take two buses in order to get to Ikea and that seemed like too much faffing around. I'm not sure a bus driver would even allow it onboard. A taxi would be the easiest (but not cheapest) solution -- if the cart would fit.

So yesterday I downloaded a taxi app that I'd been meaning to get anyway, and called a black cab. It rolled up and the driver readily agreed to take me and the shopping cart to Ikea. It fit in the car with room to spare.

Here we are en route. The driver's name was Bernard. He was very curious about why I was taking on this project, and I told him I had no confidence that Ikea would do it themselves. He probably thought I stole the cart in the first place.

He asked where I was from, and we chatted about Florida -- he said he'd driven all over the state, "from the Keys to Tallahassee." He seemed incredulous that I would leave there to live in London. (I get that a lot. I actually left New Jersey for London, but never mind.)

In 15 minutes or so, we rolled up to Ikea. I hopped out and took a quick picture. "Should I smile?" said Bernard. (As you may be able to see, he did.)

I paid him and he rolled away, and I wheeled the shopping cart...

...into an empty trolley bay and left it there. Problem solved! The store was just opening but I didn't go inside. (Bernard said I should go in and tell them what I'd done, and maybe they'd give me a voucher. But again, too much faffing around.)

I'd brought my camera along, so I decided to take a photo walk back home again. (In my mind, this helped justify the £29 expense of the taxi ride.)

I started in Neasden and walked the four miles through Dollis Hill, Willesden Green and Cricklewood. I got lots of photos which I will no doubt be sharing here and on Flickr.

After I got back home, the rest of the afternoon was uneventful. I did a lot of reading, trying to catch up on blogland. I walked Olga, who had a wonderful day because...

...she found a PIZZA on the sidewalk! Yes, I let her have a slice, even though I'm sure pizza is not the healthiest thing for dogs. (Just as it's not the healthiest thing for people.) I'm sure she would have eaten it all if I hadn't dragged her away.

Finally, last night, Dave and I watched Ridley Scott's "Napoleon" on Amazon. Well, I did -- Dave fell asleep. (To be fair, he falls asleep during most movies.) It was interesting -- I know very little about the Napoleonic era despite reading "War and Peace" and harboring a desire to visit remote St. Helena myself. Joaquin Phoenix gave an understated performance -- he seemed like he was playing himself dressed as Napoleon -- but Rupert Everett stole the show as General Wellington at Waterloo, and Vanessa Kirby did a great job as Josephine.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Colorful Lights, Vases and Mushrooms

I was walking to work yesterday when I passed this rather psychedelic-looking mushroom near the tube station. And I think that's a dog's nose peeking out beneath it. Kind of surreal!

I took the Christmas lights off the avocado tree several days ago, and then Dave and I were missing them. There's something comforting about that colorful glow in the early morning hours before dawn. It's nice to sit on the couch and blog in their diffuse rainbow light.

So I put them back up again. Only, this time they wouldn't light! Apparently something in the act of my taking them down, boxing them up, pulling them back out and winding them around the tree again (all very brief tasks -- it's only one little strand of lights) loosened a connection and somehow killed the whole shebang. We've had them since 2011 and several of the little bulbs no longer worked, so I guess they've lived their life. I'll have to get another strand for next year. Or not.

I decided on Thursday that I really should get another Covid booster. I haven't had one since September 2022 and since Dave and I are about to embark on some traveling, and people around me at work are dropping like flies, it seemed prudent. Dave got one last fall after getting a notice of eligibility from the NHS. No one ever notified me that I'd be eligible (and you can't just buy the jab in the UK, apparently) but I thought I could make a case, given that I live with an immune-compromised person.

So I went to our local walk-in vaccination clinic on Thursday evening and they told me to come back yesterday morning. (They didn't want to open a new vial late in the day, apparently.) So I did, and got my jab. They didn't seem too concerned about my eligibility, but they did ask.

Then I learned that yet another of my librarian co-workers tested positive for Covid! I worked with her all day Thursday, so it's anyone's guess whether I was too late with the vaccine. I think they take a couple of weeks to reach maximum effect. I felt tired yesterday afternoon but I suppose that could just be vaccine after-effects.

My brother wrote me after my post yesterday and sent this photo.

"Maybe it will make you feel better to know that while Dad, Melanie and the Karmann Ghia are no more, I still have the 8-track player that tied it all together," he said.

This is not unusual for my brother, who loves to hold on to sentimental objects, and in this case I'm glad he did. It's nice to know the old 8-track is still out there. He didn't mention whether or not he has any tapes to put in it. Since 8-track tapes barely worked when they were brand new, I can't imagine they'd work now.

When I got my first car, a 1977 Pontiac Sunbird, it had an 8-track player. By the time I was driving, in the early '80s, 8-track tapes were passé but I used to pick up used ones now and then at Goodwill. They invariably broke almost immediately.

Today I'm thinking about a scheme to return the Ikea shopping cart, which is still sitting on our street. Stay tuned!

Friday, January 26, 2024


Some of you may have seen the news about Melanie, the singer-songwriter who played at the original Woodstock, and who died on Tuesday at the age of 76.

This just depresses the heck out of me. I've written about Melanie many times on this blog, most comprehensively back in 2008. Her music spoke to me when I was young, partly because my father was a fan and I always associated her husky vocals and expert guitar-playing with joyful memories of riding around in his smoky, rattly Volkswagens, listening to her on 8-track tape. I bought stacks of her albums over the years, mostly at second-hand record stores because I became a fan with disposable income in the early and mid-'80s. By that time, the era of synth pop, her music was largely out of fashion -- but I still loved it.

Melanie is unfortunately known to most people for her hit song "Brand New Key," a plucky little ditty about a girl and boy getting together to, umm, roller skate. (She always insisted the song was not meant as a sexual double-entendre but frankly I don't believe it.)

I never thought that was her best song. I prefer the guitar work in "Lovin' Baby Girl" and the pathos in "Momma, Momma." I love the sunny optimism of "Beautiful People." I think her vocals shine most when she plays with minimal accompaniment, as in this version of "Together Alone."

Her performance at Woodstock prompted her to write "(Lay Down) Candles in the Rain," one of her most famous songs from probably her most famous album. She shared a stage with John Lennon and Stevie Wonder, and a TV soundstage with Johnny Cash, and performed with many other household names of the era.

I think it's fair to say she helped shape the peace-loving, hippie-ish, vegetarian ideals I lived by when I was younger. (And still do, though adulthood has of course leavened them with practicality!) I remember how surprised I was when I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing her in 1991, and we sat down in a restaurant and she ordered a chicken breast -- this woman who once sang "I don't eat animals, and they don't eat me"! Practicality comes to us all.

I saw her in concert three times. The first time, right after that 1991 interview, was at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg, Fla. My friend Kevin (above on the left) and I even got a backstage pass so we could say hi to her after the show.

I still have the pass! ("Precious Cargo" was the album she had just released at the time.) I also still have my ticket stub:

She wasn't a particularly pricey ticket by then, but I remember how great she sounded. (I have no memory of who the "friends" were.) Though often thought of as a "flower child" who disappeared after the mid-'70s, she was in fact always working and recording, and even won an Emmy in 1989 for writing the lyrics to the theme song for the TV series "Beauty and the Beast."

I saw her again in 1998, in Sarasota, and finally in 2008 when I went to "Hippiefest" at Bethel Woods, the upstate New York arts center now on the site of the original Woodstock concert.

I suppose 76 is a respectable age. It's not like she died an untimely death, and after all, it happens to the best of us. But I'm still sad about it, partly because I'm missing my father once again, and partly because the deaths of our idols can't help but bring to mind our own mortality and the passage of time in general. We are no longer our youthful selves.

(Top photo: Winter trees in Kilburn, last week.)

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Winter Lights

Last night after work I went to see the Winter Lights show at Canary Wharf. This is an annual exhibit of sculptures involving light and often sound, with the artworks positioned in public areas between all the glass towers of banks and investment firms.

I've been to Winter Lights several times, in 2016, 2018 and 2019. I could have sworn I've been more recently but I can't find anything in my blog, so maybe not. The years fly by!

In any case, it was good  to go back and see works like "The Peace Poem" (above) by Emergency Exit Arts and Robert Montgomery.

Above "The Peace Poem," the pedestrian bridge has been adorned by a work called "Captivated by Colour," by Camille Walala. The lights change color, which in turn makes the walls change as well.

Here's one of Simon Chevalier's "Les Oiseaux," a group of metal-winged bird-like structures. (Some of them weren't lit when I saw them. I also note that these look slightly different from the ones on the Winter Lights web site -- maybe the artist made some changes in his design?)

Here's "The Clew" by Ottotto. Lots of people were standing in the middle taking selfies. (Which is true of all these sculptures, actually.)

And here's "Idle Time" by Marcus Lyall, in which a pair of laser-projected figures walk, stand around and basically hang out. According to the Winter Lights organizers, "This piece is a reminder that being idle is a natural, human state of affairs, and important to our wellbeing. Utilising the construction tarpaulin of a new building as the canvas, Idle Time is here to remind Canary Wharf residents, workers, and visitors of the need for rest and relaxation."

(When I first arrived to see this piece it wasn't yet turned on because there were people in the building being renovated, and a Winter Lights guide told me they couldn't project the lasers until the building was vacant. "Health and safety," she explained. Fortunately when I came back later it was up and running.)

Below "Idle Time" you can see "Geist," by This is Loop. The web site says the artists "have been inspired by the elusive neutrino or 'ghost particle' and Geist explores the hunt that is played out in enormous neutrino detectors to prove the existence of these particles."

Because so many of the works involve sound and moving, pulsing, changing light, I also made a video. It's seven minutes long and shows these sculptures, in order:

1. Submergence, by Squidsoup
2. Kinetic Perspective, by Juan Fuentes
3. Geist, by This is Loop
4. Biophilia, by Frankie Boyle
5. Vessels, by Limbic Cinema
6. Marbles, by Gertjan Adema
7. Neuron, by Juan Fuentes, and then On the Wave of Light, by Those Guys Lighting
8. Sign, by Vendel & De Wolf
9. Idle Time, by Marcus Lyall

"Sign" is an interesting one, as it mimics fire. I also liked "Neuron" and "Kinetic Perspective" with their musical elements, and you'll see that the kids loved "Marbles," which involved a small sphere rising up through the middle of a larger one, to roll slowly down a spiral ramp around the outside and start again.

I've been to Winter Lights in past years when it's been both windy and freezing cold. This year the weather was mild and consequently there were lots more people around, but fortunately not so many that it was hard to see the art!

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Short Takes

This is the lazy person's way to write a blog post, because I don't have to make things flow or come up with any transitions. But it's a good way to catch up on minor issues! Here goes:

-- I realized after publishing yesterday's post that I missed an opportunity on the title. I should have called it "A Whole Lotta ABBA." Oh well.

-- We had Storm Jocelyn last night, yet another named storm, continuing into the early hours this morning. Again, it was more severe in Ireland and up north. Here in London I don't think it's amounted to much. (Although it's dark out there so I can't see the condition of the patio yet!)

-- When I recently published a photo of Olga scratching in the grass near the train tracks, some readers asked about the barrier atop the fence. Here's a close-up that I took yesterday morning when we were back in that area. They're metal strips that have been peeled back in a sort of pinwheel fashion, meant to keep people from climbing over them. Some similar barriers apparently rotate in the wind, but I've never noticed that with this one. Maybe it's just too old and rusty and crusty to be mobile anymore.

-- While we were coming back from ABBA on Monday night, my friend Colin pointed out these weird shadowy images over the benches in the tube stations along the new Elizabeth Line. He'd seen news stories about these so-called "ghost marks," which are the result of people sitting on the benches and leaning against the wall. Transport for London, the organization that runs the tube, is trying to figure out how to prevent them. They're kind of cool until you realize what they are, and then they're kind of disgusting.

-- I came across this article in The New York Times about so-called "observation journaling," or writing down the mundane things you notice during moments of down-time during the day. I was amused because this isn't exactly a new idea. It's basically what I do every single day, making a mental note of things I can put on my blog. You're reading my "observation journaling" right now!

-- Finally, Dave and I watched an interesting (and enraging) documentary last night on Netflix called "Victim/Suspect," about victims of sexual assault (almost all women, of course) who report the crimes to the police, only to be accused and even charged themselves for making a false report. It examines how police come to their conclusions, often almost immediately and sometimes based on erroneous evidence. Other factors, such as the social prominence of the alleged attacker, come into play as well. I can see why women are reluctant to report assaults, sometimes with tragic consequences.

(Top photo: Off Kilburn High Road, last week.)

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

A Whole Lot of ABBA

I thought you might all appreciate a photo of the mysterious Ikea shopping cart. It was still there when I went to work yesterday morning, but I didn't check last night. I suspect it will linger on our street for days if not indefinitely.

So, I learned something interesting yesterday. Remember how I mused recently about the word pupil vs. the word student? Well, some commenters made me think about the origins of the word and how it may relate to the pupil of the eye, or the pupal stage of an insect. Were all these words related? If so, why?

Well, I looked it up, and it turns out they all stem from the Latin words pupa, or its forms pupulus or pupilla, which mean child, little boy and little girl. Pupil in the educational sense is obvious, as is the pupal (young or developmental) stage of an insect; the pupil of the eye is so named because of the tiny reflection of we see when looking into someone's eye. Other words with the same root include puppet.

Pretty interesting, right?!

But to be honest, that's not really what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about...


Last night, after work, I went with my friend Colin to see the ABBA Voyage show at the ABBA arena (yes, they have their own dedicated theatre) in East London. This is the show where digitized versions of ABBA as they appeared in their heyday perform on stage. I was a big ABBA fan as a young person (weren't we all?), I owned several of their albums (didn't we all?) and they're still on my iTunes as we speak. So I was very curious about how this was going to work, and what it would look like.

Well, I'm happy to report that the show was totally worth my £80 ticket price. The "performers" appear on stage looking like actual humans, with large images projected onto screens so you can see their digital faces in detail. They look pretty natural -- kind of like a good CGI character in a movie. There are tiny flaws in the movement of small facial muscles, and other giveaways that make you realize you're watching a digital image, but they are very subtle and overall the singers look realistic enough that you ultimately buy the illusion. I developed a crush on Benny all over again.

(Of course recordings and photos were prohibited, but there are clips of the show at the link above so you can see what I'm talking about.)

There are also actual humans on stage -- a live band with backup singers, though I'm pretty sure the music we heard was almost all pre-recorded. They even got to do a number, a gender-swapped version of "Does Your Mother Know?" I assume this is largely to give the audience the sense that they're applauding for some actual people and not just digital images.

I cannot explain how the digital singers were projected onto the stage. There was no obvious scrim or surface upon which to project them, and they certainly appeared three dimensional. They looked opaque against the lighting effects behind them. But they would occasionally vanish in an instant, as if with the flip of a switch, and at least once they strolled off into the darker recesses of the stage. I don't get it!

The lighting effects, including a couple of animated story sequences, were spectacular. And the digital renderings of the costumes looked VERY real. I couldn't get over how the fabric draped and the sequins sparkled.

As for the audience, the evening was quite a scene. People were there in fancy dress, wearing Anni-Frid and Agnetha wigs or colorful bell-bottoms, like these women I snapped in the tube station on the way home. Again, lots of sequins. And the place was packed! On a Monday night! ABBA is a money machine.

We heard all the hits, including some lesser-known ones like "Summer Night City," and a couple of newer songs that I didn't know. You haven't lived until you've seen a bunch of middle-aged, heavyset British guys there with their wives, waving their hands in the air and singing "Gimme gimme gimme a man after midnight..."

Of course the finale was "Dancing Queen," and there was even an encore!

Dave, meanwhile, was home with Olga and having adventures of his own. Here's the text he sent me, which I didn't get until after the show:

Ultimately, we don't have much more information than that. Dave never saw the suspicious package or learned why it was deemed suspicious and not just someone's Amazon delivery. But apparently the police and the bomb squad were swarming around in the street for a couple of hours. It was all over by the time I got home to happily find him and Olga unharmed!

Monday, January 22, 2024

Orchids and a Primrose

I was out in the garden trimming yesterday and found this little primrose blooming. A pleasant surprise! I also see our winter aconite coming up, and our snowdrops. There's always something happening, even in the so-called "dead of winter."

We had some crazy wind last night from Storm Isha. Not as crazy as some parts of the UK, which were seeing gusts in the 80-90 mph range. But it was windy enough that the scaffold across the street was banging and clattering like crazy. I could hear it from our living room while watching TV. I was waiting for that whole building to take flight.

I gotta say, though, it feels good to have some warmer temperatures and rain.

I walked to the grocery store at lunch to buy some soup, and passed an Ikea shopping cart sitting on the sidewalk. This wouldn't be unusual if there were an Ikea store anywhere around us. But the nearest one's in Wembley, which is about four miles away! How this shopping cart got all the way to our street is a mystery to me. Did someone take it on the bus, or pop it into their van? Who does that?

When I got back home I called Ikea, which was an adventure in itself because of course you can't call the store directly -- instead you have to call a central number and speak to some guy in Scotland who seems never to have encountered this situation before, having been trained only in helping people assemble their Ektorps and Nordens.

Supposedly someone's going to collect the abandoned cart, someday.

In addition to our single primrose, we have some orchids blooming (indoors, of course). This is the plant I found at Fortune Green a year ago, which first bloomed for me last September. It has put out a second stalk of flowers, but for some reason several of the buds have shriveled. It's a dark time of year to try to bloom. Maybe it's just not getting enough light.

(That white blob in the background is Olga, lying on her pink blanket on the couch.)

And these two, adopted from a windowsill at school at the start of the pandemic, are also offering up some tropical vibes in this chilly season. We have several others with flower stalks, so we should see more blossoms in a few weeks or months.

I started a new book yesterday, "Trust" by Hernan Diaz, which was one of the Pulitzer winners last year. I'm only about 30 pages in so I can't offer an opinion yet. Business culture in New York in the 1920s isn't inherently very interesting to me, but we'll see where the book goes.

Oh, and speaking of books, I was putting our rubbish bins away after our trash collection on Friday and noticed that one of them seemed heavy. I looked inside and found that the Russians had discarded a shopping bag full of Russian-language children's books. (They must have put them in the bin right after the trash guys came.) I retrieved them and I'm going to take them to school and add them to our so-called "heritage language collection," which is maintained in the Lower School for international students to read in their native languages. I don't think the Russians would mind, do you?

This is not the first time I've pulled something out of the trash that they've thrown away. They must think I'm very eccentric. To put it nicely.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Cactus Flower

We had more of that golden winter sun yesterday morning, lighting up the tops of the apartment buildings behind us. When I opened the door to take a picture I was struck by the reflection in the glass, so I decided to include it.

My weather app is telling me it's 45º F out there right now, and the sun's not even up yet. There's also light rain. I moved the tender patio plants outside yesterday morning -- it felt so good to get them out of the house and clean the floors. (Probably felt good to them, too!) Now they're getting some moisture and they're back in nature where they belong.

I also watered all the orchids and the indoor plants. You know, as long as I've had houseplants, I've kept to a weekly watering schedule -- watering on Saturday or Sunday, pretty much whether they need it or not. It's always worked for me. Lately I've been experimenting a bit with watering only when the plants get dry, but one of the prayer plants got very dry and the leaves curled up and I'm wondering why I'm messing with my system. If it's not broke, don't fix it, right?

One of our little cacti is blooming once again. I don't remember it ever blooming in January -- I think flowers usually come in the spring. But hey, I'll take it! Looks like there are a few more buds on the way, too.

I pretty much frittered away the day yesterday. Took Olga for a short walk through the neighborhood -- she didn't seem to want to go far -- and did laundry. In the afternoon I was in the mood for an old movie, so I rented "Up the Down Staircase" with Sandy Dennis. I don't think I'd ever seen it, though I read the book years ago.

It got me thinking about the word "pupil," which the teachers in the movie (and book) regularly use. Do teachers still refer to their kids as "pupils"? I never hear it at our school. I call them kids or students, though I do remember one of my own teachers emphasizing that just being in a classroom doesn't automatically make one a student. You're a pupil unless you're actually applying yourself to your studies, at which point you become a student -- at least according to him.

I took this picture last night after the sun set and Olga made herself comfortable beneath our comforter. The room was quite dark except for light coming onto the patio from the living room windows, and I was impressed once again at how well the iPhone camera handles a low-light situation. Olga was also snoring up a storm, but you'll just have to imagine that part!

Saturday, January 20, 2024


I took this picture yesterday morning from the railway bridge in West Hampstead, right by the tube station. The sun was rising, the air was clear and cold. I think it was our last frosty morning for a while -- it's about 37º F (about 3º C) this morning and it's only going to get warmer from here, at least in the immediate future. Starting tomorrow we'll be in the 50's pretty much every day (40's at night). 

This was the garden yesterday morning, everything crunchy beneath a thick rime of ice.

My poor brand-new hellebores are not happy. They're cold-tolerant so I think they'll bounce back, but they certainly look like they're losing the fight.

I think the tender outdoor plants -- like the geraniums, the plectranthus, the Amistad sage -- can go back outside tomorrow, when temperatures have risen and the frost has vanished. I'd love to get them out of the house because it's crowded in here and they're dropping leaves and looking generally miserable. We're supposed to get rain, too, which will give them a boost.

Last night Dave and I were in the mood for a documentary, so we started one about Jeffrey Epstein on Netflix. We were about halfway through the first episode when it dawned on me we'd seen it before! I think we watched it three or four years ago when it first came out. Does this ever happen to you -- starting a book or TV show expecting a novel experience, only to realize you've seen or read it already? Sometimes I think I'm losing my mind.

My grandfather used to keep a stack of Erle Stanley Gardner "Perry Mason" novels at his country house in West Virginia. He'd write "read" inside the cover when he finished one, so he didn't try to read it again. I always thought that was so funny -- who wouldn't remember that they'd read a book? Well, now I get it.

I am having all sorts of anxiety about our tree-trimming project, which is supposed to happen on Feb. 19, right when we get back from California. I've even taken the day off to supervise. Why I am so nervous about this I'm not sure, given that they're not really our trees. I just want to strike the right balance, keeping enough greenery for the wildlife while also making the caretaker at the apartments behind us happy. (Remember, he started this whole thing by complaining about the state of the vegetation at the back of our garden.) Why do I care whether or not he's happy? Well, that's a good question. Maybe I'm too much of a pleaser. Maybe I should tell him to take a flying leap.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Deep Breathing

Here's more graffiti I came across on my walk on Tuesday. I'm sure this person is trying to imitate Abotz, whose cat faces featured in my post two days ago. The one above is pretty amateurish compared to Abotz but it's kind of funny. Go big or go home, right?

Thanks for your comments on my post yesterday. I loved reading everyone's thoughtful responses to our current politics. It made me feel better to write out my thoughts, and to read all of yours as well. (I'll respond to them later today.) Just to be clear -- although I'm sorry the Democrats aren't doing a better job getting their message out, there is no chance that I won't vote for Biden in November. I am not waffling on that. He's got my vote all the way.

My personality is such that in any situation, I like to imagine the worst-case scenario and prepare myself to accept it. I do this with medical tests, I do it with any other stressful situation, and I do it with politics too. So this was my way of thinking through my response to a Trump victory. Hopefully, like many of my worst-case scenarios, it won't come to pass.

Speaking of medical things, I got my report back from my lung scan. It once again found mild thickening of the airways. To put it in the doctor's own words, there was "very subtle generalised diffuse prominence of the airway walls which is non-specific and could lie within the wide range of normal variation. I suspect however it probably does represent some mild airways inflammation." On the plus side, he said there was no bronchial dilation, significant structural abnormality, fibrosis or anything else worrying, and that my lungs were "reassuringly unchanged" from the last scan a couple of years ago. So that's good.

Bottom line -- I may have some mild thickening from inflammation, which I suspect is connected to acid reflux, or I may just be built this way. In any case, it's apparently nothing too severe, though it is occasionally uncomfortable. I still think it's very mild bronchiectasis, but perhaps so mild that calling it that would overstate its severity -- if that makes sense.

Dave has also been having some interesting medical adventures. The doctors have told him he needs surgery next month to repair a hernia, so when we get back from our trip to LA he's having an outpatient procedure for that. It's always something, right? I'm glad they're finally fixing it -- Dave has a couple of hernias and up to now the doctors have said they're not serious and don't demand repair, but they're making Dave uncomfortable and I'm glad the doctors have finally come around to fixing them.

I just finished a book that I enjoyed called "Destination Unknown" by Bill Konigsberg. It's a YA novel about a couple of gay boys in 1980s New York, and it reminded me a lot of my own college years -- coming out at the height of the AIDS crisis and contending with all that fear and uncertainty. I've written at length about my own experiences during that time. Konigsberg is a good writer -- he wrote another YA gay novel I enjoyed, called "The Music of What Happens," and I'm glad he's out there producing books for young gay readers.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Politics -- A Big Downer

Dave stayed home sick from work yesterday -- he had a scratchy throat and felt exhausted. He didn't have a fever, though, and he plans to go in today. I bought some Covid tests just to make sure we're clear of that. So far I seem to be OK.

I don't know why I'm having so much trouble writing a blog post these days. Normally I just open up the computer and they flow, but for several days now it's felt like pulling teeth. I'm discouraged. I have mid-winter blues.

I'm trying not to be in too much of a funk about Donald Trump winning the Iowa caucuses. It's a tiny contest, a subset of a subset of American voters, and it was hardly a surprise. (Besides, historically, caucus winners often don't go on to become president.) Dave doesn't think Trump can prevail on the national stage, particularly if he's convicted in one of his many legal cases. I'm not so sure, but I'm also trying to be philosophical about it -- if this is who people want, for whatever reason, well, that's how Democracy works. At least this time there's no surprise. We all know who he is and what he's like as a leader. The voters, whatever I may think of their motives and choices, are going into this with their eyes open.

I think the more interesting question is why people might want someone like Trump. There's no question that many, many people are panicked about what they see as unchecked immigration at the southern border. (Even though it is controlled and there are deportations happening all the time.) It's the same issue that drove Brexit, more than any other. From what I can tell, Brexit hasn't done squat to help the UK control migration -- there are more small boats crossing the channel now than before -- and Trump won't be able to better control it in the USA, though there's no doubt he'll amp up the cruelty quotient.

There's also no question that some people want his blustering, assertive presence. I have no idea why Trump's personality would appeal to anyone -- if a more odious human being ever lived, I'm not sure who it is -- but some people think he projects strength. Many want unfettered access to guns -- any and every kind of gun, as many as possible. And overturning Roe v. Wade was a huge win for Trump among many Republicans.

I also think the Democrats are doing a terrible job at selling themselves. Why is so much of America buying the Republican narrative -- that Biden is too old (when he's only FOUR YEARS older than Trump), that he's demented, that the economy is a shambles, that cities are lawless, that Democrats are weaponizing justice and politically persecuting opponents? Why does this seem to be the perceived reality? Why isn't Biden visiting the border, talking about border security, visiting cities to talk about homelessness? Why is he taking the blame for the inaction of Congress? Why aren't we hearing him emphasizing the good? Where the heck is Kamala Harris?

So, anyway, all of that is rolling around in my mind. I'm nauseous just thinking about this election and it's still ten months away.

I don't think it will be doomsday if Trump wins. I think it will be four more years of awfulness, with him pardoning himself and maybe all the J6ers -- though I don't think he cares about them much -- and being a douchebag on the world stage and doing untold damage to all our global relationships. But I think Democracy will survive.

I did send in a form yesterday requesting an overseas ballot, so hopefully I've laid the groundwork for my own voting. This is the first time I've voted since switching my permanent residence from my stepmother's house to my brother's, so we'll see how that goes. I'm sure Florida under DeSantis will do everything possible to make voting harder.

Sigh. I will try to be more cheerful tomorrow, I promise.

(Photo: On my walk through South Kilburn this week.)