Thursday, March 23, 2017

So Many Questions

I was hoping to wake this morning and learn the identity of the twisted individual who carried out Wednesday's terror attack in Westminster. I don't know why his identity even matters to me, but I'm curious to know about his background, his family, his upbringing. What kind of person could drive his car into groups of schoolchildren and tourists? What kind of mind could be so perverted by fanaticism or disease?

I was at work yesterday afternoon when I heard the news. It's particularly chilling to think that I was just at Parliament myself, chaperoning a school group, not even two weeks ago -- walking children through the same fenced yard where the police officer was stabbed and the assailant shot.

There is so much I just don't understand about the world. I don't understand religion, though I know religion isn't entirely the culprit, here. Maybe it's not the culprit at all. We still don't know.

I don't understand why we as a society don't make more allowances for identifying and treating mentally ill people. (Anyone who's in a position to do such a thing is mentally ill -- regardless of his or her reasons.)

And though there's no way to know the attacker's background, I am afraid all the conflict in the Middle East over the last two decades has produced untold numbers of hardened, scarred people with PTSD and limitless frustration and anger. This is not a reason to isolate people from that region -- rather, it's a reason to help them reorganize their societies and improve their lives. The wealthier nations of Europe and the Americas need to be far more invested and involved in stabilizing conflicted parts of the globe, rather than sealing off our borders and retreating from the world. The resources for doing so should come from proportional taxation of the wealthier people in our societies, who have instead hijacked the political process to bolster their personal prosperity.

And on a purely practical note, I'm surprised that security bollards were never installed to protect the sidewalks along the length of that bridge -- although I've walked it many times and I must admit I never noticed their absence. Easy to see in retrospect, I suppose.

Anyway, school was already over by the time the event happened, but the rest of my day went on as usual. I stayed at work until my normal time, as did many students. Today we're working as usual too. Life goes on.

(Photo: Signs of religion in Cricklewood, a few weeks ago.)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Owl

We had some excitement yesterday evening.

First, I came home from work to find that our nosy neighbor Mrs. Kravitz cut down the hawthorn tree in her back garden. Well, I'm sure she didn't cut it down herself, but she had it cut down. Workers were hauling branches out of her garden and packing them into a truck.

This surprised me, because she's been so protective of that hawthorn. In fact, she often complained about a large holly in our back garden that she felt was interfering with her tree's growth. (She also hates the holly because it drops berries on her trampoline). Dave and I had debated taking down the holly, but since we don't own the garden and tree removal is a major expense I've balked -- and now it looks like maybe we won't need to. At least not for the first reason.

Then, after it got dark, Dave and I were in the living room when I noticed a peculiar sound. At first, with the TV on, it sounded like a dog howling. Then I thought maybe it was a fox. But it was very regular, the same tone over and over. I went out in the garden and listened:

The name of my recording gives away the mystery. Yes, it was a tawny owl.

At first, I didn't know what kind of bird it was. A nightingale? They're a British thing, right? But no, I discovered online -- nightingales really sing, more like a mockingbird. This was just that single, low call, repeated again and again. So I suspected an owl.

I found this page of various British owl sounds (isn't the Internet wonderful?) and sure enough, the male tawny owl call matched.

I couldn't see him because he was in a huge, dark cedar in another neighbor's yard. But I have seen a tawny owl before, in Hyde Park.

I guess it can only be a good thing to have an owl in a garden that's plagued with digging rodents! I hope he hangs around!

(Photo: Fortune Green, about a week and a half ago.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Japanese Magnolias and Scheherazade

The pink magnolias -- or Japanese magnolias, or saucer magnolias, whatever you want to call them -- are blooming away now. They're one of my favorite trees. I still remember from my New York years the stunning display they produce every spring around the obelisk in Central Park.

Dave is happy because "Gardener's World," perhaps his favorite BBC TV show, is back on the air. It doesn't broadcast in the winter, when British gardeners evidently give up for a couple of months. Last night we watched a segment about daffodils, which are certainly out in profusion at the moment.

The squirrels dug up one of our primroses yesterday. *sigh*

Oh, and did I mention that our yellow hyacinths are blooming by the front steps -- the ones we got as a gift from friends last year? They've had several blossoms -- none as grand as last year's, when the florist forced the bulbs, but I'm told that's normal.

I've started a new project, creating an audiobook for kids at school. Some of the 6th Grade teachers are using a version of the Arabian Nights in their classes, and they came to the library seeking an audio version for students who don't speak English as a first language. That way the kids could follow along with both their eyes and ears, and could strengthen their English. Well, an audio version of this exact book apparently isn't available -- so I told them I'd make one. My speaking style is plain ol' Middle American English, free of any regional accent (except when I slip in a Southernism now and then, y'all), so I make a pretty good narrator.

Last night I sat in the dining room with my computer and read the first three chapters, recording my reading using Garage Band. It's kind of fun, actually! I've never read the Arabian Nights, the stories of Scheherazade and Sinbad the Sailor. I don't remember what we read in 6th Grade, but it wasn't that. (Actually, I remember sitting in the back of the classroom and reading "Gone With the Wind," but that wasn't at the teacher's instruction!)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Home Again

Back in London now, where Olga is no worse for wear and all is as it was. We flew back yesterday morning, after sleeping in a bit and having breakfast at our hotel. By coincidence, we were on the same flight with all the students from our school, so it was a bit like being official chaperones, even though we weren't! We did get a free ride from Heathrow back to central London on the school bus, so that was a plus.

As I said yesterday, Dave will be going back to Luxembourg and Belgium in a few days with all his high school students -- rather than just the handpicked few on this trip -- for another series of concerts. I'll be staying home, though, just me and the dog...

...and the @$%*# squirrels, which dug up two of our newly planted plants while we were gone! (I know it was squirrels, rather than foxes, because of the size of the holes and the nature of the destruction.)


(Photo: A shop window in Luxembourg.)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Bible Study at the Best Western

Here we are in Luxembourg -- a tiny little place, and an easily walkable city. This has already been a crazy trip.

We landed yesterday morning and took a taxi to the Hotel Mercure, which I'd reserved and paid for on Imagine our surprise when we found the hotel locked and dark, with a note on the door apologizing for having to close for "technical reasons." The note directed us to a nearby Avis office, which also proved to be locked and dark. No one answered the phones.

We did what any sensible person would do -- we went next door to the Best Western and got a room. The clerk there said the Mercure closed suddenly on Wednesday. A dispute between owners and managers, or something like that. Police were involved.

Well, I got on the horn to and they have promised me a refund. They also sent me a £25 voucher for use on my next reservation. Then, several hours later, they helpfully called me and said, "Are you aware that the hotel you've reserved for tonight is closed?"

Thanks for that.

Once the accommodations were sorted, Dave and I went to a cafe where we ordered some soup and croques monsieur. We each got a sandwich -- and then we each got another sandwich. I'm not sure why that happened, but we ate them all. The TV carried nonstop news about Orly airport, while a guy nearby drank a mixture of orange juice and Campari in a tall, stemmed glass. It looked like a tequila sunrise without tequila.

Then Dave went off to the concert hall where that night's honor band concert would be held. He not only has students in the honor band, he and other teachers from our school are bringing all their music students back to Luxembourg later this week on their annual "Music Tour." So Dave wanted to see how the concert space sounds and functions.

I, meanwhile, went for a walk.

I strolled through the city's downtown to the bluffs above the River Alzette, where the old fortified walls, or "casemates," are (top). And I browsed the streets and descended from the bluffs into the "Grund," an old neighborhood along the river.

Finally, after a couple of hours, I wound up back at the hotel, where I edited my pictures and read for a while. Dave ditched me for dinner -- he wanted to stay at the concert hall, which annoyed me. But I wasn't hungry anyway (two sandwiches!) so I wound up just skipping dinner and buying a packet of peanuts on the way to the concert.

After the performance, which went really well, we chatted for a while with kids and parents from our school, and then bummed a ride back to our hotel -- where, of course, the kitchen was closed. So we had a beer, and then another beer. Peanuts and beer -- that was my dinner.

I told Dave that I'd found a bible in the nightstand in our room. "We can have bible study!" he joked. "Bible study at the Best Western," I said -- and he declared, "That's the title of your next blog post."

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Curling Iron

I'm sitting in Terminal 3 of Heathrow airport at 6 a.m., sipping my Americano, having just eaten an almond croissant. There's a shop here called "Glorious Britain," and there's "World of Whiskies," and "Rolling Luggage" and "Sunglasses Boutique -- tax free." (How much tax is usually imposed on a pair of sunglasses, I wonder?)

I am not doing any shopping. In fact, I'm bleary-eyed from getting up at 4:30 a.m. and also from inspecting dog vomit in the middle of the night. (I'll spare you that story.)

Before we took a car to Heathrow this morning, we got the house ready for Warren, our friend and dog-sitter, who's coming over later today. I covered up the Olga cams so he doesn't think we're spying on him. Downside: We can't watch Olga from Luxembourg.

Oh well.

Free curling iron, anyone? I found it on the street, perched atop someone's trash bin, but I couldn't make use of it, personally.

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Sculpture, and My Beating Heart

Another shot of daffodil season -- this time in St. John's Wood, near the school where I work -- and a very mysterious sculpture. I can't find out anything online about this piece of art, located in the Boundary Road estate. It seems to be called "Ideas," by Leo somebody, if I'm reading the words around its base correctly. I'll try to take a closer look today.*

Our yellow daffodils are actually looking a bit tired, and our white ones are about to come out. They're always a couple weeks behind.

Have I mentioned that Dave and I are off to Luxembourg this weekend? There's an honor band concert there on Saturday night, so we're going to fly out early tomorrow, check out the (very small) country and go to the concert. Then we'll be back here on Sunday. Miss Olga will be cared for by one of Dave's coworkers, who's going to house-sit.

Yesterday evening we fulfilled a bit of medical bureaucracy, registering with a new doctor in our neighborhood. You may remember we've been going to our old doctor in Notting Hill every time we've gotten sick. Well, that situation became untenable, and there's an NHS clinic right around the corner in West Hampstead, so we switched. I gathered all the required paperwork and numbers and picture ID, and we both walked over there after work. We had to do a little health assessment that included getting our blood pressure taken -- mine was 99 over 77, with a pulse of 60 beats per minute. Dave's was 109 over 76, pulse 95 bpm. Why does my heart beat only 2/3 as much as Dave's? Am I dead?

* I went back on my lunch break. It seems to say "'Ideas' : Leon U : 1970."