Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Wandering Ballots

The other day, a colleague of mine posted a crazy story to Facebook. He mailed his absentee ballot for the U.S. presidential election from England to New Hampshire on Oct. 15. He sent it with a tracking number, so he could keep an eye on it. It landed in New York City on Oct. 17, and then, mysteriously, it went to a Postal Service processing facility in Hazelwood, Missouri. From there it's gone through facilities in St. Louis, Indianapolis, Louisville and Lexington. Last he heard, on Oct. 24, it was back in Louisville. He Tweeted the USPS to ask what the heck was going on, but it doesn't look like he's had any sort of response.

It's clearly marked "absentee ballot enclosed," so you have to wonder if someone with a political axe to grind didn't make it go awry -- based on the fact that it's an absentee ballot, which I think statistically favors one party over another, or on the fact that it was going to New Hampshire, a traditionally conservative state.

The whole story made me a little paranoid. When I mailed my ballot in September I didn't put any tracking on it, because I figured I wouldn't be able to do anything if it went missing. Tracking its progress through the mail just seemed like a way to torment myself.

But I went to the web page for the supervisor of elections in my district, and found that I could see the status of my ballot. And yes, it got there, about a week after I mailed it. I suppose there's no guarantee it's actually been counted, as opposed to being discarded for some obscure paperwork technicality -- like the fact that I used Scotch tape to seal the privacy sleeve. (Is that allowed? I have no idea.) Anyway, there are limits to reasonable paranoia! Right?

(Photo: Oak leaves on Hampstead Heath, Sunday.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Eye of the iPhone

Remember when I got my new phone about a month ago, and I decided I was going to try to do more with iPhone photography?

Well, I haven't. Not a lot, anyway.

But I have been using the phone on occasions when I don't have my big camera with me. I was initially underwhelmed with the results when looking at them on the phone itself. But now, having put them in my computer, I don't think they're too bad.

I've found that I can edit the photos, just as I would my camera shots. I can lighten shadows and correct perspectives. Not bad for a phone!

And then, because people have no originality:

I found both of those within a few days of each other. We as a society really need a new culturally agreed upon dust message!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Egg and Petula

I took the dog to Hampstead Heath yesterday, where things were looking very autumnal. Olga had a long romp and managed to get in a fight with another dog. I didn't see what happened exactly, because I was taking a photo at the time, but suddenly there was lots of growling at my feet and Olga was wrestling with a black spaniel, chomping on its ear. The fracas lasted a micro-second and there was no blood, thankfully. I suspect the spaniel got too close to the Kong.

And that was just one of about a hundred things I did -- little things that have been nagging at me for weeks. I glued the broken doorsill in the bathroom, and replaced the molding at the base of the bathtub. I descaled the kitchen kettle -- something that I never had to do in America, where electric kettles are not "a thing," but that's essential here in London where the mineral-laden water tends to leave behind white deposits. I trimmed the garden and collected a full bag of garden waste. I did laundry. I filed a bunch of paperwork. I tried to replace a bulb in our floor lamp that dramatically exploded a few nights ago, but the new bulb doesn't work, which makes me think the lamp itself is on the fritz. I organized and archived all my recent photos.

It was good to get so much done. I did not read a word of "Swamplandia!" I think I am destined to be reading this book forever.

I got a birthday card from my mom in Florida, and on the front -- a fox! So appropriate, given the vulpine denizens of our London garden. (Of course, there are foxes in swampy Florida too -- but still. It seems like a very British card.)

Oh, and you might like this brief video. Remember how my portrait is going to be in an art exhibit, and is on display in the Regent's Park tube station to drum up publicity? The video introduces some of the artists in the upcoming show, including my colleague Martin, who did the portrait. And remember how I said I wanted to see the poster before it got damaged or graffitied? Well, sure enough, someone has graffitied it. They wrote "EGG" on my forehead. I'm trying not to take it personally. (In elementary school I was widely teased with the moniker "egghead," and the fact that as a nearly 50-year-old I am still cursed with that name ought to be amusing, I suppose. But I find it weirdly hurtful! My inner six-year-old is alive and well.)

Finally, last night Dave and I sent to see Petula Clark perform at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. I bought tickets several weeks ago when I saw an ad in the paper -- I had to seize the opportunity to hear "Downtown" live! Dave barely knows who she is, but he had fun too. She did not disappoint. Despite the fact that she is 83 years old (!) she still has the voice, and she performed a full two-hour show -- including most of her '60s hits, numerous new songs and versions of The Beatles' "Blackbird" and "With One Look" from the musical "Sunset Boulevard." Apparently Tony Hatch, who wrote many of those old hits, was in the audience too -- I wouldn't know him if I fell over him. The crowd seemed to be mostly people 10 or 15 years older than me, with a smattering of young gay couples thrown in. (Petula's songs were used in the late '90s as the soundtrack for the movie "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss," which helped cement her in the minds of a younger generation of gay men.) Anyway, it was a fun night!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Crouch End

At last! I finally got to take a photo walk. The weather cooperated and I wasn't dismayed by the prospect of carrying my French books. (I tucked them in my camera bag -- they stuck out but it wasn't too awkward.)

After class yesterday I took the tube up to Finsbury Park in North London, and walked northward to Crouch End. I'd never explored this area before. Above is the cafe where I had lunch -- a vegetarian English breakfast, actually. The lady with the cane sat at a nearby table -- her name is Mary, and the proprietor kept making rhymes with her name like "Mary Mary strawberry."

She must be a regular to put up with that!

From Crouch Hill the Alexandra Palace, or Ally Pally as it's fondly known, can be seen in the distance. You may remember I went there for a couple of antiques shows several years ago.

It's that time of year! And here's evidence that the Halloween phenomenon is growing in Britain. Our local Waitrose grocery store is also selling pumpkins specifically labeled for Halloween.

The Socialist Workers Party has a refreshing take on the refugee situation.

And finally, here's Emirates Stadium, where the Arsenal football team plays. There was a game yesterday (Dave says I should say "match" rather than "game") and it was fun to walk near the stadium, hearing the crowd's cheers wash over the surrounding neighborhoods like waves. By this time I was no longer in Crouch End, but more to the south in Islington. I caught the tube home from there. A fun day out!

Saturday, October 22, 2016


More evidence of our autumnal garden. I discarded our yellowed tomato plant -- after a final harvest of six pinkish tomatoes, which I hope will become red on the windowsill -- and a few other flowers past their peak. These marigolds are still hanging around, but probably not for long. Dave has set his sights on them.

I did repot the foundling fig tree in its new home, and I cut it way, way back. It's now pretty much a stump, about 18 inches high, with two side shoots. I tried to envision the shape of the future tree and work with that. I don't want to show it to you, though, because it looks fairly awful. If it survives I'll post a picture of it when it begins greening out again.

Also, I found an orchid on someone's trash pile while walking Olga yesterday. It's not in great shape -- it looks like it got knocked over, maybe, and it's loose in its pot -- but I'm hoping it will come around. We now have three orchids, two of them rescues. I'm becoming a plant hoarder!

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Kitchen Windowsill

Remember the orchid we got in June 2015 from my retiring coworker? (I'm sure you don't, but here's a link.) It looked fantastic for a long time, but slowly the old blooms have been fading. In fact I cut off one of its two flower stalks not long ago, after all the blossoms fell off. I expected an eventually flowerless plant.

Several weeks ago, though, it sent up a new flower stalk. Ta-da! New blossoms! (The old ones are on the stalk in back.)

This is a huge triumph for me. I've never owned an orchid that I was able to get to bloom again. People say growing orchids isn't hard, and I guess that's true, once you get the gist of watering them (frequent watering, very good drainage). This one usually lives in the bathroom, where it gets good humidity, but we recently moved it to the kitchen because the bathroom radiator is so effective we feared it would roast the flowers.

Also on the kitchen windowsill: Dave recently learned it's possible to grow new lettuce leaves by putting the cut-off end of a head of baby gem lettuce in a glass of water. We're trying it, and by golly, it works! I can't imagine we'll get more than a teaspoon of salad from this venture, but it's kind of amusing.

That green thing, by the way, is something I found on Hampstead Heath. We think it's an old glass drawer pull, or maybe a bottle stopper.

In other news, I think my solar keratosis has returned. That's the tiny scaly patch on my forehead that comes from spending too much time in the sun. I went to the doctor about it last summer, and got some medicine that I was supposed to apply for two months. I stopped after about a month because I could no longer find the spot. But it seems to have come back, so now I'm using the medicine again. This time I suppose I should keep going for the full two-month period. Sigh.

Finally, did you hear about the handsome chai walla in Pakistan who has a new career as a model, thanks to an observant photographer?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

No Debate Here

We didn't watch last night's presidential debate, but I'm glad to read that it went more or less as one might expect. No massive revelations or sudden bursts of intelligence from the Republican candidate.

Oh, Donald. You are so finished.

Here's the current New York Times prediction:

This election has turned into such a ridiculous display I can't see how anyone, anyone, could still be stumping for Trump. His "very, very" inarticulate statements don't even make sense. And yet I have at least two Facebook friends, both from high school, who continue to post pro-Trump, anti-Hillary stuff. One of them is a woman. One was in the Navy. Neither went to college.

Seriously, it fascinates me. I just don't understand. And there's no doubt they represent a swathe of the U.S. electorate. Fortunately, it appears to be a losing swathe.

Here in England, we're having our own political dramas. The U.K. has finally decided to begin accepting unaccompanied minors from "The Jungle," the migrant camp in Calais, France. About 28 of them have arrived so far, and some critics have questioned whether they're really minors. Granted, some of them look older -- and coming from places where record-keeping is probably pretty lax, they don't exactly have birth certificates. I doubt even some of them know their age for certain. Then again, they've been living in harsh circumstances, and as all of us know, sometimes certain photos, certain angles, just make people look older. Does it really matter? They supposedly have family members in the U.K. already, and holding them in limbo in France serves no one's needs.

We never did figure out what was going on with that helicopter yesterday morning. My boss, who lives not too far away, heard it too and went to Twitter for answers -- but could only find tweets from people saying, "Hey, what's that helicopter up there for?" Not very helpful!

(Photo: Olga near a big brush bin just outside Golders Green Park, on Saturday.)