Wednesday, August 31, 2016


These are our tomatoes. We have one bush -- which I'm told by a British friend I must call a "tomAHto plAHnt," and not a "tomAYto bush" in my American way. It's growing in a big pot on the patio. We were optimistic about this bush because it set several clusters of fruit and seems vibrant, and, well, bushy. We've had no signs of blight or yellowing or anything like that.

But we're a bit concerned because the fruit isn't ripening. Day after day, week after week, it's still hard and green. We water it like crazy, but overall the summer temperatures have been fairly cool, and that seems to have slowed our tomAHto development. Supposedly we're going to have a warm week and I hope that pushes them over the edge.

And these are our blackberries, or were when I took this picture on Aug. 24 -- they don't look this good anymore. They're fading, coming to the end of their season. Most of these black ones I ate, though I left some for birds.

I met an old friend, Greg, for lunch yesterday near Baker Street. I haven't seen him for at least ten years. We worked together about 20 years ago at a newspaper in Florida, and it was good to see him and catch up on his life in Oregon, where he lives now. He says Portland is a strange town -- the TV show "Portlandia" come to life. People with unusual facial hair riding unicycles to work -- that kind of thing. You can buy "scented toast" at restaurants. Esoteric! I had fancy mac n' cheese for lunch, which seemed a bit hipsterish, in the spirit of the conversation.

I'm rethinking my decision not to continue my French classes. I still have time to sign up, and I think I may do so. The thing is, once you've invested time and money in learning a language, you don't want to lose it -- so you're on the hook for more lessons. I promise I won't complain if I re-enroll! (Well, not too much.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

No Jadoo Problems Here

One of the little annoyances that goes with living in London is the constant surge of flyers, restaurant menus and advertising circulars through our letterbox. Every day we come home to find a pile of paper just inside the front door, and we dutifully pick it all up and throw it all away. I'm not sure I've ever received something through the letterbox that I've found useful.

It's not stuff delivered by the mail carrier. It's delivered instead by guys with backpacks full of circulars, going door-to-door. People put stickers and signs on their letterboxes saying "No Junk Mail" but I doubt that they do any good. Besides, this isn't quite mail.

Anyway, a few days ago we got a little card from a person professing to be a "doctor," and it was pretty entertaining: "From birth a gifted spiritual healer and advisor -- I can help solve all your worries regarding bringing back loved ones. If your loved one, husband or wife walks out on you, I can help the most powerful spell to bring him or her back immediately."

The "doctor" also promised help with business issues, exams, addiction and "voodoo, black magic and jadoo problems."

A consultation cost £10.

It might be the most entertaining junk mail I've had in a while. But I threw it away with all the rest.

I took Olga on our West Heath walk yesterday afternoon. We spent three hours out and about, photographing the autumnal seed pods of the cow parsley and, in Olga's case, taking a swim:

Once again, proving her Teflon nature, the dog shook off every bit of dirt and water after her romp in that pond. By the time we got home, she was dry and white as snow. She's sound asleep this morning, still recovering from her antics.

Dave and I finished "Stranger Things" on Netflix. We loved it. We're now starting Season 5 of "Orange is the New Black," which Dave thinks has jumped the shark -- we'll see. We also watched two episodes of "Bojack Horseman," which I'd never seen before, and I laughed until I cried! We'll definitely be coming back to that one.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Lara, with Balloons

My finger injury seems to be healing well. I haven't come down with gangrene. The possibility of tetanus crossed my mind, but then I went digging around in my medical records and found that I was diligent enough to note on my Peace Corps-issued World Health Organization vaccination card that I got a tetanus shot in November 2008. So it ought to still be effective. I hope.

I took Olga to Hampstead Heath yesterday, despite a forecast that called for rain. It seemed pretty sunny, so we set out. But then, of course, it rained intermittently all through our walk. The normally fussy Olga didn't seem to mind -- once she was damp she just rolled with it.

We found these balloons along the way, but I didn't take one. I'm sure I'm not the target demographic for whoever was giving them out!

I've just started a book called "Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad." It's an acclaimed book for young adults, and I like it so far. Reading about the Russian Revolution put me in the mood to watch "Doctor Zhivago," which despite being a sprawling and somewhat stuffy epic remains one of my favorite movies, so Dave and I did that yesterday afternoon. (Dave, as I was inserting the DVD: "Isn't this movie like four hours long?" Me: "Yes." I was just being difficult -- it's really three hours and 20 minutes long.)

Now I'm going to be walking around humming "Lara's Theme" all day, and remembering my old music box.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Gold Bar and Two Injuries

Early yesterday morning, Olga and I walked to Fortune Green, and of course we didn't bring her Kong toy, because we never carry the Kong on our first walk of the day. Olga apparently forgot this tidbit of her routine, because when we got there she demanded (with loud repeated barking) THROW THE KONG THROW THE KONG THROW THE KONG!!! I kept holding my empty hands up, saying, "I don't have it!" But she wasn't taking no for an answer.

Fortunately, there's an apple tree at Fortune Green, and some apples had fallen on the ground. So I chucked an apple across the park and discovered that Olga, in a pinch, will chase vaguely ball-shaped pieces of fruit. She wouldn't bring them back to me, but that's fine. (Surprisingly she didn't eat them, either, even though she loves pieces of apple if I'm eating one. I guess it's all about imitating my modeled behavior!)

We also found a gold bar, left out quite generously for someone to take. Or, rather, a ceramic coin bank shaped like a gold bar. I did not take it.

For lunch, Dave and I went down to Charlton, in South London, where our friends Mike and Sally live. We met them, their adult daughter, and our coworker Anna -- who, coincidentally, moved in just a few doors away from Mike and Sally about two years back -- at The White Swan, a local pub. I had a salmon cake and drank very modestly.

Then we came home and, while cleaning up the garden, I managed to cut the tip of my left middle finger with a pair of rose clippers. (In England they're known as secateurs, and they're sharp as heck!) It was just carelessness on my part -- and I swear it had nothing to do with having a beer at the pub, because by this time it was two hours later -- but the cut was fairly deep and I briefly bled a scary amount. After washing my hands, I stanched the bleeding with pressure. Let me just testify that pressure really does work! It's amazing how quickly the blood stopped flowing.

Unfortunately it's affected the dexterity of my typing, but I'm managing. At least I can make do with just a Band-Aid -- or a "plaster," as the British hilariously call them -- and I don't need one of these:

That's Finnegan, the greyhound/lab mix who belongs to my Florida friends John and Sue. Poor Finnegan got nipped at doggy day care the other day and had to wear the "cone of shame," as Sue called it, to prevent him from licking his wound. (After she e-mailed me this picture, I told her, "It's more like a petunia of shame!")

(Top photo: In Charlton, yesterday.)

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Am I Dreaming?

I experienced the weirdest collision of political worlds, watching Donald Trump and Nigel Farage together on the same stage in Mississippi. My nightmare! What the heck is Nigel doing campaigning for Trump? Why does he care who wins the U.S. presidential election?

Basically, I think, it's payback for the Democrats. Farage was miffed when Obama came to the U.K. and urged voters not to support Brexit. Now he's returning the favor by talking down Hillary Clinton and trying to bolster Trump.

Admittedly, there are similarities in the messages of the Trump and Farage -- primarily concerns about immigration. "Just as Trump has done in this country, Farage and his party appealed to deep-rooted racism and xenophobia, and made limiting immigration a central issue," wrote John Cassidy in The New Yorker. It was also interesting to hear Farage speak against corporate interests, especially since I don't see Trump as exactly anti-establishment in the business sense. If anything, he represents corporate interests, doesn't he? He's a multimillionaire property developer. Farage, for that matter, is a commodities trader. They're faux populists. But whatever.

It's a very strange year in politics.

On a lighter note, we're about to have a three-day weekend here. This is the weekend of the Notting Hill Carnival, which, needless to say, Dave and I are not going near -- having had our fill when we lived in Notting Hill. We're opting for a quiet weekend, especially after Thursday's bacchanal.

We've just jumped onto the "Stranger Things" bandwagon on Netflix. We're two episodes in, and we love it so far!

(Photo: Last night I was about to go to bed when I noticed the light from the bedroom windows spilling out onto the patio.)

Friday, August 26, 2016

Feel So High

Yesterday turned into a bit of a boozy whirlwind.

Well, first I had work. Which, of course, wasn't boozy at all. I had a fairly uneventful day and in the afternoon went to the first rehearsal of the faculty/staff choir, which performs briefly every year at the school's opening assembly. This year we're singing "With a Little Help from My Friends," which in many ways is the perfect song for us -- everyone knows it, more or less, and it's not very complicated. But then there's that line about "getting high," which has caused some consternation. We've debated changing it. Personally, I think we should leave it alone -- the kids won't necessarily hear it, because our elocution isn't that precise, and you can get high in a non-chemical sense, right?

(Of course, this was The Beatles in the '60s. I'm sure it's meant in a chemical sense. But still.)

Then I went to a pub for a special afternoon happy hour with the coworkers on my team -- I had a pint with them and we talked about urgent pertinent issues, like whether we should change the word "high" in the Beatles song.

Then I met up with Dave and some different co-workers and we went to Pop-Kon, which is a pop-up restaurant being run on a limited basis by one of our friends, who's a chef. He rented a church in Notting Hill (with a kitchen!) and produced a tasting menu featuring scallops, pork belly and quail's egg, all cooked with a special unifying theme. (I don't want to reveal the theme in case it's a trade secret!)

Anyway, the food was fabulous, and eating in the vestibule of a church was interesting. I was at a table for four and we each brought a bottle of wine, and by the end of our five-course meal those four bottles of wine were gone. Where they went, I do not know, but I imagine we're all moving a little more slowly today.

You could say I got high with a little help from my friends. In a chemical sense.

(Top photo: Blowing bubbles near St. Paul's Cathedral. The artwork is a little cartoon I snipped from The New Yorker, just because I thought it was cute -- that could be me and Dave, although they both have hair and we haven't fired up our grill even once this summer. The post's title is taken from another song.)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A Sunny Hallway and Star Wars Pasta

This was the scene in one of the hallways at school yesterday. I didn't have my camera so I snapped it with my ancient iPhone, which, amazingly, still takes reasonably acceptable pictures.

Downloading that one photo meant plugging my iPhone into my computer, which I hadn't done for months and months. Here's another photo that popped up, from July 1. I have no idea why I took this. I guess I was amused by the Star Wars pasta. (Which, according to the shelf label, is supposed to be Scooby Doo pasta. Shelf labels are always wrong in Tesco. Why is that?)

Oh, and it's a picture of me! This is from our garden cam, which at the time was sitting on the floor in the living room, having been brought inside for routine maintenance. I appear to be walking past with my lunch. Hello!

I know I've been heralding the end of summer, but suddenly we're having a heat wave! It got into the high 80s (F) yesterday. Fortunately I have air conditioning at school so I didn't feel the brunt of it, but when I got home in the afternoon a lot of the plants were looking a bit wilty. More of the same for the rest of the week, apparently!