Monday, September 30, 2013

Olga and Nell at Hampstead Heath

One of my coworkers, Lindsey, has a rescue dog of the same breed as Olga (more or less, given that both are of uncertain lineage). We've talked for weeks about how we should get them together. Since Olga loves to play with the staffie downstairs, I thought Olga and Lindsey's dog, Nell, were guaranteed to hit it off.

Yesterday morning we met with Lindsey and her husband, Gavin, for a trip with the dogs to Hampstead Heath, a vast wooded park in North London.

To our surprise, the dogs seemed kind of indifferent to each other. There was no hostility, but also no real affection and very little playing. It was like they'd known each other forever and thought, "Oh, it's you." Or maybe they were quietly sizing each other up.

They each did their own thing as we rambled through the park for about two hours, Olga chasing her Kong toy and Nell ranging far ahead to scout for the pack.

Fall is definitely on its way, as you can see from some of the changing leaves. This woman was interested in the large clusters of mushrooms sprouting from a tree.

And this little boy and his family were dwarfed by a giant fallen tree that apparently everyone loves to climb. (We saw several kids on it at different times.)

It was a long walk, and by the end I was beat. I used to have much more stamina for such things! I was happy to get back home, watch some Star Trek DVDs and while away the afternoon.

I'm sure Olga and Nell will meet again soon!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Chewing Gum Art and a Lost Poppet

There's a guy named Ben Wilson who goes around London painting artworks on little round deposits of chewing gum that have dried to the sidewalk. It's kind of ingenious, really, to see something so mundane as a canvas for art. (To see the incredible detail and variety of London's chewing gum art, click here.)

Yesterday, around the corner from our flat, I found this little masterpiece -- a painted street scene with cars and pedestrians. I was excited to find an example of Wilson's work so close to my own home! I was even more surprised to see that it's dated 2012, which means it's been there for a year. How can that be true? How have I missed it all this time? I pride myself on paying attention to my surroundings. (In my defense, it's often dark when I pass this spot, walking Olga first thing in the morning.)

Last night Dave and I went to dinner with our neighbor Chris, and I showed them the chewing gum art afterwards. We all agreed it's easily mistaken for a sticker, a bit of trash, stuck to the sidewalk.

This morning, on our walk, Olga and I found this little poppet resting atop a discarded stack of videos at the curbside. I did not salvage the videos -- because really, a VCR tape is one of the most useless things in the world now -- but I did rescue the poppet. I left it in Dave's chair as a wake-up present. He will probably be horrified.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Weekend Meditation in Orange

I took these photos on my lunch break yesterday, when I walked north of school to no particular destination. I bought my lunch at school as usual, put it in a brown bag and took it out to enjoy the day. But then I had a little trouble finding a place to eat -- I wound up sitting on a bench at the main entrance of a big, architecturally uninteresting council estate. At least I was outside with some time to myself.

That's one thing I miss about working. As much as I like the companionship of others, I also miss time on my own, which I had in abundance before I got this job. Now my only quiet moments are the mornings, when I write my blog and when Dave is either still asleep (on weekends) or already off to school.

Olga and I have already had an exciting morning. Her stomach is upset for some reason -- she probably ate something weird while out with her dog-walker -- and that has meant a certain amount of rug-washing. (Never mind the details.) She and I went for a short walk, and I had to make an early-morning grocery run for milk -- so I also popped in to a little cafe and bought a cinnamon roll, a pain-au-chocolat and some fresh figs for Saturday breakfast.

We got a huge new TV monitor at work, so late yesterday afternoon -- when the library was basically empty -- I used it to view my favorite photos from the past year. I'm thinking about putting my next book together, and what I should include and what I should leave out. It was cool seeing them on a wall-sized TV! Of course, a parent came in and commented on how nice they were, and right at that moment this photo came up in my automated slideshow, and I thought, "Hmmmm....maybe some of these aren't appropriate for school!"

Friday, September 27, 2013

Lunch on Primrose Hill

This was my view during lunch yesterday. I left school and walked to the top of Primrose Hill, which is nearby. There's a little cluster of benches surrounded by a sloping grassy lawn at the hilltop, where I ate my hummus sandwich and admired the view of london. (Unfortunately they'd just fertilized the area, so my idyllic outing was accompanied by the strong scent of manure!)

I finally got around to buying Jim & Karla Murray's new photo book, "New York Nights." I loved their earlier book about New York storefronts, and this is in much the same vein -- except all the shots are taken at night, which shows off the neon signs and colorful windows and lighting. (I'm sure you don't remember, but I had the privilege of taking Jim and Karla on a photo walk through my London neighborhood in April 2012!) My favorite shot from the book is one of the Lyric Diner, which was near my apartment. Jim and Karla somehow managed to skillfully eliminate the lamppost and traffic light that partially block a clear view of the corner. Unfortunately their photo isn't online, but here are some samples of some other shots from New York Nights.

I'll spare you the story of how the Royal Mail bungled the delivery of the book to my door, forcing me instead to go to the post office before work on Tuesday to pick it up. I paid extra for Saturday delivery, people! But no, never mind, I am not going there.

I've been thinking about the problem of the unread books in our library, and yesterday I suggested some ways to display them more prominently. The other librarians agreed, so I'm going to work on that next. Maybe I can get some of those "lonely books" circulated a little more often!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Weeding the Fiction Section

Although libraries in general may seem huge, with plenty of room for books, the truth is they're not, and gaining shelf space is a competitive process. We've been weeding out the fiction section at work, and discarding unread or underappreciated books to make room for new ones.

I find discarding books depressing. Just yesterday I picked up a discarded novel that had never been checked out -- not once. How sad is that?! It must have spent time on our new books display and then migrated to the main shelves, and in a span of several years it caught no one's attention.

Think of all the work the authors put into those books, and the hope attendant on purchasing them for the library. I'm just an underling so I don't make decisions about what stays and what goes -- but I personally intervened to save three, including one about a boy in Wyoming with a pet raven that had been checked out one time, in 2008. (It's on a reading list of recommended books, so I argued it merited saving.)

I suspect some of these books go unread because they get buried in the collection. They're in the card catalog, but unless a reader is searching for fiction about Wyoming or ravens (for example) what would cause them to find that particular book? I don't see many people casually browsing the shelves. It seems like most come in with some idea of what they want -- for kids, that often means a book in one of those immensely popular series, like the Cherub books or Percy Jackson or Lemony Snicket.

So I'm thinking about ways to call more attention to some of the books we have, and to diversify some of the students' reading.

On a positive note, I've noticed that the librarians are very good about saving classics -- works by Honoré de Balzac or Saul Bellow or Turgenev -- regardless of how many times they're read. I guess some books are pretty much collection requirements.

The whole process makes me glad I'm not an author!

(Photo: Chepstow Road, Westbourne Park.)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Snail Attack!

These are the newest creatures inhabiting our horseradish plant. I noticed the other day that holes were once again appearing in the leaves, so something was clearly making a meal of them. Sure enough, snails!

Of course I left them alone, as is my rule with the horseradish plant, our own little science experiment. We no longer seem to have any caterpillars or other noticeable bugs (though I'm sure there are lots of tiny ones), so I'm happy to leave the plant to the snails.

I wonder how snail eggs ever reached a sixth-floor balcony? I've never seen any mature snails up this high.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Litter Mural

Dave and I have been eating quite a bit of calorie-dense food around here lately -- homemade sausage, homemade paté -- so yesterday I decided to walk home from work. It took me about 1 1/4 hours to walk to Notting Hill from St. John's Wood, but that's because I dawdled along the way taking photos.

This is the "litter mural" on the Grand Union Canal. According to the sign, it was made from litter by the Stowe Youth Club and artist Kevin Herlihy. For example, you can probably see that the rays of that sun are made from plastic traffic cones, and the back of the frog on the left is a plastic bin lid. It's pretty ingenious, and I'm impressed at how durable it is -- it's been there since before we moved here. (Ah, plastic!)

I finished Matt Haig's novel "The Humans," recommended to me by another blogger. I loved it -- very funny and insightful. It definitely made me appreciate the foibles of the human race!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Inside Trellick Tower

I was first in line when I arrived at Trellick Tower yesterday morning for the Open House London tours. I couldn't believe it! I raced over there at 8:30 a.m. for tours beginning two hours later, and I thought there would already be a queue. As it turned out, though, people began arriving just minutes after me, and by the time the doors opened the line was long enough that there were doubts everyone would be able to get inside.

So thanks to my early-morning industriousness, enjoy this tour of Trellick Tower!

As I've written before, the tower was designed in the late 1960s by the Hungarian architect Ernö Goldfinger. It opened in 1972, a reinforced concrete Brutalist structure with 31 floors and 217 apartments. You can see the exterior in my photo here.

Above is the elevator lobby on the ground floor, with its colorful glass windows.

Our tour took us first to the 18th floor, where the elevator lobby was tiled bright yellow. The elevators are housed in a vertical structure connected by walkways to the main building every three floors.

The corridors are brightly tiled and painted, which helps make what could otherwise be a grim, institutional space more cheerful.

The flats themselves feature window walls and spacious balconies with terrific views. The flat above is a one-bedroom. (We saw all the rooms, but I didn't photograph them all.)

We also saw a three-bedroom on a slightly higher floor, with a huge balcony and interior stairs connecting an upper level (kitchen and dining room) with a lower level (living room and bedrooms). Apparently quite a few of the tower's units are on two levels, staggered with stairs going up or down, which maximizes the space.

The building is still about 90 percent government housing, with only a handful of the flats privately owned. Because it is a legally protected building, permission is needed for flat owners to do any kind of renovation, and there are maintenance issues involving common areas, some of which still need work. (As you can see in the top photo, there's some kind of project requiring a temporary wooden canopy near the front entrance.)

And here's the view looking to the south, toward our neighborhood. Our bedroom windows are just to the left of that church tower in the center of the photo, in the red brick buildings -- that's where we are when we see this view of Trellick.

It was great to finally get a chance to go inside!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Lots of Links

Just a short post today, because I'm off to join the line to try to get into Trellick Tower. This weekend is Open House London, when many normally private buildings open their doors to the public to show off their architecture. Apparently Trellick Tower (which I once wrongly called London's ugliest building) is a popular destination, so I'm not sure I'll get in, but I'm going to try.

My backup plan is Battersea Power Station, where the queues are expected to be up to five hours long! Sheesh.

Olga and I found these tiny keys on our walk this morning. They look like they're meant to open a music box, or a jewelry box, or maybe a diary. I wish I hadn't already mailed my beads to Linda Sue, or I'd have thrown these in too -- now I'll probably hang them up in the bathroom next to Sally's tassel.

(Top photo: A shopper pauses to check out the graffiti at Latimer Road, yesterday.)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Dog With A Rash

Oh, Lord. I am so glad it's Saturday. What a week! Pretty intense work-wise, and then last night we attended an annual cocktail event for the school -- a very posh affair in a very posh hall, with wine and nibblies. Which was fun, but kind of odd since we'd just spent the entire week with virtually the same people at work. Our little insular community.

Dave and I have plans to do nothing special today. I'm going to walk the dog, and that's about all that's on my list.

Speaking of the dog, Olga has come down with an odd rash on her belly. We were going to take her to the vet, but last night I happened to mention it to a coworker who has the same breed of dog, and she said hers gets a similar rash. They just apply diaper rash cream, and it goes away. Voila! With that advice, hopefully, she saved us £100 in vet bills -- which makes going to last night's event definitely worthwhile!

(Photo: King's Road, Chelsea, last week.)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Leave It Yeah

Dave made everything right last night, food-wise, by cooking mushroom ravioli with tomato sauce and a salad. That is what I'm talking about.

He also brought his homemade sausage into work, where both his and my coworkers were coerced into trying it. Well, not everyone was coerced, but one or two were. Everyone seemed to like it, though, and as I've said, it is good.

AND, we were able to watch Rachel Maddow last night! Yay. The world has realigned on its axis.

Yesterday at school I saw a kid wearing a black and white t-shirt that said "Leave It Yeah." In order to show him that I am completely ancient and out of touch, I said, "Hey, is that a reference to that Yes song?" Of course he had no idea what I was talking about, having been born more than a decade after that Yes song was popular. He told me that "Leave It Yeah" is actually a song by someone named Lethal Bizzle, which you can listen to here, though I advise against it.

Hmmm. You learn something new every day, as they say.

(Photo: Pembridge Road, Notting Hill.)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sausage Recovery Mode

Sausage-palooza turned out to be an eminently survivable affair. The kitchen was not a disaster, and Dave was mildly offended that I suggested it would be -- but believe me, extensive cleanup is sometimes required after he cooks an elaborate meal, so I'm not crazy in thinking that might be the case.

Anyway, we each had a sliver of the sausage, and I must say it was very good, with pistachios and garlic and other flavors. Kudos to Dave for figuring that out.

We have not yet eaten his chicken liver paté, which involved layering veal, ham and marinated chicken livers (and maybe some other meat that I'm forgetting?) and wrapping the whole thing in caul fat, which I'd rather not explain, but feel free to click on the link.

And as a special reward for my photographic documentation of sausage-palooza, for dinner last night, Dave made bacon-cured pork chops.

Hmmm. My talk of vegetables is clearly just so much shouting into the wind. I just have to remember that to Dave, meat equals heaven, and in a very American way it is the center of the meal. Even his more vegetable-y meals tend to have a modest proportion of vegetables on the plate, whereas I used to empty all the vegetable dishes when I was growing up. We're just wired differently that way.

Besides, I can't be bitchy about this. He is cooking for me, which is pretty terrific, and he occasionally makes something like curry or tuna steak on salad greens that is clearly geared toward my tastes. He also has his own private, physiological reasons for not wanting to load up on veggies. So this is how marriage works. We accommodate each other.

In other news, while walking Olga this morning, I found a big box of paperback books that had been set out for recycling. The top of the stack was Evelyn Waugh's "Vile Bodies," which I've never read, and I figured a box that included Evelyn Waugh couldn't be all bad. So I brought the box home and dug through it, and retrieved a stack of worthwhile reading material. I rejected some others, like "Fifty Shades of Grey" and one of the "Twilight" books. Life is too short for those. Off to the thrift shop they go.

We have been unable to watch Rachel Maddow for the last couple nights. Something is wrong with the  web site, I think -- or maybe it's our Internet connection. I get page errors when I try to load the page and play the video. We tried it on two different computers with the same results. How can I live without partisan liberal reinforcement?!

(Photo: A truck loaded with color-coded scaffolding in St. John's Wood.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Nightmares of a Sort-Of-Vegetarian

I feel a bit like this guy this morning. I didn't sleep very well -- woke up about 2 a.m. and couldn't go back to sleep for a couple hours. I went out to the living room to read and after a while Olga came out to get me. She walked over to the couch, sat next to me in the lamplight, gave me a lick and then turned around and headed back to the bedroom, looking over her shoulder as if to say, "Are you coming?" She doesn't like it when the pack isn't together.

Dave is all excited because he's going to make sausage and chicken liver paté this evening after work. (He mixed the sausage a few days ago -- it's been curing in our refrigerator ever since.) I am dreading the condition of our kitchen later tonight. And I told him he has to eat the sausage first to make sure it doesn't kill him.

"And by the way," I said, "where is my veggie stir-fry?"

No wonder I couldn't sleep.

(Photo: King's Road, Chelsea.)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Red Dot System

I'm going to break my cardinal rule about not writing about work, in order to tell you about our Red Dot System.

A red dot on the spine of a book in our school library means that it is suitable reading for a fifth- or sixth-grader. Technically, if a kid that young wants to check out a book, I'm supposed to make sure it has a red dot. (Kids younger than fifth grade have their own, separate library.)

The other day, a fifth-grade boy checked out a comic-book-style novel about the X-men. I didn't even think to look for a dot. It was the X-men, right? Didn't seem particularly scandalous.

Well, the boy's mother got a look at this book and she was not happy. She brought it in to school yesterday and talked to several people, and I basically ate crow -- I explained to her that we have a system, but I simply failed to notice whether there was a dot on this particular book and that it was entirely my fault. She seemed satisfied. (I don't know exactly what it was about this book that bothered her -- she hasn't turned it back in yet so I haven't had a chance to look.)

Later in the day, a class of fifth-graders came into the library to learn about our book collection with a librarian and to check a few things out. Needless to say, I was extra-vigilant about the red dots. An especially young-looking boy wanted to borrow "The Lord of the Rings," which, of course, did not have a red dot.

"The Lord of the Rings," in case you've never seen a copy, is a huge book, and quite complex. So I told this boy it might be a little hard for him, and to ask the fiction librarian what she thought.

Well, apparently he left without asking, because she never talked to him and the book was abandoned on the shelf. The librarian told me it probably would have been fine -- that we're mainly trying to shield the younger kids from sex and violence.

So now I feel guilty for giving one kid an unacceptable X-Men comic and for not giving another kid a classic that simply wasn't rated for his grade level. I'm waiting to hear from the parent -- "Why did you discourage my son from reading 'The Lord of the Rings'?"

I'm telling you. Working in a school library is complicated.

(Photo: Sunday morning near Earl's Court.)

Monday, September 16, 2013

More Sidewalk Discoveries

Once again, I bring you modern art from our street. This isn't as nice as the last painting I found. I wasn't even remotely compelled to rescue it -- especially since it had already been baptized with dog urine.

I found it yesterday morning as I set out on a photo walk through Chelsea. I took the bus down to an area near Earl's Court and walked south through Fulham and east along King's Road, to Sloane Square.

I got some really good shots, I think -- and I also got these silly ones.

There's a phenomenon in London whereby the insides of those iconic red telephone booths are perpetually plastered with fliers from prostitutes. How this is legal, I am not sure. They inevitably wind up on the ground outside the booth, where they make for entertaining reading. (Dave insisted that I post this picture -- he and I both got a good laugh from "starp on.")

Also on the sidewalk -- a cheerful crescent of taco salad!

I took the bus home from Sloane Square, and it was the longest, slowest bus ride I have ever taken in London. Something jammed up the traffic and we sat motionless for at least 20 minutes on Sloane Street. I just read my New Yorker, which is what I'd have been doing at home, anyway.

Dave and I went to see "The Way, Way Back" yesterday afternoon. I was prepared to love it, but I was disappointed. The cast was terrific (Toni Collette! Allison Janney! Steve Carrell!) but the characters didn't feel very fleshed out, they did things that made no sense, and ultimately it was all very predictable. Dave liked it, though, so maybe I'm just too critical for my own good.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Rubber Mask and High, High Heels

Surely this must be one of the strangest photos I've ever taken.

Here's the backstory: I was walking home from the dry cleaners with Olga yesterday afternoon when I saw a man approaching us who just didn't look quite right. Another guy noticed him too, and pulled out his phone to take a photo. The first man, who by now I could see was wearing a rubber mask, crouched down in a shrub, and phone-guy and I both took pictures. The man in the mask never said a word. He simply stood up and kept walking down the street.

Olga, being sensible, was scared of him.

Who's that mask supposed to be, anyway? To me it looks like Boris Yeltsin, but it seems highly unlikely that someone would be walking around London in a tie-dye hat and a Boris Yeltsin mask. It's more likely to be someone contemporary and newsworthy. Unless Yeltsin is supposed to bring to mind that other Boris, Boris Johnson, who is London's mayor?

These two ladies were walking nearby, in shoes that didn't look exactly easy to walk in.

Speaking of Boris Johnson, I read in the paper an allegation by his sister, a Notting Hill resident, that noise from the recent Notting Hill Carnival made her sitting room ceiling collapse. Carnival floats used to carry steel drum bands, but these days they're tricked out with huge speakers -- leaving nearby residents "throbbing and pulsating to the ear-splitting decibels of the carnival, to the pimped-up sound systems called things like Far Too Loud and Rampage," in Rachel Johnson's words.

Which makes me even more glad that we left town.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Saturday Curiosities

I've taken my camera to work twice since I started this job in August, and both days it's rained. But even though my photography options were somewhat limited yesterday, I went walking on my lunch hour and found this great street sign leaning against a hedge next to a trash bin. Surely it isn't trash?

If I were younger and less cautious and I had a car, I would purloin it and hang it on the wall of my living room.

This was our wine the other night. As a stamp collector I appreciated that great label! It's based on a real stamp, from 1898 -- one that, alas, I do not have in my collection.

This morning, as I was walking Olga, I found an open, wrinkled bit of plastic wrap bearing a £4.50 price tag and containing these beads (along with various bits of paper, lint and other detritus). They look like the remains of a beading project of some kind. I plan to mail them to an artsy friend. The streets are paved with jewels here in London, I tell you!

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Un-Joni Appears in a Dream

I had the strangest dream last night, and not about books this time.

I dreamed that I took Dave to South London to see a Joni Mitchell concert. We got to a dark little nightclub with candles and vases of lavender on the tables, and we ordered dinner. The crowd was standing room only -- and after I'd eaten I realized Dave had moved across the room, so I got up from my table and went to join him. Two people immediately grabbed our table seats, one of whom I overheard being addressed as "Ambassador." Before joining Dave, I decided to go buy a Joni Mitchell CD at a shop across the street. So I climbed some stairs out of the club and tried to cross the street, but in order to do so, I had to pass through the courtyard of a Tibetan Buddhist temple, and a guy sitting by the entrance told me I couldn't come in. Instead I had to follow more steps to go around. These steps were bright with ceramic tile and I slid crazily up and down them, forgetting the shop entirely. I decided I'd better stop playing on the stairs and just go back to the club before I missed the show.

When I got back, though, the crowd was down to three people -- one of whom was Dave -- and the Joni performer wasn't Joni at all, but a really bad drag queen singing Joni Mitchell songs in a kind of slapstick style. She looked like a long-haired Marge Simpson, with prominent, Simpsons-esque teeth. Everyone looked bored. The only audience sound came from a piped-in laugh track. I looked at Dave and thought, "Well, he'll never go anywhere with me again."

(Photo: A basketball court between Kilburn and West Hampstead. This is an enhanced HDR photo, which is why the colors are so intense.)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Feelings, Whoa Whoa Whoa Feelings

Every day I come here and write about what's happening in my life, the things I notice and do, but I feel kind of guilty for not getting more into nitty-gritty personal stuff. Like what I'm feeling. (You might all be rolling your eyes right now, thinking "Oh no, don't go there," but don't worry -- this post isn't going to be any more revealing than usual.)

I guess I don't dwell on feelings or even really think about them much. My stepsister once commented that I always seem upbeat, and it's true that I've been blessed with good brain chemistry. I'm not one to ruminate on problems or dissatisfaction. I have my cranky moments, but in the greater scope of things my problems (so far) are few, and any dissatisfaction I feel is usually transient. So is any joy, for that matter. Am I superficial? I don't know -- maybe. But if I am, it keeps me sane and happy.

I have felt a certain amount of nervousness starting this new job, and I've written some about that, but it seems to be going well and every day I feel more comfortable. As I get to know the kids, their names, which ones talk loudly and which ones are bookworms, I feel more and more like I belong. There's really no dissatisfaction associated with the job so far. One of the best parts is waking up and having a reason to shower, shave and get dressed in my long-dormant work clothes! I love being able to wear my dressy pants and shirts again, instead of schlumping around the house in an old faded t-shirt.

I've been dreaming about books -- shelving them, organizing them, stamping them. Last night I dreamed about putting books on hold for someone. I dream about the slippery feeling of plastic-sheathed library books, one against the other. It's kind of crazy. Yesterday I asked people at work if they dream about books, and to my surprise they said no! Maybe my brain chemistry isn't so good after all?

Speaking of books, I finished Reza Aslan's book about Jesus, "Zealot." The first half was better than the second half. In the end, it's virtually impossible to write a historical biography of Jesus, because so little of the history of his life is really known. Aslan's book is really more about the formation of the Christian church and the interaction of the political players and, on a more micro level, the followers of Jesus. I think Aslan did a good job with the material he could gather -- "Zealot" is readable, respectful and factual -- and do I even need to say that I reject the ridiculous assertion that it's somehow inappropriate for a Muslim to write about Christianity? (Thank you, Fox News.)

(Photo: The underside of a railway overpass in Camden, London. The title of this post, in case you haven't figured it out, is an allusion to this really terrible song.)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Waning Summer Days

A few lingering signs of summer along the Grand Union Canal -- tall sunflowers nodding their heavy heads, and a bumper crop of tomatoes growing on top of a houseboat.

That's pretty smart, growing the tomatoes right in the bags of soil. Who needs a pot? I'm surprised there's enough root space in there, but they seem happy.

We are definitely moving into fall. I wore a jacket this morning (55º F) when I walked Olga, who did not want to get out of her warm bed at 5:30 a.m. It's basically unheard of for the dog to want to stay in bed! Maybe we're all slipping into hibernation mode.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Rainy Day at Abbey Road

I took my camera to work yesterday, thinking I'd get out at lunchtime and do some photography. The weather, however, had other ideas. I wound up walking the short distance to Abbey Road Studios, the recording studio that everyone on the planet will forever associate with The Beatles, but that's as far as I got. The sign on the wall in front is for one of their sound engineers, who has obviously been there a while. (Longer than I've been alive, actually, which puts yesterday's fears about aging into perspective!)

Last night, Dave was cooking dinner when he spied this "blond ladybug" (as he called it) on our paper towels. It only perched there a few minutes before flying away, and this morning I spotted it on the kitchen ceiling near the window. I think it's just an immature one that will eventually get red, but what do I know?

Finally, remember the potted boxwoods from our balcony that we put outside near the front door of our apartment building? They have mysteriously vanished. I hope someone took them for their own balcony redecorating project.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Figs, Jesus and Getting Older

I took my photo walk yesterday -- I went north from our neighborhood through Maida Vale and east into Kilburn and West Hampstead. I got some OK shots, like the one above, but nothing that put me over the moon. My heart wasn't much in it, to be honest. Who knows why? Maybe I was just tired from the workweek and taking Olga out the day before.

I stopped by a sad car-boot sale (like a flea market or rummage sale) where I bought nothing, and by a farmer's market where I bought five fat purple figs, which I then had to carry in an awkward paper bag for the rest of my walk. I could have eaten them, I suppose, but I wanted to wash them first. After a couple of hours I got on the bus and came home.

I spent the afternoon reading about Jesus and the period in which he lived. I wouldn't say we live in a peaceful time, exactly -- what with Syria and all that -- but at least most of us enjoy a degree of personal safety and security on a day to day basis. We have no reason to believe that soldiers might barge in and massacre us all, which happened regularly in Jesus' time. It was a dangerous world of punishing taxes and population shifts in which no one, it seems, had the opportunity to live very long. Who wouldn't want a change, the promise of a new era, a messiah? Jesus' rise to power makes perfect sense.

Dave made duck breast with blackberry sauce last night -- sublime!

I've been having weird dreams lately. Last night I dreamed about my great aunt and uncle, except that they weren't the same people as my great aunt and uncle in real life. In the dream I was young, and my great uncle gave me a very valuable contact for a job. In real life, this never happened. (He did, however, give me $50 when I graduated from high school.) 

This was after I woke up early Sunday morning, about 3 a.m., to the shocking realization that in three years I will be 50. FIFTY -- a half-century! How did that happen? It was a dreadful feeling, honestly. I'd like to laugh it off, and I have never been one to be obsessed with aging, but my god. I suddenly felt the weight of all the years that were already gone, and how very long ago so many things happened. It was scary, in the way that thoughts that come unbidden in the middle of the night often are. In the daylight it's less scary, but I'm still not thrilled about it.

(Photo: Kilburn High Street, yesterday.)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Feathery Moped

Olga and I wandered down to the canal yesterday for a long, off-leash outing. She ran around and sniffed things and chased geese and played endlessly with a plastic yogurt cup that she found. (My cats used to do that, too -- make toys out of trash, when I'd supplied them with enough cat toys to keep them happy for all nine lifetimes. Further proof that pet toys really are more for the owners.)

We found the once-submerged remains of a moped (I think?) on the canal bank, covered with mussels and adorned with a peculiar and oddly ceremonial red feather.

The canal banks have been mowed, so the long grasses and weeds that Olga romped through earlier in the season are now gone. (Bad news for the canalside caterpillar.) We're easing into autumn -- the green leaves are browning and crisping, spiny seed pods are maturing. Temperatures dropped into the 40s last night and it's 52º F right now. It feels great.

We watched "Risky Business" and "Juno" yesterday afternoon -- a teen angst double feature!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Throw Pillow as Nose Warmer

Not much going on in this corner of the world this morning. I'm just happy it's Saturday. Woo hoo! The job is going well, but I've grown out of the habit of such prolonged daily engagement with people -- it's nice to have some time to myself! I'm hoping to get out and do some photography today, and Dave and I might see a movie.

I ate the rest of our peppery pasta last night, picking out the peppercorns just like I did the first night. I thought maybe 24 hours of marinating would render it inedible, but no, it was fine. Dave went on a pub outing with some people from work, but I just came home to hibernate with Olga.

Isn't she cute? She loves to keep her nose warm. She presses it into my leg when she lies next to me, or buries it somehow in the fabric of the couch or the bed. I guess it must feel weird to have a big wet chilly nose.

I'm reading Reza Aslan's biography of the historical Jesus, "Zealot." This is the book that prompted a Fox News interviewer to challenge Aslan for daring, as a Muslim, to write about Jesus. I'll be interested to see what it's like. The librarians at school are writing reviews for the new books they've read to display alongside the books on the shelves -- maybe this will be my contribution. I just don't want people to think I'm some kind of zealot myself!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Hot Stuff, as Donna Summer Famously Sang

We had a minor domestic disaster last night. Dave made spaghetti sauce with artichoke hearts and capers, and as has lately become our routine, we talked about our day and then watched Rachel Maddow and an episode of "Green Acres" as he cooked.

When we finally sat down to our pasta at about 7 p.m., Dave took one bite and said, "What is so hot in this?"

I tasted it, and yes, it was hot -- as in spicy hot. I said, "It tastes like pepper."

We ate a few more bites. "Jesus!" said Dave. "How much pepper did I use?"

I eventually pinpointed the peppery taste -- all the little round green kernels that looked like capers. Dave ran to get the jar, and sure enough, they weren't capers at all. They were green peppercorns in brine. We were eating spaghetti sauce containing an entire jar of green peppercorns.

There's a show here in England called "The Great British Bake-Off," in which contestants compete against each other in various feats of baking. As has become standard on these shows, one contestant gets sent packing in every episode. Well, the other day, one of the bakers accidentally used salt instead of sugar in his recipe, and I remember thinking that was an awfully careless mistake. But now I see how easily such a thing can happen. Those peppercorns really did look like capers.

Anyway, I picked the peppercorns out and ate the sauce, and it was fine. Dave ate his peppercorns and all, but complained this morning that he didn't get the best night's sleep. (Also partly due to bed-hogging Olga.)

After dinner we watched an episode of "24," and although we're not quite finished with the first season, Dave and I agreed that we've had enough of that show. It's just too ridiculous. I mean, I can barely keep myself awake through an average workday, and here's a guy whose wife and daughter have been kidnapped (twice in the case of the daughter), who's trying to prevent a political assassination, who's surrounded by murder and mayhem and gunfire at every turn, and who's been awake for 36 hours and isn't even visibly tired?

(Photo: The window washer that Olga and I see most mornings in Westbourne Grove. He always gives her a pat on the head.)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

If You Had Wings

For the last few days I have had this song, if you can call it that, stuck in my head:

If you had wings
You could do many things
You could widen your world
If you had wings

OK, so it's not Proust, or even Rod McKuen. It's the jingle that played in the ride called "If You Had Wings," at Disney World in Orlando, until that ride closed in the mid-1980s.

"If You Had Wings," against all probability, was my favorite Disney World ride. It wasn't about speed or thrills, like "Space Mountain," or humor and adventure, like "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride," and it didn't involve ghosts or giant squid or pirates.

Instead, it was about traveling the world, and it was relatively peaceful and relaxing. The lilting choral jingle, which absolutely embedded itself in the rider's inner ear, accompanied a slow trip through a dark tunnel where Mexican dancers twirled on a patio and bathing-suit clad tourists climbed a Caribbean waterfall. A Bahamian traffic cop guided pedestrians and flamingoes in opposing directions. Seagulls flew in a graceful, animated cluster across the dark blue sky.

The ride was sponsored by Eastern Airlines, and built the tail end of the era when jet travel was seen as exclusive and stylish. It fed into my strong desire to see the world. At this point in my conscious life I'd only been to Washington, D.C., to visit my grandparents. But as I've written before, I collected stamps, I was aware of the globe and I wanted to see it all.

I got to thinking about "If You Had Wings" the other day, and after some Internet research came across an entertaining blog post that described its history, as well as a video taken in 1985 (unfortunately very dark -- all that's visible are the illuminated projections within the ride's chambers, rather than the rooms themselves) and an audio clip of that infuriatingly addictive tune. (Not as infuriating as "It's a Small World," I'll grant you.) The blog mentions the ticket system at Disney World, which I remember, but I'd forgotten that "If You Had Wings" was free. I guess that makes sense, since it was basically a big commercial for Eastern.

Apparently there was even an Eastern reservation desk at the conclusion of the ride, in case watching those people traipse through a waterfall was so inspiring that a rider was compelled to drop a couple hundred clams right away. I don't remember this reservation desk -- maybe I ignored it, since I wasn't in a position to spend clams.

In high school, I remember making my girlfriend ride through "If You Had Wings" numerous times. She probably wanted to be on "Space Mountain" with everyone else our age.

Anyway, it was fun to track down some online history of this ride and see the photos. The space today is occupied by an undoubtedly more high-tech ride based on the "Toy Story" movie franchise. I'm sure it's far less relaxing.

(Photo: A couple in Hackney Wick, on Aug. 17. This has nothing to do with "If You Had Wings," but I don't have any photos of that attraction!)