Sunday, November 30, 2014

Pippa in the Mist

We got home yesterday and, oh man, I have never slept as well in my life as I did last night in our own bed. I suspect that goes for all three of us. Thank goodness for home.

Before we left Moreton-in-Marsh yesterday morning, Olga and I went for an early walk. A picturesque mist cloaked the fields, making me feel like a character in a Bronte novel. We met a little border terrier named Pippa, an energetic ball of wiry brown fur being walked by a middle-aged guy who had recently traveled to the American South and told me of his visit to Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. Meanwhile, Olga and Pippa had a fun romp -- Pippa loved to jump on Olga and then roll onto her back in the grass, playing submissive, as if inviting Olga to ravage her. We let them go at it for a while, but I decided to separate them when Olga began lightly nipping at Pippa's legs and ears. She was just playing but Pippa was much smaller and I didn't want any inadvertent damage!

Anyway, Dave, Olga and I boarded the train about noon and got back to London an hour and a half later. Olga was perfectly behaved and seemed much calmer on this train journey -- no panting, to speak of. Once home, I launched the laundry and Dave and I watched "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile," a prison double-feature! It was so nice to curl up on the couch and not have to go anywhere. Home sweet home, indeed.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Muddy Country Walk

As I told Dave, my main desire on this trip was to get out of town and walk in the country. Otherwise, why leave London? I wanted a rural experience.

Olga and I got a bit of that when we took an early morning walk yesterday morning. We found the cemetery, which of course Olga loved. (And this time there were no signs telling her to stay out, at least not that I saw.)

Then, later in the morning, we asked the desk clerks at our inn to recommend a long-ish walk that would take us out of town and allow us to see some sights. They suggested we take a circular, 3.5-mile walk to Batsford, a nearby village, using the public walking trails that crisscross fields and pastures. (In England, many public paths predate modern land-ownership laws and are preserved for public access, even when they cross private property.)

Of course everything is wet and squishy at this time of year. In short order our shoes were caked with clayey mud and we were slip-sliding across plowed cropland. Olga didn't care because she had her Kong, and she kind of likes the mud.

Using a narrow stone footbridge, we crossed a tiny stream that apparently eventually becomes the Thames, and passed Batsford House, a huge Victorian mansion where the Mitford sisters lived during World War I. The lawn in the foreground is a deer park, where an impressive herd of deer were wandering around. Olga took no notice of them.

Olga did, however, notice some chickens in the nearby hamlet of Dorn. Don't worry -- Dave restrained her.

And we saw lots of sheep, who seemed completely disinterested in us unless we got too close. Olga didn't bother them, either, though she did briefly try to give chase when two of them ran off at our approach.

All in all, the walk took about three hours and even Dave, who is no fan of walking, said he enjoyed it. We spent the afternoon mostly relaxing in our room, though I checked out the thrift stores on the high street, where I got a nice shirt for £6. (Blue stripes, no collar -- kind of unusual and maybe somewhat pajama-ish, but I like it anyway!)

Last night we had dinner at a better restaurant before retiring to bed, where I had an incredibly uncomfortable night's sleep. I like our inn overall, but the bed in our room is just too small, and of course Olga expands to take up all possible space. I felt so claustrophobic I wound up trying to sleep on some cushions on the floor, like, well, a dog. The irony!

Friday, November 28, 2014

A Rail Journey and a Quick Walk

Olga survived her train trip to the Cotswolds. I'm not sure she enjoyed it -- she panted a lot and seemed pretty wired -- but she behaved very well and pulled through with flying colors.

Now we're in Moreton-in-Marsh, which is here:

We got here about 3 p.m. yesterday and haven't seen much of the town, because soon after we arrived the sun set. We had time to check in to our hotel and take one walk up and down the main street, which looks cute in a resort-y way, with lots of gift shops, tea rooms and retirees.

Olga found a companion, and gave it a good sniff, but was perplexed by the un-doglike smell.

Our walk ended partly because the sky was looking like this:

So we retreated to the pub at our hotel for one of these:

Later we went to dinner at the hotel restaurant, which was average. Then we curled up in the room to watch Star Trek and NCIS. (Isn't it funny how we go on vacation to change our routines, and yet bring our routines with us?) I'm looking forward to more exploring today, hopefully out in the countryside. I'm really not interested in gift shops and tea rooms.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Drunk Penguin

This will seem like a very strange post for Thanksgiving, although it is about a large bird.

One of the librarians at work put together a display of books about the north and south poles, and augmented it with a large inflatable penguin that belongs to her son. No one has checked out any of the books, but the penguin has become a bit of a star. The only problem is, he has a slow leak and needs a bit of re-inflation every morning.

On the recent days when I went to work early because of choir practice, I was often the first person in the library and thus the first person to see the state of the penguin. It was a source of constant amusement.

Sometimes it seemed like he'd merely had a little too much to drink.

And sometimes he seemed completely blotto.

Anyway, I think our substance-abusing penguin is about to be sent away, because he's just too much work. Blowing up a penguin every morning is not really in any of our job descriptions. And it always seems like something we need to do surreptitiously, like it's embarrassing or uncomfortably intimate, with all the attendant huffing and puffing. I take the penguin back into the stacks to blow it up in the dark, which I suppose would look even weirder if anyone saw me.

Dave and I are off to the Cotswolds today. We'll catch a train after lunch with the dog. We have some things to do around the house this morning.

I did get out yesterday and do a few more streets for Bleeding London, once again up near Neasden and Harlesden. That's the first photography I've been able to do in a while. I got some OK shots, even though this was after I'd had a couple of pre-Thanksgiving pints with Dave, Gordon and Lisa at a pub near school. Let me just say, photography on a buzz is not a whole lot of fun. It's too precise and too demanding. I much prefer it sober.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone -- or at least, to those of my readers who celebrate Thanksgiving. I'm thankful for all of you! I'll continue blogging from the Cotswolds, provided we have reasonably functioning Internet at our inn.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Yellow Trees

People often say that England doesn't get fall color, but that's just not true. We may not have brilliant red sugar maples, but we don't do too badly.

Today is a workday, but the kids are not in school and I only need to be there until noon. So this afternoon I hope to get out and do some photography, and then tomorrow Dave, Olga and I are off to the Cotswolds!

I called yesterday about our wayward lawn mower. The delivery company sent it back to the retailer. In fact, the man on the phone couldn't believe they charged me last week for Saturday delivery, because they put through the charge the day after the mower was returned. So I got that money back and Dave is going to call the retailer and try to arrange for redelivery. (Or a refund.) At this point I almost think it would be better to just get a sheep.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Few Updates, and Bill Cosby

-- The lawn mower did not arrive Saturday, despite my paying for special Saturday delivery. How did I know it wouldn't? Time to get back on the phone this morning.

-- We had a contractor in yesterday to review our mold problem. We weren't home at the time so I'm not sure what they determined, but at least things are moving ahead on that front. Our other home repairs, which we reported to the management company back in July, continue to languish. A different contractor told Dave he would come in last week to fix them, but he never showed. Again, we're following up.

-- Thanks for the input on repairing our lava lamp. I agree that a lava lamp ought to be a pretty simple thing to fix. This one has a rocker switch on the cord, and I'm wondering if either the switch has gone bad or if there's a fuse somewhere in the lamp. (Could lava lamps possibly have fuses?)

-- Today is the last day of school for our students until after Thanksgiving!

-- I haven't yet written about the Bill Cosby situation because, frankly, I'm a little broken-hearted about it. I've always liked and admired Cosby, or at least his public persona. I'm sure the women who have accused him are largely telling the truth, with details possibly tempered by time and memory. I do think we have to remember that these events happened mostly at a time when the ethics and awareness surrounding sexuality and date rape were somewhat different, and that Cosby was never charged with anything. I would also hate to see these allegations ultimately overshadow all the positive things he's done for education and black youths. But I don't mean to make excuses for him. I absolutely believe he preyed on women whom he rendered incapable of giving consent. I also suspect that many powerful men in Hollywood back in the '60s did similar things. The Washington Post has the best article about all this that I have read yet.

(Photo: West Hampstead, last Saturday morning.)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Rainy Day Kitchen Window

It poured all day yesterday. We stayed inside and watched movies and had a lazy, cozy day. Even Olga could not be convinced to go out. We'd open the door to the back yard and she'd stand on the threshold and watch the rain coming down -- and then hightail it back to the couch.

She held it from Saturday night until late yesterday afternoon, when the rain slacked up enough that I was finally able to drag her out on a walk. Pretty amazing, and she didn't seem to be at all uncomfortable. She's a camel.

The movies we watched were "The Graduate," which was on my mind because of the death of Mike Nichols; "Contact," which is one of Dave's perennial favorites; and "Bobby," Emilio Estevez's ensemble drama about the day Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. I remember going to see "Bobby" in the theaters and thinking it was really good, although as I recall it got mixed reviews, which I still don't understand. And wouldn't you think that after all that insanity in the 1960s, after the Kennedys and King and Malcolm X and all the resulting riots and strife, that the U.S. would have been able to pass some effective gun control legislation? Legislation that might have saved us the agony of Reagan and Jim Brady and maybe even Columbine and Newtown and all the other bloodshed that seems to crop up every single day in the United States?

That's our kitchen windowsill up above. I bought the stargazer lilies at Tesco on Friday -- five stems for £10. We have another big vase of them in the living room. They've filled the house with their soft aroma (which I know some people can't stand, but fortunately we love it). And I've really got to cook that winter squash -- I bought it weeks ago and just haven't got around to it.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Getting Yelled At in the Cemetery

Dark and rainy today, stereotypical November weather. I'm not sure how I'm going to exercise the dog, it's so miserable outside. The forecast predicts light rain all day. As long as we're inside, I kind of like it.

Yesterday Olga and I got back to the cemetery, and we had an interesting walk through a wooded area that in summer is thick with impenetrable foliage. Now that winter is arriving the leaves have fallen and there's more visibility and freedom of movement. Olga was very excited by the possibility of squirrels.

Large parts of the cemetery have been allowed to grow over with trees and brush, which I think is kind of cool. I guess the graves there are older ones that are unlikely to be visited today.

After we re-entered the grassy areas, I got an earful from a couple in a passing car about letting Olga wander the cemetery off-leash. They were brassy and vulgar. "This is a f-cking cemetery!" the woman yelled. The man added, "How would you feel if a dog took a sh-t on your grave?!" I was so proud of the way I handled it. I stayed very calm, pointed out to them that I had a bag at the ready, and that Olga was hardly alone -- in fact there were four or five dogs roaming the cemetery off-leash with their owners at that very moment. "I don't care! You're the one that got caught!" the woman yelled. I said, "I don't know what else to tell you," and walked away -- with Olga, still off-leash.

Some people. Sheesh. I mean, if a dog pooped on my grave, would I care? I'm pretty sure not. Especially if someone picked it up right away. Don't the birds and squirrels and foxes and rabbits poop there already? What's the big deal?

I'm going to assume they were there mourning someone, and that pain was the source of their anger and emotion. Olga and I just happened to be on the receiving end of it. (And technically they're correct -- signs in the cemetery say to keep dogs on leads. But no one does, so I've always believed that to be a flexible rule.)

The marigolds that in summer adorn the second grave from the right in the row above have died back. They were still blooming just a few weeks ago. Funny how things change so quickly.

Last night Dave made dinner for Pete, a coworker, and his wife Laura. (You may remember we went to their wedding in June.) He pulled together an incredible meal, including a halibut dish with a green pea beurre blanc and braised beef short ribs. I did one load of dishes last night before bed, and when I woke up about 5 a.m. I did another load before going back to bed. Now the house is in order and we are ready for a quiet day of hibernation!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Sad, Cold Lava Lamp

I watered our avocado plant this morning and got a bit too enthusiastic, resulting in an overflowing saucer and a wet towel. There's nothing like mopping up spilled water in your already moldy living room at 5:30 in the morning. But at least the avocado is happy.

I went out last night with some coworkers and had a good time, courtesy of my boss' boss, who stood us a couple of rounds at the local pub. I didn't attend the last of these occasional pub gatherings, but I figured it was important to put in an appearance so I came to this one. Fun, though when I left at the end of the evening I forgot my paperback book in the pub. I was a third of the way home before I realized it, and had to walk back to retrieve it, which was kind of annoying.

I also made it my mission to buy a new light bulb for our lava lamp, which has been non-functioning for a couple of weeks. On Wednesday I schlepped all the way to Homebase, a big-box housewares retailer that's not exactly on my way home from work, but was bewildered by the vast array of light bulbs. So I made note of the possibilities and on Friday schlepped back to Homebase and brought the bulb with me, and found a suitable replacement. Got it home, put it in the lamp, and BOOM -- the lamp still doesn't work. Which means there must be a deeper problem. Does one have a £25 lava lamp repaired? Or does one knuckle under to the crass resource-wasting profligacy of overseas manufacturing and simply buy a new one?

Ridiculous modern problems.

Speaking of which, today is lawn mower delivery day. Allegedly. We shall see if it arrives.

(Photo: Dog on a balcony on Edgware Road, Colindale, North London.)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Mike Nichols, and the Choir

I was sorry to read that film and Broadway director Mike Nichols died Wednesday. He is responsible for my all-time favorite movie, "The Graduate," which (as I have probably written before) I consider the perfect film. Every element works -- each and every actor, the brilliant Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack, the sunny but vapid California setting, the sophisticated camera work. I've probably watched it more than any other movie and Nichols gets the credit for pulling it together so brilliantly. Of course he had a long career with plenty of other successes, but "The Graduate" alone puts him in my own personal hall of fame.

Our faculty/staff choir performance was last night, and we did really well, if I do say so myself. We performed at a special Thanksgiving service at St. Margaret's Church, adjacent to Westminster Abbey. Although the British don't really recognize Thanksgiving, this event was sponsored by a group fostering good Anglo-American relations, known as The Pilgrim Society. It featured hymns, readings and of course our stellar singing, all in a Tudor-era gothic church.

I'm relieved the performance is over, though. Managing the weekly rehearsals was tough because I and a coworker had to swap our work schedules, and Dave and I had to get out of the house at roughly the same time on Wednesday mornings -- not easy when there's only one shower. (And no, it's not the kind of shower two people could use simultaneously!) So I probably won't continue with the choir past this point. It was a good learning experience, but they won't miss my uncertain, non-music-reading vocals.

(Photo: Houses near Becontree, East London, on Oct. 26.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Six-Word Story

Olga and I stumbled onto this little piece of street art outside a book shop in Hampstead. I posed her with it because it seemed to fit her, though she only has "fight" when it comes to cats and squirrels.

(I think she thought she was in some kind of trouble. That's a puzzled expression on her face.)

Yesterday some kids in the library were collecting six-word stories for the school newspaper. We were asked to write a piece of fiction in six words on a sheet of paper, and then they photographed us holding the page. My story was "Buy me a ring, or go!" I thought it was pretty clever -- coming up with a six-word story on two minutes' notice is not an easy thing -- but as I wrote it out, I thought, "People are going to think this is a message for Dave."

So I reassured Dave that my story was just that -- a STORY. Since I already have the ring (figuratively) through our civil union, I do not need any kind of literal ring, nor do I want one!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How Not to Recommend a Book

I don't know what it is about this week, but we have been busy in the school library. More and more kids are asking me for book recommendations. I've vowed to become more familiar with the middle-school fiction by reading (or at least skimming) selected books. (This after I recommended a harmless-looking book called "The Winter Pony" -- we have five copies and I thought, "Well, if we bought that many it must be good!" -- but only later heard from a fellow librarian that it's about horses that go to Antarctica on an expedition and get eaten by the explorers. Fortunately the girl who checked it out got bored and returned it before she got very far.)

I really need to know more about what I'm recommending.

Kids are so funny. Yesterday a 5th grade girl came in and wanted a book. Not too long, she said, because if it was too long she'd get bored and want to quit and her mother would nag at her for not being persistent. And it had to be a mystery, preferably a sad mystery, and it would be nice if it were told from the perspectives of two different people.

Well, good grief! I felt like telling the girl she may need to write that book.

I and another librarian came up with at least six recommendations for this girl, and she eventually left with a book and a desultory expression. About an hour later she plunked the book into the return bin. So I guess we failed. Sigh.

I seriously wish kids would be a bit more open-minded and just try new types of books, rather than wanting the same sorts of stories and characters over and over. I wonder if that attitude is a byproduct of so many books coming in series these days.

Our last faculty/staff choir rehearsal, before our performance tomorrow, was yesterday. I don't think I will stick with singing after this performance. I'm in over my head with harmonics and whatnot -- I can't really read the music so I sing what the people next to me are singing, and I'm good at picking that up quickly, but I still feel like I'm flailing around a bit. Besides, the schedule is too disruptive. I have to switch shifts with my coworker in order to accommodate rehearsals, and that's not really fair to her. It's been a fun learning experience, though.

Finally, I am still trying to kick off the additional work I've pledged to do for Bleeding London. Argh! There's a lot going on.

(Photos: A groovy van in Neasden, Northwest London.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


We are getting things done around here.

I called and rescheduled delivery of our lawn mower. I told the couriers we really need a weekend delivery, and they said if I paid an extra £12 they'd come on Saturday. So I did, and they are. Supposedly. Stay tuned.

Then I got tickets to the IMAX showing of "Interstellar" last night. Dave has been talking about wanting to see it, and despite my recent grumbling about movie theaters, I got more intrigued the more I read about it. So we went, and it was mind-blowing. I'm sure you all know the basic plot -- the Earth is dying, so astronauts depart on a mission of exploration to find humanity another suitable home. It's a profoundly depressing premise, and the movie tackles all sorts of subjects we know little or nothing about first-hand, like traveling through wormholes and black holes, time travel and multidimensional existence. I was surprised by its similarity to "2001: A Space Odyssey," but it's faster-paced and without the Kubrickian coldness and stillness. I still think "2001" is a better movie, especially for its time, but "Interstellar" is more audience-friendly, with a good script and terrific effects. It left me feeling unsettled and almost scared about all we don't know.

Dave and I walked home from the tube with our heads spinning. He already wants to see it again.

(Photo: An apparently closed cafe in Neasden, on Sunday. Those poor plants!)

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Return of the Dave

I spent yesterday morning in Dollis Hill and Neasden, north of us, doing more photography for Bleeding London. I shot 65 streets and got some interesting pictures, I think.

My enthusiasm for Bleeding London may have gotten me in over my head, though. I volunteered to help keep track of which streets still need to be done in the NW postcodes, and to help update the BL Web site. With what time am I going to do this? I'm not sure! Stay tuned!

Dave got back from Aberdeen yesterday as expected -- I timed my photo walk to be home when he arrived. He went grocery shopping on the way home (hauling his suitcase, poor guy) and then settled promptly into his position on the couch and began surfing real estate sites. For some reason, talking with his coworkers on the trip seems to have convinced him that we should buy a flat. I'm certainly not opposed to buying, but we only just arrived in the flat we're in now -- he just planted about a hundred plants in the back garden -- so I think we ought to live here a couple of years before we hasten down the path toward ownership. Despite the mold, I like our flat! (Besides, we need to talk to banks about our options.)

I think he's just sick of trying to deal with our management company. Can't blame him for that. But in the end, none of the repairs we've requested (well, except the mold) are urgent -- so I'm not quite ready for an extreme change in plans.

We had pork chops for dinner and watched some telly. We also Skyped with Dave's parents last night -- his mom has some health issues, so I know that's weighing on his mind. It's weighing on mine, too. It will be good to get to Michigan for Christmas so we can spend some time with them and really see first-hand how they're doing.

(Photo: Outside the Dollis Hill tube station, yesterday.)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Late-Autumn Garden

Because yesterday was very domestic -- a foggy walk on Hampstead Heath with Olga, followed by housecleaning, laundry, reading and movie-watching -- here's a post with a few domestic photos.

The Japanese maple in our backyard has turned spectacularly red. It seems like just a few days ago most of it was still greenish bronze, and Dave and I were looking at a few red leaves on the uppermost branches and saying, "I wonder if the whole tree will turn that color?" Et voila! It has.

Our little Totoro ceramic bell, which we found hanging alongside other whimsical bells outside a shop in Shanghai, lives in the Japanese maple -- which is only sensible, since Totoro is a Japanese forest spirit.

The horseradish, meanwhile, is looking sad these days -- a far cry from its ginormous state two months ago. In addition to dying back for the winter, it has been gnawed within an inch of its life by a variety of critters.

I spent yesterday afternoon and evening watching movies, beginning with "By the Bluest of Seas," the Soviet movie from 1936 that I mentioned recording from television. Two sailors wash ashore in the Caspian Sea at the "Lights of Communism" collective farm, where they vie for the attentions of the same girl. As a movie, it was technically terrible, with some seriously haphazard editing, but the lead actor was hunky and as a cultural artifact it was fascinating. I moved on from there to a mini Ally Sheedy film festival, with "Maid to Order" and "St. Elmo's Fire," and finished with "Footsteps in the Fog," a British melodrama from 1955 starring Jean Simmons and Stewart Granger. (I just mistyped it as "Footsteps on the Dog"!) Somewhere in there I made an omelet for dinner.

Dave comes back today! The solitude has been nice but I miss him and I'm ready for a return to normalcy.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Feminist Poetry, Rock Hudson and a Lawn Mower

My blog pal Elizabeth wrote a post two days ago in which she described going to an event in Los Angeles with her son and hearing writings by various people from historically oppressed groups. She happened to mention the feminist writer Marge Piercy, and that made me wonder whether we had any Piercy in the school library.

A quick look in the catalog showed we did not.

I've read a couple of books by Piercy. I really liked her novel "Small Changes," which followed a group of women becoming more aware of feminist issues in the early '70s; "Woman on the Edge of Time," a sci-fi time-travel book, was a bit more peculiar. But of everything she's written, "The Moon is Always Female," a collection of poetry, seemed the most representative. My college friend Suzanne introduced me to that book back in the '80s, and that's what I ordered for the library. I am certainly no authority on feminism but we do have a women's literature class, so I think Piercy may be of interest to students.

I watched my recorded Rock Hudson western, "The Last Sunset," last night. It was very strange. Do you ever watch an old movie and think, "Wow, the writer must have been drinking when he came up with this plot!" I picture a bunch of guys in a smoky room with a pitcher of martinis, very Mad Men, all throwing around story lines. That's the only way a movie like "The Last Sunset," in which no one behaves in an even vaguely realistic fashion, could have been made. I did watch the whole thing, though -- with Hudson, Kirk Douglas, the smoldering Dorothy Malone, Carol Lynley and lots of colorful, expansive western scenery, it was diverting enough.

I've already complained about all the drama involved in trying to get things repaired in our flat. Well, here's more drama involving customer service -- a couple of weeks ago, Dave decided to knuckle down and order a lawn mower. We've had a gardener come and mow a couple of times since we moved in, but that's really not practical in the long run, and we didn't want to borrow a neighbor's mower, which is what the previous tenants did. So Dave found one online and ordered it. We have had a heck of a time trying to have this thing delivered. The delivery drivers keep coming while we're at work, despite directions from Dave to come on Saturday. Yesterday we got a letter saying we had to choose a weekday delivery within the next few days or the mower will be sent back. I wish I could tell you how this is going to be resolved!

(Photo: East Ham, on Oct. 7.)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Sand Bin, Aglow

This box sits on the tube platform in West Hampstead. I'm kind of obsessed with it. I love the colors -- the red underlayer and the orange and yellow blotches. Dave says it's like a box of sunset, and that's exactly right.

Dave left yesterday for Aberdeen, Scotland, where the forecast for the entire four days of his stay is rain, rain, rain and rain. No sunsets there! Fortunately he's not planning to be outside anyway. He's there for a music educator's conference.

I, meanwhile, am holding down the fort with Olga, enjoying some alone time. I mean, of course I miss Dave, but it's also pretty wonderful to leave the TV off and just read, and cook my own simple dinners, and enjoy some silence. I can get in bed at 9 p.m. and read for an hour without worrying about whether I'm disturbing Dave with the light. Last night I made a salad of some multicolored tomatoes from the produce store, and I fried a couple of eggs and sauteed a leek and heated up some leftover potatoes and cauliflower, and that was dinner. Fabulous!

I have a handful of movies to watch -- random films I recorded over the last several months on TV. I should get them out of the way while Dave is gone. He doesn't want to watch a 1960 Rock Hudson western or a 1930s Soviet movie about sailors vacationing on the Black Sea. I'm not sure I do, either, but I was interested enough to hit the "record" button so I'm going to at least give them a try.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Boring Landlord Issues

We heard back from the management company for our landlord about the mold. I thought they would react with urgency, given all the horror stories I've heard about black mold and its ill effects on human health. But apparently lawyers have rallied landlords against black mold only in the United States, because here our mold revelation was met with a stifled yawn.

We got an e-mail back saying that mold growth is "a common but relatively easy problem to overcome." It then gave us step-by-step instructions for improving ventilation, keeping the flat warmer and reducing condensation. I was also advised to "clean the affected area" and let them know if it reoccurs.

This wasn't hugely helpful, but I admit a few of their tips -- such as opening the bathroom window and closing the door after showers -- may come in handy. (They also advised us to use the bathroom extractor fan, which is interesting, since we don't have one.) So I'll clean the wall and we'll try to reduce moisture and see what happens. I'd really rather not invest in a dehumidifier unless absolutely required.

Meanwhile, we were visited by a contractor yesterday, supposedly to do some other minor repairs we requested after moving in four months ago. Strangely, though, nothing appears to have been done. The guy was definitely in our house -- some things were moved around -- but we see no evidence of repair work. God knows what's happening. Probably yet another estimate. (The management company is obsessed with getting estimates. We've had at least three contractors visit already.) I've requested an update.

Dave has about had it with the management company -- he called them a few days ago, got very forceful and threatened to withhold our rent. I understand the frustration, but I'm operating on the basis that honey catches flies better than vinegar (or whatever that old saying is). I'm being ultra-polite, but maybe I'll try to nag them a little more.

(Photo: Shopping carts in Neasden, on Sunday.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Fifth Grade Field Trip

Yesterday I chaperoned a fifth grade field trip to the British Museum. Talk about things I never expected to do! I was basically coerced into it because more chaperones were needed. We each had eight kids assigned to us, and we took them through an exhibit about mummies and then the galleries for ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Let me just say, at the outset, I was terrified. What if I lost someone? What if they threw up or peed their pants or knocked over a cuneiform-inscribed burial urn?

Fortunately, my kids were all pretty well-behaved (even the ones I'd been warned about!) and we saw everything we needed to see. Kids are a lot like ducks -- you walk, they follow you. I counted to eight about a thousand times during the course of the morning, making sure they were all still with me, and they always were.

I spent the morning carrying an epipen for one boy who had food allergies. Inwardly I thought this was pretty silly, because he was allergic to peanuts and salmon -- and what were the chances we'd encounter a salmon among the sarcophagi and amulets? (Peanuts, on the other hand, were probably a greater risk, and only belatedly did I realize that in allowing the kids to buy snack cakes from a food cart I could have exposed him to peanuts -- but he ate it and nothing happened, so hamdu'llah for that.)

Overall, I might have been a little lackadaisical. I let the kids run around in the museum courtyard during break time, and I let them climb on a column in the portico, and I let them buy the aforementioned snack cakes (and was only told afterwards they aren't supposed to buy any food, and aren't supposed to even have money with them). But I bet they had fun, and considering it was my first time and everyone made it back to school alive and in one piece, I think things turned out OK!

(Photo: Neasden, North London, on Sunday.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Oxford Street Lights

The lights are already strung above Oxford Street for Christmas. At least, I assume these are Christmas lights, and they're not up all year, but I could be wrong! I almost never go to Oxford Street because it's such a mob scene, but since I was in Mayfair on Sunday night I took a walk around just to see the seasonal glitter.

The big department stores are decked out in lights. Wonder what their power bill is like?

Dave and I haven't really figured out our Christmas plans yet. Because we're flying to Michigan we don't want to haul a lot of stuff, so I think we're going to concentrate on providing the Christmas dinner for Dave's extended family.

As for my family in Florida, I haven't the slightest idea. For the past several years I've sent them books of my photography, but I don't want to do that again. It starts to look a little egomaniacal after a while. I'm not even sure we're doing gifts. I don't have high material expectations as a rule, so I'm fine with skipping it, but I guess I need to clarify that situation!

I am preparing a Christmas gift of some framed photos for the wife of a co-worker, at his request. That's taking a bit of planning. I'll be popping in and out of the photo shop over the next week or two getting that put together.

And of course I'll get Dave something.

As for me, I don't really need anything. A dehumidifier, maybe?

Monday, November 10, 2014


Yesterday was a busy day!

In the morning I shot 39 streets for Bleeding London, northwest of us near Neasden.

Then, in the afternoon, Dave and I braved the crowds and went to see the ceramic poppies filling the moat at the Tower of London, in an exhibit called "Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red." Created by ceramics artist Paul Cummin, each of the 888,246 poppies represent a British military fatality during World War I. The poppies were installed in the moat in early August, and over time filled it, seeming to spill from a window in the Tower.

This was the last weekend to see the exhibit, timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the first day of Britain's involvement in World War I. The poppies will be removed after Remembrance Day on Nov. 11.

The poppies were individually sold for £25 each, and after the 11th, they'll be "picked" and shipped to their purchasers. The money goes toward six charities that serve veterans. I wish Dave and I had had the foresight to buy one! They're all sold now.

It is a simultaneously beautiful and eerie exhibit -- the bright red filling the moat, pretty in an abstract sense until you think about the carnage it represents.

Because it was the last weekend, the place was mobbed. I've had the exhibit on my radar all the weeks it's been there, but other things always seemed to intrude on my plans to go. Hence, we suffered the crowds, which although dense and slow-moving were very well-behaved. (I was astonished to see many people pushing strollers through that gridlock!)

We didn't stay long -- just long enough to walk along the edge of the moat and shoot some photos.

Afterwards, we ran an errand on Regent Street, one of the main shopping drags in the West End. We bought Dave a black suit to wear on stage while he conducts the band -- replacing the old black tux he's been dragging around for 20 years. Dave also bought us each a small paper poppy to wear in our lapels -- an annual British tradition for Remembrance Day -- and then I promptly lost mine while running to cross a street. Oh well.

Then Dave headed home and I met our coworker Lorraine for dinner (Welsh rarebit!), and to attend a choral concert that included another of the music teachers at school. The concert was also themed to remember veterans. It's that time of year.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Mold Patrol

As you can probably tell from my recent posts, we've had a pretty rainy autumn. The garden is sodden, the skies almost perpetually gray. But this is England, after all, and I don't think this autumn has been rainier than usual.

When we moved into this flat, we heard from the previous resident that there were issues of "damp" around the back door. The management company had a contractor in at least twice to check out these issues. But no repairs ever seemed warranted and we never saw any signs of water intrusion.

Until yesterday!

I was cleaning the floor in the corner by the back windows, where we keep our avocado plant. I noticed black specks on the wall -- definitely mold. We have noticed a very damp feeling in the living room, particularly in the mornings right after we both shower, and we've seen condensation on the windows. But this was the first sign that dampness may be a problem.

So we began looking around the room for more spots. When we pulled the couch away from the wall, a gray/black patch of mold a couple of feet square was visible behind it -- a fairly scary looking patch, and I'm not very squeamish about these sorts of things. (Hey, I was in the Peace Corps.)

I took photos of the moldy spots and sent them to the management company, asking them to expedite their repairs. These managers are glacially slow about maintenance issues. Dave and I reported a separate list of problems when we first moved in -- everything from broken hinges on cabinets to a non-functioning range vent hood -- and they've sent at least two contractors to look at those problems and give estimates. Four months later, none of that work has been done.

Meanwhile, we pulled the couch a few more inches away from the wall, to increase ventilation, and we've decided to run the heat a bit more in an effort to keep the flat drier. (On the other hand, it will be warmer, which seems like it might help mold grow. I don't really know the best course of action there.) Mold can have health implications for some people -- we haven't experienced any problems but I do think this needs to be addressed, and pronto.

I keep imagining ways in which this will circle back to bite us -- they'll blame us for not notifying them earlier or not using heat to keep the flat drier. I keep telling Dave, "There goes our security deposit!" I'm also wondering what drastic renovation may be required to remedy the problem. But who knows. I always imagine the worst and so far, in our rental situations, reality has been better!

In other news, Olga and I had a long walk yesterday morning -- me photographing missing streets in Hampstead for Bleeding London, and Olga cavorting in the woods on Hampstead Heath. We walked through part of the heath where we've never been before, and it was great to see some new scenery -- and new squirrels!

Last night, Dave and I went to a new (for us) restaurant -- Theo Randall at the Intercontinental Hotel on Park Lane. This was a slightly belated birthday dinner for me, so Dave knuckled under to my penchant for Italian food. We enjoyed the meal, and the dining room was beautiful, but overall I agree with the axiom that Italian food doesn't have to be fancy to be good. We liked the wine, though!

(Top photo: Shopfronts on Finchley Road, yesterday morning.)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Quiet Saturday

I've got nothing today! So I will leave you with this photo of a quiet street in the West End, taken last Saturday night as Dave and I walked from Covent Garden to the Bleeding London wrap party. I'd had some alcohol by that time, so all I can say is, thank goodness for automatic camera settings.

Speaking of Bleeding London, I'm going to get back in the saddle for Phase 2, which entails "mopping up" streets that we have missed. I'm hoping to get out this morning and get some of those done, perhaps as I walk with Olga toward Hampstead Heath. If the inevitable autumn rain holds off, that is!