Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Sunflowers, Orchids and Shelf-Reading

When Dave and I were in Tesco a few days ago, I impulsively bought this bunch of sunflowers. They just looked so, well, sunny. I had to have them, and they do brighten up the living room.

And in other flower news, remember our orchid? The one we got in June from my retiring co-worker? Well, I just want to note for the record that it still looks amazing. I don't know how long orchids are supposed to last but this one has not disappointed!

Yesterday I spent much of the day shelf-reading in the library. (Remember, nearly all middle and high school students, and most faculty -- like Dave -- are on trips away from school this week.) Shelf-reading entails grabbing an iPad, pulling up a listing of all our books in the order in which they should be shelved, and working down the shelves to make sure everything is in its place. It may sound deadly boring, but I find it peaceful and pleasant. I've always been an organizer, and it's rewarding to find books that are in entirely the wrong location. (I think so, anyway!)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Psychedelic Autumn

As I walked Olga on the Heath on Sunday, we kept hearing popping and rustling sounds in the trees. Olga, who is very attuned to treetop noises because they could be a SQUIRREL, just about went crazy. But the sounds were just acorns, falling by the thousands, because it's that time of year. I noticed that they're a bit pinkish, which I've never seen in an acorn before.

We're starting to see more colorful leaves, too. England never has leaves as psychedelic as North America's -- my hunch is that overall we have more oaks and fewer maples, and it's the maples that really take on those deep red colors. Here's an interesting article about why Europe lacks the vivid red fall tree color found in North America and Asia -- it may have to do with the position of mountain ranges during the last Ice Age. Who knew?!

The chestnuts -- or as the English say, conkers -- are falling now, too. They always look so beautiful, clean and shiny, jewels of the forest. They look too nice to be left lying in the dirt!

This has been a good week for finding things on the sidewalk. I found a credit-card holder (no identification) containing a subway card with £15 on it -- and the holder is a little handmade cloth thing that's pretty cool. I think I'll use it.

I also found a box of discarded music CDs from which I pulled a few that I thought I might like -- some  homemade mixes and a copy of "Forever Changes" by the '60s band Love, which is a terrific album! I am getting my psychedelic groove on with that one. (How often can I use the word psychedelic multiple times in one blog post?)

Finally, did I mention that the squirrels have completely destroyed our squirrel feeder? They got impatient with having to lift the lid, and decided it would be easier to chew the side away and remove the plastic window. The feeder has been reduced to a ragged box with an open front and nothing to hold in the nuts. I'm going to try to glue the window back in place. We'll see.

Monday, September 28, 2015

It's a Dog's Life

Olga and I spent yesterday morning on the West Heath, Sandy Heath and Hampstead Heath Extension. She had quite an exhausting day.

First, she found a muddy tire rut just wide enough for her body...

...and then she got in the muddy pond on Sandy Heath where, gasp, she lost her Kong! The great failing of Kong toys, at least the ones we buy, is that they don't float. She let it slip from her jaws in the pond and it was gone for good. I even waded in again to help her (ugh!) but I couldn't find it either. The pond bottom was too soft and mucky and full of sticks and things that felt like they could be a Kong, but weren't.

Fortunately, it was an old, old Kong that was already halfway chewed up, so no big deal.

Even Olga got over it pretty quickly! She was soon distracted by chasing squirrels and running in the open fields on the Extension. There were lots of other people and dogs about -- so many that I heard a father asking his preschool-age son, "How many dogs do you see?" and counting them off with him. I was glad that Olga could contribute to the kid's education.

As you can see, our self-cleaning teflon dog was once again quickly clean as a whistle. And when she got home, we gave her a brand-new Kong that we had at the ready, so all is right with the world.

Dave and I had dinner with Chris and Linda, our former neighbors, last night at one of our old haunts in Notting Hill. Then, this morning, Dave was up early to leave for Paris, where he's taking a group of students on a music- and cooking-focused trip this week. In fact, almost all the kids in the Middle and High schools will be on various journeys through Friday. I'll be catching up on housekeeping tasks in the library, and holding down the fort with Olga!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Stranded in Leyton

I went out to Leyton yesterday to do some more photography for, yes, Bleeding London -- the project that would not die! The organizers are still trying to fill some gaps in coverage for the online gallery, so I got some street lists and went shooting.

I was out all afternoon. I popped into Pret for a sandwich after my French class, which ends at 1 p.m., and then caught the tube -- and I'd say I was shooting for about four hours. The needed streets were not always contiguous, and there was a lot of walking from one point to another.

I had a rough idea that I would walk northwest and catch a train from the Lea Bridge station. But when I finally got there, hours later, imagine my surprise at finding the station not only closed but completely gone. A huge renovation project has left only rubble in its wake. So there I was, stranded, not really knowing the area and all walked out. I caught the first bus toward town and figured it had to pass a tube station at some point. It did, but only after weaving through Hackney and Shoreditch. I got home two hours later!

I was initially thinking about going out today to shoot more, but I think I'll save it for next weekend. I gotta pay some attention to Dave and the dog.

Overall, I did get some good pictures, though, so I can't complain. I always find interesting stuff in Leyton. Remember the "Peculiar" barber shop above? I shot it a few years ago but was never happy with that image because of the big ugly trash receptacle out front. This time I got a much cleaner picture!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Don Quixote Conundrum

Remember a few days ago when I said I'd weeded some oversized picture-book copies of the classics from our library collection? One of them was "Don Quixote," an abridged translation.

I don't know if you've seen the unabridged "Don Quixote," but it is gigantic. Probably 1,000 pages of tiny type. I don't know how Cervantes had the spare time to write so much.

Well, about two days after I took the abridged version out of the collection, some poor eighth-grader -- assigned to read a book in translation -- decided he wanted to read "Don Quixote." So he checked out the unabridged, and was mortified to find it so huge. "What have I gotten myself into?" he asked Dave, who happens to be one of his teachers.

Dave relayed this story to me, and yesterday I had the kid come back to the library. I gave him the abridged translation and told him to keep it, since we'd already taken it out of the catalogue. I'm sure his teacher will be perfectly satisfied with that version. He was thankful and he returned the massive unabridged one.

So now, of course, I'm thinking we need to get a new abridged version. Maybe a smaller one (in terms of physical dimensions).

Isn't it always the way that the minute you get rid of something, you need it? This book hadn't been checked out since 2003! Amazon, here we come.

Last night, I realized in the wee hours of the morning -- after waking from a dream in which a coworker's father made me a gin & tonic, which was very strange -- that I had no idea where my French books were, and that I haven't yet done my homework for today's class. Last week, when I got home from class, I put them away because we had guests coming over. Well, I found them this morning, and now I am off to do my homework. A bien tôt!

(Photo: Stickers from a bunch of shop shutter and gate companies on a shopfront in West Hampstead.)

Friday, September 25, 2015

Slow Bus Blues

When Dave and I first moved to West Hampstead, we were happy to find a bus that took us almost from the doorstep of our house to the doorstep of the school where we work.

It was so nice to ride aboveground, enjoying the daylight and the scenery, rather than in the close-pressed vacuum tube of the underground. We both liked the bus a lot more.

Notice I am using the past tense. The traffic on West End Lane -- which runs near our house and southward into Abbey Road, of the Beatles fame -- has become terrible lately. With several road construction projects on other streets in the area, apparently everyone who drives is being funneled onto already-clogged West End Lane.

The result? The bus sits at a dead stop or crawls along at a sloth's pace. I've tried to just bring a book and sit there, but it's still incredibly frustrating to know that I could walk home in less time than the bus is taking. I don't know how the bus drivers stand it. They must take mood-altering medications.

Anyway, at peak times, Dave and I have both abandoned the bus and gone back to the tube, at least for the time being. It's a drag, but it's preserving our sanity. I do try to walk to work at least three or four times a week just to get some exercise, and that's still preferable to sitting on an immobilized bus.

(Photo: A steam roller, shot on my walk to work Tuesday. Also, some more random banana stickers.)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Druids

The weather was beautiful yesterday, so I thought I'd take my lunch up to Primrose Hill and have a one-man picnic.

What I found, instead, was a religious gathering!

I had just been thinking the other day that it was about time for the autumnal equinox. But I didn't realize it was yesterday, until I got to the hilltop and saw a circle of people in druidical robes engaged in a ceremony.

There is a Facebook page for a group called the "Loose Association of Druids of Primrose Hill." Perhaps these are they.

There was a big horn...

...and a sword, which, although raised, seemed to be accompanied by words advocating peace. (I must admit I didn't catch all the details of the ceremony, since I was running around the circle taking pictures.)

A woman in a gold headpiece and cape stood outside the circle. Her entrance was initially barred, but eventually she was admitted and proceeded to stand in front of the group leaders. (Are they called priests?)

Perhaps she symbolizes the entrance of autumn. (Pure speculation on my part, but she was certainly dressed in autumnal colors.)

And unfortunately that's all I got to see, because I had to zip back to work. What a surprise! You just never know what you'll find out and about, right?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

More Book News

As I've written before, I usually don't quit books. I press ahead and finish them, because you just never know when a book might improve and gather a head of steam that propels the reader toward a surprising ending.

But I quit a book yesterday. I'd been reading "Remembering Blue," by Connie May Fowler, a Florida author whose book "Sugar Cage" I read and enjoyed years ago. "Blue" was actually given to me by my blog pal Ms. Moon, who pulled it off her shelf when I visited her in February. I seem to remember she was lukewarm about it at the time, so hopefully she will understand when I say that I just couldn't make headway in it at all. I read slightly more than 100 pages, and while Fowler writes beautifully about Florida's landscape and wildlife, I found the plot and the characters incredibly tedious. They didn't seem real to me. The overall effect was overly idealized and romanticized, kind of like watching a sappy old movie through a vaseline-coated lens.

So, yeah. Don't hate me, Ms. Moon!

Speaking of reading, did anyone see the story about the failure of the e-book apocalypse? Apparently print book publishing is alive and well. I'm glad, because I've never warmed to e-books (or audio books, for that matter) and I really like my print.

Print books do wear out, though -- I continued our library weeding yesterday, pulling some worn, oversized picture-book copies of "Alice in Wonderland," "Dracula" and "Don Quixote." No one had checked them out in at least five years, and they were so big, we thought it unlikely they would get used again. They were bigger than the average child's book bag. We still have all three books in regular-sized editions, so the big ol' picture books are going away.

(Photo: Flask Walk in Hampstead, earlier this month.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Weeding the Classics

I spent yesterday weeding our fiction section -- specifically our classics. The previous fiction librarian, who retired in the spring, was great about keeping most of the fiction pared down, removing old or worn or unused books. But she routinely bypassed those that she deemed to be classics -- by Graham Greene and D.H. Lawrence and Somerset Maugham, for example. I think she figured she'd just leave them on the shelves regardless of how often they were checked out.

I understand that rationale, but many of them had become really sad-looking -- tired, worn, decades-old paperbacks with yellowed pages and broken bindings. So I ordered fresh copies of about 20 books, and pulled a few others that we probably won't replace because they're duplicates or they're too obscure. ("The Black Tulip" by Alexandre Dumas -- ever heard of it? Me neither. And it hasn't been checked out in donkey's years, as the British say.)

Otherwise, not much excitement around here. I completely avoided the recent Republican debate in the States. I figure I'm not going to vote for any of those people anyway, so why bother watching? I'll pay attention to the Democrats -- eventually.

(Photo: Spiral shadows from our patio table on some Alchemilla in the garden.)

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Dangerous Shroom

Olga and I were back on the Heath yesterday, where we found this tree. Remarkably, it's still alive! I wonder what happened to it? It seems blackened at the top and a good 3/4 of the trunk is completely gone. This didn't happen recently. Trees can be pretty resilient!

The seasons are definitely changing. Many of the Heath's trees and shrubs are tinged with yellow and red.

And look at this amazing mushroom I found! When I first saw it, I thought it was a balloon or piece of plastic, with that brilliant, shiny red cap. It's like a cartoon toadstool. I think it's a Fly Amanita, which is poisonous. There were actually three of them -- two much smaller than this one -- and thankfully Olga was completely uninterested.

She was interested, however, in a nearby couple playing paddleball -- specifically in the little red ball they were swatting back and forth with wooden paddles. She went after it enthusiastically but broke off the pursuit right away when I called her. "Sorry about that," I said to them as Olga grabbed her Kong where she'd dropped it. "She has a toy that she loves, but she can't resist going after another one!"

The man replied, "Well, I'd be the same way, really."

They remarked on how happy she looks -- as did another couple soon afterwards who saw her wallowing in mud. "Now that's pure joy!" the man said.

As if to make clear how joyful she felt, she promptly found a hole in the ground:

Honestly. She is such a ham.

Meanwhile, I really do have a life besides my dog. Yesterday I re-edited and submitted 13 photos for the Royal Photographic Society's London Urban photo group project. My contribution was a series of barber shop and hair salon shopfronts that I think illustrate particularly well the quirkiness and diversity of London. These will (hopefully) be published in an upcoming RPS book.

Never a dull moment!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Sad Day for Alfie

I returned to French class yesterday morning, with not-quite-disastrous results. Several people from my summer class are also taking the fall term, so I know some of my classmates, but we have a new teacher. We all seemed paralyzed by language shyness at the start of the class -- I guess we were feeling rusty -- but we got warmed up after a while. As always, I need to practice!

Then Olga and I took a walk over to the West Heath. It was a nice warm-ish day -- t-shirt weather.

It seems poor Alfie left his toys behind on the Heath. I think he'll be very upset when he realizes that. Hopefully he'll be able to go back and get them.

(Finding these caused me to have Dionne Warwick's "What's it all about, Alfie..." playing in my head for the next eight hours.)

When we got home, I washed the muddy dog and then cleaned the house, in preparation for dinner guests. Dave had been shopping and cooking all afternoon, and at 7 p.m. his coworker Lisa and her boyfriend came over. We had an excellent meal -- roasted beetroot, califlower and tiny golden tomatoes with a red wine reduction, braised artichoke hearts stuffed with mushrooms and cream, and duck breast with blackberry sauce. That Dave -- he's a magician. Lisa brought Gü for dessert.

Oh, and we finally drank that last magnum of champagne that's been eating up precious space in our refrigerator ever since our July pseudo-wedding party. I'm so glad to have that thing out of there!

At the top of our street, not far from our front door, there's a little pocket park with a bench and a tree. Unfortunately, this tree is a magnet for trash. It's often surrounded by garbage bags and empty boxes. I've tried to figure out where they come from, and I think the culprits are some of the nearby businesses -- but it's hard to say. Anyway, I was happy to see that someone put up a "no tipping" sign -- the British expression for dumping trash on the street is "fly tipping" -- and the park has remained fairly clean since then. I hope it lasts!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

On To Happier Things...

I've been making some progress on transcribing my old paper journals into a blog format. I'm up to mid-1992 or so, and I've gone through 2 1/2 notebooks. It's a big job and it's going to take months and months if I try to do them all -- and I'm still undecided about that. But it's been fun and I've happily reminded myself of details of some good times that I had long forgotten -- and I've happily edited out some venting that I'd rather not remember.

The end game, I think, is going to be to keep all that writing online and make one book out of it, just for myself, so that I have a hard copy (for when the apocalypse comes and the Internet no longer works). I'm still undecided about whether to make the blog public. That writing seems like a lot of inside baseball. I'm not sure anyone would understand it, or care, except me.

I also have to put together a selection of photos for another Royal Photographic Society project. For about a year I've been photographing barber shops and hair salons, with an eye toward showing how they represent the diversity of the communities they serve and the city as a whole -- fancy salons in fancy areas, ethnic salons in more diverse neighborhoods, that kind of thing. It's time to pony up some pictures, so I'm going to be working on those this weekend.

I'd considered going into a barber shop and asking to photograph the barbers and the customers, but I never did. I just couldn't bring myself to be that intrusive. Besides, being bald as a cue ball, I am the least likely person to need a barber shop, so I don't have a relationship with any barbers, you know? My photos are all storefronts, which is kind of my thing anyway.

Here's a completely gratuitous picture of Olga sleeping on our pillows. She has figured out that the best way to sleep is with her body beneath the covers and her head poking out, just like a person. If she can get her head on a pillow, all the better. She's a smart girl.

And here's our latest dog-walking find. Someone had set it out with their trash, and yet I'm pretty sure it's silver -- probably silverplate, but still. The bottom is a wooden disc. It looks like a vase for a dried arrangement, or for kitchen utensils, maybe? I have no idea. It may go to a charity shop, but I thought it was worth rescuing from the garbage, at least.

(Top photo: A guy playing a street piano outside a train station in South London, two weeks ago. He had a lot of sheet music with him and it looked like his regular practicing spot. He sounded great!)

Friday, September 18, 2015

Sketch Book

While walking yesterday morning, Olga and I found a rain-soaked sketchbook lying on the sidewalk outside a grocery store, near some trash bins. I picked it up and noticed it was full of artworks, so I brought it home. It was sopping wet but by the time we got to the house it had stopped dripping, at least, and I was able to dry it during the day while I was at work.

When I looked through the book, it quickly became apparent that the sketcher, whoever he or she was, wasn't much of an artist. But the sketchbook told a story nonetheless.

Many of the images were dark. I soon realized the sketcher was drawing more for the sake of therapy than artistic expression.

Some of the drawings, like the one above, had notes on the back:

Feel as if rain is burning my face
tingling no it's going to get more intense
beginning to feel its near the end, then starts again
up and down like a yo-yo.

Soon it became apparent that there was, perhaps, a specific struggle going on.

feel trapped within a maze inside
my own head trying to find
way out, trying to concentrate to
beat it out of me. feel like i'm getting
somewhere, something distracts me,
feel angry but hide it.

hypnotic sounds and visuals.
feel as though i'm being drawn even
further, another world, another stage
more developed and mentally demanding
than the last, not sure what to expect

feel as though i'm going into a trance,
feel light, floaty, heart pounding, everything
i'm seeing is abstract, distorted.

These were the best sketches, I felt, showing something of a progression, though there were many others -- the entire book was full. There was no specific conclusion.

So what are the ethics involved in my deciding to post them? Well, their message seems to be worth something, and while I certainly don't want to violate anyone's privacy, there are no identifiers attached to the book or the individual drawings. I don't know whose they are. I couldn't even begin to guess.

It's a bit like posting entries from that diary I bought at the estate sale years ago (which I still have, by the way). Maybe these drawings will speak to someone. Maybe their story of anonymous human struggle, however ambiguous, is valuable.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Trouble Comes Knocking

A woman came to the door last night, supposedly soliciting donations for UNICEF. Dave answered when she rang the bell, and he stood talking to her for a while. I listened as he politely tried to explain that we already give to charity through work, blah blah blah, and she just wasn't taking no for an answer. Finally I walked up behind Dave's shoulder, said to her, "We're not interested, sorry," and closed the door. I mean, I do give money to UNICEF, but I'm not going to hand it over to a stranger who rings our doorbell at 6:30 p.m.

Dave said, "Well, you went a little New York on her, didn't you?" But he said it admiringly. He marveled that he'd stood there so long listening to her. Only in retrospect did he see how odd the situation was. Does UNICEF really send around solitary people to ring doorbells on rainy evenings in West Hampstead?

Anyway, I told Dave I'd give some money to UNICEF to make up for going a little New York on her. So that's on the agenda for today. (At the same time, I don't want to encourage this door-to-door stuff, so charities take note: I am not doing this again.)

It was rainy and grim yesterday -- pouring when I left work. But on a positive note, I finished our annual report on library database usage statistics. Doesn't that sound exciting? My life is wild.

(Photo: Kilburn High Road, on a sunnier day in June.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Apocalypse, and Wedding Update

We are definitely moving into fall. We've turned the heat on a few times, just for short bursts in the morning, and the blackberries in our back garden just don't taste good anymore. They're bitter and underripe, despite their dark coloring -- without the warmth of the summer sun they're just not going to get any better.

This has been a strange summer -- very cool and wet. Our tomatoes never ripened and I'm not sure they will. We thought this was our fault until we watched Monty Don on the trusty "Gardener's World" TV show and he assured us this is a national phenomenon. I suppose I should be happy to have had any blackberries at all. (Then again, blackberries are the cockroaches of the plant world. They'd survive nuclear holocaust.)

Speaking of climate, I read an interesting series of articles in this month's Utne Reader about gracefully accepting the decline of our civilization. They quoted a number of people, from a survivalist couple in Canada to a former environmental activist who has essentially given up. The argument is that humanity will not be able to stop its downward spiral of energy overuse, overpopulation and climate change, because we're programmed to behave that way -- to procreate, to make ourselves comfortable. Even when we know what we're doing wrong, we're going to keep doing it.

One of the articles suggests taking the long view, looking at Earth's ecological changes in terms of geologic time. The extinctions that we're experiencing today are only the latest in a process that began thousands of years ago with the woolly mammoths and giant sloths, partly hunted to death by people. Today's extinctions would happen anyway, at some point or other, and after our civilization inevitably crashes, other dominant species -- likely a succession of them -- will rise and fall in our place. In fact the Earth itself will eventually cease to exist, and there's no reason to expect that life won't rise anew, elsewhere in the Universe.

I don't think this means we're supposed to shrug and do nothing. We still ought to alter our behavior as much as possible, if only to inflict less harm on other creatures in the (geological) short term, and perhaps mitigate the misery that will certainly come when the Earth can no longer sustain our burgeoning population. But the articles suggest living with an awareness that we're headed down this path, and rather than fighting unrealistic fights and despairing at our lack of success, being with that awareness.

It was interesting, and oddly comforting. (I tried without success to find these articles on the Utne web site. But I did find a column by Rebecca Solnit urging a continued activist approach.)

I got home last night to a little present from my blog pal Linda Sue, wrapped in cheerful brown paper patterned with canine footprints. She sent us a couple of bags of exotically named coffee from Washington State, that bastion of coffee culture -- "Deadman's Reach" and "Three-Peckered Billy Goat" -- as well as a nice herbal soap. But best of all, she sent not one but two pairs of gay grooms for our wedding cake. (And one of them is black! Who's the black guy, Linda Sue?)

We were tickled and we put them on the windowsill to cheer us on. We're still collecting RSVPs from our relatives for our Dec. 29 wedding party, and we're going to order food this week, I think. Even though the party is months away, my friend Sue, our official party planner, suggests ordering early because it falls right in the middle of the holiday season. Which makes sense.

(Top photo: House numbers on a plywood wall around a construction site in South Hampstead.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Traveling with Postcards

We take a break from my boring life to travel to exotic places and times via old postcards! Some of you may know I casually collect postcards when I come across them in antique or junk stores. Here are some from my collection.

First, one of my favorites -- a "Mohammedan mosque" in Colombo, Ceylon. There's no date on this card, but I don't see any cars, and just one lone rickshaw. I'm guessing it's from the early 1900s.

A view of the Pont des Artes, in Paris, mailed in January 1963 by "Tante Georgette" to wish "Michael et Eric" a belated Happy New Year.

The Noah's Ark Bar on board the S.S. Shalom, from the Israel Navigation Co.

A view of the Moorestown Mall in New Jersey, "showing some of the pleasant indoor decor and landscaping that abounds throughout the entire center, inviting year-round leisurely shopping pleasure."

An "Arab dhow on Lake Nyasa," mailed in 1963 from Rhodesia & Nyasaland. "Dear Loretta -- Many thanks for your 'God speed' wishes. We are edified by all the work these sisters (Daughters of Wisdom) can get into one day. My English class of 20 girls has no behavior problems. They're all so anxious to learn. Warm days and cool nights. We are fortunate. Best to you and Marguerite. -- Kay & G. Price"

A somewhat surreal distant view of Chartres Cathedral, probably from the 1940s or early '50s.

And finally, the Egyptian Mosque in Khartoum, Sudan. Again, there's no date, but I'm thinking 1950s.

What do all these places look like now? Well, I've been to the Pont des Artes and it has a nicer railing, especially now that they've removed all those hideous padlocks. I did some Googling and the Egyptian mosque in Khartoum looks pretty much the same. The mosque in Ceylon -- now Sri Lanka -- looks a lot more urban. The Moorestown Mall is still in business but obviously has been renovated and modernized.

And according to Wikipedia, the S.S. Shalom had a long life as a cruise ship under a number of names before sinking off South Africa in 2001 while on its way to be scrapped. So the Noah's Ark Bar, at the very least, is no more.