Saturday, November 1, 2014

Take the Phone Outside

At last, a free weekend! Well, more or less. We do have the Bleeding London wrap party tonight. But otherwise I am uncommitted, and I'm looking forward to taking the dog for a long walk and maybe finally making a dent in the Whistler biography. (I'm about 130 pages in after, what, two or three weeks? And he's already painted his mother, so I'm wondering what on earth could happen in the rest of this book.)

I blew my stack at a kid in the library yesterday. He was walking around the room talking on his cell phone -- and phones are not allowed in the library. So I asked him to take it outside, and he nodded at me and continued walking around the room. I asked him again and got the same nod, and he circuitously took the phone back to his table and sat down, still talking. He hung up as I approached. I told him in no uncertain terms that I was not making a mere suggestion and he needs to LISTEN TO ME when I tell him to do something. "But I hung up," he kept saying, like he just didn't get it.

I hate it when I have disputes like this with kids. I keep replaying them in my mind, wondering if I handled the situation well or could have done something differently. In this case I could have knocked the kid over the head with his phone, but I don't suppose that would have ended well for any of us.

Oh, and speaking of work, I volunteered for a new challenge -- I will be a chaperone on a fifth grade field trip to the British Museum on Nov. 11. Am I crazy? Probably.

Also yesterday, a coworker made me a terrific carrot cake for my birthday, and we had a little intraoffice celebration. The big day is actually tomorrow -- I think it will be a fairly low-key day, especially because it's going to be rainy. Dave suggested going to a movie, but you know, I am feeling more and more like I may be done with movie theaters. Why pay an outrageous amount to sit in an uncomfortable seat and be barraged with 1/2 hour of loud commercials, when we could stay home, rent the movie for $2.99 on iTunes, watch it whenever we want, watch it commercial-free, and pause it when needed? I used to mourn the potential death of movie theaters, but now I'm not so sure it would be a bad thing. It's not like people would stop making movies if there were no more cinemas.

Or maybe I'm just an ornery almost-48-year-old.

(Photo: Near Finchley Road, West Hampstead, Oct. 2.)

Friday, October 31, 2014

On Pumpkins and the Classics

This was the autumnal scene on the high street yesterday. I have vowed to try to patronize this shop more -- they have a great variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, and I like supporting the mom & pop shop rather than the big chain groceries. We bought a gray-green winter squash there two days ago that I think is a Hubbard squash -- definitely Hubbard-colored, if not Hubbard-shaped. We'll see how it cooks up!

I asked about that huge pumpkin sitting in front of the shop. The shopkeeper said it weighs more than 125 kilos, and it is for sale. At that weight I'm not sure who would buy it, but hey, it's a conversation piece!

I'm sort of dressing up today -- wearing my bug shirt (a Liberty dress shirt I own with little shield bugs all over it) and my red pants. It's the same outfit I wore on Halloween last year. I've decided I hate those red pants. Today may be the last time I wear them.

Library update: I can report some modest success in getting kids to read classic young people's books. I am forever trying to recommend the likes of Madeleine L'Engle ("A Wrinkle in Time"), Ray Bradbury ("The Martian Chronicles"), Marguerite Henry ("King of the Wind"), Scott O'Dell ("Island of the Blue Dolphins") and Esther Forbes ("Johnny Tremain"). I read all of those books when I was young and loved them. Kids today are very into books in series, like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, and they seem much more into fantasy and magic and angsty teenage social dramas. Getting them to read one-off novels, especially older ones with historical themes, can be surprisingly difficult.

"Misty of Chincoteague," another Marguerite Henry book, has become library shorthand for my attempts.  We're always joking about poor unread Misty.

But I recently got a boy to check out "The Martian Chronicles," and with another librarian's added encouragement, a girl checked out Misty. She later said she liked it, having read it on the way to her tennis lessons. So who knows? Maybe these kids will all remember me as the crazy bald guy who encouraged them to read something they never forget. Or maybe they'll never listen to me again!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

More Candy Corn, and a Royal Explanation

Dave and I have ironed out our Thanksgiving plans. We're going to the Cotswolds, and we're bringing Olga! We found a bed & breakfast that accommodates "well-behaved dogs," and Olga usually fits into that category unless she's trying to dig a hole in the bed and tearing up the sheets. Which has been known to happen.

Anyway, it's nice to have a plan. Dave has talked about the Cotswolds for ages, since hearing about the area from a coworker. I've felt a little skeptical, fearing it would be chock-a-block with tourists, but maybe not in November. In any case it will be good to finally go, and hopefully the weather will cooperate (ha!) so we can get some outdoor time.

Meanwhile, we have Halloween to contend with -- but not really. The British don't do much for Halloween. I've seen nary a jack-o'-lantern in all my walks around town, although the produce store on the high street does have some huge pumpkins sitting outside, mainly for decoration, I think. There were lots of twentysomethings in costume -- or "fancy dress," as the English say -- on the tube over the weekend, either going to or coming home from Halloween parties, I suppose.

My brother mailed me his customary bag of candy corn (for $16 -- postage has apparently remained constant in the past year). Unfortunately this one got a bit ground up in transit, so it was more like sticky candy-corn grits by the time it reached me. But I took it to work and put it in the staff lounge, and like any food left in the staff lounge, it was devoured.

Here's the backstory on the Queen's residence in our library, which I wrote about yesterday: A parent who volunteers with us, shelving books, happened to tell me that she had a life-size cardboard figure of the Queen folded up in a closet, left over from a party. "Bring her in!" I said, thinking the kids would get a kick out of her. So the parent complied. The kids seem mostly bewildered, though -- "Why is the Queen here?" they say. I just reply that she keeps me company. They must think I'm a sad old character.

My boss came into work early one morning and was startled by the Royal Personage lurking in the dark. So she posted a picture on Facebook, taken before she turned all the lights on, and her friends took it seriously. "Wow!" they all said. "You met the Queen!" We couldn't believe it. Even if the Queen did come to school, would she really be standing in the library in the dark?!

(Photo: Shoes on a fence in Shepherd's Bush, last weekend.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Royal Visitor

The Queen has come to live in the school library. We do not know why she is no longer in residence at Buckingham Palace. Maybe she sneaks back there at night, but her days are spent with us.

She has visited the book collection and especially appreciates the Shakespeare. She has posed for "selfies" with students and teachers. (Mainly teachers.)

But mostly she stands behind the circulation desk, among the ridiculous quantity of extra furniture that perpetually hovers there. She does not help check out books. That would be undignified. She may have left the palace but she is not a mere serf.

Her expression never changes. I suppose it comes from years of cultivating a public persona, a mask. She does not reveal her inner self. She is mute and mysterious.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Swimming With the Fishes

I found this aquatically-themed Chevy van while walking in an East London neighborhood called Becontree on Sunday. Aside from the reefscape on the side, it has a jumping dolphin on the tire cover, American flags flying from its antennae, a "Waikiki Beach" license plate and, strangely, two Confederate flags on the back bumper.

I have no idea what any of this means, especially in London, where we are about as far from tropical fish, Waikiki and the Confederacy as possible. Waikiki and the Confederacy are pretty far from each other, as a matter of fact.

Things are a bit slow around here for the moment. Teachers are having conference meetings with parents yesterday and today at school, so there are no classes and few students. Library business is down precipitously. I'm using the opportunity to put the shelves back in order, but man, that is hard on the knees -- all the kneeling and standing and bending and crouching!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Lunch With Moby Dick

As planned, I spent yesterday wandering around two postcodes in far East London, near Dagenham. I walked my feet nearly off, photographed more than 90 streets, and uploaded everything to Bleeding London in a single final gasp. I won't be able to do any more before Friday's deadline. Whether I do any after the deadline remains to be seen. I feel kind of done with it, honestly -- though of course I'll continue to wander and take pictures in general, as I always have.

I've thought a lot about what compelled me to participate so fiercely in Bleeding London. As I think I've written before, it appeals to the collector in me -- I like things to be neat and catalogued and complete. I also love the challenge of having to look hard and find an interesting element on every street. Before this competition, I walked far and wide, but mainly on busy roads -- I rarely ventured into purely residential areas. Bleeding London showed me those neighborhoods can be just as interesting as the so-called high streets.

Anyway, I got some pretty good shots yesterday, and after hours of wandering stopped for lunch at a pub called the Moby Dick on Whalebone Lane. (Gotta love it! And it's right across the street from a Moby Dick-themed adventure golf course, with a huge fiberglass white whale, a waterfall and a replica of the Pequot.) The restaurant, which was packed, had a buffet-style lunch line with carving stations for beef, ham and turkey. I waited in the queue, got my meat and vegetables and yorkshire pudding, and was just about to ladle onion gravy onto my plate -- the final step before I could sit down -- when a hostess knocked a glass off a counter next to me. The glass hit the tile floor and exploded, showering down on me and the guy standing next to me -- I felt pieces hitting my chest and my hat. I have never seen a glass break so dramatically! We relinquished our plates of food and started fresh as the servers hauled away all the contaminated gravy.

Then, as I sat outside (it's still just warm enough for that, and as I said, the place was wall-to-wall people inside), a couple came out and sat at the table next to me. You know when you go to a busy restaurant and you're waiting for a table, the hostess sometimes gives you a plastic disk-shaped device that lights up and buzzes when the table is ready? Well, they'd been given one of those, but they had no idea what it was. The woman asked another customer, and she was also mystified. It was so funny! I guess those gizmos haven't really made it over here in England. Anyway, I explained to them what would happen. I didn't stick around to see how they reacted when it did finally buzz.

This guy (left) was walking ahead of me for a while. I don't know if you can see his ominous sweatshirt, but it says "Five Finger Death Punch" along with a set of brass knuckles. (Turns out that's the name of a heavy metal band.)

I walked another hour or two after lunch and then hopped a bus for the long slog home. After all the walking both yesterday and Saturday, my feet are numb this morning! I know Olga is looking forward to having me around more in the future to take her back to Hampstead Heath, poor neglected thing.

Oh, as for the photo exhibit at the Bleeding London wrap party, I wound up submitting two pictures -- this one and this one -- because I couldn't decide. The organizer said they'll show them both since I've done so much for the competition. Woo hoo!

(Top photo: Colorful clothing in Becontree.)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Jiro, and a Selfie

Yesterday turned out pretty well. Same old story -- walked a million miles, took a million photos. This is one of them -- a fun little self-portrait in a decorative mirror outside a shop in Shepherd's Bush. I dig this mirror, actually. Maybe I should have bought it. I think it might be on sale.

Today is more of the same -- my last big push to get photos done before the deadline for Bleeding London. Off to Romford!

Last night Dave and I watched a terrific little documentary called "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," which you should see if you haven't already. It's about an octogenarian sushi chef in Tokyo who has become acknowledged as the master of his craft, and his efforts to prepare his son to take over his tiny, Michelin-starred sushi restaurant in a Ginza subway station. He has what seems to me like a very Japanese approach to life -- maintain a routine, immerse yourself fully in your work, challenge yourself, master your technique. It's inspiring no matter what your craft.

But be warned: It doesn't end well for the tuna.