Monday, January 26, 2015

Butterflies in Winter

When it's too cold for butterflies, it's nice to have some street art to remind us what summer is like! These are outside an art gallery and tattoo shop called "Monsters of Art" on Mill Lane, not far from our flat. I've been meaning to get a shot of them for a while. Olga and I pass them all the time on our walks.

She likes them too!

Yesterday was a day to stay around the house. I cleaned in the morning, and tried to empty the bird feeders of last year's remaining seed. One of them I got open and cleaned out -- it wasn't too congested anyway -- but the other one is old and rusted shut and it's so full of sprouting, rooting, rotting bird seed that I'm going to just throw the whole thing away and get a new one.

I took the dog up to the cemetery in the afternoon for a run. After my walking marathon on Saturday I just couldn't face trying to take her all the way over to the Heath.

I also organized my Bleeding London spreadsheets, and found that there are actually several more tiny, tiny streets in NW10 that I have missed. I'll pick them up on my last pass through the area, probably next weekend.

Dave and I watched "Auntie Mame," one of our perennial favorite movies, last night. We're so gay. Good grief.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Very Nearly Finished

I walked pretty much all day yesterday through the NW10 postcode, photographing 77 streets I'd missed in earlier passes. I'm still not quite finished, because I was separated from five remaining streets by a railroad yard and I just didn't have the energy to figure out how to get around it. I'll have to go back for those. And I haven't yet entered everything onto my spreadsheets, so it's possible I've missed one or two more. But I consider myself basically done.

That is a huge freaking postcode.

I stopped for lunch at a sad little sandwich shop near the Willesden Junction station. It didn't look sad from the outside, but when I went in, I found just four wrapped sandwiches in a glass display case, and some random pastries, and a coffee machine, and a fridge of chilled drinks. Oh, and a bored-looking attendant who charged me twice for my tuna melt. (It was an honest mistake. I didn't pay twice.) There were a few other customers, so I figured the place wouldn't kill me, and it didn't.

The weather was perfect, thank goodness. Not too cold, with a clear sunny sky and hence lots of interesting shadows. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- shooting pictures is so much easier and more interesting on a sunny day.

I got home last night to find that Dave had taken Olga to Hampstead Heath, bathed her, and gone shopping for groceries. Now that is a good husband! He made chicken pot pies last night and we watched a movie called "Filth," with James McAvoy. Let me just say, the title does not lie. It was a mad scramble of sex and violence -- kind of Pulp Fiction-ish, but not as good. McAvoy was interesting, but I'm still confused about the ending. The impenetrable Scottish accents didn't help.

(Photo: A carpet shop in Harlesden, yesterday.)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Freaky Friday

Yesterday was such a peculiar day. I took the early shift in the library so I was at work by 7:30 a.m., and then I had the field trip to the British Museum with 9th graders, followed by an interview with the student newspaper, followed in turn by a student meeting in the afternoon. Lots of non-routine activity!

The field trip went well, thank goodness. I wasn't quite as obsessed about keeping everyone together as I was with the fifth graders, since these kids could at least get home on their own if need be. We visited the Africa galleries, as the kids were learning about pre-colonial Africa and the ancient kingdom of Benin. (Did you ever study this in school? I'm pretty sure I didn't. at least not to any great depth. Thank goodness for more multicultural, diverse education.

(In fact, when I was in high school, I had a really woeful experience with world Social Studies. My class was taught by a coach, who was both a really nice guy beloved by students and a terrible teacher. I specifically remember him standing at the front of the room and lecturing about the discovery by "Cornipius" that the earth revolved around the sun. Fortunately I already knew who Copernicus was.)

Anyway, back to the present: I'm not sure why the student newspaper wanted to interview me -- something about staff members and how we view the school community? But most of the questions seemed to be about me and my background. I guess we'll see when the article comes out!

Dave and I were both at work about 12 hours (poor Olga, though she has her dog-walker!) and by the time we got home we were bushed and ordered pizza. The chicken wine, I am happy to report, was a good accompaniment.

(Photo: The steps at the Wembley Park tube stop.)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Cracovia and Chicken Wine

Friday, at last! My God, this has been a long week.

When I found this wall (above) during my walk near Neasden last weekend, I had no idea what it meant. I thought it was someone's joke about the neighborhood -- an allusion to crack cocaine, maybe? But it turns out that Cracovia is the oldest existing Polish football club. So just the work of a sports fan, not a social commenter.

Here's the wine we bought yesterday for dinner tonight. I thought Ms. Moon would appreciate it! The name translates to "The Old Farmhouse," which sounds like it should be earthy, charming and cheap. It was definitely the latter -- we'll see about the former.

I'm sure you all heard about the ridiculous assertions from Fox News in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre that parts of Europe, including the entire city of Birmingham, are essentially off-limits to non-Muslims. I was impressed that Fox was shamed into apologizing for this absurd untruth, but when I began looking around on the Internet for the source of that information, I was alarmed at how many right-wingers perpetuate similar notions. Let me state on the record: I went to Birmingham not long agoMe, a non-Muslim, and a gay one at that! Not only was I not subjected to Sharia law, I wasn't even noticed.

The Fox alarmists and their ilk seize on the actions of a few fringe outliers to be representative of the entire Muslim community. Yes, there are sometimes culture clashes. If Dave and I walked through predominantly Muslim neighborhoods in Walthamstow or Whitechapel holding hands, we probably would be challenged. But we'd also be challenged in a lot of white, middle-class neighborhoods in the United States. (Again, for the record, I've walked through a lot of Muslim neighborhoods in London and I've never had a problem.)

By the way, that beautiful library that we toured in Birmingham (see the link) has been suffering at the hands of municipal budget cutters. I read recently that it was drastically reducing its hours and cutting more than half its staff. Sad. (I am now even more confident that I'm doing the right thing by not investing in a library science degree, something I had considered. I'm not sure there would ultimately be a return on that investment.)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Mundane January Stuff

There comes a point at which January feels like a slog. The days run together, mostly time spent indoors because it's so dismally rainy and cold, work time sliding into leisure time into sleep and back into work time. That's kind of how I feel now. I struggle to come up with anything to write about because most everything is routine.

I have been asked to chaperone a field trip tomorrow -- another trip to the British Museum, this time for 9th graders. I'm much less nervous about them than I was about the 5th graders. And we're going to a different exhibit so there will be something new to see.

I'm also going to lead a photography expedition for 8th graders in April. That should be fun! I'll give them a talk about street photography, and then we'll head out to East London for a day of walking around. More about that as the time approaches, but I'm looking forward to it.

Meanwhile I'm employing my photography skills in another way by taking portraits of some of the teachers as they read books. We're going to use them to produce posters encouraging kids to read -- the brainchild of one of my library coworkers. It's a cool idea, and I think some of the pictures have turned out well, even though I am really not a portrait photographer. It's good to try new things, right?

Dave and I Skyped with my mom on Tuesday night, which was good -- though we started talking at 8 p.m. and soon Dave and Olga were both sound asleep. I suppose 8 p.m. is a little late to begin a Skype conversation when we get up as early as we do! We talked about Mom's plans for downsizing, which I'll be helping her with when I visit next month.

Finally, I did buy some nibblies at the school bake sale for animals. By the time I got there almost everything was gone -- I got the last mini cupcake and one of three remaining oatmeal bars. (No one ever wants the oatmeal bars.) So, yes, I contributed. Far be it from me to let a panda go hungry. Or something.

(Photo: West Hampstead, Jan. 16. I think "Lately" is a bar.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


I had a weird British TV experience on Sunday. Dave and I were flipping through channels and came across one of those real estate shows that follows a family searching for the right house. This particular show was about Brits seeking property in a sunny vacation destination. And where were they looking?

Davenport, Florida.

I couldn't believe it! When I was a young newspaper reporter, in the late '80s, Davenport was one of the towns I covered. Back then, it was a sleepy little burg straddling the road between Kissimmee and Haines City, with a neat grid of streets named after trees and rivers, under moss-draped oaks. The town was surrounded by acres and acres of citrus groves, pastures and woodlands.

I liked its quaintness. The area had some intriguingly peculiar place names: Mystery House Road, Pink Apartment Road. Nearby Haines City had Lake Confusion. I seem to remember a Lake Surprise and a Lake Disappointment, or I might be making that up.

But then the big Christmas freeze of 1989 came -- the last of three major freezes that decade -- and all the groves were decimated. They slowly fell to development. I sat in City Commission meetings where plans were discussed for a huge development of hundreds of homes, sprawling from Davenport's northwest corner. The commissioners seemed to genuinely struggle with the idea that such a behemoth was coming. I still remember one of the older ladies exclaiming, "Why, we wouldn't be Davenport anymore!" (Or something to that effect.)

Now, the area known as Davenport basically includes all that land extending up to Interstate 4, including hundreds and hundreds of new homes in several golf and vacation communities. Hence, Brits looking for houses to buy. (Those new developments aren't actually within the city limits, which seem essentially unchanged, from what I can tell on Google Maps.)

The properties we saw on the show were typically characterless suburban houses, with pools and lanais, decorated in neutral tones, on empty streets populated to varying degrees by out-of-town visitors. Not like the old mossy streets of the real, inhabited Davenport. It seemed so weird to me, watching a TV show (in London!) about this tiny town where I used to work.

The world really has gotten smaller!

(Photo: My evening bus commute, which of course has nothing to do with Davenport.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Bees and Dragonflies

Last spring, street artists Louis Masai and Jim Vision launched a campaign to raise awareness about the dangers faced by Britain's bee population -- such as dwindling habitat. They painted several murals in East London pointing out that bees are essential to our own food chain.

I only recently became aware of these murals through Sarah's blog, so I traveled out to Bethnal Green on Sunday morning to check two of them out myself. They're still going strong, more than six months later.

There are (or were) apparently a couple more murals in Shoreditch and Hackney. Photos of those can bee seen here. I didn't try to see them all, so I can't say for sure which ones are still around.

On a possibly related note is Masai's nearby mural of an orange spotted emerald, a type of dragonfly now extinct in the UK. (Fortunately they still exist elsewhere in Europe, though apparently their existence is precarious there too.)