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.