Monday, May 4, 2015

Lightning Strikes Twice

Remember how I went to the A&E (the Emergency Room) on Friday, with my mysterious streaky spider bite?

Well, we were back in the same A&E last night. For an entirely different reason.

Funny how I've lived in England nearly four years and I never needed an A&E, and then in one weekend I'm there twice.

We were fine for most of the day yesterday. We'd planned a noontime high tea for Dave's parents at Fortnum & Mason, a swanky shop and tea house on Piccadilly. We took a taxi there and settled into the plush cream-and-robin's-egg-blue dining room, where we had a small savory course and some fancy little cakes and scones, and then an entirely unnecessary dessert. It was fun, but by the end I felt the way I always do after high tea, full of liquid and slightly nauseous from all the sugar.

So when we got back home Dave's parents took a nap while I walked Olga to Hampstead Heath. When I got home, around 5 p.m., everyone was still asleep -- a fact that surprised even Dave. We assumed the parents were just exhausted from their cruise.

It turns out, though, that Dave's father wasn't feeling well, and when we took his temperature it was 102ยบ F. I assumed he had a virus and Dave called the National Health Service's help line for advice on what to do. They began asking about chest pains, and to our surprise, Dave's dad said he's been having chest pains on and off for a few weeks. Yikes!

Then -- of course -- Dave's call got cut off before we could get a final recommendation from the NHS, so we all piled into a taxi and went to the hospital. (Turns out they sent an ambulance, which we only learned after the fact.)

The final diagnosis, after about two hours and some tests: walking pneumonia. Dave's dad came home with antibiotics and went to bed. Needless to say, we're cancelling the outings we'd planned for today -- the Churchill War Rooms and dinner at Koffmann's.

Meanwhile, we're faced with a perplexing question. Dave had started slow roasting a leg of lamb in the oven yesterday afternoon. When the hospital situation arose, we turned off the oven, and it remained off  for about four hours. He finished roasting the meat last night after we got home. Should we eat that leg of lamb, or has it become a bacterial time bomb?

We're leaning toward giving it to the dog, little by little. Olga will think this is the best visit ever.

(Photo: Dave and me at Fortnum & Mason, before the chaos.)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Parental Visit

Olga and I were back at the Heath yesterday, an outing I managed to squeeze in after cleaning the house, going to my three-hour French class and mowing the lawn.

The home and garden maintenance was required because Dave's parents came for a visit yesterday afternoon. They'll be staying with us until Wednesday. They've been on a cruise that took them across the ocean via the Azores and to Ireland, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark. Last night they told us all about their ship, with its casinos and live theater and cinema and lectures and surf-and-turf meals. It all sounds like hell to me, but maybe when I'm 70-something I'll appreciate it.

They've had a great time, anyway, and today and tomorrow (a bank holiday) we have some plans to take them out in London.

So while Dave went all the way down to Gatwick to pick them up, I was maintaining the home and the dog. Who was overjoyed, as you can see from the photo. Here's a close-up, for full effect:

The French class is going well. I'm remembering more, even after just two classes. All the teaching is in French and the class moves fairly quickly. I had a bit of trouble last week squeezing in the time to do my homework, but that was mostly a matter of procrastination!

Here's something I didn't know -- before Anthony Trollope was a successful novelist, he was a civil servant in the post office, and he introduced the cast-iron pillar mailboxes that are still seen all over London. Originally they were painted green, but not many years later they were repainted red, the color they remain today. The things you can learn from a postmark!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Weirdest Day Ever, with Averted Amputation

Yesterday was a strange day. Very, very strange.

First, at lunch, Dave came into the library with a wide-eyed expression and handed me his phone. Apparently he'd been getting strange text messages from a number we've never seen before. Rather than try to describe them I'll just let you read them in their entirety, along with Dave's hilarious response. (Apologies in advance for the language.)

At first, we just laughed, because this guy was so clearly out to lunch. And what's up with the picture?

Then, after Dave left, I began getting a little concerned. Did this guy really think Dave was messing with his wife? Is the picture not of the texter, as I'd at first assumed, but of the wife-loving perpetrator? It does look vaguely like Dave, although I've never seen Dave wear an expression quite like that. I called Dave and we talked, but he seemed thoroughly unconcerned about any risks from this person. And indeed we haven't heard from him again.

("Quag," incidentally, is apparently a slang term combining "queer" and "fag." We had to look it up.)

And THEN... the day's second bizarre incident, I got home from work in the evening and we were just settling in to watch TV with a glass of wine when I noticed a welt on the outside of my left wrist. It was a swollen, angry red and hot to the touch. In the center -- not to be too descriptive here -- was a thumbtack-sized crown of pus, and most alarmingly, I had a long red streak running from the welt all the way up my arm nearly to my armpit.

Now, I clearly remember my mother telling me to go to the doctor if I ever see an infection with streaks. So my first reaction was to exclaim "HOLY SH*T!!!"

I didn't have any kind of fever, but my arm was a bit tingly. I didn't recall being bitten or injured in that spot. Dave got online and did some reading, but neither of us had ever seen anything like this before, so we weren't sure what to do. Out of an abundance of caution, we went to the emergency room at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead.

I was prepared to spend the next eight hours there, because that's what often happens in American emergency rooms. But no! Despite the fact that we heard a staff member tell a patient that they were "very busy," we were seen within 20 minutes. The doctor took a look at my welt and rather anticlimactically wrote "insect bite" on the diagnosis form. (I would have preferred "insect bite with potentially septicemic complications," but that's just me.) He lanced the welt, gave me a Band-Aid and an antibiotic and sent me home. The whole visit lasted about half an hour.

I still have no idea what caused it. Maybe that guy who texted Dave slipped a venomous spider through our mail slot?

(Photo: Someone in St. John's Wood has a neat, methodical system for disposing of used coffee cups -- tucking them into a street sign!)

Friday, May 1, 2015

I am a Bulldog

As usual, I've been trying to get overdue materials back to the library -- and in fact I've been intensifying my efforts a bit as the school year is drawing to a close. This is a tricky business because we don't assess late fees, so our patrons have no financial incentive to return items promptly. Ultimately, if you have an overdue item, your only motivation to return it is to get Mr. Reed off your back!

We start by sending weekly automated e-mails to all students with overdue books. If those don't work, their library accounts are frozen after four weeks. Then I start getting personally involved, visiting classrooms and, finally, writing to parents and student advisors.

I scored a minor victory yesterday when I sent an e-mail to the parents of a girl who's had a book out since December. Her mother posted my note, word for word, to the girl's Facebook wall! My hero! The girl commented, "Really, mother? On my timeline? For everyone to see?"

I know this only because another teacher sent me a screen cap of the post. Brilliant.

We'll see if it's effective.

My primary offender at this point is another girl -- a senior, no less -- who's had a book since last October. This has basically become a battle of wills between the two of us, I think. But I am persistent. I am like Olga with her Kong. I am going to gnaw and gnaw and gnaw.

In other news, I was interviewed yesterday by a writer for the RPS Journal, the magazine for the Royal Photographic Society. Apparently they're doing an article about Bleeding London. They asked me to send six of my favorite BL photos for possible publication. Likewise, all participants have been asked to send three favorites to the judges for inclusion in the exhibit, and I still have to choose those. It's exciting to finally be rolling out our work, after all those months of shooting -- but I have about 60 favorite pictures, and choosing my top three will be a challenge!

(Photo: It's wisteria season, as illustrated by this shapely specimen in St. John's Wood.)

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Notes from the Walk to Work

Remember the photo I posted at the beginning of March, showing the demolition of a building on my way to work? Well, this is what the building looked like late last week, and now, even that tiny part in the back is gone. The whole thing is just a flattened mound of rubble.

Turns out it was a parking garage, and as you can imagine it was built to last, of reinforced concrete. I guess that's why it's taken so long to knock down. I can't imagine what the council -- which owns the property, I believe -- is going to do with all that crushed concrete and tangled rebar.

And here's Snowman House, where a tenth-floor apartment fire back in February prompted at least one passerby to pull out his video camera. I was in Florida when the fire occurred, so I didn't hear about it until I got back. The woman who lived in the apartment escaped but it's still gutted, with plastic tarps flapping at the windows, and I'm not sure whether the nearby units are habitable. A wooden construction wall just went up around the base of the building, so maybe the council is about to do some repairs.

My walk to work is always interesting! In fact, yesterday, I had a terrific -- if painful -- lesson in why I should always keep my camera at the ready. I was walking up Abbey Road when three teenage girls in school uniforms passed me going the other direction. One was blowing up an inflatable sex doll while the other two giggled uproariously and one reached over to squeeze the doll's breast. It would have been the best photo ever, and I even had my camera with me, but it was in my bag buried beneath my book and umbrella and I just didn't have time to react. I'm still kicking myself.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Note for Grammarians

This is another shot of our garden, taken yesterday morning. In the foreground you can see lots of our plants, including our bluebells and grape hyacinths. In the background, beyond the fence -- and the reason I took the picture -- are the crabapple trees two houses away. They're blooming brilliantly right now. It's great that we get to enjoy them too!

I discovered a nifty web site yesterday morning. Some of you may have noticed that I seem to rather randomly capitalize the words in my post titles. Well, believe it or not, I really am trying to follow capitalization rules. I don't always get it right, but the effort is there. This web site will capitalize your titles for you, as well as offer the rules behind the verdict (capitalizing nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, for example, but lower-casing articles, coordinating conjunctions and prepositions).

Pretty cool, if you're into that kind of thing.

The eurasian jays have been hanging around our yard a lot the last few days. They're really into our suet feeder. We've seen at least two of them, sometimes tussling over who's going to get to the food.

We're still running our heat. I keep thinking we'll be able to turn it off, but then we get a blast of chilly weather. It's been in the low 40's (F) at night -- and I've been insistently wearing shorts when I walk Olga in the morning, which is a rather chilling experience! It's spring, though, you know?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Soho with Students, and a Massage

I chaperoned yet another group of student photographers yesterday, on a field trip down to Soho. These were high schoolers working on a project that combines older and newer images of the same streetscapes -- they looked online for old photos of the area, and then we revisited the locations and shot them again. They'll fold the two pictures together using Photoshop. A cool idea, right?

While we strolled the streets looking for their specific addresses, I shot a few streetscapes myself. We had nice dramatic skies.

Soho is a funny place to walk around with students, because it's so rife with bars and sex shops and whatnot. It's completely safe and even gentrified, but it retains remnants of its edgy past. I didn't hear any of the kids make a remark or see them bat an eye. I guess they're used to it. They're city kids.

Last night I finally had another of my gift massages from Dave. Remember how he gave me five massages for my birthday, way back in November? Well, I took three before the massage therapist moved out of the UK in February. She passed along the remaining two to her business partner, and then I misplaced the partner's contact information, so it's taken me forever to try to book another one. Finally, I stopped in over the weekend at the massage studio and picked up her business card, and sent her a text.

Frankly, I wondered whether she'd even honor the deal. I expected to be told that she knew nothing about it -- I thought there was a good chance we'd lose our money. But no, she knew who I was and we made an appointment with no problem. (I suppose I often expect the worst so I can be pleasantly surprised when things work out well. It's a Reed family trait!)

Anyway, the massage was nice, though it was a little odd -- the therapist started and ended with my legs, and she didn't do my feet or head at all. And now I smell like coconut oil. But as I optimistically told her, "That's OK -- it's almost summer!"

(Photo: The corner of Old Compton and Moor streets in Soho, yesterday.)