Friday, May 26, 2017

Nod and Smile

Well, the phone call with the bank turned out to be no big deal, once I stopped trying to complain and resist. I just agreed with everything and acted super-friendly and the whole ordeal was over in about five minutes. I suppose I should learn a lesson from this -- just roll with it!

So I have a new ATM card. Oh well.

I came home last night and found about 40 black ants, some with wings, crawling around the woodwork near the back door. I hated to do it, but I got out the vacuum cleaner and sucked them all up, and then took them outside and deposited them in the yard. I'm sure they'll die or be eaten out there, away from their nest (wherever it is), but I can't very well allow them to set up housekeeping in our baseboards, can I? I'm just wondering if they're termites. Once again, I'm glad I'm a renter.

I'm in a better mood today. For one thing, I'm finally getting that spot on my forehead taken care of -- the basal cell carcinoma my doctor diagnosed about a month ago. I have an appointment in the dermatology clinic of the Royal Free Hospital at 10 a.m. I'll be glad to get this resolved!

Olga never came to bed last night -- she stayed out in the living room. I think she was hearing foxes in the yard. (Or were they anteaters?!) I heard them yipping just before I went to bed, and when I got up this morning some objects near the back door had been shoved around, which makes me think Olga was dancing around there trying to get out. Always the hunter!

(Photo: A tiny black fly on Hampstead Heath Extension. I have no idea what kind it is.)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Apparently I'm Cranky Again

Did anyone happen to read this article in the New York Times Magazine about Jared Kushner's real estate empire? Or, more specifically, the subdivision of his real estate empire that acts as landlord for low-income tenants in Baltimore, one of America's rougher rust-belt cities? It is a truly illuminating piece. Basically, his firm buys troubled apartment complexes and then harasses tenants who had already moved out to get them to pay for broken leases, even when they had permission from the management to leave early. It's Slum Landlord 101. I almost posted it to Facebook, with a caption saying, "Dear 46.1 percent of America: These are the people you elected because you believe they represent the interests of the working man." But then I decided that there's enough toxic arguing on Facebook and I just didn't want to add to the rancor.

Somehow on the blog it seems OK. By now, you all know what to expect from me, politically.

The nieces are leaving today. We said our goodbyes last night, after hearing about their trip to Paris and treating them to some authentic British television ("Gogglebox," which I've written about before, and "8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown," a game show played by comedians who are much more focused on being funny than on actually winning). They're asleep now, but by the time we come home from work they'll be in the air on their way back to North America.

Dave has a concert tonight, so I would normally be looking forward to a quiet night at home -- except that I have a phone appointment with someone from Barclays, our bank, who's supposed to fill me in about all the percs of our new account. (The account that I didn't even want.) They called me two nights ago and asked if everything was going well, and I complained about the fact that I was told our ATM cards wouldn't change, and then we subsequently received new ATM cards in the mail. They apologized and put me on hold for ten minutes, at which point I hung up. I'm not going to mention the ATM cards tonight. I just want to get through this damn phone call, which again, I did not initiate.

I want my bank to be a silent partner in my life, you know? I want them to hold my money and otherwise keep a low profile. *Sigh*

Oh, and remember how Dave and I had our DNA analyzed? I was recently talking to a co-worker at a party and learned the same test exists for dogs! Well, not the same test, exactly -- but a breed analysis, useful for determining the canine components of a mongrel dog. Of course, we ordered one for Olga, and after taking swabs of her inner cheeks (which she loved, and yes, I'm being sarcastic) we mailed it off yesterday. Olga is definitely a mix of something -- now we'll get to find out what.

(Photo: A parked Volkswagen in Hampstead, last weekend.)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Nieces Return

Amid all of yesterday's tragic news, I'm happy to report that the nieces successfully made it to Paris and back. I have no idea what they did there because I haven't had a chance to talk to them yet -- they got home about 11:30 last night. I got up briefly to help them get in -- they were having trouble with the door lock -- but we didn't talk at all because I knew they were probably exhausted. We'll catch up this evening!

So, yeah -- Manchester. I read the news right after posting yesterday morning, and now I see we know who committed this atrocity. Every time something like this happens I wait for the identity of the perpetrator to be revealed, along with some clues about what could possibly have been going on in his (and it's always a his) mind. And then we get the identity, but no clues at all. That mind is always left without illumination, a black hole of evil intent, impossible to understand.

I mean, ISIS sends out its claims of responsibility, its word salads of "caliphate" and "crusader" and other terms better left behind in history books about the middle ages. But they don't help us understand either. That's just some organization imposing its worldview on a barbaric act.

I always wind up concluding that in addition to fanaticism, there's a degree of mental illness at work in incidents like this. Because what else could explain them but utter madness?

As I walked home from work yesterday evening I passed the apartment building above, Elgar House. I love our human tendency to celebrate beauty and genius. Even an act as simple as naming an apartment building after a famous composer shows our ability to create, and to recognize remarkable creations. It's interesting that our human species can be both so inspired, and so deluded.

Anyway, I have no answers. I'm not sure there are any.

I'm just going to keep inhabiting my little corner of the world, and enjoying my sunny days, and watching out for my loved ones as best I can. Because that's all I can do, isn't it?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Nieces Go to Paris

We've had quite the night around here. Dave and I went to dinner with the visiting nieces yesterday -- once again at our local pub, the Black Lion -- and they talked about their desire to go to Paris. They've been kicking this idea around for a few days, but apparently by the time they got online and tried to buy tickets on the Eurostar, the prices had become insane. They were also having difficulties getting their credit card transaction to go through. So when we got home, I tried it myself -- and indeed, I was getting $800 and $900 fares for the two of them.

I wondered what their options were for flying, so I checked Travelocity. Long story short, they departed this morning at 3:30 for a 6 a.m. EasyJet plane, and will return this evening, at a fraction of the cost of Eurostar. It seems crazy that a plane would be so much cheaper, but it was -- less than half the cost, including airport transfers -- thus making their trip feasible, if fatiguing.

So that's where they are today. I'm having creeping parental worries about whether they'll lose their passports or miss their return flights or get lost or get mugged at the Gare du Nord -- which is silly, because these women are in college and perfectly capable of taking care of themselves. Besides, getting lost is part of the fun!

I'm still doing library inventory -- DVDs, which are a nightmare to work with because the bar codes are never in the same place from one to the next. In fact they're often inside the cases, which means I have to open each DVD to scan them. I have half a mind to just not inventory them. After all, they're old technology, right? Aren't we going to get rid of them soon, in all likelihood?

(Photo: Someone's sleeping spot in Elephant & Castle.)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Peacock and Jaycon

Finally! Some butterflies! I took Olga on our West Heath/Sandy Heath/Hampstead Heath Extension walk yesterday, and we were out for several hours. We saw lots of insect life, including ladybirds, bees and yes, butterflies. I saw a red admiral, an orange one that flitted past too quickly for me to identify it, and this peacock (above).

You may remember that just last weekend I mentioned the dearth of insects at Wormwood Scrubs. Perhaps during the past week more of them took wing!

The dog had a great time. She's in bed now, still recovering. Dave is a bit concerned about her because sometimes after our long walks she goes through a period of very mild limping -- just a little hitch in her step, like she's sore from overexertion. Creeping middle age, I suppose. You'd never know it while we're on the walk, though -- she runs and runs like there's no tomorrow.

On Sandy Heath, I bent down to photograph some lichens just off the path. The pictures didn't really turn out, but while there I spotted this bottle lying amid the dead leaves on the forest floor. At first I thought it was just modern trash, but it's an unusual design and something about it seemed old-fashioned, so I brought it home. It says "Jaycon" and "Jaycon Regd" on one side, and "London" on the other. The unusual screw stopper says "Jaycon Table Waters."

So I did some research and it seems this bottle is, in fact, fairly old. The only Jaycon Table Waters I can find mention of online was "voluntarily wound up" as a company in 1973, but seems to have existed for a few decades before that. So who knows how long this bottle has been lying there?

Another addition to the kitchen windowsill...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Overly Sensitive

I could not get motivated to get out of the house yesterday. Olga kept looking at me imploringly, but it was intermittently rainy and neither one of us wanted to get caught in a downpour. So I read, finishing "Lies My Teacher Told Me" and a couple of magazines and newspapers.

(As I write, there's a big Eurasian jay perched on the fence near our peanut feeder. It keeps turning its head, appraising the feeder from different angles. Poor thing looks confused.)

Anyway, I also weeded the forget-me-nots out of the flower bed -- they're pretty much done for the year -- and tidied things up in the garden. I did all the laundry and cleaned the bathrooms -- which, with four of us using them, is a frequent and essential task. Then, in the evening, Dave made a four-course dinner for the nieces, who had been out all day around Borough Market and St. Paul's Cathedral.

Dave made leg of lamb. As I always say when he makes that dish: "Poor lamb. He wanted his leg."

To which Dave usually replies: "Yes, but I have thumbs."

Survival of the fittest, or at least the most dexterous -- I admire Dave's clarity on that issue, though for me, eating meat is still a struggle. As is putting down slug pellets (which we do sparingly) and anything else that will result in the death of a creature. I spent a ridiculous amount of time yesterday thinking about a slug that I put into the garden waste bag with the weeded forget-me-nots. Afterwards, I could only imagine it struggling, trying to get out. I even tried to liberate it from the bag but I couldn't find it again. Maybe it got out on its own.

I know -- I am insane. But I feel for creatures in a situation like that -- almost like a physical pain -- and the guilt just nags and nags at me. I am not bragging about my sensitivity. If anything, I think it may show genuine psychological impairment! (Why I only feel that way belatedly, and not when I'm putting the slug into the bag in the first place, is a question I can't answer. I suspect I'm just focused on the task at hand.)

I gotta get the dog to the Heath today. Poor thing has been deprived!

(Photos: An interesting, ornate building I found near London Bridge station, a week or two ago.)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Another Big Spiky Flower

A few days ago I was showing off our foxglove, and today I want to turn our attention to another colorful spire rising in the garden -- our lupine.

You may remember this plant didn't do so well last year, primarily because of slugs. We'd planted it in a flower bed where it was closely surrounded by other plants, and some critter ate through the stem just as it was blooming. I built a splint for it, remember? And then it got eaten again, and that was that.

Well, we took it out of the ground and put it in a pot where it could stand alone, like garden royalty, untouchable by the peons and serfs. We put some slug pellets in the pot around the base, although I don't think any slugs have even been close enough to get killed. And this is the result! Not too shabby, although we live with the recognition that it could be devoured any day.

Dave and I have both had a crazy week -- Dave with concert preparations, me with inventory and day-to-day library stuff. We didn't even see the visiting nieces for 36 hours -- they got up after we left for work on Thursday and came home after we'd gone to bed, and yesterday morning, same thing. We finally caught up with them yesterday evening, when they came to Dave's end-of-the-year high school concert. (I say "Dave's" concert, but there were other teachers' students performing as well, and of course the kids were the ones in the spotlight!) The show turned out really well, and I'm not just saying that as a loyal spouse.

The nieces spent time down by South Bank and the Tower Bridge, which they kept calling London Bridge, until I pointed out to them that London Bridge was a different bridge entirely and very non-descript. (And that the old London Bridge is now in Arizona.) They seemed crestfallen, and I felt like a killjoy. But they can't very well go home with their bridges confused, now can they? They're thinking about going to Paris for a day or two, and I hope they carpe diem and do it. I wish I could go with them, but,

Yesterday my coworkers and I were laughing about some of the terrible book covers in the library. This is my personal favorite:

Yes, it really is a book about an evil swimming pool. Or at least a pool at the center of a series of crimes. I haven't read it, and I doubt you will either.

We also have a copy of "The Jungle Book" that makes Mowgli look like a scary gigolo:

We're thinking we need to make a display of bad cover art. It amuses us, anyway.