Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter Weekend

It's been a good Easter weekend. Except for a quick ride to Hounslow to drop off bwo I have not had to drive since Thursday evening, this is splendid. Rather I walked a lot in the area. The weather has been very strange. It hailed yesterday and 10 minutes later the sun was out and the sky blue. This morning Roxy and I went out in torrential rain and hurricane force winds, by this afternoon I had to take off my North Face as the sun warmed my back, and now it's dark and pouring again.

I spent a while doing some stuff I had put aside for too long. I played with my Raspberry Pi. I set up the camera and my first project will be a wildlife camera. I am still researching how much juice it will need and if one of those external phone batteries will do the job. It's a cool little computer (I bought the Pi 3 - it's the British thing to do). For £30 you get this excellent little computer. With a power supply and SD card and case and camera it comes to closer to £50, but it's a great thing to play with and I'm working on improving my Python.

Besides doing some reading I also watched Michael Pollan's (of Omnivore's Dilemma fame) Cooked on Netflix. I was not too impressed with the first episode, but the next three were all excellent. Definitely worth a watch. All in all his major point is that we should spend more time in the kitchen cooking. He makes a great case, much of which I always believed and agree with. He has harsh criticism for the food industry, who's goals, he claims are to get us to cook less and buy more prepared food as it's more profitable.

Today is bwo's birthday. I am very grateful to have her in my life. I watched a TED talk by the guy who runs the Harvard Study that has followed people for 75 years. He came to the conclusion that happiness comes from being connected to others. Having people you can rely on, not being lonely, close connection to family and friends is what made people the happiest (you can watch the 12 minute video here). Sounds simple and obvious, but I know how lucky I am to have someone who will stick by me through thick and thin. As bwo and I grow older, we have our differences, but underneath it all there is deep love. Happy birthday bwo, have a happy, healthy year. Let this year be the best so far.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

My Favorite Tree

My current favorite tree is this giant Ceder of Lebanon in the little forest on the corner of River Lane and the tow path. I visit it every day and am just amazed at is stateliness and majesty. It must have seen a whole lot in its life along the river. The pictures really suck and don't do it justice. Come see it for yourself.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Toad Crossing

One of the most splendid thing about the British is their loves for signs. There is a need to explain things, politely mind you, to everyone. I came upon this one a few days back on our walk through Richmond Park. Each spring the road just past Ham gate is closed for "migrating toads". It's just lovely.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Dozen Reflex Loathings

I have been listening to Bill Bryson's latest book "The Road To Little Dribbling" while in the car. I used to think he tries too hard to be funny, but I like this book because he comes across as even grumpier than I am. I particularly liked his notion that "everyone should be allowed a dozen or so things that they dislike without having to explain or to justify to anyone why". He calls these "reflex loathings". His include such things as kettles without an indicator light and people who call an invitation an invite. The has 15 by the way but he justifies this as it's his concept and therefore he can have extras. These cannot be rational dislikes, like traffic jams or Donald Trump. They have to be things that some people will disagree with.

So here are some of mine:

  1. Things that auto-format text for you (like this blogging app) and force you to go to all sorts of tricks and hacks to get things to look the way you like.
  2. People who cannot figure out how to open the toilet doors on an airplane. Worse yet those that don't lock the door.
  3. The Grateful Dead.
  4. Microwaves with dozens of useless buttons. All you need is the 30 second full power increment.
  5. Vegetables that start with A.
  6. Confusing public place doors that do not have an obvious push or pull action. Put a damn handle on the door if you want me to pull and a push plate if I should push.
  7. People who put the lid down on the toilet after use (This is a UK thing, I always think there will be a nasty surprise waiting for me when I lift the lid).
  8. Family videos (especially having to watch those of my in-laws) and most other peoples personal photos.
  9. Any email, whatsapp, SMS that is more than 3 words of Hebrew.
  10. The Archers. Oh and Game of Thrones.
  11. Sitting idle at the table (in a house or a restaurant) after a meal.
  12. Weird fruity drinks (such as banana, apple and raspberry juice). My wife loves these.
That's my current dozen and I reserve the right to change them at will. Give it a try.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Having a Ball

After a long week of driving around the UK, I decided to remain in Richmond this weekend. All those orange cones were getting me down. It's been pretty misty of late, probably due to the weak spring sun warming the cold air. When I set out with Roxy early on Saturday morning, we took our usual morning route through the copse towards the river. As I walked down past the bin, I saw a nice brightly colored tennis ball and stooped to pick it up. It's the archaeologist in me - I cannot walk by anything interesting and not stop to examine it and to see its origins and purpose. Hmm, I noticed a few more balls on the path to the little green which on further inspection in the dim morning light was littered with hundreds of tennis balls (see above, this was after many of the balls had been removed by passers by). Roxy ran around picking one up then dropping it to pick up another obviously better one which she would drop at my feet, then run off to pick up another. It was all rather mysterious. I mentally build a hypothesis, I reckoned it's the kids who had found a batch of balls in one of the school yards around and decided it would be fun to launch them all over the field. I once found hundred's of golf balls, obviously pilfered from somewhere, strewn across St.Gorges Field near Ham house. At this point in the story (let's call him) Fred appeared.

Now Fred is not the most popular on the copse. He has two dogs, nice dogs (there are no bad dogs, only bad owners, you know) if a little boisterous. We chat about the weather for a moment (this is England after all) and I gesture to the balls with a shrug. He tells me it he who put them out. "Why?" I ask. "Oh they don't bounce so good any more, and people seem to like em" he answers and strides off shouting at his two dogs (as usual). This is Interesting. I picked a few shiny yellow ones, put them in my pockets and walked on, much to Roxy's disgust.

Some background on Fred. I think he's a postman or something. At least that was what (let's call her) Mary, who has a giant black dog, tells me. She hates him. He shouted at her once and she feels he treats her and her huge (gobby) black dog without respect. Bwo and I met her on our way back from my second walk later in the morning. Many of the balls had indeed been removed, but there was still a decent number on the field. Mary seemed quite OK with the balls littering the field until she found out just who had put them out there. Then she was livid. This is not the first time it has happened it seems. As you can see above, Roxy finds the politics of the copse less than interesting. All she wants is someone, anyone to throw the damn ball.   

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Orange Cones

What is with this British love of orange cones? There are millions (I am not kidding, millions) of these littering the highways and byways of the UK. On the M3 going west there is maybe a 15 miles or orange cones, and I have never ever seen a single workman doing anything on that stretch. I have noticed that they have a strange work pattern here when it comes to cones and roads. About three days before they plan to do anything, they block off the road and put down dozens of cones to inconvenience as many people as possible. They then leave them there for a few days, probably for us to "get used" to the idea that the road will be partially blocked for a while. The workers then appear for a few hours one day and dig a hole and scratch around in the dirt, before filling the hole and leaving. The cones then stay around for a week or so, to show us that work has been done.

If this was Israel I would be convinced that the importer of cones was somehow connected (family or friend) of the Minister of Transport, but, of course, that would not be British. Still I am amazed at the sheer number of orange cones that surround us here. Most people don't even notice them any more. They have become part of the scenery and the British are a patient lot. In fact in 1992 then Prime Minister John Major implemented a "Cones Hotline" to allow frustrated motorists to report areas where cones had been deployed for no apparent reason. It shut down in 1995 due to lack of interest by the public (actually was renamed/re-purposed the Highways Agency Information Line or HAIL) and was largely considered to be a waste of public funds. It appears "Cone Syndrome" is now used to describe a piece of legislation that seems to serve no purpose (thanks Wikipedia). 

Last night on the way back from collecting bwo from Heathrow, as we entered the M3, we caught a glimpse of yellow jacketed men setting out more cones. They were actually moving the cones from being in a straight line along the highway to rows of three to five cones perpendicular to the highway. Maybe they just don't have anywhere to store the billions of cones they have so they just keep moving them from motorway to motorway. These looked exactly like the cones I saw on the M11 on my way to Cambridge last week.

Petersham Road has had it's fair share of cone work in the last three years. I have probably spent more than a day in total, waiting in serious traffic and having to maneuver around construction obstructions in the road. It's a busy road and the main artery between the transportation mecca of Richmond (underground, overground and SW Trains) and the shopping mecca of Kingston (Primark and pound shops, just ask bwo or look at our Visa bill). But every so often (for example, two nights back) the cones come out. I very rarely see any yellow Hi-Viz jacketed workers, but in the morning there they are, cones aplenty. Like fairy circles except orange and in the road. 

Just wait till I get started on the "Temporary Traffic Signals". Now there's a completely British phenomenon. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Elstead Common

Took a walk today on Elstead Common. It was very cold, but very, very nice. Both Tikva and Roxy seemed to enjoy it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Passport Perils

What is it with the women in my family and their passports? I'm not sure how to tell this tale, should it be based chronologically or on the personalities involved? I think I'll go with personality.

First personality is blackdaughtero. On her way to South America a few weeks back, bdo left Israel via London. She gets to the airport and it appears her Israeli passport has expired. She forgot to check (although we had spoken about this months before). They want 1500NIS ($350+) to issue a passport at the airport, which she (or rather I) refuses to pay so they somehow let her leave on her US passport. No problemo she says, I will use my US passport in my travels and all will be good. Bdo spends time and money in London with the Boyf and Shir her travel partner and a week later jets off to Buenos Aries. As she arrives at passport control in Argentina they a demand $160 "reciprocity" fee. It seems all US, Canadian and Australian citizens need to pay this in advance in order to enter Argentina (it seems these countries charge Argentinians to enter, hence the "reciprocity"). Israelis do not have this issue, they are happy to have anyone come to Israel and be ripped off by the general public rather than the govenment. Of course, bdo is outraged, tears flow (I assume), so somehow they let her in on her expired Israeli passport. Turns out that her hostel is next door the Israeli Consulate in Buenos Aries and she gets a new passport in a jiffy at a cost of something like 100NIS. Only bdo.

Second story is blackwifeo's. Last time she left Israel (Dec) seems to everyone's surprise her passport had expired (In November 2015). They let her out on her US passport (sound familiar?) and told her she should renew it in London. After the sad news about Auntie Masha on Sunday, bwo decides she must go back to Israel post-haste. When I drop her at Heathrow Sunday night she is convinced they will let her back into Israel even though her Israeli passport has expired, as she always has the US one for backup. I get a frantic call an hour before her flight is about to take off saying she cannot find her US passport (actually it was more like a text "I LOST my passport. May not let me on the flight"). She used it to get past security but between there and the gate her passport had disappeared. She did no shopping (strange in itself). She runs up and down the airport, back to security, unpacks her bags, searches her pockets (women have no pockets - this is the problem) but no luck. So now all she has is her expired Israeli passport in a country where following the rules is next to godliness. But bwo soldiers on,  she tells her sob story to the ground crew at the boarding gate, and believe it or not they now cheat the system and enter her Israeli passport info to get on the plane, but they have to force it to expire in the future, in fact the following day, or else the system will not let her past the pre-flight passport check. She boards the plane and on arrival in Israel they seem understanding of her plight and let her in. She has an appointment at the US embassy tomorrow and will then go to the Ministry of Interior to get her Israeli passport renewed.

I mean really. What? Are we new at this travelling game?