He’s sleeping on the couch now

Although I’ve visited the Emirates on many occasions and often stopped into the Armoury shop, I have rarely purchased anything. The Armoury is a huge retail space at the west end of the stadium nearest Holloway road. On a match day, it is bustling with people looking to buy jerseys, jackets, key chains, dish towels, pencils, hats, golf balls, oven mitts branded with the Arsenal logo. If you want to see a model of efficiency in printing money, you need only watch the system of queuing to pay for merchandise at the Armoury.


The reason I am so familiar with this model is that I decided I need a jersey. Adidas is again Arsenal’s shirt maker, and I happen to love the new home jersey. I’ve also never owned the home jersey, so this is the year! After we got off the Tube at Arsenal station, we walked to the other end of the station and parted with some cash. Then we walked all around the stadium, taking in the new art, the fans, and the sunny day. 


By the time we got to our gate I was getting quite nervous about getting to our seats, because getting through Security at the Emirates is not nearly as efficient as buying a jersey at the Armoury. We had seen droves of people backed up at every entrance as we walked around. Because I had a bag from shopping, I had to get it tagged, but the tagging area is very close to the “Ladies search” area. I separated from my husband to be tagged and searched. I should know better than to worry because the lines for ladies to get through Security are always much, much shorter than for the guys. So much shorter that I noticed a few guys trying to get through the ladies line by pretending they were with ladies whom they were chivalrously escorting through Ladies’ Search. A bearded gentleman to my left kept chatting me up as we got closer to the Ladies Search area, I think to appear to be with me.

After I was searched, the Security guard turned to him and asked, “Why are you here, sir?” “Oh! I used to be a bloke,” he explained good naturedly. She looked like the kind of woman who would never succumb to a line like that. But looks are deceiving: She let him through.

20191027_162754I got to my seat just before kickoff. The fans seemed well-engaged and were in good voice. It was a good thing I got to my seat before kickoff because we scored quickly. Arsenal got a quick corner kick. On Pepe’s first try, he didn’t even pass the first defender, but it got kicked out so he was able to give it another shot. This time, Crystal Palace made such a hash of the clearance that Sokratis was able to bounce it crazily off the ground and into the net. 1-0. Only a few minutes later, David Luiz scored in a similar situation. 2-0.

I don’t think anyone in the stadium felt the game was won at that point. We toiled more than we should have and it felt like Aubameyang couldn’t get any service at all. Lacazette got better service but, honestly, it looked like he’d been prematurely rushed back from injury. He didn’t look sharp, or at least he didn’t look like he could successfully evade the kind of attention he was getting from Crystal Palace’s defenders. At some point, Crystal Palace got the ball to Zaha, who carried it into the box, where any moron would say he’d been fouled by our boy, Calum Chambers, and earned a penalty. Every moron except the special moron Martin Atkinson, that is. He gave Zaha a yellow card for simulation. All of this was correctly overturned, after a long wait, by VAR, and Crystal Palace got the penalty kick they deserved. They did not miss. 2-1.

The second half didn’t look very promising, and before long, some poor defensive play by Arsenal allowed Crystal Palace to score again. Granit Xhaka allowed a ball to be crossed and David Luiz wasn’t close to the player who received it. He made no mistake and it was 2-2. 

What happened next was hard to see. You heard me say a few days ago that I don’t understand why Xhaka is untouchable as a starter. Although you can see that he has some utility, he’s not a guy a team should be built around and yet, that is what seems to have happened. He is also the team captain, nominated by his fellow players. So they must clearly see him in a light that is different from the light we fans see him in. He does appear to be a confident figure, tall and commanding. But he is extremely fallible: Commits a lot of costly and pointless fouls, chases the ball, misses his mark. 

After he was nominated captain, I found it interesting that when other players commented on the decision, they highlighted his propensity for handing out team fines. I find that weird, but I recall the same kind of commentary about Per Mertesacker when he was captain. A soccer leader is someone who notices the faults in others and holds them accountable. Ok, then!

Anyway, a few weeks ago, when Xhaka was removed from a home game before the end, the fans cheered. Normal fan behavior when a player comes off is applause from the fans, a polite, “thanks for your work.” Cheering is not done. On that day, he’d been having a real stinker and I think fans were still smarting from the nomination to Captaincy. In yesterday’s match, I didn’t think he played too badly. Anyway, Unai Emery substituted him at about the normal 60 minutes for a first sub and the fans cheered. Xhaka repaid the fans by leaving the pitch, with his team tied 2-2 in a clearly winnable game, as slowly as he possibly could. By the time he got to the sidelines he was being actively booed and jeered by the section closest to the player’s seats, and he was milking it as negatively as possible by putting his hand to his ear. He took off his shirt and went right down the tunnel. Total damper and downer. 

He was replaced by a youngster, Saka, and things did go a bit better after that. Martin Atkinson made a special point of calling every flop by Crystal Palace a foul. We still had at least one sub that could be made when the fans began singing a useful reminder for Unai Emery:

We’ve got Özil

Mesut Özil

I just don’t think you understand

He’s Arsene Wenger’s man

Better than Zidane

We’ve got Mesut Özil

Everybody knew that Özil was not going to be substituted no matter how nicely we sang and suggested because, once again, he didn’t even make the bench. But, yes, we all wonder, “Why?” How is it possible that someone with that level of skill, our most highly compensated player, is not able to start or even make the bench, especially when you see our forwards starved of service? It is confounding.

Sokratis ended up scoring again, but for no reason we can understand, it was ruled not a goal by VAR. At the field, you don’t get any information about why a goal was disallowed and you don’t get to see any replays. Like many people, after the match was over, I’ve watched replay after replay of the build up to that goal. There is simply no reason that anyone could rule it disallowed. None. But it happened anyway.

20191027_152517The game ended to boos, I think by that time, mostly directed at the officiating. The crowd walking back to the Tube was deeply philosophical, judging who was at fault for the various events of the day. There was much to discuss, from the ineffectual coaching, to why other teams are having no problem sorting us out, to the Xhaka moment and the various parties to blame (Xhaka, Emery, the fans), to what value VAR can/cannot offer.

We headed over to Shoreditch again, because you know Sunday means roast, my favorite British tradition. Leaving nothing to chance, I booked dinner at the Princess of Shoreditch as soon as we had our tickets to the match. I had the beef loin roll and my husband had hake. For dessert, trifle and some chocolatey thing. It was delicious, as always.


Because we’d failed in our quest to get London Pride beer on Saturday night, my husband felt we really needed to top off our dinner at the Astronomer, a pub near our hotel. We settled in with our beer and were befriended by a guy who claimed he was from Cypress and an Arsenal fan. I found he did not seem to know much about the team or the match that had just been played. However, he did have an interest in our buying him beer.

Now some of you who know me or have read my blog for a while know that I had kids late in life and prematurely had gray hair. I started dyeing it after learning that my young kids were embarrassed when people assumed I was their grandmother instead of their mother. But after I moved to California with my new job, I decided I was done with all that. I let it grow out and now have a head of salt and pepper. It’s a great color, but it does make me look older. I can take it, or so I thought.

In the course of our conversation with the guy from Cypress, he gestured at me and asked my husband, “Is this your mum?” 

Now what would you say, guys, if you were put into this impossible situation? My husband didn’t skip a beat. “She’s my grandmum!” 

“Ah, you’re a good bloke, taking your grandmum to the match,” said my new mate. He seemed very pleased that he had complimented me in this way. I smiled nicely at him while noting internally that he would never, ever see a beer from me.

My husband and I had a pretty good laugh about that after our friend left.

He’s sleeping on the couch from now on. 🙂

I can only hope the significant others of Martin Atkinson, the VAR genius, Xhaka, and Unai Emery follow my lead.

That time before the match when you don’t quite know what to do

We’ve been to London so many times now, that it is now sometimes a struggle to come up with new things we’d like to do. I know—first world problems. It was sunny, albeit cold, when we woke up in the morning, so we decided to do as the British Air travel podcast suggested and take a walk around Covent Gardens. 

We decided to take in a quick breakfast, and were seeking a Costa or Caffe Nero. It turned out many of them in our City neighborhood were closed, so we kept walking, all the way to the heart of Shoreditch. There we found a cafe called Attendant, “a cashless cafe.” The menu was simple and small, so we quickly decided on french toast and hot chocolate (my husband) and granola and flat white (me). What arrived was one of the prettier breakfasts I’ve ever seen. Judge for yourself.

We took the Tube over to Covent Garden, starting first at the Royal Opera, where a family event was going on. The Opera was overflowing with families. We were able to walk around the inside of the facility and look at the various exhibits of costumes and listen to music being performed by various artists. The facility is beautiful. Lots of light through the atrium in daylight, and great views of the city from the upper level. We weren’t able to get into the theater—something for another day!

Then we walked to Covent Garden market. Covent Garden neighborhood was definitely prettier than the City neighborhood where we are staying. By Sunday morning, trash was piling up from the partying that had occurred Friday and Saturday nights near Liverpool Street station. Meanwhile, nothing but peace and beauty in Covent Garden. My husband asked, “Why have we never stayed here?” I can only guess it’s not in my hotel search price point. Beautiful buildings, lovely shops, nice and clean. Fancy-looking people. They let us walk here.

Juggler at the market

One weird thing we noticed all weekend: although you rarely see Brits wearing soccer gear unless they’re on the way to the stadium for a match, all over town we were seeing people wearing jerseys of NFL teams. Cincinnati Bengals were playing LA in town, but we were seeing jerseys of San Francisco, Cleveland, many others. They were all around Covent Garden.

NFL, I can only say that your ploy of bringing American football to the world’s people is working. Or at least you are bringing jerseys to the people.

At Covent Garden market we enjoyed street musicians and magicians. The market was cool—lots of interesting and unique jewelry, clothing, gifts. We found lunch at an Italian chain, Zizzi, near the market. Then we walked to Neal’s yard, now one of my favorite spots in London. You walk down a narrow alley that opens into a small open space with trees and flowers and colorfully painted buildings. People were outside enjoying wine in the sunshine, a perfectly lovely way to spend an afternoon.

We stopped by Seven Dials market, also, and ended our afternoon with a walk over to Somerset house (under renovation) and along the Thames.

It was at last time to head over to the Emirates.


See it, say it, sort it.

All across the world, as we deal with acts of terrorism, we have formed pithy ways of encouraging citizens to be vigilant against threats. In the US, we say, “if you see something, say something.” But here in London, announcements on public transit encourage travelers that if they see something suspicious, that should say something, and the authorities will sort it out. This is then abbreviated into, “See it, say it, sort it.” 

I think of myself as naturally suspicious, so I recognize I would have to see a WHOLE lot to legitimately “see” something of interest to the authorities. They would be sorting their days completely away.  That was on my mind after visiting the War Museum late in the day, which I’ll tell you more about in a few.

Some of you may remember a time when I visited The Breakfast Club in Shoreditch few years ago where our service was so slow the manager insisted on giving us our entire breakfast complimentary. She said, “I hope you’ll give us another chance,” and it turned out that yesterday, we did just that. I like this chain a lot. I think they have interesting spaces and a nice menu at a decent price. The one we tried this time is the one in City, near Spitalfields market. I had the blueberry granola waffle, and my husband had the Mexican Eggs. Both yummy, and much better service.

We stopped by the market, but it was only just being set up. We’ve been through there several times but never at a time when it was operational. So we headed for our first planned destination of the day, a pub that was playing the England v. New Zealand Rugby Word Cup semifinal from Japan. When we watch Premier League games in California at a bar, it’s always early in the morning, so it wasn’t a stretch to watch a sporting event at a pub in the morning in London.

20191026_102020The pub closest to us that was having a viewing party was the Goose Island pub near Shoreditch. Yes, Goose Island is a brew pub originating in our previous adopted home of Chicago, but we were assured by signage that this beer is brewed in Shoreditch. The pub was thronged with supporters of both countries, although the All Black supporters were clearly outnumbered. I have watched very little rugby in my life, and most of it has been when I was visiting London. Even for someone with little expertise in the sport, it was fun watching the fans cheer and sing until the final whistle blew with England (easily) on top above the previous world champions. But why “Swing low, sweet chariot,” and “Chelsea Dagger”? You got me. England has so much musical talent and history, it’s hard to imagine needing to borrow from slaves and Scottish musical groups. I’ll admit the songs are great.

After the match we headed over to the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth, a recommendation from a friend. It was extremely worthwhile and interesting.  I’ve never seen an exhibit that did such a good job evoking the environment under which the wars began and were conducted, and their aftermath. We spent most of our time in the World War I and II exhibits. A few things that struck me: First, I’m not sure that humans are remotely good at learning from the past, or at least learning the right things. Second, we aren’t good at Seeing, Saying, or Sorting. We are driven by herd mentality and fearful of sticking our necks out, and complacent. Let someone else do the right thing.  The Holocaust exhibit was especially powerful, and dire. 

We left the museum in the rain and made it to Spitalfield market minutes before it closed. Spitalfield market is on the site historically associated with the textile industry and wool trade. Now it has numerous vendors selling from stalls for which merchandise is set up in the morning and removed at night. Interesting clothing, bags, hats.  

Spitalfield market

My husband was interested in stopping in a pub we saw earlier in the day that had London Pride beer, the Astronomer. Unfortunately, it and other pubs and restaurants close to The Bull were so crowded we ended up again close to Spitalfields at a gastropub called The Grocer. It was a wet and raw night and we were happy to be in out of the cold. No London Pride. I had steak and my husband had grilled chicken. To ensure that the ice cream search debacle was not repeated, we both had Eton mess for dessert. I am a big fan. Ice cream, meringue pieces, fruit, and whipped cream. Delicious. My husband later wished he hadn’t eaten so much. Meanwhile, I wouldn’t have minded eating some of his (in addition to mine). 

Then back through the rain and hordes of people out having a fun Saturday night to the Bull. Someone has to go to bed in this town. 

The day’s findings

When I arrived in London this afternoon, I realized how differently I travel now than I used to. I didn’t know whether my husband had made it to London, didn’t know his flight number, didn’t know where my hotel was located, and, although I had a perfectly good electrical outlet in my seat on British Air, I arrived with my phone barely charged.

My husband had been in Italy for the week doing research for his novel and was to travel back to London today. He called me yesterday afternoon to tell me that a national strike had been called in Italy that was going to start in 15 minutes. His train from the small town in which he had been visiting back to Rome was certain to be cancelled; we didn’t know at that time that the strike also includes air traffic controllers. Last I had talked to him, he was pretty sure he could hire a driver to the airport, at no small price.

As soon as I arrived at Heathrow, I realized I didn’t know what airline he was to take from Rome, and texted him, with no response. The only place I could guess to meet him from my location near the Border was the baggage claim for flights with British Air. Two flights seemed to have come recently from Rome, a hopeful sign, since I knew he was supposed to arrive within 20 minutes of my flight. I scanned the travelers waiting at the carousel, seeing no one who looked like my husband. I decided to use my time figuring out how to get to the hotel. Thankfully, my husband made his appearance just as I was thinking about texting our kids to see if they’d heard from him.

What was I doing since yesterday, when I heard that my husband was at risk of not making it to London, other than carefully mapping out details of contact, hotel, etc.? Well you can bet I made sure I printed duplicate Arsenal v. Crystal Palace match tickets of the ones my husband had taken with him to Italy!

We took the Tube to Liverpool Street stop, and with many false turns found our hotel, the Bull Inn. It’s not exactly a hotel, more like a bunch of rooms above a pub/wine bar by the name The Hide. Together, The Bull and The Hide. It’s affiliated with Hush Heath Winery. Finding how to check in was hilariously weird. It turns out you have to go up to the bar, which was swarming with the Friday afternoon/evening pub crowd so common in the City. As is typical, throngs of people stand outside to bar with drinks and smokes, in this case, more convenient because the entrance is facing an alley on which cars can’t travel. 

Friday-after-work at The Hide

The pub and hotel are located on land that was formerly the site of a home owned by the William Cavendish, 2nd Earl of Devonshire, who has been rumored in a few quarters as writing some of Shakespeare’s plays. According to a placard in our room, the Devonshire Suite, he died of “excessive indulgence in good living.” May we all so indulge!


We dropped off our stuff and headed out to find a pint and dinner. Our own home pub, The Hide, had a lot of nice-looking wine, but for beer, Amstel light. We left to find something we can’t buy at Safeway in Sunnyvale. After some walking we found a restaurant/bar called Alice where I had the Camden Hells lager and my husband had Meantime lager. The barkeep directed us to a table that was clearly marked as reserved for George. (We were not George.)

I had beef pie, naturally, and my husband had Chickpea, spinach and sweet potato curry. We left the table, still anxiously awaiting the arrival of George.

Then we made a pilgrimage for ice cream, losing our way many times.

In summary, today we found:

  1. Each other
  2. our hotel (twice!)
  3. how to check in at our hotel
  4. London beer
  5. dinner

What we did not find:

  1. George
  2. Ice cream

Tomorrow is another day.

As I settle in to sleep, the party at the Hide is at full swing down in the street outside our window on the third floor. I do not expect it to bother me.


I’ve written before about the statues on the grounds of the Emirates. Just behind the statue of Theirry Henry, there is a giant objet d’art, a wall depicting every Arsenal team member–we assume–since the beginning of people taking pictures of teams. One team picture morphs into another, from ancient to modern. The left half of the image depicts players in black and white film, and somewhere in the middle the teams are depicted in color. They are, naturally, wearing the red home jersey.

Photo by Football Ground Guide….because I can’t find mine.

The message is clear–all these players–they are the Arsenal. They have each taken their place in the team and in the wall.  And after a time, far too short or too long or just right, they left the team and were replaced by others. While “the team” was still “the team” after they left, if you think about how teams are formed, a departed player leaves a gap that must be filled. Not just a position, but possibly a gap in some form of artistry that might easily be replaced like-for-like or might require many different changes.

From the first moment I saw the picture wall, that time we came for a “once-in-a-lifetime” pilgrimage to the Emirates in 2012, I was captivated by how it must have been made, and how difficult the upkeep must be as the team keeps changing.

It turns out there is no upkeep. If my googling of the art is correct, that particular installation depicting the players who rolled on and off the team was replaced, in my absence from the Emirates, by this:

Photo by Arsenal.com.

This is also a historical depiction, of “iconic goals and celebrations,” according to Arsenal.com. It’s nice, and to gets a similar point across, but it’s not quite the same point. The original piece was a celebration that contained some darkness: “Things come to an end, don’t get comfortable. It may end well, or not.” The new art is a bit too cheerful.  I’m reminded of what my husband, who grew up Catholic, said about attending my Methodist Easter services: “I can’t stand Easter at your church. Everyone is too damn happy.”

The upkeep of the original art, if ever that was the intent, in the past two years would have been very difficult indeed because the team has almost completely turned over. Jack Wilshire, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott, Laurent Koscielny, Carl Jenkinson, Kieran Gibbs, David Ospina, Santi Cazorla, Danny Welbeck, Gabriel, Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin, Nacho Monreal…..all gone. Alexis Sanchez is so gone that he’s already left the club he left us for. Petr Cech and Per Mertesacker are both retired (though our BFG has a coaching gig with the club).

Really, only Granit Xhaka, Mesut Ozil and Hector Bellerin are still on the team. Xhaka, to my questioning eyes, has become a regular starter, presumably undroppable. But Ozil and Bellerin–neither of them is even making the bench. Bellerin because he’s coming back from serious injury, Ozil because, well, no one seems to know.

Saddest of all, my hero, manager Arsene Wenger is gone. He retired at the end of the 2017 season, beating the team to the punch before they fired him. He got a nice sendoff that brought tears to my eyes, but it was bitter deep down. He’s been replaced by Unai Emery, a coach who looked promising at first, but now just seems like he’s not quite sure how to put it all together.

On that first visit in 2012 when I became captivated by the wall, we visited over the Christmas holidays, watching a cracking match against Newcastle United that ended 7-3.  My small son had been a fervent Santa defender. In the year prior to the trip, I had explained to him that Santa needs a lot of help from me: I had to listen throughout the year for what my kids wanted for Christmas, I had to buy presents, I had to wrap them, and I had to put them under the tree. My explanation didn’t leave much for Santa to do, but somehow my son’s belief in the power of Santa remained well intact. He was a smart kid; I can only assume that he really, really didn’t want to know. The machinations of a trip to London over Christmas fully exposed to my son the sad realities of Santa, but the trip remains one of the most fun Christmases we’ve had as a family.

That small boy left home for college this Fall. We dropped him off in Rochester, NY and won’t see him again until Thanksgiving. He’s having an amazing time. Our daughter is little more than a semester from graduation from College. I miss having them around and building my life around them and their activities. I miss their noise and mess and fun.

Since we moved to California, I’ve been to the Emirates only once, before my husband and son relocated from Chicago. The trip is much farther from the west coast and we didn’t really have the same support system for our son in California that we had in Chicago.

But did I mention he’s in Rochester, NY now?

This is a tough season. Arsenal have talent–maybe better than ever–but haven’t clicked as a team, not even close. There are some exciting young players and some excellent older players, but my feelings for them havent gelled. We now have David Luiz for heaven’s sake: excellent luck, or Chelsea Trojan horse? Xhaka–can he possibly be undroppable from the lineup with so many questionable decisions? Loanee Dani Ceballos–yes, he is a fan favorite, but when he throws a stepover with no one even defending him, I shake my head. The team doesn’t feel the same.

So this weekend, we are doing what must be done. I’m getting ready to board British Air in San Jose and head to the mother ship, the Emirates. We’ll see the new art, have a pint, and, most importantly, try to come to terms.

Suddenly I’m feeling good about it. In the very Uber I’m in, the driver is playing House of Pain’s Jump Around. (Not the “clean version,” I add.) Obviously a sign!

“Oh no,” you say, “That’s not the song played before the second half at the Emirates anymore”?

Fine. Fine.

Although our new players probably won’t find their way onto the wall behind Theirry Henry, they have a good chance of finding a place in our hearts.

The hand of God (not that one) provides direction

As many times as I’ve been to London, often in the same neighborhoods, I still struggle to find my way around. The city is not laid out on a grid, streets aren’t always well marked, and without my less directionally challenged husband I’m sure I’d spend most of my time wandering around completely lost.

My husband’s flight back to Chicago on Thursday was much earlier than my flight, so he arose early and departed. I decided that I had enough time to try to find Le Pain Quotidien nearest me for breakfast, which happened to be near Borough Market. As I have explained, I have a weakness for this chain because they have delicious and reasonably priced scones accompanied by a giant glob of clotted cream, my not-so-secret weakness.

I have been to Borough Market many times, including twice on this very trip, but I still did not feel confident that I would be find it without mishap. I studied the map on my phone carefully, so carefully that I was running seriously short on time before I needed to check out of the Citizen M. I took a deep breath and strode out into the streets.

20170406_103414I was lucky and got lost only briefly, close to the shop. I was seated quickly, ordered my precious scone, and paid my bill immediately so I could run away as soon as I had the last yummy smidge of cream. It wasn’t the most relaxing breakfast, but mission accomplished. My only disappointment was that the clotted cream was not as giant as I remembered it. When the clotted cream was gone, I abandoned the rest of the scone and rushed back, again getting lost only once. I arrived at the Citizen M a minute after official checkout, rushed up and grabbed my bag, and headed out to the Tube to get to Heathrow.

The reason my husband and I didn’t fly back to Chicago together is this: I no longer live in Chicago.

During last season, I referenced in this blog BIg Problem A, a problem that I did not manage to resolve during the season despite my deepest desires and no small effort. I gave no detail on Big Problem A because it was the sort of problem that shouldn’t be shared on social media.

I was so obtuse in the blog that even my dearest friends and closest family members were not certain when they read of Big Problem A what it might be. Several people said to me, “Please tell me that I am not Big Problem A.” Even my dear sister, who has completely made my travel possible by taking care of my kids when I travel to Arsenal. For so many reasons, there is nothing Big Problem A about this woman. She is Big Solution A, B, C, and more.

Worry not that my husband or our marriage represents Big Problem A. This man is a prince and my marriage is healthy.

I’m still not going into great detail on Big Problem A, but I will share that it was a workplace problem. Although I loved my work, there was something going on in my workplace that was taking a small bite of my soul every day for more than four years. It reached its height right around the time my father passed away. The combination of Big Problem A and my father’s death arguably propelled me to take the share of Arsenal tickets. Life is painful so why not have some joy?

Now a lot of people might (and did) say, “Just leave that job,” but it’s not so simple. I have specialty skills and specialty interests. My job is important to me and a huge source of what propels and engages me. It is critical to my family; puts a roof over our heads and kids through College. It is at the intersection of two professions dominated by young people and men. Although it would not be hard to argue my virtues as an employee, If you think employers are lining up for people like me, well, they just are not.

One exceptionally dismal and tearful night after my father died and while Big Problem A was growing like a cancer, I finally fell asleep near morning. When I woke up it was sunny. I went upstairs to have my bath, and when I walked in the bathroom, on the frosted window, I saw a clear outline of a hand. It was not a creepy hand, but a healing hand. It stopped my in my tracks. It seemed like a sign from God: have no fear, be patient: this problem will be solved.

On closer inspection, because I am the sort of person who looks a gift horse in the mouth and questions even messages from God, I realized that the “healing hand” was just a reflection of the sun through the leaves of our neighbor’s tree. Still, the message had registered and I had to believe in it.

I worked actively to resolve Big Problem A last year, but was unsuccessful. There were some options I just couldn’t take. This past year, I got so busy at work that I didn’t have time to actively address it. Certain changes, including having a big, interesting project, caused Big Problem A’s trajectory to be altered. It was becoming a contained cancer, and I had hope that it was going to become a cancer in remission: It was starting to seem that Big Problem A could be solved without actually leaving my job.

Near the holidays last year, I got a call from a former colleague about a job opening up in her current company. Would I be interested in exploring this position? I was, but there was a very big catch: the job was in California, a place I never wanted to be. The other problem was that I was very, very busy working on the big initiative at work. I did not have time to devote to job acquisition. I barely had time to read my personal email.

As it worked out, interviewing didn’t require much effort or time on my part. I interviewed by phone late at night when everyone else had gone home, and the prospective company’s pace of organizing next steps seemed to match the pace I needed. When it seemed like there was no denying that this position would be interesting and I should look into it seriously, I flew out to California for an interview, missing one day of work.

IMG_20170114_071243_629My husband and I stayed through the weekend to check things out and experienced an Arsenal match on Pacific time zone at Jacks’s Bar and Lounge in San Jose. I had a resigned feeling when we stepped into the small bar at 7 a.m., realizing that they had no food….and my husband couldn’t drink because it was right before a planned, minor surgery. I was going to have to hold down the fort at the bar for our Arsenal viewing single handedly: What beer to have for breakfast?

The interview went well. I got an offer from the company on the second anniversary of my father’s death. It took a few more weeks to come to an agreement. I had a few weeks with a solid offer on the table to carefully measure whether Big Problem A had a realistic chance of being resolved while staying in place.

The decision was easy, as easy as can be.

The rest of it more or less fell into place, like when you get to the last 25 pieces of a 1000-piece puzzle. My husband and I made a few key decisions that simplified the relocation. My son was thrilled at the prospect of moving to California, somewhat unexpected because he is a sophomore in high school and arguably settled in his life. He found a high school that interested him and my husband found time, when I couldn’t, to travel to the Bay Area and locate an apartment in that district, quite close to my new office.

We got a lease, insurance, a bank. We handled a few curve balls that were thrown: a broken garage door, a refrigerator that stopped working, a car that sustained $6,000 of damage in an accident, which delayed our ability to ship the car to California.

Working through this normally drama-filled situation with, really, no drama is a testament to the team my husband and I have formed over many years. Where I drop off, he picks up and vice versa. It is hard to pinpoint when that happened exactly, but it clearly happened before this. I acknowledge that I dropped a ton in this situation and he picked it up handily and cheerfully.

There was some messy business at my old job, saying goodbye to people I loved and had worked with for nearly 17 years. It is hard to think of being far from my daughter, in College in Chicago. There was crying. Quite a bit.

But no looking back. I arrived in California three weeks ago and moved into that apartment I had never seen, three suitcases in hand and four boxes shipped. I bought the other things I needed after I arrived. I spent the first weeks sleeping on an inflatable mattress and am still using a TV box as a dining room table awaiting the glorious day furniture arrives. My son and husband will join me when the school year is over. Our daughter will join us briefly before school starts after a planned summer internship in South Dakota.

It feels very much like I just teleported into a new life. I started my new job right after I moved. It’s good so far, interesting. My new employer let me leave two weeks after I arrived to travel to London because they understand it is important. There is a fabulous Farmers market in my town on Sundays and I’ve tried fruits and vegetables I’ve never even seen before. I’ve been to the beach. Hiked high above the Bay and watched the sun rise. I started back in a yoga class and, in quintessential California style, even started working with a personal trainer. Poor man. Such a mountain to climb.

What will happen next season with these Arsenal tickets I have no idea. It is a 10-hour flight from Northern California to London. This last trip was tough. I worry about whether Arsene Wenger will survive and what the team will be without him. I worry about what they will be with him, whether they’ll still be Arsenal if our stars are sold.

But we’ll see what presents itself next season and whether I can take it on. Taking the good things offered, no matter how outlandish, is a weird habit that I started two years ago.

It has worked majestically so far.

I’m the luckiest girl in the world

We went back to our neighborhood before the match and had dinner at Bodeans, an establishment we walked by several times in our jaunts around the neighborhood. I had the Famous Burnt Ends (you could choose wet or dry; I had wet, which means with sauce) and my husband had the pulled pork sandwich. The Burnt Ends were marvelous. For dessert I had homemade honeycomb ice cream and my husband had apple crumble. I can’t speak for the apple crumble, but the honeycomb ice cream was amazing. The honeycomb in the ice cream was crispy and gave off just a hint of honey. Delicious.

It was time to head to the match. And all I could think, all the way there, was this: “I am the luckiest girl in the world.” Yeah, it hasn’t been the greatest season (you could say it’s been lousy) and I haven’t been able to attend as many matches this year as last year, but every time I get on the Piccadilly line to go to the Emirates, I have a feeling of complete excitement. It builds and builds as we go from the Arsenal stop along Gillespie Avenue, up Drayton Park, up the stairs, and across the Ken Friar Bridge. We feel it through the turnstile and as we approach our seats, watching the warmup. Anything can happen that day, and everyone there knows it. I’ve been able to know it multiple times this year again.

20170405_191603There was supposed to be a big protest in advance of the West Ham match by the Wenger Out crowd. They were planning to stay out of the stadium for the first 13 minutes of the match, one minute for each year we haven’t had a Premier League trophy. I have no idea if they did it or not. The stadium was packed as of kickoff, and there was no notable change at 13 minutes. The crowd was in fine voice throughout. On my right, in the seats that contain new people each time, was an American who required much explanation of what was happening in the match, which his also-American associate delivered with reasonable accuracy and far less impatience than I could have mustered.

West Ham has also had a rough patch of late so the match could easily had been quite the Bumble Bowl. With the exception of a few shaky moments early in the match, Arsenal dominated this one. Our goalkeeper this day was Emi Martinez, our backup goalkeeper’s backup. (Arseblog had noted before the match that at least he is goalkeeper sized.) He had a fine match and made a few key saves. Laurent Koscielny was not back in the lineup after his injury before halftime during Sunday’s match, but Gabriel had a decent match in his place. Andy Carroll, the meaty-headed West Ham forward who has had much joy against us in the past couldn’t do much of anything against our guys.

20170405_192803(0)The refereeing in this match was far worse than in the Man City match (itself pretty poor). It boggles the mind that Martin Atkinson continues to get Arsenal matches. Three obvious penalty calls waved away. Meanwhile, he didn’t see much contact from Arsenal on West Ham players that he failed to judge a foul.

Overall, Arsenal’s passing was better, and by the time the second half was underway we were looking more and more dangerous. The Arsenal fans had started an epic rendition of the previously-mysterious “Red Army” chant that carried us though our first goal via a shot from Mesut Ozil where it seemed Alexis Sanchez proved enough distraction for the keeper to let a relatively tame shot in. Even the American next to me, who recently had seemed more interested in his phone, celebrated. The fans began chanting the famous One Nil to the Arsenal that was established many years ago when Arsenal was famous for grinding out 1-0 victories.

The next goal was a quintessentially Arsenal goal that included fabulous movement, an Alexis Sanchez back flick to Ozil, and a killer pass to Theo who slotted it home. And the third came in the form of a nice dribble and pass from Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain to Olivier Giroud, who made a curling, long-range shot.

The fans made some quick alterations to the One Nil to the Arsenal chant: “Three Nil to the Arsenal,” we sang with one voice.

The final whistle blew and my husband and I ran down the stairs, out of the Emirates, over the Ken Friar Bridge, down Drayton Park and  Gillespie Avenue, and through the Arsenal tube station, the entrance to which had been constrained to funnel the crowds toward the trains arriving to whisk us away.

20170405_165842A West Ham fan had managed to make his way onto the train with us and he said loudly that Arsenal was no longer Arsenal, we used to be a good team but no more. He protested that he was not just being an asshole, just stating facts. He acknowledged that he might be making people mad.

I didn’t feel mad (although I internally disagreed with his assessment that he was not an asshole.) What I felt was that Arsenal is my team, bad and good. Arsene Wenger is my manager, bad and good. I couldn’t change those things if I wanted to.

But I don’t want to.

Blood, toil, tears, sweat

We slept in a bit later than usual and went over to the Natural Kitchen for breakfast, a restaurant that specializes in farm to table dining. I had the Eggs Benedict and my husband had an omelette. The presentation was a bit lacking as you can detect from the picture, and in my Eggs Benedict, one poached egg was well overcooked and the other was quite undercooked. On average, perfect? It tasted pretty good even with its several problems. I ate it while fervently hoping that the undercooked one would not give me food poisoning.

We went over to Shoreditch where I had coffee with a friend while my husband did some investigation of street art tours. It was a lovely day and we thought that being outside would be a great way to spend the day. In the end, none of the tours really worked in our timeframe. Although we don’t have a definitive plan to return to London, we decided that is something we would do the next time, if there is one.

Instead we went over to the Churchill war rooms, near Westminster, where I figured we’d spend just a short time and then get back outside. The exhibit had other ideas: it was so interesting, we stayed for the entire afternoon.

20170405_155337The Churchill war rooms was the basement from which a team, along with Winston Churchill, conducted the British response in World War II. For years, a dedicated team of men and women directed the war effort, charted, conveyed information mostly underground and in secret. At the end of the war, Winston Churchill was out of a job and the others left the basement pretty much as it had been during the effort. They simply shut the doors and walked away. Much of it was exactly as it was found years later.

The Churchill war rooms also features a great museum on Churchill’s life. What I knew about Winston Churchill was that when our son was born, my husband said he looked like Churchill. I remember him holding our infant and quoting as if the words were coming from our son, “You ask what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory……”

Later, someone told me all babies look like Winston Churchill. Because babies are cute, you would think that would also translate to Winston Churchill: he must have been cute, as cute as a baby. While I see the resemblance, that turns out not so much to be true.

I didn’t know much about him heading into the exhibit, but I found his life and the way it was presented fascinating. He pursued politics, writing, and painting with great passion. He failed frequently but when he succeeded, as in the war effort, he was greatly successful. Even so, before the war was fully over, his party was voted out and he was also out of a job.

There is a lesson in that somewhere.

He was also known for his acerbic wit as well as his oratorical skills, and I especially enjoyed the features of the exhibit in which that was a focus.

We stumbled out of the exhibit hours later and happy with our choice.

20170405_131204Before we arrived at the museum, we crossed the Westminster bridge that had been the site of a terror attack last week. Many people people lost their lives or were seriously injured as a car ran up on the sidewalk. A week later, the bridge was thronged with tourists and business people just as always; the only signs of the terror were the flowers and letters people had left at various locations on the bridge.

Terrorists seek to destroy our way of life and always fail. Lives are lost, and lives are changed, but the long-term changes the terrorists seek are never accomplished. They should give up. History belongs long term to the people on the side of right.

Second verse same as the first

There are many songs I would gladly forget. That line from one of them was on my mind all day as we were headed to Hampton Court Palace, the country home of Henry VIII. Yes, the Herman Hermit’s song had nothing to do with the monarch Henry VIII, but what did it have to do with? She wouldn’t have a Willy or a Sam, but who would?

Some things are better left unexamined.

We  planned to take a boat down the Thames to get to the palace. The boat leaves Richmond at 11 a.m. and there isn’t another one until much later in the day. We had miscalculated a bit getting off the Tube at Kew Gardens instead of Richmond, so our walk was longer than anticipated. We struggled with data on our phones and couldn’t get a clear bead on whether we were headed in the right direction.

We asked several people for the directions to St. Helena Pier, and were met with mostly shrugs. When we finally got to Richmond, we understood why. St. Helena Pier is as anonymous a starting point as you could ever imagine. If imagining anonymous piers is your thing. (I do not judge.)

We didn’t have time to grab a bite, but we managed to get to the Pier on time. We boarded the boat and headed down the Thames, changing boats at Kingston. It was a lovely ride, and fun to see all the stately private houses and decks that were carefully constructed as peaceful places to watch the boats go by. There were many people rowing and sailing on the river since it was a school holiday.

We arrived at Hampton Court Palace, and made a quick detour to grab a quick lunch at the chain Pizza Express before returning to the palace.

Hampton Court was used by quite a few royals after Henry VIII, but we spent most of our time there focused on his use of the castle, visiting his living quarters, an exhibit about his life, his kitchens, and wine cellars. We walked through the church he attended as the head once he had left the Catholic Church, which had refused to allow him to annul his marriage of more the 20 years to his first wife. Also the “real tennis court,” which was indoors, to our surprise. Probably not to the surprise of anyone who knows the difference between tennis and “real tennis.” I can now count myself among them.

Henry VIII lived quite a train wreck of a life; it was a thousand times worse for his many wives who variously struggled to produce male heirs and to otherwise keep their difficult man happy (and themselves alive). Palaces are rarely comfy and cozy, but this one felt especially cold.

We had a bit of extra time so we spent some time in William III’s quarters and in his privy garden, which has been restored to its original state. The garden was in bloom with spring flowers, looking lovely.

We took the train back and met some friends at the Angel for a few beers. Several of us went over to The Sichuan and had dinner. Crispy duck, kung pao chicken, pork with cabbage, and wonton soup.

It was a feast Henry VIII would certainly approve, in a different time and place.


Monday monday

I find myself in crowds when I am in London, most notably as I am entering the Emirates. But I never saw a crowd like the one that was heading across London bridge and down the streets of City on Monday morning as we were making our way to find breakfast near 9 a.m.. Droves of people in suits, skirts, dress shoes making their way to work. An army of workers.

My husband said it reminded him of T. S. Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land.

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,

I had not thought death had undone so many.

Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,

And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.

Literary thoughts are usually not in my head. I thought they looked like cows being herded.


Undone by death, or cows? You be the judge.

We were planning to stop by the Borough Market and grab breakfast in our way to the Museum of London. However, the market was in the process of being set up. There were a few vendors ready to sell bread and croissants, but we stopped into Monmouth coffee shop next to the market and grabbed a flat white and a croissant from the bakery next door shop to hold us over until we could find breakfast.


We worked our way over near the museum, encountering St. Lawrence Jewry church, where there was to be a piano recital at 1 p.m. We decided to try to stop back there after visiting the museum.

It tasted better than it looks

We stopped to have breakfast at Vital Ingredient, just up the street from the museum. It’s a chain in the approximate genre of Pret a Manger. I had what was called an acai smoothie, which consisted of some fruit ground up with acai sauce, topped with fresh fruit, yogurt, coconut, and seeds.

The Museum of London was fascinating, although I have to admit I hit the wall before I saw all of it. It covers the history of London, including from before London was a city. London has been a city for around 2,000 years, so adding on history before it was formed means we are looking at a whole lot of years. The museum displays tons of artifacts from every period, many of which were pulled from the Thames.

I tried to see it with a broad brush rather than in detail, which I think helped me draw some important, fast, and hopefully accurate conclusions: the river is the lifeblood of the city and always has been and big change comes in globs and often with outside influence. For example, there was really not much change in tools and household goods for hundreds and hundreds of years; but there was massive change in objects associated with the Roman invasion the first century A.D. You could see it blooming before your eyes. There was also tremendous change associated with the various fires across the history of the city. Much like a forest that burns, a city must regenerate itself, and when it does, it often does so in a highly progressive way.

We left and went to St. Lawrence Jewry for the piano recital. Such a surprise inside that cathedral. The outside had been dingy and dark, but the inside was as beautiful, light, and well-maintained as any cathedral I’ve ever seen. The recital that day was two sonatas, Mozart’s Sonata in D major, and Prokofiev Sonata No. 8 in B flat major, played by Antonia Suhanova, a young pianist working on her masters degree in piano performance. She was wonderful and the music was lovely; it was a nice midday treat.

We had theatre tickets that night for Travesties, Tom Stoppard’s play about the lawsuit brought against James Joyce over a pair of pants worn by an actor in Oscar Wild’s play, The Importance of Being Earnest. We headed over to the theatre district and stopped in a Peruvian restaurant named Casita Andina, which serves tapas. We ordered a burnt orange salad, ocopo chips, avocado fritters, hake, tamal, panna cotta, and a chocolate bombe. I think that was my favorite restaurant experience in London this trip. The food was beautiful and delicious and fun, in a fun atmosphere.

I was full of trepidation that I would fall asleep during the play because I was still feeling jet lagged and I remembered that Tom Stoppard plays require some intellectual effort. I took the precaution if having a latte at the restaurant.

The play was terrific. I still found myself nodding off in the first bit once the lights went off, but the play was so lively, funny, creative and entertaining, I was quickly captivated and sorry when it was over. The big Tom Stoppard play playing in London while we were there was Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, with Daniel Radcliff of Harry Potter fame in one of the lead roles. I’m delighted it was too hard to get tickets to that. It would be hard to imagine we would have had more fun than at Travesties.

The set of Travesties at the Apollo Theatre

In contrast with all those workers we swam against in the morning, it was a long and busy day of play, so we headed back to the Citizen M for our night’s sleep.

That latte which didn’t completely do its job of keeping me awake during the play did an excellent job overnight.