30 June 2008

In the Hotel


In the Hotel, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's self-portrait: 52 Weeks 19/52 (2008 week 27).

Quote: Life

Life must be understood backwards ... but it must be lived forward.

[Soren Keirkegaard]

29 June 2008

Ah, Those Were the Days!

I'm not long home from an interestingly nostalgic weekend -- I've been to a school reunion for those of who left Cheshunt Grammar School (Hertfordshire) in 1967-68-69. I was the youngest of these years as I left in '69. The reunion (arranged by one of the '68 leavers on his own initiative) was in the Red Cow pub, Windmill Lane, Cheshunt -- about 5 minutes walk from the site of the old school, which is sadly no more, the site now being houses! Yes, the Red Cow was one of the pubs frequented by the 6th form at lunchtimes -- except when we were banned, or the headmaster found out, when we went across the road to The Maltsters or into the town to the Rose & Crown.

We had a great time with about 40-50 people there (including some non-CGS partners) -- not bad from an audience of probably 200, especially as many of us have lost complete touch with our school-friends. Being today there wasn't as much beer being sunk as there would have been a few years ago -- people were either being good or driving, or both! The pub laid on a good array of finger food. Having arrived about 4.30 we left soon after 9pm and the group was still going strong -- if they were true to form they continued well into the night!

There were several people there I was quite friendly with at school as well as many I didn't remember. Our deputy head (who unsuccessfully taught me History) also came along; I guess Kate must now be around 80, but she looked extremely fit and well, remembered us all and was interested to know what and how we'd all done. Richard who did the organising had arranged for our "all school" photographs from 1963 and 1968 to be printed up and displayed, so fun was had by all identifying the people (pupils and staff). Someone else brought their scrapbook of school memorabilia -- I must look mine out! -- which was another good conversation piece.

Everyone there seemed to be retired or on the point of retiring. Sadly I have a few years to go yet, unless I can magic together that big lottery win!

The reunion, plus a couple of drives around some parts of the town, turned it into a really nostalgic weekend, especially as I've not visited the area at all for 20 years. Indeed I left with quite a pang of home-sickness in my stomach -- something I'm not used to and was quite disturbing. Let's hope we can all meet up again sooner than another 40 years! We certainly should have a big bash for our 50th anniversary!!

Those were the days -- the happiest days our our lives! Maybe an overstatement but they must certainly come close.

(Maybe some photos later.)

24 June 2008

A Definite Improvement


KCM, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's self-portrait: 52 Weeks 18/52 (2008 week 26).

One of the first test shots taken with my super new fisheye/ultra-wide angle lens.

22 June 2008

Great British Duck Race 2008

Sponsor a duck and raise money for charity – that's what the Great British Duck Race 2008 is asking us to do. It's British, it's wacky, it raises money for all sorts of charities and it might get in the Guinness Book of Records.

In 2007 GBDR smashed Singapore's world record by racing 165,000 yellow plastic ducks down the River Thames and in the process raised over £100,000 UK charities.

This year the aim is to go even bigger and better by attempting to race a quarter of a million little yellow plastic ducks down the 1 kilometre race course. If successful this will break the record GBDR set last year.

When is it? Sunday 31 August.
Where is it? The ducks take to the water at Moseley Lock, near Hampton Court Palace.
Can I go and watch? Yes, absolutely you can. It looks like a fun family day out.

How much is it? It's just £2 to adopt a duck and this includes a donation to GBDR's three nominated charities. Added to which you can choose to make additional donations to any of over 500 participating charities. And there are 30 prizes for the winning ducks with a first prize of a "whopping" £10,000.

It's just a shame the course isn't the length of the Thames from Hampton Court to (say) Tower Bridge. Now that would be fun!

Adopt a duck now!
Only in England would we do anything quite so mad!

21 June 2008

On Friendship and the Anthony Powell Society

Jilly, over at jillysheep, believes I blame her for changing my life -- and she is right for it is she who introduced me to Anthony Powell, something which ultimately led to the formation of the Anthony Powell Society and why I have little time to call my own (I'm the Society's Hon. Secretary).

Jilly has just given the Anthony Powell Society and this weblog a nice little puff. Just to complete the miniature picture she paints, here is my comment in reply:

Thanks for the puff, Jilly! Yes, you changed my life and by more than just introducing me to Powell, but maybe the rest shouldn't be discussed here. ;-)

The Anthony Powell Society also hosts an active email discussion list at groups.yahoo.com/group/aplist/ which is open to all. And some members of that list have started their own reading group which can be found at www.adancetothemusicoftime.com/readinggroup/ tho' it hasn't yet really got off the ground. Both are open access and everyone is welcome.

Thanks, Jilly! :-)

20 June 2008

Wing Man


Wing Man, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's self-portrait: 52 Weeks 17/52 (2008 week 25).

15 June 2008

Apothecary's Rose


Apothecary's Rose, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Something else from our garden. This is Rosa gallica, the Apothecary's Rose of ancient times. It grows madly in all directions wherever we plant it; apparently it likes clay soil, which being in London is what we have.

Quote: Reality

Today's Quotation of the Day is quite brilliant. It is Jon Stewart commenting on George W Bush:

He treats reality like it's out to get him.

The same could have been said of my father; everything was a plot against him. Sad.

14 June 2008

Full Frontal Mirror Tiles


Full Frontal Mirror Tiles, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's self-portrait: 52 Weeks 16/52 (2008 week 24).

Yes it's horrible, and I'm seriously over-weight ... but not as much as I was; I've lost 28kg (almost 4.5 stone) since October. That's not fast, but it is fast enough considering I am diabetic and while controlling calories also have to be careful to keep my blood glucose stable. Actually losing the weight has helped a lot with my blood sugar levels and my blood pressure, so although it isn't easy it is worth doing; I do feel lots better for it. But I really need to get rid of at least that much again if I possibly can.

Oh and yes, the tile effect is a shameless abuse of Photoshop - just to save the worst of the blushes of the innocent. Being nude, anywhere, anytime, bothers me not at all 'cos I was brought up as a nudist! But I know it does bother others, so out of respect for them there is nothing here that you wouldn't see in a swimming pool.

Rules for Living Life

I recently came across a weblog posting by Jonathan Fields over at Awake at the Wheel where he suggests "Six timeless rules for my 6-year-old daughter". Never having had children, let alone a six-year-old, I’m not going to discuss the merits or otherwise of Jonathan’s rules. But they set me thinking: What rules for life would I commend? And I came up with these seven.
  1. Change happens. The only thing which doesn’t change is something which is dead. We all change; it’s called life. Some change is good, some is bad; that’s called evolution. You can either fight change or go with it. Fighting it is destructive; you can’t stop change, so much better to go with it and see what opportunities are presented.
  2. Life isn’t fair; deal with it. Things aren’t always going to go your way, and neither should they. If they did we would never learn. There is nothing you can do about most of the unfairnesses and stupidities, so quit worrying about them and let them flow over you. Accept it when things don’t go your way, try to understand why, and move on.
  3. Live the now. Go for it; grasp opportunities when they’re offered. As my wife’s favourite aunt used to say: “I take my treats as they come.” That doesn’t mean you should always live for the here and now, and never plan ahead. Clearly there is a balance. But don’t shut yourself off from the present and from opportunities because you’re worrying about what might happen – it might not and you will have missed out!
  4. Trust your gut instinct, but consider the consequences of your actions. We all spend too much time thinking and worrying. Yes, we must be aware of the consequences of our actions – not to do so is selfish and would ultimately lead to anarchy (as well as violating rule 7). But don’t over-analyse. There comes a time, usually sooner rather than later, to make a decision. Go for it. Sometimes despite your head’s better judgement your gut instinct will say: “but that isn’t the right choice for me”, “it doesn’t feel right”, “I know it’s risky but that’s what I really have to do”. Trust your gut and your heart to make the right choice. If we only ever trusted our heads, we’d never fall in love!
  5. Learn; don’t regret. We can only ever make the best decision we can at the time with the information available. We usually don’t have enough information or we’ll make a wrong choice. There is no point looking back and regretting your decision, or worrying about what might have been; you can’t change the decision; you did the best you could at the time. Try to understand why your choice was not the best and move on. I always say I have no regrets; I admit there are things I have done which I should not have done and wouldn’t do again, but I hope I’ve learnt from them and that is valuable – so why should I regret having done them, except perhaps in as much as it hurt other people.
  6. Communicate. Probably the biggest cause of things going wrong or misunderstandings is a lack of communication. We always say that communication is the most important factor in any marriage/relationship; and it’s true. But it applies equally to everything we do. If you don’t communicate, how do others know what you think, what you’re going to do, or what you want them to do? And communication doesn’t mean just talk; it isn’t all one way: you outwards! It means listen as well; listen hard and properly to what is being said to you; make sure you understand it.
  7. Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself. This is perhaps most important of all; if you can achieve this most of the rest will follow. It is the cornerstone of my personal management method (which I call “Ethical Management” although it’s really about getting the best from people – but that’s something for another day). It isn’t “do to others before they do unto you” as seems so common today. It is “do to others what you would like them to do to you”. If you treat other people fairly then the wheels will turn more easily. People are like wasps: they’re essentially good; respect them and they’ll respect you; they only get vindictive when you get snotty with them. Don’t just screw someone for your personal short-term gain. Don’t do things to gratuitously annoy someone. Try to understand the world through their eyes. Why are they in a grumpy mood? Sympathise – better empathise -- with them. Understand that it isn’t they who made that error and try to help them to help you to put it right. The Dalai Lama’s word is compassion, meant in its broadest sense. Treat others with compassion.
I do try to live by these rules myself, although I have to admit I didn’t always; I’ve had to learn them for myself, the hard way. I don’t always succeed, but that’s part of learning: if you’re not failing occasionally then you’re not taking enough risks to move “the business” (whatever that is; read “life”?) forward.

I would commend these to anyone. OK maybe not in this form until that someone is in their teens, at least, but I’m sure they can be packaged in suitable words for people of any age.

12 June 2008

Hibiscus


Hibiscus, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Something to brighten up what's been a dull day (at least here in London). This is a recent addition to our patio garden.

10 June 2008

Book Meme

OK just for something a bit different, here's a book meme I came across the other day ...

One book that changed your life:
Anthony Powell; A Dance to the Music of Time

One book that you have read more than once:
Martin Gardner; The Annotated Alice

One book that you would want on a desert island:
Latham & Matthews; Diaries of Samuel Pepys. That's apart from Dance!

One book that made you laugh:
Douglas Adams; Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy

One book that made you cry:
Mervyn Peake; Gormenghast

One book you can’t read:
Amongst a number of others: Salman Rushdie; Satanic Verses

One book you wish you'd written:
Almost anything really; I just wish I had the skill and imagination to write a book.

One book you wish had never been written:
Not sure I think any book shouldn’t exist (that's a variant of free speech), but if I really had to choose I’d pick two books: the Bible and the Koran; they’ve done more damage in the world than possibly all other books put together.

One book you're reading:
Jennifer Ouellette; Black Bodies and Quantum Cats: Tales of Pure Genius and Mad Science

One book you're going to read:
John Aubrey; Brief Lives

The usual rules apply: tag a few friends (say 3 or 5), leave then a comment to tell them they've been tagged, and leave a comment for the person who tagged you.

I'll tag Jilly at jillysheep, Noreen at Norn's Notebook, Jamie at Duward Discussion.

09 June 2008

Kew Gardens

On Saturday afternoon we went to Kew Gardens, home of the Royal Botanical Society. And what a contrast with our visit to London Zoo! OK, being Saturday there were no school parties, but there were lots of visitors with young children and lots of young couples, not just tourists. Everyone was there because they were interested – all ages from the suckling child to octogenarians; English, Australian, Japanese; the young and fit to those who needed a wheelchair or an electric buggy.

Kew is vast: over 300 acres; over a mile from end to end; and around half a mile from side to side. The RBS divide the gardens into three areas and reckon that each area is suitable for a 2-3 hour visit. I take leave to doubt this; we spend three hours there and saw about half of one area, tho’ we were taking our time. Essentially Kew is one huge piece of parkland with specialist collections and specialist “greenhouses” between open areas of grass and specimen trees. So you can lose an enormous number of people in it and it doesn’t seem busy. There are good paths, but you can (mostly) walk on the grass too; we even saw one family group who were obviously there to have a birthday party for their 6 year-old; a picnic and games on the grass!

Kew has something botanical for everyone. From the alpine house to the Palm House (excellent free sauna, as is the Water Lily House!); from cacti to aquatic plants; from deciduous woodland to marine algae. Whatever time of year you go there is always something to see. Obviously just now all the roses are in full flower as well as peonies and some irises; we spent quite a lot of time in the rose pergola, looking at the climbing roses. A few weeks ago the gardens would have been alive with Spring bulbs and Azaleas. In the autumn there will be the magnificent colours of the trees.

Every specimen is labelled clearly, so you know not only what it is but what variety it is. More than that each of the specialist areas has large, clear and informative labels – and unlike London Zoo they tell you interesting things; I learnt several things I didn’t know! But there is no prozeletysing about the right way to garden; Kew isn't a garden show but a zoo for plants. The Palm House and the Temperate House are excellent and in the basement of the former there is a marine display which majors not just on marine plants as we think of them but explains the importance of algae (which includes all seaweeds); as an aquatic display and an exhibition of fishkeeping this knocks spots off the London Zoo Aquarium.

Like London Zoo, Kew also contains a number of important buildings, including the famous Pagoda and Kew Palace. The latter (administered by the Royal Palaces, not RBS) has recently been restored and opened to the public (at an extra charge); we have to go back and make sure we see this. There is a formal lake (with fountain), a few formal flower beds, and several excellent cafés (good cake in decent sized pieces!) and a new tree-top level walkway – again something we have to revisit to get to see.

At £13 for adult admission it still isn’t cheap, but wow!, do you get good value. I reckon you could spend a whole day there and still not do justice to more than half of the gardens.

OK, so what didn’t I like? Kew is under the main flightpath into Heathrow Airport, so the constant noise of aircraft is a pest. And you can’t buy a bottle/can of drink except from one of their cafés (makes note to take drink next time).

If you’re interested in plants, gardens, biology or just a day in the fresh air near central London then this is well worthwhile; it is one of those magical, little-known, places. And like London Zoo the RBS do lots of important conservation work.

Here are the best of my photos of Kew on Flickr.


06 June 2008

Quick Fix

Quick Fix, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's self-portrait: 52 Weeks 15/52 (2008 week 23)

Don't try this at home folks!

05 June 2008

London Zoo

We’re on holiday, but not away, this week and next. So we are trying to have a few days out, weather permitting which it didn’t on Monday and Tuesday.

Yesterday we went to London Zoo. I’ve not been to the Zoo since I was a teenager (the Snowdon Aviary wasn’t long open) – so over 40 years ago! And Noreen has never been despite having lived in London for over 30 years and done most of the tourist things.

What a disappointment. I’m glad I went, but to be honest I probably won’t bother again. Although we didn’t look at everything, we did see a large proportion. Now I know we’re all used to seeing animals in action in 5 second “vision bites” on TV, and that in reality most animals spend a lot of their day doing very little. But even allowing for that I found the “exhibits” dull. Why?

Many of the indoor enclosures looked drab, dull, unexciting and almost uncared for. Which I know does an injustice to the keepers, as they care greatly about giving their animals the best possible environment. The indoor spaces were frankly rather tatty and in need of a good coat of paint; not really surprising when you look at the number of pairs of feet walking round.

I suppose the thing which struck me most was the lack of variety. Sure there are birds and reptiles; fish; mammals of all types and sizes; insects and bugs. But I felt there was not enough variety of each, although of course space is very limited and one has to provide enough room for the number of visitors as well as the animals and staff as well as having some exhibit spaces empty and being refurbished. Nevertheless I felt that many of the animals are still kept in inadequately sized accommodation – specifically I don’t feel it ethical to keep an owl in an aviary where it doesn’t get a good long flightpath (20 x 30 x 8 feet high really doesn’t feel large enough!).

And the limitations of space, and even money, don’t excuse labels which were uninformative to anyone except a 10 year-old doing their school project. The science content of the labels for people like me was non-existent. OK, I set a high standard because I’m a scientist, but there should be something there to capture me too; I also need to be made to say “Heavens, I never knew that!” And by doing this you stretch other visitors and make them think. It’s a hard task; yes a lot of the labelling has to enthuse the school kids and the less well educated; that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be some (not all) information at a higher level.

And heavens the number of school kids! The whole place was crawling with school parties – all ages from 5 to 15 (or more). It’s a bit much when the noise of the kids drowns out the local starlings and the London traffic! Don’t get me wrong; it’s great that the kids are there and hopefully showing some interest (especially in a pair of turtles having it off! – the whole group of 8 year-olds had their mobile phones out taking photos!). Yes, they are the future and we need to catch ’em young and get them enthused about science in all forms. But it I would have felt more sanguine about it if I thought they were learning something and not just wandering round ticking boxes on the project sheet or meandering aimlessly. Most of the teachers didn’t seem too interested either, except to try to rein the kids in a bit; they weren’t doing any much teaching.

As a fishkeeper the area I really wanted to see was the Aquarium. Frankly I felt that this was a disgrace. Half the exhibit space appeared to be boarded off, with no word of explanation. Was it because it is being rebuilt; refurbished; closed because unrepairable (the building is old now); there isn’t the money to run it? Why? Nothing; just blank dark blue hoarding in a space so dark one could hardly see where one was walking. The tanks which were in use were to my mind unexciting and all too small. Yes there was a variety of freshwater and salt-water fish, tropical and temperate; but with a few exceptions (like large Tambaqui, fragile seahorses and quantities of anemones and corals) nothing a good amateur aquarist couldn’t keep at least as well. And almost nothing about crustaceans, shellfish, seaweed and no really good biotype displays.

So what was good? The staff were all helpful. The grounds are immaculately kept. Some exhibits were good. The penguins and meercats were an especial and unexpected delight. As was the large tiger dozing against the wall of his enclosure, literally just a foot the other side of the Plexiglas from us. Likewise the two very asleep, and very beautiful, Servals looking like oversized spotted domestic cats. The Lubetkin Penguin Pool is still there (it is Grade I listed) and refurbished but not in use (sad; I hope a use can be found for it other than for wire sculptures of insects). Noreen enjoyed the rainforest displays. The café is decent, even if not cheap (but then where is?). And the loos were spotless despite the hoards of kids.

I’m sure there is more that’s good – we didn’t see everything – but that doesn’t feel like a good return on the almost £20 admission price. Sad, really; very sad.

And there are a few of my photos of the animals over on Flickr; hopefully more to come later.

03 June 2008

Summer in England

How do you know it's summer in England? No not because the sun is shining. Because it's raining! It really is almost that predictable.

We're on holiday for a couple of weeks at present; a badly needed break. Unfortunately we failed in our attempts to go away because we were unable to find anyone to feed the cats (none of our 3 cat feeders is available, nor is our local cattery; they're all on holiday too!). So we're staying home and trying to go out for days. But it's raining! – nice steady summer rain which looks set for the day.

The two top things we want to do are go to London Zoo (I've not been since I was a child) and go to Kew Gardens. Both are largely outdoors. Which ain't too much fun when it's peeing down with rain. There are few things more miserable, in my mind, than being out for the day in the rain.

At least the rest of the week looks good. Meanwhile we're at home doing a few odd jobs around the place and not much else.

Update, 1735 hrs. And it is still raining; don't think it's stopped all day! We've spent the day pottering about and clearing out all the old toot from our wardrobes.

02 June 2008

Albertine


Albertine, originally uploaded by kcm76.

From our garden; a delightful climbing rose with masses of flowers and a heavenly scent. A real piece of England.