31 May 2010

Queen's Beasts at Kew

Queen's Beasts at Kew, originally uploaded by kcm76.

You'll probably want to look at this in a larger size.

We went to Kew Gardens last week, with an American friend who was staying and had a free afternoon to do something different. While there I fulfilled by wish to photograph the ten Queen's Beasts in front of the Palm House. The beasts represent the genealogy of Queen Elizabeth II. They are (from L to R):
• White Greyhound of Richmond
• Yale of Beaufort
• Red Dragon of Wales
• White Horse of Hanover
• Lion of England
• White Lion of Mortimer
• Unicorn of Scotland
• Griffin of Edward III
• Black Bull of Clarence
• Falcon of the Plantagenet

These aren't great photos, so I'll probably redo them next I go to Kew.

And there's a bit more about the Queen's Beasts on Wikipedia.

30 May 2010

On Wild-Life and Adolescence

I've just finished reading My Natural History by Simon Barnes.  Barnes is the award-winning Chief Sports Writer for the Times as well as a great wildlife enthusiast and ornithologist who has travelled the world in search of both sport and wildlife.  He is erudite, as befits one who is so hugely well read, and a fan of Anthony Powell's Dance, often working Powellian references into his sports writing.

My Natural History is written in Barnes's light, forthright and eminently readable style.  In 23 short chapters it tells the stories of significant moments in Barnes's fifty-odd years in all of which he finds a wildlife connexion - many indeed being centred around wildlife.  The tales vary from great achievements (mostly of the wildwood; always understated), through great loves to the occasional disturbing poignancy.  It is short, light, bedtime reading, and no worse for that for it could easily be sub-titled "How to be a Success without any Effort while Remaining Interesting and Human".

As a example of his insight be writes this apropos his (no, anyone's) adolescence: 
Does that [an idealistic, youthful vision] sound frightfully adolescent?  Well, so it bloody well should.  We were bloody adolescents.  Why do we sneer at adolescence?  Why, when we look back in maturity at the wild notions and the demented hopes and the illogical beliefs and the ephemeral soul-deep passions of our adolescence, do we feel it our duty to sneer?  Or apologise?  Why do we not instead believe that adolescence is not a cursed but a blessed period of life: a white-water ride down the river of time.  These rapids are not a place to spend a lifetime, but they are an essential transitional process if you wish to be an adult with any kind of life, any kind of passion, any kind of meaning.  True, the stuff we came up with was half-baked: but then neither it nor we had been in the oven for terribly long.  We were celebrating our newness, our rawness, celebrating the irrefragable fact that life was all before us: for us to change, for us to be changed irretrievably by.

29 May 2010

Pink Spire

Pink Horse Chestnut, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Just to brighten up a dull and wet bank holiday Saturday, here's a spire of Red Horse Chestnut (probably Aesculus × carnea) flowers.

25 May 2010

Quote: Furry Animals

I like small furry animals - as long as they're tasty

[Lisa Jardine]

23 May 2010

Martin Gardner, RIP

Martin Gardner, scientific skeptic and maths puzzler has died at the age of 95.  Although maybe best known, at least in scientific circles, for his "Mathematical Games" column in Scientific American, for me he will be remembered for his The Annotated Alice which has gone through several editions and numerous reprints; it remains one of my all-time favourite books.

There are short obits here and here.

And you can find all his books available on Amazon.

22 May 2010

Picture Imps

Another zany moment from the "Feedback" column of this week's issue of New Scientist:
[Feedback reader X] tells us that her mother says her new camera works much better "because it has many more pixies than her old one". Meanwhile, X's daughter is apparently excited at the discovery that "there are millions of haemogoblins capering round the circulatory system, delivering parcels of oxygen".

As for X herself, she says she gets along fine in life so long as she's got her elf (try saying that with a cockney accent). She wonders if other Feedback readers have noticed the presence of similar "differently real" companions in their lives.

21 May 2010

More Auction Oddities

Another in our occasional series of highlights from our local auction-room catalogues.  [My comments in italic.]
A portrait of two young children, one wearing a plumed hat, with a cat, English School, probably 19th century ...
I think we should be told why the cat is sitting on the hat and not the child's lap.  Or is it dead and just being used instead of a feather in the child's hat?

A Victorian Sri Lankan colonial overmantel mirror in rare zebra wood, the shield-shaped central plate beneath a fruit carved cornice, flanked by turned columns and leaf shaped mirrors above small display shelves.
It sounds a complete dog's breakfast; I just can't picture it.

An antique style silver collar.
That's all!  A collar for what?  A coat?  A dog?  A vicar?  Mme Whiplash? - oh, sorry, no, she's the vicar.

A varied interesting lot containing military buttons, badges and dog tags, and a soldier’s service and pay book (1943), autograph book, the works of William Shakespeare, a pair of wooden barleytwist candlesticks, a bejewelled trinket box in the form of a tortoise, picture frames, mixed coinage, brassware, etc.
You just know as soon as you see "a varied interesting lot" it is going to be a collection of toot, but this one was especially, and probably literally, priceless.

A large plated 'well and tree' meat dish, two waiters and a syphon stand.
Are the waiters holding up the syphon stand or vice versa?  Are we sure it's a syphon stand and not a village pump for extracting the meat juices from the well?

A stuffed kingfisher mounted in a circular frame with domed glass.

2 crocodile skins, 65 ins and 36 ins long.
Start a new fashion: crocodile skin bedroom rugs.

A 19th century Arab Nimcha sword, the multi-fullered straight blade with steel hilt and angular knuckle guard with tracers of damascening, the grip of rhinoceros horn, 38 ins, remains of scabbard.
It was the "remains of scabbard" that finished me; as if this pile of dust makes everything kosher.

An interesting collection of Carlton Ware comprising a farmyard condiment set of farmhouse mustard with cover, barn pepperette and hayrick salt shaker, on circular stand ...
This is the piece de resistance!  I almost went to the sale just to look at this hideous sounding cruet.

11 May 2010

Interesting Times we Live in!

Either there is a civil strife in heaven,
Or else the world too saucy with the gods
Incenses them to send destruction.


... There is one within,
Besides the things that we have heard and seen,
Recounts most horrid sights seen by the watch.
A lioness hath whelped in the streets;
And graves have yawn'd, and yielded up their dead;
Fierce fiery warriors fight upon the clouds,
In ranks and squadrons and right form of war,
Which drizzled blood upon the Capitol;
The noise of battle hurtled in the air,
Horses did neigh and dying men did groan,
And ghosts did shriek and squeal about the streets.


A common slave - you know him well by sight -
Held up his left hand, which did flame and burn
Like twenty torches join'd, and yet his hand
Not sensible of fire remain'd unscorch'd.
Besides - I ha' not since put up my sword -
Against the Capitol I met a lion,
Who glaz'd upon me and went surly by
Without annoying me. [...]
And yesterday the bird of night did sit
Even at noonday upon the marketplace,
Howling and shrieking. When these prodigies
Do so conjointly meet, let not men say
"These are their reasons; they are natural":
For I believe they are portentous things

[William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar]

10 May 2010

Auction Oddities

The description of lots in auction catalogues (especially for provincial auctions) always fascinates - nay boggles the mind - as the brevity leads to some very strange outcomes. Here are some of the (recent) best from one of our local auction houses. [My comments in italic.]
A contemporary acrylic on canvas, spring daisies on storks.
The ornithologists have clearly missed this important undiscovered species of large bird.

A large pair of buffalo horns (approx 2m wide) mounted with original hide head piece.
What else would you mount buffalo horns on?  I suppose possibly an Viking helmet?

A 20th century Eccles Minors Safety lamp in brass and white metal, bearing makers label.
Morris Minors, is that?

Wilfred Williams Ball, British school 1853-1917, a mounted and framed watercolour of a Ford alongside a bridge.
I want to know what model of Ford before I bid for this; 'cos I really hate the Mondeo.

A ladies' 1950s 9ct gold cased Tudor cocktail watch, having an integral 9ct gold horseshoe link bracelet with ladder clasp
Clearly I've missed something in history; I wasn't aware that the Tudors had watches or cocktails, let alone 20th century reproductions of them.

A Japanese Meiji carved ivory figure of a Geisha holding a fan and parasol wearing a kimono.
Where can I buy a kimono for my parasol?

A Queen Anne style humpback wing armchair, with out-swept arms raised on deep shouldered cabriole legs.
There's some strange anatomy going on here.  Shoulders with legs?  Cabriole legs at that!

A pair of reconstituted Corinthian columns.
Presumably one buys them in a packet from the supermarket and reconstitutes them with asses milk.

Snake in the Grass

Snake in the Grass, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Another Spring photo to help lift everyone. This is Harry the Cat enjoying the Spring sunshine (yes we have had some!) and the daisies.

09 May 2010

A Little Piece of Spring

Apple Blossom, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Blossom on our apple tree.

08 May 2010

Unseemly Mess

So the great British people (well about 65% of them) have spoken through the ballot box.  The outcome reminds me rather of two things:

(a) A small Afghan puppy invented by Frank Muir: What-a-mess

(b) The Victorian hatter's advert: You may have it cocked up in the latest style.

I'm still predicting a Labour-LibDem minority government with another general election probably next February but may be as early as October/November.

Unedifying.  But that's democracy.

06 May 2010

05-02-10 Meme

05-02-10 Meme, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Here are the 12 questions, and my answers, to this week's Flickr meme:

1. What was the last movie you saw in the theatre? None; in England you don’t watch movies in a theatre; it’s called a cinema!
2. Which parent do you think was the easiest for you to talk to when you were growing up? My mother
3. What shoes did you wear today? Trainers
4. What is your favourite season? Summer
5. Gum or Candy? Chocolate
6. When dismantling a bomb, do you cut the black wire or the yellow wire? The pink wire.
7. Do you whistle? Only when I snore
8. What is your favourite flower? Roses
9. Queen, The Beatles, or Rolling Stones? Late Beatles
10. What languages do you speak? English, maths, science, logic, common sense
11. Which chocolate company do you like the most? Divine
12. Top thing on your "to do" list? Make an appointment with my piercer

1. THE DOME, Cinema Worthing., 2. All About My Mother, 3. Inky trainer, 4. Hot, Air, Balloons ... composite, 5. Chocolate heart on a pink gerbera daisy flower for you! (square), 6. Barbed Wire Pink, 7. Snore Graffitti, 8. Shades of 'Marianne' (hybrid gallica), 9. 170 - 1969 - Beatles, The - Abbey Road - UK - late 1970s, 10. another day., 11. The Heart Of Every Girl, 12. NEW LABRET PIERCING

As always the photographs are not mine so please click on individual links below to see each artist/photostream. This mosaic is for a group called My Meme, where each week there is a different theme and normally 12 questions to send you out on a hunt to discover photos to fit your meme. It gives you a chance to see and admire other great photographers' work out there on Flickr.

Created with fd's Flickr Toys

05 May 2010

Political Comment (Rare)

Spotted this day on the intertubes:

Guy Fawkes
the only man to enter Parliament with honest intentions

04 May 2010

Sizzling Beef

Over bank holiday weekend Noreen and I were in Manchester – just because we had the opportunity of a cheap-ish weekend break. We spent the time doing next to nothing – a bit of sightseeing; some shopping; lots of sleeping and reading. We managed some good food and avoided an excess of alcohol. The highlight was probably Sunday lunch at the Pacific Chinese Restaurant in George Street (in Manchester’s Chinatown).

Knowing we were staying close to Chinatown, I contacted a former colleague in Manchester (who is Chinese) and asked where was especially recommended to eat. He said to try the Pacific and then admitted it was owned by his father! He also said “I recommend you try the Sizzling Beef Fillet Steak - Cantonese style. It’s to die for”. Noreen phoned and booked us in for Sunday lunch.

Manchester’s Chinatown is fairly scruffy and unprepossessing and arriving at the restaurant the omens did not look good: a scruffy doorway into a stairwell that looked as if it led into a semi-derelict block of high-rise social housing, complete with buggered lift. We followed our noses up the stairs to the first floor and found ourselves in the restaurant: Chinese on this floor and Thai on the floor above. Yes, a single establishment with two different cuisines in separate restaurants. This was quickly followed by “no we do not have your reservation and we don’t have a table for you; please to wait a few minutes”. Doubts set in but a quick check revealed that we were in the right place; so we waited.

The restaurant was indeed full. Full of Chinese. Large family parties of them; three or four generations sprawled at large round tables covered with what looked like mountains of food. Hardly a European face to be seen, a the few who were in evidence were going upstairs for the Thai lunchtime buffet. We waited; maybe 10 or 15 minutes, then were shown to a table in the middle of the restaurant and presented with the usual bewildering menu. But yes, there was the Sizzling Fillet Beef, with a choice of sauces.

We ordered a mixed Dim Sum starter for two. And for the main course we both ordered the Sizzling Fillet Beef, one with Cantonese sauce the other with spring onion and ginger sauce. Plus some mixed stir-fried vegetables and noodles.

Mountains of scrummy-looking food kept walking past the table: big dishes of duck and rice; towers of five or six bamboo steamers; endless pots of tea. The Chinese just appeared to eat and eat. Some left; more people from the long queue by the door appeared at the empty tables. The noise of chatter was deafening. Black-clothed waiters scurried hither and yon; and paired up to carry huge round trays piled with dirty crockery off to the dishwashers.

The Dim Sum arrived. They were clearly excellent, but for me were a disappointment. This was something to do with the combination of flavours and textures not working for me. Noreen was more impressed.

My colleague’s father, very recognisable and dapper in his grey suit, wandered round generally keeping a watchful eye and lending a hand here and there.

The sizzling beef arrived – sizzling! The hair-like noodles; mixed stir-fried vegetables (nicely crunchy after the Chinese style) and bamboo shoots with mushrooms were all delightful. The Sizzling Beef with Ginger and Spring Onion sauce was excellent with whole slices of ginger just waiting to assault the taste-buds. The beef with Cantonese sauce – a very subtle and nicely balanced sweet and sour; lots of onion but not a sign of the normally ubiquitous pineapple or lychees – really was to die for. It was one of those dishes one could just go on eating it was so, so good. So good in fact that we decided to forego a dessert and enjoy the flavours lingering in our whiskers.

At just over £60 (including soft drinks and service) for the two of us it was the same price as we paid the previous day for an equivalent lunch in Café Rouge (one of the better national chains of bistros). Both were good. But the Pacific was much more fun and stole the award for the overall best dish: Sizzling Beef Fillet Cantonese Style.