30 April 2011

Weekly Interesting Links

OK guys & gals, so here's another weekly, but doubtless occasional, new series — links to interesting sites I've come across during the week but which haven't made it into a full posting.

An article by my friend Potter-san on the Soul of Okinawan Music. The music of Okinawa (the southern-most tropical islands of Japan) is a fun eclectic mix of their native music and just about anything they can import. Try it! I was surprised how much of it I liked.

Also advance information on the London Okinawa Day 2011 on Saturday 25 June. I've never managed to get to this annual event but it sounds like it should be a fun day. Anyone want to get together a party of us?

On a totally different subject, a thought-provoking item Should Young Teens be Prescribed Hormonal Contraception? by Prof. Kate Clancy. All the more powerful because Clancy is American and her stance is totally contrary to the prevailing American ethic of total teenage abstinence.

If you are interested in your family history and have forebears who worked on the railway you might be interested in the Railway Ancestors FHS.

In view of the week's biggest event (at least here in the UK) history buffs may be interested in Medieval Weddings.

One of the most misunderstood areas of the law as it affects anyone involved in literary or artistic ventures is copyright. Fortunately the British Library describe the duration of UK copyright in one easy flowchart. But I suspect I shall have to continue to explain intellectual property law even to our literary society trustees. :-(

And finally, here's a super eco-idea: use cardboard packaging impregnated with seeds to rejuvenate the environment. No sorry you can't have the idea, it's already been done by Life Box.

29 April 2011


I've just been looking at some of the photographs from the royal wedding so here are a few thoughts. Links to the photos where possible — the first few are from BBC News (you'll have to page through the BBC sets). There are duplicate/alternative pictures in some of the sets. So ...
  • Why are we allowed an illegal number plate?
  • Kate does look rather good, although she could do with a little more flesh on her (not a lot, just a few of pounds) — bet the bloody royal machine has been making her diet like they did all the other recent brides.
  • As has been commented elsewhere, sister Pippa had the nicer frock. And apparently Prince Hal spent a lot of the time making eyes at her — sensible boy!
  • For a pair of trained military men neither of the princes can stand up straight. Both deserve a dressing down from their Drill Sergeants.
  • Whoever thought it a good idea to let the Princess Royal out looking like Widow Twanky's char lady on a day out?
  • How does David Beckham come to look like the young Clint Eastwood? And WTF is Mistress Beckham wearing on her feet?

And now for a few (more) of the guests from BBC News ...
  • What a frightful pink coat!
  • Another of Beckham looking like a Hollywood cowboy.
  • Oh dear, Elton! Which side of the bed did we get out of?
  • Rowan Atkinson as Greek shipping magnate.
  • Blimey what an unflattering picture of a bump.
  • Ah, Mistress Beckham's twin sister lookalike (aka. Tara P_T) in electric blue.
  • Thought Sam Cameron looked rather stylish, unlike Mrs Clegg's hat.
  • I like Prince Felipe of Spain's naval frock coat.

And these few from The British Monarchy's official photostream on Flickr ...
Mmmmm, cake!

Quotes of the Week

A huge selection this week, even with ignoring the royal wedding.

To most Christians, the Bible is like a software licence. Nobody actually reads it. They just scroll to the bottom and click "I agree".

Science has never drummed up quite as effective a tranquillizing agent as a sunny spring day.
[W Earl Hall]

Hey you! Yes, you, stop being unhappy with yourself, you are perfect. Stop wishing you looked like someone else or wishing people liked you as much as they like someone else, stop trying to get attention from those who hurt you. Stop hating your body, your face, your personality, your quirks, love them, without those things you wouldn't be you, and why would you want to be anyone else? Be confident with who you are. Smile, it'll draw people in, if anyone hates on you because you are happy with yourself then you stick your middle finger in the air and say screw it, my happiness will not depend on others any more. I'm happy because I love who I am. I love my flaws, I love my imperfections, they make me me. And 'me' is pretty amazing.

Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18.
[Mark Twain]

A lie is a lie even if everyone believes it. The truth is the truth even if nobody believes it.

A fortune teller told me: Every place is a goldmine. You have only to give yourself time, sit in a tea-house watching the passers-by, stand in a corner of the market, go for a haircut. You pick up a thread — a word, a meeting, a friend of a friend of someone you just met — and soon the most insipid, most insignificant place becomes a mirror of the world, a window on life, a theatre of humanity. The goldmine is exactly over there where you are.
[Tiziano Terzani]

Why am I an atheist? I ask you: Why is anybody not an atheist? Everyone starts out being an atheist. No one is born with belief in anything. Infants are atheists until they are indoctrinated, I resent anyone pushing their religion on me. I don't push my atheism on anybody else. Live and let live. Not many people practice that when it comes to religion.
[Andy Rooney]

Go now and live. Experience. Dream. Risk. Close your eyes and jump, enjoy the free-fall. Choose exhilaration over comfort. Choose magic over predictability. Choose potential over safety. Wake up to the magic of everyday life. Make friends with your intuition. Trust your gut. Discover the beauty of uncertainty. Know yourself fully before you make promises to another. Make millions of mistakes so that you will know how to choose what you really need. Know when to hold on and when to let go. Love hard and often and without reservation. Seek knowledge. Open yourself to possibility. Keep your heart open, your head high and your spirit free. Embrace your darkness along with your light. Be wrong every once in a while, and don't be afraid to admit it. Awaken to the brilliance in ordinary moments. Tell the truth about yourself no matter what the cost. Own your reality without apology. See goodness in the world. Be Bold. Be Fierce. Be Grateful. Be Wild, crazy and gloriously free. Be you. Go now, and live.

Every creed promises a paradise which will be absolutely uninhabitable for anyone of civilized taste.
[Evelyn Waugh]

But adults aren't rational. I'm unsure why we expect adolescents to be.
[Prof. Kate Clancey]

War is a series of catastrophes that result in a victory.
[Georges Clemenceau]

A rumour without a leg to stand on will get around some other way.
[John Tudor]

Life is a comedy to those who think, A tragedy to those who feel, And an incomprehensible to those who think they feel.
[Graffito found on a university door when I was a student, circa 1973]

The written word sings in silence through the caverns of the mind.
[Victor Stok]

Her breasts were two lovely promontories. Wherever one looked one discovered soft open spaces, alluring estuaries, pleasant glades, hillocks, mounds, where pilgrims could have lingered in prayer, where they could have quenched their thirst at cooling springs.
[Gabriel Chevallier, Clochemerle]

[I]n all her splendour, with the rich abundance of her lovely milk-white flesh, her bold sweeping contours, her magnificent projections of poop and prow ... a frightful incarnation of lewdness, a satanic vision, convulsed and writhing in the shameful pleasures of guilty love.
[Gabriel Chevallier, Clochemerle]

It must be strange being Prince William or Prince Harry on a stag night, shoving pictures of your gran into a lap-dancer's bra.
[Origin Unknown]

28 April 2011

It was ever thus ...

We are currently in the throes of having our bathroom completely gutted and rebuilt. Not fun but bearable although being down to a lavatory pan, bucket and tap in the corner for several days was a bit of a trial — though better than many of our forebears would have had.

At the same time we have embarked on a massive house clearance exercise. (I was going to say "house tidying" but that is to underestimate the 30 years of rat's nest we inhabit.)

So yesterday we were going through the very top shelf over my desk and in the farthest corner I found my old notebook of quotations etc. started when I was a final year undergraduate in 1972. In it I found the following editorial from Phoenix, the then student newspaper of the University of East Anglia, dated 15 January 1976.


We're only three days into the Spring Term at this writing, and already the complaints about boredom are beginning to surface. On one level, this is within the realm of the perfectly normal, and something we accept without really noticing. On another level, the boredom and frustration students mention regularly indicates a problem that has been long overlooked. There is no reason for boredom, but the structured nature of teaching methods is resistant to change, and there is little immediate likelihood of anything new appearing.

We wonder from time to time about the rationale behind the endless booklists, tiring and too often fruitless trips to the library, and papers that demand not creative thought, but merely the cataloguing of odd bits of data from the mountainous collection of esoteric journals. If the university is to be something more than a cloistered society of pedestrian academics, it must stimulate students to think creatively and constructively, rather than mass produce a stream of individuals whose greatest accomplishment has been to take a degree without wondering why.

Scary that nothing changes and that students at this date were already aware of the futility of what some of their peers were doing.

What's even more scary is that I suspect (no real evidence) this was penned by one of my friends, three of whom — Pete Cadwallader, Ged Sursham (hope I've remembered the spelling correctly) and Joe Beals — were as I recall at that time the editorial and production team of Phoenix.

Oh and in the way of student things, the paper was called Phoenix because it had risen from the ashes of the previous paper, Twice, which had in turn risen from the ashes of its predecessor Once.

27 April 2011

Cartoon of the Week

The first in new occasional series.

26 April 2011

[17/52] Pussy Porn

[17/52] Pussy Porn, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Week 17 entry for 52 weeks challenge.

Over the long weekend we've started the process of clearing out the rat's nest known as our study. Progress has been slow, but steady.

Anyway I was sitting at my desk early on Monday morning, and trying vainly to wake up, when I heard this rustling sound. I checked and the pickled pussy wasn't in Noreen's chair so I thought "oh well she's probably burrowing under Noreen's desk somewhere".

Some minutes later I heard the rustling again, and turning round saw Sally emerging from the cardboard box which was stacked inaccessibly behind my chair. This had clearly been sleeping place for the night having clambered over various obstacles including my big camera bag.

Just what is it about cats and boxes?

25 April 2011

Auction Oddities

Our irregular selection of oddities and curiosities from the catalogues of our local auction rooms.

An old petrol can, oil can, a wooden beer tankard, and other items relating to Castrol incl. postcards, a key ring, and salt and pepper pots.

A silk opera hat.

Old artefacts, incl. magnifying glasses, penknives, record needles, a hip flask, a razor, a netsuke, etc.

An ornate Victorian EPNS butter dish frame, with cow finial, and some mixed cutlery.

It was the 'cow finial' that amused me.

A good George VI silver helmet milk jug and sugar bowl ... in fitted case.

What is a helmet milk jug? Is the 'milk jug and sugar bowl' one piece of silver or two?

A glass display box, containing woodland birds including chaffinches.

An interesting mixed lot including carved nutcrackers in the form of an elk with glass eyes, a charming miniature picnic basket, composite doll, Royal Doulton vase, wooden handled corkscrew, papier-mâché Easter egg, clock, etc.

Somehow 'nutcrackers', 'elk' and 'glass eyes' don't seem to go together!

A pair of Royal Doulton penguins on orange bases marked ‘Best Wishes’, a brightly coloured folksy figurine of Richard II, Cutty Sark ship in bottle, busts of Verdi and Moliere, Keats' death mask, camera Kodak, Volle 620, royal commemorative ware, pewter ware, horse brasses, old razor, etc.

Penguins standing on oranges. The odd ideas some people have.

Two shelves containing Copeland porcelain soup plates, a quantity of Melba bone china Melba Rose tableware, mirrors, decorative plates, brassware, cast iron doorstop, dog pyjama vase, figurine of a brown bear ... tribal carvings, etc.

WTF is a pyjama vase?

At this point I think the Welsh got the better of them ...

Two Lladro humorous figures of chldrren (sic) in aeroplanes.

A large Royal Crown Derby figure of a Beefeater, holding a pike, mark in red, ‘Made exclusively for James Leather Ltd, London W1′.

I know what it means, but it does conjure up some strange imagery!

An early 20th century oak chimneypiece with elaborate carved decoration flanked by Corinthian columns, painted white.

A rocking donkey on a pine frame in brown woollen coat, and a small rocking elephant seat.

Why does the pine frame need a woollen coat?

24 April 2011

Quote: Candour

Tolerance and knowledge are the preconditions for candour.

[Susie Bright, Full Exposure]

23 April 2011

What's the State of Your Mind?

Clean or dirty?

Happy St George's Day!

22 April 2011

Quotes of the Week

Here's this week's selection of words that have caught my eye in the last week ...

We've replaced the time we used to spend cooking food with watching people cook food on TV.
[Fiona Yeudall quoted in "Foodies: Are food crazies getting their just desserts?", The Globe and Mail, 19 March 2011]

“No data yet,” he answered. “It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgement."
[Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Sherlock Holmes]

It is important to reflect on the kindness of others. Every aspect of our present well-being is due to others' hard work. The buildings we live and work in, the roads we travel, the clothes we wear, and the food we eat, are all provided by others. None of them would exist but for the kindness of so many people unknown to us.
[Dalai Lama]

London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained.
[Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Sherlock Holmes]

Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.
[Richard Feynman]

I grew convinc'd that truth, sincerity and integrity in dealings between man and man were of the utmost importance to the felicity of life.
[Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography]

If it's not fun, you're not doing it right.
[Bob Basso]

Marshall's corollary to the last: If it isn't fun, don't do it.

21 April 2011

Ancient Awesome

No, not me! Only one of those adjectives applies to me. It is ancient peoples who continue to surprise us by their abilities and their foresight.

A couple of weeks ago I came across this on Good and its progenitor article at The Canadian Press.

As we know, Japan has recently suffered a huge earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Construction codes for major buildings in Japan mean new build is relatively earthquake safe, but older domestic buildings in remote areas don't have this advantage. Japan is used to earthquakes and the population are well drilled for them.

Japan also should be used to tsunami as they often follow (the right type of) earthquakes. And yet there is no civil planning for tsunami. But once upon a time there was tsunami planning!

Sometimes hidden, more often ignored, there are hundreds of stone tablets along the coast of Japan warning people about tsunami. Many of these tablets are 600 or more years old and carry inscriptions such as
If an earthquake comes, beware of tsunamis
and tellingly
High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants. Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point.
This later is on a tablet (pictured above) in Aneyoshi which this year saved the lives of the village's inhabitants — all of Aneyoshi's houses are built on higher ground. As one 12-year-old said:
Everybody here knows about the markers. We studied them in school. When the tsunami came, my mom got me from school and then the whole village climbed to higher ground.
Sadly this was not the case in many other towns and villages along Japan's NE coast, even where there are ancient warning tablets. After the earthquake many people went back to their homes to get their valuables, including children, only to be caught by the tsunami.

So how is it we forget the wisdom of the ancients? Apparently it takes three generations for memories of disasters to fade. Disaster survivors pass on the memories to their children and grandchildren, but after that the knowledge isn't maintained. Clearly the ancients knew this and erected warning tablets to remind their descendants. We, of course, ignore them; there hasn't been such a disaster in living memory, so we think we know better.

Maybe we ought to take more notice of the wisdom of the ancients? Maybe it really is time we started learning practical things from history?

20 April 2011

Still Crazy After All These Years

From time to time I go back and look at old Osbert Lancaster pocket cartoons. Lancaster was nothing if not prolific. He effectively invented the pocket cartoon in 1939 when he started drawing for the Daily Express (then a quality newspaper) for whom he drew some 10,000 cartoons — one a day, 6 days a week — over a period of 40 years. This was in addition to writing and/or illustrating many books and working as a stage designer.

Every few years from the early 1940s to the 1970s Lancaster published a selection of 60 or so recent cartoons in small pocket-sized volume. I'm lucky to have been able to collect most of them as they are still available at reasonable prices on the second-hand market.

Lancaster drew a pocket cartoon for the Daily Express every day, and as with Matt (currently in the Daily Telegraph) or the late lamented Calman (in The Times), each pocket cartoon had to be topical. Many insert a rapier to the heart of some current news story; indeed some are so sharp and pithy that you couldn't publish them in these politically correct times. But what always surprises me is how topical many of Lancaster's 50 year old cartoons remain. Here is a good example from Lancaster's collection Tableaux Vivants published in 1955. Sadly the early volumes do not give the specific dates of each cartoon (the later volumes do), but this must have been originally published in the Daily Express some time in 1954 or 1955.

Could one publish this today. Yes, despite some howls of protest, it's sufficiently anonymous and subtle one probably could. But whether one could get away with calling an Indian lady cartoon character Mrs Rajagojollibarmi I somewhat doubt. And although Lancaster was himself from the upper classes and built his cartoons around the fictional Earl of Littlehampton (Willie) and his wife Maudie Littlehampton, there are many cartoons of the lower orders as well.

Two of the other things I love so much about Lancaster's cartoons are his ability to pick brilliant names and his attention to detail. For example he invents, inter alia, a chauffeur called Saddlesoap, a waiter (at a gentleman's club) called Mousehole, an accountant called Whipsnade and peers (many agéd) called Stonehenge, Basingstoke and, of course, Littlehampton. He was also an inveterate observer of people, and had an esepcially keen eye for the heights (and depths) of ladies fashion. So he gets the details deliciously right every time. Here are just two examples:


19 April 2011

[16/52] Waiting for the Osteopath

[16/52] Waiting for the Osteopath, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Week 16 entry for 52 weeks challenge.

Time for another self-portrait, I think, this week. As the title implies, this was taken sitting waiting to see my osteopath.

18 April 2011

Good Willie!

Continuing our theme of normalising nudity and sexuality, I have an intriguing question. Well I think it's interesting anyway.

My friend Katy has recently been to see the National Theatre production of Frankenstein starring Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch. You can find her post about it here. At the end of it she says:
Still, at least I got to see Jonny Lee Miller’s willy [...]
Good, but still nothing to beat Ian McKellen’s just in case you were wondering.
I’m doing a survey. Famous Theatrical Willies Wot I Have Known.

And it made me wonder ... What makes a "good" willie? What is "good" for you? Size? Shape? Surrounding hairiness, or lack thereof? Some vague aesthetic beauty?

And here I'm talking in a non-sexual context; not about what makes for great sex with a specific partner — although they could be the same, of course. This is the willie to look at and appreciate aesthetically, and perhaps desire to know better (regardless of your interest in its owner); in the way you would appreciate Michaelangelo's David, sans figleaf.

And for those of you who like yoni ... What makes a good yoni? Again, what is good for you? Aesthetically.

Intriguing isn't it? And surprisingly difficult. We have enough trouble saying what we like in a face, and we see hundreds of them every day. And we'll happily discuss what we like about faces and other body parts. Lads in the pub may even discuss the finer points of boobs. Yet we never, at least in my experience, discuss the aesthetics of genitalia. And yet we all know they're there. And we've all seen a few (although even the most diehard genital observer would probably never come close to seeing as many as they do faces). So why shouldn't we discuss their aesthetics as well?

And, yes, I'm going to have to go and think about my likes and dislikes too!

16 April 2011

Male Circumcision

I've blogged about the circumcision of male babies as being child abuse and mutilation before (see here).

There's a useful article, supporting my point of view, on CNN from a day or so ago. It suggests that boy babies should not be circumcised but that the option be given to teenagers when the subject can give informed consent.

The comments I've read support the view that boy babies should not be circumcised; if parents/medics are not worried about hygiene than it is better to teach boys to wash their members properly.

As one might expect there is, of course, debate about how a teenage boy can make an informed decision until he has some significant sexual experience. And indeed I would agree with the view that you can't make a proper decision without that sexual experience.

I would actually go further. How about we make circumcision (male and female) illegal until such time as the person can legally give informed consent – and in my book there would be no exceptions regardless of religious (or any other) considerations barring genuinely and immediate life-threatening medical conditions.

15 April 2011

Quotes of the Week

This week's selection of quotes.

You should make a point of trying every experience once, excepting incest and folk dancing.
[Arnold Bax]

Good judgement comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgement.
[Rita Mae Brown]

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.
[Galileo Galilei]

If you believe in the existence of fairies at the bottom of the garden you are deemed fit for the bin. If you believe in parthenogenesis, ascension, transubstantiation and all the rest of it, you are deemed fit to govern the country.
[Jonathan Meades]

Christianity: one woman's lie about an affair that got seriously fucking out of hand.
[Monica at Monicks Unleashed, http://www.monicks.net/]

The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered:
"Man ... Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived."


I’d call you a c**t but you lack the warmth and depth.
[Amy Sedaris]

By nature a woman is an angel, but if her wings get broken she learns how to fly on a broom.

13 April 2011

Measuring Balconies

No, not that sort of balcony! Monday's Wizard of Id cartoon just tickled my sense of the ridiculous ...

Bad Science Rising

Some while ago I read Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. As his website says:

Ben is an award-winning writer, broadcaster, and medical doctor who specialises in unpicking dodgy scientific claims made by scaremongering journalists, dodgy government reports, evil pharmaceutical corporations, PR companies and quacks. He has written the weekly "Bad Science" column in the Guardian since 2003.

"Bad Science", the Guardian column and blog, seeks to expose the misrepresentation of scientific and medical reporting in the media.

Bad Science, the book, looks in greater depth at the ways in which the aforementioned journalists, pharmaceutical companies, PR people, quacks and, yes, even government reports distort, misrepresent and lie about the science behind just about everything in order to have us believe what they want us to believe.

In reading the book I culled a few good quotes (page references to the 2008 paperback edition) for you ...


As the perfect example, there are huge numbers of creams (and other beauty treatments) claiming to deliver oxygen directly to your skin. Many of the creams contain peroxide, which, if you really want to persuade yourself of its efficacy, has a chemical formula of H2O2, and could fancifully be conceived of as water 'with some extra oxygen', although chemical formulae don't really work that way – after all, a pile of rust is an iron bridge 'with some extra oxygen', and you wouldn't imagine it would oxygenate your skin. [Page 25]


Like most things in the story the natural sciences can tell about the world, it's all so beautiful, so gracefully simple, yet so rewardingly complex, so neatly connected – not to mention true – that I can't even begin to imagine why anyone would ever want to believe some New Age 'alternative' nonsense instead. [Page 117]


We should also remember that bizarre English ritual whereby GCSE results get better every year, yet anyone who suggests that the exams are getting easier is criticised for undermining the achievement of the successful candidates. In fact, taking the long view, this easing is obvious: there are forty-year-old O-level papers which are harder than the current A-level syllabus; and there are present-day university finals papers in maths that are easier than old A-level papers. [Page 140]


SSRI antidepressant drugs cause sexual side-effects fairly commonly, including anorgasmia. We should be clear (and I'm trying to phrase this as neutrally as possible): I really enjoy the sensation of orgasm. It's important to me, and everything I experience in the world tells me that this sensation is important to other people too [...] There are evolutionary psychologists who would try to persuade you that the entirety of human culture and language is driven, in large part, by the pursuit of the sensation of orgasm. Losing it seems like an important side-effect to ask about.

And yet, various studies have shown that the reported prevalence of anorgasmia in patients taking SSRI drugs varies between 2 per cent and 73 per cent, depending primarily on how you ask: a casual, open-ended question about side-effects, for example, or a careful and detailed enquiry. One 3,000-subject review on SSRIs simply did not list any sexual side-effects on its twenty-three-item side-effect table. Twenty-three other things were more important, according to the researchers, than losing the sensation of orgasm. I have read them. They are not.
[Pages 190-191]


Research conducted at Cardiff University in 2007 showed that 80 per cent of all broadsheet news stories were 'wholly, mainly or partially constructed from second-hand material, provided by news agencies and by the public relations industry'. [Page 211]


Science coverage now tends to come from the world of medicine, and the stories are of what will kill you, or save you. Perhaps it is narcissism, or fear, but the science of health is important to people, and at the very time when we need it the most, our ability to think around the issue is being energetically distorted by the media, corporate lobbies and, frankly, cranks.

Without anybody noticing, bullshit has become an extremely important public health issue, and for reasons that go far beyond the obvious hysteria around immediate harms: the odd measles tragedy, or a homoeopath's unnecessary malaria case. Doctors today are keen – as it said in our medical school notes – to work 'collaboratively with the patient towards an optimum health outcome'. They discuss evidence with their patients, so that they can make their own decisions about treatments.

[...] working in the NHS you meet patients from every conceivable walk of life, in huge numbers, discussing some of the most important issues in their lives. This has consistently taught me one thing: people aren't stupid. Anybody can understand anything, as long as it is clearly explained.
[Pages 316-7]


The book certainly makes you think about the truth of just about everything we're told. It is definitely recommended reading, it isn't hard even for non-scientific technophobes and is most definitely clearly explained.

12 April 2011

[15/52] Apple Blossom

[15/52] Apple Blossom, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Week 15 entry for 52 weeks challenge.

Newly opened blossom on our apple tree. I reckon it is around 3 weeks early flowering this year. And as we're having several warm sunny days and the bees are out there's a good chance that we'll get a decent crop of apples this year.

10 April 2011

Hairy-Footed Flower Bees

You learn something every day – well at least you do if you keep your eyes open.

This lovely warm sunny weather has brought out all the bumblebees and we've got our usual share buzzing around the garden. But this year I noticed one I've not registered before. Well I probably have seen it but not closely enough to wonder at what it is. It is an all black bumblebee-like bee and I've seen several in the last couple of days.

This morning one was silly enough to fly in through the study window and of course it then couldn't find its way out. I rescued it in a clear perspex bug-catching pot I keep, so I was able to have a good look at it before releasing it. I also tried to photograph it but it was so constantly on the move I could not get a decent shot.

This bee was about 1.5-2 cm long, bumblebee shaped, black and hairy but with distinctive ginger hairs on its back legs; no other colour at all. At first I thought the ginger patches were full pollen sacs but they were much too dark and on closer inspection turned out to be patches of gingery hairs.

Looking it up it turns out to be a female Hairy-Footed Flower Bee, Anthophora plumipes. This is an important early pollinator. This s good because we seem to have lost our colonies of Osmia rufa (the Red Mason Bee) in the last couple of years. And it's even better because our apple tree is in full bloom now so if we have good weather for the next few days we may get a decent apple crop this year. These bees are one of the very earliest to emerge from hibernation, with the males appearing as early as February and the females in March; they're on the wing only until late-May. They're quite common in the southern half of the UK, roughly south of a line from Birmingham to The Wash.

There's a bit more information here for those who are interested.

Image from BWARS.

Ten Things - April

Number 4 in a monthly series of "Ten Things" for 2011. Each month I list one thing from each of ten categories which will remain the same for each month of 2011. So at the end of the year you have ten lists of twelve things.
  1. Something I Like: Koi
  2. Something I Won't Do: Bungee Jumping
  3. Something I Want To Do: Travel from Wick/Thurso to Penzence by Train
  4. A Blog I Like: Art by Ren Adams
  5. A Book I Like: Lewis Carroll; Alice in Wonderland
  6. Some Music I Like: Monteverdi, 1610 Vespers
  7. A Food I Like: Butter Beans
  8. A Food or Drink I Dislike: Pernod
  9. A Word I Like: Merhari
  10. A Quote I Like: The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it. [Flannery O’Connor]
Image from 123RF Stock Photos.

09 April 2011

Aspects of Censorship

What's wrong with these two pictures?

That's right. Nothing.

But they show male and female naughty bits! And to find the likes of them on the internet is increasingly difficult: one either has to steal them from the nether reaches of sites like Flickr or go to X-rated sites. Not even most stock photograph or medical sites carry wholesome photographs of real people in the nude. This is ridiculous. Indeed it is increasingly censorship by the back door.

Malcolm Boura, British Naturism's (BN) Research and Liaison Officer writes a useful short article in the latest edition of BN's members' magazine with a longer, more detailed briefing document on the BN website.

Here, in Malcom's words, are some of the salient points from his article:
Until a couple of years ago, I was proud to live in a country which valued freedom of speech but then I started to dig below the surface ... There are an enormous number of censors but most of them operate behind a veil of secrecy ...

A worrying development in recent years is the exporting of American prejudices to us by corporations such as Facebook and Apple ... why should a US businessman dictate what we are allowed to see? ...

Films on television are frequently cut but have you ever known a broadcaster admit to it? ... Usually, the censorship is to placate those who preserve the memory of the late Mary Whitehouse, not for any rational reason, so it suits them to keep quiet about it ...

So what harm does it do? If a social worker tries to obtain child protection documents from the BN website, they will probably be stopped by the council's web-filtering software. The message is clear – naturism is so dangerous that even adults must be protected from it.

That reinforces prejudice and that could be catastrophic for any naturist family with whom the social worker is working ...

Censorship has been vastly more effective at preventing access to wholesome pictures of the body than it has in preventing access to pornography. Should pornography really be the main way by which children and young people find out what people look like? Even worse, should it be the main way they find out how people behave in a sexual relationship? ...

Why is it that so many people just assume that nudity must be harmful to children? Why is it that politicians just assume that people will support moves towards greater prudery? ... The excuse ... is "Think of the children" but as happens far too often, nobody is bothering to actually think ... It is just an appeal to assumed popular prejudice. I say 'assumed' because I doubt very much if it really is that popular.

If you're interested in censorship, the extent to which its tentacles reach into daily life, how it affects society and ways in which the naturist movement may be affected, then I commend the Malcolm's briefing document.

And if censorship reaches so far into the realms of nudity, body image, sexuality etc. you can be sure it is there in may other areas as well.

We need to remain ever on our guard and fight this creeping paralysis. It's hard because much of the censorship is not formalised and is totally unaccountable. But to maintain a civilised society freedom of speech and human rights must be upheld. And to do that nudity and sexuality need to be normalised, not marginalised and criminalised.

08 April 2011

Bales of Straw – Only in England!

Between about 18th and 30th April, if you are in central London, it may be worth visiting Tower Bridge for an unusual sight.

The details are in the Port of London Authority Notice (PDF file). Basically work is to be done on a couple of arches of Tower Bridge by men on ropes dangling from the the arches which will on some days be closed to navigation. At other times the arches may still be open to navigation but with reduced headroom when the byelaw requires that the Bridge Master hang a bale of straw "large enough to be conspicuous" from the centre of the arch by day (and a white light by night).

And of course one must not forget that Tower Bridge is officially registered as a ship.

Surely only in this country do we have such arcane, and legally enacted, requirements!

Hat-tip: Ian Visits

[14/52] Blue Spikes

[14/52] Blue Spikes

Week 14 entry for 52 weeks challenge.

This pair of lonely Grape Hyacinths were grjavascript:void(0)owing in the border outside our doctors' surgery.

07 April 2011

Quotes of the Week

Another good selection this week as I've been catching up on all sorts of bits of reading.

Tax is imposed by parliament, people and corporations do not pay it voluntarily. The state coerces as much money as possible in the form of tribute to pay for the services and goods the state feels that it requires.
[brianist in a comment at http://www.badscience.net/2011/04/anarchy-for-the-uk-ish/]

The [fifth] duke [of Portland (1800-1879)], a notable eccentric landlord, gave each of his workmen a donkey and an umbrella, so they could travel to work in all weathers. He insisted that they should not salute or show him the slightest deference, and had a roller-skating rink especially constructed for their recreation.
[Mike Pentelow & Marsha Rowe; Characters of Fitzrovia; Pimlico Books (2001)]

Divorced, unemployed, and pissed
I aimed low in life - and missed.

[Prof. Ray Lees quoted in Mike Pentelow & Marsha Rowe; Characters of Fitzrovia]

Then we got softer clay and both of us turned out some quite nice little bowls and pots. It's fearfully exciting when you do get it centred and the stuff begins to come up between your fingers. V[anessa Bell] never would make her penises long enough, which I thought very odd. Don't you?
[Roger Fry to Duncan Grant quoted in Mike Pentelow & Marsha Rowe; Characters of Fitzrovia]

My dear, could you advance me a quid? There's the most beautiful Gl passed out stone cold and naked as a duck in my kitchen.
[Nina Hamnett quoted in Mike Pentelow & Marsha Rowe; Characters of Fitzrovia. The image on the right is a torso of Nina Hamnett by sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska now in the Tate Gallery; Modigliani is supposed to have said (and Nina Hamnett oft repeated) that she had "the best tits in Europe".]

Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.
[Will Rogers]

Relax. There are no gods and you are not going to burn in hell.
[Atheist in America at www.flamewarrior.com]

Each age finds in its favourite crimes images of what it would most love/hate to do. Our own generation of overworked, guilty, child-dominated couples makes of child-abduction the ultimate horror, perhaps because with a dark part of themselves they wish their children dead. The favourite Edwardian murder was undoubtedly centred upon adultery in the suburbs.
[AN Wilson, After the Victorians]

If any demonstration was needed that the battles of Ypres, Mons, Verdun, the Somme had been lunatic, it was provided in summer 1917 at Passchendaele, when Sir Douglas Haig launched an attack against the Messines Ridge south of Ypres. It was a repeat performance of the other acts of mass-slaughter: 240,000 British casualties, 70,000 dead, with German losses around 200,000. By a second attack, in November 1917, on Cambrai, Haig took the Germans by surprise and gained about four miles of mud. Ten days later the German counter-attack regained all their lost ground. If ever there was an object lesson in the folly of war, the sheer pointlessness, here it was shown in all its bloodiness.
[AN Wilson, After the Victorians]

06 April 2011

New Endings, New Beginnings

Well there it is then. Late yesterday evening, after the eulogies, the presents, the flowers and the party, I finally managed to prise Noreen away from the bomb site known as her museum office, for the very last time.

The car on the way home looked more like a flower shop than a taxi.

So we are both now persons of much time and leisure but no money. Good sleep, no alarm clocks and a lovely sunny day bode well for the future. Culture shock all round!

We celebrate next week by having the guys in to gut and rebuild the bathroom. Should be a fun mess!

04 April 2011

Quote: Meaningful Life

Six core practices to jump-start a meaningful life: Say Yes, Trust Yourself, Slow Down, Be Generous, Speak Up and Love More.

03 April 2011

Characters One has Known

Those of you who have met me and know me at all well have probably heard me talk of the "old boy" who was our local builder when I was a kid. He was called Maurice Maxfield and to an average child seemed aged, although he would have been only a few years older than my parents. In fact I also remember Maurice's father (Charles), although as he died when I was about 9 I doubt I ever spoke with him. Despite always looking fairly disreputable (well he was a builder) Maurice was a real gentleman and a confirmed bachelor; he would always tip his hat to my mother, even from the other side of the High Street!

A lot of this was brought back to me recently as I found a copy of a book** on the local characters of Cheshunt and Waltham Cross where I lived. What follows are some edited quotes about Maurice from the book; some of the things they relate I didn't know.
Maurice Charles Maxfield was born in Trinity Lane (his father, Charles Maxfield, who came to Waltham Cross in 1888, was born in Yorkshire, in 1873). On the death of his father in 1960, Maurice carried on the family business in the building trade, first established in 1850. Maurice Maxfield owned around fifteen houses in 'the lane'. His main hobby was his electric organ, which he had built in his home. 'The Mighty Maxwell' organ was an enormous construction, stretching from the ground floor to the attic.

Maurice hated television, but he took an interest in local affairs. He died on the 9th of March, 1995 at the age of eighty-four [...]
From Ron Bunting (one of Maurice’s tenants):
He was a very sentimental man, who kept a low profile. But he looked after himself quite well, with the help of all his lady friends, who also took good care of him! He used to get Loganberry wine and Mince tarts from me. Yes! he was well liked and well loved in 'the lane' [...]

Maurice loved skating and often went skating at Richmond ice rink [quite a trek across London even now!]. He was a great fan of Sonja Heini, whom he once met. And about twenty years ago we had a very severe winter with lots of snow and ice around, and Maurice, finding his old-fashioned ice skates, was to be seen boldly skating up and down Trinity Lane.
From John White, who I remember as one of Maurice’s workmen:
I come from a little village called Wyke near Bradford in Yorkshire. I came down to Cheshunt just before the war in June 1936 and I [worked] for Maurice [...] from 1947 till 1995 [...]

I remember Maurice s father, Charles, and his mother well. His mother was a Miss Storey before she married, and her mother and father ran a baker's shop at the top of Windmill Lane.

Maurice had two cars, a Ford model 'A' and his father's car, a 1927 Clyno. Maurice [...] drove the old Ford around, with all his building ladders on board, he didn't seem too bothered about its value or its age.

Maurice played in cricket matches and his father was president of the Cheshunt Cricket Club, with Maurice as the vice-president.

Maurice also sang with his father in the choir at Christ Church and later played the church organ there. He built an organ in his home [...] the inner works of which has 200 valves in it. If it was taken out of the house, they would have to remove a window and half the wall with it. Maurice used to play the organ every Sunday night, until about two months before he died.
From Bryan Hewitt:
I knew Maurice Maxfield during the last ten years of his life [...] His mind was quite extraordinary as was his house. His propensity for trotting out unsolicited vintage local scandal and historical fact was staggering [...]

Maurice's house was spooky. With its verandah and bell-pull, it reminded me of the time when I did a paper-round there in the early 1970s. I thought then that the house was a cross between Herman Munster's and the Boo Radley House in To Kill a Mockingbird.

The gates to the yard on the left-hand side as you face the house consisted of the cast iron ends of a Victorian bedstead, complete with casters! Beyond his vegetable patch was his two storey workshop, built from corrugated iron.

At the opposite end of his massive garden stood his air-raid shelter. Dotted around the garden were bits of carved masonry mostly of an ecclesiastical nature. No doubt Maurice had saved them in the course of his building career. In his office at the front of the house, he had on the desk a candlestick telephone (still working). The room was panelled in dark oak which he had built. None of the rooms were large, but all suffered from insufficient light and the need of a jolly good dust! The kitchen was a health hazard, as was Maurice's handkerchief. Bakelite electrical plugs hung precariously on their fabric-coated wires from the wall.

[...] Strangely there was a communication tube which connected the kitchen with the master's bedroom. Sealing the tube was a whistle, which you blew, in order to catch the attention of the person at the other end.

Famously, there was the organ which Maurice Maxfield had built in the cluttered front room. He told me that he had started building it in 1947, and still had not finished it in 1982, because of small details yet to be added [...]

When Maurice died, Peter Rooke [another local historian, who I also remember] and I gained permission from his family [...] to remove anything of local interest and hand it over to the [local] Museum. It was an Aladdin's Cave! There were masses of local photographs, some of which were of the Cheshunt cricket team, there were old programmes, local ephemera and his precious sign, all of which were saved [...]

Of course we must not forget the two vintage cars that Maurice drove. Both cars were from the 1920s. One was a Clyno, which I am led to believe was one of only five left in the world; the other was a Ford model 'A' and it was not unusual to see him driving it about for work, with his ladders, and several feet of plank sticking out ungraciously from the rear of the car [...] In his 70s and 80s, he was going to lots of vintage car rallies as far afield as the USA. Maurice Maxfield was also an expert skater and had once partnered the Norwegian film star, Sonja Heini (1910-1969).

Maurice Maxfield (right) with his father (Charles) and their cars in Trinity Lane. The left hand car is the Ford Model A and the one on the right the 1927 Clyno. The small gable roof (with 3 windows) just visible behind the Clyno is the front of Maurice's house. This must have been taken in the mid-to-late '50s as the road has clearly been well surfaced which it wasn't when my parents moved there in 1950.

The cars were amazing. The Ford Model A, dating as I recall from 1920, was a deep polished blue, and was indeed always seen with ladders and planks protruding from the back of the soft top (which I never saw down).

The 1927 Clyno was an equally polished deep green (darker than British Racing Green) and always immaculate as it was only ever used on Sundays and special occasions. Again it was a soft top.

Maurice once gave me a lift home from the shopping centre in the Ford. We chugged the mile or so at a very stately pace even for the time (probably early '70s); I could almost have walked it as quickly, but I wasn't going to turn down the chance of such a ride. I noticed that the speedo had a top speed of 40mph; I don't think we got up above 15mph! And Maurice used to regularly drive from north London to Yorkshire for the weekend in these cars! I also remember him saying that even in the '60s and '70s spares were not a problem: the cars were so simple if he couldn't buy a part he could make it!

The picture above is typical of Maurice. It had to be really tropical before he dispensed with his grubby-looking overcoat and he was never without his trilby. I also remember him riding along the lane on his father's old "sit up and beg" bicycle. He also had a hardcart which he trundled around carrying building materials. He would go anywhere for a vintage car rally or to hear or play a church organ.

My mother was another who, in a small way, looked after Maurice and benefited from his generosity. Every summer he'd say "Mrs Marshall there are more strawberries in the garden than I'll eat. Just wander in any time and help yourself." So we had a supply of strawberry jam and of course Maurice had a few pots as well. It was a similar story with the grapes on his vine and the quinces.

One final story. I remember him once telling me that he went to Hertford Grammar School in the 1920s (the best part of 15 miles away and the nearest grammar school). He had to walk across the fields and marsh to Cheshunt Station (a good 1½ miles), get the (slow) steam train to Hertford and then walk from the station to school (probably another 10 minutes). And he did this return journey, every day, 6 days a week (yes, grammar school on Saturday mornings in those days!) and in all weathers.

They don't make them like that any more!

** Dave Field; Cheshunt: Its People, Past and Present; Gaillet Press (2000); pp 47-55

02 April 2011

[13/52] Magnolia

[13/52] Magnolia

Week 13 entry for 52 weeks challenge.

This is the magnificent magnolia in the churchyard outside St James's, Piccadilly, London. Taken against the backdrop of the church, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren but much restored.

The church also contains a small memorial to the poet, artist and mystic William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) who was baptised there on 11 December 1757.

The churchyard of St James's hosts an Antiques Market on Tuesdays and an Arts & Crafts Market on Wednesday to Saturday. I've not been to the former, but the latter is definitely worth a visit if you're present hunting and especially in the run-up to Christmas. There is also a coffee shop and the church itself is almost always open.

01 April 2011

Rye April Fool

This is one of the best April Fool articles I've seen in a long time.

As always given away by the details, but otherwise all too plausible especially for the Rye coastal area!