30 June 2011
A writer is a professional rememberer.
[Gunter Grass ]
I'm not arguing, I'm just explaining why I'm right.
This recession won't be over until we raise a generation that knows how to live on what they've got.
A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.
[T]herapists try to make a person fit in with society, while Buddhists see the value of being able to deal with society. [Buddhists] question its core values and don't really try to make people fit society's warped mold, only deal with it.
[Brad Warner on his Hardcore Zen Weblog]
There's only one thing that I know how to do well
And I've often been told that you only can do
What you know how to do well
And that's be you
Be what you're like!
Be like yourself!
[They Might Be Giants album Flood]
I am sure you will agree with me, Lady Warminster, in thinking, so far as company is concerned, enough is as bad as a feast, and half a loaf in many ways preferable to the alternative of a whole one or the traditional no bread. How enjoyable, therefore, to be just as we are.
[Anthony Powell, Casanova's Chinese Restaurant]
29 June 2011
OK, so here's this week's word, with it's definition from the OED ...
zygodactylous. Having the toes 'yoked' or arranged in pairs, ie. two before and two behind, as the feet of a scansorial bird. [As in the feet of most woodpeckers.]
Oh bugger. That means we'll have to have a second word. So here's your week 1 bonus ...
scansorial. Used for climbing. Of or pertaining to climbing; specifically of the feet of birds and animals, adapted for climbing.
28 June 2011
24 June 2011
A clean house is the sign of a broken computer.
At the worst, a house unkept cannot be so distressing as a life unlived.
A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity.
The human body can remain nude and uncovered and preserve intact its splendour and its beauty ... Nakedness as such is not to be equated with physical shamelessness ... Immodesty is present only when nakedness plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person ... The human body is not in itself shameful ... Shamelessness (just like shame and modesty) is a function of the interior of a person.
[Pope John Paul II, The Theology of the Body]
The prettiest dresses are worn to be taken off.
The best things in life aren't things.
Those who are at ease with themselves [...] want to undermine authority rather than exercise it.
[Prof. Paul Delany]
[Tony] Blair has [...] told us, “Hand on my heart, I did what I thought was right”. If a dry-cleaner said this after ruining our jacket, we would not be pleased with the explanation. Politicians are different: don’t look at any unfortunate results, they say, just admire my generous motives.
[Prof. Paul Delany]
A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason, and the real reason.
[Financier JP Morgan]
One of the basic human rights is to make fun of other people, whoever they are.
[Anthony Powell quoted in John Russell, Reading Russell: Essays 1941 to 1988]
If you don't like our sense of humour, please tell us so we can laugh at you.
23 June 2011
22 June 2011
So what can we do about it? Well you'll point out that what I do as an individual isn't going to make a whole bunch of difference. Which is true if I'm the only one taking action. But if we all make changes then it will help bring pressure to bear where it hurts: big business!
So what do we do? It's a complex problem and there is no simple answer. However the more of the following as you can do the better:
- Reduce your dependence on oil. Walk, don't take the car. Don't jet around the world on holiday, especially long haul. Fight against excess, especially plastic, packaging. Buy locally grown produce wherever you can to reduce food miles. You already know all these things make sense. And they all help the oceans.
The less oil we use, the less is transported around the world in mega-tankers, which run on ... yes ... oil (often horrible crude bunker oil, at that). And the fewer environmentally damaging oil spills there are. And the less off-shore drilling there is. (Yes, that may mean nuclear power; but that's an argument for another day.)
- Buy only fish which is farmed or sustainably caught and which is as locally produced as possible. We have to stop over-fishing. As well as reducing food miles.
- Reduce your garbage output. A vast amount of our garbage gets dumped at sea!
- Reduce your wastewater output; and clean up wastewater as much as possible. Yes, that means sewage, amongst other things. As with garbage it is scandalous the amount of dirty/polluted wastewater that gets dumped in the oceans.
- We also need to reduce agricultural run-off. That means reducing pesticide, herbicide and fertiliser use, and also preventing animal slurry getting into waterways. Which in turn means more sustainable land management. Going organic isn't necessarily the whole, or even the right, answer; but it should help.
- If you're an aquarist, don't keep marine fish which haven't been captive bred. Catching marine fish from the wild is extremely poorly regulated (unlike the trade in wild-caught freshwater Amazonian fishes). Fishing (for the aquatics trade and for food) does enormous damage to tropical reef environments because of the methods used.
- And anything else you can do to improve air quality and reduce climate change will help too. A large part of the problems the oceans face is from acidification, which is caused by pollutants and increased carbon dioxide levels. And if we can slow down climate warming, we'll likely slow down the rate at which the polar ice caps are receding too.
- And finally, support marine nature reserves, conservation areas and scientific efforts to better understand the oceans and their biodiversity.
Some of you won't think about any of this, and won't bother with any of it, which morally I find inexcusable. But it's your karma. Many will already be doing something. But which of us couldn't do a bit more. It all helps. I at least would like there still to be an inhabitable world for your grandchildren. And I think I have a moral obligation to do something the help ensure there is.
The first and last images are the dust-jacket; A-Z runs through images 2 to 27 inclusive. Below you'll find a key and links to the original images on my Flickr Photostream. Here then is the finished product.
- Anthony Powell: Anthony Powell Society Members at Wysall during a trip to the Widmerpool area of Nottinghamshire
- Books: Work in Progress
- Cats: Tabby Tiger
- Dora: My Mother at 92, (she'll be 96 this October!)
- Eccentric: Deckchair Love
- Family History: David Masey Grave at New Romney, Kent. (David Masey is one of my great-great-grandfathers
- Girls: "Now I think we go that way ..."
- Heroes: Dinner Party Meme showing people who are my heroes
- IBM: Office Reflections; one of the places I used to work
- Jessie: My Aunt Jessie with Portrait of her Mother (my Grandmother)
- Kent: Bales by Brenzett; land of my grandfathers
- London: Westminster Night. I was born in London and have lived most of my life in London.
- Marriage: OMG! Wedding 1979. Yes, this is our wedding. Scary!
- Noreen: Noreen in Rochester. See marriage!
- Obesity: With & Without. Nasty; maybe I should have banned this!
- Photography: Rose: Maiden's Blush; I've been taking photographs for 50 years. Eeeek!
- Quirky: Self-Portrait of a Foot. Yes, I'm mad.
- Romney Marsh: Prospect Cottage Panorama. More land of my grandfathers. This is Dungeness.
- Sexuality: Reading in the Sun in the Bishop's Garden. Yes, let's not deny this is part of all of us.
- Trains: Double Departure from Alexisbad.
- University: University of York Cricket Club Tour 1971; taken at the end of my second year as an undergraduate. I'm in back row, third from right, in the full sized image.
- Victoria & Albert Museum: Megalopoda vitreum. Important because Noreen made her career here, which kept us living in London.
- Wine: Anti-Depressant; or beer!
- XY: In the Hotel. Guess what?! I'm male!
- Yummy Food: My Meme: Thanksgiving 12-Course Banquet
- Zen Mischief: Rites of Passage Meme. My motto!
21 June 2011
As so often others have said what I think so much better than I can, so here are a couple of seminal extracts.
[O]ur society has so many hang-ups about sex that we’re practically responsible for creating an environment in which any sexual expression could potentially be deviant [...] even fairly innocuous acts (which one could argue, taking pictures of one’s genitals counts as) are made out to be of huge significance because so many people are hung up on the idea that ANY sexual expression outside the norm is automatically inappropriate or gross or bad.** And not just the sexual mainstream. People must have the right to deviate from and oppose mainstream thought and opinion on anything. For that is how opinions are changed, new ideas formed and progress made. But this doesn't give anyone the right to force or attempt to force (violently or otherwise) their opinions on others.
Dawkins asserts that it does matter what a public figure’s religious beliefs are, since those beliefs, far more than their sexual acts, may determine how they pursue public policy. He gives these examples: "[...] George Bush has publicly boasted that God told him to invade Iraq [...] To push to an extreme, who would deny Congress’s right to ask whether a candidate for Secretary of Health is a Christian Scientist or a Jehovah’s Witness? Or take a Christian sect that fervently desires the Second Coming of Christ, and believes the key Revelation prophecies cannot be fulfilled without a Middle East Armageddon. Would you wish the nuclear button to be made available to a follower of such a creed?" This is scary stuff.
[W]e must grant people the dignity of privately pursuing things that oppose the sexual mainstream.** Just because a politician likes unconventional sex doesn’t mean they’re going to try to force it on everyone through legislation. Unfortunately [...] politicians have done much to make anything that deviates from heterosexual monogamous reproductive sex a crime.
19 June 2011
The Paston's pissed pastor passed the poster in the postern.or to possibly over-egg the pudding:
The Paston's pissed pastor passed the pasta poster in the passage to the postern.Maybe I should be worried?
Naturism is under threat – againSo what can we do to help?
[BN] Research & Liaison Officer Malcolm Boura reports on the continuing fight to keep [naturism] within the law
The European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act are very important to naturism but they are under attack like never before. Some people do not like a requirement to treat people fairly.
They do not like having to treat people according to facts not prejudice and their tactics are appalling. As Liberty said in a recent letter “The amount of misinformation ... is shocking”. The HRA
does not attack Parliament’s sovereignty, indeed it states that Parliament comes first. The convention has nothing to do with the EU and it was mainly written by Britain. A Bill has been introduced to withdraw from the convention. Prime Minister David Cameron intends to abolish the Act and there is no real prospect of an adequate replacement.
A few weeks ago, in an article for another magazine, I wrote, “We expect the Equality Act to be next. Just as we are reaching the point where we have some worthwhile legal protection it is under serious attack.”
Since then the government has launched, and concluded, an on-line consultation. I long ago gave up expecting government and politicians to aspire to the highest standards of probity but this was
The consultation was described incorrectly so it was only by pure chance that we even heard of it. The title was “Unnecessary Regulation” but the Equality Act is not regulation, it is primary
It was presented in a biased way. The title assumes that the Equality Act is unnecessary.
It only allowed a couple of weeks to reply but the Government code of practice says that the minimum should be 3 months.
BN made a response and it is available on our website. Don’t be under any illusions, the Equality Act is important to us. For example, a few months ago it helped one of our members obtain compensation when they lost their job, at least in part because they are a naturist. It could be of assistance in many other ways but there are already signs that Westminster is working to water it down and to restrict the activities of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The government and some influential MPs are working to censor the internet. Even they admit that there is no real evidence to justify it so it is nothing but prejudice. Instead they are shouting “Think of the children” and far too many people are jumping to obey without stopping to
actually think. Instead of proper consultation and debate they are bullying the ISPs into doing their dirty work for them and few people realise what is being done. There can be no public debate when the public don’t know about it. If this is approved, to reach naturist websites, you will have to prove that you are over 18 and sign up for ‘pornography.’ The message will be very clear. That naturism is dangerous, that it is pornography, and that if you are interested then you must be a social reprobate or pervert. The consequences for naturism will be very damaging.
Censors permitting, you can find out more on the BN website and members can join in the discussions on the BN members forums.
Police and legal
The trend in the right direction has continued and some patterns are emerging. Membership of BN does seem to make a difference. If there is a complaint then it helps to reassure the police that the nudity is because of naturism and not for some nefarious reason. That helps to prevent a complaint turning into an arrest and an arrest into a prosecution.
[...] The law gives the police immense discretion and there is no case law so nothing is certain but on a number of occasions recently the police have told a complaining neighbour that there has not been any offence. Indeed in one case the police investigated the complaining neighbour to see if they had committed the offence of “hate crime aggravated harassment”. BN membership and intervention by BN helped considerably with that case. [...]
In 2001 naturism was threatened by the Sexual Offences Bill and BN commissioned NOP to carry out a public opinion poll. It was very helpful in seeing off that threat and it has proved very useful on many occasions since but it is getting rather dated. The tenth anniversary is a good time to repeat it. Some questions will be modified to better suit present circumstances but may well remain the same so that we can make comparisons.
Personally, I am not optimistic about the trends. There have been all sorts of pressures: government, prejudiced lobby groups, political opportunists, bigots, prudes, and many others that have contributed. We are now facing a series of challenges that are less obvious than the Sexual Offences Bill but that does not make them any less real and any less a threat. Much of it has been built on paranoia and myth over children.
A good quality poll is expensive so we are running an appeal to help pay for it [...] We will announce the outcome of the appeal, and hopefully the results of the poll, in the next issue of this magazine [...]
Well the obvious thing is to write to your MP pointing out what's going on and asking them to oppose any retrograde changes to the Human Rights and Equality Acts. I actually sent my MP a copy of this, and another relevant article. You could also join BN or contribute to the appeal to fund the new opinion poll.
Nudity needs to be normalised, not ostracised and submerged. I think few people realise how great, indeed how important, it is to be brought up to know nudity is perfectly normal.
Let's hope some common sense prevails, but sadly, like Malcolm Boura, I'm not optimistic.
A Self-Cleaning House. Yep this was Kate's first choice and I'll go along with her on this. In fact I'd suggest that everything should be self-cleaning. Nothing (including us!) should be allowed on the market unless proven to be fully and properly self-cleaning. Instant improvement in just about everything.
An Off-Switch for Kids. I'll go along with Kate's second choice too. There has to be some way of silencing the plethora of screaming, whinging brats which infest everywhere. And while we're at it let's have an off-switch for the screaming and shouting parents too.
Zero Calorie Yummy Food. I like my food. I eat too much of it. So I get fat, very fat. We need a way to remove the calories from food without removing any of the texture, flavour, appearance and overall attractiveness of the food. Instant diet. What's not to like?
Money Tree. Sorry, Kate, you can't have the only one — I demand one as well. Why shouldn't money grow on trees. Not just anyone's trees. My trees. A guaranteed lottery win every week. Now that would change everything! Easy. Deliver me three today. Thank you.
Magic Carpets. Finally I want a magic carpet. Well better have several so I'm never without when they need servicing. Everyone should have a magic carpet. I'm not greedy. I don't ask for teleportation. But a magic carpet that can transport you from anywhere here to anywhere there in no more than an hour. And without all the cost, effort and hassle of airports, check-in, buying tickets, hours on a plane or in a car or coach. Just be there in under and hour. You still get some fun from the travel with a fairly minimal investment of time.
And I haven't even got round to thinking about instantly refreshing sleep, elastic walls to houses, the pause knob for time and non-puking cats.
17 June 2011
Science is a way to teach how something gets to be known, what is not known, to what extent things are known (for nothing is known absolutely), how to handle doubt and uncertainty, what the rules of evidence are, how to think about things so that judgements can be made, how to distinguish truth from fraud, and from show.
[Richard Feynman quoted in Lawrence M Krauss, Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science]
The Beatles music is really some of the best music we’ve had in the last century. Children continue to rediscover the music, generation after generation. It’s like saying why is Gershwin timeless? Their music is part of history, it will last forever.
[Sir George Martin, the Beatles record producer]
There are two descriptions of reality: either reality is the bulk of spacetime surrounded by the boundary, or reality is the area of the boundary. So which description is real? There is no way to answer that. We can either think of an object as an object in the bulk space or think of it as a complicated, scrambled collection of information on the boundary that surrounds it. Not both. One or the other.
[Leonard Susskind; Scientific American; July 2011]
14 June 2011
13 June 2011
As an example, look at these two shapes.
If I tell you one is called Bouba and the other Kiki, you can probably intuitively know which is which. Yes, that’s right, apparently the vast majority of people will agree that Kiki is the star-like one and Bouba the more blobby one. No-one can tell you why they think this, though, beyond statements like “Bouba goes more appropriately with that shape”.
Nor can anthropologists yet agree why this is so. Although it seems it is something to do with belief systems, and may have some relationship to synaesthesia — that peculiar trait where people associate colours with words or smells with sounds: Monday is always red; the note C# always smells of rubber.
Let’s try another one.
Is a lemon fast or slow?
It’s a curious, almost nonsensical, question. But think about it for a minute ... and most people will intuitively conclude that lemons are fast.
And for me (I have no other data on this) it seems possible to intuitively rank citrus fruit by speed: grapefruit are faster than oranges but slower than lemons, while limes are faster than lemons.
Find out more about such intuitive beliefs and synaesthesia.
For me this is quite easy as I have some places I know I would like to see. But it is sad because I know I likely never will see most of them: I don't much like the actual travelling to get to these places (too much stress) and at 60 and living on my pension I'm unlikely to be able to make myself afford (even if fit enough) the cost of getting there. Quite a number of the places I won't visit on principle because of their lack of respect for the environment or the people. But leaving all that aside, here is my choice of five places I would love to see.
Japan. I find Japan a fascinating country. I'd really love to see all those Buddhist, Taoist and Shinto temples; Kanamara Matsuri, the annual Shinto fertility "Festival of the Phallus"; the koi carp farms; the unspoilt mountainous country; zen gardens; Mount Fuji; and the bullet train. What a photographic experience it would be. We have friends in Japan, so we should be able to do this easily; and as our friends are in topical Okinawa islands we'd get some great music and wonderful beaches too. But I won't go to Japan on principle because of their intransigent stance on whaling. And I don't much relish a 12-14 hour flight.
Iceland. Land of glaciers, volcanoes, geysers and geothermal hot water. The country looks frighteningly beautiful; Earth in the raw; new land still very much being built by plate tectonics. Visiting should be easily achievable (there are endless package tours) and a wonderful photographic experience, but again it's a land I won't visit because of the whaling issue.
Norway. Like Kate I'd love to see the Aurora Borealis. The midnight sun. The fjords. And to go to Hell. (Yes, there really is a place called Hell). And Noreen has friend who lives on a tiny island off the south coast. Again it should be easily achievable. But again it is off-limits for me because of the whaling. (Why is it that my top three picks are all off-limits because of whaling? It really wasn't designed that way!) Although we could achieve a lot of that by visiting (friends in) Sweden; which we might yet manage — at least do keep talking about going to Sweden!
Tibet. It must be one of the poorest countries on Earth, but it's hard to find out because it has been assimilated into China. But it's a land of rugged mountains, high plateaus and curiously interesting Buddhist monasteries. But it is another place I'm unlikely ever to visit: it is so hard to get to and I won't go on principle because of the way China has occupied it and largely destroyed the culture and the people. Again it would be just such a wonderful photographic experience. One really should have done this when young and fit.
The Amazon. I'd love to see the Amazonian fishes and parrots (not to mention Jaguars) in the wild. And for once I have no moral objections to going there other than tourism beginning to impact the environment, although nowhere nearly on the scale of Africa. Again I can't help feeling this is travel one should have done when young and fit.
So they're the five places I'd probably most like to visit. But there are so many others which should be more achievable: Bruges, Kyle of Lochalsh, Ireland, Italy, the pyramids, the Alhambra, ride the Orient Express, travel from Thurso/Wick to Penzance by train, Scilly Isles.
So much to do, and so little time to achieve it.
11 June 2011
Scientists reveal the otherworldly talents of red foxes.
The hunting skills of the red fox Vulpes vulpes are out of this world — literally. According to new work, this hunter taps into the cosmos to pinpoint prey.
The fox feeds mostly on small mammals such as mice and voles, and has a clever way of going about it. It often performs what is called mousing — leaping high into the air in an arc and landing on unsuspecting prey from above. Remarkably, it can pull this off in 1m-high grass (or, in winter, snow of that depth). It's assumed that, under these conditions, the fox relies solely on hearing to locate its quarry.
But when a team led by Hynek Burda, from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany, scrutinised the hunting habits of wild foxes at various locations in the Czech Republic, they noted a peculiar trend: hunters tended to catch dinner most often when they were facing north. This was especially true if their prey was snuggled under vegetation or snow - the foxes then had a 75 per cent hit rate with north-facing strikes. Attacks in all other directions were mostly futile.
What's so special about looking north? The researchers believe that the foxes use the Earth's magnetic field to home in on prey.
Some other mammals, and also birds, are known to sense magnetic north — and some are thought to actually see it, when looking northward, as a bright (or dark) patch in their field of vision — a little like a sunspot in a camera lens — due to special receptors in their eyes. If foxes have this ability, they could use its fixed position to gauge their distance to prey.
Think of it as a circle of light from a headlamp aimed, say, 1m in front of your feet. No matter where you go, the circle is always 1m ahead. Thus, a northward-facing fox that has located prey with its hearing needs only to creep forward until that location is within the circle of light. At that point, it knows it's exactly 1m away. All that's left to do is pounce.
It's the first evidence of an animal using the Earth's magnetic field as a hunting tool.
» This is the first case of an animal using the Earth's magnetic field to judge distance rather than direction.
» Except for jump direction, no other factor — from an animal's age/sex to the season, wind direction or time of day — affected the observed pattern.
» Animals that sense magnetic north probably also sense magnetic south to a degree. Indeed, 60 per cent of fruitful attacks that were not northward faced due south. Overall, 90 per cent were along the north-south axis.
» Cattle and deer tend to line up along the north-south axis - except near high-voltage power lines that disrupt the field.
» When foxes could see their prey they had success in all directions.
10 June 2011
Number 6 in my 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 about me.
- Something I Like: Roses
- Something I Won't Do: Wear Jacket and Tie on Holiday
- Something I Want To Do: Have a Nudist Holiday
- A Blog I Like: Aetiology
- A Book I Like: John Guillim, A Display of Heraldrie
- Some Music I Like: Carl Orff, Carmina Burana
- A Food I Like: Avocado
- A Food or Drink I Dislike: Green Tea
- A Word I Like: Vespiary
- A Quote I Like: The covers of this book are too far apart. [Ambrose Bierce]
Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed be doing at that moment.
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, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin]
Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.
We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another.
It is a sin to believe evil of others, but it is seldom a mistake.
A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman’s birthday but can not remember her age.
... isolated cabins on chilly mountains, whose only mark on history is to be the incredibly ordinary place where something extraordinary started to happen. Often there is no more than a little plaque to reveal that, against all gynaecological probability, someone very famous was born halfway up a wall.
[Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites]
You’re not 40, you have 06:00 with 22 years of experience.
09 June 2011
[23/52] Logs, a photo by kcm76 on Flickr.
Week 23 entry for 52 weeks challenge.
At the King's Head pub, Bawburgh, near Norwich.
The King's Head has been known for many years for it's good food. It's well worth a visit for good gastro-pub food. Chips to die for! And for a good selection of local real ales – the Adnams is especially good.
Bawburgh is a pretty, small village just a handful of miles to the west of Norwich, just off A47 outer ring road.
06 June 2011
Parody of Longfellow’s Hiawatha
George A Strong
He killed the noble Mudjokivis.
Of the skin he made him mittens,
Made them with the fur side inside,
Made them with the skin side outside.
He, to get the warm side inside,
Put the cold side skin side outside.
He, to get the cold side outside,
Put the warm side fur side inside.
That’s why he put the fur side inside,
Why he put the skin side outside,
Why he turned them inside outside.
05 June 2011
Why do I find this hard? Well not because there are so many to choose from. The opposite. I'm not one for making big decisions. That's partly I think because I've been lucky and not been forced to make many big decisions, but more because I'm not one for planning my life and career. I've drifted; gone with the flow. OK, maybe I could have got a higher-powered job, a better salary & pension, a bigger house, whatever. But drifting has been a lot less stressful and kept that work-life balance, well ... balanced. And drifting wasn't a conscious decision, so I can' even count that! It's just the way I am – lazy, avoiding and procrastinating.
OK, so here are five good decisions I'm glad I made, in no particular order.
Staying at University. For me it wasn't the going to university that was the decision. That was more or less a foregone conclusion. The decision I'm glad I made was to stay on and do several years of post-graduate work. They were the formative years. And the most fun years. So much fun I nearly didn't get my PhD and then left my post-doc job because I was doing too much of everything else and not enough proper work. I'd love to have those years all over again and do it all properly this time, knowing everything I do now. Maybe it's a good thing one can never go back.
Marrying Noreen. I guess the decision was in asking her to marry me. Neither of us can remember how it came about, or exactly where/when we were when she (finally) said "yes" – having said "no" initially. We know roughly when it was – the week or so leading up to Christmas 1978 – but not the exact day or place. Unusually, Noreen says even her diary doesn't divulge. That's maybe a reflection of the fact that we've always talked and communicated, so decisions often just evolve rather than being momentous occasions. And yes, you did read it right; I did say Christmas 1978. We were married just 9 months later (no, not for that reason!) in September 1979. And we're still together! Scary or what?!
Taking Early Retirement. I took early retirement at the beginning of 2010, just days before my 59th birthday, after 33 years working for the same multinational IT company. I was given the opportunity to go before they totally screwed up the final salary pension plan. Despite not getting a golden goodbye, (indeed scarcely a goodbye at all; more likely "thank God we got rid of him") it actually worked out well for me. I had originally planned on retiring at around 55, but this got delayed as Equitable Life and then the financial markets hit the buffers. But sometime this year (2011) I would have hit the maximum I could get out of the pension scheme, so I hardly lost out. And am I glad I went: I think another year of the huge IT restructuring project I was running would have killed me; it was too big and with too much management interference. It's taken me a good year to surface again.
Buying Our House. 30-odd years married. 30-odd years working for the same company. And at the time of writing just weeks away from 30 years in the same house. We moved here in July 1981 from a scruffy rented flat. This is only a small 1930s terraced cottage in an unfashionable area of suburban London, but it is a welcoming house; it just felt right to us from the moment we first saw it. We bought just before the height of the high interest rates (6 months after we bought we were paying 17.5% on our mortgage; and that was normal!). Luckily we slightly under-mortgaged ourselves and were able to ride out the storm, eventually managing to pay off the mortgage some 7 years early! And we're still here. There has been no imperative to move, except maybe to find more room for our ever-expanding mountain of books. There are only the two of us and two cats; we've never had kids (by choice); so why have a bigger house? And, now were both retired, we've decided that we're staying here if we can rather than move. Yes there are other places we'd love to live, but none is as convenient for everything we want to do.
Don't be like Father. I'm not sure whether this counts as a decision or not, but I'm glad I realised that I didn't have to be a miserable old git of a Victor Meldrew character like my father. I know my father had many good qualities, not least giving me an intelligent and bohemian upbringing. But he was always negative and one of those people who fights life, rather than embracing it. Totally risk averse (there I do take after him and it has largely paid off for us) he was someone "they" were always out to get, especially financially. He was a Luddite and totally anti almost all technological developments – to him they were all an unnecessary con. I'm not sure quite when I realised I didn't have to be like him and worry about everything; it probably wasn't until I was the wrong side of 40. But somehow, once this dawned on me, I learnt, unconsciously, to let things wash over me. I still don't know how I did it. But it doesn't half make life easier. I still don't exactly hedonistically embrace life (I'm not extrovert enough) but at least I'm not now worrying myself into an early grave.
So there it is. How I got to where I am by not making decisions!
04 June 2011
Hamlet's Cat's Soliloquy
To go outside, and there perchance to stay
Or to remain within: that is the question:
Whether 'tis better for a cat to suffer
The cuffs and buffets of inclement weather
That Nature rains on those who roam abroad,
Or take a nap upon a scrap of carpet,
And so by dozing melt the solid hours
That clog the clock's bright gears with sullen time
And stall the dinner bell. To sit, to stare
Outdoors, and by a stare to seem to state
A wish to venture forth without delay,
Then when the portal's opened up, to stand
As if transfixed by doubt. To prowl; to sleep;
To choose not knowing when we may once more
Our readmittance gain: aye, there's the hairball;
For if a paw were shaped to turn a knob.
Or work a lock or slip a window-catch,
And going out and coming in were made
As simple as the breaking of a bowl,
What cat would bear the household's petty plagues,
The cook's well-practiced kicks, the butler's broom,
The infant's careless pokes, the tickled ears,
The trampled tail, and all the daily shocks
That fur is heir to, when, of his own free will,
He might his exodus or entrance make
With a mere mitten? Who would spaniels fear,
Or strays trespassing from a neighbor's yard,
But that the dread of our unheeded cries
And scratches at a barricaded door
No claw can open up, dispels our nerve
And makes us rather bear our humans' faults
Than run away to unguessed miseries?
Thus caution doth make house cats of us all;
And thus the bristling hair of resolution
Is softened up with the pale brush of thought,
And since our choices hinge on weighty things,
We pause upon the threshold of decision.
03 June 2011
Why Do They Find Nudity Shocking?
Browsing one day in a second-hand bookshop, I found a copy of Kinsey's Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female. In a section on sex and nudity, Kinsey remarked The fear of observing the nude human body constitutes one of the most curious phenomena in human history.' He cited the example that, in strict Judaism, man and wife are forbidden to copulate in the nude. Religious objections have often been raised against nudity in art. And almost all naturists will have encountered the 'textile' reaction 'Oh, I couldn't possibly do that!'
Fear or horror of nudity is obviously an extraordinary perversion. How could an animal have been brought to the point of responding with revulsion towards the bodies of members of its own species? In animal evolution, what could be more unnatural? Social behaviour — responses to other members of the same species — has evolved by sexual and natural selection. To mate or to attempt to mate with another species is obviously a response with very low fitness: few or no offspring are produced for the next generation. To be fit in this Darwinian sense, any animal must, at the very least, have evolved favourable responses to the bodies of the opposite sex. A social animal also lives in a group with others and must be able to cooperate with them to survive. So how could animals develop fear or horror of other bodies — the exact opposite of which must have evolved by sexual and natural selection? Nobody would suppose that a peahen or female pheasant might respond with fear or revulsion towards the brilliant plumage of the males: the tail of the peacock, the collar and crest of the golden pheasant exist — they evolved by sexual selection — precisely in order to attract the females. Humans must have evolved as naked animals, just as chimps and gorillas, are naked now.
From an evolutionist's point of view, therefore, fear or horror of observing nude bodies is indeed most curious. Yet when, for example, a naturist beach is proposed, it is normal for local councillors to react with a 'shock horror' response. Of course this may be merely conventional — what is thought to be socially acceptable — for political or religious reasons. Even so, we should still have to explain why it should be thought to be socially acceptable to express horror at nudism. Most people may not really object to nudity, but a vociferous minority does appear to respond with genuine outrage. So we must ask how the normal evolutionary response should have become perverted to fear or even revulsion. I believe the general behavioural phenomenon of imprinting may be the answer.
Many people who follow natural history programmes on the television will have seen film of young goslings swimming behind the ethologist Konrad Lorenz just as if he were their mother. They had been reared by him from hatching; he had been imprinted on them as their parent. Many hand-reared animals show this behaviour. A hand-reared ram will attack humans as sexual rivals. Exposure to other species early in development can override the normal sexual preference for one's own.
Cross-fostering experiments provide a scientific basis for this explanation. Birds will readily incubate the eggs of other species. Putting the eggs of one species in another's nest produces chicks reared from hatching by the other species. Herring gulls and lesser black-backed gulls have been cross-fostered in this way. The cross-fostering males were as ready to mate with the fostering species as with their own. Females mated almost exclusively with the fostering species. This is consistent with observations that females are more discriminating in choice of mate and usually initiate pair formation. The females, and to a lesser extent the males, had been imprinted by the fostering species.
Imprinting of different forms of the same species can also occur. The lesser snow goose exists in one of two forms - a white form or a blue-grey form. The white snow goose is pure white except for grey wing tips. The blue snow goose is mostly grey tinged with blue and marked with black. Only the head, foreneck and rear underparts are white. Both forms are found together in the same population and freely interbreed. Snow geese show mating preferences imprinted by their parents' colour. A snow goose reared by blue parents tends to choose a blue mate; reared by white parents, it would choose a white mate. Offspring of white and blue parents choose white or blue equally.
Imprinting can thus strongly influence sexual preference in animals. It can produce a preference for particular forms and colours, and even preference for completely different species. Mating with the wrong species is unlikely to happen in nature, of course, though it can be produced by experimental manipulation.
Humans are great manipulators of their own appearance, particularly in their variety of dress. Even naked, they manipulate their appearance to some extent - by shaving or dieting or exercise for example. Fashionable dress or body form might easily become imprinted on babies as the standard human type. This might explain periods of conservatism in dress, especially men's dress if females are responsible for the final choice of mating. Great variety in dress would presumably break down the previous effects on imprinting, just as snow geese show no preference if one parent is white and the other is blue.
If a baby only ever sees its parents clothed, it will have the clothed human form imprinted upon it. To such a child, when it grows up, being clothed is how humans 'should' look. An aversion to nudity will have thus been imprinted. This could be further reinforced if the parents themselves had also been imprinted. Some parents react with shock and horror if they are encountered naked by their children. A parent's reactions affect children strongly, and presumably will imprint a horror of being observed nude as well as a horror of observing nudity.
If fear or horror of nudity is indeed a product of imprinting, this would explain its persistent as 'one of the most curious phenomena in human history'. Parents who may have avoided nudity on account of some religious prohibition, for example, will pass on an imprinted fear or horror of nudity to their children. This now more deep-seated fear will be passed on in turn and thus perpetuated over many generations. It is like the passing on of a gene from parents to offspring; yet it is non-genetic — an example of the cultural transmission of an highly aberrant behaviour; and it affects all the offspring, not just those who happen to receive a gene.
Does this theory have practical applications? The first is obvious: get 'em young — from birth. Babies who have always seen their parents naked may be expected to become imprinted with nudity as a normal human form. Perhaps they will then be less likely to become the 'disappearing teenagers' we hear about in BN. The second is, don't bother to argue with those who have a deep-seated emotional bias against naturism. But local councillors, whose opposition is merely conventional and whose main concern is re-election, may be more amenable, particularly to arguments based on surveys of constituents; what their constituents want, they can usually be persuaded to want too!
Fellow and Director of Studies in Biology
02 June 2011
In re-reading the article I realised the author is right. I realised that I too had been blighted by this – despite having relatively bohemian and enlightened parents. That what Carol Lee was saying was true in the 1980s. And it is still largely true today.
Moreover because this is important (and because Times newspapers are now behind a paywall) here are a few salient extracts of what was for a Sunday magazine article well written, thoughtful and useful.
Time and again when working in schools ... I have come across boys who go through agonies … They suffer particular pain because of a strong sense of being alone in whatever they're feeling. Unlike girls, they are not encouraged to share their problems and more intimate fears. They think they will be laughed at if they show weakness. This leaves them fewer outlets for discovering that their particular "shame" is shared by most of us, and is of human rather than monstrous proportions … The strongest impression they gave was a sense of isolation, guilt and anxiety. Feeling isolated and afraid is a painful experience at any age. It can be devastating during adolescence.If anyone out there especially wants a copy of the full article, then ask me nicely and I'll send you a PDF.
The loss of "normality" is experienced by both girls and boys as they leave childhood for the difficulties of puberty. Both sexes suffer the loss of the intimate, gaily-coloured world of their primary schools with their own familiar teacher, and classrooms decorated with their own pictures. This Garden of Eden is suddenly replaced at the age of 11 with a large secondary school which is frightening for many children. Then, at the same time as nice, cosy "Miss" or friendly "Sir" has been replaced by a bewildering stream of different subject teachers, children's bodies suddenly start becoming hostile territory, too. This affects boys more than it does girls … Girls are given positive images of womanhood: menstruation is no longer a "curse" and libraries contain an array of books on young women's health, rights, body-images and on issues like self-assertion. They do not seem to have similar material for young men.
Girls are taught to be articulate, to express emotions like anger and to be proud of being female. They are no longer wrapped in cotton wool. Boys are still brought up to be tough … Notions of maleness have changed considerably in the past two decades, but the bringing up of boys has not kept pace. There is little in the way of a rite … of passage which takes them from childhood to the increasingly complex business of being a man.
[P]uberty for boys is not seen as a positive experience, but a negative one. Mothers withdraw from boys because they are afraid of making cissies of their sons, and also because they are uncertain how to treat developing male sexuality … The confusion is experienced by boys, too. Their bodies are now prone to hydraulic uncertainties called erections. Boys are fearful in case unwanted erections happen in front of – or because of – mothers. Mothers, aunts and other concerned females have the same problem. So boys suddenly find themselves pushed out in the cold.
When given the chance to discuss such issues … teenage boys will say how abandoned, neglected and anxious they feel. They will tell you that their mothers avoid them "like the plague" and that their fathers don't talk to them anyway. They will also express envy at the way girls are more mature and self-sufficient than boys of the same age.
A boy's journey from childhood into manhood is dictated by his ability to be unemotional, to bear pain and also to die for his country … Why should they be any less hurt when their first romance ends? Do we want them to be human or inhuman? … Man is no longer a slayer of dragons or a knight in shining armour. But this change in attitude has left a vacuum in the condition of being male.
We hurt boys by believing they are 'alien'. We deny them their ability to nurture. That's why they end up different, because we believe they are, and make them so. And fathers still don't nurture their sons in the way women do their daughters.
[B]etter adjustment is achieved by allowing boys a full range of emotions instead of the traditional "stiff upper lip". What goes wrong is that boys are not invited, as girls are, to be sensitive, caring and considerate.
Society praises youth for the way it flings itself into life, romantically, impetuously, protected; yet this same society offers youth no room for spontaneity, for improvisation or sincerity, for relationships that are irrational or non-utilitarian, either in its social structure or in its everyday routine.
As long as you have tits and a tongue you'll never get lost.
[HyperSexualGirl at Love and Lust]
A single conversation across the table with a wise man is worth a month's study of books.
The freethinking of one age is the common sense of the next.
For every girl who is tired of acting weak when she is strong,
there is a boy tired of appearing strong when he feels vulnerable.
For every boy who is burdened with the constant expectation of knowing everything,
there is a girl tired of people not trusting her intelligence
For every girl who is tired of being called over-sensitive,
there is a boy who fears to be gentle, to weep.
For every boy for whom competition is the only way to prove his masculinity,
there is a girl who is called unfeminine when she competes.
For every girl who throws out her e-z-bake oven,
there is a boy who wishes to find one.
For every boy struggling not to let advertising dictate his desires,
there is a girl facing the ad industry's attacks on her self-esteem.
For every girl who takes a step toward her liberation,
there is a boy who finds the way to freedom a little easier.
Beauty is a very valuable thing; perhaps it is the most valuable thing in life; but the power to express emotion so that it shall communicate itself intact and exactly is almost more valuable.
[Ford Madox Ford]
Any time not spent on love is wasted.
You may not be her first, her last, or her only, she loved before she may love again,
but if she loves you now, what else matters?
She's not perfect – you aren't either, and the two of you may never be perfect together but if she can make you laugh, and admit to being human and making mistakes, hold onto her and give her the most you can.
She may not be thinking about you every second of the day, but she will give you a part of her that she knows you can break – her heart.
So don't hurt her, don't change her, don't analyze and don't expect more than she can give.
Smile when she makes you happy, let her know when she makes you mad, and miss her when she's not there.