31 March 2012

Quotes : On Intelligence

Another in our occasional series of apposite aphorisms.

The time it would take a gang of geriatric virgins [the Roman Catholic hierarchy] to understand and define marriage is longer than the projected lifespan of the universe. It would be a shock if they did have anything coherent to say on the subject after only 2000 years of uninformed speculation from their armchairs.
[WoollyMindedLiberal in a comment on Heresy Corner]

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.
[F Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up]

There is no such thing as an underestimate of average intelligence.
[Henry Adams]

Truly great madness cannot be achieved without significant intelligence.
[Henrik Tikkanen]


I'm designed intelligently? As far as I can see, I was designed by an idiot. My parts are neither interchangeable nor replaceable. I could use a new ankle right now, and almost everything I do injures my back. Some of my internal organs are useless, and can even kill me. My risk calculation engine is useless. I am afraid to eat beef, but have no problem catapulting myself down tree-lined roads on my motorcycle. My judgement is so bad I can be convinced to send my life savings to a complete stranger with just one phone call. The final stake in the heart of intelligent design is that there are people we might otherwise consider intelligent, who, in the face of all this, maintain we are functioning as intended.
[Eric Dietiker]

30 March 2012

Parakeets

Now we have nice warm Spring weather I spent some time today sitting quietly on the patio photographing the parakeets on the seed feeder some 10-15 meters away.

Out of around 300 shots (couldn't have done that back in the days of film!) I got a dozen which, after cropping and some light post-processing, were anything like decent. Here are a couple ...

'Ere, was that your camera I heard?" Oi, haven't you finished yet?!
Ring-Neck ParakeetRing-Neck Parakeets: Oi, haven't you finished yet?!
Click the images for the larger Flickr versions

They are very tricky subjects! Not only are the birds themselves constantly moving but the seed feeder is swinging back and forth; and they were in dappled shade – even with the camera on a tripod too many shots were still blurred. I had my big 80-300 zoom lens at full stretch and have still had to heavily crop the frames.

And there are more shots on my Flickr photostream.

A certain truth ...

There is indeed a certain amount of truth in today's XKCD cartoon!


Click the image for a larger version


And here's an interesting thing. How is it that one can find a stick figure, which is female only from the length of the hair, sexy? I don't know. None of the other characters in XKCD cartoons do this to me, but that's how I react to Megan! It is something visual and not related to the language/words. Very weird. Must say something awfully odd/worrying about me. But then you knew I was deranged. :-(

28 March 2012

The Gallery : Extreme Close Up

This weeks subject over at The Gallery is Extreme Close Up.

Hmmm ... this is something I always try and I'm not always very successful at although my little point and shoot Panasonic Lumix TZ18 is especially good at very close range — much better than my big Olympus E620 dSLR! So I took a few close ups specially for this week's challenge. Here are just two.

Click the images for larger versions
Fresh Bread

The first is fresh Waitrose French baton. And the second is a nylon strap on a cool bag.

Bag Strap

Why not visit The Gallery to see what other people have come up with?

27 March 2012

Did you miss ... ?

Links to a few recently discovered (by me) items you may have missed.

First off scientists think it likely that redheads feel more pain than people with dark hair. Contrary to the implication of the headline this is not yet proven.

From which there is a logical progression to marriage — well sort of logical anyway. Betty Herbert rails against the arguments over same-sex marriage.

And in turn that brings us nicely to several catty articles. Yes, there seem to have been a little burst of cat-related items in the last week ...

We thought we knew how cats survive falls from heights, but it seems they're even more resilient than we thought.

In another piece of research it has been found that most animals don't like our music. So what music do pets prefer? For cats it seems to be high pitched with a fast tempo, just like they are.

And if that isn't bad enough, there is the suggestion that your cat is sending you mad, well crazy anyway. It sounds far-fetched, but it may not be, and it could explain a whole lot.



Lastly for this week here's an absolutely stunning photo of Aoga-shima, a tiny volcanic island in the Japanese Izu Islands, south of Tokyo. There's some information here and the inevitable short Wikipedia page. But it's that aerial photo which is really stunning — you need to see it as large as possible!

25 March 2012

Reasons to be Grateful: 19

Experiment, week 19. This week's five things which have made me happy or for which I'm grateful.
  1. Orchids. Yesterday I got my first ever orchid flower! About a year ago my mother gave me an orchid plant which had finished flowering to see if I could get it to flower again. It's been sitting on our bedroom windowsill, receiving no special attention, all that time and has just come back into flower. This is the first flower and there are another 7 or 8 buds on this one flower spike. I never thought I would have my very own flowering orchid.

    Orchid

  2. Friends who give you a lift home at 11PM. Last evening we went to a performance of Bach's St John Passion at Ealing Abbey with our friends Sue & Ziggy. Sam (S&Z's eldest; just a teenager) was singing in the choir. Afterwards we went back to S&Z's for a drink. And Ziggy volunteered to run us home at something gone 11PM. He didn't have to; we were quite happy to get a taxi. But he insisted. Thanks, Ziggy! Much appreciated.

  3. Local Auctions. Last Thursday our local auction house, Bainbridge's at West Ruislip, had their roughly monthly sale. We keep saying we must go to a viewing and this week we managed it. As I've blogged so often before, their sales contain some gloriously incongruous toot as well as some very nice pieces. Sadly not a lot of silver this time. But there were two decorative halberds. We nearly went to the sale to bid on them. But common sense got the better of us. I mean where do you put two 10 feet (3 metre) long halberds in a 1930 terraced house? The viewing was a fun hour or so though.

  4. Primroses
  5. Sunshine. I know! I know! I keep saying "sunshine". But we've had such a lovely sunny week; all the buds are beginning to break; the Spring flowers are out; the birds are singing and it is definitely warmer. It really does feel like Spring. And the forecast for the next week is more of the same. We do need some rain though!

  6. Thetford Forest. On Friday we went to Norwich to see my agéd mother, as we do every few weeks. I always love driving through Thetford Forest and Elveden. I love the pine forest; there's always something interesting to see. As usual there were plenty of muntjac grazing just off the main road; and a couple of hares loping across a field. As well as the ubiquitous pheasants and rabbits. In the afternoon we sat with my mother in the garden of the care home where there were loads of primroses in the lawn and the only sound was of birdsong!

24 March 2012

Something for a Spring Weekend

Just in case anyone was in doubt that Spring is here ... a couple of Primula spp. photographed yesterday growing in the lawn of my mother's care home.

The first is probably a genuine wild primrose, Primula vulgaris, pin-eyed variety.

Primroses

This second is definitely a cultivated variety or hybrid of some form.

Pink Primula
Click the images for larger views.

23 March 2012

Give Us this Day Our Daily Conundrum

If, as according to some Christians, alcohol is so bad,
why did Jesus turn water into wine?

22 March 2012

Buggered Britain 4

Another in my occasional series documenting some of the underbelly of Britain. Britain which we wouldn't like visitors to see and which we wish wasn't there. The trash, abused, decaying, destitute and otherwise buggered parts of our environment. Those parts which symbolise the current economic malaise; parts which, were the country flourishing, wouldn't be there, would be better cared for, or made less inconvenient.

Buggered Britain 4
Click the image for a larger view


The country is in a pretty poor shape when even the pawnbrokers can't stay in business! But then I've seen quite a few dodgy businesses come and go at these premises over the years.

This is by the Petts Hill bridge, near Northolt Park Station.

Fukushima Reprise

There's so much going on at the moment that I should be writing about that I'm having a hard time keeping up! Anyway here's the next piece.

There was an interesting, and I suggest important, "Opinion" article in last week's New Scientist (dated 17 March 2012). In it Don Higson, a fellow of the Australasian Radiation Protection Society, argues for the total revision scale on which nuclear accidents are measured and points up the lack of true comparison between Fukushima and Chernobyl. Along the way he highlights the major differences between the two in health effects, adding some further important perspective on the situation.



The article itself is behind a paywall, so I hope I'll be forgiven for reproducing some factual highlights here.
Everybody who gets cancer in Japan over the next 40 years will no doubt blame their misfortune on radiation from Fukushima Daiichi [...] This would be entirely understandable but will have no basis in science [...]

[T]here is no possibility that the physical health consequences of Fukushima Daiichi will be anywhere near as bad as those of Chernobyl.

As far as anyone knows, no member of the public received a significant dose of radiation attributable to the Fukushima Daiichi reactor emergency [...]

Chernobyl was the worst that could happen. Safety and protection systems failed and there was a full core meltdown in a reactor that had no containment [...]

237 Chernobyl workers were taken to hospital with suspected acute radiation sickness; 134 of these cases were confirmed; 28 were fatal; about 20 other workers have since died from illnesses considered to have been caused or aggravated by radiation exposure [...]

On top of that, it has been estimated that about 4000 people will die [...] from radiation-induced cancer [...]

At Fukushima Daiichi, the reactors shut down safely when struck by the magnitude-9 Tohoku earthquake [...] problems arose after they were inundated by a much larger tsunami than had been anticipated when the nuclear plant was designed [...] The reactor containments were partially effective [...]

There were no deaths attributable to radiation. Two workers received burns from beta radiation. They were discharged from hospital after two days. Two workers incurred high internal radiation exposure from inhaling iodine-131, which gives them a significant risk of developing thyroid cancer.

Doses incurred by about 100 other workers have been high enough to cause a small risk of developing cancer after 20 or more years [...] About 25 per cent of the population dies from cancer whether accidentally exposed to radiation or not. This rate might be increased by an additional one or two per cent among the exposed workers [...]

[T]here have been no radiation injuries to children or to other members of the public [...]

[T]he amount of iodine-131 escaping from all the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi was less than 10 per cent of the amount released at Chernobyl, and the release of caesium-137, the next most important fission product, was less than 15 per cent of the Chernobyl total [...]
As I've said before, we need to keep this in perspective.



While there are clearly many, many lessons to be learnt Fukushima should be looked on as a success story in terms of reactor design. Yes there were shortcomings in the design of the resilience, the fall-back ability, the processes and the communications. And there have been massive knock-on effects on the population and the environment — and indeed it has been argued the worst of the health effects will be the devastating mental stresses on the Japanese people (see, inter alia, this Guardian report).

But given that those reactors are 40-ish years old, and that even before March 2011 we knew a lot better how to design safe and secure reactors, this should be viewed as a (limited) success story.

21 March 2012

Marriage

There's recently been a lot of brouhaha over the UK government's suggestion of making marriage available to (male and female) homosexual couples.

The Christian churches are up in arms because they see it as devaluing (or worse) the sacrament of marriage.

Put plainly, this is bollox.

Neither the church, nor any other religion, owns marriage. Arguably it may have done once, in the days before developed civil government, but no longer. In almost every civilised country there is a civil marriage option available as well as a religious one. The churches may have a ceremony which they call marriage. This does not mean they own the concept or the sole rights, although it does give them the right to choose who to allow to partake in their ceremony.

A heterosexual couple can have a civil marriage, so why can't a homosexual couple? No-one is suggesting that the churches have to be a part of this if they wish not to. They are not to be obliged to marry homosexual couples and indeed they may choose (as they do now) who can marry under their aegis. Many heterosexual couples are denied a religious marriage for a whole variety of reasons.

And of course no couple has to marry or enter into any officially sanctioned partnership arrangement. And quite right too. So a coach and horses has already been driven through marraige as originally conceived by the churches.

I fail to see a problem.

There are couples who will choose a civil marriage and couples who will choose a religious marriage. Civil marriage will be available to all; religious marriage will only be available to those who can jump some arbitrary set of church defined hurdles. Just as now.

And come couples will choose to ignore the whole idea of marriage (by whatever name) and just live together. Horses for courses, and all that.

No change, really, except that the civil marriage net is being widened.

Although there is the suggestion of an anomaly with civil partnerships. As gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has pointed out the current proposals now discriminate against heterosexuals by allowing same-sex couples the option of marriage or civil partnerships but only marriage for heterosexual couples. Which is ludicrous!

I see no purpose in continuing with the civil partnership sham. Let's drop it altogether and have just civil marriages. Either that or we have to keep both civil partnerships and civil marriages for all.

Or of course we could just ban marriage altogether — for everyone.

For other sane views you might like to read Betty Herbert's blog, John Bingham in the Daily Telegraph and Marie Jackson on BBC News.

The Gallery : Colour

The Gallery had a week off last week, hence there was no posting. This week we're back to normal and the theme is Colour

Hmmm ... there's so much to choose from in my Flickr photostream. So maybe we'll play it easy and pick a recent (like last week) photo:

Red Pimula
Click the image for larger versions


This red primula was growing in the municipal flower beds about a couple of miles from home. The whole bed was a lovely splash of colour in the Spring sunshine made up of lots of shades of winter pansies and primulas — everything from pale lemons through to deep purples and bright reds.

20 March 2012

Today's Word : Halberd

Halberd
A military weapon, especially in use during the 15th and 16th centuries. A kind of combination of spear and battle-axe, consisting of a sharp-edged blade ending in a point, and a spear-head, mounted on a handle five to seven feet long.
By transference, a soldier armed with a halberd; a halberdier.
[Below left]
Halberds are still currently carried by the Papal Swiss Guard.

Compare with ...

Pike
A weapon consisting of a wooden shaft, typically 14 to 15 feet long, with a pointed head of iron or steel; formerly the chief weapon of a large part of the infantry; superseded in 18th century by the bayonet.
A soldier armed with a pike is generally a pikeman.
[Below right]
Possibly the best way in the UK to see pikes and pikemen is either at a Civil war re-enactment or at London's Lord Mayor's Show on the second Saturday in November.

And of course there is then ...

Spontoon
A species of half-pike or halberd carried by infantry officers in the 18th century (from about 1740); generally 6 to 7 feet in length.  

19 March 2012

Listography : I'm a What?

This week's Listography is a pretty open-ended "challenge" as we're invited to complete the sentence "five reasons I know I'm a ...". So how to finish that statement? I know, with the word "intellectual".

That sounds conceited but it isn't. We all have different skills. Mine happen to involve brain power. But I'm absolutely crap at anything manual: I have 10 left thumbs. I cannot even saw a piece of wood straight!

So here are five reasons I know I'm an intellectual:

1. I have a science doctorate (on the boundaries of physics and chemistry) but I also run a literary society. Although I have a broad understanding of science, medicine, history, language etc. I'm not a polymath: for a start I'm useless at foreign languages!

2. I see three sides of every argument before you even tell me one. And I see through management and marketing bullshit like a knife through butter.



3. I can sit in a health education session and realise my brain is bigger than the sum of all the others in the room, including the trainer. Not necessarily an advantage as it means I struggle to suffer people who don't use what they've got, especially when they then also don't believe what you tell them. I'm useless at manual things, but I do have to try sometimes. I expect other people to do the same with their brains.

4. I don't need mental crutches like religion. I can think, and read, and argue. I can do morality without having it imposed from outside. I know there is no such beast as "natural justice" and that life isn't fair. I can deal with it.

5. My hypnotherapist struggles to get stuff into, or out of, my subconscious. My conscious brain is so fast and so analytical that whatever he does it goes "Oh, he's doing X. That's interesting. I wonder if he'll do Y now? Or does it mean Z? And I wonder how that fits with A?" rather than just going "La-la-la, isn't that pretty"!

Which doesn't make for an easy ride; in fact it can be downright depressing and demoralising. But then who said it was supposed to be easy?

So You Missed ... ?

More links to things you may have missed. Let's start with some important items I should write whole blog posts about but just can't stomach today.

Like I commented on Facebook, this first isn't just wrong, or bizarre, or cruel, it's obscene (and that's not a word I use lightly or often). Georgia Rep Wants To Force Women To Carry Stillborn Fetuses ... Like Cows Do. Maybe these loonies should be made to wear a stinking albatross round their necks. As has been said elsewhere if men had to endure half the things they impose on women better ways would soon be found, or minds changed. What price Christian charity? Again! Seethe!

Next, here's an interesting alternative take on the validity (or not) of modern Christian claims of persecution. As it's from the National Secular Society it's probably as biased in the opposite direction! Caveat emptor!

Both of which remind me of this cartoon ...

And while we're on the church, let's have an interesting sideways look from Friday's FT, which shows just how bizarre is the Cathodic church's attitude to gay marriage.

And here's a worrying judgement handed down by the European Court of Human Rights, supporting the UK courts' decisions, which appears to give the police carte blanche to do almost anything they like on the streets to restrict liberty, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association. Very, very worrying.

And a final rant for today ... this confirms what I maintained the other day that water companies are losing vast amounts of their water through leaks — possibly as much as 25%!

So now for an interesting piece of science. Apparently your soul is in your eyeballs. Yes really. Well actually it does make sense and does seem to agree with one's intuitive experience.

So how do we think about nothing? This gives two totally different approaches.

And finally something rather splendid: an old church converted into a modern bookstore.

It takes the Dutch to find some good in Christianity. :-)

18 March 2012

Reasons to be Grateful: 18

Experiment, week 18. This week's five things which have made me happy or for which I'm grateful.
  1. Long-Tailed Tits. I'm seeing these delightful little birds — one of the smallest in the UK — more and more in our garden. They seem to especially like the Silver Birch tree (below). Until a couple of years ago I would see a small group maybe a handful of times a year. This winter they've been regular visitors and have got on the bird watch list almost every week. And now I am seeing a pair most days. Hopefully they're going to nest somewhere nearby.
  2. Spring Dawn with Tree
  3. Smoked Chicken. This has become a staple in our house. Waitrose do individual smoked chicken breasts which are less expensive than buying carved cooked chicken and much tastier. So we now keep a couple in the fridge as a stand-by. They make a great salad.

  4. Daffodils. Yes, I have to say daffodils again. I think they're my favourite flowers and I love being able to have inexpensive bunches of daffs in the house.

  5. Robins Singing. It is definitely Spring. The robin is singing almost continually. I woke up at 4.30 this morning and got up because I was uncomfortable. It was still dark, but the robin was singing away in the trees in our garden.
  6. Spring Dawn with Moon
  7. Dawn. One of the nice things about getting up early is seeing the dawn, which is so often just as lovely as sunset. And one of the few pleasures of winter is that you can get up at a sensible time and still see dawn. This morning dawn was beginning to break about 5.30 with some very subtle lemony hues, grey clouds and a crescent moon in the east. Having taken a few photos (both of the above) through the study window, I retired back to bed for a few more hours sleep.

What? More?

So our other local auction house has a sale coming up this week. It contains the usual eclectic and eccentric mix of le bon dieu c'est quoi. Here are some of the "highlights".

A cartoon by Rudolk Pick, signed and dated 98, showing an African gentleman in smart attire and smoking a pipe, riding a zebra alongside a muzzled lion cub, watercolour, framed

A carved bone erotic couple, an erotic bone bottle and a four section bone erotic inro

A paperweight in the form of a flag pole with the Swastika at full mast

A small carton of plated items including a cheese dish with goat finial

An American sterling centrepiece bowl on tall loaded foot, a Greek 925 bowl, and a pair of loaded 925 dwarf candlesticks
[Loaded with 12-bore cartridges, presumably?]

A stuffed snowy owl in a glazed case, and a stuffed grouse
[I never cease to be surprised at the amount of taxidermy that's around]

Six flying ducks wall plaques and two seagulls, a quantity of character salt and peppers including chickens, mice, farmer, postman, etc., sauce pots ...

A pair of impressive decorative ewers, the bowls supported by two cherub figurines, and garlands of flowers

A splendid large Victorian glass dome enclosing a display of stuffed jay and parakeet, with outstretched wings, in grass surroundings

A large Chinese tilework guardian lion with paw on brocade ball

A mixed lot incl. an old Shell petrol can, miniature straw boater, silver banded walking stick ...

An unusual mannequin decorated with vintage fabrics, flowers, beads and glitter fairy wings

An attractive French clock garniture in gilt-metal and bronze, of Louis XVI design, the bell-striking movement by Vincenti, with painted enamel dial, in drum case on gazebo support, with two-light candelabra side pieces ... c.1900

A bronze figure of Christ crucified by Rossini
[Have we been being mis-sold all these years, or has Herod had a name-change?]

A taxidermy specimen of a red squirrel, with grasses, in glazed case, c.1900
[Yes, and there's more!]

Two decorative halberds.

The ultimate in ironing boards by Lauraster, the frame combining a constant steam action with integrated iron, including two covers.
[Which sound more like an instrument of torture!]

A carton of good reference books incl. cokkery
[sic], gardening ...

A rare 1950s orange-painted basketwork globular linen basket, probably by Lloyd Loom, on a metal stand
[Another instrument of torture? Or is it a cat basket?]

And finally ...
... an Imari chamber pot ...


I think we're just going to have to go and have a look at this collection!

17 March 2012

Paddywack

There's only one possible thing to say on St Patrick's Day ...

Snakes!

16 March 2012

Mohican Mutts

I've just seen an item on How It Works Blogs about Peruvian Hairless dogs. Here are the pictures they use:





Apart from the fact that they look interesting mutts, I just love those Mohican haircuts!

Crossings Out

So the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Dr Rowan Williams, is standing down in nine months time. Appropriate timing? Is he being transmogrified into the Virgin Mary?

Meanwhile he has plenty of time to come out with a few more inanities.

Today, the day that he announced his pregnancy capitulation, he has said that wearing the cross does not offend non-Christians.

How can he possibly know? He isn't a non-Christian.

Oh! Maybe he is! After all he's Archbishop of Canterbury. It's well known that Archbishops of Canterbury can believe six impossible things before breakfast. Recall too that memorable line from the Eric Idle version of the "List Song" in the ENO production of The Mikado:
Bishops who don't believe in God
Chief Constables who do.
Full lyric here (complete with a couple of errors) and a video on YouTube (the list Song starts about 4m15s in).

Did You Miss ... ?

Links to a few recent and interesting or curious items you may have missed.

Here's a series of three posts about the bacteria in your belly.
Part 1 — Babies
Part 2 — Adults
Part 3 — Disrupting the Balance

Scientists clone cashmere goats in bid to increase wool production. What you mean they haven't managed to make it 5% nylon yet?

An ancient Greek warrior's helmet has been dredged up off the coast of Israel.

Still on the ancient, palaeontologists reckon to have discovered a previously unknown species of hominin, nicknamed the Red Deer Cave People, who liked venison and lived around 14,500 to 11,500 years ago in China.

And finally to another strange species of hominin ... Apparently an Italian perfumier has created a special perfume just for Pope Benedict XVI. So much for clerical vows of poverty and chastity. It's all a load of old goats!

Duh!?

Seen today in our local Waitrose.

Since when were cod quadrupeds?

Cod Loins

13 March 2012

Hobby-Horse News

Oh God, it's a hobby horse news day! Not content with creating a brouhaha over Susanna Reid's cleavage there are two other news stories at the moment which are guaranteed to wind up the clockwork in my hobby-horse.

First of all there's the report that Daylight Saving Time (aka. Summer Time) may well be bad for you.

Apparently putting the clocks forward an hour plays havoc with our body clocks and circadian cycles.

Well yes, of course it does. Haven't you ever noticed?

Apparently this may be a contributing factor to an increase in heart attacks following the Spring clock change.

I wonder why I keep saying that we should abandon Summer Time and keep GMT the year round.

The majority of the global population doesn't keep Summer Time (see the map here), so why do we need to? People increasingly work flexibly these days, so it shouldn't matter that, within broad zones, we all have a clock which says noon when the sun is directly overhead (as GMT defines for the UK).

Secondly, we're told that SE England is running out of water and that the water companies are about to impose hosepipe bans.

I don't see why this should come as a surprise. Yes, we've had a couple of dry winters. But we also use excessive amounts of water.

Many years ago we were advised by our masters that we should shower rather than bath because it uses less water. This, however, created two problems which clearly weren't foreseen. (A) that people would have more powerful showers, and spend more time in the shower, so they often use just as much water per shower as they for a bath. And (B) that people will shower every day; some even several times a day.

Neither is necessary, unless one is doing a really dirty job. And frankly most of us aren't.

Back in the good old days we used to bath once or twice a week, or if we fell in the duck pond. Which was fine as long as we had a decent wash every day. The majority of jobs, and our environment, are now a lot less dirty than they were. So why do we need to shower every day?

Answer: We don't. A good daily wash with a shower a couple of times a week is fine. This is what I do and I don't think all my friends are too polite to tell me I smell.

That though is only part of the water problem. We flush too much water down our toilets unnecessarily. Loos do not need flushing after every pee. Or if they do, a quick 1-2 litres is enough, not the 4 litres even most modern dual flush cisterns provide. I also get incensed when I see people hosing down their houses or washing the car and leaving the hose running water away down the gutter while they polish and buff.

But the water companies are not blameless. We know many water companies are struggling with old Victorian water mains and sewers. But they really do need to do more to stem burst mains as soon as they appear and not leave them running water to waste for days, weeks or even months. Not only would this save loads of water but it must also save money in the long run.

Meanwhile, yes, let's have a hosepipe ban and let's have it properly enforced. Then let's install water meters on every property. It seems the only thing that Joe Public understands is being hurt in the pocket.

Now remind me why most of us live in the driest quarter of the country? Oh, maybe it's something to do with sun and warmth? But then again, maybe not; after all this is England!

What's so Shocking about Breasts?

BBC TV Breakfast presenter Susanna Reid has accused viewers of over-reacting to sightings of her cleavage.

Oh FFS! What's so shocking about breasts? Even whole breasts, let alone glimpses round the edge?

Answer: Nothing!

Women have breasts. So do men. Women's breasts are multi-functional. Men's aren't. Men are allowed to show theirs. Women aren't. How is this logic? Where is the problem?

Answer: In your mind!

Who cares whether the breasts in question are on TV, at the supermarket, in my front room, or on the beach? Why should that make any difference?

We all know, give or take the odd interesting scar, what's under these pieces of fabric we call clothes. So how does it matter if the fabric isn't there? If everyone was naked, wouldn't we find it obscene that people wanted to cover themselves up?

Come on people, get a life! Bodies and nudity are normal. They aren't de facto sexual, or criminal, or dirty, or "not nice" — except in your mind. Try getting real and getting comfortable with bodies; try being body and sex positive for once. Try adjusting your mind.

Yes, it'll change your outlook on life — for the better. And who knows, you might actually like it!

And remember: If you see anything God didn't make, throw a brick at it!

Good call, Susanna!

12 March 2012

Listography : Cookery Books

Oh dear, I just know I'm going to be in trouble now because Kate's Listography this week asks us to nominate our top five cookery books.

Cookery Books! I ask you?! Who needs cookery books?

What do you mean? Of course I cook! Bloody well, I'll have you know! I always have done. At 12-ish (yes, that's 50 years ago!) I kept house for my father for a week while my mother was in hospital, and he had a 3-course hot meal every evening when he came in from work.

I learnt the basics at my mother's knee and then honed them as a student. I haven't looked back since. OK, so I don't do fancy fancy stuff, or cakes, or clever puddings. I can do them, but I choose not to because I don't need to or want to. But I do cook good things, from fresh, as you'll see from the recipes I've posted here. (Type recipe in the search box on the right to get a list.)

But I hardly ever use cookery books. We have a couple of shelves of them and there are only two I use with any regularity at all (ie. about twice a year).

The first is Florence Greenberg, Jewish Cooking. And no, not because I'm Jewish, because I'm not. I bought the Penguin paperback of this when I was a post-grad student because it looked useful. And it is. Despite not being illustrated it is good on the basics and has some superb recipes. OK so it doesn't do anything non-Kosher, like pork and offal, but so what? That's easy: you just adapt recipes.

Thanks to Noreen, who brought this book with her when we got married, the other cookery book I use is the two volume paperback of Farmhouse Cooking by Mary Norwak and Babs Honey. No illustrations and no basics. But lots of good hearty recipes for just about anything you can imagine — as as you'll know if you look at the recipes hereabouts we are people for good, hearty, wholesome peasant food with a minimum of faffing around.

Beyond these I might skip through the odd book for ideas, but seldom more. And I do also have a folder of recipe ideas. If I have a clue what I want to do but need to brush up on how to do it then I tend to use this new fangled interweb thingy called Google. Almost everything you'll ever need is online!

There's only one thing I hate more in the kitchen than the recipe book as bible, and that is scales! Unless you're making cake, where the correct proportions are critical, learn to do it by eye! Cooking is all about having confidence!

And There's More ...

Another selection of the curious from the catalogue of one of our local auction houses.

An antique far Eastern bronze figure of a river cod [sic] having gilt embellishment and raised on an integral base. [Shown right]

An elaborate IBO Nigerian tribal mask, with pointed features and an elaborate headdress.

Two 1950's Japanese musical compacts, fully boxed, together with two Vogue compacts.

A long natural rawhide whip, together with a shorter example with a black finish.

A set of thirty black and white Edwardian French erotic transparencies ...

A collection of miniature African ivory busts, some on hardwood stands, mounted to serve as place setting marks.

An early 20th century trophy mounted stags head on an oak shield plaque.

An 18th century silk embroidered map of England and Wales, showing counties, in oval gilt frame.

A collection of seven antique ethnic and tribal metal items including fish spears, cow bells and weaving implements.

A large of
[sic] art glass Menagerie animals, to include a five piece elephant band ...

A Spanish infantry helmet with original leather liner (Revolution period), together with an Italian infantry helmet.

A scratch built motorised pond model of the German battle cruiser Gneisenau ...
[Below]


Five West German Hummel figures, to include a boy playing a horn ...

A Roman 2nd century slingshot raised on a modern circular stand.

A modern Eastern style marriage chest, clad in silk mix floral fabric and brown leather studded strap work ...

An industrial nut trolley ...

11 March 2012

Buggered Britain 3

Another in my occasional series documenting some of the underbelly of Britain. Britain which we wouldn't like visitors to see and which we wish wasn't there. The trash, abused, decaying, destitute and otherwise buggered parts of our environment. Those parts which symbolise the current economic malaise; parts which, were the country flourishing, wouldn't be there, would be better cared for, or made less inconvenient.

Buggered Britain 3
Click the image for a larger view


This is the main street only a few hundred yards from where I live. It doesn't paint a pretty picture does it. Overflowing recycling/rubbish bins. Poorly maintained roofs. A buggered advertising hoarding. Lamp-posts so overgrown with creeper they're falling over. Traffic and street furniture as far as the eye can see. Downtrodden people. And what you can't see is the scruffy parades of useless shops (Chinese medicines, nail boutiques, Polish delicatessens, empty eateries) most of which change hands every 6 months or so as their proprietors can't make a go of it. It used to be a nice area but can't now support even a charity shop.

Reasons to be Grateful: 17

Experiment, week 17. This week's five things which have made me happy or for which I'm grateful.

  1. Early Cherry Blossom. I noticed at the beginning of the week that many of the early-flowering cherries were out. Lots of trees covered in gorgeous white and pale pink flowers.

  2. No Dental Treatment. I actually quite enjoy going to the dentist — but then I have a superb dentist with whom I often have scientific/medical conversations. I do not like being abused by the hygienists. But I do like it when my check-up shows that I don't need anything doing. Thanks, Jonathan!

  3. Butter Beans in Cheese Sauce. One evening this week we had vegetables in cheese sause for dinner. The vegetables included butter beans. I love butter beans, which is just as wel because I ate a lot of them as a kid. I especially love them in cheese sauce.

  4. Daffodils
  5. Daffodils. Friday I saw the first daffodils out locally.

  6. Early Leaves. Also on Friday I spotted that some of the hawthorns were just beginning to open their leaves. Lovely bright fresh green buds and small leaves. And today it is warm and sunny! Spring really must be on the way.

09 March 2012

Cat's Arse

And here's another catoon — this one's specially for Oscar!

Click the image for a larger version

Dippy

We haven't had a good cartoon here for a while, so here's one which amused me the other day ...

Click the image for a larger version

07 March 2012

To Be or To Change?

Here's Zen teacher Brad Warner on becoming something you're not, but think you want to be. This is taken from his Hardcore Zen weblog.
[T]he effort to be something you're not always seems to go wrong no matter what it is you want to be ...

People who are working on fulfilling some image they have of a "nice person" are usually a pain in the ass. Their efforts to be like the "nice person" they've invented in their heads almost always get in the way of actually doing what needs to be done ... The kind of forced helpfulness such people engage in is almost never helpful at all. It's annoying. Sometimes it's even harmful.

But those of us who realize that we actually aren't as good as we could be have a real dilemma. What do you do when you recognize that you really are greedy, envious, jealous, angry, pessimistic and so on and on and on?

To me, it seems like the recognition of such things is itself good enough. It's not necessary to envision a better you and try to remake yourself in that image. Just notice yourself being greedy and very simply stop being greedy. Not for all time in all cases. Just in whatever instance you discover yourself being greedy. If you're greedy on Tuesday for more ice cream, don't envision a better you somewhere down the line who is never greedy for more ice cream. Just forgo that last scoop of ice cream right now. See how much better you feel. This kind of action, when repeated enough, becomes a new habit. Problem solved.
Which is really very much how I felt at work, and still feel, about personal development. Trying to totally restructure someone to be different (say, totally embodying that great new sales technique) doesn't work and is actually destructive of their personality. Indeed it is tantamount to brainwashing.

I need to be told about it, sure. Then I need to notice, in my own quiet way, the bits that work for me and try using them or incorporating them in what I do. That way I build on the existing strength of my personality, rather than destroying it and starting over.

No wonder I never fitted the company mould, and management didn't like it!

Change not only has to come from within it has to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

The Gallery : Light

This week's request from The Gallery is for us to post a photograph of something important to all photographers: Light.

So as usual I've dug one out of the archives.

A40 Chimney Sunset

This was the sunset on 9 December 2010 which I took from the passenger seat of the car travelling homeward from central London; we were on the White City flyover at the time. This chimney is on a new building on the left going westward; I've no idea what the building is for but it seems strange to put such a conspicuous chimney on an office block and I don't think it's a hospital — maybe it's something to do with the nearby BBC?

I love sunsets and sunrises. And travelling west out of London on this particular route, with its elevated sections, often gives good views of the sunset and cloudscapes.

With this shot I like the subtle pinks and greys of the sunset and the cloud patterns contrasted with the darker metallic slab of the chimney.

06 March 2012

On Humanity

Several recently noticed quotes on various aspects of humanity.

One cannot usefully legislate against an attitude or a belief, but one can legislate against criminal behaviour that might result from an attitude or a belief ... It is the duty of governments to protect their citizens from harm. It is not government's task to protect its citizens' sensitivities, however justifiable and acute, from peacefully expressed views, however bizarre.
[William Saunderson-Meyer at Thought Leader]

When asked What thing about humanity surprises you the most?, the Dalai Lama 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."
[Dalai Lama quoted on Only Dead Fish]

To be human is to have a human body. To be ashamed of one’s body is to be ashamed of being human … Nudity is the default setting for all of us. It’s wrong to let ourselves be bullied or shamed into taking the action of hiding behind clothing. A society in which individuals are free to be as dressed or undressed as they wish would be my ideal.
["Naked Andy" at iNAKED]

For a nation which has an almost evil reputation for bustle, bustle, bustle, and rush, rush, rush, we spend an enormous amount of time standing around in line in front of windows, just waiting.
[Robert Benchley]

We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.
[Dr Seuss]

Logic? What Logic?

Reports and comment on two recent pieces of appalling logic.

Firstly on the Roman Catholic Church's stance on same sex marriage: Cardinal Sins against Logic. What can one do but agree with one commenter who says There is no such thing as 'a great theological mind'. The term is an oxymoron.

And secondly on the attitude of some American mothers towards other teenage girls taking the Pill: All Kinds of Weapons.

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

05 March 2012

Quote : Self-Preservation

Never stand between a dog and a lamp post!

Thoughts of Angel

History of English

I've just finished reading Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English by John McWhorter. It's a very interesting, although slightly confusing, book about the history of English. That's English as in the language "what I speak".

Interesting because in it McWhorter tries to demonstrate that the early (as in mostly pre-Medieval Old English) history of the English language is far more complex but understandable than most scholars are prepared to admit.

Confusing in that as a non-linguist and someone who was never hot on the technicalities of grammar (the one probably because of the other) I don't easily appreciate the niceties of some of his argument and examples. I would undoubtedly benefit from re-reading it.

It's a short book but it covers an immense amount of ground. McWhorter starts with the argument that English was moulded by interaction with the Welsh and Cornish languages (all display features found nowhere else in the world). He ends with the suggestion that Proto-Germanic (the root of all modern Germanic languages including English) is a bastard off shoot of Proto-Indo-European made that way by interaction with Phoenician language(s). His concluding paragraphs give you a flavour:
English ... [a]n offshoot of Proto-Indo-European borrowed a third of its vocabulary from another language. That language may have been Phoenician ... Its speakers submitted the Proto-Indo-European offshoot to a grammatical overhaul ... they could not help shaving off a lot of its complications, and rendering parts of the grammar in ways familiar to them from their native language. This left Proto-Germanic a language both mixed and abbreviated before it even gave birth to new languages – and meant that it passed this mixed, abbreviated nature on to those new languages.

One of them was Old English, which morphed merrily along carrying the odd sound patterns, vowel-switching past marking, and mystery vocabulary from Proto-Germanic ... Old English was taken up by speakers of yet another language ... Celtic ones. As Celts started using English more and more over the decades, English gradually took an infusion of grammatical features from Welsh and Cornish, including a usage of do known in no other languages on earth.

Not long afterward ... Vikings speaking Old Norse picked up the language fast, and gave it a second shave ... English's grammar became the least "fussy" of all of the Germanic languages ...

The result: a tongue oddly genderless and telegraphic for a European one, clotted with peculiar ways of using do and progressive -ing – with ... a great big bunch of words from other languages. Not only Norse, French, Latin, and Greek, but possibly Phoenician ...

The vanilla version of The History of English will live on. But its proponents have not had occasion to engage with the underground stories I have attempted to share with you, or, having done so briefly, have opted to sweep them under the rug ...

... English is ... Interesting.

Interesting indeed!

04 March 2012

Reasons to be Grateful: 16

Experiment, week 16. This week's five things which have made me happy or for which I'm grateful.

This week has been full of food and family history!
  1. Fish Display. I just love the displays of fish at our local Waitrose. These are just a couple of photos I took earlier in the week.

    SpratsFrosty Fish

  2. Joan's Cherry Cake. Our neighbour across the road is in her late 80s and is beginning to lose her sight. So several of the neighbours keep half an eye on her, help her with errands and do bits of shopping for her — as much as she'll let us because like all "old 'uns" she's fiercely independent. Every so often she insists on making us a cake. It's very sweet of her and entirely unnecessary, but she enjoys doing it. This week she made a very nice cherry cake which was much appreciated for afternoon tea.

  3. Trout. At the same time as taking the fishy photos above we bought a couple of gorgeous large trout for dinner yesterday. Very simply baked in foil parcels in the oven with a bulb of fennel and lemon juice; served with plain steamed new potatoes and mushroom sauce. Yummy!

  4. Naval Family History. Over the last couple of weeks I've continued to investigate the naval connections of my family (for the start of the story see here). It's proving immensely interesting to see what ships the guys served on and where they went. I'll probably write more details about it when I've done more research and (hopefully) tied up some of the loose ends.

  5. Prawns & Pasta. Another simple but satisfying meal tonight which took minutes to prepare and cook. Here's how (you can do the quantities!). While preparing everything else, cook the pasta; when done drain it and keep it warm. Sauté some finely chopped onion and garlic in olive oil until going translucent. Add a quantity of thawed, uncooked king prawns; sauté for a minute then add some sliced mushrooms, tomato paste, half a glass of white wine and the juice of a lemon; plus a dash of chilli and/or chopped herbs if you wish. Mix together and cook for 5-6 minutes with the lid on to ensure the prawns are done. Near the end season to taste and add a bit more tomato paste if desired: the sauce should be thick and almost non-existent. Add the pasta and toss together for a minute or two. Serve with Parmesan (optional) and devour greedily!

Listography : My Week

This week Kate's Listography asks us to document, in five photos, what we get up to in a typical week.

So here goes with some of the things I might get up to.
Click the photos for bigger images and/or more details.


1. Food Shopping
Sprats
This lovely display of sprats was on the fish counter of our local Waitrose.

2. Cooking
Thing-a-Day #5 : Cheese & Onion Muffins
Noreen and I share cooking duties and I try to do my fair share.
Mostly we're cooking just main meals; we don't tend to do fancy stuff
although we do each have our specialities.
These are cheese and onion muffins, which were a special I did some time back.

3. Watching Birds in the Garden
Starling Drinking
I was brought up to take an interest in Natural History, and I still do.
This starling is drinking from our bird bath; snapped from my study window.

4. Researching My Family History
Wedding ca 1905?
This is a scan of a ca. 1905 wedding photo;
my maternal grandmother was a bridesmaid to one of her friends.
Her mother is also in the photo.

5. People Watching
Sandwich
This Hyacinth Bucket lady really let the side down by slumping
on a station bench and devouring a sandwich in public.
Taken at Harrow on the Hill station.