30 April 2012

Quotes : Explanations

Well yes, these quotes do explain a few things ...

Here's all you need to know about men and women: women are crazy, men are stupid. And the main reason women are crazy is that men are stupid.
[George Carlin]

You never know what is enough, until you know what is more than enough.
[William Blake, Proverbs of Hell]

Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled.
[Michael Crichton, Caltech Michelin Lecture, 17 January 2003]

I believe that it is better to tell the truth than a lie. I believe it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe it is better to know than to be ignorant. The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out ... without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, intolerable.
[HL Mencken]

Warm-heartedness reinforces our self-confidence – giving us not a blind confidence, but a sense of confidence based on reason. When you have that you can act transparently, with nothing to hide! Likewise, if you are honest, the community will trust you. Trust brings friendship, as a result of which you can always feel happy. Whether you look to the right or the left, you will always be able to smile.
[Dalai Lama]

If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet you'd best take it out and teach it to dance.
[George Bernard Shaw]

29 April 2012

Reasons to be Grateful: 24

Experiment, week 24. Continuing the experiment here are this week's five things which have made me happy or for which I'm grateful.
  1. Sunshine. Yeah, I said it last week and I'll say it again! This has been such a dismal week, weatherwise, that I've really appreciated the few odd spells of sunshine we've had.

  2. Lunch with Friends. On Thursday we had a flying visit to Portsmouth to have lunch with some friends and ex-colleagues. (We were going to make a good day out of it and look round Portsmouth Dockyard. But who wants to do that in the pouring rain?) So we settled for just having a most enjoyable lunch at The Chimes. This is the restaurant run by the Hospitality and Catering Department of Portsmouth Highbury College. As Pam, who booked it, said: the food is always excellent but the service can be interesting. And to be fair the service was somewhat hesitant and lacking confidence — but then the students were obviously learning and we all have to start somewhere! As to the food ...

  3. Rack of Lamb. ... Yep I had a rack of lamb at the The Chimes. And yes, it was excellent. Beautifully cooked; really tender; and full of flavour. All in all the food really couldn't be faulted; everyone enjoyed it. And it was ridiculously cheap.

  4. Lamb Curry. Lamb again, only this time my own lamb curry early in the week.

  5. Raspberries & Clotted Cream. More food; and eaten at home. We should have been going to dinner with friends last night but Sue was ill. And as we'd promised to take pudding we had a quantity of raspberries and clotted cream to devour for tea! Followed by strawberries for breakfast today. Yum!

Uninspiring Weather

Yes, I know! There's been a bit of a hiatus here.

It's because I am not feeling inspired to write. And there doesn't seem to be much around at the moment I feel compelled to write about.

Oh, sure, there's plenty going on in the world. The news seems mostly about direly boring politicians as usual. That and the calamitous nature of "things".

And there's not a whole lot happening in my world despite seeming to be busy. Most of the efforts recently seem to have gone into making some progress on my family history. Which is good, and which is slowly paying dividends. But it isn't something to generally enthuse other people.

But hey, we're British! So what better to do on a wet April day that indulge in that world-famous British pastime of talking about the weather!

It's supposedly the wettest April on record in the UK. Well, yes, the weather has been dire for the last month. Today it's blowing half a gale and peeing down with rain. AGAIN! SE England has reportedly had over 40mm of rain in the last week and over 140mm this month — that's well over twice the April average. And the forecast is that there'll be no let-up in May.

Which sort of disinclines one to venture out unnecessarily.

And there won't be anything by way of a fruit crop this year. Our apple and cherry trees have been in bloom for the last week, and are almost over. It's not been a week for bees to be out and about pollinating the flowers. Except perhaps for a couple of sunny mornings.

And what of the drought? Well yes, we still have a drought. A month's heavy rain won't refill the aquifers or the reservoirs overnight, although it will help. That takes time.

And once there is drought the soil dries out and the subsequent rain just runs off rather than soaking through properly. Hence we get flash floods and swollen rivers. Travelling to the south coast a few days ago it was noticeable that every river was in spate.

Drought we certainly do have. There is an area of our garden which usually has standing water after any significant rainfall, and it is noticeable that the standing water hasn't been there until this morning. Our houses were built in 1930 on what was previously farm/park land. We suspect that where we get standing water is where the builders likely backfilled a field ditch with rubble but the ditch still runs with water from a small nearby spring. Dowsing certainly tells us there is running water there.

But how do we have a drought? I ask because my fish pond is overflowing and has been most of the winter. The water level is usually down by 2 or 3 inches by the Spring. But not this year; if anything it has been consistently 2 to 3 inches higher than normal, and overflowing, with no effort on my part.

On the other hand the garden is looking wonderfully green with all the water. And the grass is growing like Topsy — well it was top-dressed with "home-grown" compost a few weeks ago!

But it is essentially uninspiring and demotivating all round. Where's my summer?!

Today's Word : Adit

  1. An approach; specifically a horizontal opening by which a mine is entered or drained.

  2. Also the action of making an approach.

25 April 2012

Gardening the Mind

I came across the following quote from Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight on the interwebs the other day. It seems a good take on personal development and personal responsibility.

I view the garden in my mind as a sacred patch of cosmic real estate that the universe has entrusted me to tend over the years of my lifetime. As an independent agent, I and I alone, in conjunction with the molecular genius of my DNA and the environmental factors I am exposed to, will decorate this space within my cranium. In the early years, I may have minimal input into what circuits grow inside my brain because I am the product of the dirt and seeds I have inherited. But to our good fortune, the genius of our DNA is not a dictator, and thanks to our neurons’ plasticity, the power of thought, and the wonders of modern medicine, very few outcomes are absolute.

Regardless of the garden I have inherited, once I consciously take over the responsibility of tending my mind, I choose to nurture those circuits that I want to grow, and consciously prune back those circuits I prefer to live without.

Although it is easier for me to nip a weed when it is just a sprouting bud, with determination and perseverance even the gnarliest of vines, when deprived of fuel, will eventually lose its strength and fall to the side.

24 April 2012

An Explanation

This could explain why I was always in trouble at work ...

... because those who mind think they matter!

Just for a few of my friends ...

23 April 2012

Quotes : Stop and Think

Some mornings it just doesn’t seem worth it to gnaw through the leather straps.
[Emo Phillips]

So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.
[Peter Drucker]

The saying "Getting there is half the fun" became obsolete with the advent of commercial airlines.
[Henry J Tillman]

Censorship is telling a man he can't have steak just because a baby can't chew it.
[Mark Twain]

I see no way out of the problems that organised religion and tribalism create other than humans just becoming more honest and fully aware of themselves … we're living in what Carl Sagan correctly termed a demon-haunted world. We have created a Star Wars civilisation but we have Palaeolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology. That's dangerous.
[EO Wilson; New Scientist, 21/04/2012]

22 April 2012

Forgive Me for I have Sinned

I have sinned. I need shriving.

We should have spent the weekend doing boring domestic things like cleaning out cupboards and throwing away toot, or doing literary society work.

But we haven't.

The only domestic stuff I managed to do was (a) the regular paperwork and make sure the bills are paid and (b) to put together the Saturday and Sunday evening meals. That really isn't good enough considering the jumble-sale state of the house.

But did we care? Did we hell!

Instead we worked at cracking a couple of blockages in tracing my family history. We haven't cracked them but we have made progress and narrowed some of the options. In both cases this is down to two heads being better than one, and Noreen having a couple of brainwaves.

The two cases are totally unrelated; one in my father's family the other in my mother's. The former in Kent; the latter in London. But both at at the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th, so way before there are birth, marriage and death registrations or censuses to help much.

In my father's family I have a gg-grandfather the date of whose marriage I can't prove and whose parentage I can't prove. There is later census data which shows a string of children and there are death registrations for both gg-grandparents. I can't prove which of two candidates is my gg-grandfather: there are two guys with the same names, born to different parents, within 2 years (1805-1807) in the same village. Which of them was it who married my gg-grandmother? I cannot tell. At very best I have some extremely vague circumstantial evidence. (Note that at this date most parish records do not give the names of the bride's and groom's fathers.)

But Noreen did solve part of the puzzle over gg-grandfather's marriage. The marriage dates for my gg-grandparents don't fit with the string of children — several are born before the apparent marriage. Noreen said "I don't suppose he had two marriages?". And yes, from the baptism records, it looks as if he did and that my gg-grandmother was his second wife. The first half of the children are by his first wife; and my line descends from the youngest child of the second wife. And that puts the marriage in the right place on the timeline. I still can't prove it conclusively, but it looks likely.

This is going to be a case of go and hunt in the actual parish registers for the relevant villages and see if there are clues which aren't in the transcriptions.

Late-1930/early-1931. My father (centre) aged about 10, with his parents, younger brother and baby sister.
It's my grandfather's line I'm trying to fix.
[Apologies for the scan of a poor copy of a poor original!]

In the other case, on my mother's side, I have as good as fixed the problem gg-grandparents already, although corroboration would be nice. But I cannot fix my gg-grandmother's parents or their parents.

We have likely baptisms for the ggg-grandparents, and also ggg-grandfather's death. There appears to be a marriage, but the date is in doubt (by all of 10 years — choose 1822 or 1832!). 1822 is the more likely as the first child appears to be born in 1823. But by dint of diligent searching and some good guesswork we've managed to fix ggg-grandparents' family on the 1841 census which we couldn't previously and found a couple of their children who we didn't previously know about and who probably died prior to 1841.

That doesn't help unravel the problem of the gggg-grandparents although there are now a few clues to work on. And fortunately in this case we are looking at people with relatively uncommon surnames, but in London where many of the parish records aren't available online (yet).

But we have made progress. Again it is going to be a case of looking at the original parish registers of a couple of well known London churches to see what clues they can offer which the available transcriptions can't.

How do we do it? Basically I work as far as I can and draw out the options. In each case I then take Noreen through the case, outlining what I know and can prove, what we need to prove, and where there are conflicts or gaps. We then check the data together. And hunt together (or separately) other avenues which present themselves. We have ideas and hunches and try to prove (or disprove) them. And I do the same for Noreen's researches. One of us presents our case and the other acts as judge. When we agree a position we then both act as investigating magistrates.

Yes, it is hard work and it does need two brains on the problem. It has to be approached forensically. One needs to know the result is correct; I liken it to having to convince a court. Many people are far too slapdash and make assumed connections where there are none; too much of what I see others doing I can easily prove to be wrong. I have to be convinced beyond reasonable doubt.

And it's as annoying as hell not to be ale to crack the problems.

But it sure beats doing housework!

Reasons to be Grateful: 23

Experiment, week 23. Continuing the experiment here are this week's five things which have made me happy or for which I'm grateful.
  1. Sunshine. It's been another dull, grey rainy and not very warm week. So I've especially appreciated the small amounts of nice sunshine we've had. Sunshine really does make me feel so much better!

  2. Rain. I have also appreciated the rain. We need the rain; it has been very dry, despite the fact that my pond is overflowing. And some of the rain has been nice soft steady summer rain, which I always quite like.

  3. Rainbow
  4. Rainbow. And what do you get with sun and rain but a rainbow. We had a lovely example of a complete rainbow this week — and a second, but of course fainter, one outside it. (The photo is one I took last year.)

  5. Green Garden. All of which is making the garden wonderfully green. Lovely bright fresh Spring greens too.

  6. Pasta and Lemony Prawns. Finally some food. We got two bargains this week in Waitrose: some super king prawns and several ends of sirloin steak at not quite half price! The latter was divided up and frozen; Noreen used one portion to make a great beef curry on Friday evening. And some of the prawns I cooked last night in a very lemony tomato sauce with linguine. Yummy!

Not so much an auction ...

... more a way of life!

More amusements from the catalogue of our local auctioneers.

An unusual Walt Disney Mickey Mouse ring, in 10ct gold, dated 24.9.56

A crude porcelain figure of a crouching man with naked bottom ...
Just what I need for the mantelpiece!

A shelf of decorative ornaments and toys including ... a figure of a lady seated with her dog in a crinoline ...
How do you get the dog into the crinoline?

An interesting lot of old tennis rackets with presses, old golf clubs, lacrosse sticks, old radio valves and radios, a garden spray, old light bulbs, a tie press, an early photograph of a rugby team, and two fur coats, one faux

A set of 4 Royal Doulton Brambly Hedge seasons beakers, a set of 4 Royal Doulton Brambly Hedge seasons plates, 5 Royal Doulton Brambly Hedge figures: Primrose Woodmouse, Mr Apple, Poppy Eyebright, Wilfred Toadflax and Mr Saltapple; a Beswick figure of Mrs Rabbit and 3 Royal Doulton Bunnykins figures: Birthday Girl, Emperor and Mermaid Bunnykins
Oh dearie, dearie me!

A biscuit tin full of Robertsons Golliwogs paraded like the terracotta army ...
Like one does!

A Victorian Aesthetic Movement brass wall sconce for three lights of leaf shape, applied with a lizard and butterfly
So hold on. You're telling me that to use this I have to find leaf-shaped bulbs, and then a lizard and a butterfly to be able to fit them? Que?

An impressive radio-controlled liquid fuel model U-Boot Class XXI, with U.2511 transfer, in fibreglass painted grey, 64 ins. long ...

A good old stuffed black-throated diver in a glass case
Hmmm ...

A Burlington Wade Long John Silver musical Toby jug ...

A Royal Copenhagen fawn on a column ...
Takes a lot of skill does fawning on a column.

A Coalport neo-rococo milk jug enamelled with flowers and in grey and gold ...

A mounted fallow deer’s head with tail

A set of three mahogany salon chairs of gondola shape, each with an inlaid floral pattern above a pierced splat, each raised on cabriole legs

A modern cane chair of Sombrero design ...

21 April 2012

Buggered Britain 6

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 6

This decrepit gateway is on the North Circular (A406) just south of the Hanger Lane Gyratory. Such a shame as it could look so imposing.

20 April 2012

Yet More Orchid Porn

This is the original orchid I had which has now been in bloom for four weeks. Currently there are 8 flowers open (each getting on for 10cm wide!) and at least another 6 to come. It is absolutely magnificent.

Orchid Again

See here for my first picture taken on 25 March.

Picture for Today

Just a little something I took on the way back from the supermarket this morning ...

Trying to Escape

17 April 2012

Three Thoughts to Aspire to ...

All shamelessly culled from the interwebs.

Something Cheerful for a Rainy Day

Noreen happened to be in our local M&S yesterday and spotted that they had some smallish orchids at half price (like £6 instead of £12!). So she bought me one.

Purple Orchid

It is currently sitting on my desk awaiting a saucer to sit in. And it definitely cheers up a dull wet day.

15 April 2012

Aliens, but not as we know them

This is the title of an interesting article by Ian Bogost in the 7 April 2012 issue of New Scientist. In it Bogost posits the question: Are everyday objects, such as apple pies or microchips, aliens?

Answer: It depends how you think about what it's like to be a thing.

I can't link the article as it's behind a paywall, but here are a few salient snippets.

[E]verything is an alien to everything else. And second, the experience of "being" something else can never be verified or validated ...

[W]hy should we be so self-centred as to think that aliens are beings whose intelligence we might recognise as intelligence? ... a true alien might well have an intelligence that is, well, alien to ours ...

[L]et's assume they are all around us, and at all scales - everything from dogs, penguins and trees to cornbread, polyester and neutrons. If we do this, we can ask a different question: what do objects experience? What is it like to be a thing? ...

[W]hy is it so strange to ponder the experience of objects, even while knowing objects don't really have "experiences" as you or I do? ...

This kind of engagement will necessitate a new alliance between science and philosophy ... From a common Enlightenment origin, studies of human culture split. Science broke down the biological, physical and cosmological world into smaller and smaller bits in order to understand it. But philosophy concluded that reason could not explain the objects of experience but only describe experience itself ...

Despite this split, science and philosophy agreed on one fundamental: humanity is the ruler of being. Science embraced Copernicus's removal of humans from the centre of the universe, but still assumed the world exists for the benefit of humankind ... Occasionally animals and plants may be allowed membership in our collective, but toasters or [electronic components] certainly aren't ...

[W]hat if we decide that all things are equal - not equal in nature or use or value, but equal in existence? ... then we need a flat ontology, an account of existence that holds nothing to be intrinsically more or less extant than anything else ...

Thomas Nagel ... famously asked what it was like to be a bat, concluding the experience could not be reduced to a scientific description of its method of echolocation. Science attempts to answer questions through observation and verification. Even so, the "experience" of all objects, from bats to Atari computers, resists explanation through experimentation ...

The world is not just ours, nor is it just for us: "being" concerns microchips or drilling rigs as much as it does kittens or bamboo.

So perhaps the people who apologise to things when they throw them away aren't quite so mad after all!?

Reasons to be Grateful: 22

Experiment, week 22. Continuing the experiment here are this week's five things which have made me happy or for which I'm grateful.
  1. English Asparagus. Following straight on from last week, this week Waitrose had the first English asparagus. What a lovely addition to a salad on Friday evening; lightly steamed it was succulent and with gorgeous flavour. Hope fully there will be lots more before the end of the (all too short) season.

  2. Cold Roast Turkey. Last weekend Noreen bought what Waitrose describe as a Turkey Crown Roast. Now "crown roast" to me implies that it's boned and stuffed but this was just the front half of a turkey, sealed in a roasting bag. It wasn't cheap, but it was delicious. It was good as hot Sunday roast (the bag method worked extremely well) but even better cold, with a surprising amount of flavour. And we got enough meals from it that it didn't turn out that expensive after all. (And no sign of the dreaded Turkey Curry either!)

  3. Apple Blossom. The first of the apple blossom is out: our ornamental crab apple tree is in flower. I love apple blossom especially as the buds are just breaking and have that delightful pink blush.

  4. Another Orchid
  5. Orchids. The orchid my mother gave me is continuing to flower! And we spotted another nice one (above) this week in Waitrose, so now there are two!

  6. Sunshine. Finally for this week let's have some more sunshine. It's been a dull grey, intermittently wet, week. But yesterday and today we're having some beautiful sunny periods. I feel so much better when the sun is out!

Today's Word : Ineluctable


From which one cannot escape by struggling; not to be escaped from.

14 April 2012

Weekly-ish Quotes

A few more quotes which I come across recently and which amused or otherwise hit me over the head.

Now that there is a hosepipe ban, does that mean colonic irrigation is now illegal?
[Thoughts of Angel]

The word “politics” is derived from the word “poly”, meaning “many”, and the word “ticks”, meaning “blood sucking parasites”
[Thoughts of Angel]

It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty ... And how few by deceit.
[Noel Coward]

If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy. In Republics, the great danger is, that the majority may not sufficiently respect the rights of the minority. It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power.
[James Madison]

A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have. I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object. When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.
[Thomas Jefferson]

There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking.
[Thomas A Edison]


My friend Katy blogged a few days ago about her quirks — inexplicable things ones does and habits one has. And I thought rather than post a long comment for her I'd write what follows.

Quirks? Yes, I've got my fair share of them; maybe more than my fair share. Who hasn't?

My friends are too polite to tell me about them — and they still remain friends — so I can only assume they're not too annoying for most people. Or maybe that's why I don't have a huge circle of friends.

So what are my quirks? Hmmm ... you really want to know? OK ...

I repeat words in the middle of sentences. For instance I'll say something like; "I wonder if maybe I — maybe I could borrow your saucepan?". I don't know how often I do it, but I catch myself at it every so often and think "WTF did I do that?". It's a sort of hesitation, although not quite. It's not that I don't know what I'm going to say because invariably I do, so that isn't the cause, unlike most hesitations. It's something much more automatic than that, like a little loop in the brain circuits snaps open.

I interrupt people; and talk over them. This is very annoying for them, and almost as annoying for me. I catch myself doing this and every time I kick myself in the ankle and say something like "f***ing dickhead — STOP doing that!" in my own ear. It isn't just something I do on the phone, where there are no visual cues about speaking; I do it in face-to-face conversations as well. Again I don't know why I do it. I've been moaned at for it over many years by parents, work colleagues, managers, friends and myself, but I still do it. It seems to be something I cannot break. We all have a collision detection system which kicks in when we start speaking at the same time as someone else. Usually it stops both people, who then either start again after a random delay or undergo some negotiation; sometimes only one person will stop leaving the way clear for the other. Clearly my collision detection system doesn't work properly. Why?

I also swear a lot. I know I do. Hopefully it (usually automatically) moderates itself in polite company.

Like many people I have the thing about peeing. I have to pee just before I go out and last thing when settling for the night. Yep, even if I've been only 10 minutes before. I also have it when doing anything in the garden: within 10-15 minutes of starting anything in the garden I have to go to the loo.

Does nudity count as a quirk? Yes, I thought it would. As regular readers will know I'm comfortable being nude. I always have been; it's how I was brought up. We have a naturally warm house (no the heating isn't turned up high, if anything the opposite) and I don't feel the cold easily (too much blubber!). Consequently at home I seldom get dressed unless I'm going out, someone is coming round or the weather is really, really cold. I always have a dressing gown or jeans & t-shirt to hand in case the doorbell rings. I even sit in the garden, near the house where essentially no-one can see, in the nude, although I don't normally wander down the garden in full view of the neighbours. Mustn't frighten the horses y'know.

I almost invariably have to sleep flat on my front, facing left. Don't know why; I always have, even as a kid. I have to be really tired (or ill) to sleep on my back or side — although I do sometimes wake up on my back. Bloody annoying now I have a CPAP mask (because of the sleep apnoea); it would be much better and easier if I could get to sleep easily on my back. But then I suspect everyone has one position in which they normally sleep.

Another annoying thing I do is sniff. It is about the only way of clearing my nose. As a kid I was always being told to blow my nose not sniff. But blowing my nose was a waste of time; I never could clear it that way; it just didn't work, whereas sniffing did. And that's still the case. I assume it must be something to do with the structure of my nasal passages ans sinuses; and despite surgery. The catarrh in my sinuses annoys me, so I'm damn sure the sniffing annoys others. Sorry!

So there are a few quirks. I'm sure I must have lots of ohers that I've not noticed.

Dare you tell us about your quirks?

11 April 2012

The Gallery : Easter

Predictable this week's subject from The Gallery is Easter. And of course Easter means daffodils, so here's one I prepared a couple of years ago ...


No there's no story behind this, just some flowers.

Orchid Porn

Something for a damp Spring day ... another picture of our orchid.


There are now 5 flowers open and another 8 buds in various stages. What is really nice is that slight pinky-mauve blush on the backs of the flowers.

09 April 2012

You're Selling What?

Even our more up-market local-ish auction house have their moments of amusement ...

An unusual silver plated four branch epergne on hairy paw feet, lack glass bowls.

Two boxes of early 20th century British made, medical, chemist and surgical instruments, some military, including dental elevators, atropine injection, First Field dressing, various tube and glass ointments, circa 1945, etc.

An unusual yellow metal coiled snake, with blue cabochon eyes and a gold quartz ring.
[A species new to science?]

An early 20th century Chinese embroidered silk rope [sic], cream ground with embroidered floral vase arrangements, blue sleeve and neck trimming.

A 'Milliners Joy', German 1870s, tucks combs dressed as Millers ... (one lacks right leg), a grotto diorama of small houses, a windmill and farm animals, painted and carved wood, including horses, deer, dog and cat ... (loose small parts, windmill needs two blades repaired, sits in old wooden box with no front).
[Yes, it's a box of toot!]

An old North-West Persian runner, with co-joined complex medallions ...
[Pity his cleft stick isn't included!]

A 19th century Chinese hardwood carving of an athlete with glass eyes.
[How do we know the original athlete model had glass eyes?]

A 19th century unusual brass syringe with ivory nipple.

A modern concrete statue of David (weathered).

And for the pedants amongst you, I spotted "a candelabra" and "a pair of candelabrums".

In Case You Missed ...

The usual links to things which have amused me and which you may have missed ...

First of all ... politics. Never short of an Idiot, and interesting cynical take on James Murdoch vs David Cameron.

And secondly ... politics. The politicians are about to remove some of the interest in our lives by having "a bonfire of dead wood statutes" and abolishing some 800 outdated and obsolete laws. Have they really nothing better to do? Oh, sorry, it's their job to make our lives boring.

So to alleviate that boredom here are a few seriously amazing items ...

How long would it take to travel to the moon at the speed of whale? One Minute Physics has the answer.

[Not safe for the faint-hearted!] Turning to biology, entomologists have recently found and described an enormous Warrior Wasp, aka. Waspzilla. Talk about awesome! Yes, I really would love to meet one.

Still on the biological, I discovered The Tiny Aviary, the website of illustrator Diana Sudyka. Gorgeous drawings like the one above.

And finally more stunning art, this time from Dalton Ghetti who carves sculptures in pencil lead. How you even start doing that makes my head hurt!


08 April 2012

Reasons to be Grateful: 21

Experiment, week 21. This week's five things which have made me happy or for which I'm grateful.
  1. Bacon Pieces. I think I've said that whenever we go up to Norwich to see my mother we drop into the nearby Roy's supermarket. One reason is that they sell 1 kilo packs of smoked bacon offcuts — buy two or three; use one, freeze the rest! I learnt when I worked in a supermarket as a teenager that bacon offcuts were not only cheap but often contained good bacon. And with these if you pick over the packs you can usually get some good ones. We broached a pack of such this week and as well as some scrappy bits (great for risotto, pasta etc.) there were some decent pieces which can be cut however you want. It's good bacon, and it's British bacon! We got three main meals for two of that pack: great value at £2.64!

  2. National Archives Online. I continue to be amazed at the records the National Archives have online. Hunting this week I turned up the records for cases heard at the Old Bailey, including James Gambridge (whether my ancestor or another, I don't know) who was found guilty in 1826 of stealing 17 sheets of glass to the value of 7 shillings. He was lucky to be sentenced to just 3 months incarceration as this was a time when had the value been not a lot greater he would have been deported to Australia or even hanged.

  3. Florentines. As our Easter treat Noreen bought us each a couple of Waitrose's large Florentines. Yummy!

  4. Marrow Stuffed with Chilli Beef Risotto. This was another Noreen special, she having bought a marrow. Although I can take or leave courgettes, I love marrow. I suggested stuffing it with risotto. So Noreen cooked a nicely chillied (not too hot) risotto of beef mince, stuffed it in the marrow (with the extra around it) and bunged it in the oven for a bit. Out came some soft marrow with a tasty, sticky beef risotto. Most excellent.

  5. Spring Greens. No I don't mean the cabbage leaves — though I like those too — I mean the garden! Looking out this morning at what one of our Irish friends would call "a soft day" (ie. damp and slightly misty), suddenly everything is green again. Fresh green leaves. Spring!!
Bring on the English asparagus!

A Week in View

This seems to sum up my week quite well.

Hat-tip: Tony Wade.

Dreary Weekend

I don't understand.

Why is it that Easter is always such a miserable weekend?

No, I don't mean the weather. OK, so far today is dull and damp, but that isn't always so.

Nor do I mean the fact that it isn't the most joyous of Christian festivals. As a non-believer this weighs with me not at all, but I don't dislike Easter on principle.

I've noticed, though, over many years, that Easter is somehow always a miserable, dull, boring, depressed and joyless weekend.

OK so as a culture (religious or secular) we're not indulging in the festivities of Christmas. But Easter took over the old pagan Spring festival, when everything was growing again and there was more daylight than darkness. Even leaving the chocolate aside, there are flowers and cute Easter bunnies (which should really be hares anyway!). Despite the fact that I don't do cute, that still ought to make Easter weekend joyful.

But it isn't.


I don't understand.

07 April 2012

Cross Spotters

Oh dear! The Christians are fluttering in their olive trees again. Various clerics, most notably Cardinal O'Brien, Roman Orthodox Archbishop of all Scotland, are telling their flocks to wear a cross to signify their faith.

Why? Why do they have to be told? Are they sheep? [No, don't answer that!]

And why do they need to do this? I don't give a flying wombat what fictions you believe. I'm glad to say that's your problem, not mine.

And yet most true believers already wear their faith on their sleeves and — very rudely — make sure we're not allowed to forget it. But sure, if they want to wear an emblem, why shouldn't they?** Who is to stop them going around adorned with badges and looking like a bus spotter? Moreover I'm sure the monasteries could find enough spare saints' fingers for them all to have a few poking out of a breast pocket to complete the bus spotter look. The same applies to believers in any other faith, or no faith.

Most of us don't need to advertise our beliefs on our lapels. But if others are sufficiently insecure in their faith that they have to remind everyone, including themselves, what harm? None really if they stick to just wearing a badge. But I bet they don't. The harm is if, as so often, it becomes another nauseating means of proselytising beliefs. That's something the rest of us have no need to do; indeed don't believe in doing. We're secure enough in our beliefs; beliefs which are personal and not to be imposed on others. We don't need lots of other like-minded fools around us to convince us we're right.

Yes, OK, fine if you want to wear a discrete cross, pentacle, Star of David, swastika or whatever on a chain round your neck. But is it just me who finds badges, bumper stickers, prayer beads hanging from driving mirrors etc. somewhat nauseating? And I don't draw the line at religious symbolism. Badges for the Rotary Club, football club, train spotters guild are just as annoying. Why do we need to advertise our allegiances in this way? If we can't spread our faith (whatever that is) by shining example then pretty poor show. Good works and humility, not faith alone.

Who are we to deny such poor benighted souls their comforts? Although can you imagine the outcry if they were forced to wear some identification, as were the Jews in Nazi Germany? They'd be up in arms quicker than a ferret down a drain-pipe.

Maybe I should have a supply of "There is no god" badges made? Or should we all have 42 forceably tattooed on our foreheads?

** There will always be employers who, rightly, ban jewellery for safety reasons. But that is really a side issue.

Quotes : On People

He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.
[Sir Winston Churchill]

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
[Benjamin Franklin, 1759]

Whatever you are, be a good one.
[Abraham Lincoln]

A person with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.
[Mark Twain]

When trouble arises and things look bad, there is always one individual who perceives a solution and is willing to take command. Very often, that individual is crazy.
[Sigmund Freud]

06 April 2012

Buggered Britain 5

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 5

This is the Greenwood pub in Northolt, about a mile from where I live. It's no surprise it closed as a pub because although often used for filming it also had a reputation (how justified I don't know) for regular drugs raids. It has been in this state for a couple of years. I'm told that there is (or was) a potential buyer interested in rejuvenating it as a restaurant, although what business they'll find at this location is an open question. What makes things more interesting is that the building is Grade II listed by English Heritage, so the exterior, and reading the listing maybe also the interior, are protected and so can't have too much done to them. Such a shame because it is a good building which ought to be able to be reused and could look quite stunning. Let's just hope McDonald's don't get their hands on it!

05 April 2012


For all cat lovers ... this is Sally trying to blend into the carpet while doing her Miss Cute act last evening!


Considering she's a fairly lazy pudding of a cat who could do with losing a pound or two of kibble (who couldn't?!) she's doing well for 13+. You'd not know she's had her thyroids removed. She's still a pretty (not so) small cat with semi-long hair (nice light fluffy striped fur that floats everywhere) an apricot evening gown and black gloves. And yes, she still does cute all too well.

04 April 2012

The Gallery : At Peace

This week's theme over at The Gallery is At Peace.

Now this can be interpreted, as Tara did when announcing the theme, as personal peace and quiet ("a quiet corner with a book, or sitting in the bath by candlelight") or in the sense of beyond the grave. I've chosen the latter interpretation.

David Masey Grave
Click the image for a larger version

This is the grave in churchyard of St Nicholas, New Romney, Kent of David Masey (10 October to 28 July 1882) who was my great-great-grandfather and his wife Mary. Also commemorated are a number of their family members (none in my direct line). We know from the census returns that David Masey was a fisherman, but I've been told that he was also variously a greengrocer, fishmonger, boatman and a lifeboatman at Littlestone.

St Nicholas, New Romney is an interesting church in a small country town and has the usual peaceful and rather idyllic churchyard. When I searched there last I was unable to find any other Masey graves, although sadly very many of the headstones are so weathered as to be unreadable.

02 April 2012

Quote : Decisions

You will never have all the information you need to make a decision. If you did, it would be a foregone conclusion, not a decision.

David Mahoney

I guess that's me!

I can definitely identify with this ...

01 April 2012

Reasons to be Grateful: 20

Experiment, week 20. Yes, we're now a third of the way through the 60 week experiment! So here are this week's five things which have made me happy or for which I'm grateful.
    Silver Birch Catkins
  1. Photographing Parakeets. As you will have seen from my post earlier in the week I spent a nice sunny afternoon sitting in the garden photographing the local Ring-Necked Parakeets.

  2. Birch Catkins and Pine Cones. The garden today has been a real delight. It's been a bit cooler than a few days ago but still wall-to-wall sunshine. The catkins on the silver birches are just out (note to get out the hayfever tablets!) and our Christmas trees (now around 20 feet high) have enormous crops of cones, and are spreading seeds everywhere.

  3. Butterflies. The warm weather has also brought out the first butterflies, as well as the early bumblebees and queen wasps. The first butterfly I saw, a couple of days ago, was a Holly Blue. Shortly followed by a Small White. And today sitting in the sun there was a brand spanking newly hatched Comma — and I've not seen one of those here for a few years either.

  4. Goldcrest. While in the garden this afternoon, Noreen looked up into the smaller Christmas tree and said "What's this bird over my head?" I went to look. And there just 5 or 6 feet above us, and completely oblivious to our presence, was the tiniest Goldcrest. It is our smallest native bird, much smaller even than a Blue Tit, and although not hugely rare it is uncommon and seldom seen because it prefers living deep in (preferably conifer) woodland. This is the second one I've seen here in a week; and they're the only ones in the last 10 years! One can hope they'll stay, but I doubt we have enough nearby trees, especially conifers. I couldn't get a good photo of it as I was shooting against the bright sky but here's an image from the web.

  5. Cold Roast Pork Sandwiches. Finally on a foodie theme ... At the end of last week when we were in Norwich visiting my mother we picked up a large, but incredibly cheap, joint of pork shoulder for roasting in Roy's, the local supermarket chain. It was magnificent; it was so tender that you could cut the cooked meat with a spoon. And it made some delicious cold roast pork sandwiches! I love cold roast pork!

Bird Watching : The Tits

Spring is sprung. The birdies are singing. Once again the British birdwatcher can enjoy their pleasure without having their nuts frozen off. So we are starting a new occasional series to introduce those unfamiliar with British birds to species identification in the field. First ...

The Tit Family
There are seven (or maybe eight) species of tits seen in Britain (most commonly seen first).

Blue (or Tiny) Tit
Great Tit
Coal Tit
Long-Tailed Tit
Marsh or Willow Tit
May be two separate species but impossible to tell apart except hand. Named after the weeping willow tree.
Crested Tit
Bearded Tit

Pork Pie Conservation

We've noticed that recently delicatessens and like establishments are proudly proclaiming availability of "hand-raised pork pies". Although we've not yet definitively identified the establishment promoting this development, the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association are chief suspects. But whoever is responsible we are delighted that there is a movement to conserve the wild pork pie population.