31 July 2012

Life around here ...

Somehow, I really can't understand how, this sort of resonates with life around here ...

29 July 2012

Milking the Farmers

Does anyone else find this charade about the price dairies pay farmers for milk somewhat curious?

According to today's Telegraph the four largest dairies — Robert Wiseman, Arla, First Milk and Dairy Crest — have all now cancelled a 2p/litre cut in what they pay farmers for milk.



Isn't it curious that they all planned essentially the same cut, at the same time? And have now all rescinded it?

(OK, the latter is supposedly in response to the farmers' protests.)

They're still paying the farmers below production cost. So GOK how the farmers make ends meet. Presumably they have to find a way to cross-subsidise their milk production. But it beats me why anyone would want to produce a product on which they can't make a profit. By rights the UK farmers should not be producing milk at all. But then I'm not a farmer.

Does this whole thing have the smell of a cartel amongst the dairies, because it certainly looks that way? And that makes one wonder what role the farmers (despite all their quite justified protest) and the supermarkets have in this.

Hmmm ... Dirty tricks in agri-business again? It certainly wouldn't be the first time.

Reasons to be Grateful: 37

Experiment, week 37. We've completed another week done in my continuing experiment in documenting five things which have made me happy or for which I'm grateful this week.

This week's selection is for Sue, who challenged me to write one of these posts without mentioning food!

  1. Wood Smoke. I love the smell of wood smoke and bonfires. It always takes me back to my childhood and especially to scout camp. Those were good days! What is it that makes smells so evocative?

  2. Family Reconnections. What a brilliant week! I seem to have managed to put another bit of the family back together! My paternal grandfather skipped bail during the war and ended up having another three children by his mistress. (They never married as my grandmother wouldn't give him a divorce.) I knew of my half-aunts' existence when I was young and even met the eldest (who is about 7 years older than me; the other two are with a year of my age). But as with my father's family contact was lost. I finally managed to trace the middle of the three sisters (family history forensics again!) and wrote to her in the hope that I could fill in some of the gaps on the family tree. She rang me last Sunday and I've now spoken with all three sisters; they're all delighted to be back in touch after 40-odd years and longing to know more about their father. They're spread around England so we're planning to meet in October when they can all come to London. An interesting day beckons!

  3. New Glasses. I got my new glasses on Monday. Although my prescription hasn't changed a lot, it was time for a new pair. They're rimless and crystal clear. My optician was slightly concerned that they've had to change the make of lenses (what I have had for the last few pairs are no longer made) and that I might find these difficult to adjust to. But I've never had problems with varifocals and I adjusted to these instantly; not even any of this looking slightly fuzzy for a few hours. And they are such light titanium; they feel so fragile even compared with my old pair of gold frames, which weren't exactly substantial. Mind you my wallet hurt a bit at £560! The frames weren't expensive either, even with the surcharge for extra precision engineering for rimless. It's the high spec, hard plastic, photo-chromic lenses that do the damage! But I'm blind without my glasses, and they're so comfortable I don't know I'm wearing them, so it is a good investment every few years.

  4. Sitting in the Garden. Isn't it wonderful to have had some decent summer weather and been able to sit in the garden! Even more wondrous was the fact that the other evening it was so quiet: no noisy neighbours' children, no planes escaping from Heathrow, no lawnmowers, and even very little traffic on the nearest main road. It was really quiet. Almost eerily so. Would it were like this more often.

  5. Wood Pigeons. Yes, wood pigeons! Columba palumbus. Not those scruffy feral pigeons (although I don't dislike them). We've had wood pigeons round for years and their rather sleepy, slightly husky sounding call — coo-cooo-coo, coo-coo — is something else that takes me back to my childhood and camping with my parents at Rye when I would have been about four or five.

There you are, Sue, no mention of food at all! :-)

28 July 2012

Antidotes to Anti-Fat

Overweight? Under tall? P'ed off with being abused for it? Then read on.

Oh and if you're someone who abuses the overweight (or indeed any other minority), you'd better read on too!

A few days ago I came across a blog post from last September at Crazy Beautiful by Dianne Sylvan, titled Ten Rules for Fat Girls. In it she admits to being obese, but she is not ashamed of it and is seriously annoyed by all those who give her abuse because of it. And she goes on to give other overweight girls some thoughts and ideas on how to be more comfortable with the way they are. Between these thoughts Dianne Sylvan is typically hard hitting:
I’m fat ... There’s no concealing this fact. My fat is out there. It speaks. And it says “I am lovable and worthy just like I am, and fuck you if you disagree.” I’ve ... gotten comfortable with the idea that people can look like anything and it’s all good.
...
You have sovereignty over your body and that means it is no one’s responsibility but your own.
...
How is discrimination and making people loathe themselves going to make them healthier? Obviously this doesn’t work or the number of overweight people would be rapidly declining, wouldn’t it ... Has hate ever made anyone a better person?
...
That claptrap about obese people being a strain on the economy is nonsense; cancer costs millions of dollars to research and treat but nobody’s suggesting we let cancer patients die to save money. (Well actually in the UK we do — Ed)
...
Statistics show that weight loss fails over the long-term 95% of the time. How many conditions can doctors get away with prescribing something with only a 5% success rate? Yet dieting is considered a panacea. You know what else has a 5% success rate in treating disease? Bleeding someone to let the evil humours out.
...
It’s also assumed ... that everyone knows what’s best for you but you.
...
I’ve heard quite a few thin women say things like ... “getting fat would be the worst thing.” ... Oh? Worse than child abuse, genocide, homophobia, or being allergic to chocolate? Worse than being an asshole? Worse than treating people like crap because of how they look? Is being fat worse than being an ignorant bigot? Worse than being a murderer? Worse than drowning kittens? Amebic dysentery? Losing a loved one? Losing a limb?
Well that's enough. I'm sure you get the picture.

But do you know what's interesting about this? It is just as relevant to men as to women. Men get abuse too, although maybe not as much as women. Men get bullied by doctors. I've even been bullied by a consultant neurologist FFS, who is an acquaintance — and I'm not even a patient of his! To this day I don't know how I remained polite to him.

Yes, I'm obese. I know I am obese and I admit it. It doesn't make me any less me. Or any less intelligent. Or any less able to know what works/is good for me. Or any less able to punch you in the throat.

OK, I don't like being overweight or as horribly unfit as I am; I'm all too well aware of the consequences of my diabetes to be happy about it. And being "too big" can be horribly inconvenient. But it is also horrendously difficult to do much about it. In my case it is all tied up with my depression. It appears the whole caboodle goes back into my childhood, and despite hypnotherapy I've not yet been able to unbundle everything.

Yes, I have lost some weight but very slowly. At my heaviest I was 155kg and, after some ups and downs, I'm now down to about 138Kg. That's still too much for my liking. But even if I lose a lot more I will never be a small bloke. I'm big boned and well built, naturally. It runs in my father's family. We aren't small people. And despite all the sport I played when younger, I'm not naturally athletic. So even if I'm not obese I'll always be heavy and I'll never be more than just about averagely fit.

But do you know what? The more people go on about my weight, the more resistant I become to doing anything about it. Having my weight thrust forever into the front of my brain is just so destructive. You end up thinking about nothing else. You cease to be you. It puts you under some huge stresses. If you allow it to, it takes over your life. And that makes the depression worse. And so we start the cycle all over again.

So I try not to dwell on it. I try not to let it take over. I try, in my quiet way (quiet? me?) to be sensible about food. But it seems to me the whole cycle isn't well enough under control for anything to be quickly and easily alleviated. Which is why I'm trying hypnotherapy. But it is all slow going.

Meanwhile anyone who wants to abuse me about my weight had just better not. They don't know — they cannot know — what is happening within me (FFS even I don't know a lot of the time), nor how actually destructive their comments are. Besides it is really none of their business. It's my concern, and mine alone.

At the end of the day, I'm me. All the way through. For better, for worse; until death do us part. And do you know something else? Nature probably made me that way for a reason. Whether you like it or not, do me the respect of not trying to change me.

27 July 2012

A Beer for the Day

Noreen made a nice discovery the other day. Marks & Spencer are currently selling what they brand as "Southwold Blonde" beer in 500 ml bottles. As beer aficionados will realise this is brewed by Adnams — my all time favourite brewers. As it is also labelled "Seasonal Guest" I assume it is a limited edition/short run product for the summer.

Anyway madame bought me a couple of bottles, which I generally ruined this evening by drinking them with a steamingly hot Lamb Sag Aloo Madras — steaming hot because I put in a whole large Scotch Bonnet chilli. However the beer was not totally ruined and I managed a good tasting before attacking the curry.

Verdict? Very, very nice.

As the bottle says it is made using a blend of East Anglian malted barley and wheat. Boadicea and First Gold hops from England and Nelson Sauvin from New Zealand combine to create the subtle citrus notes and refreshing flavour.

And citrus notes it certainly has in abundance. It is really rather like a clear, slightly darker, English Hoegaarden. A most excellent drink, very refreshing and totally recommended.

Oh and it stands up well to being abused by a hot curry.

26 July 2012

Five Questions #4

OK, so here is my answer to the fourth of the five questions I promised I would answer.

This one is tricky. Not because I find it hard to answer but because it produces an inner conflict in all of us.

Question 4. When is it time to stop calculating risk and rewards and just do what you know is right?

Answer: Now.

Why?

Well to start with see the answer to question two above.

Secondly because in my view it is more ethical. Risk and reward imply a conscious choice to do something which is not optimal and not what your inner morality says should be. And shouldn't we all be following our inner ethics?

My belief is that we all have that inner morality, even underlying all our religious, political and sociological superstructure of beliefs; and underlying our selfish desires. It is nothing to do with man-made constructs of belief; it's to do with an inner respect of life.

That doesn't mean it's easy. And it certainly doesn't mean I always get it right — much as I would like to. We all end up making greater or lesser compromises for a whole variety of reasons. But if we're true to our underlying ethics we likely shouldn't except perhaps in the pursuance of purely staying alive (and maybe sometimes not even then).

Do murderers (think, say, the Krays) really deep, deep down not know what they're doing is wrong? Do bankers who make vast profits on the back of screwing peoples' mortgage rates and businesses not understand, deep down, the lack of ethics in what they're doing? I feel sure they do know these things. They may be brainwashed so they can't allow that knowledge out, but I think it is there somewhere. Had they listened to that inner ethics early on maybe they wouldn't have ended up where they did. And maybe the world would be a better place. Who knows.



Ultimately I think there is good, ethical, behaviour in all of us if we can but recognise it. But yes, that can be hard because in other ways we are wired to be selfish — because being selfish is a good personal survival strategy and at the first level evolution and "survival of the fittest" mean that we have to strive to survive and produce offspring. And remembering Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs that is deeper rooted than our sense of ethics.

So yes, it's hard and can be uncomfortable, but in a society where we don't have to literally fight for food and shelter surely we should strive to rise above our "animal instincts" and listen to our inner morality and ethics.

Perhaps it is best summed up in the words of my late friend Jim Duggan: Let your conscience be your guide. Not your ego or your bank balance.

And I fail just as much as the next person!

Friends without Benefits

Up-Front Disclaimers:
(1) I am male and 110% heterosexual so this post is written from that standpoint. If your sexuality is other than male and straight hetero adjust what follows to suit your predilections.
(2) No-one will be identified herein. One or two persons may think they can identify themselves, and maybe they can, but they may be mistaken.
(3) I have been happily married for over 30 years and nothing that follows has, as far as I am aware, any disruptive effect on that; if anything, because I think, and am open, about such things the opposite is true. And of course my wife is entirety excluded from what follows.


I've been thinking recently about my reactions towards female friends and sex. First of all let me say that I am not talking about "friends with benefits", because I don't have any of them.

The first thing I have come to realise is that my female friends (friends, rather than casual acquaintances) past and present, fall rather neatly into two groups according to what are, I hope my underlying, impressions of the sexual content of that relationship. Sex with any of these friends has never been "on the table".

There is a group of ladies (young and not so young) who I find to a greater or lesser extent sexually attractive — although I would never attempt to "cash in" on this. But however close our friendship, and however attractive I find them, almost to a woman I can look at them and say to myself "I could never live with her; she'd drive me up the wall!" because of whatever foible. I expect the feeling to be mutual. But nevertheless there is always this nagging feeling of "But I'd love to have sex with her, just because I'm curious to know what it's like". And I mean that just as written: I have a curiosity as to what sex with the lady is like — no more, no less. But, my friends, you're safe; I would never insult you by overtly exposing my curiosity, let alone instigating anything sexual.

The other group of friends are almost the opposite. However close I am to them, and however delightful I find them, I have no curiosity at all about having sex with them. The thought just never occurs; it is not part of my (inner) equation of the relationship.

And I emphasise that sex is not on the table in any of these friendships and never has been. All of which I find curious, especially given the overlying sexual nature of the human male. After all it is often said (and I don't know how much this is borne our by research) that men lose interest in women, even ones they're friends with, when sex is definitively taken off the table — something I've always felt is a very male chauvinist attitude. But then men in western society generally are chauvinists, and I would admit that, much as I try not to be, I'm no exception.



The other thing I've come to realise is to do with my former girlfriends; those with whom I've had a sexual or proto-sexual relationship. Looking back at those relationships from a distance I realise that however much I still cherish and value them (and I do) they are done and gone. There was great and fun sex in some of them, and in others what sex there was was pretty rubbish. But, in retrospect, I learnt something from them all.

However with one exception none has left what I would term "a hole in my heart". The one exception was my first real girlfriend; even after almost 40 years there is still a hole in my heart and a special place for that young lady. Whether that is because she did the breaking up, or because I found that break-up so hard (I'm still annoyed with myself for not coping better with it), or because I have never really reached full closure, I don't know. We never had (penetrative) sex and despite our collective inexperience I still wonder what sex with her would have been like. I would love to know what happened to her; how she got on in life; and whether after all these years there would still be any friendship there. But I am sanguine enough to know that I never will know, and that she probably doesn't care.

Am I alone in these feelings? Do others find their friendships divide into two groups: those where there is an inner sexual curiosity and those where there isn't? And do others have long-gone relationships which have left a gaping hole in their heart even after half a lifetime? I'd love to know whether this is a common experience or whether I'm just deranged. (No, maybe don't' answer that!)

25 July 2012

Gallery : Street Photography

The subject for Tara's Gallery this week is Street Photography.

Yay! Because this is something I do all the time — not only are people fascinating, and weird, to watch but I also like spotting the incongruous, amusing and interesting everyday things about me. No stories this week, just a selection of pictures I've gathered over the last few years. You'll find many more on my Flickr photostream.

First of all a few people photographed on London railway stations:

Click any of the images for larger views on Flickr
People Watching at Waterloo Station: Barrier
Morning Rush Hour at Waterloo Station

People Watching at Waterloo Station: Kate Morton
Waiting for her date at Waterloo

Jack Hats
GOK what these two, spotted at London Paddington, were up to!

Tara's original announcement of the theme suggests that street photography is all about people watching. But it is a lot more than that. It is buildings, street furniture, notices and objets trouvés; it's the things most people would walk past and not even see. For instance:

There's no Escape ...
Seen in an office window in Golden Square, London

Deckchair Love 2
I spotted these two deckchairs holding hands on Lyme Regis seafront

Humped Zebra
This was in Faversham, Kent although I have seen similar signs elsewhere

Moral: Always carry a camera and keep your eyes alert. There's lots of fun out there!

24 July 2012

Buggered Britain 12

Another instalment 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.

How to make your eaterie look attractive - Lesson 6

I took this quite some time back, but I think it is still there. It is opposite Rayners Lane station in west London. A classic in how to make one's restaurant attractive: everything wonky, badly constructed, off-set, badly decorated and surrounded by bins and other such detritus. But then the rest of the area isn't so much better.

23 July 2012

Quotes Round-up

The usual but occasional round-up of amusing and interesting bons mots.

The Hokey Pokey (Shakespearean Style)
O proud left foot, that ventures quick within
Then soon upon a backward journey lithe
Anon, once more the gesture, then begin:
Command sinistral pedestal to writhe.
Commence thou then the fervid Hokey-Poke.
A mad gyration, hips in wanton swirl.
To spin! A wilde release from heaven's yoke.
Blessed dervish! Surely canst go, girl.
The Hoke, the poke – banish now thy doubt
Verily, I say, 'tis what it's all about.

[Unknown source]

I got what was rightfully mine.
We deserve a handout.
He committed fraud.
They are thieving bastards.

[Terry Cox on Facebook]

This is a banal accident in which [there was] a breakdown in the interaction between human beings.
[Captain Francesco Schettino commenting on the Costa Concordia shipwreck, quoted in Daily Telegraph]

When you are doing nothing, that is when the work is happening. It does not happen in the front section of the brain. It happens in the back section.
[Kevin Barry; Dark Lies the Island]

The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.
[HL Mencken]

Despite the almost stifling heat and a mixed odour of humanity and ham, which a sensitive person might have shrunk from, the rough, merry Lancashire folk were happy as may be.
[Guy Thorne, When it was Dark]

22 July 2012

Reasons to be Grateful: 36

Experiment, week 36. Well it's another week done in my continuing experiment in documenting five things which have made me happy or for which I'm grateful this week. So here's this week's selection.
  1. Fish Counter Display. We did our usual weekly supermarket trip on Thursday this week and walking up to the fish counter I spotted that the regular guy (Colin) had done a slightly different display:

    Caught in the Act

  2. King Prawns on Special Offer. Apart from the displays you can usually rely on Colin to come up with something tempting in the way of offers on either meat or fish. This week he offered us uncooked king prawns at the knock-down price of £11 a kilo. That really was no contest: one portion cooked and eaten that night with pasta, the rest in the freezer.

  3. Retsina and Moussaka. On Wednesday I had to go to an early evening meeting in West Ealing, which was scheduled to finish at 8pm (we actually finished slightly earlier). So I arranged to meet Noreen at the nearby Greek Cypriot restaurant, Retsina & Moussaka, were we had a typically good Greek feed: what a super small restaurant! This could become a regular treat as I will probably be attending these meetings every 6-8 weeks, although we'd better restrict our selves to just a main course otherwise all ideas of weight-loss will quickly fly out of the window!

  4. Lilies. Also at Waitrose on Thursday we bought a couple of really nice bunches of lilies: one yellow, the other white blushed with pink. As well as looking pretty they're making the dining room smell heavenly.

  5. Dining Alfresco. Yay! Today has been hot and sunny: wall to wall sunshine! After summer we've had so far this is such a treat. And we've been able to eat outside not once but twice today: lunchtime and this evening. That's the first time we've managed more than coffee and cake in the garden this year! What's even better is that the forecast is for even hotter and sunnier weather for at least the next few days. Brilliant!

20 July 2012

Five Questions #3

OK, so here, as promised, is my answer to the third of the five questions I promised I would answer.

This one is quite easy for me to answer. But it may be uncomfortable for some to read. So ...

Question 3. What would you do differently if you knew nobody would judge you?

Answer: Have the courage to go nude in public much more.

As many out there will know from previous posts I have no problem with nudity and I have never hidden the fact that I spend a lot of time at home unclothed, or barely clothed. I had a somewhat Bohemian upbringing and was introduced to naturism by my parents at the age of about 9 or 10. As a consequence I have never had a problem with nudity — mine or anyone else's.

However I am acutely aware that many others do find nudity a problem and that the law — often erroneously — acts as if public nudity were illegal, which by default it isn't in the UK. As I understand the law (and I'm not a lawyer so it likely isn't this simple) public nudity only may become illegal if there is intent to harm or disturb people, or if there are complaints; essentially the police generally have no powers to intervene unless there are, or they have good reason to believe there will be, complaints.

Given that others are likely to be upset by nudity and that one wishes to be a good neighbour and not to fall foul of the law, this means that I am a little circumspect about where I practice nudity. Indoors or on the patio where there is little chance of being overlooked is fine; walking down the High Street probably isn't.

So one has to draw the line somewhere. One doesn't go out unclothed. I mostly don't stray down the garden or answer the front door without donning a pair of shorts, at least. And one doesn't entertain visitors without at least a modicum of clothing. But I would like not to have to feel this way.

If I were braver, which is what this question is asking, I would be happier to answer the door, or do things in the garden or with visitors around, without worrying about being clothed. And one would have the courage to demand that the local swimming pool run "clothes optional" session — after all isn't this part of equality and human rights?

Would I be happy to go shopping in the nude? I don't know; it may not be a physically comfortable thing to do, and besides one needs somewhere to keep a credit card. But I would like to think that I could, legally and without upsetting people, if I wanted to. It shouldn't be a big deal.

Sadly too many people still regard any nudity as a sexual act. It isn't. And here, unfortunately, TV and the other media are very much to blame: if they portray nudity it is almost always in a sexual context so we shouldn't be surprised that nude = sex in many people's minds. And as we know there is the misapprehension that sex is dirty, hence nudity is dirty and disgusting ... and we have arrived at prudery. But there is not a shred of evidence that nudity causes harm; if anything the opposite is true as this and this briefing documents from British Naturism highlight.



If anything nudity is less sexual (and much healthier) than being clothed. That pretty girl (or guy) you just saw walking down the street probably looks ordinary without clothes. In the nude state little is left to the imagination, so there isn't the prospect of what's being hidden to titillate us. Once you've seen half a dozen you've seen them all: young or old; fat or thin; male or female; black, white or sky-blue-pink. Clothing is much more sexual than nudity, despite that we all know — give or take the odd scar — what is underneath our clothes. (And anyway scars are interesting; they tell stories!) So where is the problem? Why do we have to hide our bodies away?

I actually think this is important for all of us and that prudery is a major public health risk. I have written here, and in other posts, about how a relaxed attitude to nudity is good for us.

I passionately believe that if we were all more relaxed about nudity and more comfortable with our, and everyone else's, bodies (and sexuality) we would be a lot healthier. Both mentally and physically. If we were we'd find it much easier to discuss our bodies (and bodily functions) with each other and especially with the medical profession — something which doesn't cause me a problem. As an example I had to visit my (very nice, lady) GP a few days ago because of a problem with my male equipment. I had no problem whatsoever being examined or talking to her about it. Why should I? My GP has seen and heard it all before; probably so often she is bored stupid by it. Isn't it better I get a possible problem checked out now rather that leave it to become a serious problem later? You still hear so many stories of people who, for whatever imagined reason, "don't like" to get things checked out and hence end up with major medical problems or worse. It just isn't worth it.

We need to normalise nudity, and sex, not marginalise and criminalise them.

Really where is the problem?

19 July 2012

Well Who Knew?

Today I made an Astonishing discovery. I can't claim I'm the first as someone obviously got there before me. What is it?

Tomatoes have bones!

They must have. Because this morning I found this tin of Tomato Fillets in my local supermarket.

Tomato Fillets

I mean if tomatoes don't have bones, how can you fillet them?

Most curious.

I shall open the tin with curiosity ... and some caution just in case they're on springs as well.

18 July 2012

Word : Curtilage

Curtilage

1. A small court, yard, or piece of ground attached to a dwelling-house and forming one enclosure with it, or so regarded by the law. The area attached to and containing a dwelling-house and its out-buildings. (Now mostly used in legal or formal settings.)

2. (Obsolete) Tillage of a croft or kitchen-garden.

17 July 2012

Why I am a Chemist

There was an interesting article by Ashutosh Jogalekar on Scientific American Blogs yesterday called Why I am a chemist.

Ash makes many good points, but especially that chemistry underlies all the biology and physics and engineering that we see about us. Without chemistry (the design, synthesis and understanding of materials) we would have none of that: nothing from the early smelting of iron and bronze, through the Romans' skills with glass, right through to modern concrete and carbon fibre.



Yes, chemistry encompasses everything from the synthesis of smelly bubbling green liquids, through the power of detergents, to a deep understanding of molecular structure via spectroscopy (which is what I did) and quantum mechanics.

All of this is chemistry. And it all underpins our world, both artificial and natural. Without chemistry we wouldn't have modern anti-cancer drugs, or modern anaesthetics; we wouldn't understand the biochemistry underlying photosynthesis; we wouldn't have air-bags in cars or rockets that can take us to the Moon and beyond.

That is why I trained as a chemist. I wanted to understand how these things worked. (Although I probably couldn't have put it is so many words at the time.)

And I am still sad that I had to give it all up because the mid-1970s recession meant there were no sensible jobs for chemists. That's what happens in a recession, we lose the skills we've invested in, because no-one can afford to invest for the future. I can understand why, and it is a fine line to walk, but it is short-sighted especially when the education system is so unattractive as a job option that those who are displaced are lost to the discipline and not even attracted to teach and enthuse a future generation.

Would I do things differently if I had my time over again? Probably yes, if I knew then what I know now. I would certainly have worked harder (not difficult) to stay in research. And I might have looked more favourably on teaching. I certainly would have liked to continue as a working scientist rather than "selling out" (as my father saw it) to commerce. Science is much more fun that selling things.

Could I go back to it? No, not now, after nearly 40 years out of the field — much as I might like to. But at least I have retained a broad interest in science, and not just chemistry, so with luck I can still enthuse a few others along their path.

And it is still the simple things in science that enthral me. How metals are smelted. Why snowflakes have six-fold symmetry. How compounds are light sensitive. How detergents work.

Railways

So the government is allegedly** going to spend £9.4bn to upgrade chunks of the railways infrastructure.



Now that's more like it! That is the infrastructure investment the country needs. Forget HS2 and airport expansion. Let's get the rail infrastructure we have modernised and working efficiently first. Then we can see if we really do need expensive, environmentally damaging, new lines. Much better to realign and widen existing rail routes and streamline operation than built completely new — at least in my book.

Sadly there is a lot more to be done to get the railways in shape. For instance there's a major need for new freight routes around London; a whole swathe of infrastructure upgrades and modernisations; and the need for all the train companies and Network Rail to actually work together and cut out duplication of effort thereby finding some significant efficiency savings. And frankly that would be best done by running the railways as a single entity not a myriad of companies with their own vested interests. What's more I feel it should be possible without further major fare increases.

But this is a start. We need a lot more of it, please!

** I say "allegedly" because (a) it hasn't yet happened and (b) there is some doubt as to how much of this is actually new money.

16 July 2012

Heathrow Runways Reprise

Oh dear god! They just don't get it do they.

After all the farrago a year or two back about London's Heathrow Airport needing a third runway the idea was canned because (a) it was too expensive, (b) there was huge opposition and (c) frankly the business case was fragile.

But the idea has now reared it's head again, in spades! A group of MPs is promoting the idea that Heathrow needs not just a third but also a fourth runway. Moreover they are suggesting that the third runway should be built to the south and west of the airport over the villages of Bedfont and Stanwell thus destroying even more housing than the previously suggested site to the north. (GOK how this would be done as where there isn't housing in the way there are a couple of humongous great reservoirs!)



When are these people going to wake up and realise that there is no necessity, and I suggest no good business case, for expanding London's airports? Just as it has now emerged that there is no persuasive business case for the proposed HS2 rail link.

Yes Heathrow runs close to capacity in terms of flights. But I know from experience many of those flights are far from full. And Heathrow's passenger numbers have been stable at around 66.5M a year (plus/minus 5%) for the last 12 years. (The Olympic blip in volumes excepted; but that is a one-off, hopefully never to be repeated.)

London does not need airport expansion — and that doesn't just mean Heathrow, it means all of them. Indeed I suggest that few places really need airport expansion. There are a number of factors mitigating against the expansion of air travel:

1. Business doesn't need air travel as much as it used to. In the last 10 years I worked I travelled very little despite running teams of geographically spread project managers and technicians on million dollar projects. Unless you need to physically have your hands on something, just about everything can be accomplished by telephone- or video-conferencing, instant messaging and email. Yes it may need some companies to invest in a small bubble of technology, but their savings in travel expense (and remember it isn't just air fares, it's hotels, taxis, car hire, meals, non-productive time ...) will likely pay for that in the first year. By constraining travel my former employer saved many multi-millions of pounds a year just in the UK. This is money industry cannot afford to spend in a recession when there are acceptable alternatives available.

2. Air travel is an environmental cost the planet cannot afford. It is a major polluter which can, and to my mind should, be reduced. And that's aside from the environmental damage which would be caused by any expansion of the huge areas of tarmac.

3. How many people in these constrained times really have the money for significant amounts of (especially long-haul) air travel? Few airlines are managing to make useful profits from air fares. And it is going to get worse as the recession bites harder.

Airport expansion is not the answer. Sound business and financial judgement and management is. Isn't sound and honest judgement what we pay our leaders for?

15 July 2012

Reasons to be Grateful: 35

Experiment, week 35. Another week in the continuing experiment and at long last it has been a bit different ...

Well for a start it' been weeing down with rain almost all week. Oh, there's no change there then.

And secondly we had a quick night away in Somerset which has provided four of this week's five pleasures: (1) Hilary Spurling's lecture, (2) La Bisalta, (3) the Archangel; all of these you can read a bit more about in my earlier blog post.


La Bisalta

Then (4) people who enjoy and are interested in their job. I was especially struck by the pair who were serving breakfast in the hotel. The young man was a professional bar-tender and had made it his business to learn all he could, including about food, and was interested enough to be helping out on his day off. The young lady was a trained chef. Her boyfriend was obviously the hotel chef and they had agreed not to work in the kitchen together (very sensible!); so she was learning the front of house stuff (she even checked us out!) so she had the skills when they were able to start their own business. Unlike many chefs she was seriously interested in food. They weren't busy so we had an interesting conversation. They, together with the staff at La Bisalta, were friendly and welcoming. It's such a refreshing change!

So then to (5) Strawberries and Raspberries. We bought both on this week's shopping trip because they looked good, were known to be good varieties — which is also a refreshing change — and were English. No need for cream, they were delightful enough all on their own for Saturday breakfast.

14 July 2012

Quotes : Terry Pratchett

Just for a change I thought that for something different this time around we would have a few choice quotes (from among so many) from Terry Pratchett.

Granny grasped her broomstick purposefully. ‘Million-to-one chances,’ she said, ‘crop up nine times out of ten.’
[Equal Rites]

Few religions are definite about the size of Heaven, but on the planet Earth the Book of Revelation (ch. XXI, v.16) gives it as a cube 12,000 furlongs on a side. This is somewhat less than 500,000,000,000,000,000,000 cubic feet. Even allowing that the Heavenly Host and other essential services take up at least two thirds of this space, this leaves about one million cubic feet of space for each human occupant- assuming that every creature that could be called ‘human’ is allowed in, and the human race eventually totals a thousand times the numbers of humans alive up until now. This is such a generous amount of space that it suggests that room has also been provided for some alien races or — a happy thought — that pets are allowed.
[The Last Hero]

[...] discredited gods and unlicensed thieves, ladies of the night and pedlars in exotic goods, alchemists of the mind and strolling mummers; in short, all the grease on civilization’s axle.
[Equal Rites]

‘Look at the bird.’
It was perched on a branch by a fork in the tree, next to what looked like a birdhouse, and nibbling at a piece of roughly round wood it held in one claw.
‘Must be an old nest they’re repairing,’ said Lu-Tze. ‘Can’t have got that advanced this early in the season.’
‘Looks like some kind of old box to me,’ said Lobsang. He squinted to see better. ‘Is it an old ... clock?’ he added.
‘Look at what the bird is nibbling,’ suggested Lu-Tze.
‘Well, it looks like ... a crude gearwheel? But why —’
‘Well spotted. That, lad, is a clock cuckoo.’

[Thief of Time]

‘Maybe there are things worth putting up a fight for.’
‘And they are —?’ said Pestilence, looking round.
‘Salad-cream sandwiches. You just can’t beat them. That tang of permitted emulsifiers? Marvellous.’

[Thief of Time]

Banning Circumcision

So a German court has found a legality upon which to effectively ban the circumcision of baby boys — but only because it leaves doctors open to prosecution on a fairly general charge of "mistreatment". That at least is the way I read the BBC News report.

My immediate reaction is that this is about time. In my view, as regular readers will know (see here and here), circumcision of boys is as much an abuse as circumcision of girls. It is forcible removal/mutilation when the "victim" is not able (not of an age) to give consent. And at least some parts of the German media agree.

The judgement is right — all protests to the contrary. The circumcision of young boys just for religious reasons is a personal injury. Muslims and Jews should decide themselves — but not before the age of 14.
[Matthias Ruch, FT Deutschland]

The circumcision of Muslim boys is just as heinous as the archaic custom of the genital mutilation of little girls. It is an instrument of oppression and should be outlawed.
[Die Welt]

Unfortunately because of the niceties of the case the judgement is not open to being tested in a higher court. That's shame because such a legal precedent should be tested. So German medics are left in limbo: unable to perform the operation (unless, one assumes, as a medical necessity, which is rare) for fear of prosecution but unable to test the validity of the precedent. Highly unsatisfactory.

Needless to say both the Jewish and Muslim communities are up in arms. At least the German Muslim leader who is quoted in the BBC report is being sensible: I do not want my people to (have to) go abroad and/or to backstreet surgeons to have this done; I would prefer it done under proper medical supervision. The Rabbis quoted seem to be able to say nothing except wail "we've always done it this way" and "it's our right". Hmmph.

German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, appears to be of the opinion that circumcision is a part of freedom to practice religion. I disagree, and not because I am areligious. In my book no religion (no person) should be able to mutilate someone who is unable to freely give informed consent. If any religion chopped off the left hand, fingers or nose of every baby boy (or girl) this would soon be outlawed, as it would if the children were permanently tattooed at a few days old with a cross in the middle of their forehead. After all the Baptists were established (as antipaedobaptists) precisely because they were opposed to infant baptism when the child was unable to give consent.

But where does one draw the line? Should parents be prohibited from cutting a child's fingernails or hair on the grounds that this is abuse? Probably not as these regrow; foreskins don't, just as female genitals don't regrow nor scarification scars heal fully. That seems, at least on the face of it, to be a sensible test and place to draw the line.

Medical necessity excepted, of course, which is legally testable if necessary.

While I don't like the way this has been done, I think the German decision is the right one.

13 July 2012

Mulligatawny on the Veranda

As regular readers will know I love words. Almost any words. But I'm always especially attracted to those words which English has acquired from Indian mostly during the British Raj.

What I had never realised is that in the 1870s two men, Arthur Burnell and Colonel Henry Yule, documented all those words of Asian origin which English had acquired. Sadly Burnell died before the 14 years project was completed, but since its publication Hobson-Jobson: A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms etymological, historical, geographical and discursive has never been out of print.



And now there's to be a new edition of the 1000 page work; it is being prepared for the OUP by Dr Kate Teltscher of Roehampton University.

The BBC News item about this lists over 50 well known words we acquired from India and includes these wonderful lines from Tom Stoppard's play Indian Ink:
Flora: While having tiffin on the veranda of my bungalow I spilled kedgeree on my dungarees and had to go to the gymkhana in my pyjamas looking like a coolie.

Nirad: I was buying chutney in the bazaar when a thug who had escaped from the chokey ran amok and killed a box-wallah for his loot, creating a hullabaloo and landing himself in the mulligatawny.

[And even then amok is Mandalay!]

OK, the lines are a bit contrived but they do go to show just how big an influence the Raj had on our culture. And it's not just words and foods (like chilli, curry, piccalilli, mulligatawny and IPA) but as this list of words used in the BBC News item shows it pervades our whole culture.

atoll
avatar
bandanna
bangle
bazaar
Blighty
bungalow
cashmere
catamaran
char
cheroot
cheetah
chintz
chit
chokey
chutney
cot
cummerbund
curry
pyjamas

dinghy
doolally
dungarees
guru
gymkhana
hullabaloo
jodhpur
jungle
juggernaut
jute
khaki
kedgeree
loot
nirvana
pariah
pashmina
polo
pukka
pundit
purdah

sari
shampoo
shawl
swastika
teak
thug
toddy
typhoon
veranda
yoga
calico
chilli
coolie
dam
gingham
mulligatawny
tiffin
wallah

Sure there were many things wrong with the British Raj, but isn't that just the most superb set of words?! To whet your appetite even further here are a handful of the original Hobson-Jobson definitions:
Kedgeree: A dish of seasoned rice. "A mess of rice, cooked with butter and dal and flavoured with a little spice and shred onion".

Shampoo: To "knead and press the muscles with the view of relieving fatigue".

Pyjamas: A "pair of loose drawers or trousers, tied round the waist".

Gymkhana: "It is applied to a place of public resort at a station, where the needful facilities for athletics and games of sorts are provided".

Veranda: "An open pillared gallery round a house".
Isn't it also interesting how the meanings have changed over the years. Notice that there is no mention of fish or eggs in kedgeree, and shampoo has nothing specific to to with hair!

I feel some book-buying coming on.

11 July 2012

Five Questions #2

OK, so here's my answer to the second of the five questions I promised I would answer.

Yet again it isn't going to be an easy or comfortable answer. Not an easy answer for me to formulate. And as you'll see it's not a comfortable answer for any of us; I'm as guilty as anyone. So ...

Question 2. If you had the opportunity to get one message across to a large group of people, what would your message be?

Just one message? How big can that message be? Well anyway here's something like what I think I would say.

Stop fucking up the planet. Rebalance and restructure everything (see my previous thoughts). Treat the planet and it's inhabitants, collectively and individually, as you would wish it to treat you — gently, with kindness, respect and consideration.

In a way it is what the Dalai Lama would call compassion. Compassion: the sensitive and sustainable treatment of the planet and all its inhabitants, from the human species, through animals and plants to the oceans, the air we breathe and the rocks beneath our feet.

It doesn't say you can't dig coal, but to do it sensitively without despoiling the whole landscape.

It doesn't say you can't chop down a tree, but to do it sustainably: plant a replacement tree.

It doesn't mean you can never eat meat again, just eat less of it and grow food sustainably with grazing animals on more marginal land and arable using the best land.

It doesn't say you can't catch fish, but again do it so that you don't rape the seas until there are no viable fish remaining.

And it doesn't say you can't smelt iron, but you should do as much as you can to reduce the concomitant pollution.

Just think about what you're doing and the long-term implications.

Do as you would be done by.

That's all. But it is so hard!

Gallery : Food

The theme of Tara's Gallery this week is Food.

Well now that is something close to my heart. But oh dear! Much as I love food, I love it to eat it and very rarely take photographs of it. But of course I have found a few photos of cake. I especially like this if only for its amusement value.

Mad Hatter's Teaparty
Click the image for larger view


I spotted this Mad Hatter's Tea Party cake in the window of an Oxford bakery a couple of years ago. Not surprising really as Lewis Carroll (the pen-name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, 1832-1898) was a Mathematics Fellow of Christ Church College, Oxford which is where he wrote the Alice books in the 1860s. He was also a highly accomplished, and highly respected, early portrait photographer whose sitters included Julia Margaret Cameron, Michael Faraday and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Isn't the cake brilliant?! I love quirky things like this.

10 July 2012

Fast Break in Somerset

We've just come back from a flying overnight visit to Frome in Somerset.

The trip was to attend a lecture (put on by the Frome Society for Local Study as part of the Frome Festival) by biographer Hilary Spurling on Anthony Powell and his house The Chantry, which is just outside Frome.

Hilary, who knew the Powell well, is currently working on his official biography and her lecture delved around in some of her preliminary thoughts about Powell's relationship with the early 19th century house he occupied for the second half of his life. That was a relationship, she suggested, which was one factor in making Powell's magnum opus A Dance to the Music of Time the novel it is; without the country solitude Powell would likely not have been able to write Dance in the way he did. This made for a hugely interesting lecture, although as Hilary commented these were early thoughts and she had been reluctant to expose them to public view so early in her writing process. (This also explains why there will not be a text made available.) If they are a sample of the depth and perceptiveness of her finished biography it will be just brilliant.

Following the lecture Noreen and I went, with Anthony Powell Society Chairman Paul Nutley, to La Bisalta, Frome's most superb Italian restaurant for a delicious late dinner. This is a small family-run restaurant in a converted house on the edge of the town centre — and actually a restaurant Powell knew but under its previous owners. Despite arriving, unannounced, after 9pm we were warmly welcomed and magnificently fed and watered; so magnificently that none of us could manage a pudding! I had a really delicious hot Antipasto Caldo, which came to the table literally sizzling on the plate, followed by a wonderfully rich Tagliolini with porcini mushrooms in a cream sauce, washed down with some well-chilled Peroni. Paul and Noreen both had duck breast as a main course, which they reported to be equally excellent. We staggered off to our respective dormitories not much before 11.30! ★★★★★

Room 1

Noreen and I were staying in the Archangel. According to Paul, who knows Frome well, this was until a few years ago a very scruffy back-street pub. But it has now been heavily refurbished as a small, contemporary hotel, bar and restaurant. The style is a fusion of the old rustic (stripped stone walls) with the contemporary (stainless steel, dark woodwork, bare pipework, strange-shaped sinks and sumptuous sofas which it is impossible to climb out of). Our room (above) was a strange fusion of Goth with dark purple paintwork and soft furnishings, mostly bare (old) plaster walls, and a huge photographic mural of Fra Angelico's Angel of the Annunciation. The bathroom was the size of most people's sitting room with a steel bath the size of the Titanic! The bed was heavenly soft, especially after what had been a tiring day. Breakfast was excellent, everyone was extremely friendly and although not cheap it wasn't unreasonably expensive either at £125 for a double room including breakfast. The owners deserve to make a success of what has clearly been a huge investment. ★★★★★

The return train journey from London Paddington to Westbury was painless and on time despite getting drowned by a torrential rain-shower boarding the train on the return journey. Paul kindly conveyed us to and from the station. ★★★★★ again.

We were away from home for just 27 hours, but it felt more as if we had been gone the best part of a week! An all-round super trip despite not having any real time to explore Frome itself.

BRenglish

Continuing our occasional series on the now prevalent appalling use of the English language.

In the last couple of days we've taken the train on a journey down to Somerset and back (more of which anon) and have been subjected to the vagaries of the English language as perpetrated by train company staff (I was going to say BR, but of course it no longer exists!).

There is the now ubiquitous Train Manager (I think they mean Guard or Ticket Inspector) speak:
We will be arriving into [station]

Our next station stop is [station].

And there is Buffet Steward-ese:
We will be serving teas, coffees and hot chocolates, hot and cold snacks, ... and an on-board chef.
But yesterday I heard for the first time a new one from a Train Manager:
If you require any further information please ask from myself [name].
Maybe we need to get Jamie Oliver to sort out Train Company English rather than School Dinners?

08 July 2012

Reasons to be Grateful: 34

Experiment, week 34. Another week, another selection in my continuing experiment in documenting five things which have made me happy or for which I'm grateful this week.

  1. Fast Internet. We had our internet upgraded this week from the about 4meg we used to get from Be to about 70meg via an FTTC feed from BT. (For reasons I won't go into here our phones are tied to BT, so BT turned out to be the best overall option.) Surprisingly at the end of this we should not be paying more over a year for all our telecomms than before. BT have (so far) done what they said they would and done it pretty efficiently, whereas Be have been all over the floor getting my account closed down.

  2. Rubbish going to the Tip. One day earlier in the week our friend Tom took two car loads of toot — largely outpourings from the loft — to our local tip (above) for us. And they reckon to recycle over 95% of everything they take in; and they take everything. We've a lot more to go, but it's a another big dent in the job!

  3. Boursin in Salad. I can't remember which evening it was that we had smoked chicken salad, which is always good. But as I was preparing it I remembered we had half a Boursin (cream cheese with garlic & herbs) in the fridge which had been open a couple of days. So I added this to the salad. It was messy to break up and it softened with the vinegar and olive oil dressing; it was quite rich, but my did it taste good!

  4. Cherries. Thanks to Noreen's shopping exploits I've had several lots of cherries this week. Yum!

  5. Germs that Go Away when Told. Last night at bedtime I was feeling decidedly "Meh", depressed and cold-y with a cracking headache. I don't want this so I dropped myself into an almost self-hypnotic state of invincibility and told the "germs" (or whatever they were) to bugger off before morning. This doesn't always work for me, but this time it did. Much to my astonishment and delight.

You may have missed ...

More diversions into the weird world of things you may have missed — with the exception of what may or may not be Higgs's bloody boring boson!

First off, here's something really unexpected and absolutely excellent: an early printed book that contains rare evidence of medieval spectacles!



Apparently Wordsworth was right: daffodils do cheer us up! Which is more than his verse does! :-(

But then again I think I could have saved a lot of money and told the researchers that two glasses of wine a day improves quality of life for middle-aged.

While still on colours, here's an interesting piece of how we gave colours names which is allied to how we see them and what it did to our brains. And don't miss part two.

Here's a different type of seeing: some amazingly detailed weather records from the Lake District in the first half of the 19th century by John Fletcher Miller.

And finally ... so you thought you/your man had an amazingly weird appendage? Not compared with the Echidna!

06 July 2012

Word : Quetzal

Quetzal

1. An extremely beautiful bird (Pharomachrus mocino, the Resplendent Quetzal) of Central America; the male is remarkable for its long tail and wing coverts of resplendent golden-green. These largely solitary birds feed on fruits, berries, insects and small vertebrates.

2. The name of a silver Guatemalan coin, initially equivalent to one US dollar, and comprising 100 centavos.

The name "quetzal" is from Nahuatl quetzalli, "large brilliant tail feather" , from the root quetz = "stand up" used to refer to an upstanding plume of feathers.

05 July 2012

Five Questions #1

A couple of days ago I posed five questions. Five seemingly simple questions which turn out to be quite hard when you actually have to answer them and which make you think about both who you are and what you stand for.

And I promised that I would answer them, one at a time, over the coming weeks.

What's more, being nearer to a control freak than I care to be, I'll answer them in sequence.

So here are some thoughts on Question 1.

How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?

Well this turns out to be a bit like "how long is a piece of string?" or perhaps mre accurately "think of a number, double it etc."

Let's start with the easy bit first. Chronologically I'm 61½ years old. But ...

In outlook I'm probably more like a grumpy old git of 80+.

Intellectually I'd say I'm where I should have been at about 40, had I actually woken up in time, instead of about 20 years too late. In terms of intellectual thinking I've probably made much more progress in the last 5 years than I did between 24 and 44. That's partly because it wasn't until my mid-40s that I started to rise above the awful pessimism exuded by my father.

Mentally — socially — in terms of where I see myself, I doubt I've ever got much past 25 and certainly not past 30. But then I bet if most people were honest they'd say that inside they're stuck somewhere in their 20s.

Oh and emotionally? Well I can easily be a 6 year old! I've just learned not to have tantrums in public: it frightens the muppets.

In some ways that's quite scary in that I could chameleon myself to be almost any age I choose. In other ways it's good because it means I don't so easily get stuck in a rut.

So now, who else is going to own up?

04 July 2012

Quote : Not Knowing

The faster you admit to not having an answer for something, the more time you have to find one.

[Unknown]

Gallery : The Everyday

So Wednesday has come round again, which means it's time for Tara's weekly Gallery. This week we're being challenged to photograph The Everyday — things we tend to not photograph because they're not special they're just ordinary and always there.

OK, so I'm going to cheat slightly ...

Victorian Postbox
Click the image for larger versions on Flickr


... but only slightly, as this is a special pillar box. It's an early Victorian model and there aren't many of them still around. This one is in Eton High Street and must date from around 1855-1860.

The pillar box (and the wall-mounted post box) is something we tend to ignore; they're common and we use them regularly. Yet they are an enduring piece of British life as well as being a very good and functional piece of design. It is surprising how old some of them are, but then they are mostly made of highly durable cast iron and are well painted. It is also interesting how ornate some of the Victorian pillar boxes are: the hexagonal ones (which are more common than this "Greek column" design) are especially good, their top being in the shape of a (flattened) crown. Some, like this one, are actually listed buildings!

You can always get a first guess at the age of any pillar box because every one carries the insignia of the monarch at the time it was erected. On this one you can just see the end of the VR, for Queen Victoria, at the top left. Notice too the very small vertical aperture.

The pillar box, although originally suggested by Rowland Hill (he of the Penny Post), was actually introduced by Anthony Trollope (yes, the novelist) whose day job from 1841 to 1867 was as a Post Office Surveyor (first in Ireland and, from 1851, in Eastern England); he lived for many years in my home town (Waltham Cross). The early boxes were of various colours, with green being the initial standard (there are still a few green ones around; there's one in Rochester, Kent) with red being adopted from around 1874.

There's more on the the history of the Pillar Box on Wikipedia. An everyday object with some fascinating history.

Quotes : Deep Thought

Our regular selection of quotes which have amused us or made us think. And this week we concentrate on the latter with some interesting perspectives.

People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.
[Isaac Asimov]

One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways.
[Bertrand Russell]

Everything has changed save our way of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.
[Albert Einstein]

The history of liberty is the history of resistance. The history of liberty is a history of the limitation of governmental power, not the increase of it.
[Woodrow Wilson]

Affection and a calm mind are important to us. A calm mind is good for our physical health, but it also enables us to use our intelligence properly and to see things more realistically. Affection too is important because it counters anger, hatred and suspicion that can prevent our minds from functioning clearly.
[Dalai Lama]

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.
[George Orwell, Politics and the English Language, 1946]

03 July 2012

Who said it would be easy?

Now for something somewhat different ...

I've come across five questions which it seems it is worth us all asking ourselves. Five apparently simple looking questions but which turn out to be quite hard when you actually have to answer them and which make you think about both who you are and what you stand for.

The five questions are:
  1. How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?
  2. If you had the opportunity to get one message across to a large group of people, what would your message be?
  3. What would you do differently if you knew nobody would judge you?
  4. When is it time to stop calculating risk and rewards and just do what you know is right?
  5. Do you ask enough questions? Or do you settle for what you know?
Yes, they're tricky aren't they! No-one said it would be easy. So I'm going to try to answer each of them, one at a time, over the coming weeks.

It'll be interesting to see what I come up with, because I don't know the answers either.

Round one in a few days. Watch this space ...

And remember: Questions don’t have to make sense, but answers do.

A Lot of Disappointment

As I always do I've just been looking at the catalogue for our local auction house and I'm disappointed in this month's sale. There are markedly fewer lots than normal, there's nothing to interest me and the descriptions are abnormally dull. These are the sort of highlights:

2 Muhammad Ali boxing puppets, in plastic with mechanical arms and blue shirt

A good quality 9ct gold muff chain
[Just right for your collection of vajazzling gems!]

A collection of souvenir spoons, cufflinks, scent bottles, two jade animal figurines, six wristwatches ... silver filigree llama ...

A Bouteille thermo flask, a bottle holder, a world globe, bells, a stickleback fish.

A cast iron terrier relieving himself ...

Six wooden handled Lyman bullet moulds, silver plated coasters, sugar nips, and two stuffed canaries in a glass case.

An antique Tibetan monk’s stool in carved and polychrome wood
[Hmmm ... nice ... human coprolite]



A stuffed baby alligator.

Must do better next month!

02 July 2012

Reasons to be Grateful: 33

Experiment, week 33. Here's last week's selection of five things which have made me happy or for which I'm grateful.
  1. Optician. Just as I enjoy going to the dentist I enjoy visits to the optician. I've always believed in regular eye tests (I've had glasses since I was 14) and not just because of my diabetes. Although I get my diabetic retinopathy scan done by the NHS I also get my optician to do it — if nothing else he now has a record of all the past pictures so if there is any doubt he can cross-check with earlier years. And we always have interesting conversations, just as I do with my doctor and dentist. The only thing that hurts is my wallet: why are glasses so expensive?

  2. Adnams Gin. I discovered this in Waitrose and as Adnams are my favourite brewers I had to try it. Wow! It is so much more fragrant and aromatic than the majority of available gins. Well worth the extra few quid, in my book. If you're a gin drinker it's definitely worth trying. The Copper House Gin I bought is the cheaper of their two offerings; I shall have to also try their First Rate Gin.

  3. Lamb & Kidney Pie. Last weekend Noreen did one of her yummy lamb and kidney pies: hot on Sunday; cold on Monday. Even better than steak and kidney!

  4. Broad Beans. Yet more fresh broad beans this week. They always feel as if they're not good value and with so few beans to the pod they're probably aren't; but at this time of year, when they're fresh and in season I think they're worth it.

  5. Family Reunions. All I shall say is see here.

01 July 2012

Tilling the Furrow

This year's World Ploughing Championships are being held in September in Croatia.

Australia's entrant is the aptly named Adrian Tilling.

[Hat-tip: New Scientist]