30 September 2012

Reasons to be Grateful: 46

Welcome to week 46 in my experiment documenting each week five things which have made me happy of for which I'm grateful. Why is it that some weeks I really struggle to find anything much which has stood out from the crowd, and other weeks it seems everything has been special. I do try to keep a quick memory jogger of special things as the week goes along; some weeks I get to Friday and already have a list of 12 items; but in weeks like this one by Friday I have just one thing on the list. I guess it's called "life", which is probably why I don't understand it! Anyway here's some sort of list for this week.

  1. Apples. As befits this time of year this has been an apple week. I love apples when they are crisp and crunchy and juicy — but they have to be fresh and in season.
    First of all at the beginning of the week one of our friends brought us a big bag of Bramley cooking apples (below left) from a tree in one of his friends' gardens. It seems that near us Bramleys are about the only apples that have produced any sort of crop this year; our tree has produced about half a dozen small scabby specimens due to the appalling weather in the Spring.
    Secondly our weekly Waitrose trip turned up some English apples varieties. We indulged in some Blenheim Orange (below right) — sharp, tart, almost cooking apples — and some large under-ripe Cox's — juicy, sharp but slightly sweet, just as they should be; I can't abide all this over-ripe pappy stuff!.

  2. Haircut. Remember how when you were a kid you hated having to go for a haircut? Well certainly all the young lads I've ever known have hated the barber. Earlier in the week I went for a (several weeks overdue) haircut. I quite enjoy seeing Mr Clive, my barber; he's a cheerful sort, it is good to set the world to rights and you occasionally get interesting snippets of local gossip.

  3. £10 off at Waitrose. For some reason best known to themselves Waitrose have sent me a couple of vouchers for £10 off my shopping (as long as I spend £100; easy on a weekly shop). One for use now and another for later in October. I don't mind if I do! Thank you!

  4. Mince Pies. 'Tis the season of impending Christmas and there are now mince pies in the supermarkets. They seem to be cropping early this year. I will likely have eaten a regiment's worth of them by the time we get to New Year!

  5. Chillies. My chillies continue. We've already had a good crop of the yellow "Hot Lemon" and the tiny red "Explosive Ember" (which I leave to dry and use as crushed chilli through the winter). And this week we have the first two ripe Scotch Bonnet type, a variety called "Yellow Mushroom" — stingingly hot in curry! And there are more of all yet to ripen, although the supply of flowers is drying up now it's got a bit cooler. Next year I think I might grow just the "Hot Lemon"; they're definitely the favourites; the Scotch Bonnets never do hugely well (they prefer more heat and light than even my study windowsill can provide) and I don't need more small chillies as we have a goodly supply of dried chilli in the cupboard.

29 September 2012

Dog Arithmetic

It seems like it is time for a cartoon. I spotted this one a few days ago on Facebook. Brilliant as always from Randy Glasbergen.

Word : Gugglet

Gugglet, or as the OED would have it more correctly Goglet.

A long-necked vessel for holding water, usually made of porous earthenware, so that the contents are kept cool by evaporation.

From the Portuguese gorgoleta, 'an earthen and narrow-mouthed vessel, out of which the water runs and guggles'. Also possibly the French gargoulette which has a similar meaning.

The OED records the first English use in 1698.

Kudos to my local auction house's catalogue for teaching me a word I really didn't know.

28 September 2012

Auction Lotto

Our local auction houses seem to have been quiet recently, perhaps because of not wanting to compete with all the summer festivities. But they have now sprung back into life with their usual eccentric mix of objets trouvés. Here are some choice spots from the latest sale.

A large collection of Dutch 'peasant' silver octagonal buttons, comprising five of probably 18th century date, including four with horse and rider design and one with a coat of arms and with various maker’s marks ... a set of seven horse and rider examples of later date with dolphin tax marks; a set of three with OS maker’s marks; a pair of large size; another pair with AR marks, and two others – one with a stag, together with a lion badge and a figural terminal.

A Spanish ... silver articulated swordfish with green eyes, a pair of small fish pepperettes of similar type, a pair of shell salts on associated loaded silver bases, and a metal porringer.

Two shelves including decorative carthorses, cottage teapot, a quantity of Midwinter Roselle tea and dinner ware, cut glass, book on knitting, etc.
I've always been fascinated by the idea of selling things by the shelf. But they really do display the objects on labelled shelves.

A considerable quantity of as new and boxed items including a snooker table, electronic dart board, two folding beds, garden gate, rolls of hose, garden ornaments, solar lamps, kitchen tools, water features, and two spiral topiary trees, etc.
My mind is boggling slightly at the idea of boxing a snooker table.

A large heavy metal figure of a macaw on a stand replicating a tree stump, approximately 4'5" tall.

A collage of stuffed birds: bullfinches, coal tit, greenfinch, chaffinch, etc.

A shelf and a half of wooden carvings, mainly tribal to include masks, flat faces, sculptures, busts, boxes and smaller implements

A wall mounted set of buffalo horns.

A stuffed blue Jay under glass dome

Four brown stoneware jugs and pots by Doulton, Lambeth etc., Framed, a blue glass dish, Staffordshire ogs, various other chinaware and figures, 'The Ultra Lens' boxed, black lacquered pots, a teddy bear riding a bicycle, didgeridoo-do, golf clubs, etc. Framed postcards: Colmans mustard, Wills ‘Gold Flake’ cigarettes, Championship lawn tennis Post, Huntley and Palmers, Bovril and Dunlop and a picture, Village cricket Nine gentleman in Waiting.
... but no kitchen sink!

A large bow with arrows and a large print of children with a horse.
The latter presumably as a target for the former.

A decorative sword in medieval style and a similar battle axe together with an Eastern dagger and scabbard and an Indian dagger.

A Rosenthal group of a putto and penguin disputing a crab, signed Ferd Liebermann

Two alligator skins, one including the head.

A 19th century Indian window surround of ornate carved design with painted decoration, and a panel of six candle holders.

27 September 2012

More Quotes

Another selection of interesting and/or amusing quotes.

Why is it that in every single place I’ve ever worked, the photocopier has special needs?
[Hails at Coffee Helps]

I just love the idea of copies being "special needs", but it's absolutely right, they are!

His grace doesn't half sound in a wax this morning, ducks.
[Julian Maclaren-Ross, quoted in DJ Taylor, What You Didn't Miss]

Most of what gets marked down as 'poetry' these days is simply prose chopped up into irregular lines.
[DJ Taylor, What You Didn't Miss]

Imagine the surprise of David Purdy on receiving a special offer of the Family Tree Maker program at less than half price. How could he resist the chance to "find out whether any of your descendants were on the Titanic"?
[Feedback, New Scientist, 22/09/2012]

In the darkness of secrecy, sinister interest and evil in every shape have full swing ... Publicity is the very soul of justice ... it keeps the judge himself, while trying, under trial.
[Jeremy Bentham, political and legal philosopher, 1748-1832]

Our political masters need to sometimes keep this in mind, and the following ...

[T]he judge should have the last word ... under the procedure devised in the Bill the judge does have the last word. The only difficulty is that that word is dictated to the judge by the Secretary of State. First, the judge can make a decision only if the Secretary of State makes an application ... Secondly, when the judge does come to consider it, it is not for him to weigh up the relative merits of ... or to decide what the fairest way would be to decide the case. The judge’s hands are effectively tied. If there is disclosable material that impacts on national security ... the judge is required to agree ... The judge “must” order a closed material procedure ... the government have given formal effect to the requirement that the judge should have the last word, but in substance the Secretary of State continues to pull the strings.
[David Anderson QC, Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, on the Justice and Security Bill; quoted on the Law and Lawyers Blog]

Which reminds me of this insult I once heard hurled at some fiasco or other:

A ball-withering succession of cock-ups

Somehow it also reminds me of Borges ...

These ambiguities, redundancies, and deficiencies recall those attributed by Dr Franz Kuhn to a certain Chinese encyclopaedia entitled Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. On those remote pages it is written that animals are divided into (a) those that belong to the Emperor, (b) embalmed ones, (c) those that are trained, (d) suckling pigs, (e) mermaids, (f) fabulous ones, (g) stray dogs, (h) those that are included in this classification, (i) those that tremble as if they were mad, (j) innumerable ones, (k) those drawn with a very fine camel's hair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) those that have just broken a flower vase, (n) those that resemble flies from a distance.
{Jorge Luis Borges, Essay: The Analytical Language of John Wilkins]

26 September 2012

Gallery : 8PM

So what are you normally doing at 8 o'clock in the evening? Or even what are you abnormally doing? That's what Tara is asking as her theme for the Gallery this week is 8PM.

Until recently my normal activity at that time would have been eating, but we've now brought evening mealtime earlier (it is better for you, it seems) so the answer has mostly now become reading, in one form or another. One thing I mostly am not doing at 8PM is taking photographs. But of course there are always exceptions: when late home, away on business, on holiday or just out on the town. Which is how my three contributions come about.

I can't guarantee they were all taken at exactly 8PM, but they were all taken around then.

Click on any of the images for larger views on Flickr
Shakespeare's Globe
Waiting for the Virtual Curtain
Montage of the Globe Theatre on a very wet evening

We're Going Home
We're Going Home!
On the M40 into London after another long day at the office

Night Ride
Night Ride Timelapse
Another late evening on the road from somewhere

25 September 2012

Missing ...

Another selection of links to recent items you may have missed. This edition is an unusual mix of history and science.

Ben Goldacre, writer of the "Bad Science" column in the Guardian, has a new book out this week. Titled Bad Pharma it looks at the ways in which drug companies and their allies distort the evidence about the effectiveness of drugs and mislead regulators, doctors and patients. Here's an extract.

Can I go back to bed now? We all suffer from insomnia at least occasionally. This Guardian item looks at the problem of persistent insomnia and current ideas on what to do about it.

It seems taking too many painkillers can give you a headache. Duh, my head hurts!

Humans eat humans. Well who knew? But now there is good evidence for prehistoric cannibalism which wasn't just ritual.

I think we already knew that wild parrots name their babies, but here's another look at the original study.

This interesting short item from the New York Times looks at the finding of a scrap of papyrus which appears to refer to Jesus's wife.

Following up on a recent theme the Guardian (well they do have a good science stream) has a piece on the completion of the archaeological dig which may have found the remains of Richard III.

And finally after something like 60 years the experts have decided that three "fake" JMW Turner paintings are actually the genuine article. New technology has provided new evidence that has altered opinions. And finally it's vindication for the collectors who bequeathed then the the National Museum of Wales.

I've Never Seen Star Wars

Tim over at Bringing up Charlie has started something new. It may even turn into a meme.

As a result of some new-fangled programme on the wireless, which seems to be called I've Never Seen Star Wars, Tim has come to realise that there are a collection of things he's never done or which have somehow passed him by, but which everyone assumes everyone else actually has done. And guess what? The summit of his list is never having seen Star Wars.

Tim then goes on to challenge the rest of us to document the things we've never done but which might surprise our friends. Being as I like memes, and I'm insatiably curious about other people, it would be churlish of me not to join in. So here's my list of a dozen (apparently common) things I've never done.
  1. Seen Star Wars or 2001: A Space Odyssey or Clockwork Orange or any of those other iconic films. (See, Tim, you aren't the only one!)
  2. Eaten oysters or tripe
  3. Worn a dinner jacket or a cocktail dress
  4. Been skinny dipping
  5. Played strip poker or strip pool
  6. Taken recreational drugs
  7. Driven a car or ridden motorbike
  8. Watched Eastenders or (again like Tim) Friends or Downton Abbey
  9. Lusted after Jennifer Aniston or Pamela Anderson
  10. Been to the races (horses or dogs)
  11. Been on a package holiday
  12. Broken a bone
Interestingly only one thing on that list bothers me not to have done. Anyone care to guess which one?

So now I dare everyone else to tell, their darkest, secret, "I've never dones" — either in the comments here or on your own blog (with a link in the comments), so we can all have a good snigger. :-)

24 September 2012

Word : Ordure

  1. Filth, dirt.
  2. Excrement, dung.
  3. Applied to that which is morally filthy or defiling, or to foul language 'cast' or 'thrown' at a person.
From the French ordure, from ord filthy, foul, which is in turn from the Latin horridus horrid.

23 September 2012

Reasons to be Grateful: 45

Week 45 (just 15 to go) in my experiment documenting each week five things which have made me happy of for which I'm grateful — and it's been another strange week where I've totally lost all notion of what day it is. Anyway here's my choice for the week.
  1. Eton. On Monday I had to go to a meeting at Eton College. I always enjoy going to Eton, it is such a civilised place even if one does feel somewhat out of one's depth. The school itself rambles across a large area, which isn't surprising as it has to house, teach and entertain over 1200 boys. It includes some wonderful architecture — the old College buildings; the early 16th century Lupton's Tower and the 15th century chapel are just a delight. What's also nice is that the town still has something approaching an old-fashioned high street of small shops (many in late Regency properties) although sadly they are now more tourist orientated than domestic. One thing I noticed on this visit was that the whole place was adorned with huge hanging baskets of red, white and blue flowers; the white was a petunia (actually blushed with mauve) which had a delightful scent of jasmine. Somehow Eton always seems so much more friendly and inviting than Harrow.

  2. Sunshine. Yes we actually saw the sun a few times this week! Yesterday (Saturday) was so glorious, even if not hugely warm, it was a shame not to be out in the garden.

  3. Beef Curry. Just for Sue I have to include something about food; and we've had so much good food this week. Should I mention Friday's pan-fried lamb with whisky? Or yesterday's most excellent sausages with linguine in a spicy tomato sauce? No I think I shall mention Tuesday's beef curry. Yummy beef having been marinaded all day in curry spices, garlic, ginger, lemon juice and gin; cooked with spinach and served with Noreen's very lemony rice.

  4. Orchids. My orchids just go on and on. The first ones in flower have now finished and the later ones are following on behind. But on Friday I succumbed to another: a pretty pale yellow slightly blushed with pink, very like the one on the right — a colour-way I've not seen before. And I have two (one mine; one my mother's) which are already growing flowing spikes again. These plants are mad!

  5. Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. We are especially enjoying Italian wines at the moment; the reds especially seem much richer and fuller than the French, and I think one is getting much better quality wine for the same money. We first had this Montepulciano at one of our local Italian restaurants and subsequently found it being sold by Majestic Wine. It is a lovely soft but full-bodied red, just right for accompanying those sausages and pasta. Indeed one could sit and drink it all evening.

22 September 2012

Five Questions, Series 2 #4

So yet again, somehow, another week has gone round and it's time to try to answer the fourth of the five questions (series 2) I posed a few weeks back.

Question 4. What are your top five personal values?

As usual; this is a lot harder than it might at first appear.

The Best Year Yet methodology for personal development provides a long list of personal values which one is supposed to categorise under five headings: Very Important, Important, Quite Important, A Little Important, Not at All Important. The idea being that one's goals should be things that support one's most important personal values. The complete list is:

Helping Others
Making a Difference

Now I'm not convinced there's a whole bunch of difference between some of those, nor am I convinced some of them are actually personal values. Moreover it seems to me that groups can be encapsulated into more meaningful values.

But then another way of looking at the whole question of personal values is to understand the mottoes which resonate and by which one tries to live. Now I've talked about mine before, most recently in this series last week. And in fact when I thought about it many of my my top personal values do come out of my mottoes. I guess that shouldn't be surprising; indeed one might be worried if they didn't.

So what did I come up with as my top five personal values?

1. Respect. Basically this amounts to Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself. And it must include at least: Self-Respect, Recognition, Respect, Responsibility, Freedom and Kindness from the list above.

2. Freedom of thought, word and deed. Essentially I should be able to think what I like, say what I like and do what I like with only the absolute minimum of constraint by society's overarching values (aka. laws). From the list this would, for me, include Spirituality, Self-Expression, Creativity, Freedom, Independence.

3. Honesty. Be honest and truthful in all that you do, which is actually quite hard as we are programmed at least to tell "white lies" as it has been shown that they do oil the wheels of personal relationships. This has to include both Honesty and Justice from the list.

4. Trust. Nothing works without some level of trust between people. Without it there is anarchy and/or violence. I should be trustworthy and trusted by others and should be able to trust them in return. Again this seems to include a number of items from the list: Integrity, Loyalty, Closeness, Friendship, Kindness, Love and of course Trust.

Actually I suppose both Honesty and Trust could really be included under Respect.

5. Sex and nudity are normal. Although this is the value which I espouse, it actually goes a lot deeper. It is all tied up with attitudes to Health, to Respect (especially Self-Respect), to Honesty (why can't we be honest about these things?), Freedom and Growth.

Looking at that the one thing that seems to be almost all-pervading is RESPECT. Your respect for others is key. But to have their respect you likely have to do most (all?) of the other things too.

Now does anyone dare tell me their top five personal values?

I missed that ...

The latest in our irregular series of links to items you may have missed and which interested or amused me. In no special order ...

I know about Tibetan singing bowls (I even have a couple) but I had no idea about the existence of the Chinese Singing Fountain Bowl.

Topology is interesting, but also mind-breaking, stuff and the Klein Bottle is just weird. But three, one inside another?!?!

Excellent spoof article taking the p*** out of "top people's supermarket" Waitrose. Hold on ... I shop there!

Could you pass the 11-plus? I did but anyone under about 55 won't have been given the opportunity. Try these extracts and find out if you're up to it now — should be easy for an intelligent bunch like you!

Great hairy faces! Well that's what was at the British Beard and Moustache Championships earlier this month in Brighton. I was going to say only in this country, but I can think of several places which would sport such championships. Bring back Eurotrash!

The Royal Society, Britain's "national academy of science" have come up with the 20 Most Significant Inventions in the History of Food and Drink. It's an interesting list, but I'm not sure they're all what I would have chosen.

We need crazies; they make life interesting. So why don't more species have awesome names like the Rasberry Crazy Ant? We should all have awesome names like that, Winston Banana, or Willie McSporran.

And finally this week saw the announcement of the 2012 IgNobel Prizes, awarded for the research papers that most make you laugh, and then make you think. Scicurious has the list and has promised follow-up articles over the next week or so.


21 September 2012

Word : Shittimwood


The wood of the shittah tree (a species of acacia) from which the Ark of the Covenant and furniture of the Tabernacle were made.

[From the Hebrew shiṭṭīm, plural of shiṭṭāh; original meaning unknown]

19 September 2012

Gallery : Breakfast

The theme for Tara's Gallery this week is Breakfast, and what's more this week there is a prize.

Now breakfast is the meal we are all supposed to indulge in. The old saying is Breakfast like king, lunch like a lord and dine like a pauper. And it does actually work. But I can't get on with it; evening meal being meal of the day is too ingrained from my childhood. Besides I'm not a breakfast-y person; I never have been. I can't face breakfast immediately on waking. When I was working I never had more than a mug of tea before going out but always wanted something once I got in the office.

Even now when, due to the diabetes, I'm supposed to eat breakfast as often as not I don't. However when I do I'm not wedded to particular foods; I'll eat anything I fancy for breakfast.

So here's my usual somewhat askance take on breakfast possibilities.

Click the images for larger versions on Flickr

Caught in the Act


The Tea Drinker 2012



Shaping a Healthier Future

There's a big brouhaha going on in NW London at the moment over the proposals to reorganise the way our hospitals work.

Needless to say all the local agitators and pressure groups are out in force, mostly peddling totally inaccurate messages like "Save our hospitals", "You won't have A&E services", "Major cuts to your health service".

Needless to say most of this is totally fictional and they have not understood the actual proposals, which are contained in an 80 page consultation document. I even wonder if any of them have read it.

I have been to several public meetings recently. I am appalled at the inability of people to understand the proposals, the way in which everything is parochial, angry and internalised, and their inability to step aside from "it might be inconvenient for me" and see the bigger picture. People are being angry and frightened, because they dislike change and they cannot (or will not) make the effort to understand.

Nevertheless, and although my GP is one of the team responsible for the proposals, in fairness I have to say they have not been well presented, in clear and straightforward messages and in a way which Joe Public can understand. Joe Public does not listen to detailed arguments (he never did!) but needs sound bites and simple statements. The NWL NHS team may be excellent clinicians, but they have not got good PR/marketing/presentation skills — and it shows. I'm no expert but a lifetime in business (including training) has put me ahead of the pack.

As a working thinker I have therefore made it my business to get involved. Having read the consultation document a number of times I have now distilled it down into a 10 slide, simple presentation for my doctor's surgery patients' group. And I have tried to help the NHS team to hone their messages.

Here is a copy of my presentation slides, which are on Slideshare. If you are in NW London then please read the presentation.

The bottom line is that this is roughly a 10% change in what the patient will see. In other words for every 10 people who go to hospital, one may go to a different hospital. All these hospitals are within something like an 8 mile radius — it's not like we have to travel 30, or even 60 miles to hospital as is the case in many other areas of the country.

Now I'm not pretending the proposals are flawless; of course they aren't. There are currently some big gaps like the lack of appropriate public transport services — something he NHS team are well aware of and are already discussing with Transport for London. However ultimately we have to stand aside from our parochial feelings and do what we know is right. In my mind, and regardless of the business case, these proposals are clinically, logically and logistically the right ones and should have been done years ago.

If you can, please also read the Shaping a Healthier Future consultation document.

When you've done that please have your say on the proposals; there is an online questionnaire.

The consultation runs until 8 October.

18 September 2012

Kids Spread Germs

There's an interesting short article in the October 2012 issue of Scientific American, which I was reading last night.

Under the banner Target the Super-Spreaders, Kathleen A Ryan proposes that the best way to tackle flu is not by vaccinating the elderly, the immuno-compromised and the pregnant. It is actually by vaccinating all schoolchildren between the ages of about 5 and 18.

The article doesn't seem to be online, so here are a few key extracts:
[T]he most effective way to protect the elderly, and everyone else, is to target kids ... Schools are virus exchange systems, and children are "super-spreaders" — they "shed" more of the virus for longer periods than adults.

Computer-modelling studies suggest that immunizing 20 percent of children in a community is more effective at protecting those older than 65 than immunizing 90 percent of the elderly. Another study suggests that immunizing 70 percent of schoolchildren may protect an entire community (including the elderly) from flu.

Perhaps the best example of the effectiveness of childhood vaccination comes from Japan. The 1957 flu pandemic prompted the Japanese to start a school-located childhood vaccination program. For at least 10 years vaccination against influenza was mandatory for all children. Excess deaths from influenza and pneumonia ... fell by half ... The study showed that for every 420 schoolchildren immunized, one life was saved, predominantly among the elderly. Once the program ended, immunization rates fell, and death rates rose dramatically over the next few years.

In Alachua County, Florida ... a school-located influenza vaccination program has been in full operation since 2009. Implemented as a coalition of schools, health departments and community advocates ... the program administers FluMist nasal spray, a live attenuated vaccine, free of charge to students, from pre-K to 12th grade, in public and private schools regardless of insurance status. Immunization rates of elementary students have reached 65 percent — enough to reduce the incidence of influenza in Alachua County during the past two flu seasons to nearly zero.

School-wide vaccinations would require a big conceptual change in immunization strategies, involving schools, communities, paediatricians and health departments. Who will fund and lead such an effort?
Well who'd have guessed it? Kids spread germs. Sounds a sensible strategy to me. But it needs a paradigm healthcare thinking. Just a little something else for the NHS to get its teeth into!

On Hairiness

Now here is a mystery. Well at least it's a mystery to me, and I can't quickly find anything about it on the intertubes.

I'm one of those hairy males; I always have been. Fortunately I'm naturally mid-brown-ish of hair for if I were black haired I'd have to shave twice a day or spend more of my life looking like a villain.

As a child my hair was light brown; it got thicker and darker and wavy as I got to puberty. I ended up with something akin to a coconut mop on my head. Now I'm past three score years it is almost completely grey (the front is actually white), much finer, less wavy and thinning — though I'm nowhere near approaching going bald or even really receding.

But it isn't head hair or beard that is my immediate interest, but body hair.

(No, no, I'm NOT going THERE!)

We know that as men get older their patterns of hairiness change. As I've said, head hair greys and gets thinner even to the extent of baldness; and apparently leg hair also decreases. Annoyingly though eyebrows, ears and noses sprout extraneous tufts of fur, which may also go grey.

(As an aside it's also interesting that ears and noses continue to grow throughout life, with ears apparently growing at a rate of around a couple of millimetres every decade. Noses also appear to grow with age, hence the caricature of the old man with a large warty nose.)

But in the last few years I've noticed something else strange. I'm sure that the hair on my forearms and chest, maybe also my back, is getting longer as I get older. Not thicker, coarser or darker, but longer.

Now it does seem that men do go on growing body hair well past puberty, even into their 30s, and apparently most men over 35 are a lot hairier than they were in their 20s. But I'm talking about something I've only become aware of in the last few years, say from about age 55.

Now I can't prove that my impression is right. I didn't start measuring the length of my body hair at the age of 18 and don't have a series of regular measurements throughout my life. (Just see what joys I've passed by!) Several searches using "a well known search engine" haven't turned up any tufty hints.

Not, you understand, that I'm complaining. Inasmuch as I think about it at all I quite like being hairy; it's part of me and it doesn't bother me; I certainly wouldn't shave or wax it. Ouchy!

Am I imagining things? Am I going mad? Do I have hairs on the palms of my hands? (No, not yet!) Does anyone know? If not, why not? — this is a vitally important research topic!

PS. No, no picture of my chest hair; you really didn't want that much information, did you!?


Another collection of quotes recently encountered which have amused or inspired me.

Every man is wise when attacked by a mad dog; fewer when pursued by a mad woman; only the wisest survive when attacked by a mad notion.
[Robertson Davies]

Love all, trust a few. Do wrong to none.
[William Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well, Act 1 Scene 1]

A conference is a gathering of important people who singly can do nothing, but together can decide that nothing can be done.
[Fred Allen]

Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.
[Albert Einstein]

Word verification — an updated version of mediaeval trial by ordeal
[Tim Atkinson, at Bringing up Charlie]

An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.
[HL Mencken]

We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.
[CS Lewis]

The Puerarchy ... "Extended Adolescence" ... the tendency for young men to spend a decade or so getting drunk, high, laid, and wiped out from video game exhaustion and porn marathons instead of applying nose to grindstone, getting a college education that will allow them to support their future ex-wives ... No one seems to like these guys — the Left condemns them as slacking losers who won’t grow up, and the Right condemns them as dope-smoking losers who won’t grow up.
[Ian Ironwood at The Red Pill Room]

16 September 2012

Five Questions, Series 2 #3

Time to cudgel the brain with an answer the the third of the five questions (series 2) I posed a few weeks back. So ...

Question 3. If you could offer a newborn child only one piece of advice, what would it be?

That ought to be easy. But is it? Well, I guess it probably is actually, at least for me.

I would immediately narrow down the options to one of the personal mottoes by which I try to live. (Yes, I know! I usually fail!)
Nude when possible, clothed when necessary

If it harm none, do as you will

Sex and nudity are normal

Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself

Say what you mean and do what you say

Don’t worry about things you can’t change
Of those which are the most important? Well I guess that without too much mental contortion several can be combined.

Nude when possible, clothed when necessary and Sex and nudity are normal are really only aspects of If it harm none, do as you will. So too is Don’t worry about things you can’t change if doing harm to no-one includes oneself, as it should.

And I would suggest Say what you mean and do what you say is really only an aspect of Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.

Which leave us a choice of two:
If it harm none, do as you will

Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself
But is not the latter encapsulated within the former? I think it arguable that it is. By treating others as we would wish to be treated is surely doing harm to no-one. Isn't it?

So we are reduced to giving our hypothetical newborn the basic tenet of Gardnerian Wicca:

If it harm none, do as you will

And if we extend none/no-one to include the environment (Mother Nature if you prefer) that's a pretty good rule to work to, nurturing both people and planet. What's not to like?

Hmmm ... interesting. I wonder how Gerald Gardner came by the idea?

Reasons to be Grateful: 44

OMG it's now week 44 (of 60) of my experiment documenting each week five things which have made me happy of for which I'm grateful. But I'm still trying to work out where the last week has gone. I seem to have been running in a blur of circles all week with little to show for it except stress and losing all track of what day it is. Ably assisted the while by having a cold and sinus infection — thankfully it seems now on the wane.

So I have to come up with my five picks for the week. Hmmm ...
  1. Pak Choi. Yes that strange cabbage-y oriental veg. I rather like it's slightly nutty flavour and its crispiness and it is full of vitamin C. As it has been good recently so we've eaten it twice this week.

    And I've made my own way of cooking it (probably not original): slice the pak choi in half along it's length and pan fry it in olive oil and flambé it with a slug of whisky or brandy. (I nearly managed to fire the kitchen doing this last night!) Serve when it's beginning to brown but still fresh and crunchy.

    What I hadn't realised is that it is very closely related to the common or garden turnip. But don't eat too much of it as it contains some toxic glucosinolates.

  2. Bastourma. We've eaten out twice this week as on both Tuesday and Wednesday we ended up near a favourite restaurant in the early evening. On Tuesday, as we left a meeting about 6pm I asked Noreen what we were about to do. She said "I'm taking you out for dinner". Well who am I to object? Especially when we were but a few hundred yards from one of our favourite Italian restaurants.

    Then on Wednesday I had another meeting which was scheduled right across evening meal time and which I knew wouldn't finish until 8pm. So afterwards I met Noreen in our favourite Greek Cypriot restaurant. I just had a quick main course of Bastourma, a smoked spicy beef sausage, with a couple of beers. They weren't hugely busy, so we had time for a chat with the lady of the house too.

  3. Boarding the Loft. Regular readers may recall we've been slowly trying to clear and organise our loft. This week we had James in to lay boarding in the second (of three) areas we've cleared. Job well done and lots more usable storage space. Now we just have to clear the final third!

  4. Roast Pork & Apple Sauce. This week's other treat was a large joint of pork from our trip to the supermarket. Succulent roast pork, with Noreen's tart apple sauce (just Bramley apple stewed with butter) — and a naughty bit of crackling on the side!

  5. Completed Tax Returns. What a wonderful job for a Sunday: filling in the income tax return! Like most people it's a job I hate; I remember my father swearing about it every year. But it's worse now I have three tax returns to do: mine, Noreen's and my mother's! But with a decent PC application, last year's return as a basis and all the data in the file ready it doesn't take too long. Mine and Noreen's have been sent in; just my mother's to finalise during the week. And it is such a pleasant relief when it is over for another year!

15 September 2012

Word : Callipygian


Having well-shaped or finely developed buttocks.
(In more modern parlance) having a nice bum.

From the Greek καλλίπῡγος, κάλλος beauty + πῡγή buttocks.

The Ancient Roman Statue Venus Callipyge is literally "Venus with the beautiful buttocks".

Hat-tip: Steve Olle for reminding me of this superb word!

14 September 2012


So something slightly amusing to take this crappy week into the weekend ...

Things What You Might Have Missed ...

It's been a busy week, most of which I seem to have spent in meetings. In addition I've been fighting a losing battle against a filthy cold and sinus infection. That's why there hasn't been too much activity here. It also means that I've built up a little backlog of links to things you might have missed, some of which, in more equable times, I would have written about in detail.

A few weeks back, Ian Visits, went to look at a 600 year old “timber cathedral” near Heathrow Airport. Looks like an old barn on the outside, but just get those timbers on the inside!

Harmonsdworth Great Barn

Meanwhile in Leicester archaeologists have been digging up a car park looking for a king. And lo, verily! They believe they've found Richard III, "hunchback" and all!

But who needs a king when you can have a naked lady to ramble over? Northumberlandia, is a public open space landscaped as as naked lady. What better use could there be for old slag heaps?

While on the subject of nudity (nothing unusual there then!) I note that Stephen Gough, the "Naked Rambler" has been jailed again by the prudish Scots judiciary. From reading the Telegraph report the guy clearly isn't mad, but he is certainly misguided and pig-headed — especially given that this has not only kept him (wrongly in my view) in jail but also cost him his family. Clearly he doesn't see it that way and I suspect there's nothing that's going to change him. It needs a certain level of flexibility and common sense by "the authorities" in Scotland to release him from jail, put him in the back of a police van and deposit him a free man somewhere in England where he appears to be less likely to be re-arrested. It's crazy that no-one (on either side) is prepared to budge enough to resolve something which is a huge waste of money and resource.

While talking of wasting money, the TUC has this week dubbed Britain's railways "a gigantic scam" with passengers being fleeced, and public money wasted, to line the pockets of shareholders. And for once I have to say I agree with them. Railways, like the utilities, should never have been privatised.

How on earth does one write a bridge from the unions and railways to cats? Because next up, yes we have pussies. Guess what? Researchers this week have discovered that we humans can catch toxoplasmosis from cats. Who knew? Well I did; and what's more I've known for 30 years! Duh!

I'm not even going to try the next link. I doubt I can do it without descending into the bowels of indecency. For next we have two weblog items from sex educator (and sex "a lot of other things") Maggie Mayhem, who I enjoy reading because she's not afraid to call a spade as shit shovel and tell things like they are, albeit often somewhat amusingly. First off she's written an absolutely scathing attack on the elements of (mostly American) society who believe in "Biblical Anti-Feminism" — basically keep the girls uneducated and trained only to praise their men and God, and bear their children. Read it and weep ... read the links she provides and you'll likely become suicidal, if not homicidal.

Secondly Maggie Mayhem has written about how she has rebelled against the current fashion for females to remove body hair. Sing praises for some common sense!

After which you'll need your daily dose of mind-boggling. Here's an old article which describes a one line program (above), written in IBM's APL language, which runs Conway's Game of Life. What's even more scary is that I used to be able to write and maintain this stuff. No wonder I'm out of my brain!

For your second sorry third, including the Biblical anti-feminists, mind-boggle of the day ... have you ever wondered how long you'd need to lie outside with your mouth open before some bird shit dropped in it? Well wonder no longer, because What If? from XKCD will tell you. It'll also tell you something weird about the fuel consumption of your car.

Finally in this edition we go from the totally mad to the ... totally mad. Did you know that the world's longest recorded parsnip is 18 feet 5 inches (5.607 metres) from stem to tip? Yep, it's all part of the National Giant Vegetable Championships. Or perhaps you'd prefer a 3.76kg spud with your roast? There's nowt so queer as gardeners!

12 September 2012

Gallery : Beauty

So the theme for Tara's Gallery this week is simple ... Beauty.

Simple huh?

So what is thing called "beauty"? Is it merely something cultural; an attribute based on whatever is the current common consensus? Or is there some "universal beauty" which transcends time and place? It seems (see here and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beauty) that it's actually a mix of the two. But it's also interesting that aside from the biological markers of health and fertility, there’s no definition of beauty that isn’t considered ugly in another place or another time.

Which means I can choose anything the hell I like! So what shall we have?

Some pretty flowers?

Hollyhock Orchid

Apothecary's Rose Cabbage

(Yeah OK, so a cabbage isn't a flower, but you get the point!)

An attractive blonde?

Buxom Blonde

Or some pussy porn?

The Sleep of the Just Sunday Morning Lay-in

But then again we could have a crane!

Crane (2)

I know, I'll let you choose ...

09 September 2012

Reasons to be Grateful: 43

OK, so it's another week down in the experiment: week 43 done and 17 to go. Here are my five picks of the week.
  1. Wedding Anniversary. As I mentioned, yesterday was our wedding anniversary. I worked it out; a mere 33 years! I make that pearl (30) and leather (3), so we invested in some fancy dog-collars shackles. 😉 But ... Eeeekkkkk! We've been married much longer than we weren't. And every year we look at each other and say "How did we do it?". And we still don't know! But it's a good week for it; we have several friends with wedding anniversaries this week.

  2. Summer Weather. This week has been another of glorious late summer weather: clear blue skies, hot sunshine, warm nights — just like summer should be — but also quite humid. It seems the first week of September is so often good weather, which is one reason we often used to go on holiday in early September. All of which has meant we've enjoyed several days of ...

  3. Eating in the Garden. Well at least on the terrace, aka patio.

  4. Plums. Our next door neighbours have a small Victoria Plum tree. Like all fruit trees It hasn't been prolific this year (we've had no apples worth eating), but earlier in the week they gave us a couple of pounds of delicious ripe plums; just right for eating.

  5. Duck and Blackberry. See my recipe from yesterday!

Five Questions, Series 2 #2

So what shall we do on an extra hot September Sunday afternoon when I've got a large part of a sinus infection? And when nothing from the neck up is working properly? (No change there then!)

Oh, I know, I'll tax my brain with answering Question 2 from my Five Questions, Series 2. So ...

Question 2. If you had to diagnosis yourself with any mental illness which would it be?

Well that should be easy: all of them! But maybe we should look at the options.

Depression. Yep, definitely got that one.
Intelligence. Yep, got that as well.
Schizophrenia. Nope, not even by the farthest stretch of the imagination.
Autism. Nope, though I'm sure many of my former colleagues thought I had.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Nope, no more than anyone else.
Stupidity. Yep, very definitely have that.
Optimism. No; dunno what this is.
Quadrophenia. I guess this must be where each of your schizophrenic personalities is itself schizophrenic. Aarrrgggghhhhh!!!!! So no, don't have that. Anyway The Who never were my favourite band, I didn't like the album, and I wasn't a mod.
Realism. Sadly yes, all to much of it.
Drug Dependency. Yeah, got lots of those. Can't get off the anti-depressants without withdrawal symptoms (must try again!); like a moderate drink (like every day); and of course there's always food.
Honesty. Yep, got that one; definitely out of order in today's world!
Bipolar Disorder. Nope, I'm never manic enough. More like I have Monopolar Disorder.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. No, thanks.
Eating Disorders. Yep, I eat too much, which may be an addiction.
Münchhausen syndrome. I have no clue how you fly a triplane — Oh, sorry; wrong German ... See, my life isn't nearly colourful enough!

Which I think means I just suffer from an extra giant dose of totally insane stupidity!

08 September 2012

Recipe : Ruddy Duck

Today is our umpty-nth Wedding Anniversary and rather than go out to eat — we seem to be eating out quite a lot recently anyway — we decided to do something a bit special for dinner this evening. Fillet steak had been suggested, perhaps as Tournedos Rossini. But steak somehow seems so ordinary these days. We were going to the supermarket anyway this morning.

Then very late last night I had a vision. The vision involved a duck. In typical male fashion I thought "duck breasts". And then I wondered "what can I put with duck breasts?" We neither of us like culinary clichés like duck & orange or duck & cherry, if only because restaurants always serve it too sweet.

And then I though "gooseberries". I've done mackerel & gooseberry before, so I know the acid of the fruit works well with something fatty. Hmmm, yes, that would work. Well of course we have the end of some port too. OK so, Duck with Gooseberry and Port. Yes, that would work well. Bet we can't get any fresh gooseberries!

[Interlude for sleep]

So this morning off we trot to Waitrose. Before I commit us to duck I wander off and look at the fresh fruit. Yep, as predicted, no gooseberries — well it is a bit late for them. I returned to Noreen who looked quizzical; I had to explain my plot. "Ah yes", she says, "that sounds good. I'll see if there are any frozen gooseberries". She returns empty handed saying all they have is frozen "forest fruits". Hmph! Then she says "Rhubarb". I say "Hmmm, not sure about that". This needs to be tart but I'm not sure rhubarb is the right sort of acid. "Or blackberries?" Yes that's a much better idea; we're sure to have a few in the garden and anyway there are some in the freezer. And we know rabbit and blackberry works well.

As a result I give you ...

Ruddy Duck
or Duck with Blackberry and Port

Preparation time: 20 minutes (including salad & potatoes)
Cooking Time: 20 minutes

For two of us I used:
  • 2 duck breasts
  • 4 ping-pong ball sized scallions (or equivalent in other onion)
  • 2 handfuls of blackberries
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • generous wine glass of port
  • olive oil, sea salt, pepper
And this is what I did:
  1. Trim the onions; chop the green parts of the scallions fine and quarter the bulbs.
  2. Slice or crush the garlic, and rinse the blackberries.
  3. Slash the skin of each duck breast 3 or 4 times and rub in freshly ground pepper and sea salt.
  4. Heat some olive oil in a good pan and fry the onion and garlic for 2-3 minutes until beginning to go translucent.
  5. Add the duck breasts and fry skin side down for 3-4 minutes so they get slightly browned.
  6. Turn the duck breats and add the blackberries; give them 2-3 minutes before adding the port.
  7. Cook for about 10-15 minutes (depending how well done you like your duck), turning the duck occasionally. I put a lid on the pan the keep the steam and flavours and speed the cooking a little.
  8. By this time the sauce should be reducing and beginning to get sticky; it will be a deep maroon colour (hence Ruddy Duck).
  9. When the duck is done, remove from the pan and slice thickly before serving with the pan juices.
I accompanied this with steamed new potatoes and a simple tomato, onion & rocket salad. But a lovely fresh vegetable like pak choi would work well too.

Enjoy a bottle of good robust red wine with it.

And yes, it was very good. Though I say it myself equally as good as one would get in most restaurants, and at least £10 a head less than even the cheapest would charge you.