30 October 2012

Greenford Wasp Day

Today has been declared Greenford Wasp Day.

Yep, as blogged a week ago, we still have loads of (mostly queen) wasps around. And I do mean loads.

Despite the cold weekend, on average over the past few days we have been evicting two or three a day from the house. They are mostly queens of Vespula vulgaris, the common wasp.

Today was no exception. Until, that is, Noreen made the mistake of going into the loft. From her description it sounds as if the airspace up there was a bit like the Battle of Britain! She caught and evicted around 20 wasps in the space of about 30 minutes. And even then left at least half a dozen in the loft. Every one I was shown was a queen.

Not only is the nest in our eaves, but the loft provides some superb hibernation real estate. There are cracks between the boards, tiles and rafters; there are cardboard boxes, there are cracks in the brickwork — just endless nooks and crannies.

I am just absolutely amazed that not only are the wasps still around, and hatching out, but that we have so many. The colony must have been breeding nothing but queens all summer!

Mind you, for every ten we put out probably at most one will see next Spring.

29 October 2012

Just for a chuckle ...

The 'flu jab crap continues. Gradually feeling better but still very depressed and not doing much. Hmmph! We are not impressed.

But just to cheer everyone, including me, up a bit I thought we'd have another cartoon from the archives.

28 October 2012

Reasons to be Grateful: 50

Week 50 of the experiment, and just ten weeks to go documenting five things each week which have made me happy of for which I'm grateful. This week we have ... Oh God, it's going to be a foodie week again!
  1. Pickled Onions. I don't eat pickled onions for months at a stretch, and then I decide I want them, which is what happened this week. Why I don't eat them all the time I don't know, 'cos I always really enjoy them. Unless you're going to the fiddler of doing your own (which I used to) then Garner's are the best available by a long way.

  2. Lime & Chilli Prawns. This was the last thing I did before collapsing with the after-effects of the 'flu jab. King prawns, with the juice and zest of a couple of limes, a chilli, some onion, garlic, tomato and mushroom; sautéed and served with pasta, à la mode d'ici.

  3. Queen Wasps. Just as blogged earlier in the week. And I can confirm they are indeed Vespula vulgaris as I suspected.

  4. Chillies. The chilli crop is nearing the end; there are just a handful left to ripen and the flowers have almost ceased. Even the prolific tiny red Explosive Ember are petering out. But earlier this week I picked a magnificent collection of about 10 each of the large yellow Scotch Bonnet Yellow Mushroom and Hot Lemon.

  5. Thicker Duvet. It's got noticeably colder this week — and you know it's cold when I say it is because I'm normally a warm mortal. Although I'm not sure we really need it yet it is nice to snuggle under the heavier weight duvet. The cats like it too!

Over-priced London

They must be havin' a giraffe! A bleedin' big 'un n'all.

Yesterday Diamond Geezer, who blogs a lot about various London-y things, posted a list of the cost of various London attractions.

This was prompted by the news that The Shard is to charge a few coppers shy of £25 for the privilege of going to the top to see the view. A view which, likely as not, will be mist, aka. low cloud, rather than the promised 40 miles round London.

So everyone can be equally scandalised, here are the maximum prices from Diamond Geezer's list with one or two I've added ...
£30.00 Madame Tussauds (on the day)
£29.95 The View from The Shard (Time Out website)
£29.00 Harry Potter Tour, Watford
£28.00 Up at the O2
£26.95 Ripley's Believe It Or Not
£24.95 The View from The Shard (standard price)
£24.00 The London Dungeon
£23.00 London Zoo
£20.90 Tower of London
£19.80 London Aquarium
£18.90 London Eye
£18.00 Buckingham Palace State Rooms
£16.50 Churchill War Rooms
£16.95 Hampton Court Palace
£16.00 Westminster Abbey
£16.00 Kew Gardens
£15.00 Houses of Parliament
£15.00 St Paul's Cathedral
£14.00 HMS Belfast
£13.50 London Transport Museum
£13.00 St Paul's Cathedral
£12.00 Cutty Sark
£8.00 Tower Bridge exhibition and walkways
£7.00 Royal Observatory Greenwich
£6.00 Apsley House
£4.00 Wellington Arch
I'm sorry, London attractions, but those prices are just not on and they are why you won't see me visiting any time soon. So don't go wondering why you don't see me, at least until you reduce those prices by 50%. We're in a recession. OK?

Yes, I've done a lot of the attractions. I remember being taken to Madame Tussauds at the age of about 10 (so 50-ish years ago) and my father complaining about how exorbitant it was even then. Here's my verdict on those I can remember:
  • Madame Tussauds : distinctly "so what"
  • The Tower : also distinctly "so what?" 50 years ago
  • London Zoo : a rip-off at £18 about 4 years ago
  • London Aquarium : very disappointing
  • London Eye : the super views made it just about worth £12 for 30 minutes a few years back
  • Hampton Court : haven't been since my school trip of 50 years ago; I really should go again
  • Westminster Abbey : I refuse to pay for admission to any state funded church
  • St Paul's : same as Westminster Abbey; and anyway I hate rococo
  • Cutty Sark : boring 45 years ago; the new "replica" seems to me a waste of money
  • Houses of Parliament : interesting, but not as interesting as I had hoped
  • Kew Gardens : with Hampton Court about the only place on this list that's really attractive
  • Wellington Arch : only opened recently; worth the cost of a pint for the view down Constitution Hill, up at the Quadriga, and especially if you can be there when the Horse Guards go underneath
Add to which that the London Dungeon, Apsley House, Buckingham Palace, Harry Potter, the O2, The Shard, and Ripley's hold no attraction for me, which is why I've not been to them.

And that is from someone who likes history and going to interesting and odd places. What a sad reflection on one of the great cities of the world and my home!

Thank your personal deity the national museums are all free.

Humanity Restored?

Bastard! One year I'll learn not to put anything in my diary for at least two days after I have my 'flu jab. Yep it always gets me, usually for only 24 hours.

This year it hit me hard. GOK why it should.

I had the injection about 9.30 on Friday morning. By 9.30 that evening I was huddled under the duvet feeling like death — the full 'flu symptoms: fever, aching bones, crashing headache, don't like bright lights, unable to stay awake but sleeping fitfully and just so depressed.

Saturday's plans had to be abandoned. But heroically Noreen managed to mop up the couple of bits we couldn't entirely avoid. Meanwhile I slept the day away. And although I felt rather better by the evening I then couldn't sleep last night. That's pretty normal for me when I'm ill: sleep well all day and badly at night.

Humanity is present again today, but only just. I'm still weary and aching; still depressed. Still not functioning properly in the brain department. (Yeah! OK!)

Hopefully normal service will be fully restored tomorrow; there's too much to do for it not to be.

It's true what they say about 'flu, even the after-effects of the injection: it hits you fast and hard, and floors you. If the symptoms come on gradually and you can still function at all, then what you have isn't 'flu. If you get hit by a train and can't function even if you need to, it is 'flu.

Yes, I usually get some reaction to the injection. I never expect it! But it isn't usually as bad as this. The only previous year I remember it as bad as this was two years ago when the inoculation contained swine 'flu (or was it bird 'flu?) vaccine. That knocked me out for a week! Clearly my body hadn't seen that before.

What's interesting though is that not everyone reacts the same. On Friday morning in the supermarket we met a couple who also go to our doctors and who had their jabs several weeks ago: they both said they had had no after-effects at all; not even a sore arm. And my mother says she never gets any after-effects. But I do, and I know several others who do.

Lesson: In future keep at least a couple of days clear after the 'flu jab, and be prepared to be hit hard. I did neither this year and have only myself to blame. Even Noreen tried to warn me! But did I listen?

But the after-effects of the inoculation, however horrid, are way better than actually having 'flu properly. One really doesn't need that, especially if you're at all immune-compromised (elderly or with a long term condition like diabetes, respiratory problems, etc.) or a carer because 'flu can really knock you out, possibly even terminally.

So if you're offered a 'flu shot by your doctor, I'd say take it. Yes, it may make you feel rough for a day or so, but that's better than the 1-2 weeks real 'flu will last.

26 October 2012

Science-y things you may have missed

In this edition of links to interesting items I've collected this week, we bring you mostly science-related things. In no special order ...

The Bristlecone Pine is an amazing tree which can live for thousands of years. It chronicles climate change past and it looks as if it may be showing the way into climate change to come.

So what are you actually running scared of? Biologist Rob Dunn is always good value and here he looks at how our "fight or flight" mechanism is still running from nasty, big predators.

Still on biology here are a series of amazing microscopy photos of creepy crawlies. Preferably not for mealtime or just before bed, but the images are so brilliant!

We all get earworms. No, not more bugs! I mean that song or tune which loops endlessly in your head despite distractions. Now psychologists are trying to understand why.

Psychologists again! It seems they've concluded that what we've always been told is true: that men and women can't be "just friends". OK, guilty as charged, sometimes — though I'm far from sure it is true of all my opposite sex friendships.

There have been several articles recently about the age of puberty having fallen over the last 100 years in both boys and girls. Do scientists really not understand why? How about better nutrition and hormones in meat? I bet they account for a large percentage of the change. But OK it will be hard to prove.

Finally on the basis of some meta-studies some scientists have come to the conclusion that premenstrual syndrome is probably a myth. Probably true for some women, but I find it hard to believe it's all in the mind. I think a lot of people will need a lot of convincing.

May your weekend run smoothly!

Just a little amusement for the weekend ...

I love the expressions on the faces of Glasbergen's cats!

25 October 2012

Books that Changed My Life

Really major life-changing events (marriage, an influential chance meeting) aren't common but we all have them and usually several in a lifetime.

What I suspect is more common, at least of those of us who read, is to realise that one has a series of books which have been sufficiently influential that they've significantly changed the tone or direction of one's life.

And reading Mrs Worthington's entry "Books that shaped my life" in Tara's Gallery this week I realised that I too had such a list. So I thought I'd document it. Here are some of them in roughly chronological order; I'm sure there are others.

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland and Alice through the Looking Glass. I remember these from an early age. They started me thinking about language. Later re-reading it as a student I saw and became fascinated by the unexpected logic, something which has stayed with me. This was later enhanced by Martin Gardner's The Annotated Alice.

TS Eliot, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. This is something my father used to read to me at bedtime when I was probably about 7 or 8. I especially remember, and still love, Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat. I knew it off by heart and I still remember chunks of it. This was in the late 1950s, long before Cats, the musical. To this day I love cats and I love railways.

WE Johns, Biggles books. I read as many of these as I could get my hands on, probably from the time I was about 9 or so right into my teens. Yes, they were fantasy adventure, but they were also a world into which a repressed (even depressed) child could retreat from the world.

Boy Scout Association, The Chief Scouts' Advance Party Report. This was the 1966 set of proposals for modernising the scouting movement at the time I was transitioning from Scouts to Senior Scouts. I realised it was important and read it. I didn't agree with it. I saw it for what it turned out to be: the beginning of the emasculation of the Scout Movement as I knew it and as I believed then, and still believe, it should be. It was thus one of the 3 or 4 straws which directly led to me leaving Scouting; somewhere I would have liked to remain.

John Betjeman, High and Low. I don't recall what impelled me to buy Betjeman's latest slim volume of verse in 1966, but it soon became a firm favourite. As a late teenager it lived by my bed and if I awoke, sleepless, I would dip into it until sliding into slumber again. Why would a teenage boy in the late '60s find a volume of poetry comforting? Isn't that rather worrying? It didn't so much kindle in me a love of poetry but an awareness of the changing world of architecture and railways.

Havelock Ellis, The Psychology of Sex. My parents had a copy of this and it was openly available to me on the shelves from a very early age. I read it, and learnt a lot from it, as a teenager. It kept me one step ahead of my girlfriend in our joint exploration and development of our sexuality.

Florence Greenberg, Jewish Cookery. No I'm not Jewish. I picked this up as a student because it is such a great cookery book. It covers all the basics and provides a wealth of interesting recipes. It wasn't the only cookery book I had as a student, but probably the one I used most often. And I still have it and use it!

David Hockney, Photography. I'm unable to remember now which of Hockney's books on photography it was that I recall seeing, but it was one of the early ones where he was experimenting with "joiners". The book was probably his Photographs (1982) or just possibly Cameraworks (1984) although I had thought it was a late-70s book. But whichever it was I found the "joiner" technique fascinating and it is still something I experiment with from time to time. It has definitely been a factor in the development of my photography.

Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time. If there's one work (it's actually a series of 12 novels) that changed my life this is it. There are comments elsewhere herein (for instance here) about how I was recommended to read Dance by our friend Jilly, and how that simple recommendation led to what is now the Anthony Powell Society and such a large part of my life.


Long time readers will know that I rather like wasps (yellow-jackets to you Americans) and I've written about them before (for example here and here). They are extremely good predators of creepie-crawlies and without them we'd be knee-deep in caterpillars and spiders. They are also adept at reducing dead wood to nothing: they scrape off pieces of wood which they chew into paper to make their nests.

This Autumn we seem to have a plethora of wasps. Not really surprising as we obviously have a wasps' nest somewhere in our eaves. They come and go through the end of our guttering, a few feet from the bathroom window. And they are still very active; there's a constant traffic of wasps in and out. That's fine; it's as it should be.

But what I have noticed is that we have an extraordinary number of queen wasps this Autumn. They are obviously emerging now, leaving the nest and are off to mate and find somewhere to hibernate. And they are mostly queens (although I think some of what I've seen are probably males); they're far too large to be workers. At about twice the size of the workers (which is what we normally see about) they're quite impressive.**

But why so many this year? It's probably partly because we don't so often see them and I'm seeing more now as they are so close (and they can now escape through the hatchway into our loft, which was previously not possible). But it is probably also partly because it is still mild and they haven't been killed off in the nest by early frosts.

Vespula vulgaris

We have mostly two species of wasp in the UK, the common wasp, Vespula vulgaris, and the German wasp, Vespula germanica. I don't know which species my wasps are, but I think probably the former; we do have both species here. I need to catch one and interrogate it; you can mostly tell the species from the face and body patterning, and the gender from size and body morphology as these illustrations show.

Vespula germanica

And these queens buzz. Very loudly but with a lower pitch than workers. I know this because the queens are getting into the house. Lots of queens. Yesterday we evicted three before lunch. But boy is that buzzing annoying: I guess it is designed to be. Like their colouring it could well be a defence mechanism; a warning: Don't mess with me!

You can hear them coming. Standing in the bathroom this morning I could hear a faint, low buzzing. Alert! Wasp! But where was it? After a few minutes it appeared from the direction of the trap door. They're attracted to light (I guess that, like moths, artificial light partly dazzles them) so putting out the bathroom light it was easy to shepherd the creature out of the window. Sorry dearie you ain't hibernating in my house if I can avoid it — if nothing else the house is too warm for you to hibernate.

It's interesting to watch them. They're really only a pest when you can't catch them or cajole them out. And they'll be gone as soon as we get a couple of good frosts. Generally with wasps in the UK if you leave them alone they'll leave you alone.^^ Let them be — they are such superb predators.

** No, they are NOT hornets. Hornets (Vespa crabo) are very large, quite scarce, more likely to be found in wooded areas, and distinctly yellow and brown.

^^ The only excuse for obliterating them is (a) if they are nesting somewhere totally unsuitable (like your kitchen) or (b) if you have someone you know to be seriously allergic to their sting as my late mother-in-law was, but that is not common.

24 October 2012

Gallery : Books

I've not partaken in Tara's Gallery for a couple of weeks. This has been partly due to the lack of available hours in the day and partly as the last couple of subjects haven't grabbed me.

But I have to do this week's Gallery as the subject is something dear to my heart: books!

And yet I find I have no photos of books. Except for this one.

Work in Progress

This was my home office, my desk, about three years ago.

For the last several years I was working I was lucky enough to be able to work from home much of the time. Despite being a project manager much of what I was doing could be done remotely: I had email, a mobile phone, a fax, a laptop. And because my teams were geographically spread meetings were held by teleconference. It actually worked well, and saved the company huge amounts of cash and travel time.

A couple of years into retirement it doesn't look a lot different. The laptop isn't there so often, and the fax machine has gone.

The books have been reorganised but are largely the same. These are my working books; the ones I use every day; just a couple of hundred of the thousands in the house.

Here it is today; when I was in the middle of writing this and even with the image above on the screen!

Desk 2012

See still lots of books, bigger geraniums and chillies creeping into the top right corner — not a whole lot different!

23 October 2012

Are Scientists Now Able to do Their Jobs?

So yesterday six internationally respected scientists, plus a government official, were convicted by an Italian court of manslaughter for not issuing a warning of the magnitude 6.3 L’Aquila earthquake of 2009 which killed 309 people. They were each sentenced to 6 years in prison.

For what? Yes, that's right: doing their job to the best of their ability.

On the basis of the best evidence available to them, these experts didn't issue a warning about the imminence of the earthquake because that evidence didn't indicate there would be one; because predicting earthquakes is (still) effectively impossible. It's a decision which most of their colleagues around the world apparently support.

They made an honourable scientific decision based on the evidence. So how can they be culpable?

Now I'm no expert on earthquakes, but my friend Ziggy Lubkowski is a world leader in earthquake engineering. And he is even more quietly and coldly furious than am I. You can see what he says on his work weblog. I commend it; he says it much better than I can!

It would seem to me that the direct consequence of this is that no scientist should now express any opinion as to any the future happening. Or perhaps the only comments should be either "No comment" or "We don't know". Surely to do anything else leaves one exposed. That means scientists — which includes the guys who forecast our weather! — will no longer be able to fulfil their roles in society. It will stifle science, progress and more immediately public safety. Would I blame anyone for taking such such an approach? How can I?!

Surely any legal system which can allow such a prosecution to even get to court is deeply flawed. For everyone's sake let's just hope that this travesty of justice gets overturned on appeal.

Brownfield Wildlife

There was another interesting article in the Autumn issue of BBC Wildlife magazine on the importance of brownfield sites for wildlife.

We all think in terms of brownfield sites being derelict, dangerous and useless. But in fact it provides a whole range iof valuable, and often novel, habitat for wildlife. Indeed often brownfield sites are richer in wildlife than green belt land which tends to be managed and manicured by comparison.

Again the article isn't online (although there is a short news report) so once more a few pertinent extracts.

Much has been made of the importance of brownfield for wildlife ... there's also an assumption ... that it must be the priority for development in order to protect the countryside and the green belt
a conflict between the need for economic development and the conservation of wildlife habitats near where people live.
Often, though, the ideal solution is neither protection nor redevelopment but natural regeneration. Some of the pollutants in the soil and ground water of former industrial land can be broken down, neutralised and stored by microorganisms, fungi and plants ... the environmental value of these natural decontaminants should not be taken lightly.
Brownfield land is full of contradictions. On the one hand, many wildlife-rich green spaces in our towns and cities are, ironically, brownfield. They provide the green networks on which these conurbations depend. And on the other, brownfield is far from an exclusively urban phenomenon.
There are countless brownfield sites ... that may never become protected nature reserves, yet nonetheless are important refuges ... landfill sites, scrapyards, car parks, skip depots, industrial estates and gravel pits.
in Britain, some species now depend on the 'surrogate' habitats provided by brownfield sites ... shrill and brown-banded carder bees ... both species of bee now depend on brownfield in the Thames Gateway
the last outpost of the silver-studded blue butterfly in the Midlands is a disused airfield at Prees Heath Common ... the concrete runway, too expensive to remove, protects colonies of black ants that in turn protect the silver-studded blue caterpillars.
brownfield sustains as many Red Data and nationally scarce invertebrates as ancient woodland.
Dereliction is not the sole qualification for brown field land. Many other places don't fit the official definition, because they are functioning as intended: railway-line cuttings and embankments, motorway verges, canal towpaths, retail parks and the open spaces backing onto housing estates and enterprise zones ... because they are urban or industrial, they are still lumped together as brownfield, and all are of unintended wildlife importance.
Asphalt and piles of bricks are equivalent to heat-retaining heathland for basking slow-worms and common lizards. Warehouses and towers are like cliffs to nesting peregrines and kestrels. Railway ballast supports plants adapted to growing on limestone.
disturbance opens dormant seeds in the soil and gives the 'seed rain' falling from the air a chance to germinate. Moreover, in brownfield land not used for food production or recreation, there is little or no exposure to herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and chemical fertilisers.

The importance of small, inter-connected wildlife havens is very noticeable, and brownfield clearly contributes much to this.

Here in west London we are lucky. There is a string of open green land running from Richmond north-west through Ealing, Harrow and Watford right out to the farmland beyond the M25. No one piece is more than about half a mile from the next, even if that next piece is only a range of large gardens or a brownfield area. And it is especially noticeable the extent to which birds use these green corridors — a definite SE-NW axis to bird flights is noticeable from my study window.

We do not need more office bocks or airports. We need all the open space we can get, even if that is scrubland, bushes and hedges. Although trees and meadows are just as valuable. Planners please note.


That cheeky chappie of British cities, the House Sparrow is under threat. This much we knew. Numbers have been declining for some years, although the population around us having fallen some years back is now quite healthy again. But scientists are still trying to work out the cause of the decline.

Following up on this, and some recent research, there was an article in the Autumn 2012 issue of BBC Wildlife magazine. The article doesn't appear to be online, so I bring you a few salient extracts.

The cockney 'sparrer' is falling quiet in our cities — and one problem may be too much noise.
a small, but significant, difference in the chances of their chicks fledging — 21 percent tor those in a noisy area, but 25 per cent for those elsewhere.
[Research suggests] noise interferes with communication between the patent birds and their offspring, which as a result are fed less often.
a shortage of invertebrate food in the sparrows' diet limits nestlings' chances of survival.
chicks raised in areas with high nitrogen dioxide levels — ie. close to busy roads — fledge at lower weights.
Despite its position on Britain's Red List of threatened species, the house sparrow is not rare — though it has declined, there are about 6 million pairs in the UK.
Sparrows connect city-dwellers with nature
the downturn has been rapid. Over 15 years between 1983 and 1998 ... sparrow numbers dropped by 90 per cent in one Edinburgh park.
the drive to renovate buildings and tidy up parks is more significant, depriving urban sparrows of places to nest, feed and take cover. Sparrows and other birds like bits of green space, evergreen cover, bushes ... But we have lost a lot of scrub from parks in recent decades.
house sparrows are more likely to thrive in areas of high social deprivation, either because buildings are in poor repair or because gardens are less manicured, improving invertebrate and seed productivity
lead-free petrol has even been cited, with the additive MTBE being blamed for killing insects. Cats ate significant predators of house sparrows. Rising numbers of feral pigeons could be transmitting increasing levels of disease.
I don't agree that domestic cats are the problem everyone makes out. Yes they do kill birds — so do sparrowhawks, kestrels, magpies and crows — but in my experience not that many. And in any event they are generally taking the weaker (who may have perished anyway), thus allowing the stronger a better chance of survival.

But the real lesson for me from this is that basically we don't know. Or perhaps more accurately, there is no one factor for the decline, but many interrelated factors.

Our sparrows have bounced back despite a decrease in the number of easily accessed roofs in which to nest. But it is noticeable that they inhabit a small cluster of gardens, including ours, with a higher than normal number of bushes, hedges and trees. So the point about cover is well made. They like bird feeders too as they provide easy food, when the Greenfinches and Parakeets can be elbowed aside.

I like sparrows. There are days when you open our front door and all you can hear is three dozen sparrows all going cheep, cheep, cheep! Our front garden hedge is their local village pub. And that's good.

22 October 2012

Thoughts on England

Despite all the business, I have found some time for reading. One of these indulgences has been Letters from England by Karel Čapek, first published in Prague in 1924. Against my expectations it is a delight and pretty nearly a laugh a page — which is likely what was intended. All interspersed with Čapek's curious little drawings.

Čapek is best known for writing, with his brother Josef, two almost iconic plays: R.U.R. (1920) and The Insect Play (1921). I know the latter as the short scenes were a staple of my school's "house plays" and we even did a complete staging in my final year at school as that year's school play. Ants running amok in the auditorium! Dark and malevolent; but great fun.

But Letters from England is Čapek's reportage on a visit he paid to Britain. First he sojourns in London:
[S]ince I have already been on this Babylonian island ten days, I have lost the beginning. With what should I begin now? With grilled bacon or the exhibition at Wembley? With Mr Shaw or London policemen? I see that I am beginning very confusedly; but as for those policemen, I must say that they are recruited according to their beauty and size: they are like gods, a head above mortal men, and their power is unlimited. When one of those two-metre Bobbies at Piccadilly raises his arm, all vehicles come to a halt, Saturn becomes fixed and Uranus stands still on his heavenly orbit, waiting until Bobby lowers his arm again. I have never seen anything so superhuman.
[A]t night the cats make love as wildly as on the roofs of Palermo, despite all tales of English puritanism. Only the people are quieter here than elsewhere.
But not as long as I live will I become reconciled to what is known here as 'traffic', that is, to the volume of traffic in the streets. I remember with horror the day when they first brought me to London. First, they took me by train, then they ran through some huge, glass halls and pushed me into a barred cage which looked like a scales for weighing cattle. This was 'a lift' and it descended through an armour-plated well, whereupon they hauled me out and slid away through serpentine, underground corridors. It was like a horrible dream. Then there was a sort of tunnel or sewer with rails, and a buzzing train flew in. They threw me into it and the train flew on and it was very musty and oppressive in there, obviously because of the proximity to hell. Whereupon they took me out again and ran through new catacombs to an escalator which rattles like a mill and hurtles to the top with people on it. I tell you, it is like a fever. Then there were several more corridors and stairways and despite my resistance they led me out into the street, where my heart sank. A fourfold line of vehicles shunts along without end or interruption; buses, chugging mastodons tearing along in herds with bevies of little people on their backs, delivery vans, lorries, a flying pack of cars, steam engines, people running, tractors, ambulances, people climbing up onto the roofs of buses like squirrels, a new herd of motorised elephants; there, and now everything stands still, a muttering and rattling stream, and it can't go any further ...
Amongst Capek's perambulations of the country he visits the Lake District and makes this note on the sheep:

Pilgrimage to the Sheep. It is true that there are sheep everywhere in England but lake sheep are particularly curly, graze on silken lawns and remind one of the souls of the blessed in heaven. No-one tends them and they spend their time in feeding, dreaming and pious contemplation.
He also makes numerous observations on the English themselves, including thes delights:

I wouldn't like to make overly bold hypotheses, but it seems to me that the black and white stripes on English policemen's sleeves have their direct origin in this striped style of old English houses.
Most beautiful in England though are the trees, the herds and the people; and then the ships. Old England also means those pink old gentlemen who with the advent of spring wear grey top hats and in summer chase small balls over golf courses and look so hearty and amiable that if I were eight years old I would want to play with them and old ladies who always have knitting in their hands and are pink, beautiful and kind, drink hot water and never tell you about their illnesses.
Every Englishman has a raincoat or an umbrella, a flat cap and a newspaper in his hand. If it is an Englishwoman, she has a raincoat or a tennis racket. Nature has a predilection here for unusual shagginess, overgrowth, bushiness, woolliness, bristliness and all types of hair. So, for example, English horses have whole tufts and tassels of hair on their legs, and English dogs are nothing but ridiculous bundles of locks. Only the English lawn and the English gentleman are shaved every day.
It's real reportage of the hastily concocted letter home variety. A sort of semi-structured stream of consciousness. And none the worse for that. As I say it is pretty much an amusement a page. A couple of evening's bedtime reading or something to while away a train journey.

21 October 2012

Word : Mendicant

Time for another nice word ...

  1. [adj] Begging; given to or characterized by begging. Also, characteristic of a beggar. Espcially as applied to those religious orders which lived entirely on alms. The members of these orders were known as Friars; the most important were the Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, and Augustinian Hermits. Also applied to Brahmin, Buddhist, etc. priests who beg for food.

  2. [n] A beggar; one who lives by begging.

  3. [n] A begging friar.

We nearly missed ...

As I said in my previous post, it's been another busy week when I've just not had either the time or the mental energy for blogging, despite there being many things I wanted to write about. So in summary form here are a few that I picked up, would have liked to write more about, and which you may have missed. Let's start with the the cute ...

Berlin Zoo have some adorable new, but very rare, Rusty-Spotted Cat kittens. I defy anyone not to like these kittens.

Squirrels, L to R: Grey, Red, Melanistic (black) morph of Grey, Brunette morph of Red

While in Britain there's another colour way of our favourite nut guzzler. But don't be deceived the brunette squirrel is just a colour morph of our now rare red squirrel — just as there are black, grey squirrels.

Still on things biological the Evopropinquitous blog writes about Things I Learned as a Field Biologist. It's often interesting and sometimes a bit squeamish. One wonders though how these people actually do any work in the field!

Now here's something for real science geeks. Make your own Particle Detector from things you have around the house. No, I haven't tried it (I have far too many left thumbs for craft work) but it certainly looks as if it should work.

From particle detectors, to particle generators. Except they weren't. In interesting short post from IanVisits about the early plans for an underground railway in London which came to naught.

And finally this week for something different. Mr Bean-Blackadder has been throwing the toys out of his pram and probably annoying the righteous in the process. The Daily Telegraph reported a nice tirade from Rowan Atkinson: we must be allowed to insult each other. Joining in the campaign former shadow home secretary David Davis said:
The simple truth is that in a free society, there is no right not to be offended. For centuries, freedom of speech has been a vital part of British life.
Precisely. It's called freedom of speech.

Reasons to be Grateful: 49

Week 49 of the experiment, and it's been another manic week. Indeed it has been so manic I've had to scrub a couple of things I wanted to do; one needs a certain amount of elbow room and breathing space. Anyway here are my five picks of things which have made me happy of for which I'm grateful.
  1. Productive Meetings. I've had several meetings this week and at least two have been really good and productive.

    Yesterday was the Anthony Powell Society AGM; as a charity we have to do things by the book. Like all these meetings it is seldom hugely well attended although, as yesterday, we normally get 20-25 members present (as well as a tranche of proxy votes). This makes for a productive meeting with some useful discussion and excellent ideas from the members to keep people like me on our toes. And somehow I always manage to find an interesting speaker; yesterday was no exception so thanks to John Blaxter.

    And on Monday I had a really good meeting with our doctor's Practice Manager and his deputy working through how we're going to organise and run the Patient participation group which I have now been fingered to chair. Another extremely productive hour.

  2. Cold Sausages. I love sausages. Almost every sausage from plain British bangers to Bratwurst in a bun. But cold sausage always goes down well in a sandwich for lunch.

  3. Adnam's Ghost Ship. Naughty child that I am I've had a couple of pints twice this week. One of them was Adnam's Ghost Ship, a very pale, light, beer with a delightful fragrance and a citrus-y flavour, almost like a clear Wheat Beer. Here is Adnam's own description:
    This beer has good assertive pithy bitterness with a malty backbone and a lemon and lime aroma. Ghost Ship is brewed with a selection of malts – Pale Ale, Rye Crystal and Cara. We use Citra, and a blend of other American hop varieties, to create some great citrus flavours.
  4. Left-Overs Risotto. One evening during the week we had accumulated several bits of left-overs: the end of the beef joint, some dressed salad, some spare veg and a couple of steamed potatoes. Thrown together i n a p[an with some Arborio rice, some stock from the freezer and a good slug of red wine it made a really hearty rich risotto.

  5. St James's Church, Piccadilly. As I mentioned above yesterday was the AP Soc. AGM which we held at St James's Church, Piccadilly. But "Arrgghhhh!!!!!" there's the TUC Anti-Austerity March going along Piccadilly exactly when we need to get the car there to deliver stuff; not a hope due to road closures. So we had to go early in the morning and waste time. I asked the church if I could leave our boxes there for the morning (we had the room from 1pm). Not only did they oblige but they let us have the room for most of the morning, to guard our valuables and set up at leisure. They even evicted the TUC stewards who were using another of there rooms as their coordination point and squatting in the adjacent room! Excellent service and way beyond what I'd even dreamt of. They are also extremely good value; room hire is so much cheaper than almost anywhere else in London; and it's an historic church with many associations, which does good work and is well worth supporting. Oh and Tuesday through Saturday every week they have a super antiques and/or craft market in the churchyard — well worth visiting for those special presents.

20 October 2012

They've never had it so bad?

The headlines are saying

Thousands of people took part in a demonstration in London on Saturday to protest against the Government's austerity measures

And it's true they did march in their thousands. In London. I saw some of them in Piccadilly.

But I have news for them.

If they think this is austerity they're in for a very big shock; so are we all. GOK what they're going to think when the real austerity hits. Which, unless I'm very mistaken, it surely will.

As a country we're still living way beyond the means of our crippled economy. And printing more money ain't going to fix it.

Just go and ask the Greeks. Or the Third Reich.

17 October 2012


Recent interest or amusement from my reading ...

Education is the proper way to promote compassion and tolerance in society. Compassion and peace of mind bring a sense of confidence that reduce stress and anxiety, whereas anger and hatred come from frustration and undermine our sense of trust. Because of ignorance, many of our problems are our own creation. Education, however, is the instrument that increases our ability to employ our own intelligence.
[Dalai Lama]

Irrigation of the land with seawater desalinated by fusion power is ancient. It’s called 'rain'.
[Michael McClary]

You may delay, but time will not.
[Benjamin Franklin]

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.
[Aldous Huxley]

Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise.
[Bertrand Russell]

Common sense is like deodorant; those that need it don’t use it.
[Thoughts of Angel]

I ask her if she would like a cup of coffee. 'Well, I wouldn't want you to go to all that trouble.  I'll just have half a cup.'
[Alan Bennett, The Lady in the Van; quoted by Katyboo]

14 October 2012

Reasons to be Grateful: 48

At week 48 we're now 80% of the way through my 60 week experiment documenting each week five things which have made me happy of for which I'm grateful.

Yet again it's been a busy week, but a week crammed full of good things, so here are my top five picks fro the week ...

  1. Lunch with Friends. All this really isn't good for my waistline or my blood sugar levels. Twice this week we're had lunch with friends. First on Monday we had one of our 3-ish times a year get-togethers with a few former colleagues. Then on Thursday we were in Norwich (again) to see my mother whose birthday was on Friday and we again had a superb gastro-pub lunch with a friend. All most enjoyable.

  2. Smoked Chicken. I think it must have been Wednesday evening we had smoked chicken breasts with salad. The Rannock Smoked Chicken comes from Waitrose. Surprisingly isn't any more expensive than the regular stuff, but a whole lot nicer. In fact it's so good we always keep a couple in the fridge.

  3. Online Shop. At last, after weeks of work an d endless head-scratching, I managed top get the Anthony Powell Society online shop up and live. It's been a lot of work, not because it is inherently difficult but there was a lot of it and there was a coding bug I just could not find — but which I did find on the third minute read-through of the code. And it is already proving it value with a number of unexpected orders flowing in.

    Sunday Morning Lay-in

  4. Sunday Lie-in. With such a busy week we've had a number of early starts and I haven't been sleeping well. How lovely then to not only sleep pretty well last night but also sleep late. I know I came to a couple of times in the night (that's normal for me) but I didn't even begin to surface properly until almost 9 this morning, and didn't manage a vertical position until 10. All done naturally, without alarms etc., so I felt rested and relaxed (so relaxed I've done nothing much today).

  5. Roast Beef. One of the two major things I've done today is our roast beef dinner. A melt-in-the-mouth double rib of beef, nicely rare (actually a bit too rare for Noreen — sorry!) with jacket potatoes, and steamed cabbage, broad beans and fennel. Roasting beef never was one of my strong suits, but hopefully I now have it sorted, although I still can't be bothered with the faff of doing Yorkshire puddings.

Word : Alectryomancy

OK, guys & gals, time for another unusual or interesting word. Today we have:


Divination by means of a cock (preferably a white rooster) with grains of corn, usually by recording the letters revealed as the cock eats kernels of corn that cover them.

From the Greek ἀλεκτρυών (alectryon) cock + µαντεία (manteia) divination.

12 October 2012


So that was a week, was it? No actually it's been a fortnight, and the next one bodes to be the same again. Here's roughly what it's been like:

Oh, much like normal then.

Happy Birthday, Mother

Happy Birthday to my Mother who is still going strong at the excellent age of 97! OK she's very deaf, fairly frail and needs a frame to get about — she's entitled to at 97! — but she is all there mentally still. She spends her days reading, painting, knitting and sewing. She makes endless soft toys and the like for anyone who wants one. We went to see her yesterday; we popped in mid-morning and left with her an orchid of hers which I have nursed into flower again. Returning after lunch she had already done a little painting of the orchid! As she says, she'd rather wear out than rust out.

Here she is enjoying the care home garden in Summer 2011, just before her 96th birthday.

[31/52] Mother at Nearly 96

I'll be delighted if at 80 I'm as good as my mother is at 97!

10 October 2012

Gallery : Yellow

I don't recall the subject of Tara's Gallery last week, but whatever it was it didn't excite me. But we're back with a submission for this week's theme: Yellow.

Almost inevitably yellow means flowers, but I've tried to find something else as well.

Water Lily
This water lily was in the Water Lily House at Kew Gardens.
Isn't it delightful?

Waiting for Tea
For something different I spotted this guy on the beach at
Beer in Devon a few years ago, surrounded by all the debris
of a family day out, including his grand-children's float.

Yellow and Red
Again at Kew, a couple of flowers in their garden centre shop.

But you know, it's very odd. I really don't have that many shots of outstandingly yellow things. Lots of reds, greens and blues, but very few yellows. Maybe I just lead a dull life?

07 October 2012

Things You Might have Missed ...

Another selection of links to items you may have missed, and will wish you hadn't. In no particular order ...

Worried about Friday 13th? Or scared by the number 7? Seems that 13 July is the least safe day of the year.

And now they reckon watremelon might be the next super-food. Hmmm ... sounds like a load of round things to me.

An interesting article on the pointlessness of Page 3 and the pointlessness of trying to ban it. So it's another load of pointless round things!

Interesting suggestion that psychedelic drugs, including LSD can cure depression. Not sure I'm ready for that yet!

Well if you British men are feeling depressed, this might cheer you up. Apparently (on average) we're better endowed than many of our rivals.

So from stiff things to ... prosthetics. Ancient Egypt never ceases to amaze. Apparently they not only had prosthetic toes, but they were actually functional for walking.

While in the ancient world, underwater archaeologists are to revisit the wreck the Antikythera machine was found. That could be very interesting, especially if they manage to find more pieces.

And still on the ancient world it seems they now think that Orkney was the centre of the (British) neolithic world. Was there really nowhere less godforsaken?

Finally a different aspect of body adornment. It seems there's a lot more to tribal tattoos than I had actually realised. I'm still not tempted though.

Reasons to be Grateful: 47

Well her we are at week 47 in my experiment documenting each week five things which have made me happy of for which I'm grateful.

And what a week! I've not had time to turn round this week and the next two don't look any better; I'm feeling seriously stressed and lacking "me time". But it serves me right for volunteering!

So anyway, to my five things. This week I give you ...

  1. Family Reunions. On Monday I met up with my father's three half-sisters. The eldest I have met once before when I was 10 and she was 18. The younger two (both within a year of my age) I had never met. My grandfather's illicit liaison, which started during the war, ended up splitting the family as my father was always seen by his brother & sister to be on grandfather's side against grandmother, and grandmother wouldn't give grandfather a divorce. Frankly my father was trying to be fair to everyone (even if somewhat heavy-handedly) and give his half-sisters a chance in life, especially the younger two who ended up in Barnado's — after all their predicament wasn't their fault. Anyway, yet again I've managed to put a broken piece of the family back together. My half-aunts were overjoyed as they thought their father's side of the family was lost to them forever. We spent a great afternoon with them and a couple of my half-cousins, sitting in a London pub just catching up of family things. And here's the photo to prove it ...

    Family Reunion

  2. Norwich. It was Noreen's birthday on Thursday and she chose to spend the day in Norwich. Fine by me as we both love Norwich. We took one of our friends and spent the day revisiting old haunts, and discovering one or two new ones. Then on the way home we dropped in to see my mother briefly. Yes, it was a good day, and even almost dry! Photos on Flickr when I get some time!

  3. PayPal. One of the things I'm doing for the literary society is building a decent online shop. And in the process we are trying to move our credit card merchant facility away from the current provider (who are charging us too much) to PayPal. After much to-ing and fro-ing PayPal finally accepted us this week! Now I just have to get the shop pages to work properly!

  4. Pork & Apple. See here.

  5. Sunshine. After a dismal start to the week we've had several sunny days and i even managed to spend an afternoon in the garden — actually repotting houseplants. Lovely crisp sunny autumn days!

06 October 2012

Recipe : Pork Escalopes with Apple, Onion and Sage

More experimental cooking tonight. We had some pork escalopes, so I tried a variation on Normandy style.

Pork Escalopes with Apple, Onion and Sage

I used ...
Enough Pork Escalopes (about 5-10mm thick)
2 slightly under-ripe Cox's Apples
Bunch of Scallions
Handful of fresh Sage Leaves
Half glass of Armagnac (Calvados would be better)
Salt, Pepper and Olive Oil
Large knob of Butter

And this is what I did ...
  1. Clean the scallions and cut into roughly 7 cm lengths, using as much of the green top as possible.
  2. Peel and chop the apples into quarters, then each quarter into four lengthways slices. Toss these in the liquor (to stop them browning) and set aside with the scallions.
  3. Wash the sage leaves, bruise them slightly and add to the scallion/apple mix.
  4. Heat some olive oil in a good frying pan and sear the pork on both sides.
  5. Add the apple/scallion/sage mix and any remaining liquor. Don't worry if it flambés, it'll just improve the flavour (and test your smoke alarms).
  6. Cook, with a lid on if you wish, turning the pork occasionally until it is done — probably 5 minutes for thin escalopes.
  7. Season to taste and transfer the pork and most of the apple/scallion mix into a warmed serving dish to keep warm.
  8. Add the butter to the remaining pan juices (plus a bit of apple/scallion) and quickly reduce to a thicker sauce. Pour over the pork.
  9. Serve with steamed new potatoes and a mixed salad.
Comments ...
It tasted good, but it didn't work quite as well as I had hoped.

The apple was good and stayed in whole slices which, with the scallions, were slightly sweet and tangy on the plate, setting off the pork nicely. That was what I wanted, hence why I had used Cox's; something like a Bramley apple would be more tart (nice for me) but would also disintegrate.

One apple might have been enough for two of us. The apple/scallion mix made quite a lot of juice; too much to reduce quickly and thicken with butter to a thick sauce. This also meant that neither the pork not the apple slices browned at all, as I had hoped. Next time I'm inclined to cook the apple/scallion separately so it might caramelise slightly. And having ended up with too much liquid it needed a little cream, rather than butter, to make it into the right Normandy-style sauce.

An alternative approach might be to breadcrumb the pork — using sage & onion stuffing mix would work well! But then you definitely don't want much juice so you'll need to cook the apple separately.

And it would work just as well with any other style of potato and with hot vegetables rather than salad — depending solely on your preference at the time.

Verdict ...
Not quite what I had hoped for, but by no means a failure. As Noreen so politely said: I've eaten far worse in restaurants!

Word : Pavonine

  1. [adj.] Of, pertaining to, resembling or characteristic of a peacock.
  2. [adj.] Resembling the neck or the tail of the peacock in colouring.
  3. [Zoological] [adj.] Of or pertaining to the genus Pavo or sub-family Pavoninæ, which includes the peafowl.
  4. [Zoological] [noun] A bird of the sub-family Pavoninæ.
  5. [Chemistry, Geology] [noun] An iridescent lustre or tarnish found on some ores and metals.
From the Latin pāvōn-em peacock.

03 October 2012

Good Doctor, Bad Doctor

As some of you may know I've managed to get myself embroiled (at a local level and from a patient perspective) in some of the health service reforms which are now happening.

Partly as a result of this I'm reading Ben Goldacre's latest book Bad Pharma: How drug companies mislead doctors and harm patients.

Even if only 25% of what Goldacre alleges in the first quarter of the book is true (and that seems conservatively low) there is a scary, systematic and unethical ethos pervading the whole of the pharmaceutical industry which emanates from both the drug companies and the regulators.

At the end of the first chapter [p.99], where Goldacre has discussed the problem of missing drug trial data, he issues this challenge:
If you have any ideas about how we can fix this [the missing drug trial data], and how we can force access to trial data — politically or technically — please write them up, post them online, and tell me where to find them.
What follows is my small response to Goldacre's challenge.

-- o O o --

As patients there is not a lot we can do to address these issues; they're just too big for the man on the Chapham omnibus to be able to make, individually, a difference. Given that the drug industry, the academics, the medical professional bodies and the regulators have singularly failed to adequately address the issues, the major thrust of the resolution probably now has to come in the form of primary legislation across all territories — something for which sadly few politicians are likely to have the stomach and no government the priority. However that doesn't mean we patients can (or should) do nothing. This is what I think we can do, at least in the UK.
  1. Through our doctor's Patient Participation Groups (PPG), and through our local LINk/Healthwatch/Health & Wellbeing Boards, we should be putting pressure on the medical world and specifically the local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs, replacements for the PCTs) to force GPs to act ethically and without bias.

    One way to do this would be for GPs to be given guidance on what patients expect of them. This is likely to be way beyond the minimum acceptable standards required by legislation and regulation. And indeed I'm involved at my local level in drafting just that. I can't say more about it at present as the work is still in draft form, uncompleted by the authors, unapproved by the sponsoring group and of course not yet delivered to its expected recipients. (That it is being done is in the public domain as it is referenced in publicly accessible meeting minutes.) However we are committed to it being published, and publicly accessible, when completed. With luck this will be before the end of the year, so I hope to return to it in a later column.

    But such guidance could contain clauses like (all my wording will need tightening):
    • Clinicians are expected to behave in unbiased and ethical ways. They must declare annually and publicly on their practice's website all benefits received (services, goods, money) worth over [[name some modest value like £50]] received from any pharmaceutical company or healthcare provider (public or private). They should demand the same transparency from those who they themselves consult or to whom they refer patients.
    • All clinical trials/research in which a clinician is involved must be publicly registered and defined prior to starting and be referenced by the practice's website. All clinical trial data (including anonymised patient-level data) and results must be published within 12 months of study completion. Again clinicians should demand the same transparency from those who they themselves consult or to whom they refer patients.

  2. All members (medical and lay) of CCGs, Health & Wellbeing Boards, etc. must also make declarations as in 1 above.

  3. Is it possible to find an MP who is willing to put down an Early Day Motion (or Motions) in Parliament demanding legislation to:
    • require all clinical trial data and documents (including anonymised patient-level data) be made publicly accessible, without hindrance, within 12 months of the completion of the study, and within 3 months to the appropriate regulatory bodies.
    • make all clinical trial data, whoever performs the studies, funds or sponsors them, subject to Freedom of Information requests at no charge, and with no exceptions, worldwide and retrospectively.
    • make gagging and other "interference" contracts illegal?
    We should then be encouraging our MPs to support the motion.

  4. There doesn't appear to be an e-petition to the government. What about it? The partition should require that the actions outlined in 3. above be passed into primary legislation during the lifetime of the present parliament. I guess this would need someone more skilled than I am at drafting to write the petition effectively and without allowing wriggle room.

    According to the government's own rules 100,000 signatures on an e-petition should trigger a parliamentary debate. That ought to be achievable if everyone buying Goldacre's book signs and gets another couple of signatures. Create a Facebook page and it could attract even more signatures.
No that isn't actually a lot in terms of fixing a worldwide, pervasive problem with Big Pharma. But we have to start somewhere and it is probably as much as we patients can realistically do initially, at least initially. Items 1 and 2 should start a trickle up of activity. Hopefully 3 and 4 will start a hammer down.

Thoughts from anyone?

Quote : Known

Apart from the known and the unknown, what else is there?

[Harold Pinter]

Five Questions, Series 2 #5

OK, so slightly later than planned let's look at the last of the five questions (series 2) I posed a few weeks back.

Question 5. What places would you have pierced on your body and which parts would you never have pierced?

Well there's a very easy answer to that: Anywhere and nowhere!

But like all generalisations it isn't entirely true as I already have a piercing.

[The squeamish, or anyone who doesn't want too much information, should skip the following paragraph and rejoin at the next set of square brackets.]

The piercing I have is a Prince Albert with a 5mm surgical steel ball-closure ring. It had been trickling round my kind for several years but suddenly became the right thing to do about 2½ years ago, just after I retired. No I don't know why either, but it was a sort of rite of passage. And no it wasn't especially painful — yes, it hurt for about 10 seconds — and it healed up well. Having it stretched (necessary with this piercing; but how and why would be just way too much information) to take a larger gauge ring was more painful than the initial piercing, but even that was only for a minute or so. The key to all this is a good piercer and excellent after-care and hygiene. (If anyone wants to know more, like if you're thinking about having this done, contact me directly — this is a family show and I don't want to unduly frighten the unprepared.)

[The squeamish can rejoin here.]

Once you're had cold steel stuck through bits of your body, it loses it's fear, although not the adrenaline buzz. In consequence I would have no problems with having almost anywhere pierced, although I don't see the point of a lot of it.

So yes there are places I would never choose to have pierced — and maybe surprisingly that isn't at all gender-based. I would have no problem with the more girlie things like ears, navel or nipples. But I'm no great fan of metal in eyebrows and I detest both nose rings and nose studs, on anyone — somehow they always look so naff.

However I think probably the only place I would never have pierced is my tongue. I can't think of anything worse, or actually more painful, especially as it is one piercing that is known to heal badly and slowly. Yeuch!

Just a quick word for anyone thinking about getting a piercing. Pay attention to these 6 tips:
  1. Find a good piercer, with a good reputation, who you trust.
  2. Ensure you check out your piercer's hygiene certification and (if appropriate for your area) their licensing.
  3. Ensure the piercer always uses all new equipment and jewellery from sealed packets (just as you would with medics or acupuncture).
  4. If you're in doubt about any of the above three, go somewhere else.
  5. Follow the after-care & healing instructions diligently or better — extra after-care attention is unlikely to go amiss.
  6. Do not pull, twist, tweak or otherwise play with your piercing, at least until you know it is fully healed. (However the after-care instructions probably will ask you to turn it carefully every so often.)
  7. At the first sign of any problem, talk to your piercer before you do anything else; they've seen it before and are trained to know what to do (doctors generally don't know).
The Association of Professional Piercers website has lots more good advice.

-- o O o --

So there you are. Five more questions asked and answered. I'll maybe do another set of questions in a few months time, probably after Christmas. Let me know if there is anything you would especially like me to answer.