31 December 2012

Amusements of the Year

OK, so here are a few of the miscellaneous things I've spotted during 2012 and which stand out ...

Best Name of the Year
Captain Lintorn Highett
Telegraph obituary

Neologism of the Year
Transmedia content strategy
slideshare.net, 13 January
No I don't know what it means either!

Recipe of the Year
Chocolate-covered Bacon on a Stick
As perpetrated by Wikipedia

Book Title of the Year
Louise Rennison, Withering Tights

TV Programme of the Year
Pointless Celebrities, BBC

Which just about says it all, really!

30 December 2012

Reasons to be Grateful: 59

So that was Christmas was it? Didn't feel much like it to me but then I was all out of kilter having not been well — I just lost the rhythm of everything. But I'm OK now (I hope) and the second course of antibiotics has meant I did actually enjoy doing nothing over Christmas. So here is my selection of five things which have made me happy or grateful during this, week 59, the penultimate week, of the experiment.
  1. Sparrowhawk. I think it was on Christmas Eve I was looking out of the study window when all of a sudden every bird in the garden disappeared into cover. Followed in a flash by the appearance over my head of a female sparrowhawk, which alighted in the apple tree. It didn't get lunch, but sat there for 2-3 minutes looking to see if there was any unwary meal around. I see the sparrowhawk in the garden a handful of times a year, but only once have I seen a kill. They are such fine birds that I always feel privileged when one appears.

  2. Gin. What better Christmas present than not one but two bottles of special gin. The blue one (yes it really is blue, it isn't just the bottle!) is rather good. Have yet to try the Adnams.

  3. Roger Brun Rosé Champagne. We had a bottle of this delightful very small house Champagne with our Christmas dinner. It really was a delight. A dark rosé, as one would expect from a Pinot Noir. Pretty raspberry-tinted mousse. Dry but not too dry. And with loads of fruit. It came from Nick Dobson Wines, and sadly they don't have any more; I bought the remaining handful of bottles!

  4. Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. This year's RI Christmas Lectures (on BBC2 TV) were on chemistry, given by Dr Peter Wothers of the University of Cambridge. He has a reputation as an excellent science communicator, and I see why. As a chemist, I thought the lectures were excellent: just the right mix of information, curiosities and some whiz-bang for the target audience of 11-ish year olds. They reminded me why I found chemistry interesting, and made me realise how much better a chemist I could have been if someone had enthused me with teaching like this when I was 11 or 12. The down side? There were only three lectures; there used to be six; I wanted six! As of writing the lectures are still available on BBC iPlayer.

  5. Orchids. I haven't written about orchids for a while, but I still have orchids in flower. I now have 10 or 12 plants and have had at least one in flower continuously since last March. In fact I currently have two in flower for the second time this year. And they are nearly all starting new flowering spikes. A windowsill, a weekly-ish soak and feed and they just seem to go on and on.
Next week is the last week of the experiment. And then we have to anaylse the results. Could be interesting. Watch this space!

Strange Customs & Events

Only in the British Isles** do we seem to have such a range of strange customs sand events. Here's a selection of some of the odder ones we came across during the year.

World Pea Shooting Championship
Witcham, near Ely, Cambridgeshire
Next being held on 13 July 2013.


Quite a few places hold a Scarecrow Festival, including Langwathby (Cumbria), Harpole (Northants) and Hayling Island (near Portsmouth).

National Giant Vegetable Championships which seem to always be a part of the Royal Bath & West Show at the end of August.

Cow Dung Festival, County Mayo, Ireland
But then there's a Cow Dung Festival in Switzerland as well!

British Beard and Moustache Championships
Held in Brighton in September 2012.
There are some brilliant pictures here. The 2013 World Championships will be held in Germany.

World Snail Racing Championships
Congham, near King's Lynn, Norfolk; August 2012


World Stone Skimming Championships
Easdale Island, near Oban, Argyll
Next on 29 September 2013.

World Custard Pie Championships
Marden, Kent; September 2012


** I was going to say England, but then realised there are Irish and Scottish entries in the list.

29 December 2012

Christmas Leftover Meat Loaf

For those of you still struggling under mountains of leftover turkey (or indeed any meat) I bring salvation. Yesterday I used all our remaining meat to make a large meat loaf (or maybe it's terrine). You can put almost anything in this as long as it is cookable; so maybe not lettuce, cucumber, salted peanuts or pickles, but pretty much everything else is fair game including olives and cranberry sauce. This is roughly what I did ...

Christmas Leftover Meat Loaf
(aka Kitchen Sink Terrine)

You will need:
A quantity of cooked meat; it can be turkey, beef, sausage, bacon, ham — whatever mix you have. Scraps are fine; just remove the bones and gristle.
Some butter and/or olive oil
An egg or two
Some stock and/or a glass of port or brandy
Some garlic
Some mushrooms if available
A good couple of pinches of dried herbs
Salt & pepper
Any other cooked veg, including potatoes
A couple of handfuls of breadcrumbs
Cooked stuffing is fine too

What you do:
Pre-heat the over to about 180C, with the fan if it has one.
Reduce the bread to breadcrumbs (quickest in the food processor)
Finely chop the onion, garlic, mushrooms (and any other raw veg) and sweat it in a frying pan with some butter/oil until the onion is soft and translucent.
Finely chop all the meat, stuffing and cooked veg and mix it together with the herbs, onion mix and breadcrumbs.
Lightly beat the egg(s) and add them along with the stock/liquor and a drizzle of oil. Mix well. It needs to be wetish so it binds together but not soggy.
Tip the mix into a large casserole or cake tin which has been well buttered. Firm it down well.
Put on the lid, or cover with foil, and put in the oven until done (probably 45-75 minutes; raw meat may take a bit longer). If you can be bothered (I never can) you may get a better result using a bain marie.
You can test if it is done by inserting a knife in the middle, leave it there for 5 seconds and if it is scalding when removed the loaf should be done. Do not over cook it or it gets dry.
Remove from the oven and, unless eating it hot, if possible press the loaf with a heavy weight while it cools.
Eat either hot or cold with crusty bread and salad.

Notes:
You can also use raw meat but you'll probably want to either mince it, or pre-cook it.
If you want to make it look pretty you can put a layer of meat slices or hard-boiled egg in the middle, or line the tin with bacon rashers, or decorate the top with juniper berries and bay leaves.

Headlines of the Year

It seems to be traditional to write something to round off and/or summarise the departing year. And who am I to buck the trend? So here is my pick of wcky headlines seen during 2012.

Plane hit by bus shelter during storm
BBC, 4 January

Amish men jailed over reflective triangle dispute
Telegraph, 12 January

Got PMS? Time to Spot the Snake!
Neurotic Physiology blog, 9 May
One's heard of trouser snakes, but ...

Window of John Fowles says landmark home has become a dump (sic)
Telegraph; 23 March

Microsoft invests in Nook e-books
BBC, 30 April

Wet weather hampers All England squid catching championships
Telegraph, 2 May

Cherie Blair herds goats across London Bridge
Telegraph, 24 June

Forgotten Constables up for sale
BBC, 18 June
I knew the country was hard up, but selling off stray policemen?

Bad weather leads to broccoli crisis
Telegraph, 28 June
Now admit it, you never imagined that a lack of broccoli would constitute a crisis.

Stonehenge upgrade to begin
Telegraph, 6 July
Only 5000 years to get the planning permission!

Parrot in trouble for shouting out taxi bookings
Telegraph, 12 July

TfL denies driverless Tube rain trial on London Underground (sic)
BBC, 18 July

Starlings in danger after numbers plummet 80p per cent (sic)
Telegraph, 20 July

Part of Whitehall shut due to naked man on statue
BBC, 23 November
They've since changed that headline.

Enjoy!

28 December 2012

Ever More!

There's a brilliant BBC News item from Boxing Day on the ravens at the Tower of London. They have released the latest recruit "Jubilee" who has spent the last 6 months being acclimatised. A second male bird named "Gripp", after Charles Dickens' pet raven, has also been released to prowl the Tower grounds along with "Jubilee".


It is believed ravens have been living in the Tower of London since at least the time of King Charles II and legend maintains that if they ever leave the tower and the monarchy will crumble — although this may all be Victorian fiction. Allegedly too when Charles II received complaints that the ravens were interfering with the work of the Royal Observatory, he ordered the re-siting of the Observatory to Greenwich rather than remove the ravens.

About the only restraint on the ravens is that they have the flight feathers on one wing clipped to prevent them flying off (they can however fly short distances to perch) and, as I recall, they are caged overnight. Otherwise the ravens are free to roam the tower grounds and do much as they please.

And do the ravens have a good life! As Wikipedia notes, quoting Boria Sax:
The ravens are now treated almost like royalty. Like the Royals, the ravens live in a palace and are waited on by servants. They are kept at public expense, but in return they must show themselves to the public in settings of great splendour. So long as they abide by certain basic rules, neither Royals nor ravens have to do anything extraordinary. If the power in question is political and diplomatic, the Royals now have hardly more than the ravens. But the word "power" here can also mean the aura of glamour and mystery which at times envelops both ravens and monarchs.
This is rather exemplified by another brilliant quite in the BBC News piece from Chris Scaife, the Yeoman Warden Ravenmaster:
"Raven Jubilee is doing very well and has now been trained to come out of his cage and meet all the visitors ... But it takes years for the birds to really get to know members of the raven team and for us to get to know them and their idiosyncratic ways."

He added: "They are the most pampered birds in the country — and one of the most intelligent. They gang up on small children with crisps at the tower — but they don't like cheese and onion — so they'll open the packet and dip the crisps in water to get rid of the taste."
And that's despite they're each fed around 8oz of meat a day plus fruit, cheese, eggs and bird biscuit.

What brilliant birds!

25 December 2012

Advent Calendar 25

Happy Christmas, Everyone!

Hollyhock

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012;
this final image is our Christmas card this year.

Click the image for larger versions

24 December 2012

More Amusements You May Have Missed

Another round of amusements you may have missed. In no special order except the most Christmassy bits are last ...

Some models of the universe suggest that we're living in a computer simulation run by some higher order. But how would we ever know? Would we ever care?

Did you worry that oblivion was going to happen on 21 December? No of course you didn't, and here's why you didn't.

I'm not sure if this is good or bad news. It seems that boxed wine spoils quicker than bottled wine. Apparently it's all to do wth oxygen permeability

Boys ... Finally you have an excuse for squeezing your lady's boobs. Apparently it stops breast cancer. What do you mean you don't need an excuse!? Tut! Tut!


Carl Zimmer is still collecting geeky science tattoos (attached to other scientists). Here's the latest stunning example. The cleavage isn't bag either. ;-)

Interesting perspective on the development of antibiotics, how it nearly didn't happen and what they actually do to us.

Scientists at London's Kew Gardens have discovered over one new species of plant a week during 2012, including a previously unknown tree that the locals say weeps dragon's blood.

More appropriate to Halloween than Christmas here are 12 horrific surgical instruments of torture.

Have you ever wondered what English would be like with an alphabet of 38 letters? Because that's what we could have had as there are 12 letters which didn't make the cut.

How is the Tooth Fairy like the Higgs Boson? ... On the quantum mechanics of the tooth fairy.

And now the really Christmassy bits ...

Prof. Alice Roberts on our early ancestors' relationship with the amazing reindeer.

And last, but by no means least ...

How the Three Wise Men could so easily have ended up in Botswana or at the North Pole.

Happy Christmas everyone. This feature will resume next year!

Advent Calendar 24

Norwich Cathedral Spire from the Cloister

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

23 December 2012

Reasons to be Grateful: 58

So has week 58 of the experiment been better than the previous one? Well it could hardly have been a lot worse. I'm definitely recovering, though not yet recovered. But just getting back to normal has brought it's own enjoyments this week, especially eating properly again ...
  1. Doctor Taking the Trouble to Call Me! By Monday morning I was beginning to feel human again and was about to phone the doctor's to see if they had the results of my urine test. When lo and behold by GP rang me: yes, the test confirmed I had a bladder infection and could I collect a prescription for some antibiotics. Half an hour later she rings me again: she has my flash drive, which contained a presentation I had given to a local NHS meeting 10 days earlier and which I'd forgotten to pick up afterwards. Neither of those calls was expected, and I'm sure most GPs wouldn't have bothered but let me do the chasing around. This is how the NHS should work! Brilliant!

  2. Beaujolais Nouveau. After over a week without alcohol it was so wonderful to enjoy a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau again. We're getting towards the end of this year's supply, so make the most of it!

  3. Perle RougeRed Beaujolais "Champagne". Yes, you did read that correctly! Red Beaujolais made in the style (same method) of Champagne. It's Perle Rouge brought from Nick Dobson Wines. I'm not sure it quite works for me, but we maybe didn't chill it enough. On this showing I'd prefer a normal Beaujolais or a sharp Champagne. But it was a very interesting thing to try and we have another bottle for a second tasting. Definitely worth trying!

  4. Special Roast Lamb. No more here about this as I wrote about it yesterday. And we have the cold cut for tonight! (The remains of the joint are visible in the photo behind my wineglass.)

  5. Pinner Royal Sausages. I've mentioned the award winning sausages from our favourite butchers (Hilton's in Pinner) before. They were especially welcome and pleasing this week after a long run of sub-normal food.

Advent Calendar 23

Silver Birch  Catkins

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

22 December 2012

Special Roast Lamb

I'm recovering slowly from this blasted UTI, but still not entirely out of the woods. But recovered enough to cook an experimental meal.

Special Roast Lamb
[This would also work brilliantly with pork.]

No list of ingredients, you can work that out from what I write!

We had a spare leg of lamb (the way you do!) and want the ffeezer space for Christmas. This is what I did — how you do it doesn't matter as long as the meat remains in a single piece as you'll be rolling it up later. The joint was about 2Kg before being boned.

I carefully cut down to the bone and worked a sharp boning knife around all the bones leaving a large flat piece of lamb. Trim off any excess fat and sinews. Do not throw the bones, fat etc. away!

Finely chop a couple of cloves of garlic and a small onion (red for preference). Mix with a small packet of stuffing mix, plus salt, pepper and mixed herbs as desired, and add hot water as instructed on the packet. Leave to cool for a few minutes.

At this stage a second pair of hands will come in useful. Put the stuffing on the flattened lamb and roll it up as best you can. Yes that's right, it will fall apart, which is why you need that second pair of hands to hold it together during the next step.

Now wrap some Parma ham round the lamb and tie it with string to stop it falling apart. The Parma ham helps hold the lamb together, protects it from drying and adds a nice edge to the meat.


If you bone the lamb well this is what it should end up looking like,
only wrapped with Parma ham. I ain't that good!

Place in a roasting tin and drizzle some olive oil over.

Cover with foil and cook in the oven at about 180C with fan assist (200C if no fan) for about 70-90 minutes. Any extra stuffing can also be popped in the oven.

When done leave to rest for 10 minutes, then serve in slices accompanied by jacket or roast potatoes and veg of your choice (we had steamed spinach), plus if desired some mushroom sauce.

— ooOoo —

Lamb Stock
Remember all those bones an trimmings? Well you can make some super lamb stock for risotto etc.
Take a casserole (cast iron is best) and into it throw a roughly chopped onion, a few cloves of garlic and whatever other veg you need to use up (I used a rather tired fennel) also roughly chopped. Sweat this with a little olive oil on the hob, for a few minutes. Then add all the lamb trimmings & bones, seasoning and some mixed herbs. Continue cooking for a few more minutes. Now add some white wine (or wine and water) to just cover the lamb/veg mix and pop in a low oven for a couple of hours. You should end up with some clean bones and a stock. Take out the bones and any remaining lumps of fat etc.; you might also want to skim the fat off the top. Et voilà ... you have some lovely rich lamb stock just ready for soup or risotto.

Saturday Amusement

Advent Calendar 22

Sprats

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

21 December 2012

Advent Calendar 21

St Peter Mancroft, Tower

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

20 December 2012

Advent Calendar 20

Crocuses

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

19 December 2012

What Little Thing Might Change Your Life?

A few days ago Leo Babauta posted 28 Brilliant Tips for Living Life over on his Zenhabits blog. It is a compilation of tips suggested after he asked "What's the best tip that has made your life better/easier?".

Now some of them seem trite, some I don't agree with and some just don't work for me. Which is fine; that's as it should be. Nevertheless there is a nucleus which many of us — me included! — would I think benefit from. So here's a selection.

  • Use travel delay as opportunity to stop rather than get stressed. When the world stands still, let it.
  • Stop clinging and embrace change as a constant.
  • Try and give people the benefit of the doubt if they snap at you. Might be something going on you don’t know about.
  • Life is so much easier when you make a decision within 5 minutes. Longer than that and you get bogged down & never decide.
  • Friendship is a gift, not a possession.
  • Mostly nothing is that serious as it seems in the first moment.
  • When you think you want something, put it on the planner a month from now. When that month rolls around and you still want it, OK.
  • Smiling ... seems to help with most things. :-)
  • Expecting less or nothing, and just being. That way disappointments are nil and you are pleasantly surprised often.
  • QTIP: quit taking it personally.
  • When in doubt, take a deep breath.

Advent Calendar 19

Holborn Reflections

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

Quotes

More in our occasional series of quotes we met but to which you may not have been introduced ...

Household tasks are easier and quicker when they are done by somebody else.
[James Thorpe]

What we call "Progress" is the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance.
[Havelock Ellis]

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

The storm will pass. The spring will come.
[Robert H Schuller]
Compare with Anthony Powell's I'll pass, Sir, like other days in the Army and Shakespeare's Time and tide wait for no man.

A child becomes an adult when he realizes that he has a right not only to be right but also to be wrong.
[Thomas Szasz]

Success is simple. Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time.
[Arnold H Glasow]

In love there are two things — bodies and words.
[Joyce Carol Oates]

If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.
[Thomas J Watson Sr, Founder of IBM, 1874-1956]

The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.
[Thoughts of Angel]

Evil is about choice. Sickness is about absence of choice.
[Lindsey Fitzharris; Guardian Science Blogs; 17/12/2012]

Surely the answer to every difficult question in life is "woof".
[Lucy Stiles on Facebook]

It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper.
[Rod Serling]

18 December 2012

Advent Calendar 18

Pink Fuchsias

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

17 December 2012

What a Lot We Missed!

In our occasional (well it's been something like three weeks since the last) series we have a really bumper crop of links to items I've spotted but which you may have missed — and which I think may be of interest.

First up we have an item on cracking codes, specifically in this case the easy (to us) but confusing (to our ancestors) Pigpen Cipher

And then there's a cabal of crackers who have opened a 250-Year-Old Code to find (some variant of) freemasonry within.

Not quite a code? Well maybe it is, because this amazing 120-year-old "musical box" just so perfectly mimics a bird. Well it would be perfect if they could work out what the bird was!

And so to another amazing piece of Victorian engineering: Tower Bridge. Apparently the walkways high above the river are to get (part) glass floors, so people can look down on the bridge when it opens. I wonder how many heads will manage that one? Sadly I doubt mine will.

If a little red wine is good for you ... Why you really should prefer red over white.

And talking of red, some clever chemists have been able to tweak one of the key pigments in our visual system so it is sensitive further into the infra-red. The implication is that this would give us much richer red vision. Yep that should be easy, just change the metal in the complex ... oh wait there is no metal!

So yes, it's all down to experimental science; time spent at the laboratory bench. But what about when you have an experiment that outlives you? Yep, you have to find an heir. The story of two such experiments from the same university.

Back to colour for a moment ... So why is the sky blue not violet? Excellent trick if you can pull this one off!

We all know how people of Pompeii died, right? Well maybe not so fast. Some interesting perspectives both here and here.

Ash on the floor? Oh dear, you need to know how to clean your house in 15 minutes. No, I don't believe it either!

Is it a filter? Is it a manufacturing plant? It's a cleanroom — which is actually a plant that manufactures pure air. And it's all done by big fans and gravity. An interesting read, especially when you consider this was one of the gateway technologies to our modern electronically connected world ... some part of whatever device you're reading this one was made in a cleanroom.

Ten well-known facts that are nothing of the sort.

But then, once upon a time, we didn't know how to make cheese either. Seems we learnt longer ago than was thought, like 7500 years ago!

Which is all probably down to some variant of the restless genes which have (and still do) driven some to explore further afield.

Meanwhile back at home in the UK there's been a project running for the last 10-ish years to photograph and put online images of every oil painting which is owned by the nation. All 211,861 of them! And it has finally achieved it's aim. Telegraph article about the project. And the Your Paintings website itself which is free for anyone to use. What a fantastic achievement and a wonderful resource!


So from the sublime to the prosaic and worse ...

Amusing snippet detailing the top ways we (well Americans) manage to accidentally (one assumes) injure their genitals. Be warned, boys and girls: don't play with your genitals!

And at long last the UN has got round to approving an agreement on banning female genital mutilation. I don't care how ancient and how supposedly important a ritual this is, it should have been stamped on long, long ago.

Mind you it seems that pubic hair is in even greater danger extinction than we thought. Oh dear! As if they don't have anything better to do with themselves.

After all of which we probably all need a bit of stress relief.

Happy popping!

Word : Peavey

Peavey

Well, neither the OED:
A lumberer's cant-hook having a spike at the end of the lever.
nor the more US-centric Free Dictionary:
An implement consisting of a wooden shaft with a metal point and a hinged hook near the end, used to handle logs
actually help us a lot here.


Fortunately Wikipedia is more forthcoming:
A peavey or peavey hook is a logging tool consisting of a handle, generally from 30 to 50 inches long ... with a metal spike protruding from the end. The spike is rammed into a log, then a hook (at the end of an arm attached to a pivot a short distance up the handle) grabs the log at a second location. Once engaged, the handle gives the operator leverage to roll or slide or float the log to a new position.

The peavey was named for blacksmith Joseph Peavey of Upper Stillwater, Maine, who invented the tool as a refinement to the cant hook ...
And just so's you know a cant hook is a peavey with a blunt end.

Advent Calendar 17

Harry the Cat (in Sepia)

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

Reasons to be Grateful: 57

OH — MY — GOD. Week 57 of the experiment has been just the most truly awful week. I've spent effectively the whole week with the most dreadful UTI. 7 days on and I'm getting better but I'm certainly not there yet. This week has been the lowest in terms of depression/mood since records began in September 2010 — and that includes the time of the complications following my colonoscopy. Bastard!

So that's why this week's report is late — I ran out of "go" yesterday.

Nevertheless I have managed to find a few things that cheered me pathetic soul during the week ...

  1. Le Truc Vert. On Monday, Noreen and I both had early afternoon meetings in central London. We trundled off mid-morning and had lunch at Le Truc Vert in North Audley Street, just a few yards from the US Embassy. This is Mayfair, so we're not talking the "cheapskate" end of the market, although Le Truc Vert isn't outrageously expensive either. We indulged ourselves with some mouthwatering steak and a glass of red wine before parting for our respective meetings. Le Truc Vert promises to become a firm favourite.


    [It is about this point when the week started to go to hell in a handcart. And no it wasn't the bistro; the signs were there before that.]

  2. Fog. On Tuesday night it was thick with fog. No, not a pea-souper. Almost no-one under the age of 65 has seen a proper London pea-souper; the last big one was I think in 1952. Even the thick, dirty fogs of my childhood in outer London, when you could see only about 3 feet, were pretty tame. No, this was just good, old-fashioned, clean white fog. And it was freezing. Visibility here was probably down to about 100 yards. I like fog; I always have; even those nasty dirty ones of my childhood. It's disorientating; mysterious; ethereal.

  3. Rime on Trees. On Wednesday morning the freezing fog had left the trees covered in rime. Beautiful filigree white lace in an ethereal mist. Our silver birch tree looked gorgeous; real picture-book stuff that we hardly ever see in London.

  4. Beans on Toast at Midnight. This is the sort of daft thing that happens when you're ill. Very late, like gone 1130, on Thursday evening, having eaten almost nothing for two days, I needed beans on toast. Why beans on toast I have no clue! Now Noreen is a great believer in eating what you fancy, when you fancy it, at such times. So she trotted off and brought me beans on toast. So there I am, at a few minutes to midnight, sitting in bed, eating beans on toast. And at times like this such things are stunning by how good they are.

  5. Noreen. Generally during the experiment I have refrained naming Noreen amongst my five selections, despite that she deserves it every week! But this week she really has been magnificent. She's mopped up all the things which needed doing urgently and which I couldn't do, as well as providing me food when I needed it and company. She organised all the Christmas cards (luckily I had already printed address labels) just leaving me a pile I needed to scribble in. And she has wrapped and posted all the parcels. I just could not have done any of that this week. I'm not sure Noreen appreciates just how much I appreciate what she does, and her input to the "partnership". Somehow words never seem to say it quite right!

16 December 2012

Advent Calendar 16

Tomb of Sir Robert Stewart

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

15 December 2012

Advent Calendar 15

Tree Peony

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

14 December 2012

Advent Calendar 14

Shipdham Church, Norfolk

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

13 December 2012

Advent Calendar 13

Orchid

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

12 December 2012

Advent Calendar 12

Sunrise 17 January, version 3

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

11 December 2012

Advent Calendar 11

Nymphaea Cultivar

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

10 December 2012

Advent Calendar 10

Ely Cathedral West Front

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

09 December 2012

Reasons to be Grateful: 56

Well week 56 of the great experiment (in which I'm documenting five things which have made me happy of for which I'm grateful during the week) has been another busy one. In fact things have been sufficiently hectic that we're at risk of getting all behind with Christmas preparations — cards have yet to be written! Nevertheless here's this week's selection ...
  1. Small Potted Christmas Trees. Again this year Waitrose are selling small (30-45 cm) pot grown Christmas trees. And they're ready decorated with some Chrstmassy shapes and a little string of battery driven lights. This is how I like real Christmas trees: small and growing. Needless to say we bought one to adorn the dining table (lights and decs from last year's tree added). And after Christmas it will go in the garden, probably in a tub for a few years, to eventually be planted out somewhere.

  2. Monday Lie-in. Despite the business we were able to have Monday with on alarm clocks ringing. In consequence I slept late and well, and actually felt refreshed for it.

  3. Frosty, Sunny Mornings. Again, as it should be at this time of year, several mornings this week have been cold and frosty, but also bright and sunny. Which I find most refreshing.

  4. Sun-Roast Cat. It was one day early in the week that Harry the Cat was sitting in the sunshine on the windowsill by my desk before coming ad insisting on lying on my desk. He was well roasted in the sun, and happy and purry.


  5. Handel's Messiah. Last evening we went with our friends Sue & Ziggy to a performance of Handel's Messiah given by the Ealing Abbey School Choir. Messiah is quite a big ask for a school choir as it needs a lot of dynamic range and attack, which often comes only with maturity (due purely to lung and chest capacity). But the chior, the soloists and the orchestra were all excellent. A most enjoyable evening.

Advent Calendar 9

Pink Primula

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

Brilliant Christmas

This was spotted on Facebook. It has to be one of the most brilliant Christmas decorations ever!

08 December 2012

Something to Amuse the Project Managers ...

Advent Calendar 8

Cloister, Chichester Cathedral

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

07 December 2012

Advent Calendar 7

Peonies & Sunflowers

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

06 December 2012

Advent Calendar 6

Mossy Roof 2

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

05 December 2012

Quote : Change

Everything changes but change itself. Everything flows and nothing remains the same ... You cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters and yet others go flowing ever on.

[Heraclitus]

Advent Calendar 5

Iris Sibirica

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

04 December 2012

Four Agreements

A few weeks ago, quite by chance, I came across The Four Agreements.

What are they? Well that depends on who you are and how you view them.

According to Everyday Wisdom they are based on ancient Toltec (an archaeological Mesoamerican culture) wisdom and
offer a powerful code of conduct that can rapidly transform our lives and our work into a new experience of effectiveness, balance and self supporting behaviour.

Everything we do is based on agreements we have made. In these agreements we tell ourselves who we are, what everyone else is, how to act, what is possible and what is impossible. What we have agreed to believe creates what we experience. When these agreements come from fear obstacles develop keeping us from realizing our greatest potential.

According to others they are four principles to practice in order to create love and happiness in your life or for stress management and personal growth.

Yeah OK, that's what they all say!

What is clear is that they are based on the thinking of Mexican shaman and new age spiritualist Don Miguel Ángel Ruiz and they seem to be the cornerstones of whatever wacknut religious beliefs he holds. They have made him lots of money as he sells "self-help" books about thee agreements by the million.

All of which leaves me feeling very sceptical and mis-trusting.

However when you read the four agreements they do make a lot of sense and they aren't too far apart from my own personal modus vivendi (see here and here).

Now I don't propose that anyone goes out and lines Ruiz's pocket with more money by buying his books. It should be enough to lay out the four agreements and leave you to think about them. They are:

1. Be Impeccable with Your Word
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

2. Don't Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.

3. Don't Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

4. Always do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse, and regret.

What's so special about them? Actually very little. They are pretty much what most belief systems boil down to if you analyse them deeply enough. They can also be pretty damn difficult to adhere to! Not making assumptions is especially hard — the whole of western culture is based upon everyone making assumptions.

Not taking things personally is hard too. I know, from recent experience, that it is all too easy to get upset when someone close reacts emotionally apparently as a result of something you did. But you have to be able to stand back and realise that their emotions are their problem to deal with, not yours, and come from within them. They are not your emotions; you cannot control the other person's emotions, nor are you responsible for them. Yes that can be hard.

But none of that means the four agreements aren't worthwhile. Indeed if everyone could just strive towards them society would be a whole bunch better. And you don't need to believe in some peculiar religious practice to make sense of them; they fit atheists just as well (maybe better?) than they do believers — atheists have no overlying dogma to contend with.

Advent Calendar 4

Eton Postbox

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

03 December 2012

Auction Time Again ...

It's auction time again at our local auction house. As usual there is an interesting selection of items about which one has to ask "why?".

A small oil of a carthorse with its driver in a ford, English School, probably late 19th century, on canvas, giltwood frame with ivy leaf border.
Is the horse holding the driver under to drown him, I wonder?

A collection of envelope seals, paper money ...
I can find no reference t this new species the Envelope Seal.

A Japanese bone netsuke carved as a seated boy holding a cockerel, c1900.
Is it only my mind that would misinterpret this?

A pair of sterling shakers ...
What is a sterling and how do you shake it?

Three old garden gnomes, in pottery and concrete, a glass fibre plaque of musical children, a shell architectural ornament, a terracotta pot ...
All in the best possible taste, naturally.

An old hat box full of hats and a suitcase of lace curtains, two cushions ...
I quite expected the suitcase to be full of suits!

An interesting collection of artefacts including a death mask in an oak case, a duty free pack of Players Navy Cut cigarettes, old table light, carved wooden items, manicure sets, old boxes, campaign mirror, and a set of Carl Zeiss Dekarem 10×50 binoculars
Words like "an interesting collection" always make my heart sink. Read "a collection of old toot we couldn't think what to do with".

A shelf containing a horn-handled carving set, a boomerang, brass candlesticks, four glass fish ornaments, miniature teapots, an old iron ...

A bras [sic] bulkhead clock signed Hermle and a matching barometer
If you must mistype it, please do it properly and give us "A bras bulkhead cock"

A Carltonware Guinness advertising lamp base, as a penguin holding a placard inscribed Draught Guinness

A spectacular Capodimonte porcelain group of a Gypsy Encampment by Sandro Maggioni with grazing horse and covered wagon, dancing couple, fiddler, woman tending a fire and child with dog, with certificate dated May 1977

A Rowe Juke box. The vendor reports that this is in good working order, ask for a demonstration.

A vast quantity of miscellaneous goods including retro items, waste paper bins, wall clocks, magazine racks, prams, candlesticks, old tins, Scalextrics, prints, pictures, glassware, biscuit tins, an old chrome folding trolley, mirror, floor lamp
Yep, more old toot!

Advent Calendar 3

Crocus

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

02 December 2012

Reasons to be Grateful: 55

Well this hasn't been one of the best weeks. Having started off with this filthy cold, it was mid-week before any semblance of humanity returned, and even that was a bit sketchy, so no real change there. Added to which it has been another manically busy week. But it has ended well, so hopefully things are on the up!

And it is week 55 of the great experiment in which I'm documenting five things which have made me happy of for which I'm grateful this week. The hope is that doing this will have an effect on my mood and depression. It'll be interesting to see where we end up!

Anyway this week's selection is ...

  1. Fish & Chips. Monday was miserable. I still had the cold, although it was receding. And it was cold and grey. Noreen asked me what I wanted for lunch. Semi-jokingly I said fish & chips. This was deemed a great idea. So Noreen trotted round to the chip shop, returning with massive pieces of fish and mountains of chips. What a tremendous treat. We've not had real chip shop fish & chips for literally years. They were wonderful; greasy; just as I remember them; and totally different from what you generally get in a pub. Horribly unhealthy but what a great way to start the week!

  2. Winter Lights. Last Sunday (25 November) was the feast of Christ the King, celebrated by some Christian sects on the last Sunday of the liturgical year, ie. the Sunday before Advent. We have made for ourselves a tradition that we put up the first of our Christmas lights (think of them as Winter lights) on Christ the King and they stay up to Candlemas (2 February). Every culture has some form of mid-winter fire or light festival: to see off the darkness and hasten the return of the sun in Spring. Our lights are a reflection of this and light us through the darkest days of the year — a month (roughly) either side of the Solstice. I love having the lights up, even in the bedroom (neither of us need total darkness to sleep); they really do seem to make a difference.

  3. Cold, Sunny Mornings. Winter arrived this week. The last several mornings have been very cold, clear, bright and frosty. This is how it should be, and how I fondly remember Winter mornings as a kid. I'm sure they weren't all like this, but I do find the cold and the sunshine invigorating. Bring on the Alpine weather!

  4. Annual Anthony Powell Lecture. One reason the week has been so busy, but ended so well, is that we've had two Anthony Powell Society events this week. First on Friday evening there was the annual lecture, which is held in collaboration with The Wallace Collection. This year's lecturer was writer AN Wilson. He talked about Powell's narrative techniques and interest in things military. He was very interesting and is an excellent speaker. And the lecture was a sell-out for the third or fourth year in a row.

  5. Anthony Powell Birthday Lunch. The following day, on Saturday we had our annual (informal) Anthony Powell Birthday Lunch. His birthday isn't actually until 21 December but we always have the lunch on the first Saturday in December to keep it away from Christmas festivities. This year was especially opportune as the day of the lunch, 1 December, was also the Powells' wedding anniversary. About 20 of us had an exceptionally convivial time at the Queen's Head & Artichoke, where everyone drank more than usual which did screw up the finances — but what the hell, it is a celebration and it's almost Christmas!

Advent Calendar 2

Water Lily House

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions

01 December 2012

Advent Calendar 1

Sunrise 17 January, version 2

An Advent Calendar selection of my photographs from 2012

Click the image for larger versions