31 March 2013

Alternative Proverbs

I found the following alternative proverbs on the intertubes. They're probably very old, but they amused me!

Don't change horses until they stop running

Strike while the bug is close

It's always darkest before Daylight Saving Time

Never underestimate the power of termites

You can lead a horse to water but how?

Don't bite the hand that looks dirty

No news is impossible

A miss is as good as a Mr

You can't teach an old dog new maths

If you lie down with dogs, you'll stink in the morning

Love all, trust me

The pen is mightier than the pigs

An idle mind is the best way to relax

Where there's smoke there's pollution

Happy the bride who gets all the presents

A penny saved is not much

Two's company, three's the Musketeers

Don't put off till tomorrow what you put on to go to bed

Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and you have to blow your nose

There are none so blind as Stevie Wonder

Children should be seen and not spanked or grounded

If at first you don't succeed get new batteries

You get out of something only what you see in the picture on the box

When the blind lead the blind get out of the way

A bird in the hand is going to poop on you

Better late than pregnant

As always there is more than a grain of truth in many of them.

30 March 2013

Mini-Steam Trains

For all you steam train buffs out there, and especially those in and around London, IanVisits has a listing of the miniature steam railways which can be ridden on in the London area — and a few others as a bonus. Worth a look if you want an afternoon out over the summer.

Image from Harrow & Wembley Society of Model Engineers

More details and links over at IanVisits.
Some more amusements for Low Saturday — that dreary day between Good Friday and Easter Day. These are all taken from Kitchen Wit, Quips and Quotes for Cooks and Food Lovers by Jane Brook, which I was given for Christmas.

Never work before breakfast; if you have to work before breakfast, eat your breakfast first.
Josh Billings

Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cosy, doesn't try it on.
Billy Connolly

How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?
Julia Child

Cooks do meals for people they know and love. Chefs do it anonymously for anyone who has the price.
AA Gill

I have left many things unfinished in my life, but never a bar of chocolate.
Robert Morley

Having a good wife and rich cabbage soup, seek not other things.
Russian proverb

Shipping is a terrible thing to do to vegetables. They probably get jet-lagged, just like people.
Elizabeth Berry

Large, naked, raw carrots are acceptable as food only to those who lie in hutches eagerly awaiting Easter.
Fran Lebowitz

In victory, you deserve champagne, in defeat, you need it.
Napoleon Bonaparte

If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.
Carl Sagan

A thriving household depends on the use of seasonal produce and the application or common sense.
Olivier de Serres

Chopsticks are one of the reasons the Chinese never invented custard.
Spike Milligan

29 March 2013

World Coal Carrying Championships

Easter Monday, which this year is on All Fools' Day, 1 April, is the date of the World Coal Carrying Championships at Ossett, near Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.

Each year men and women race the streets of Ossett carrying big sacks of coal. There is a women's race, two men's races (all over a course of just under a mile) and also much shorter events for children. The races start at 12 noon at the Royal Oak Pub, Owl Lane, Ossett.

The Coal Carrying Championships are recognised by The Guinness Book of Records.

More details at www.gawthorpemaypole.org.uk.

28 March 2013

The Avante Garde

I've just seen this on Facebook. It is so brilliant I just have to share it.

Click the image for a full size readable version

I especially love the captions for "Impressionism" and "Surrealism".

Something for the Weekend

A little early this week as it is a long holiday weekend, here's the weekend's amusement.

National Pet Month

As promised this is the first of, I hope, many posts featuring "National Awareness Days". Well this is a whole month! So with the promised a few days warning I give you...

National Pet Month, which runs from 1 April to 6 May — so an extended month.

The aim is to help
  • promote responsible pet ownership across the UK
  • highlight the important work of pet care professionals
  • highlight the importance of working companion animals
  • help raise money for the nation’s pet care charities

As their website says:
Pets give us so much love and companionship, now it’s time to repay that kindness [...] Pets make fantastic companions and so when it came to choosing our theme for this year companionship had to be top of the list. Increasingly studies show that pets really are good for our physical and mental health.
You can find National Pet Month online at http://www.nationalpetmonth.org.uk, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Personally as part of this I shall be supporting one of my favourite charities The Cinnamon Trust, who work to help the elderly & terminally ill keep their pets (for example by walking dogs for those who can't) and caring for the pets themselves when the owners are no longer able to look after them.

27 March 2013

New Series: Awareness Days

Just to add a little something more here I'm going to try running a series of posts highlighting some of those less than usual "awareness days" which seem to be all too common. You know things like "Take Your Pet Gerbil to Work Day" and "Crocodile Wrestling Week". (I bet somewhere both those exist!)

There's an awareness day for pretty much every day, week and month of the year, so there is no chance I'm going to try to cover them all — even if there were somewhere where you could find them all easily. So what I'm going to do is, in the spirit of this blog, try to bring you some of the less usual and wackier days as well as a few more mainstream ones. Not just charitable ones, but anything which is going to provide a bit of fun.

For instance I'm sure we'll feature British Sausage Week
when it comes round later in the year

What I am not, in general, going to cover is anything which is not UK-specific or worldwide; nor anything medical (there are just too many) or religious; nor anything too overtly big corporate or hugely well known. Hence you'll not find Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Autism Awareness Day or Christian Aid Week — worthy those these may be. I will also mostly not be covering (children's) book and literacy days as these are already being covered by my friend Katy over at Making Them Readers.

Many of the days I feature, plus lots of others, can be found at www.national-awareness-days.com. But I hope to include others as I learn of them — so if you know of any please leave a note in the comments or drop me an email.

I will also try, though I won't promise, to mention the day/week/month a few days before it occurs, so you have a little time in which to find out more and see if there are events etc. near you. Wherever possible I will include a link to the awareness day's website.

Well that's what I'm going to do. It is an experiment, so it may or may not work; but if we don't try, we won't know.

The first of the posts for April coming up soon.


Another in our irregular series of quotes encountered which have amused or interested me. In no special order ...

I don't expect much from the Irish — a lot that I know so well that I despise them, everything about them, their posturing, the silly soft accents, their literature, especially Joyce, Synge but not including Yeats who writes like a great anglo — original spare strange — yes Hopkins — and I hate their genius for self-advertisement, their mock-belligerence, their obvious charm.
[Richard Burton, actor; The Richard Burton Diaries]

Every worthwhile accomplishment, big or little, has its stages of drudgery and triumph; a beginning, a struggle and a victory.
[Mahatma Gandhi]

If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.
[Mario Andretti]

In a mad world only the mad are sane.
[Akira Kurosawa]

Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.
[Douglas Adams]

Absolute faith corrupts as absolutely as absolute power.
[Eric Hoffer]

There he goes, one of God’s own prototypes — a high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, too rare to die.
[Hunter S Thompson]

Whether we consider the individual, family, local, national or international level, peace must arise from inner peace. For example, making prayers for peace while continuing to harbor anger is futile. Training the mind and overcoming your anger is much more effective than mere prayer. Anger, hatred and jealousy never solve problems, only affection, concern and respect can do that.
[Dalai Lama]

The cat could very well be man’s best friend but would never stoop to admitting it.
[Doug Larson]

26 March 2013

Word: Baksheesh


An Oriental (mostly Arabic?) term for a gratuity, present of money, tip or bribe. Or as a verb, to give the same.

According to the OED, first recorded in English as far back as 1625 although not commonly until mid-19th century.

It appears to derive from the Persian bakhshīsh, a gift; which is from bakhshīdan, to give.

25 March 2013

Weekly Photograph

Let's have something cheering to combat this ghastly Spring weather.

This rose was spotted growing over a garden wall in Pinner, a couple of summers ago.

[28/52] Roadside Rosebud
Roadside Rosebud
Pinner, July 2011

24 March 2013

Things You May have Missed

Another round-up of links to items you may have missed.

Apparently there is now evidence for what we've always been told: meditating (or anything like it) for at least 8 weeks is good for you — both the brain and the body.

Just as I always suspected: the horrible Myers-Briggs personality test is at best totally without foundation and at worst a complete con.

More confirmation of our suspicions. Bikini line waxing and shaving increases the risk of infection. One piece from the BBC and another from the Telegraph — same piece of news, slightly different slants.

So just what is my cat thinking? And how might we ever be able to find out?

Scientists have confirmed that there really is only one species of Kraken — that giant squid which is found all around the globe. Yes, this was unexpected and they don't know why it is so.

Records have been analysed (don't you love these navel-gazing scientists!) which show that the sound of the March 2011 Fukushima earthquake was detected out in space. Actually that's quite awesome when you think about it.

Our civilisation is built on a network of networks, so a failure almost anywhere can bring the whole lot tumbling down. Luckily mathematicians are now starting to work out how to design the networks so this doesn't happen. Sounds like it ain't too easy though.

Think you've got a tough job? Pity the poor bugger who has to project manage building Hinkley Point C nuclear power station. Even as a project manager it makes my brain hurt just reading about it!

Well yes, if you go digging holes anywhere in central London you're almost bound to dig up bones! Archaeologists working with the Crossrail contract have found what they believe to be a Black Death Plague burial site at Charterhouse Square. Only one?!

Divers have been back to the wreck which produced the Antikythera machine. It looks interesting if there's the money to excavate it properly.

OK so Catholic priests being arraigned for alleged sexual assault isn't new. But it is when the said priest admits he's married. I wonder how many more there are?

Just for all the history geeks out there, here's a list of some of the (Latin) names the Romans gave their horses.

Finally, I leave you with a WARNING ... Wash that salad well, boys and girls, because it seems it is more likely to make you ill than the much-reviled beefburger. Especially beware of the pre-washed, bagged and ready-to-eat stuff the supermarkets peddle.

22 March 2013

For the Weekend ...

This week's choice is especially for Katy ...

Light in the NHS?

Coming hard on the heels of yesterday's post about the NHS, there is a certain degree of light beginning beginning to shine from the medical profession.
Scrubbing Up: Has the NHS got its priorities wrong?
More please!

21 March 2013

Making the NHS like a Plane Crash

Now this is how the NHS should operate: very much like the aircraft industry. But how the hell do we get it there and away from the culture of blame and secrecy?

What we can learn from fatal mistakes in surgery

Art or Not?

This ...
Graham Ovenden trial: I have a moral obligation to paint children
... has some quite frightening implications.

One can only hope to god that the guy is acquitted.

Thoughts on my Cat

Harry the CatThoughts on my Cat

He shares my space, though he imagines it his
He sleeps with me – a warm plush purring pillow
He sleeps on my desk, to stop me working
He shares my meals, but not I his
He consoles me when I'm ill,
And helps me in the garden
He gets high on his catnip toys
He is self-cleaning and autonomous
He forgives me when I rebuke him
Returning only unconditional love
He invites me out hunting with him
And brings me back presents
Could one desire more?

18 March 2013

Weekly Photograph

This week's photo is only a rubbishy snapshot of "Harry the Cat" fast asleep in the paper recycling box by my desk. I don't understand what it is about cats and boxes; or dogs and water come to that!

Cat Recycling
Cat Recycling
6 March 2013

15 March 2013

A Little Tonic for the Weekend?

This one is for Sue ...

14 March 2013

Masala-marinated Chicken

OK, so it's recipe day today!

This one is a Hairy Bikers original recipe from their Hairy Dieters book. I have to thank my friend Katy who said how excellent it is, so of course I had to try it. But as always I didn't follow the book, so I'm giving you the original recipe with my variations.

First things, first. You really want to start marinading the chicken the day before you want to cook it. As a minimum it should have fours hours marinading.

Masala-marinated Chicken (with minted yoghurt sauce)


For the marinade
6 cardamom pods
2 tbsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp ground fenugreek
2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp paprika
1-2 tsp hot chilli powder (the more you use, the spicier the dish)
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
I used a mixture of whole and ready ground spices according to what I had to hand
1 tsp flaked sea salt any salt will do!
I added the juice and zest of a lemon
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
40g/1½oz piece fresh root ginger, peeled and finely grated
100g/3½oz low-fat natural yoghurt I used about half a 500g tub of full-fat Greek yoghurt

For the chicken
1.65kg/3lb 8oz chicken I had a 2.2kg bird
1 lime, quartered omitted
freshly ground black pepper
fresh watercress or baby leaf salad, to serve or veg if you prefer

For the minted yoghurt sauce
200g/7oz low-fat natural yoghurt I used the rest of the tub of yoghurt
1 tsp ready-made mint sauce this I replaced with chopped cucumber, onion and garlic

  1. To make the marinade, split the cardamom pods and remove the seeds I used pods as well. Put the cardamom seeds in a dry non-stick frying pan and discard the husks. Add the cumin and coriander seeds, cloves and black peppercorns and place the pan over a medium heat. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring regularly until the spices are lightly toasted — you know they’re ready when you can smell the spicy aroma. I didn't bother toasting the spices, but it doing so may give a better result

  2. Tip the toasted whole spices into a pestle and mortar, or an electric spice grinder, and pound to a fine powder. Transfer to a mixing bowl and stir in the fenugreek, turmeric, paprika, chilli powder, cinnamon powdered spices and salt. Add the garlic, ginger lemon juice & zest and yoghurt, then mix well and leave to stand while you prepare the chicken.

  3. Place the chicken on its breast on a sturdy chopping board and cut carefully either side of the backbone with good scissors or poultry shears. Chuck out the bone keep it and cook it with the rest or use it for chicken stock! and cut off the foot joints and wing tips.

  4. Strip all the skin off the bird I didn't, but it'll be better if you do apart from the ends of the wings (which are easier to remove after cooking). You’ll find this simpler to do if you snip the membrane between the skin and the chicken flesh as you go. Cut off and discard any obvious fat — it will be a creamy white colour. Open out the chicken and place it on the board so the breast side is facing upwards.

  5. Press down heavily with the palms of your hands to break the breastbone and flatten the chicken as evenly as possible. This will help it cook more quickly. Slash the meat with a knife through the thickest parts of the legs and breast. Place the chicken in a shallow non-metallic dish — a lasagne dish is ideal — and tuck in the legs and wings that depends how much you've broken the chicken!.

  6. Spoon over the marinade and really massage it into the chicken on both sides, ensuring that every bit of bird is well coated — get your hands in there and really go for it. Cover the dish with cling film and put the chicken in the fridge to marinate for at least four hours or ideally overnight.

  7. Preheat the oven to 200C 190C with fan. Take the chicken out of the dish and place it on a rack inside a large baking tray, breast-side up. Squeeze over some juice from the lime I didn't and season with ground black pepper and any remaining marinade.

  8. Roast for 1-1¼ hours I found it needed longer than this but I did have a bigger bird until the chicken is lightly browned and cooked throughout, tossing the lime quarters omitted on to the rack for the last 20 minutes to cook alongside the chicken. They’ll be good for squeezing over the meat later. The juices should run clear when the thickest part of one of the thighs is pierced with a skewer. Cover loosely with foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes before carving.

  9. While the chicken is resting, make the sauce. Spoon the yoghurt into a serving bowl and stir in the mint sauce cucumber etc. in my case until thoroughly combined. Transfer the chicken to a plate or wooden board and carve into slices, discarding any skin. Serve with the sauce and some watercress or salad and enjoy!
And yes, it was as good as Katy said it was. In fact we had another serving of it cold for lunch today, when if anything it was even better!

Bacon & Cabbage

Another easy, quick and cheap meal this evening: bacon and cabbage. I know this is an Irish speciality, but as always I did it my way. It is good hearty peasant food, and none the worse for that! I give you the recipe in case you want to try it!

Bacon and Cabbage Leftover Somehow

You will need (adjust the quantities to suit):
Enough bacon. I used part of a large pack of bacon offcuts (hence cheap) but you can use any bacon you like.
Leftover potatoes
Leftover cabbage, or any other green veg
Spare soft tomatoes
An onion
Some cloves of garlic
Olive oil and black pepper

Do this:
Shred the cabbage, if it isn't already.
Cut the potatoes, tomatoes and bacon into bite-sized pieces.
Finely slice the onion and the garlic.
Fry the onion, garlic and potatoes in a drizzle of olive oil for a few minutes, until the onion is going translucent.
Add the bacon and continue cooking until it is starting to cook (longer if you like it well done).
Add the tomatoes, put a lid on and get everything up to temperature; cook for a few minutes.
Now add the cabbage and a good grind of black pepper, bring it back to temperature with the lid on but stirring occasionally. Continue cooking for a few minutes until the bacon is cooked through and the whole has melded together and is good and hot.
Serve and eat greedily, washed down with a beer.

If you're short on potatoes you can serve it with good bread.
And if you're short on bacon you can always top each plateful with a fried or poached egg.

13 March 2013

Will Save Lives

I'm getting really totally fed up with the rubric that

Doing A will save X lives

Just this morning the Daily Telegraph has given us

Minimum alcohol pricing would save lives, says Tory MP

FFS, once and for all ... NO IT WILL NOT!

Let's get this one straight — for better or worse, none of us is immortal, hence lives cannot be saved.

What you mean is: Doing A may postpone X deaths. Which is rather different, innit.

11 March 2013

Weekly Photograph

This is a miniature Phaelenopsis orchid of my mother's which I've been looking after and which has come back into flower in the last week. Seen here enjoying the sunshine on our study windowsill next to the scented geranium cuttings being rooted for this summer's patio planting etc. The orchid was returned to my mother when we went to see her yesterday; we also took a collection of catkins for her to paint.

Mini Orchid
Mini Orchid
4 March 2013

09 March 2013

Word: Fud


For a small, emphatic word it is surprising that this is one which appears to have little if any use. That's possibly because it is largely Scots and northern dialect. So what does it mean?
  1. The backside or buttocks.
  2. The tail or scut of a hare, rabbit, etc.
  3. Woollen waste for mixing with mungo and shoddy. [Although the OED isn't certain about this]
  4. The pubic hair (especially of a woman) and hence the female genitals. [Now scatological]
The last of these meanings is the earliest quoted by the OED in the 1771 poem The Hen-peckt Carter by James Wilson Claudero
Each hair of her fud is the length of a span,
What fud can compare with the fud of Joan?
Yes it is surprisingly little used given its scatological possibilities.

[Found in Mark Forsyth, The Horologicon]

You Might also have Missed ...

Our regular round-up of link to stories you may have missed, and will probably be glad you had. :-)

Now just what are they doing beneath the streets of London? Oh, yes, doing a marathon dig to create the tunnels for Crossrail. Here are some mind-boggling photographs.

Worried recently about getting hit by a meteor? You're not the only one, 'cos the little green men need to start worrying too. Apparently next year Mars may take a hit from a comet, or more likely its tail.

In other astronomical news, here's a piece on how other objects dance around Earth in our orbit round the sun.

Closer to home, apparently British couples argue twice a week about the mess they live in.

Well who would have guessed? Dieting makes you feel guilty not thinner.

And while we're all feeling aggrieved, here's a rant about the lack of) science behind the idea of trying to determine someone's ancestral origins from a simple DNA test, as many direct-to-consumer ancestry companies do.

And here's one for the thinkers out there. Physicist Sean Carroll considers the relationship between science and morality, with diversions into what science and philosophy actually are and how they aren't mutually exclusive.

After which we probably need to settle into bed with a good erotic story — if we can find one. Rowan Pelling, former editrice of the Erotic Review, reckons really good sex scenes are hard to find.

Never mind, here's a story about a visit to Iceland's infamous Penis Museum. It doesn't sound all that entertaining really.

Continuing one of our recurrent themes, here's one girl's thoughts about whether to shave her pubic garden or not.

Finally we bring you an interactive map of (some of) the vaguely rude place-names of the world.

08 March 2013

07 March 2013

Book Review

Dr Geoffrey Garrett and Andrew Nott
Cause of Death: Memoirs of a Home Office Pathologist

For over 30 years Geoffrey Garrett was the senior Home Office pathologist for NW England. This means he got all the juicy jobs, like working out how some notorious murders (like one of the Moors Murders) were committed and the actual cause of death.

Most of it would have hardly been routine, even for an experienced pathologist, but you would never think so from reading this book. Garrett makes the job sound absolutely mundane and boring most of the time. And that's a reflection on the book, because clearly the job wasn't at all routine on the ground and Garret says this in a few places.

But I found the book dull. So dull I almost gave up reading it. The style is to me very flat and lifeless — like the corpses Garrett is so often examining. Not that we get much detail of those examinations, beyond a few bare medical facts: so many wounds, such and such internal damage, a few broken ribs and skulls. And a lot of it obfuscated in medical terminology which is hardly ever explained.

Indeed the book is so bland it is not at all gruesome. Surely it should be gruesome? OK we don't need great detail of the basic autopsy method every time (Garrett covers that once in the introduction, though even that is a bit sketchy) but we would benefit from more on the methods specific to the cases. For instance, what is the test done on blood to determine the level of carbon monoxide present; and how is it done? We're never told. As a scientist, I wanted to know.

Yes, I wanted a lot more. More on the tests which are done, but also more on the forensic investigative process; more interesting puzzles to solve and how they were solved. I had expected this and that I didn't get it left me feeling somewhat short-changed.

This should have been an interesting book, illuminating a world which, thankfully, most of us are never involved with. But sadly for me it failed.

Overall rating: ★★☆☆☆

World Book Day

Today is apparently World Book Day — but only in the UK and Ireland.

I have just two observations:
  1. If it is only in the UK and Ireland it isn't WORLD Book Day is it!
    Apparently the rest of the world celebrates World Book Day on 23 April — which is Shakespeare's birthday, and hence a much more appropriate day. But of course we can't do that because (a) it might clash with Easter holidays when children (at whom this is largely aimed) aren't in school and (b) it is St George's Day (which never mattered to the English before).

  2. And anyway, who knew? I'm a book-o-phile, and I didn't know. Which shows just how well publicised it has been.
Come on guys: must do better! Let's get this together. It's especially important that we engage kids in reading — reading anything will do! So let's get together with the rest of the world, celebrate a single day and get the publicity working.

06 March 2013

Five Questions, Series 3, #5

OK, guys & gals, we've come to the last of the Five Questions I posed some weeks ago. So here goes ...

Question 5. If you could get everyone who reads this to do one thing, just once, what would you get them to do?

Now this probably isn't going to come as a surprise to many of you but I think my answer would have to be:
To go completely nude in public, or just in their garden, for 1 hour during the hours of daylight with their friends and/or family.
Those who read here regularly will how I believe that we would all be better adjusted mentally, and healthier, if we were all more comfortable with our bodies, nudity, sex and sexuality. We would be more comfortable discussing "intimate" matters with our doctors so we wouldn't delay seeking help for supposedly embarrassing ailments. We need to normalise nudity and sexuality, not marginalise and criminalise them.

To go nude, with friends and family is the start of this process. I was brought up in a family where nudity was nothing to be remarked about, and indeed quite normal. Consequently I have no fear of being nude, of seeing other others nude, nor of discussing anything "embarrassing" with my doctor. There's nothing to be ashamed of, or embarrassed about — at the end of the day we all know, give or take the odd scar and mole, what's underneath those jeans and t-shirt. So where's the problem?

And no, being the wrong size or shape isn't an excuse! We're all the wrong size and shape, because there is no right size and shape! We're all different. Some are tall, some short; some fat, some thin; some have darker skin than others; some have larger or smaller accoutrements than others. It's all normal. And the variety is all part of the spice of life. No men, you don't end up getting an erection (and frankly so what if you do, it's natural); girls don't end up looking at every bloke's dangly bits; and men don't spend their whole time ogling girls' chests (or lower). No-one gives stuff whether you shaved there or not. And no, it doesn't pervert children; they're actually remarkable unfazed by it all and there's actually evidence they end up better adjusted. So you end up behaving like civilised beings! Try asking the Swedes, where anything other than a totally nude, mixed sauna is seen as rather odd.

Indeed if we could get people to experience social nudity, then I bet that a good proportion of them would actually enjoy it and find it liberating. They may well end up wondering what all the fuss was about.

In my view social nudity is a basic human right, and I think all public swimming pools etc. should have to provide a few hours of clothes optional sessions every week. I bet it would soon catch on (and no, not for those reasons).

Try it, you might like it!

-- oo OO oo --

OK, that concludes Five Questions, Series 3. I'll do another series in a while.

Meantime, do please suggest suitable questions for consideration.

04 March 2013

Quote: Shit Happens

Shit happens. That doesn't make it OK. It's still bad. That doesn't excuse it. But excuses aren't necessary. Moving on is what's necessary.

[Brad Warner]

Weekly Photograph

I took this while sitting people watching at London's Paddington Station. GOK what these two where on, or where they'd been, at 10 in the morning!

Jack Hats
Jack Hats
London Paddington; July 2012

03 March 2013

Pet Hates

I've been writing this post, on and off, for a long time. So now it's got to be a bit of a long rant. And I'm going to subject you to it anyway. Well it's my blog, so there! Sorry!

Pet hates. Things which always irritate or annoy you, wherever, however and regardless of how well intentioned. They might be small things, or big things, but we all have them. Here are a few of mine ...

What Will the Neighbours Think? I don't give a flying ferret what the neighbours think. If they don't like what I do then too bad. I'm unlikely to be doing anything illegal. And if they think what I'm doing is immoral then it is clearly they who have the problem because I wouldn't be doing it if I thought it was. Remember Allen Walker Read: Obscenity lies not in words or things, but in attitudes that people have about words and things. Same for (im)morality, dislike, distaste and all this other dis-es.

Net Curtains. I have nothing to hide and nothing much worth nicking. I like light; indeed I need light to combat the SAD. And I like to be able to look out of the window. So we have no net curtains at home, neither do we normally draw the curtains after dark. And the first thing I do in an hotel room is to work out how to open the net curtains (and if possible open the window) and let in the light and the air.

Muzak. I detest background music: in shops, pubs, lifts — anywhere, even at home. It is pollution which clogs up brain-space to no useful effect. If I want to talk to someone I don't want to have to shout over muzak to make myself heard. And if I don't want to talk I want quiet to allow my brain to think and concentrate or just free-cycle and relax. If I want to listen to music I'll listen to what I choose, when I choose. But fortunately I can tune out a lot of muzak, as long as it isn't too loud.

Unnecessary formality. Formality, like etiquette, is bogus and unnecessary. I'm not a fan of ties, nor of jackets and even less of suits. I have never worn a DJ/tuxedo in my life and I'm not going to start now. And as for morning dress and top hats ... Bah! Humbug! I've always known people by their Christian (given) names and not as Mr Bloggs or Mrs Mopp, nor as Aunt or Uncle, unless the individuals themselves insisted. Let's be genuine and not hide behind false Dickensian obsequiousness. If I'm good enough, you take me as I am. If you don't care to then you're not good enough. Informality rules. Who was it said, Those who matter don't mind, and those who mind don't matter.

Being expected to take part. Aaarrrggghhhh!!!! Run away fast! This was one of the banes of my working life. There were always work events that one was expected to go to. You all want to go out for Christmas lunch? Fine you go; if it is convenient I may come, but I'm not travelling 50 miles at my own expense to do so. I don't much want to socialise with the people I work with all day, even if I do like them. Don't we see enough of each other? No, I'm not going to the annual dinner/dance. Yeuch! And the more you expect me to the less likely I am to go. If I want to go, I'll go. If I don't, I won't. I'm my own person, not a company man and I always had a life outside work. And if management doesn't like it well too bad. I wonder why I was never seen as management material?

Lying. We are never, it seems, these days told the truth. Let alone the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Everyone tells us what they think we want to hear or how they would like it to be. Look at what goes on around you. Politicians lie to us. Advertisements lie to us. Businesses, all businesses, lie to us. Religion lies to us. Shopkeepers lie to us. Call it "distorting the truth" if you want to be mealy-mouthed about it, but basically it is all lies, PR and marketing. There is an increasing culture of lying. People lie to their insurance companies — either they don't tell them things, or they make what are basically fraudulent claims — and they'll admit it to you. "I said I was hurt in that crash to get some compensation, but I wasn't really" or "Oh I didn't bother declaring that to the tax man". Some cultures are worse than others; some have a basic tenet that they will tell you what they think you want to hear, regardless of whether it is true.

Bad Manners & Service. If you're going to work in a service industry, indeed if you're going to live in society, learn some customer care and to be polite to people. It isn't hard, but you do have to accept that everything isn't just about you! You are always going to have to tell people bad news. Be polite; say "I'm sorry"; and you will be forgiven a lot by most people most of the time. What annoys people is either being lied to (see above) or being told nothing. Yes, it is something you have to learn. It isn't easy to learn to say "I'm sorry; I screwed it up" but there are times you have to.

Older people get a bad rap for saying things badly or out of turn, when they should know better. Often they do know better but can't help themselves. Apparently what happens is that there is a control mechanism in the brain which stops us saying whatever stupid thing comes into our mind but rephrase it before it reaches our mouth. As we age this control mechanism breaks down and the words spill out before the control mechanism engages. It doesn't make it easier when you're on the receiving end, but at least it is medically recognised.

Speaking Lifts. Lift going up. B****r off! First floor. Doors opening. Yes, I can see the doors are opening! OK, OK, I know that it helps the visually impaired, but that doesn't mean it can't annoy me. The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation™ has a lot to answer for! Glad to be of service. Have a nice day. Aaarrrggghhhh!!!!

People Who Don't Think. It is suggested (I think there's research behind it but I can't find the reference) that 5% of people are unable to think; 5% can think and do so; the other 90% can think and don't bother. The 90% cover their tracks by making assumptions. Dangerous. Very dangerous. Either that or they swallow whole the opinions they're spoon-fed, usually by the media, politicians or religion. This itself involves a big assumption: that these proponents are always right. Not only do people not think about what they (purportedly) believe, they can't even think about the possible consequences of their own actions.

I've lost count of the number of times I seen scaffolders lobbing scaffold clamps to each other, even dropping then to a mate 5 floors below, without hard hats. Surely someone of the meanest intelligence (and many scaffolders aren't) can see what damage a scaffold clamp dropped even 2 floors would do to their skull. But no. They can't — or won't — think about it.

OK, that's maybe a slightly extreme example, but this afflicts nearly everyone. If people thought about the consequences of what they say and do, they would behave a lot better. For a start they would drive a lot better; they wouldn't weave in and out of traffic, cutting up other motorists. They get enraged when others do it to them but cannot see what they themselves are doing.

People have no concept of putting themselves in someone else's shoes; or of considering the effects of what they say and do. Yes, we all do it; it's hard not to at times. I feel sure it's part of the spectrum of autism, albeit a long way from the full-blown syndrome.

People Who Assume I Think Like Them. Following on from the previous item, most people make the big assumption that, whatever we are discussing, I (indeed everyone) must think the same way they do. The trouble is, invariably I don't. I give them some novel twist on the subject. And the response? "Oh, I never thought about that" or "Do you really think so?" or "But that can't be right". In other words it doesn't accord with their blinkered world view. People have different outlooks on life; learn to live with it. And learn too that sometimes people wind you up with silly alternative views to make you think, shut you up or just for the hell of it!

There's one of our friends who will learn one day that if he is too inquisitive, or makes too much of an assumption, he gets a crazy answer from me. He dropped me the other day at my osteopath's. My osteopath is also my hypnotherapist. When he picked me up 2 hours later he assumed I had had 2 hours physiotherapy. I pointed out, wickedly, that he was making an assumption and that for all he knew I'd been shagging the guy's wife — or daughter — preferably his daughter. This scenario has been repeated several times, and he still hasn't learnt!

Rant over. Your turn!?

02 March 2013

Book Reviews

I don't actually get through many books these days. When I get to read — usually in bed — I usually find I need something lighter or shorter to read, or at least a book I can dip into at random; something to sample for amusement and interest. So reading a book from cover to cover is relatively are for me these days. This has never been helped by the fact that my natural reading speed is that of a snail, and have never properly mastered the art of speed reading. Given that my spelling is also fairly crummy I wonder if I may be, say, 10% dyslexic. Or, as my handwriting is also abysmal, maybe it is something to do with eye, brain and hand coordination.

Anyway I've decided that when I do finish a book, or have sampled a major part of one, I'll write a quick review note here. So we'll start with the book I finished a couple of days ago ...

Peter Silverton
Filthy English: The How, Why, When and What of Everyday Swearing

Peter Silverton is a journalist who cut his hacking teeth on writing about punk music and interviewing the likes of the Sex Pistols. So he's in a good position to know something about foul language. He takes us on a journey through the development and use of the whole gamut of swearing: what the words are, what they actually mean, where they come from, when did they arrive and how has their meaning changed over time.

We're taken on various journeys. Not just that of language used on the street or in the pub; nor just that written (or more usually not written) in the papers, dictionaries and books, but right across the spectrum of language use including pop music, TV and radio.

Having said that the book is a bit of a mix. Some chapters approach the subject from the point of view of the content: sex, genitals, excretion, family relations, sexuality. But others approach it from the direction of the medium: music, newspapers, football etc. I found this split approach rather unnecessary and repetitive. Intertwined with this there are, however, some interesting diversions into the relationship of our swearwords with those of other languages.

Despite my interest in language I have to admit I found the book slightly tedious going. Yes, for someone interested in language, it was interesting in parts. But I found Silverton's style somewhat pedestrian, stodgy and very "same-y". I also wanted more detail; greater depth.

This is a book to interest the averagely intelligent reader, which is actually no bad thing. It is not a book for someone with a deep interest the English language and a thirst for esoteric knowledge.

Overall rating: ★★★☆☆

Five Questions, Series 3, #4

Time to answer the next of the Five Question I posed some weeks ago.

Question 4. What's an as yet non-existent thing about which you’ve thought "why hasn’t someone created that yet?"

Do you remember this, from the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland?
Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
Well that's a bit what it's like trying to think of non-existent things which should exist. One doesn't get enough practice now one's not engaged daily in mortal combat against corporate processes and management. So when one tries, the mind goes blank.

Hence I'm a bit stuck for ideas for a better widgetything. There are, though, some things I can think of — except they're more by way of attributes than tangible things. Two that stand out are:

a. common sense, and
b. governments that understand procurement and contracts

Well actually one could fix both of those with a logic equivalent of the Babel Fish: a device — maybe we'll call it the Alice Fish — which when applied to someone's brain (maybe via an ear, or just with a limpet sucker thingy to the skull) would instantly impart an inexorable need to not just think, but think logically.

You might also remember that 5% of people can't think, 5% can think and do, while the other 90% can think but don't bother. So our Alice Fish should be able to fix the 90%, at least.

What would you all like to see, that no-one has yet invented?

Oh, and apologies to all the girls out there called Alice Fish! :-)

Word: Macaronic

Time for another nice word. Today I have chosen ...

Macaronic (noun and adjective)

A burlesque verse form in which vernacular words are used in a Latin context, with Latin constructions etc. It can also be used where the verse is based on Greek instead of Latin; and thus loosely to any form of verse in which two or more languages are mingled together.

Hence it has also come to be descriptive of a jumble or medley.

According to the OED the word seems to have been invented by Teofilo Folengo ('Merlinus Cocaius') whose 'macaronic' poem (Liber Macaronices) was published in 1517. In the second edition of 1521 he explains that the 'macaronic art' is so called from macaroni, which is quoddam pulmentum farina, caseo, botiro compaginatum, grossum, rude, et rusticanum (literally a crude, rustic mixture of flour, butter and cheese) — so probably quite tasty.

01 March 2013


Another round-up of quotes recently encountered.

If you know someone who's depressed please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn't a straightforward response to a bad situation, depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness and loneliness they're going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It's hard to be a friend to someone who's depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest and best things you will ever do.
[Stephen Fry]

If you must chose between two evils pick the one you've never tried before.
[Walt Whitman]

All the world’s a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.
[Sean O’Casey]

Roman law explicitly set out the who, where and why of cursing. One expert calculated that the Romans had eight hundred 'dirty' words. Egyptian lawyers of the same period would seal documents with a hieroglyph which translates as: 'As for him who shall disregard it, may he be fucked by a donkey.' The actual hieroglyph? Two big penises, both erect.
[Peter Silverton, Filthy English: The How, Why, When and What of Everyday Swearing]

Everyone without exception believes that their own native customs are by far the best … there is plenty of evidence that this is the universal human attitude.
[Herodotus, ca. 440BC, quoted in Peter Silverton, Filthy English: The How, Why, When and What of Everyday Swearing]

No one has ever spelled out how the mere hearing of a word could corrupt one's morals.
[Steven Pinker, 2002, also quoted in Peter Silverton, Filthy English: The How, Why, When and What of Everyday Swearing]

Obscenity lies not in words or things, but in attitudes that people have about words and things.
[Philologist Allen Walker Read, 1935, and another quoted in Peter Silverton, Filthy English: The How, Why, When and What of Everyday Swearing]

The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.
[John Stuart Mill]

The poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he.
[Colonel Rainsborough]

Don't ever do the best you can do. It's better to be mediocre.
[Terry Allen]
This is certainly true: doing it properly and right first time doesn't get rewards except more work. It's the mediocre and even the incompetent who get the rewards because they have the time to shout about how good they are.

Something for the Weekend

It's an old one, but this week's amusement is for all my IT chums ...

"It is a bit freaky with this wireless technology"