30 April 2013

World Press Freedom Day

Friday 3 May is World Press Freedom Day, which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

Originally proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993 it has been organised annually on 3 May by UNESCO.

World Press Freedom Day serves as an occasion to inform citizens of violations of press freedom: in dozens of countries around the world publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered. It is a date to encourage and develop initiatives in favour of press freedom and to assess the state of press freedom worldwide. It also serves as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom.

There's more on the UNESCO website at www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco/events/prizes-and-celebrations/celebrations/international-days/world-press-freedom-day/.

29 April 2013

Local and Community History Month

May is also Local and Community History Month.

The aim of the month is to increase awareness of local history, promote history in general to the local community and encourage people to participate.

You probably think that your local area is dull and boring with no history, but this is unlikely to be true. Almost everywhere in Britain is at least close to an ancient village or town, and a surprising number of places had something interesting going on.

There may well have been a manor house. What is the history of your local church — although it may be less than 200 years old, is it on the site of an earlier church? Was there a lost monastery or a royal deer park?

Just as an example, I was brought up in what is now a fairly dull, northern suburb of London; but I lived very close to the site of the Elizabethan Theobalds Palace (of which fragments still remain, see above) and to Waltham Abbey. Where I live now once had a trotting track, which was one of the earliest speedway tracks in the country — but, despite the layout still being visible in the modern roads, no-one seems to know!

So who knows what you will find out about your local area? The fun is in not knowing, and of finding out. It is like a treasure map of local community secrets.

Activities happen across the UK and include trips, library exhibitions and local lectures.  It is a great way for groups to highlight local history and for local people to get involved. 

Local and Community History Month is organised by the Historical Association and there is a database of activities on their website at www.history.org.uk/resources/general_resource_1567_55.html.

Weekly Photograph

This week's photograph is another from our 2010 break in Rye. This is a clump of Sea Kale (Crambe maritima) which grows everywhere across the shingle at Rye Harbour and on Dungeness. It is native to Europe growing along the coasts from the Atlantic as far east as the Black Sea. As you'll guess from the name it's related to cabbage and sometimes grown as a vegetable as well as an ornamental plant.

Sea Kale
Sea Kale
Rye Harbour, August 2010

28 April 2013

National Asparagus Month

May is British National Asparagus Month, although to be honest it looks as if everything is 2-3 weeks late this year due to the awful weather over the preceding 12 months.

Asparagus is native to Europe, and while not everyone’s favourite vegetable, we'll be eating it several times a week during the local season. But it does have lots of health benefits; it's a great source of fibre and is rich in vitamins A, B and C as well as folic acid. And there are lots of exciting recipes to try.

When buying asparagus choose firm but tender stalks with good colour and closed tips. Asparagus soon looses its flavour and tenderness so it is best eaten as fresh as possible. Before cooking rinse it in cold water and remove the woody ends of the stalks. Boil, or preferably steam, it until just tender (about 5 minutes) and eat with a knob of butter, maybe some parmesan cheese, and crusty bread. Or try it in a stir-fry, cooked and cooled in salad, or quickly cooked and tossed with some olive oil and pasta.

Asparagus comes in different styles: green, purple or white; thicker or thinner. The thinner green stalks, called sprue, are our favourites for both flavour and tenderness, although this isn't the received wisdom.

There's more on British asparagus lots of recipe ideas at www.british-asparagus.co.uk.

26 April 2013

Something for the Weekend

Another Glasbergen cartoon this week. I can think of a number of friends to whom this should be dedicated ...

25 April 2013

Buggered Britain 15

It's a long time since we've had an instalment in my occasional series documenting some of the underbelly of Britain. Britain which we wouldn't like visitors to see and which we wish wasn't there. The trash, abused, decaying, destitute and otherwise buggered parts of our environment. Those parts which symbolise the current economic malaise; parts which, were the country flourishing, wouldn't be there, would be better cared for, or made less inconvenient.

These choice dwellings are is in Acton Vale, in West London. The photo flatters them — in real life they're far more picturesquely scrofulous!

Buggered Britain 15
Click the image for larger views on Flickr


Another in our series of quotes which have amused or interested me recently ...

There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.
[Oscar Levant]

Golf and sex are about the only things you can enjoy without being good at.
[Jimmy Demaret]

Events in the past may be roughly divided into those which probably never happened and those which do not matter.
[William Ralph Inge]

The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.
[Bruce Cockburn]

Love is a springtime plant that perfumes everything with its hope, even the ruins to which it clings.
[Gustave Flaubert]

No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous.
[Henry Adams]

[I]f everyone could just increase the openness and truthfulness of their sexual communication, or their communication about sex and sexuality even a little bit, it would create a great big change: a big change in each person's own life, a big change in our world as a whole.
[Heather Corinna in It's My Birthday: What I Want Is For You To Tell the Truth at Scarleteen]
At last, I'm not the only one saying it!

Our freedoms and privileges in a liberal democracy are ultimately guaranteed by the willingness of the state to use violence to protect them.
[Stephen Batchelor, quoted in More Thoughts on the Boston Bombings at Hardcore Zen]
Just think about that for a minute!

[C]ome either with arguments and demonstrations and bring us no more Texts and authorities, for our disputes are about the Sensible World, and not one of Paper.
[Galileo Galilei, Dialogue On Two World Systems]

It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
[Leonardo da Vinci]

While a seaman might survive the suction and swallow, his arrival in a sperm whale's stomach would seem to present a new set of problems. (I challenge you to find a more innocuous sentence containing the words sperm, suction, swallow and any homophone of seaman.)
[Mary Roach; Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal in a section on, inter alia, Jonah and the whale]

24 April 2013

Word: Zaftig


Of a woman: plump, curvaceous, 'sexy'.
Having a full, shapely figure.

From the Yiddish zaftik, juicy.

The first use recorded by the OED is in 1937.

22 April 2013

Weekly Photograph

This week's photograph is of Lydd Church in Kent. It is a large church — it not know as "the cathedral of the marshes" for nothing. (That's the Romney Marsh, by the way.) There has been a church on this site for 1000 years or more — there is a piece of Saxon wall in the NW corner of the nave which has only relatively recently been recognised as such. This is a panoramic joiner image of the south side of the church taken in August 2007.

Click the image for larger views on Flickr
Lydd Church, Southern Aspect
Lydd Church, Southern Aspect
August 2007

20 April 2013

British Asparagus Festival

The British Asparagus Festival in the Vale of Evesham kicks off on Tuesday 23 April and runs until 21 June.

The official start of the UK’s eight-week asparagus season launches with the Great British Asparagus Run. This celebrates the first-cut round of asparagus with all the pomp and ceremony you’d expect on Saint George's Day. The Run traditionally begins at the National Trust’s only pub — the Vale of Evesham’s Fleece Inn. Following a morning of festivities, the newly-harvested spears are escorted by a fleet of Morgan Cars to destinations such as Parliament and Buckingham Palace.

Following the Run, Worcestershire goes asparagus crazy throughout May and June. Scores of pubs and restaurants serve asparagus-themed menus whilst shops sell an array of asparagus products ranging from sausages, jam, ice cream and even soap. Visitors to the county can hop on an Asparabus for a tour of the local growers to learn more about the venerated vegetable as well as enjoy cookery demonstrations and tastings.

Find out more on the British Asparagus Festival website at http://www.britishasparagusfestival.org/.

As I love asparagus and will only buy British, I might even have to go myself! Let's hope it isn't too badly affected by the last year's awful weather.

19 April 2013

National Stop Snoring Week

22 to 26 April is National Stop Snoring Week. This is one of the few medical awareness weeks which I am going to mention, because snoring is usually ignored but can actually be life threatening.

National Stop Snoring Week is the annual event, sponsored by the British Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Association, promoting general awareness that nobody need suffer as a result of snoring: it is a condition that can be treated.

And indeed snoring is a condition which should be treated as it is often a symptom of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea, a condition where the airways collapse during sleep preventing breathing. If untreated, sleep apnoea not only destroys restful sleep (and thus quality of life/ability to function) but can lead to heart disease and strokes. Luckily it is easily and successfully treated in 90% of diagnosed cases.

Of course snoring may have other causes and other effects. If nothing else it often disrupts the sleep of family members. And contrary to popular belief snoring is not something which affects only middle-aged and elderly men; anyone can be a snorer.

More information on National Stop Snoring Week at www.britishsnoring.co.uk/national_stop_snoring_week.php.

Transparency: Yes, I suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnoea which is now well controlled.

Something for the Weekend

Click the image for a larger version

18 April 2013

National Stationery Week

Monday 22 to Sunday 28 April is National Stationery Week. Yes, that's "stationery" with an "e" as in "envelope".

The aim of National Stationery Week is to get people writing. It is a celebration of the written word and all things stationery. The idea is to get more people putting pen to paper and writing by hand more often, especially children. Oh and to get them spelling stationery correctly with an "e"!

Some would have us believe that, in this digital age, letter writing and writing by hand is dead in the water and no longer matters. But in truth technology has merely distracted us from the joy and importance of writing, it hasn’t replaced it — we still have to write note, postcards, posters and exam papers; and many still enjoy writing letters and even novels by hand. Indeed there remains something special about receiving a handwritten letter or card.

There's a whole website devoted to National Stationery Week at nationalstationeryweek.com including a page which focuses on children and schools.

17 April 2013

Great British Beef Week

Great British Beef Week runs from 21 to 27 April.

Great British Beef Week is an annual celebration of the British Beef industry. Timed to coincide with St George’s Day each year, it is supported both at a local level, with regional events, and nationally with the backing of the nation’s biggest supermarket retailers.

This year, Ladies in Beef is joining forces with the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, a charity which helps farming families in financial difficulty. Its work is funded by public donations, fundraising events and initiatives and support from businesses and community groups.

More information at www.rabi.org.uk and www.ladiesinbeef.org.uk.

Word: Ebonics


African-American English, especially when considered as a distinct language or dialect with linguistic features related to or derived from those of certain West African languages, rather than as a non-standard variety of English.
What linguists far more often term African American Vernacular English, and that was originally used with strong connotations of the African origin of this language.

The term is a conflation of "ebony" and "phonics" and , according to the OED, was first used by Prof. RL Williams in January 1973.

Examples, as quoted by the Urban Dictionary, are:

Ebonics: "Yo G, you frontin me?"
English: "Excuse me, my peer, are you attempting to influence me to engage in a violent action with you?"

Ebonics: "You gots to git those Benjamins so you cin git dat bling-bling fo yo ride."
English: "You need to get money so that you can get expensive accessories for your car."

15 April 2013

Weekly Photograph

This week's photo is from the shorty holiday we had in Rye in September 2010 with our friend Katy and her kids.

I found a lot of very flat stones on the beach at Rye Harbour which I assume are due to them coming from thin beds of sedimentary rocks in the cliffs further along the coast, although some was clearly brick or concrete. I was interested by the variety of colours and textures.

Stone Pile
Stone Pile
Rye, September 2010

It's also surprising what can be pressed into service as a backcloth. I had to use something other than the scruffy patio table at our rental house, and a black t-shirt (complete with white cat's hairs), although not ideal, did the job.

14 April 2013

You may have missed ...

Our irregular round-up of links to interesting (well to me, anyway) items you may have missed. In no special order ...

First up an oldish item from Physicist Sean Carroll on what is science, what is not science, how we can tell, and how we examine he world about us.

"Bring us a shrubbery". Researchers have found that the greener (plant-wise) an area the lower the crime rate.

Now here's a puzzle. How does Polynesian DNA mysteriously show up in a Brazilian tribe on the wrong side of South America? Even the researchers find their conclusions unsatisfactory.

OK, so does penis size really matter? Men always think it does. Women tell us it doesn't. Turns out both are right — just.

Your time machine should be delivered this week. So ready for your trip back to Tudor times researchers have written the Good Pub Guide for the 16th century.

Sheep. Real sheep. Artificial sheep. On roundabouts!? Well why not?

There are a lot more cat species than we usually realise. Here's a list of the six most endangered feline species. They could easily have made that a list of a dozen.

Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum is the British Museum's latest blockbuster exhibition which is getting rave reviews. I'm hoping to get to it this week.

Travelling on business? Finding you're lonely in your hotel? Why not hire a goldfish?

Dig a hole almost anywhere in central London and you'll find something historically interesting. There's a huge construction site at Bank where the archaeologists are recovering literally thousands of pieces of Roman London from building timbers to shoes.

Finally one for the ladies. A French researcher has come to the conclusion that girls may as well throw away their bras because they don't actually do any good, regardless of the size or shape of what you put in them. Maybe that'd be good for use men too?

13 April 2013

Pasta with Chorizo

Another rather super past recipe I did for this evening's dinner. I thought it would work well, having had something of the sort in a restaurant long ago, but I was surprised how good my version really was.

Like most of my recipes it is quick and easy and almost infinitely variable; indeed it is really only a variation on the pasta with prawns and pasta with bacon I've done before — but this is definitely more restaurant-y.

Pasta with Chorizo

Preparation Time: 10-15 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients (for 2 as a main course)
200g fresh linguine (or pasta of your choice)
200g uncooked chorizo (I had bought this as a pack of 4 sausages)
medium onion
dozen-ish cherry tomatoes (I actually had the end of some leftover onion & baby plum tomato salad plus about half a small tub of smoked cherry tomatoes)
as much garlic as you like
juice of a lemon
generous handful of fresh parsley
salt, pepper, olive oil and parmesan
(You can add sliced mushrooms, olives, etc. if you wish but this really doesn't need it.)

Cook the pasta; you want the pasta ready before you cook the rest of the ingredients (you don't want to be waiting on the pasta and overcooking the chorizo).
While the pasta cooks, finely chop the onion, garlic and parsley; cut the chorizo into 3-5mm slices.
When the pasta is done, or almost so, sauté the onion, garlic, tomatoes and chorizo in a little olive oil. You need to cook the chorizo and get the onion translucent which will take about 5 minutes.
Add the lemon juice and season with a small amount of salt and pepper. Stir.
Now add the pasta and mix everything together to get the chorizo distributed and the pasta coated in sauce.
Add the parsley and mix, cooking for another a minute or so.
Serve with parmesan and a robust red wine.

I was surprised how well the chorizo and lemon worked; I had thought it would but it was even better than I expected with the lemon counteracting the fattiness of the chorizo. The tomatoes, which had only just disintegrated, made a lovely light sauce — just enough to coat the pasta and no more.


Another of our irregular round-ups of quotes which have interested or amused ...

My religion is simple. My religion is kindness.
[The Dalai Lama]

Earth has boundaries, but human stupidity is limitless.
[Gustave Flaubert]

Women and cats will do as they please. Men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.

The body is meant to be seen, not all covered up.
[Marilyn Monroe]

I never did give them hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.
[Harry S Truman]

Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it’s important.
[Eugene McCarthy]

If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.
[Albert Einstein (allegedly)]

The ultimate source of my mental happiness is my peace of mind. Nothing can destroy this except my own anger.
[Dalai Lama]

It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
[Leonardo da Vinci]

She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live.
[Annie Dillard]

And I still like ...

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

12 April 2013

Something for the Weekend

For all those of you who wondered why you even bothered with Maths at school ...


Seen today on Facebook ...
How to dress for your shape: are you human-shaped? play up your confidence and natural sex appeal by wearing whatever the fuck you want.

Life Tip: As the weather gets warmer, continue to wear whatever the fuck you want. Flaunt everything or keep it cool under cover. Dress to make yourself feel rad.

How to get a bikini body:put a bikini on your body

Want sexy own-the-beach summer legs? shave, or don’t because they’re your fucking legs.

The only thing to add is: Or wear nothing at all!

11 April 2013

Read and Reflect

All those who are indulging in unseemly gloating and celebration at the death of their (supposed) arch-villain Margaret Thatcher, might do well to read and reflect on "Maggie the moderate" over on The Heresy Corner.

On the Offensiveness of Vaginas

A few days ago Naturist Vision fired a loud warning shot across the bows of all of society. In a post entitled Vaginas and Nudity the author points out that words such as "vagina"** must not be ostracised from the vocabulary just because a few puerile prudes deem it offensive. It's a short article, but here is it's essence:
[...] Michigan State Representative Lisa Brown's use of [vagina] led to her censure. In the aftermath a state representative declared the word "vagina" so offensive that he wouldn't say it in mixed company.

Now [a male] Idaho High School science teacher [...] is being investigated for saying "vagina" during a sophomore science class [...]

[...] it is time for us to pay attention. That our society finds the proper term for any body part offensive suggests we need to redouble our efforts to educate the public about body acceptance. That the "offensive" word refers to a specifically feminine body part is more evidence of the misogyny [in] our society.

We must find a way to normalize words that describe our bodies. Teaching our children to refer to their genitals as "wee wee" or "pee pee" [...] is a huge mistake. Bowing to a misinformed public who prefers not to hear words like "penis" and "vagina" is another.

The underlying message is that women are bad, sex is bad and our bodies are bad. Turning the vagina into [something] whose name shall not be spoken can only have disastrous effects on our society as a whole [...]


It stands to reason that if people are offended simply by hearing the word "vagina" they certainly wouldn't want to see one live and in person!
OK, so this is religiously prudish America and the post is partly about the loss of rights to nudity and nudism. That makes the general thrust no less apposite, in America or the UK, or indeed anywhere else.

It is becoming increasingly important, as I observed again the other day, that nudity and sexuality are normalised, not marginalised and criminalised, and that this would actually be to the benefit of the whole of society.

** For now we'll gloss over the fact that most times folks use "vagina" they actually mean "vulva".

National Bread Week

Where would we be without bread? In one form or another, bread consumed by very many people the world over, so eating it during National Bread Week (16-22 April) is something most of us will do without even thinking about it.

Whilst no-one is absolutely sure when the first bread was made, man has been eating it in some form since 10,000 BC. Certainly the ancient Egyptians were making leavened (raised) bread with yeast by 3000 BC and it is thought that the workers who built the pyramids were paid in bread. Not surprising therefore bread has earned the title "staff of life". Indeed, for many throughout the ages, bread has been a staple of their diet and so important, that laws concerning bread have existed for hundreds of years.

The purpose of National Bread Week is to celebrate the 'roll' that bread plays in our daily diet. The week will help to promote the nutritional benefits of bread and raise awareness of its part in a healthy balanced diet.

Having said that if you want to find more information or events you'll have to do some searching as there appears to be no central website — which is missing a big trick!

10 April 2013

5th Annual Tweed Run, London

This Saturday, 13 April, sees the 5th Annual Tweed Run through London.

It is a celebration of old fashioned values as up to 400 ladies and gentlemen cycle through central London in high fashion and on a range of antique velocipedes.

You need permission to cycle along with them - and all the tickets have been allocated. Although the exact route is not published in advance (why?) the following viewing points are suggested (times are approximate):

12:00 Marylebone High Street
12:30 Regent Street / Savile Row
13:00 Piccadilly Circus
13:30 Houses of Parliament
14:00 Trafalgar Square

I've met this chap before DSC_5387

More information on the Tweed Run website at http://tweedrun.com/.

Word: Novate, Novation


To replace by something new; specifically in law, to replace by a new obligation, debt, etc.

Hence ...


1. The introduction of something new; a change, an innovation. (Scots, obsolete)
2. The substitution of a new debtor, creditor, contract, etc. in place of an old one.

I've most commonly encountered novation in the second sense and in the situation of company acquisitions etc. X has a contract to provide a service to Y; when X is bought by Z the contract with Y is novated from X to Z, but only by mutual agreement of the parties through a legal process. It applies equally to company contracts and to moving your bank account during a take-over/acquisition.

The earliest use recorded by the OED is from Speed's History of Great Britain of 1611.

National Gardening Week

Continuing the gardening theme from National Beanpole Week, 15-21 April is designated National Gardening Week.

The benefits of gardens and gardening are felt by many millions of people every day. Gardening protects our environment, strengthens communities, helps children learn and contributes to happy, healthy lives.

Through National Gardening Week, thousands of people across the country come together to help keep Britain beautiful by sharing and celebrating everything about gardens and gardening.

National Gardening Week is run by the Royal Horticultural Society along with half a dozen major sponsors. The RHS are organising many events around this year's themes of horticultural careers and planting for wildlife.

There's more information on The NGW website at www.nationalgardeningweek.org.uk.

09 April 2013

Kids and Nudity

I'm getting increasingly worried about society's attitude towards children and nudity. Both allowing kids to see adults nude and adults to see children nude.

Neither is actually a problem, but society is making it into one.

There's an interesting opinion piece by Laura over at Catharsis under the title Why NOT Being Naked In Front Of Your Kids Is Weird:
[A] single father, recently found himself under Child Protective Services investigation after some mothers of his 6-year-old son’s friends reported him for showering with his child.

These mothers apparently think because the dad showers with his son, he’s a pedophile. NOT because the kid reported his dad touched him inappropriately or because the kid reported his dad demanded to be touched inappropriately by his son.

Simply because the dad showered with his 6-year-old son. Period.

You know what I think about that? I think that’s bullshit. And I think anyone who takes an innocent act like being naked around a child to the level of pedophilia ought to be absolutely ashamed of themselves.

There are real cases of sexual abuse out there — cases of children being seriously harmed by the adults around them. THERE ARE REAL PREDATORY ABUSERS OUT THERE SCARRING CHILDREN PHYSICALLY AND EMOTIONALLY. Simply because a parent is naked in front of his children does NOT make him an abuser, and threatening a parent’s custody of his child with no evidence of such activity is both negligent and irresponsible.
(Emphasis in the original.)

Which, of course, is absolutely right.

OK, so that's in America. But we're very little different in this country.

I am concerned at the vilification of artist Graham Ovenden for his portrayal of naked children. OK, Ovenden has recently been convicted of inappropriate conduct with some girls many, many years ago. I don't know how much abuse, if any, really did occur; I wasn't there at the time, I wasn't at the trial and I haven't seen the evidence only some of the press reports. But the very fact that an artist can be pilloried in the way he has, so long after the event, and when he appears to have taken care that children he was drawing/painting were chaperoned, is deeply worrying. The fact that the charges relate to events 30-40 years ago, and in large part it seems to be the girls' word against Ovenden's, smacks of trumped up complaints and something which probably should never have got to court. Although as I say I've not followed the details closely, so I may be wrong. But it has been enough to set my alarm bells ringing.

That's not to condone paedophilia; far from it. As Laura says (above) there are predatory abusers out there; and it is right that where there is sufficient evidence they are brought to justice. But I worry that we are straying into witch-hunt territory, where merely making an allegation is enough for a conviction and that having to provide evidence and to prove a case "beyond reasonable doubt" has gone by the board. This is gutter-press, mob justice.

Merely painting, drawing or photographing a child naked, or showering with a child (yours or anyone else's) does not constitute paedophilia. Just as a mixed, nude, adult sauna (the norm in Scandinavia!) does not ipso facto mean there is sexual abuse.

We are rapidly approaching the stage where it will be a criminal offence for anyone to see any child nude at any time: parents will not be allowed to bath their newborns; and doctors will not be able to examine child patients. Clearly this is a nonsense and would lead to a major deterioration in health.

As I have observed before nudity and sexuality need to be normalised, not marginalised and ciminalised. I have always maintained that if we had a healthier understanding and acceptance of desires, sexuality, nudity and our bodies it would have far reaching positive effects on our health and our attitudes. Bring children up to understand their bodies, their sexuality and to accept nudity as something normal and they will be more balanced as individuals; more able to discuss their inner feelings and worries; more at ease discussing their medical problems with their doctor. All of which has to be good, if only in terms of catching serious disease earlier and when it is more easily, and more cheaply, treated. But I believe it would also be of great benefit psychologically.

National Beanpole Week

Saturday 13 to Sunday 21 April is National Beanpole Week. And yes, well may you ask!

First celebrated in 2008 and it is run by the Small Woods Association.  The event recognises Britain's traditionally managed coppiced woodlands along with the wildlife and plants that also live in them. Did you know that Britain lost around 90% of its coppiced woodlands in the 20th century — so there is a real need to support the coppice workers who continue to manage the woodlands we have left.

Simply put coppicing is a way of managing shoots at a size they can be used by cutting them every 10-20 years.  The coppiced wood allows plants to grow in a way that makes them a much more eye-catching addition to a beautiful garden. Not to mention the attraction from butterflies, the endangered doormouse and other creatures like the willow warbler.

Woodlands looked after in this way are known for their fantastic floral smell.  A real treat for the nose and the eyes!

And those coppiced hazel cuttings make superb beanpoles.

There's a bit more information on the SmallWoods website at http://smallwoods.org.uk/event/beanpole-day-11am-4pm/.

08 April 2013

RIP Mrs Thatcher

So Lady Thatcher has died. No real surprise as she had been in poor health (physically and mentally, I think) for some years.

No, I'm not going to write an obituary, there'll be more than enough of those around over the coming hours and days. I just want to make a very brief observation.

Whether you liked Lady Thatcher or not (and I can see both why people would and wouldn't like her) she certainly changed much of the landscape and culture of the country, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. I think when historians look back they could well find that the two most influential Prime Ministers during the second half of the 20th century were Mrs Thatcher and Harold Wilson (with Tony Blair some way behind in third).

RIP Margaret Thatcher.

07 April 2013

More you may have missed

Another in our series of links to articles you may have missed and will wish you hadn't. In no special order ...

Do you, like me, suffer from earworms? Scientists think they've found some ways to get rid of them. Which is good 'cos I've had Caravan in my head since before Christmas!

Someone has just discovered that breast milk is amazing stuff, and actually rather important. Well who would have guessed!

Now just how weird is the natural world? Very; especially when you find that fruit bats menstruate like women and have oral sex. A few years back researchers discovered that Australian fruit bats indulged in fellatio. Now apparently they have cunnilingus too. How cool is that?!

What would scientists do without big hospital scanners? They're now using CT and MRI scans to look at diseases in ancient human remains. Here's a summary of the findings on eight mummies.

Just to confirm even further that scientists are a strange bunch, here's the low-down on a few experiments they've been running for a lifetime or more.

Did you see al those reports of the huge DDoS war on the internet? Yep, so did I. But was my internet affected? Nope. And neither probably was yours. Turns out that the whole thing was much over-hyped and largely a marketing con trick.

Why do people get upset by technical neologisms? We invent new things, so we have to invent new ways to be able to talk about them. And unlike the French we don't regulate the language.

First it was the horsemeat scandal/fraud. Now it appears that the fish supply chain is fraudulent too — it appears too widespread to be accidental.

Once in a while you really do get something for nothing. Many of the big names in English Folk Music are coming together to create a single archive and making it available free online.

After around 400 years we have cranes nesting in England again.

So this week the BBC touted some researchers' new British class calculator which was, I suppose, passingly amusing if only for it's apparent erroneousness. The Heresy Corner does the demolition job.

Brad Warner, American zen teacher and punk rocker (who generally talks sense) has some brief comments on burqas, hijabs, niqabs and nudity. He admits it's a bit unstructured so hopefully he'll develop his ideas.

And finally, you can generally agree Scicurious is going to come up with something interesting. On Friday there was a dissertation on the conformation of male (human) balls and how this was reflected in the sculpture of the ancients. But no-one knows why the anatomy is the way it is, or why some of us don't conform to the norm.

06 April 2013

Weekly Photograph

A bit early but here's this week's photo. It's another of Harry the Cat, who is now getting on for 15. Here he is on Friday night sleeping beside me on the bed, and totally oblivious to me taking his picture with my mobile phone. Note the slit ear and rather beaten up countenance.

Click the image for larger versions on Flickr
The Old Warrior

The Old Warrior
5 April 2013

Oven Chips

We've not had a recipe for quite a while, so here's the reult of tday's experiment. And an excellent meal it was too ...

Cold Roast Beef
Mixed Salad a la mode
Homemade Oven Chips

Why have I never thought of doing my own oven chips before? It is so dead easy and much better than deep frying (which we never do).

Homemade Oven Chips

Pre-heat the oven to about 220C.
Cut enough potatoes into chunky-sized chips and boil or steam them for 3 minutes or so. Drain them and allow to cool a little so they're handleable.
In a ziplok bag or bowl put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and some freshly ground black pepper (optional). You can also add salt, herbs or garlic if you wish.
Toss the chips in the oil and transfer then to a baking sheet. Spread them out so they're in a single layer, so use two baking sheets if needed.
Roast in the oven until done — about 25 minutes — turning them once.

It is so easy. And although they're oiled at least you can control the quantity of oil and you're using "better for you" olive oil. It is no worse than doing another of our staples, garlic roast potatoes.

I foresee this will become a regular addition to the repertoire.

05 April 2013

Quote: Sperm

If sometimes you feel a little useless, offended or depressed, always remember that you were once the fastest and most victorious little sperm out of millions

Something for the Weekend

03 April 2013

Word: Crenellate


To furnish with battlements, embrasures or loopholes.

Hence crenellated, embattled.

May be spelled with either one or two 'l's.

From the French créneler.

02 April 2013

International Pillow Fight Day

Contrary to my previous post about Tartan Day Scotland, International Pillow Fight Day, which is also on 6 April, seems to be purely about having a bit of fun.

Yes, that's right, on Saturday 6 April, there will be massive pillow fights in cities around the world! There may be one near you there are happenings in cities across the globe from Amsterdam to Zaragoza!

All over the world, groups like [the Urban Playground Movement] organize free, fun, all ages, non-commercial public events. From a massive Mobile Clubbing event in a London train station to a giant pillow fight near the Eiffel Tower in Paris to a subway party beneath the streets of Toronto, it is clear that the urban playground is growing around the world, leaving more public and more social cities in its wake. This is the urban playground movement, a playful part of the larger public space movement.

One of our goals is to make these unique happenings in public space become a significant part of popular culture, partially replacing passive, non-social, branded consumption experiences like watching television, and consciously rejecting the blight on our cities caused by the endless creep of advertising into public space. The result, we hope, will be a global community of participants, not consumers, in a world where people are constantly organizing and attending these happenings in every major city in the world.

On Saturday April 6th we will once again celebrate World Pillow Fight Day with a massive pillow fight on [London's] Trafalgar Square. It's the most fun you can have on a city square and on this day, it happens in hundreds of cities around the world.

Because this is supposed to be fun the rules are kept to a minimum; there are just two: Don't hit anyone with a camera and don't hit anyone without a pillow.

What a shame that at the time of writing the only UK event listed is the one in London, but as usual there is up to date information on their website at http://2013.pillowfightday.com.

Scotland's Tartan Day

Saturday 6 April marks Tartan Day Scotland and the start of the eponymous 10 day Festival. It is not so much a celebration of tartan but more a celebration of all things Scottish:

Tartan Day is a celebration of Scotland. Our vision is to see Scotland at the heart of a global Tartan Day celebration, bringing to the world's attention our creativity, our innovation, our heritage, our business success — and our people.

Tartan Day marks the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 at Arbroath Abbey. This historical occasion sowed the seeds of modern day democracy and was used as a basis for the American Declaration of Independence. Tartan Day was inspired by this historical occasion to celebrate all that is good about Scotland — its people, its heritage, its history, its culture and its amazing legacy to the world.

The Tartan Day Scotland Festival takes place at the beginning of April each year. The Festival is a 10 day programme of very special events which commemorate all that is best about Scotland and the Scots, home and away. Find out more about why we celebrate Tartan Day, read about famous Scots and keep up-to-date on news stories from around the world.

Tartan Day is also celebrated in the USA, Canada and I suspect many other places where there are people with Scottish roots.

There's a lot more information at www.tartandayscotland.com.

01 April 2013

Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering

Being Eastertide here is a lot on this week and Friday 5 to Sunday 7 April sees the Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering. As their website says:

In September 1966 a modest concert of Northumbrian music and song was held to raise funds for Morpeth Antiquarian Society. It was the inspiration for a one-day Northumbrian festival in March 1968 which evolved into the Morpeth Gathering.

The festival includes a vast array of competitions including crafts, performance and writing. Events of local interest have been added to the programme of concerts, singarounds, barn dance, storytelling, theatre and street performance which includes a young people's pageant as part of the Border Cavalcade.

The emphasis of the Gathering is firmly upon the native traditions of Northumberland and, whilst there is plenty of scope for traditional music from all over the British Isles within the festival, the wealth of local culture is well to the fore.

For the curious the guy on the left, playing the pipes, is my godfather!

More information at www.northumbriana.org.uk/gathering/index.htm.

Weekly Photograph

Paris in the Springtime ... A quiet square at the western end of Ile de la Cité. This was taken on a warm Friday lunchtime. Noreen and I were sitting outside the café having a delightful lunch with our friend Allison, who was a student in Paris at the time. All the while, just visible in the middle distance, there was a group of Parisian workmen playing boules.

Click the image for lager versions on Flickr
Place Dauphine

Montage: Place Dauphine
Paris, May 2006

International Carrot Day

Yes, I kid you not; this isn't an April Fool! Thursday 4 April is International Carrot Day.

Indeed you may well ask, "Why?" I did.

Well as it says here ...

Carrot Day was founded 2003 to spread knowledge about the carrot and its good attributes around the world. [It] is celebrated every year on April 4th and is the pinnacle for carrot lovers all around the world. It is the day when the carrot is celebrated through carrot parties and other carrot related festivities.

More information at http://www.carrotday.com/.
There's even a list of Carrot festivals and a link to the Carrot Museum.