31 May 2013

Volunteers Week

The week beginning Saturday 1 June is Volunteers Week — an opportunity to celebrate the amazing contribution millions of people make out of their own busy lives each year.

There are many different ways to volunteer from helping out at your child's school through getting involved with your local hospital's radio station to doing VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) in your gap year. Whatever your interests, and however little time you can spare, there is a volunteering opportunity near you.

Why volunteer? Well I know from experience that not only is volunteering immensely satisfying in itself, but you can make a real difference to people. Bring some friendship or comfort to someone lonely, help improve the environment, teach children in a third world country (or just here at home). Almost whatever it is there is an opportunity for you in your local community or much further afield.

And as someone who is involved in running two, totally different, voluntary organisation I know that both small local organisations and national charities are always in need for more people to help. And I also know that volunteers really do make a difference.

There's a lot, lot more information about volunteering, and Volunteers' Week, over on the Volunteering England website. Find out what there is near you!

Something for the Weekend ...

Here's the usual little something to lighten up the end of the week.

Click the image for a larger view

29 May 2013

Butterfly Education and Awareness Day

Saturday 1 June is this year's Butterfly Education and Awareness Day.

I think we all love butterflies for their beauty and the fact that they signal summer. We usually feel lucky to see a butterfly (even if we don't like the caterpillars eating our cabbages) and they never get any less fascinating. And because of pesticides and changes in land use many are now becoming endangered.

So the Butterfly Association's idea is to raise our awareness of butterflies and how important they are as pollinators and their place is Nature's rich pattern. Their website has lots of ideas for things which both children and adults can do.

Find more information over at www.forbutterflies.org/gardening/butterfly-awareness-day-june-4/.

27 May 2013

Auction Oddities

Once more unto the auction, dear brethren. We bring you some oddities from the catalogue of our local saleroom's upcoming auction. As so often it is the odd juxtapositions and typos which add to the overall effect.

Lot 004 £30-50
A large

Yes, that really is all it says!

An 1896 South African half pond, [sic] estimated weight 4.3grm.

Lot 180 £15-25
A small

I'm glad the estimate is lower than for lot 004!

2 well presented postcard albums, a collection of Smiths potato crisps dinner and dance menus dating from the 1920′s to 1960′s. WWI Sweatheart cards, WWII letters and 2 telegrams.

A trilby hat by G A Dunn and Co, Orange hanging lightshade, two framed paintings by Peter Hodson, blue and white lidded tureen, collection of Crest ware, Golden Shred, Cherry Blossom moot [sic] polish and Bisto advertising plaques, table lamp, glassware ...

Large meat platters incl one with drainage and a well, Shaving cup, a Fosters studio glugger in the form of a fish, two sailor dolls, commemorative china, Aynsley cups and saucers with a milk jug, boxed View Master, two bagatelle boards, gas mask ...

A collection of various small wooden birds labelled and in bags hanging on a wooden stand; wooden duck, blue jay, horned owl, Canadian warbler and many more, also a collection of wooden birds, letter openers

A pair of brass five [sic] dogs, a brass lamp in the form of a candlestick, three weavers shuttles, another table lamp, brown leather Slazenger bag containing boules ...

An old 3 and half Octave in an Oak case

A pair of iron garden urns of traditional 10th c.design

Weekly Photograph

This week's photo is a demonstration of just what one can do with an unpromising subject. This was taken one evening while sitting in traffic in central London (actually on the approach to Hyde Park Corner). The combination of the dusk sky, the lights, the shapes and then the ability to skew the photo in the processing make this (for me, anyway) an interesting shot.

Click the image for larger views on Flickr
Concrete Truck

Concrete Truck
Central London, February 2008

26 May 2013

Word: Binnacle


A box or case on the deck of a ship near the helm, which supports and protects a ship's compass.

According to the OED the current binnacle first appears after 1750, as a corruption of the earlier bittacle of which the earliest cited reference is in 1622.

25 May 2013

Do you miss? ...

Another in our series of selected links to items you may have missed. As usual in no special order ...

You wouldn't think anyone could forget they had an apartment in Paris, would you? But here are some intriguing photographs of such an apartment which was shut up at the outbreak of WWII and not touched for 70 years!

Do you really know what's in your food? Here are a few less than savoury ingredients.

If you don't know, how do you estimate when someone died? Insect infestations are one way, but now scientists have discovered that they can use the genes in brain cells to read the body clock — unless the person was clinically depressed.

Talking of insects, like all museums the Wallace Collection are on a bug hunt.

And so we come to talk of finding things. Archaeologists have investigated an intact Roman sewer and it's turning out to be a bit of a gold mine.

Oh, and that takes us nicely to the bacteria in our guts. Apparently researchers have now fund that there is one specific bacterium the absence of which appears to be linked to (some instances of) obesity. Nature just gets weirder and weirder!

Who invented clothes? Such a good question that children often ask. An archaeologist approaches an answer for children to an unanswerable question.

Here's an interesting piece on learning to accept your body and live with it from a girl who is a "plus size" model (well at a UK size 16 she's "plus size" for the fashion industry).

And here's another interesting post on body acceptance, this time from the land of the free. (Possibly NSFW.)

Now for some interesting photographs of the wackier parts of the English ritual year. This is not at all new, there was a book of the same some years back, but they're nice photos.

Plants are strange. Mosses are especially strange because they make two different plants from the same set of genes just by switching one special gene.

Rob Dunn, who's always worth reading, on how our current approach to teaching through dissections is falling into a medieval trap.

Here's one for all you Londoners ... Diamond Geezer visits Nunhead Cemetery, one of London's "big seven". Sounds like an interesting trip, especially on an "open day".

Now for an interesting ethical conundrum ... By definition they have no choice so should we send unborn (even unconceived) children on long space exploration journeys?

Law and Lawyers has a rant about the removal of Legal Aid in civil cases.

Finally an story of the English invading France. The BBC have gathered a few (often amusing) examples for Englishisms in modern French. Allez les rosbifs!

24 May 2013

Something for the Weekend

In honour of all my teacher friends ...

Click the image for a larger view

23 May 2013

Towel Day

Saturday 25 May is Towel Day.

What, I hear you exclaim, is Towel Day? Yes, that's right it is the day on which we are encouraged to carry a towel in tribute to the late Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. On 25 May 2001, two weeks after Douglas Adam's untimely death, his fans carried a towel in his honour. And they have done so every year since.

If you've already read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy you'll know the importance of your towel. If not, the book will explain why a towel is the most important item a space-travelling hitch-hiker (indeed probably any of us — just ask Linus!) can have.

Your towel is extremely practical: you can use it to keep warm, to lie on, to sleep on and to use as a mini-raft as you sail down the River Moth! Of course your towel is also a trusty companion and thus extremely important for a host of psychological reasons.

Towel Day isn't just a day for doing the obvious: carrying a towel. There are also lots of events, all listed over on the Towel Day website at http://towelday.org/.

Quotes ...

A few more recently encountered quotes ...

The human mind treats a new idea the same way the body treats a strange protein; it rejects it.
[Sir Peter Medawar]

It is not worth an intelligent man’s time to be in the majority. By definition, there are already enough people to do that.
[GH Hardy]

It is not wrong to question things ... The fact that you're asking questions shows that you're five levels of wisdom above the idiot who's objecting to you asking the questions.
[Josh Tolley]

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She'll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are. Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colourful life imaginable.
[Robert Pattinson]

High level concepts such as intentions, meanings, thoughts, and so on, which we associate only with minds, must have had evolutionary precursors in a more or less gradual sequence. The problem is that we do not have a clear concept of what the simplest "intention", "meaning", or "thought"” might look like. This is because psychology has traditionally been defined by only highly evolved "mental" activity, so that even though we study brains at the cellular or even molecular levels, there is the tacit belief that no real psychology can exist at a simple level.
[Howard Pattee, "Cell Psychology: An Evolutionary Approach to the Symbol-Matter Problem" (1982 paper) in Pattee & Rączaszek-Leonardi (eds), Laws, Language and Life (2013)]

After we invented software we could see that we were surrounded by software. DNA is a universal programming language and biology can be thought of as software archaeology – looking at very old, very complicated software.
[Gregory Chaitin, mathematician]

Cat. (noun) A small domesticated carnivorous mammal (Felis catus), with soft fur, a short snout, and retractile claws. Thought to be entirely solar powered.

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat.
[Robert Heinlein]

Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, and small people talk about wine.
[Fran Lebowitz]

22 May 2013

English Wine Week

Saturday 25 May is the start of English Wine Week, which runs until Sunday 2 June.

Wine has been produced in this country since the time of the Romans, and possibly even earlier. And there are still over 400 wineries in the UK — an astonishing number for a country which isn't supposed to be able to grow grapes.

We all know that a glass or two from a lovely bottle of wine can put the special touch to an evening with friends or family, whether at home or at a nice restaurant. And I know from experience English wine is as good as any in the world, although not made in such large volumes — there are even English champagne-type wines.

Over recent years it has become easier to find English wine, with many vintners and supermarkets stocking it, although their ranges are often still limited. But it is well worth seeking out and Waitrose are apparently one of the few big retailers championing the cause.

There are a lot of English Wine Week events across the country; they're all listed, along with more information at www.englishwineproducers.co.uk/news/events/?eww=1 and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/EnglishWineWeek2013.

20 May 2013

Weekly Photograph

Each week when I choose my weekly photograph I try to do it at random from those I've posted over the years on Flickr. This week the dice fell on a crazy self-portrait I did some years ago when I was doing a self-portrait a week project.

Click the image for a larger view on Flickr
Hockneylated & 13 Artists

Hockneylated & 13 Artists
Self-portrait; January 2009

The 13 artists referred to are given in the original caption:

This week's self-portrait: 52 Weeks 46/52 (2009 week 02).
I think the time has come to do another 13 things, so here are 13 painters I admire:
1. David Hockney
2. Nicolas Poussin
3. MC Escher
4. Leonardo da Vinci
5. Hans Holbein
6. Albrecht Durer
7. Eric Gill
8. Willem van de Velde the Younger
9. My mother
10. Rembrandt
11. Mark Boxer
12. Osbert Lancaster
13. Pieter Bruegel the Elder

19 May 2013

World Goth Day

As every year Wednesday 22 May is World Goth Day — a day where the goth scene gets to celebrate its own being, and an opportunity to make its presence known to the rest of the world.

While it's true that most goths prefer night time World Goth Day lets them parade the black look proudly in the sunlight!

Goths are often met with criticism and fear. But despite their dress, they're just like everyone else and judging someone based on the way they look means missing out on getting to know some great people. Consequently because of the stigma attached to being a goth, many have struggled to get friends and family to accept them as they are.

World Goth Day is the day they come out in the light to proudly proclaim their way to the rest of the world, and to show us some of the fun things we're missing.

And there's lots more information over at http://www.worldgothday.com/.

Approaches to Life

Here's another that I encountered meandering the interweb. It's something good to try to live up to.

Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.
Get plenty of calcium.
Be kind to your knees. You'll miss them when they're gone.
Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't.
Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't.
Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary.
Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either.
Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's.
Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own.
Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.
Read the directions, even if you don't follow them.
Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.
Get to know your parents. You never know when they'll be gone for good.
Be nice to your siblings. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.
Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on.
Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Word: tsundoku

I met these two on the intertube this morning ...

18 May 2013

National Vegetarian Week

Hot on the heels of British Tomato Week, 20-26 May is also National Vegetarian Week.

National Vegetarian Week, which is all about how surprisingly simple it is to go vegetarian, is the annual awareness-raising campaign promoting inspirational vegetarian food and the benefits of a meat-free lifestyle.

Despite popular misconception, vegetarian food needn't be dull, boring and tasteless; quite the opposite, good veggie dishes can be just as tasty, nutritious and fulfilling as any meat dish. As an example see my recipe for Veggie Crumble.

There are many reasons for being vegetarian from not liking meat right through to not liking to kill animals. For some it is a lifestyle choice; for others it is a matter of religion and for a few it is a medical necessity.

While I'm not veggie, and I doubt I could ever be 100% veggie, I do enjoy and we often choose to cook vegetarian dishes — and as regular readers here will know, we like our food! So I'd say that if you've ever even considered being vegetarian, then now is the time to try it. You might like it!

You can find details of National Vegetarian Week, including some more easy recipes, over at http://www.nationalvegetarianweek.org/.

British Tomato Week

British Tomato Week, which runs from 20 to 26 May, is a celebration of the range and quality of British tomatoes.

Sponsored by the Tomato Growers Association, British Tomato Week offers imaginative events but with a serious message: British tomatoes offer a fantastic range of healthy, wholesome fruit bursting with flavour and nutrients. And yet 4 out of 5 tomatoes eaten in the UK are imported.

Commercially tomatoes are grown in glasshouses to protect them from the cold and concentrate the sunshine they need. Amateur gardeners, of course, often grow tomatoes outside.

Tomatoes aren't just those round, red, golf-ball sized fruits you find in the supermarket; there is a wide range of varieties! They come in all sizes, from small, sweet, cherry-sized fruits to deliciously large beefsteak tomatoes the size of a large fist. And in a range of colours from very pale yellow to deep red and even green.

Added to which tomatoes are actually incredibly good for you. They are a good source of Vitamins A, C and E, the natural plant pigments beta-carotene and lycopene, and also flavonoids ... all of which have accepted health benefits.

Find more information on the British Tomato Growers Association website at http://www.britishtomatoes.co.uk/tomatoweek.

Walk to School Week

Monday 20 to Friday 24 May is Walk to School Week.

The aim of Walk to School Week, which has been going since 1995, is simple: to encourage all parents, children and young people to make walking to school part of their daily routine.

I know when I was a kid I lived a mile from my junior school and subsequently a mile in the other direction from my grammar school. And I walked to school; in fact for much of the time I came home for lunch so walked about 4 miles a day. (OK, I admit I was a lazy teenager and sometimes got the bus to school, but that depended on being in funds as I didn't get extra allowance for bus fares.)

Walking is good for us and we almost all walk far too little (guilty as charged!). Far too many children get taken, even short distances, to school by car. Parents get scared (usually unnecessarily) of kids being molested or abducted, parents are in a hurry to get to work themselves, or I'm sure in many cases they're just plain lazy.

But as always there are many benefits to walking: save petrol — and thus save money and the environment — improve health but getting more exercise; and parents walking children to school are spending quality time with their kids, and maybe even teaching them things about the world around them. Get into the walking habit and hopefully it will stay with you for life.

As always there is more information on the Walk to School website at www.livingstreets.org.uk/walk-with-us/walk-to-school.

Recipe: Chicken Liver & Pork Terrine

Following on from yesterday's Food-day past, I though I should post the recipe for the terrine — which I have to say is extremely yummy — I've eaten worse in good restaurants!

This is what I did, but like most recipes around here you can vary it almost any way you like.

Just one word of warning: as you see in the photo, these quantities make a huge amount; ours over-filled a large Le Creuset casserole; so you might want to make a smaller quantity.

Chicken Liver & Pork Terrine

2x 400g packs (organic) chicken livers
2x 400g packs good pork sausagemeat
thick slice of bacon (or 4-5 rashers of back bacon), cut into 5-10mm lardons
large red onion, finely chopped
large packet stuffing mix
6 large cloves garlic, crushed & chopped
2 peppers, finely chopped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 large handfuls fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon, basil or whatever is to hand), chopped
1 tbsp garlic paste
3 tbsp tomato paste
wine glass liquor (armagnac, brandy, whisky or wine, as preferred)
10 juniper berries, crushed
Worcester sauce
olive oil
butter (for greasing the casserole)
salt & pepper

1. Well butter a large casserole or cake tin.
2. Tip the stuffing mix into a large mixing bowl and hydrate it with hot water as per instructions on the packet; but don't make it too stiff, slightly too wet is fine.
3. Sauté the chopped onion, pepper, garlic and juniper berries in a little olive oil until the onion is just going translucent. Add the chopped bacon and cook for a few more minutes until the bacon is almost cooked. Add this to the stuffing, juices and all.
4. In a little more olive oil sauté the chicken livers until partly cooked but still bloody in the middle. The idea is really only to make them a bit less yeuchy to deal with. Set them aside to cool for a few minutes.
5. While the chicken livers cool, add all remaining ingredients except the egg to the mixture and start mixing it together.
6. Finely chop the chicken livers on a plate (they will still be bloody); or if you're feeling really blood-thirsty blitz the livers in the food processor. Add the livers (with juices) to the mixture.
7. Add the beaten egg and mix everything together well.
8. Pour the mixture into the casserole and firm it down well.
9. Cover with a lid (or foil) and bake at about 160°C. (If the casserole is really full, stand it on a baking sheet.) To test if the terrine is cooked, insert a knife in the middle for a few seconds; if it is hot to touch when removed the terrine is cooked. I then gave mine another 10 minutes without the lid just to colour up the crust slightly. Overall mine took just shy of 2 hours.
10. Remove the casserole from the oven and allow it to cool for a little. Then press the terrine overnight as it cools (use a board or plate with a heavy jar as a weight); the more it is pressed the better.
11. Devour the following day(s) with good crusty bread and a glass of robust red wine.

There are an endless number of variations you can work here. Instead of (or as well as) the peppers use tomatoes, fennel, celery, aubergine, mushrooms. Use whatever herbs you fancy or have to hand; or replace the herbs with (wilted) spinach. Add (whole) kidney beans and maybe reduce the meat content. Use breadcrumbs instead of stuffing mix. It might even work with the addition of some (unsweetened) apple or apricot. Try it!

17 May 2013


No today isn't Friday, it's Food-day. It has been one long food-a-thon of a day.

We started off this morning with our usual jaunt to the supermarket; we were slightly late this morning and got caught up with all the urchins going to school. It goes as follows from arrival at Waitrose ... Look at the meat to see if there are any good bargains or reductions. Having done that off to the café for breakfast — tea and a bacon roll for me; coffee and sausage in a bun for Noreen — and a chance to wake up! Then we stroll round the store filling our trolley and ending with the fruit and veg.

This morning we struck lucky with the meat bargains. Short date chicken pieces reduced; and chicken livers. Same with duck breast roast. And sausage meat. And some lamb leg steaks. Hmmm ... OK ... lots of meat with short dates. No problem! Oh, there's no room in the freezer. Ah! OK! ... Hmmm ...

And so much of the good fruit and veg was also on "3 for 2" offer: Jersey Royal potatoes, English strawberries, English raspberries, blueberries (OK, they were Spanish), and English asparagus. We just couldn't lose today.

Finally home about 1115 for a quick sit down and a cuppa before lunch.

So after lunch we have to set to and deal with all this meat. Duck roast straight in the oven; done in 40 minutes and ready to be eaten cold, with asparagus salad, tomorrow.

Second. Make some yoghurt-y curry marinade for the chicken pieces. They're sitting in the fridge until tomorrow, when they'll be baked for cold on Sunday.

Then we have to deal with chicken livers and sausage meat. That means only one thing: an enormous terrine; basically a variant on my Game Terrine. Lots of chopping, messing and seething, but this is now sitting being pressed and cooling.

At that point we ran out of steam, and were in danger of running out of time too. So we had a clear up and another cuppa ... before rounding everything off with a lamb sag curry and a couple of beers.

OK, so we failed with the apple, strawberry and raspberry crumble. That'll have to wait until tomorrow — for a fresh supply of energy and a couple of dishwasher runs!

But that, to me, is a hugely successful day, as we have some great food lined up for much of the next week. Most of it at bargain prices! And all done by hand from fresh ingredients.

Something for the Weekend

A slightly risqué one (no change there then!) this week ...

Click the image for a larger view

16 May 2013

Words: Gambeson, Habergeon, Hauberk


A quilted and padded, or stuffed leather or cloth, garment worn under chain mail in the Middle Ages and later as a doublet by men and women. A military tunic, worn especially in the 14th century, made of leather or thick cloth, sometimes padded; it covered the trunk and thighs, and was originally worn under the habergeon, to prevent chafing or bruises, but was sometimes used as a defence without other body-armour.


A sleeveless coat or jacket of mail or scale armour, originally smaller and lighter than a hauberk. A short, sleeveless coat of mail.


A long tunic made of chain mail. A piece of defensive armour (originally intended for the defence of the neck and shoulders but already in 12th and 13th centuries developed into a long coat of mail) or military tunic, usually of ring or chain mail, which adapted itself readily to the motions of the body.

Over time Habergeon and Hauberk seem to have become more or less interchangeable.

15 May 2013

Random Huggers Day

In addition to everything else Saturday 18 May is Random Huggers Day.

We all like a hug when we're feeling down and giving people a hug is very special; it is a simple way of expressing love, care and friendship. And it can save lives.

Random Huggers Day was established in 2003 to spread some warmth, love, fun and all the wonderful energy that is in a hug; to spread that special feeling around the world.

There is no charity or corporation involved; Random Huggers Day is just about one human being giving another human being a gift, for nothing!

You can sign up to be a Random Hugger, or just go along to an event in a city near you. You'll find details oner at http://www.purplepathway.com/rh/.

14 May 2013

International Museum Day

This year's International Museum Day is on Saturday 18 May. Every year since 1977 International Museum Day, which is on Saturday 18 May this year, is organised worldwide to make people more aware of how museums contribute to enriching, and developing, our societies!

I remember being taken to museums when I was young and like most children I found just looking at objects boring. But later you come to realise that each of those objects is a piece of history and tells a wonderful story: of a hero, a king, the life of a farmer or slave, of an animal and its environment, of a different way of looking at life.

So one of the best, and most important things, about museums is how they link different cultures together: by displaying objects from different countries and cultures; and by making museums available for travelling tourists to learn about other places and people.

There's some more information on the International Council of Museums website at http://icom.museum/activities/international-museum-day/ or checkout you local museum to see what they're doing.

13 May 2013

You might have missed ...

Another selection of links to stories you may have missed, in no order at all ...

It all starts with Walter de la Mare and becomes a discussion of how the strange and weird become memorable; how ghosts are more real than reality.

Apparently there is nothing which will actually convince you to change your lifestyle, so don't bother telling me!

Report on a visit to the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival.

How high can a human throw something? Would it be possible to throw a golf ball into space? What If? investigates.

Sex educator Emily Nagoski on how to be a sex educator for beginners. We all need to know this — parents especially.

In which Diamond Geezer reworks and updates the English class system. I'm not sure it's quite right, but the general drift is good.

The Guardian seems to think they can tell us all what rules of grammar we need to know. Kettle — pot — black?

Are boobs better without bras? From a male perspective, definitely. Anatomically, well it seems it's a possible maybe.

Archaeologists have been working on mapping the medieval Suffolk town of Dunwich which was lost to the North Sea. I thought we knew most of the map, but I guess it's about seeing what is still there.

Birds are descended from dinosaurs, right? Well actually they probably are dinosaurs. XKCD shows how a T. rex is closer to your average sparrow than it is to a Stegosaurus.
Chicken in a basket takes on a whole new complexion!

Now here's another interesting take on Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy. They're 60 or so years old, but can maybe serve as an allegory for the modern world.

We're all descended from Charlemagne. Well all Europeans are. At least statistically. Allegedly. Carl Zimmer investigates.

Finally it seems those brutish Neanderthals were somewhat more advanced than most of us realise. And of course Europeans are all around 4% Neanderthal. So just be careful who you insult!

More Quotes

Another round-up of quotes I've met which were amusing, interesting or thought-provoking.

The intelligent man finds almost everything ridiculous, the sensible man hardly anything.
[Johann Wolfgang von Goethe]

Any event in this world — any human being for that matter — that seems to wear even the faintest cast or warp of strangeness, is apt to leave a disproportionately sharp impression on one's senses ... Life's mere ordinary day-to-day — its thoughts, talk, doings — wither and die out of the mind like leaves from a tree. Year after year a similar crop recurs, and that goes too. It is mere debris, it perishes. But these other anomalies survive, even through the cold of age.
[Walter de la Mare, quoted at www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22380449]

The belief that the world is composed only of physical things operating according to universal laws is metaphysical speculation, not a falsifiable theory.
[John Gray, quoted at www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22380449]

The distinction between what's natural and what's not isn't as straightforward as it seems. The very idea of a law-governed cosmos may be a relic of monotheism, with natural laws serving the role that divine commands once did. Many religions don't distinguish between nature and the supernatural. For animists and polytheists, the natural world is full of spirits.
[John Gray (again), quoted at www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22380449]

Today’s scientists have substituted mathematics for experiments, and they wander off through equation after equation, and eventually build a structure which has no relation to reality.
[Nikola Tesla]

The strongest leaders lead not from their anger and frustration and fear, but from their vision of the world as it could be ... See a world you want to move toward, and take just one step forward today. Take one more step tomorrow. And one more after that ...
[Emily Nagoski at www.thedirtynormal.com/2013/05/08/be-the-sex-educator/]

Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.
[Mae West]

O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!
My tables, — meet it is I set it down,
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain;

[Hamlet, I,v]

When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.
[Goodhart's Law]

Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.
[George Orwell]

Though Evelyn [Waugh] described his own grasp of Latin and Greek as 'superficial', he did not think the hours devoted to learning them were wasted because one learnt 'that words have basic inalienable meanings, departure from which is either conscious metaphor or inexcusable vulgarity ... The old fashioned test of an English sentence — will it translate? — still stands after we have lost the trick of translation'. Anyone denied this apprenticeship — 'most Americans and most women' — would always be at a disadvantage.
[Michael Barber; Brief Lives: Evelyn Waugh]

You can never plan the future by the past.
[Edmund Burke]

Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible.
[MC Escher, 1898-1972]

Weekly Photograph

Actually this week we're actually going to have more than one photo. One morning last week we went for a little tour round some of our local old churches, mainly because I had promised to take a few record shots of them for the local family history society. It was a blustery, intermittently sunny, morning which kept threatening rain — and I think we all felt more like a duvet day than going out taking photographs. But we gritted out teeth and carried on.

One of the churches on the list was St Mary the Virgin, Perivale. I quite see why it was championed by Sir John Betjeman. It is a tiny gem, right on my doorstep, and I've never been to it before.

The church itself has long been decommissioned, although I think not de-consecrated. It is now leased and tended by its Friends organisation and used for small concerts etc.

Most of this I knew, so we didn't really expect to get access beyond being able to walk down the cycleway that runs alongside.

St Mary's, Perivale from South

As we arrived, the sun came out; there were several people tending the churchyard and the church itself was open. Not wishing to impose too much on everyone's good will we had only a brief look inside and a longer stroll round the graveyard.

St Mary's, Perivale Interior

Except for those horrible red chairs the church interior reminded me very much of the small churches of the Romney Marsh, especially Fairfield; and also of Greenstead-juxta-Ongar in Essex. Although not really that similar to either architecturally it was the intimacy which was the key. Apart from the tiny chancel the inside is not especially ornate; it would be too much if it were.

St Mary's, Perivale Churchyard

But as you see from the photos the setting is a delight. It is surrounded by trees and Ealing Golf Course. And again, although small, the churchyard is a lovely peaceful oasis, just a couple of hundred yards off the busy A40.

Everything was fresh and green, the sun was shining and the birds were singing. You could easily have been in the middle of nowhere. What more could one ask?!

12 May 2013

Book Review

Michael Barber
Brief Lives: Evelyn Waugh
(Hesperus; 2013)

When Michael Barber first told me he had a biography of Evelyn Waugh being published, my first reaction was "Why?". Why do we need another biography of Waugh?

But then when I got a copy I realised this isn't really a biography but more a dozen or so quick sketches of the man, for what Hesperus are doing is creating a series of "short, authoritative biographies of the greatest figures in literary history; written by experts in their fields to appeal to general readers and academics alike".

Given that this is the aim, then Barber and Hesperus have largely succeeded. This is a short work which is well and amusingly written, while remaining interesting, light, accessible and, I found, quite hard to put down.

Yes, the book lacks detail — but what does one really expect in 120 pages? However, although I am no expert on Waugh, it did seem to encapsulate the essence of the man and his life: idiosyncratic, snob, arriviste, poseur, spendthrift, drunk, intransigent bore and grumpy old man (even when quite young); but also both an excellent novelist (I'll except Brideshead Revisited which never worked for me) and often highly amusing.

As a bonus, at least for me, Anthony Powell gets quite a few mentions. Powell and Waugh, although in some ways rival writers, were friends and admired each others' work — both publicly and privately — often writing to say how much they had enjoyed the other's latest volume. Waugh always wanted to live to see Powell complete Dance, but sadly he died halfway through. Wouldn't it have been interesting to have heard his views on the second half of Dance? How the war trilogy compared with his Sword of Honour? And what would he have made of the denouements of Temporary Kings and Hearing Secret Harmonies?

As Anthony Powell so often did I shall conclude this review with two gripes. While understanding that publishers need to keep costs down, such awful cheap paper is horrid to handle and isn't going to stand the rigours of time; I would happy to pay an extra 50p to £1 on the price of a book if it meant more aesthetically pleasing paper.

Finally I deplore the lack of an index. I know this is a short work, but any non-fiction book without an index becomes unusable as a reference source. And that, to my mind, is inexcusable in an environment where we must do everything we can to encourage the use of books as a resource. Again I have to lay the blame on cost-cutting publishers, rather than the authors, most of whom I suspect would (privately, at least) agree.

An excellent introduction to the man and a highly enjoyable and interesting read.

Overall rating: ★★★★☆

Be Nice To Nettles Week

15 to 26 May is Be Nice To Nettles Week, which looks nearer two weeks to me, but who's counting?!

What?! Shouldn't those nasty stinging nettles be destroyed? Well no, and in fact this is a relatively modern conception. In fact the humble nettle has played, and continues to play, an important role in the natural world: they are favourite place for ladybirds (which eat aphids) to lay their eggs, they are a favourite food plant for some of our more brightly-coloured butterflies and the young shoots can even be used in our kitchen much as you would use spinach — so our forebears actually cherished the nettle as an early Spring green vegetable.

So yes, we should continue to cherish the nettle as a valuable part of our ecology by leaving a patch of rough ground for them to grow in.

AS always there is more on Be Nice To Nettles Week oin their website at www.nettles.org.uk/.

11 May 2013

Walk to Work Week

This year's Walk to Work Week runs from 13 to 17 May.

It is generally agreed that in modern society we don't walk enough (guilty as charged!) because walking is a great way to maintain fitness and helps keep the heart healthy. For those who work outside the home, walking to work also saves on petrol and bus fares, and is better for our planet. OK, walking to work isn't feasible for everyone so as an alternative why not have a lunchtime stroll in the park or along the river?

You can always use walking to work as a way to raise money for your favourite charity, or just to be like Charles Dickens and Wordsworth who went on walks to get inspiration!

Find more information at www.walkingworks.org.uk.

Mislaid Pussy

I've lost my pussy! Yep, somehow we seem to have mislaid a cat! Sally, our small striped tabby cat has been AWOL now for over 24 hours. She was last seen about 11pm on Thursday night on the upstairs landing, but didn't appear for breakfast yesterday, nor since.

Tabby Tiger

We've checked all the known/vaguely possible, apparently (in)accessible, hidey-holes in the house and garden and there's been no obvious RTA. Noreen has talked to the immediate 15-20 neighbours. Sheds and garages have been checked where possible. There are no obviously empty properties, nor any building work, within at least a couple of hundred metres. However there are lots of inaccessible, overgrown and impassable alleyways.

What is odd is that Sal is a homebody. At 15 neither cat goes out a lot (especially given the tarty girl cats next door and their boyfriends), and Sal has never strayed very far from our garden even when young. And she's not allowed out the front door, although has been know to sneak out when we don't have an eagle eye open.

Sunday Morning Lay-in

There doesn't seem to be a whole lot more one can do. We could put up posters around the street, but I'm never convinced how useful they are. And we ought to talk to the 6 or 8 houses in the next street that back onto us.

Obviously if she turns up we'll be delighted. But if not, then so be it. Sal was 15 and appeared in good health — even the vet when she was last there a few months ago said he would have thought she was more like 7 or 8 than 15! But we know that cats are often aware when their time is up and wander away to die peacefully somewhere on their own terms — and who should blame them!

10 May 2013

Something for the Weekend

Matt's pocket cartoon on the front page of today's Daily Telegraph is another excellent one ...

British Sandwich Week

Also timed to coincide with National Mills Weekend and National Real Bread Maker Week is British Sandwich Week which runs from 12 to 19 May.

We have become a nation of sandwich eaters, and why not because they can be a wholesome, filling and nutritious fast food. Since (allegedly) invented by 4th Earl of Sandwich the eponymous snack has blossomed from the original beef between two pieces of bread into an endless range of varieties.

As part of this year's fun there will be an attempt on the World Record for the largest number of people simultaneously making a sandwich in the same place.

So why not celebrate the great British sandwich as well as raising a toast to the 4th Earl.

There is more information about sandwiches and British Sandwich Week over at www.lovesarnies.com.

09 May 2013

Word: Petrichor


The sweet smell of rain on earth.

The pleasant, distinctive smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather in certain regions. Also applied to an oily substance obtained from the ground in which this smell was concentrated.

The term was coined in 1964 by two Australian researchers, Bear and Thomas, for an article in the journal Nature. In the article, the authors describe how the smell derives from an oil exuded by certain plants during dry periods, whereupon it is absorbed by clay-based soils and rocks. During rain, the oil is released into the air along with another compound, geosmin, producing the distinctive scent. In a follow-up paper, Bear and Thomas showed that the oil retards seed germination and early plant growth.

Petrichor was concocted from the Greek petros (stone) plus ichor (the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology).

National Real Bread Maker Week

11 to 17 May is Real Bread Maker Week which is Britain’s biggest annual celebration of Real Bread and its makers and is timed to coincide with National Mills Weekend.

The aim of Real Bread Maker Week is to encourage people to get baking Real Bread or buying it from independent bakeries to support their local communities.

In addition this year they are raising money to provide opportunities to help people who, for one reason or another, have a tougher time than most of us enjoy the social, therapeutic and employment opportunities Real Bread making offers.

More information can be found at www.sustainweb.org/realbread/national_real_breadmaker_week/.

There is nothing better than the smell of freshly baked bread to get your taste buds tingling!

08 May 2013

National Mills Weekend

National Mills Weekend is Saturday 11 & Sunday 12 May.

National Mills Weekend is the annual festival of our milling heritage and provides a fantastic opportunity to visit mills, of all types, many of which are not usually open to the public.

Until the advent of the steam engine, wind and watermills provided the only source of power for many different processes — from making flour, paper, cloth to hammering metal and extracting oil. You can explore mills that produced, or still produce, these products — some restored to working order, some derelict, some still working commercially.

As usual there is more information on the National Mills Weekend website at www.nationalmillsweekend.co.uk.

06 May 2013

Weekly Photograph

Suitably for a Bank Holiday weekend this week we have a photograph of the English seaside. This is a montage of shots taken almost 5 years ago (eeekkkkk!!!) of Lowestoft South Beach, looking south towards Kirkley from near the Central Pier. As you can see it was a miserable day, with heavy, squally showers blown onshore by a stiff breeze. Typical of England really!

Click the image for larger views on Flickr
Lowestoft Seafront (2)

Lowestoft Seafront
6 September 2008

04 May 2013

Quote: Direction

Don't look back, you're not going that way.

C(r)ock o'China

That was the headline in yesterday's Daily Telegraph.

It seems that China's official mouthpiece, the People's Daily, is erecting a brand new HQ building. And as you'll see from the photo even the least imaginative couldn't fail to recognise the resemblance to a massive hard prick.

[Cue: Frankie Howerd]

It appears that this is all too much for the Chinese censors who have been working overtime to try to stop people sniggering to the rest of the world and viewing pictures online. I would really have thought that China should be proud of its erection!


My friend Katy has challenged us to to do a personal meme. I take up the challenge as it will make me think about who/what I am. So the questions are:

1. If you could change one thing in your life what would it be?
2. If you could repeat any age which one would it be?
3. What really scares you?
4. If you could be someone else for a day who would you be?

Now this isn't going to be easy! But let me try ...

1. If you could change one thing in your life what would it be?
The trouble is that there are so many things I would like to be different. Would I banish my depression or my excess weight? — both of which are attractive ideas. Or would I plump for £2M in the bank to see me really comfortable for the rest of my days? — equally attractive. Or would I choose to live in a pleasanter environment (though where we are could be a whole lot worse).

Maybe I'll just plump for having three wishes, then I could have all of the above and more!

2. If you could repeat any age which one would it be?
Oh almost certainly 1972-1976, my post-grad and post-doc years. But only so long as I could do them with the knowledge I have now! They were fun years, and probably my most formative years. I would love to be able to do my doctorate again; I could do it so much better! And similarly with the year I was a post-doc, which I largely buggered up, but which I could do so much better. I could have achieved so much more than I did in those years while still having the fun I did.

3. What really scares you?
Apart from the obvious like dying, being seriously ill and generally becoming decrepit, probably the thing which worries me most ("scare" is maybe a bit OTT) it is running out of money as we get older.

4. If you could be someone else for a day who would you be?
Can I be the Fairy Queen with a magic wand to change both the way the country is run and instill common sense into those who run it? Or maybe I should just be dictator for the day and achieve much the same effect?
But then I'd also like to be a girlie for the day, to know what it really is like from the other side; yes, both the good bits and the bad bits, though this might need more than a day. While I have no great desire to know what periods or brooding a sprog are like I feel I should know. And of course I'd love to know what good sex is like for girlies.

Or then again, in much the same vein as Katy, maybe I could just be me but without the depression, obesity, diabetes, etc. Yes, maybe I'd settle for that.

OK, so I'm not going to nominate people to do this — it's too hard and too invidious — so if anyone wants to join in either post in the comments or on your blog with a comment to let me know.

03 May 2013

You May have Missed ...

Our not-very-regular round-up of items I spotted and you may have missed. As usual in no special order, except we'll start with the historical ...

Henry VIII's warship the Mary Rose sank in The Solent in 1545 and was recovered some 30 years ago. Ever since then archaeologists have been discovering more and more about the wreck. Now they are suggesting that the Mary Rose may have had armour-piercing cannonballs, some three-centuries earlier than they were thought to have been invented.

Archaeologists have also uncovered a 4400-year-old female skeleton near Windsor. What's unusual is the large number of high-class, including gold, artefacts suggesting that Windsor may have been a royal hideout for 3000 years longer than we thought.

Meanwhile in Egypt archaeologists are working to uncover the sunken remains of the ancient lost city of Heracleion, near the head of the Nile Delta. They've been at it for some years already but reckon they may have 200 years work yet to do!

Back at home and much nearer our time, zoologists have been investigating the (stuffed) remains of a lynx shot dead in England in about 1903. Yes, there have been (maybe still are) large wild cats loose in the UK as it seems this one is a Canadian Lynx which had lived for around 10 years in captivity before escaping and being shot soon afterwards.

Many people erroneously believe that Oliver Cromwell made it illegal to eat Mince Pies on Christmas Day. This is one of many myths about what ancient laws allow or forbid in England. Recently the Law Commission published a list of some of these.

Brad Warner is an American zen teacher and punk rocker who generally talks sense. Here he muses on the recent Boston bombings and his reaction to them.

In a similar vein here's a thoughtful op-ed piece from the Daily Telegraph on the rights of the state to snoop on its citizens.

Apparently some female in Australia is getting hot under the collar because she keeps having her pussy shaved.

Boys, are you worried about your declining sperm count? If so, wear a skirt. Apparently kilts, especially worn Scots-style (ie. with nothing underneath) are good for the balls, because they're then kept at the temperature Nature intended. (And there are lots of other benefits too!) Even easier: just wear nothing.

On the other side of the sex divide, Prof. Alice Roberts is being rightfully indignant about the commercialisation of NHS maternity services and wards.

And the BBC has reported about medics who are trying to get a better understanding the details of how the womb and childbirth work. I must say it all sounds like trying to medicalise something which is better left to Nature — but then what do I know?

Finally a disturbing report about how the 18th and 19th centuries thought about the dangers of masturbation for women. Lads if you think the Victorians had a downer on your habits, it's nothing to what they thought about their girlies prospects! It makes cross-dressing look positively tame!

Book Review

Mary Roach
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

If there is one thing Mary Roach does well it is write. Her style is light, airy and humorous while being informative. It needs to be because she has made her stock in trade writing about taboo subjects like sex (Bonk), death (Stiff) and now our guts. For instance in writing about the biblical story of Jonah and the whale she says:
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.)
She takes us on a journey through the gut — from top to bottom. Well, except that she doesn't; it's a journey through the top half, as far as the stomach. There's a black hole of the small intestine should be. And a fast water chute through the colon. So despite the good writing I felt short changed by Gulp. I wanted more, and I wanted a bit more in depth science.

Sure, Roach talked to all the right scientists and medics. But this wasn't as in depth as either Stiff or Bonk — at least it didn't feel that way. And as I say the really interesting bits (well, to me, at least) beyond the stomach were too quickly glossed over.

So I was left feeling as though I'd had a decent starter, followed by some sorbet and coffee, but without a main course. Which is a shame because Roach writes too well for this.

Overall rating: ★★☆☆☆