30 June 2013

Oxenhope Straw Race

After a brief hiatus, largely because there wasn't a lot happening worthy of our interest, we bring you the Oxenhope Straw Race which is on 7 July.

The Oxenhope Straw Race takes place every summer in the Pennine village of Oxenhope, near Keighley. It was started by two men who made a bet about racing from one pub to the next carrying a bale of straw. The money is raised for charity by teams collecting sponsorship for completing the course, often in fancy dress, whilst carrying a bale of straw and visiting each of the local pubs in the village; £300,000 has been raised date.

This looks like a fund day out with a real carnival atmosphere! There's more information and entry forms at www.strawrace.com.

28 June 2013

Something for the Weekend

"It's true I didn't make you as smart as woman,
so here's a little something to do your thinking for you"

24 June 2013

Weekly Photograph

I spotted this one Saturday on the way out of central London, parked by the side of the A40 at Acton. What more can one say?

Click the image for a larger view on Flickr

Acton, London; 22 June 2013

Words: Atheism, Secularism and Humaism

Today let's look at three words which seem to be becoming increasingly misunderstood and misused: atheism, secularism and humanism.

1. Disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of God or gods.
2. The doctrine that there is no God or gods.

1. The view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs or public education.
2. The doctrine that morality should be based solely on regard to the well-being of mankind in the present life, to the exclusion of all considerations drawn from belief in God or in a future state.

1. A system of thought that rejects religious beliefs and centres on humans and their values, capacities and worth.

Hence one can be a secularist without being an atheist, although the reverse is I suspect rather difficult. While atheists are generally secularists, at least in Europe so are most believers because they know their own freedom of belief depends on freedom from the belief of others. Humanists are by definition atheists.

Atheism challenges belief but secularism challenges religious privilege. Humanism replaces a belief in god(s) with a belief in Homo sapiens.

And yes, for the record I am both an atheist and a secularist. I'm also a humanist but not one who identifies with humanism as an organised belief system, a là British Humanist Association — I don't do organised belief systems!

23 June 2013

More Links ...

OK, so here's another round of links to items which may be of passing interest and which caught my eye (and brain). Hopefully they might interest you too ...

Journalist Carole Cadwalladr reports on the somewhat unexpected side-effects of having her whole genome sequenced and finding out some of what it means.

What happens when you research TB? Australian Journalist Jo Chandler finds out the hard way and gets very lucky.

Unearthing the secrets of the Crusaders: how a castle toilet still holds evidence of their parasites.

We know that a large percentage of drug trial results are never published, usually because they don't agree with what the trial wanted to find. Now some experts are having another go at finding a way to force publication.

Seems that plants have body clocks and that your cabbage lives on in your fridge. I suppose this shouldn't be too surprising although it is slightly scary and seriously weird! As Elizabeth Berry said Shipping is a terrible thing to do to vegetables. They probably get jet-lagged, just like people.

Talking of food, there are many wacky notions that ingredients added to our food are poisoning us. Pharmaceutical chemist Derek Lowe does a hatchet job on some of the claims.

Man plays at being God and fails. Prepare to be surprised at some of the world's ten most invasive fish species.

So just why are scientific names so important?

Are you a native English speaker? And interested in the language? Then you can contribute to the understanding of English dialects by taking part in the Cambridge Online Survey of World Englishes.

Here's a piece from British Naturism on how the proposed Anti-Social Behaviour Bill is a threat to everyone's lifestyle. Needless to say BN are most concerned about naturism, but it goes much, much wider than that because of the poor wording.

A short but thoughtful piece from ICUK (who are my ISP) on the challenges of internet filtering.

Oh dear, the Chief Rabbi is lamenting the decline in the intellectual quality of atheists. The Heresy Corner isn't impressed with the intellectual qualities of the Chief Rabbi and takes him apart limb by limb.

Now this is seriously and brilliantly insane: armour for your guinea pig!

And finally, did you ever wonder what else you could use that penis cake mould for? Wonder no more!

Enjoy your cake!

18 June 2013

Buggered Britain 16

A long overdue 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 delightful properties are in the parade of shops next to Greenford underground station. Apparently the boarded up shop has been acquired by Tesco and will be opening as a Tesco Express store — although it's anyone's guess as to when this might be as it has already been in this state for most of this year.

Click the image for larger views on Flickr
Buggered Britain 16

Buggered Britain 16
Greenford; 18 June 2013

17 June 2013

Word: Psittacosis


A contagious disease of birds transmissible (especially from parrots) to human beings as a form of pneumonia. A zoonotic infectious disease caused by the bacterium Chlamydophila psittaci (formerly Chlamydia psittaci) and contracted from parrots and many other species of bird.

Psittacosis is also known as parrot disease, parrot fever and ornithosis.

The word is derived from the Psittacus genus of parrots of which the African Grey is a prime example, although the genus also includes the New World macaws.

The OED gives the first use of psittacosis as being as late as 1897, but maybe that isn't surprising as that's when much of medicine was being codified. By comparison psittac for a parrot is recorded way back around 1400.

Weekly Photograph

One of my photographic interests is just sitting somewhere and quietly photography the people who go by.

Yes, before you ask, this is perfectly legal in the UK — you may legally photograph anything or anybody in public or on a railway station (and this includes children) without asking permission — the only exception is if a police officer considers you are photographing something pursuant to an act of terrorism. Moreover no-one except a police officer with a search warrant has the right to confiscate images or equipment or demand you delete images.

Surprisingly in all the years I've been quite openly taking photographs in the street and on stations I have only twice been harangued by a member of the public (both of whom thought I was doing something illegal — I wasn't) and twice approached by a police officer. Both officers agreed that I was doing nothing illegal, although one (who was armed) wasn't very happy as I was taking photographs near (but not of) some Arab embassies.

A few days ago I was sitting drinking coffee on London's Paddington Station and was close to the YO! Sushi bar so I couldn't resist photographing the chefs ...

Click images for larger views on Flickr
Suchi GirlSushi Boy
Sushi Girl (left) and Sushi Boy
Paddingtom Station, London; June 2013

16 June 2013

Culinary Excursions

This weekend has seen three culinary successes hereabouts. Nothing spectacular and nothing which isn't already known, but a couple of them things I've not tried before.

We've just had Sunday dinner off a joint of bacon. A collar joint, which in my book is tastier, and cheaper, than gammon. But this time I cooked it in Coca-Cola. I've known about this method for years, but never had the nerve to try it. And we never have "full fat" Coke in the house because we both prefer the diet variety.

But somehow we had come by a bottle of Coke. And the supermarket yesterday had large (like 1.5kg) collar joints. [Collar joints should be at least this size; none of the puny rubbish, which cooks to nothing, that's normally available.]

As a method cooking ham in Coke works brilliantly. OK, I simmered ours for maybe 20 minutes longer than it really needed, but the result was meat you really could cut with a spoon. Easily the best bacon I've had in many years. It was served with plain steamed new potatoes and fresh English asparagus (also steamed), plus tarragon sauce.

The tarragon sauce was the second success; it is something I'd never thought to try before. We love tarragon but never think to put it in sauce. Basically you proceed as for parsley sauce only use lots of chopped fresh tarragon in place of parsley. It is refreshingly different and herby; and went well with the ham, the potatoes and the aspargus.

And the third success? One of our old stand-bys: mixed fruit crumble, but this time with apple, rhubarb, strawberry and peach. This was made yesterday evening before the strawberries deteriorated. Eight or so sticks of rhubarb, three Bramley apples, a large punnet (plus) of strawberries, all mixed together with half a jar of left-over peach compote and a good slug of apricot brandy; no extra sugar needed. All topped with an oaty crumble mix. Yes, it makes an enormous crumble, but that's good because it provides an excellent breakfast! Really yummy; and no need for custard, cream or whatever!

How is it that we can eat so well — albeit we probably spend more on food than most people, although we needn't — whereas the bulk of the populous seems not to know one end of a cucumber from the other?

Speaking Out about Dumbing Down

In an interview by Michael Hogan in yesterday's Guardian, acerbic art critic Brian Sewell has denounced most factual TV as disgracefully dumbed-down — particularly on the BBC.

I love Brian Sewell. OK, he's made a career out of being opinionated and often downright rude, but I love the way he isn't afraid to speak his mind. And so often he is right, too, just as in this interview. For example:
I'm not really talking about the entertaining things. Hateful though I find them, the BBC does those perfectly well. But anything they tackle that is intellectual, historical, biographical, cultural ... It all turns into a travelogue of some kind. Whether it's Andrew Graham-Dixon on the Italian Renaissance or that rat-faced young man [Simon Reeve] wandering round Australia, it's the same, because this is what the BBC asks for. The channel controllers are of little education and no background. The editors are very technically clever but know nothing about the topic, so they fit everything to this comfortable format. We deserve better. It's patronising rubbish.


All those Simon Schama and David Starkey programmes inevitably turn into walking about and arm-waving. Poor Mary Beard, trundling around the ruins of Rome on a bicycle. Why? These devices even creep into news bulletins: some wretched reporter suddenly emerges from behind a car or tree and walks towards the camera. For God's sake, you have news to communicate. Stand still and tell us what it is. I don't want to be entertained, I want to be informed.


Attenborough does very well because he is just there, talking as the omnipotent voice. He's good at that. That's infinitely more convincing than Brian Cox with his sibilant delivery, trying to be the sex symbol of science.


[The BBC is] terrified of being too intellectual. There's no debate, no critical discourse or differing viewpoints. The BBC has forgotten the tradition of the Third Programme, which was introduced on radio in 1946. It was fundamentally serious: we didn't talk down to you, we talked to each other as we normally would and you'd better hurry along behind. I taught history of art in Brixton jail for 10 years and one lesson I learnt very quickly is never talk down to people. If you treat them as equals, you've got them, they're with you. But talk down, they smell it a mile off and hate it. That's what the BBC does all the time.


I see [Top Gear] as three clowns enjoying themselves and nothing whatsoever to do with motor cars. They never talk about the aesthetic beauty of cars, their history or future. They're just overgrown schoolboys.
And there's a lot more in that vein.

The other evening we watched the BBC Horizon programme on the doings of domestic cats in a Surrey village. It actually told you nothing that wasn't known 25 years ago; there were no new discoveries, no real research and actually little information — basically just a load of Oooo's and Ah's backed up by a bit of new-ish technology and a load of waffle. And this despite the programme being better than most of what Horizon pushes out.

Do read the Sewell interview. Whether you agree with him or not (and I have to admit, I do agree) it is a hoot!

Did you miss ...?

A further instalment in our irregular series bringing you links to interesting items you may have missed.

First up ... Two articles on the pathetic way in which most men think, and (try to) interact with women. KMA Sullivan reports the notion that Women are Bitches. Meanwhile xenoglossy @ literary reference asks why men think all girls are girlfriends rather than accepting simple friendship. If that's the best men's intelligence can do then gawd 'elp us!

What can we learn from children's writing? Basically not a lot we couldn't have guessed!

Two articles on the amazing find of a clutch of eight Bronze Age dugout canoes found in a Cambridgeshire fen. The first from the Independent; the second from the Guardian.

Headstone Manor

While on the historical, Diamond Geezer has visited Headstone Manor (above), apparently the oldest timber-framed building in Middlesex. It isn't far from me, so looks like a must visit. It should be interesting, especially if they actually finish restoring it.

And now for several items for the scientifically curious amongst you. Desmids are microscopic plants with strange beauty and behaviour.

A rather scary story about people who have fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva which gradually grows extra bone and freezes the body.

We know that our bodies contain billions of bacteria, which are necessary for life as we know it, but we also contain trillions of symbiotic viruses. Carl Zimmer has the low-down.

Scientists reckon they're well on the way to a workable vaccine against Delhi Belly.

A UN report says there will be no rise in cancer rates after Fukushima disaster. That seems simplistic to me, although the increase is likely to be very low and as has been reported may times over the last couple of years the psychological effects are likely to be far more damaging.

How do our bodies know where to grow our asymetrically placed organs? Why are hearts (almost) always on the left? And what happens when this mechanism breaks down? It's a long article (over two pages) but well worth a read.

And finally something on evolution: ten evolutionary wonders of fish. Cod and chips will never be the same again!

Recycle Week

To go along with National Picnic Week, 17-23 June is also Recycle Week sponsored by Recycle Now along with Keep Britain Tidy.

The intent of Recycle Week is to encourage us to recycle more. Recycling is important for the environment not just in conserving our resources but in preventing pollution and damage to wildlife.

We'd all like to be that bit greener, which means taking what we do already and pushing it just a little bit further. You may recycle at home, but do you recycle at work? Do you recycle glass jars as well as glass bottles? Do your kids recycle at school? Recycling for kids can be fun, and these are just a few ideas for steps you can take to recycle even more!

Remember that recycling isn't just for bottles, drink cans and newspapers. You can recycle many plastics, metal cans and bottle tops, batteries, Tetra Pak containers, leftover food, water filter cartridges, vegetable and garden waste, even used cooking oil. Everything you can do makes a difference.

The Recycle Now website, www.recyclenow.com, has lots of ideas to help you recycle more.

15 June 2013


A few more quotes encountered, for the amusement of those hereabouts. As usual in no special order.

The only reason some people get lost in thought is because it's unfamiliar territory.
[Paul Fix]

Every man serves a useful purpose: a miser, for example, makes a wonderful ancestor.
[Laurence J Peter]

The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don't have to waste your time voting.
[Charles Bukowski]

The appellation of Gentleman is never to be affixed to a man's circumstances, but to his behaviour in them.
[Sir Richard Steele (1672-1729) in The Tatler]

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.
[Niels Bohr]

Understand that sexuality is as wide as the sea. Understand that your morality is not law ... Understand that if we decide to have sex whether safe, safer, or unsafe, it is our decision and you have no rights in our lovemaking.
[Derek Jarman]

Being childfree or childless is a choice for some, a struggle for others. It's tough to be childfree/childless in our child- and parent-centric society — especially for women. We are questioned, judged, told we'll change our minds, etc.

An education isn't how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It's being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don't.
[Anatole France]
I'd add: and knowing how to find out when you don't know.

Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.
[Oscar Wilde, De Profundis, 1905]

A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold.
[Ogden Nash]

It's so much easier to suggest solutions when you don't know too much about the problem.
[Malcolm Forbes]

National Picnic Week

It's summer (well, allegedly) so what better time is there for National Picnic Week which runs from 17 to 23 June.

We Brits have always been great picnickers — from the old couple sitting by their car with a sandwich to the magnificent spreads of the Edwardian shooting party — and National Picnic Week celebrates this love of the al fresco lunch.

With the UK's food preferences changing, why stick to the same old picnic fare? To the egg sandwiches and sausage rolls we can now add pizza, mini-popadoms and kebabs.

So let's make the most of our, all too short, summer and get out to one of this country's magnificent picnic spots for a sumptuous snack in the wild.

There are lots of resources, including recipe ideas, over at www.picnicweek.co.uk.

14 June 2013

Sometyhing for the Weekend

In honour of the fact that I'm due for a dental check-up net week, this one is for my dentist, amongst others ...

13 June 2013

Black Dots

Now here's a curiosity. All you have o do is count the black dots.


Word: Overmorrow


The day after tomorrow.

The OED suggests it is derived from the German übermorgen and Dutch overmorgen.
The first recorded usage was in 1535.

Compare with nudiustertian, pertaining to the day before yesterday.

These have to be a useful words with which to confound the unwary!

World Juggling Day

Saturday 15 June is World Juggling Day which is set up International Jugglers Association to help spread the fun of juggling and to bring jugglers around the world together.

Juggling is fun — well so they tell me, I was never any good at it. And it is an ancient art: there are images on a tomb in Egypt show people juggling, and there are references to it in writings from China, Ireland and Rome. Juggling was also popular during Renaissance times, when jugglers would entertain the royal court.

As usual there's lots more information over at www.juggle.org/wjd.

12 June 2013

Bike Week

Bike Week 2013 starts on Saturday 15 June and runs until 23rd.

Bike Week is the UK’s biggest mass participation cycling event with events offering something for everyone; from families, schools and companies, to seasoned cyclists and those who have never cycled before. The idea is to show us just how easy it is to make cycling part of our every day routine.

This year, Bike Week is asking the nation to dig out their bikes, get back on the saddle and fall in love with cycling all over again! Cycling is not only good exercise but is also good for the environment in helping us to reduce our carbon footprint.

There's lots of information and an events register over at www.bikeweek.org.uk.

10 June 2013

Weekly Photograph

This week's photo is a new one ... A young House Sparrow sitting in our front hedge one day last week. Sensibly it was sitting dozing in the sun, probably waiting for its parents to return with food — typical teenager really!

Click the image for larger views on Flickr
Baby House Sparrow

Baby House Sparrow
Greenford, June 2013

09 June 2013

Weblog: Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis


According to the Oxford English Dictionary Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is "a factitious word alleged to mean 'a lung disease caused by the inhalation of very fine silica dust, causing inflammation in the lungs'". A condition meeting the word's definition is normally called just silicosis.

Wikipedia adds: "It occurs chiefly as an instance of a very long word. The 45-letter word was coined to serve as the longest English word and is the longest word ever to appear in an English language dictionary. It is listed in the current editions of several dictionaries".

Facetious or not its coining in 1935 by Everett M Smith appears well documented, and the word does indeed mean what the OED says.

Whatever you want to call the disease, you don't want it!

08 June 2013

Aromatherapy Awareness Week

Aromatherapy Awareness Week runs from Monday 10 to Sunday 16 June and is promoted by the International Federation of Aromatherapists.

Although like many "complementary" therapies it is much decried by mainstream science, aromatherapy is an ancient therapeutic treatment used in many early civilisations to relieve stress, other ailments and rejuvenate the mind, body and spirit, by the use of pure essential oils from plants, chosen for their therapeutic benefits, specific to the needs of the individual.

Smell is a much more important sense that we often realise. Scents are some of the most powerful triggers for the recall of past events: the smell of the sea bringing back those idyllic childhood holiday memories, for instance. That's why supermarkets so often use the smell of baking bread, or coffee, to entice us. So why should aromatherapy work too?

The medical sector too have recently started utilising the benefits of aromatherapy — for instance in cancer units as supportive care for their patients and pre- and post-operations — and they have seen benefits to the patients which help to speed recovery.

You can find out more about aromatherapy over at www.ifaroma.org.

07 June 2013

Something for the Weekend

This week I thought we'd have something slightly different: a selection of four Osbert Lancaster cartoons from 50+ years ago — all of them before I left primary school. What I love about Lancaster's pocket cartoons is that some many of them are just as relevant today as when they were first drawn.

Click the images for larger views

Plus ça change!

Bike to School Week

The week beginning Monday 10 June is Bike to School Week.

The idea is to encourage children to travel to school on their bikes. Cycling is good exercise and reducing car mileage has to be good for the environment; and it teaches children basic roadcraft. Moreover cycling is fun; it's something I wish I was still able to do.

Yes, if you're going to start cycling there are a few things you need to think about, but they're not difficult. Firstly, ensure that your bike is in good working order: check the tyres, lights etc. You should plan your route, so that you know exactly where you are going and what the road junctions are like — and always make sure that someone knows the route you will be taking. And last, not not least, be safe and wear a helmet.

Teachers!? No you're not excused; you're expected to join in. Bike to School Week isn't just for the kids!

Find more information on how to get started over at www.sustrans.org.uk/change-your-travel/children-and-families/schools/bike-school-week.

05 June 2013

World Oceans Day

Another "world day" this week comes around on Saturday 8 June; it is World Oceans Day.

World Ocean Day is the planet’s biggest celebration of the ocean and the theme for World Ocean Day this year (and next) is 'together we have the power to protect the ocean!'. Yep, we're all being asked to do our bit to help protect our oceans.

Oceans are incredibly important to the whole balance of the planet. We get most of our oxygen from the sea. They provide us with water to drink and bathe in ... fish (and plants too) to eat ... not to mention pharmaceuticals etc. The oceans probably also contain more unknown species than terrestrial environments; scientists are discovering hundreds, if not thousands, of new pelagic species every year.

In short, oceans are a bit of a miracle! But a miracle that we are polluting with plastic and chemicals, and whose life (especially fish) we're raping unsustainably.

There's a whole raft of small things you can do to help. Find out over on the World Oceans Day website, http://worldoceansday.org/.

Nudity and Children

A few days ago there was a piece in the the Portsmouth News, the local paper for the eponymous city on England's south coast. The reporter, Liz Bourne, asks "Why do we think nudity is shocking for children?" and comes to the conclusion that it isn't.

This interested me because, aside from my interest in nudism, local papers are not often known for their liberal views. But here was a balanced and reasonable article which said essentially children aren't phased by nudity, even when "a little squeamish about wrinkly bits" and we can all understand why some people want to be nude even if it isn't for us.

Here are the nuts of the article:
In my experience, children love nudity. When very young, two of my children both enjoyed stripping off and flouncing around with the sun on their bare skin. On several occasions my son was known for taking all his clothes off in a rage, usually in the most public of places ... Although not encouraged, within reason I did accept it as an expression of their innocence and, in my son’s case, frustration of being restricted by clothing. Now that they are older, they are less keen to bare all. And when news of the naked bike protest was revealed, they were struck with both bemusement and horror.

"Ughh, all those saggy old men", one declared.
"Won't they get cold?" was another reaction.

But as a parent of three impressionable children, at no point did I feel the need to sign a petition against the protest. By making a point about nudity being 'offensive' and 'indecent' aren’t we sexualising it unnecessarily? Children revelling in their own nudity isn't sexually motivated. And the naked cyclists had other things on their agenda. By protesting against it, isn't this linking nudity with a sexual element, which is much more skewed?

I explained to the children that the cyclists were protesting against global oil dependency and our inherent car culture, as well as how vulnerable cyclists are on the roads. With this information, they understood the purpose of the nudity and, although still a little squeamish about wrinkly bits, accepted that if this is how some people wish to express themselves, so be it.

The protest took place in the middle of the day — a school day — and passed without incident ... for research purposes, I took a couple of snapshots and showed them to the children. The images of blurred buttocks were met with derisory laughter, not shock and outrage. They were more perplexed that I had chosen to go and watch it ...

Why anyone would be concerned about such an event I am not sure. Why should we protect our children from nudity? There are so many other things we should be protecting them from — drunk people in the street, dog poo on the pavement and the overpowering stench of celebrity culture in the media ... That, in my mind, is much more damaging than seeing a few saggy buttocks on bikes.
Indeed so!

Get Ready ... Pour your Gin ...

This is an early warning for all my alcohol-soaked friends ...

Saturday 15 June is World Gin Day, a celebration of all things gin, and a chance to mix up your favourite G&T or cocktail and find out more about our favourite juniper-laced beverage.

World Gin Day is still small but in the days leading up to 15th there are events around the UK (maybe elsewhere too?).

Check it out over at http://worldginday.com/ — where else?

Full disclosure: The Adnams Copper House gin shown on the right is the most delicious I think I've ever had the pleasure of imbibing.

03 June 2013

Quote: Truths

All great truths begin as blasphemies.

[George Bernard Shaw]

World Environment Day

It is World Environment Day on Wednesday 5 June.

Every year since 1972 the UN has hosted World Environment Day to encouraging people to treat the environment more kindly and realise that it's everyone's responsibility to make the change ... because it's not just us that our actions on the world affects — it will have an impact on all our future generations too.

Although World Environment Day activities happen year round they culminate on 5 June every year, with the aim of enabling everyone to realize not only their responsibility, but also their power to become agents for change in support of sustainable and equitable development. It is also a day for people from all walks of life to come together to ensure a cleaner, greener and brighter outlook for themselves and future generations.

This year's theme is Think.Eat.Save — an anti-food waste and food loss campaign that encourages people to reduce their "foodprint". According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), every year 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted; the equivalent of food production in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. While this is happening around 15% of the world's population is under-fed or staving.

That is an enormous imbalance in lifestyles and which also has serious effects on the environment. So the Think.Eat.Save theme is intended to encourage you to become more aware of the environmental impact of the food choices you make and empower you to make informed decisions.

As I've said before, in my view there also needs to be root and branch reform of our whole environmental practice as well as of agriculture (for instance see here and here) — but that's really a whole other debate.

As always there is a whole raft more information on the World Environment Day website at http://www.unep.org/wed/, including a list of activities by country.

Weekly Photograph

This week's photo should appeal to some of my more geeky friends. It was taken at New Romney station on the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. The RH&DR is a 15 inch gauge light railway running along the Kent coast. The 13½ mile line runs from the Cinque Port of Hythe via Dymchurch, St Mary's Bay and New Romney all the way south to Dungeness, close to Dungeness nuclear power station and Dungeness lighthouse. Constructed during the 1920s the RH&DR was the dream of millionaire racing drivers Captain JEP Howey and Count Louis Zborowski. It now provides a valuable service to the otherwise relatively isolated communities, especially south of New Romney, as well as being a tourist attraction.

In the photo we see a gleaming 4-6-2 Pacific, No. 8, Hurricane, receiving loving attention from her driver while simmering between duties at New Romney station, the line's HQ.

Click the image for larger views on Flickr

New Romney, Kent; August 2010

There's lots more information on the RH&DR on their website, www.rhdr.org.uk, and on Wikipedia. If you're in that bit of the UK it is well worth a visit for a really fun ride and some great photo opportunities.

02 June 2013

Word: Cockshut

Cockshut or Cock-shut

Evening twilight.

Probably deriving from the time when poultry go to rest and are shut up for the night although it is also suggested to derive from cockshoot, the time when woodcock 'shoot' or fly. In consequence of the latter it has been recorded as used to mean a net to catch woodcock, although this seems to be unusual and isn't recorded by the OED.

The first use recorded by the OED is 1594 in Shakespeare's Richard III.

In which I worry about Bishops ...

... or more precisely, retired Archbishops.

The BBC reported a few days ago that according to Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, allowing Gay marriage "paves way for polygamy".
In an article for the think tank Civitas, Lord Carey ... argues that the government is effectively seeking to change the definition of marriage to "a long-term commitment between two people of any sex, in which gender and procreation are irrelevant".

He says he does not want to be "alarmist", but that could logically be extended to "say, two sisters bringing up children together" or "multiple relationships, such as two women and one man".
Let's just leaving aside the fact that this is an absolute load of old baloney — the relationships his Lordship cites have been happening since time immortal, so where's the problem? But I do worry what school Lord Carey went to when he can clearly think that two women plus one man is two people. Do divines have different arithmetic rules to the rest of us? Or has he actually lost his marbles?

Fortunately others of Lord Carey's colleagues are more sane:
[T]he Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Rev Nicholas Holtham suggested in a letter to the Telegraph that it was time to "rethink" attitudes about same-sex marriage, as Christians had done with slavery and apartheid. "No one now supports either slavery or apartheid. The Biblical texts have not changed; our interpretation has."
And in a brilliant response to Lord Carey ...
Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill said: "This is regrettably hyperbolic shroud waving".
You just have to love someone who can talk about "hyperbolic shroud waving"!

01 June 2013

National Microchip Month

June is National Microchip Month. No, not computers, but pets.

It's so easy to lose track of a pet. But getting your pet microchipped is quick and pain-free; it takes your vet about 1 minute to insert the chip under the animal's skin (usually at the back of the neck) do and you 5 minutes to send in the registration. The actual chip is about the size of a grain of rice and contains a passive RFID tag.

And from then on your pet is quickly identifiable by any vet or animal shelter. I know. We had a stray cat turn up with us a couple of summers ago. We fed her and took her to the vet for a check-up. It took the vet 30 seconds to scan the microchip and then about 5 minutes to find the owner's details on the national register. The vet contacted the owner and there was one happy owner reunited with his cat who he thought had gone for ever.

There's more on microchipping at www.rspca.org.uk/allaboutanimals/pets/general/microchipping and Wikpedia.