22 July 2013

We've Moved

The Zen Mischief weblog has moved house.

We've taken all our belongings with us,
but left shadows of them here for reference

Our new home is www.zenmischief.com/blog/

Please bookmark our new address

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Thank you all for your support here
We look forward to seeing you in our new home

Weekly Photograph

Blimey it's over five years since I went to London Zoo. It was an interesting, if not eactly cheap, day out. And I couldn't resist wandering off to see the meercats.

Meercats are just so comic. I'm sure they know they're being photographed! This one was looking away, heard my shutter and immediately turned its head and looked hard straight at me with an almost Roland Rat questioning look as much as to say "'Ere, was that you taking my picture then?". I almost expected it to follow up with "You can't do that, ya' know, I'm an international licensed character, I am!"

Click the image for larger views on Flickr
'Ere, was that you taking my picture then?

'Ere, was that you taking my picture then?
London Zoo, June 2008

19 July 2013

Something for the Weekend

Click the image for a larger view

18 July 2013

We're Moving

Yes, the time has come to move.

No, don't panic, Noreen and I are not about to up sticks and decamp of the wilds for Nether St Nowhere.

This weblog is going to be on the move.

I've been toying with the idea for some time and have resisted it because I didn't want to move yet again. But the time has now come to move onto Wordpress hosted on my own, already existing, domain — to integrate the blog and my personal website more closely.

Yes, that means I have to do everything for myself, which in some ways is a pain. But in other ways it gives me far more control. And means I am not beholden to Blogger's, Google's or "central" Wordpress's ever more restrictive T&Cs.

I don't yet know exactly how soon I'll make the switch over as I'm still refining and testing the new blog. I hope it will be sometime in the next week or two. But you can already set up your access to the new site if you wish. The new weblog will be at

There's not much there yet except a few test posts, but that means you can also have a play and try to break it. And you should be able to set up your new subscriptions etc. — I hope not to have to change anything more in that area.

When I do the switch I hope to be able to import all the posts from here onto the new site. And I will post a notice here, with a dynamic redirection if such works on Blogger (I think it does). The look and feel (aka. branding) of the new weblog should be very similar to this.

Meanwhile normal service continues here.

Watch this space for updates.

And thank you all for your support so far.

Grumpy Old Men R Us

I'm clearly getting senile: I'm getting grumpier in my old age.

No, correction ... I've always been senile and grumpy.

I get more and more irritated, to put it mildly, by sales droids cold calling me. They ring the landline (which is already registered with the Telephone Preference Service). They ring my mobile. They ring the door bell. They stuff rubbish flyers through the door, or mail them to me.

[Mailing stuff out speculatively like that has to be an obscene waste of resources: paper, fuel for transport, postage, etc. as 99.99% will go straight in the bin. Although at least it does provide employment for postmen.]

None of it does any good. All these people do is get themselves hated and probably blacklisted. I only ever respond negatively to cold calling.

If I want a product or service I will know that I want it and will go out and look for it. If I don't do that I don't want (or need) it. I do not need you to try flogging me your rubbish that I don't want. And it isn't just people selling things. Surveys, charities, and so on are just as bad. I do not do BUSINESS (of any sort, that does not just mean selling things) with anyone who cold calls.

And if you are stupid enough to cold call me ... do NOT argue with me. You're just digging yourself a bigger pit. And you'll lose. See I've worked in sales. I know all the answers and objections. I know why you do it (basically you're all desperate) and why you'll tell me you do it. I know all the lies.

The first rule of selling anything is to recognise when your (potential) customer has said "NO" and to take the hint.

If I want a product or service I will know that I want it and will go out and look for it. If I don't do that I don't want (or need) it. I do not need you to try flogging me your rubbish that I don't want.

I doubt I know anyone who actually likes people cold calling them. And I'll give you 10-1 that most of the sales droids who do it, detest having it done to them. Which surely makes it immoral for them to do the cold calling.

I've also seen how destructive it is of salesmen. Few survive very long at it. To me that makes it immoral for anyone to be asked to cold call.

So don't do it! It's counter-productive. Remember: Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. Anything less is bad for your karma.

Besides it pisses me off. So you are likely to get a very dusty answer. "I don't do business with anyone who cold calls me. Thank you." [click] is the shortest and politest version. Argue and you'll get more than you bargained for because you've made me angry. Which is bad for my karma as well as yours.

So don't do it!


Another occasional selection of quotes, in some random order ...

The chief advantage of God, after all, is that he doesn't exist (or at least, he acts as though he doesn't) so is less of a threat to liberty than a state that aspires to both omniscience and omnipresence.
[The Heresiarch at Heresy Corner]

Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
[Bertrand Russell]

His lack of education is more than compensated for by his keenly developed moral bankruptcy.
[Woody Allen]

Much like the panda, pubic lice are being threatened with extinction due to the disappearance of their natural habitat. However this is due to deforestation of another kind - the increased popularity of 'Brazilian waxing'.
[From a British Association of Dermatologists description of a paper by KS Chen & PD Yesudian, which presents an unproven hypothesis about pubic lice and the television series "Sex in the City"]

It is not necessary to understand things in order to argue about them.
[Pierre Beaumarchais]

My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.
[Adlai Stevenson]

Humour is also a way of saying something serious.
[TS Eliot]

This freedom to doubt is an important matter in the sciences and, I believe, in other fields. It was born of a struggle. It was a struggle to be permitted to doubt, to be unsure ... If you know that you are not sure, you have a chance to improve the situation. I want to demand this freedom for future generations.
[Richard Feynman]

The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.
[Walter Bagehot]

Are we so narrow minded that we show war, murder, rape etc. on TV, but we do not allow to show one of the most wonderful creations (the human body) in its natural form.
[Mario Roman]

Clothes therefore, must be the insignia of the superiority of man over all other animals, for surely there could be no other reason for wearing the hideous things.
[Edgar Rice Burroughs; Tarzan of the Apes]

17 July 2013

You may have missed ...

Another selection of links to articles which interested me but which you may have missed ...

How the Greeks won the world.

The government's former "Drugs Tsar", Prof. David Nutt sets out to demonstrate that in banning qat, the government may as well ban cats. This simple analogy shows how absurd the basis for the home secretary's drug prohibition plan really is.

More on government madness ... why shouldn't we re-nationalise the railways?

A scientist documents what it's like to travel to the bottom of the ocean. It's a bit short on the "wow" factor though.

Scientists discover a new bird species, exactly where they didn't expect it: in urban Phnom Penh.

Tarmac, berry fruits and old socks ... Proof, if such were needed, that wine-tasting is junk science.

More junk science ... Why the myth of Bigfoot is so persistent.

Doubtless all you girls know about HPV and cervical cancer, but what about the incidence of HPV in men?

Seems that sperm like all that girly perfume.

On Caecilius’ willy.

Sacks of nuts! Why all may not be what it seems in the scrotal regions.

Oh no! We're descending into the nether regions of hell! Did you know that London once had a nude bus?

And finally ... Why do we indulge in cunnilingus? Is there more to it than just having a good time? Scicurious lifts the kimono.

Word: Jarvey


1. A hackney-coachman. Now frequently applied to the driver of an Irish car.

2. A hackney-coach or jaunting car.

Pace Wikipedia, a jaunting car is a light two-wheeled carriage for a single horse, in its most common form with seats for two or four persons placed back to back, with the foot-boards projecting over the wheels. It was the typical conveyance for persons in Ireland at one time (hence the reference by the OED to an "Irish car").

The Hackney Carriage (forerunner of the Hansom Cab, pictured) was first regulated in in London in 1654.

The OED gives the first use of jarvey (in the meaning of a coachman) in 1796. It is thought to derive as a by-form from the personal name Jarvis or Jervis.

Oh and forget the use of jarvey in Harry Potter. That's just part of the fiction.

16 July 2013

Quote: The World

We live in a Newtonian world of Einsteinian physics ruled by Frankenstein logic.

[David Russell]

Five Questions, Series 4 #1

Sorry, it's been too long since I posed the five questions of Series 4, and thus my answer the the first of the questions is long overdue. So here we go ...

Question 1: What happens after we die?

Well wouldn't we all like to know! However it seems to me that this is one thing we can, by definition, never know. That doesn't mean that all the reports of "near death experiences" are meaningless or imaginary; they may well not be. But clearly, despite appearances, the people experiencing them aren't actually dead, so they don't (and in my view never can) tell us what happens after we die.

As a scientist the reality seems to me to be summed up in the words of Genesis 3:19:
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
and the Burial Service from the Book of Common Prayer:
Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed, we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life ...
(Isn't that just so much nicer English than all this modern stuff?)

So yes, the scientist in me says that we disintegrate back into the environment for we are no more than a collection of chemicals: earth, dust and ashes.

However ... our thoughts can go on: as books, music, art, whatever. In that sense we may be dead but our brains are never buried, never lost, ever immortal.

And yet. And yet there remains that nagging little doubt somewhere deep inside which says that there is some form of reincarnation. Not in the Biblical sense of a Day of Judgement. More perhaps our "soul" (whatever that is) gets chopped up in some way and distributed (with bits of others?) to future beings. Who knows? We can likely never prove it. But it would explain a lot. And it would be a whole lot more fun than earth, dust and ashes.

15 July 2013

Weekly Photograph

This week I thought we'd have a couple of photos from our visit to Kew Gardens last week. For me one of the delights of Kew at this time of year is the Water Lily House which houses a collection of spectacular tropical water lilies. On a hot day, as it was when we visited, the Water Lily House has to be one of the best saunas in London. So this year it is also being used to grow a super display of chilli plants, some with enormous red fruits up to 6 inches long! But it is always the water lilies which I love; they are just so spectacular.

Click images for larger views on Flickr
Tropical Water Lily
Tropical Water Lily
Two of the many Water Lilies on show

Water Lily House
Water Lily House (Montage)
Kew Gardens, 8 July 2013

Although by Kew greenhouse standards the Water Lily House is small (that pond is just 36 feet in diameter) it is a delightful Victorian purpose-built greenhouse (it was completed in 1852). And that pond is also teeming with small fish which keep the algae and the mosquitoes at bay.

11 July 2013

Word: Speleology


1. The scientific study of caves, , especially in respect of their geological formation, flora, fauna etc.

2. The the sport or pastime of exploring caves; caving.

First coined, according to the OED, by EA Martel in the Report of the 6th Geographical Congress of 1895.

Hence speleological, of or pertaining to speleology; speleologist, a student of, or authority on, cave-research; an explorer of caves.

10 July 2013

Buggered Britain 17

Another 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.

Click the image for larger views on Flickr
Buggered Britain 17

These delightful properties are in Manor Park Road, London, NW10 — admittedly not one of the most salubrious areas of the city.

09 July 2013

World Tin Bath Championships, 13 July

Anyone on the Isle of Man on 13 July should head to Castletown for the the World Tin Bath Championships.

Yes, this is what it sounds like: competitors paddle tin baths around Castletown's Middle Harbour to raise money for local charities. There are men's, ladies and team races.

There is also the Snake Race, which seems to consist of teams of six (four men, two women) competing as a team in some form of construction of type inner tubes.

If you like water (include me out!) it looks like fun.

As always there is more on the World Tin Bath Championships website at www.castletown.org.im/tinbaths/.

08 July 2013

World Pea Shooting Championships, 13 July

If you were anything like the kids in my childhood, pea shooters were all the rage. So what better way to relive ones delinquent infancy than at the World Pea Shooting Championships which take place at Witcham on 13 July.

Witcham is one of those quiet villages in the Cambridgeshire fens a handful of miles west of Ely. They will be holding the 43rd World Pea Shooting Championships as part of their local festival and village fête which raises funds essential for the upkeep of facilities like the village hall.

As well as the World Chamionship there are ladies, juniors and team competitions. And yes,the championship is truly international: the 1996 and 1998 World Champion was an American!

There is more information n the World Pea Shooting Championships and the village of Witcham on their website at www.witcham.org.uk.

Weekly Photograph

I found these two feathers from a Rose-Ringed Parakeet (aka. Ring-necked Parakeet, Psittacula krameri) in the garden on Saturday. Considering that we have these birds around the garden almost continually it is surprising that these are the first such feathers I've found.

The larger is about 11 cm from tip to tip and given the curvature on it (which the photo doesn't show) it is almost certainly a primary (probably P4) — you can see the black on the wings feathers (probably P1/P2) of the bird shown below. For a naturally moulted feather it is in remarkable condition, and the green is wonderfully iridescent.

The smaller feather is about 4 cm from tip to tip so is probably a breast feather. It really is that very lemony yellow. There were a couple of parakeets sitting in the top of our silver birch tree while we were sitting outside eating tea and I actually saw this feather floating gently onto the lawn.

Click the images for larger views on Flickr
Parakeet Feather
Parakeet Feather
Parakeet Feathers
(the relative sizes are approximately correct)
Greenford, 7 July 2013

And yes, they are from one of these beauties ...

Ring-Neck Parakeet
Ring-Necked Parakeet
Greenford, March 2012

07 July 2013

Five Questions, Series 4

Back in March I promised that we'd have another round of "Five Questions". Why? Well because thinking about them keeps us on our toes. Besides, I have to have something inane to write about and you really don't want me writing about tennis, now do you!?

In series four we're back to the old mix of difficult and slightly silly questions. Well you can treat them all as silly if you wish; they're chosen so they can be open to daft responses. So take the questions as seriously, or not, as you like.

The five questions for series 4 are:
  1. What happens after we die?

  2. Why are manhole covers round?

  3. If you could be the opposite gender for a day, what would you do?

  4. Is it even possible to create a Utopia?

  5. What is the biggest obstacle that stands in your way right now?

Again, like the previous series if you take them seriously I think they're going to be deceptively tricky. I certainly don't know exactly how I'm going to answer them all, although I have a few ideas up my sleeve.

Anyway I'll answer them one at a time over the coming weeks; the first probably later this week.

And as I've said before, if anyone has any more good questions, then please send them to me. I'd like to continue to do this two or three times a year so good, but potentially fun, questions are needed.

Watch this space!

On Sex Work

The latest New Scientist (dated 6 July 2013) carries a short but interesting article under the headline "One minute with ... Laura Agustín". Her thesis is that banning prostitution does not make women safer, in fact it does exactly the opposite.

As New Scientist is behind a paywall, I'm naughtily going to reproduce the complete item here as I believe Agustín's ideas should have a wider audience before our politicians make ever more hasty and ill-considered rules. And because I happen to agree with her.
Most of what we think we know about sex trafficking is wrong, says Laura Agustín, who has spent 20 years investigating the sex industry

There is a proposal in the UK to clamp down on prostitution by criminalising the purchase of sex. Why do you object?
Millions of people around the world make a living selling sex, for many different reasons. What are they expected to do? This would take away their livelihoods. Selling sex may be their preference out of a limited range of options. In the UK, migrants may have paid thousands of pounds to get here. This debt has to be paid off somehow, whether it is by working in the back of a restaurant or selling sex. Migrants who sell sex can pay off the debt much faster.

But prostitution is dangerous, especially for those who work on the street ...
Women who work on the street are a small proportion of all the people who sell sex. Many more work through escort agencies, brothels or independently from home.

It is disrespectful to treat them all like victims who have been duped into what they are doing. In the UK, there are thousands of articulate sex workers who say, "Leave me alone, I did know what I was getting into and I'm okay doing it."

Isn't the "happy hooker" a myth? Doesn't research show it is a miserable existence?
Given the millions of people selling sex in the world, generalisations are impossible. Much research has been done at medical clinics or shelters for victims. If you go to a trauma centre, you meet traumatised people. When people tell me they have never met anyone who wanted to be selling sex, I ask where they did their research.

Why do you think anti-prostitution laws can make life more dangerous for sex workers?
If you think what sex workers do is dangerous, why insist they do it alone? It is legal in the UK for individuals to sell sex, but they may not work with companions or employ security guards. Brothels are illegal. If you prohibit businesses but people run them anyway – which they do – then workers must please bosses no matter what they ask. That is why this is a labour issue. Also, targeting kerb-crawlers makes things more dangerous since sex workers may have to jump in cars without getting a good sense of the driver.

What about trafficking of unwilling victims?
The numbers of trafficking victims reproduced by the media have no basis in fact. There is no way to count undocumented people working in underground economies. Investigations showed that one big UK police operation failed to find any traffickers who had forced people into prostitution. Most migrants who sell sex know a good deal about what they are getting into.

If there is no proof it is common, why is there widespread belief in sex-slave trafficking?
Why do moral panics take off? Focusing on trafficking gives governments excuses to keep borders closed. Perhaps it is easier to campaign moralistically against prostitution than to deal with the real problems: dysfunctional migration and labour policies that keep large numbers of people in precarious situations.
There are other augments too. By legalising sex work, as the Dutch have done, means it can be regulated, the workers given regular health checks, and also have their income taxed. It takes sex work out of the grey economy, whereas criminalisation pushes it ever further into the murky depths of the blackest of black economies.

Laura Agustín studies gender, migration and trafficking. She is the author of Sex at the Margins (Zed Books, 2007) and blogs as The Naked Anthropologist at lauraagustin.com

05 July 2013

Awareness Days etc.

As you may have noticed, there has been a bit of a hiatus in my postings of interesting awareness days/weeks, curious festivals etc. There are two reasons for this. The first is that there don't seem to be quite so many happening in the the last few weeks.

Secondly I have been thinking about how I select what to write about and updating the rules I use. Going forward this may mean slightly fewer postings, but hopefully about better quality events. Although the rules are not rigid I will mostly be obeying the following:
  1. The event must be either UK-based or international in nature
  2. I will not cover anything medical, literary, social welfare-related, or to do with schools; nor will I cover music festivals.
  3. And I will not cover anything overtly commercial. (Some events are run by companies as a cover for marketing, eg. National Shed Week, and will not be covered. Sponsorship is fine but the event needs to be independent of a single commercial entity.)
  4. The event must have a functional and useful website, to which people can be referred for further information. (I've found that far too many don't!)
  5. The event has to engage my interest in some way, however marginal.
There will of course be exceptions. After all, I make the rules round here!

And I'm open to suggestions as to what to include.

Thank you!

Soemthing for the Weekend

04 July 2013

You may have missed ...

Another round-up of items I spotted which you may not have done ...

According to the Met Office the UK's current run of awful summers is set to continue for some years. Although they are also saying this month should be hot and sunny. Who you gonna believe?

Germ warfare, in the guise of antibiotics, may be changing the way we humans actually work.

At least one mother of my acquaintance would like words with the designer of the female reproductive equipment. Now Prof. Alice Roberts asks why childbirth is such hard labour and what science is telling us about it.

Trouble having an orgasm? Try your feet! WTF!!

On the more artistic side, the British Museum is to host an exhibition about sex in Japanese art in 2014. Excellent! We need sexuality normalised not marginalised or criminalised. Must see!

Following on from which, why are we so concerned about what might be "age inappropriate". Surely what's appropriate is whatever I feel like? So who cares what the neighbours or the kids think? Isn't life there to be lived?

So modernity is nothing new; we've always been avant garde and there have always been old 'uns who object to it. There was even social networking in the 17th century. Starbucks eat your heart out!

Boys... you ain't having as much as you think you are!

So are we able to make ourselves happier? Seems we might be able to, at least up to a point.

Well we know that swearing is nothing new, it's just that we change the swearwords occasionally. Now there's a history of swearing.

Yes, it's wonderful! But do we actually know what wonder is, how it works and how it contributed to civilisation? Researchers are trying to find out.

An angler reckons he's caught a 200 year old fish off Alaska. If confirmed this will be a new record age for a fish. Just wow!

03 July 2013


Well it's summer (allegedly) and there doesn't seem to be a whole bunch going on to blog about. So here is one of our irregular collections of curiosities from our local auction house's latest catalogue. As usual the eccentricity defies logic.

A full-length pastel of a girl on the seashore, by D Alvarez Gomez Domingo, signed, wearing a long white dress with a scarlet sash and holding a straw hat, modern frame
[But why was D Alvarez Gomez Domingo wearing a long white dress, with sash, and carrying a straw hat when they signed the picture?]

A small limited edition engraving of artist mice being watched by a cat, signed by the artist in the margin (illegible), two oils of cats, etc.

Three reproduction Georgian style mahogany framed wall mirrors, one with a shell and the other a Ho-ho bird surmount.
[And the third mirror? Oh and WTF is a ho-ho bird?]

A mid 20th century autograph bool (sic) with sketches, poems, photographs of the stars of the time, some signed, etc.

A pair of large George III silver shoe buckles, with openwork faceted beads between milled borders, maker’s IL, lion passant and duty marks.
[This is only one of about two dozen similar lots. Who collects this stuff?]

A musical John Peel tankard by Crown Devon, and silver plated objects including a candelabra, (sic) candlesticks, goblets, etc.

A snooker cue in metal case, inscribed on a plaque, 'To Stumpie from Max and Buddy Bear'
[The mind boggles!]

Three shelves of mainly tribal wooden carvings including a wooden duck with brass and mother-of-pearl decoration, a lion, green painted octagonal lidded box with brass decoration, wicker lidded box, a tribal head, brass pot, etc.

A large mantel clock in exuberant pottery case ... c.1900

An interesting collection of bladed weapons and associated items, 19th and 20th century, comprising 7 bayonets with 4 scabbards, a commando knife with leather scabbard, the blade signed IXL, a kris, 4 other knives with 2 sheaths, 3 powder horns, a shot flask, 2 shell cases, and gun parts

A reproduction suit of armour and four dress swords
[Anyone got a castle to decorate?]

A 4-Hatch Coaster radio controlled boat named ‘Tamara’ with a digger on the deck, in white, red and grey, approximately 40″ long, on stand

A radio controlled German WWII E-Boat, scale 1:24, approximately 57″ with three motors, also a part-built submarine approximately 67″
[These two boats are a sample of about 12 similar lots!]

A lot of old skulls, antlers and horns, and a display of small tusks

Two old tool boxes and contents, a roll of barbed wire, axle supports, a saw, level, etc.
[It's the barbed wire that makes this a "must have" lot!]

An example of taxidermy, a mongoose struggling with an adder

A BMW motorbike combination, registration number E259 LOW, the sidecar possibly by Steil

01 July 2013

Word: Vespiary


A nest or colony of wasps or hornets.

From the Latin vesp, a wasp and formed by analogy with apiary.

The first use recoded by the OED was in 1817.

Weekly Photograph

My randomiser for choosing this week's photograph has fallen again on something from our break in Rye with our friend Katy (and her lovely kids) at the end of summer 2010. There's no special story about this shot; it was just a sheep grazing peacefully near Old Romney church.

Click the image for larger views on Flickr

Old Romney, Kent; 31 August 2010