Friday, February 29, 2008

Earthquakes I have known

Tuesday nights earthquake stirred vague memories of another I experienced in Derbyshire – or did I?

A helpful map in yesterdays paper confirmed my memory. Derby, 1957 – 5.3 compared to this latest 5.2, & with the epicenter an awful lot closer to home

We were in the chemistry lab at school. All the bottles – stored on open shelves in those days – rattled, but none fell. I think equilibrium was otherwise maintained

Earthquakes are quite common in South America of course. I remember 2 at home, both around midnight when I was asleep

During the first I half woke thinking that my husband must have forgotten his key. Went blearily to open the front door, stood there trying to comprehend why there was no one on the step, then went back to bed

The second also brought me half awake. For some reason I went to push an old fashioned travellers trunk against the side of my daughters bed – she was blissfully asleep. In retrospect this was really stupid – if she had been rolled out of her bed, falling on to the trunk could have caused serious injury, perhaps even breaking her back. But again, I just went blearily back to bed

I slept, oblivious, right through the most powerful one of all in Caracas in 1968. This would make a good story, were it not that serious damage & loss of life were caused to those not fortunate enough to be sleeping in a modern downtown hotel

Related post: Small earth quake in England


Dissipation trails. Something else I have learned about from Paul Simons

The opposite of contrails – the heat from the engine slices clean through a cloud, slicing it in two, or punching a hole clean through it

Havent ever noticed one, but I shall be looking now

Related post: Contrails again

The use of nothingness

I do not know anything about Lao Tzu & I have not googled him in case my illusions are destroyed

I imagine him as a very elderly man with a twinkle in his eye. Reciting his poem to an audience of wide-eyed children

En-fellow thirty staves, you have a wheel:
But the worth of the wheel derives from the hole in its hub.

Take clay: a lump of muck until it’s moulded
To the hollow worth of a pot or a water tub

The walled space of a house gains yet more worth
When pierced with windows & an opening door:

Useful as are the things we know we use,
The use of nothingness is worth yet more

Lao Tzu (6th century BCE) translated by Graeme Wilson

Related posts: The space between the words Another number next to zero

The story of a subprime mortgagor

How long have you had this house, Sis Williams?

… Fo' nigh on forty years, even sence Cudge an' me come here from Montgomery. An' I been washin' fo' white folks ever' week de Lawd sent sence I been here, too.

Bought this house washin', and made as many payments myself as Cudge come near; an' raised ma chillens washin'; an' when Cudge taken sick an' laid on his back for mo'n a year, I taken care o' him washin'; an' when he died, paid de funeral bill washin', cause he ain't belonged to no lodge.

Sent Tempy through de high school and edicated Annjee till she marry that ornery pup of a Jimboy, an Harriet till she left home.

Yes, sir. Washin', an'here I is with me arms still in de tub!

Langston Hughes. Not Without Laughter

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Heart disease in younger men: is it on the up?

Headlines this week claim that heart disease is on the rise among men aged between 35 and 44

Before I get too alarmed about what this says about modern lifestyles I would want to take a closer look at the figures to make sure they are not just reflecting what happened to birth rates 40-odd years ago

Other things being equal, I would expect a 44 year old to have more heart trouble than a 35 year old

So if the 2008 class of “35-44 year olds” consists, relatively, of more 44 year olds & fewer 35 year olds than the comparable group last year, or 2 or 5 years ago, I would expect the rate of heart disease to show a rise, even though the rate for each individual year of age had not changed

Because of what happened to birth rates in the 1960s, I would expect to see exactly this pattern. In England & Wales we went from 811,000 births in 1961 to 876 thousand in 1964, then quickly down to under 800 thousand a year by the end of the decade

Related posts: Nationalising childbirth Doom & gloom on the buses


Few things can get me more cross than the, often unspoken, assumption that creativity equals the Arts. That to encourage creativity in children they should be set to writing poems (only). Or to read novels (only) to stimulate their imaginations. It can still make me quite angry and/or upset that there were no commonly available groups, magazines or clubs – not even Girl Guide badges – for children – especially perhaps not girls – who were interested in the magic of number or mathematics. That we could go through 13 years of education without being introduced to any mathematics that was not already known in the 18th century


Hermann Helmholtz said the problem facing
The scientist is this:
Reduce a creek, a kiss,
A flaming coal from this random tracing

To some irreducible final text
Dancing to the air
Of the inverse square,
And we are left with a question: what next?

But there is also another layer
Above, beyond, below
The last answer we know
The scientist & poet shape their prayer

With Newton & Frost, who searched for order
Instead of answers & found
Such grace in number & sound

They glorify the spell of light on water

Peter Meinke

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The marriage has been arranged

Moving interview with Sathnam Sanghera & extract from his newly published book in The Times

I look forward to being able to read the whole story. The insights I most hope to gain are into how a boy who, on any concerned tick box analysis would have been predicted to fail (non-English speaking, barely educated immigrant family, madness, domestic violence, poverty) took an otherwise conventional route to a Cambridge degree & a career on the Financial Times

It is dispiriting that the book is being touted as a misery memoir, about arranged marriage, even if this is the view taken by the author himself

When I was 19 & in a not dissimilar position myself – re a contemplated marriage which might make my parents unhappy I mean, none of the other details - I was lucky enough to be able to consult a fellow student, without incurring the expenses of a life coach. Since he was older (at least 25) with an unbelievably exotic & sophisticated family, I trusted him to be able to use his experience of the world to give me good advice

He did. It boiled down to
· You have an absolute right to marry whomsoever you choose
· You have no right to expect your parents to be pleased about your choice – they have a right to their own opinions too
· In any case, why presume to know what their reaction would be? They might think it a desirable match
· Although the most probable outcome was that they would offer their support because their love outweighed any reservations they might have, I must be prepared to face the possibility of rejection

I chose my adviser well

It was also the beginning, for me, of the realization that romantic love can never be used as a justification for absolutely anything. Every marriage (& its dissolution) affects others deeply too

I obviously do not know until I read the book – maybe not even then – how much Sathnams mother really clings to the idea of an arranged marriage. I wonder if he has ever considered the possibility that perhaps she just wants him to be married – because it would be good for him - & has been trying to help in the only way she knows? That she might have been delighted to be introduced to the girl of his dreams?

One further point. I am very glad to see further evidence that men find arranged marriage hard too, coming as it does soon after we learned that a considerable proportion of those who seek help from the governments forced marriage unit are young men

For too long this has been lazily regarded as a womens issue, as if we really believed that since men have their minds on only one thing, any wife will do


This is such a piercing poem of alone-liness. Makes you count your blessings

The way that between your fingers the soap shoots
In the bath, so her Spode cocoa-mug went
Arcing across the kitchen, landing in
The stone sink with a crash like armament

So she stands staring down at a thousand pieces
Of what she had been drinking from for years
After her mother died, whose it had been.
Apparently it’s an occasion for tears

For shocked she finds that hot stuff freely pouring
In weirs over her flushing cheeks: it is
All out of proportion, she knows this even
As it is happening: no excuse for this

While the desert creeps & the needed tears of the sky
Don’t fall at all & the babies die: no reason
For such precipitation over a mere
Mug, onset of such a rainy season.

But then she sees that the true cause she is weeping
Is simply this: that she’s nothing to cry about,
No one she loves who can die, no one she loves
Who can shout at her in the bedroom & storm out,

And that is why she stands there blinded & shaking
A big grown woman of nearly forty-five
Pouring out her hearts-blood over chippings, mourning
The stark unweepability of her life

Hilary Corke

Related post: Loneliness

Small earth quake in England

Thank heavens for Radio5

I was just thinking of turning off the light to sleep when the bed - or I - started to vibrate. A sudden marked upward heave, door & window frames rattling, & it was all over

It could not be, thankfully, the house or any nearby structure which was collapsing – no sound of tumbling masonry

Bizarrely, I wondered if there could be a badger in the house

An animal could have got in when the back door blew open earlier in the evening. Perhaps curled up for a snooze, then woken & tried to get out. No cat could have made the house shake like that, & badgers have been in the news this week. But the nearest place there could conceivably be a sett is in the copse at the top of the hill at the back of the house. Its too far, & how could they get over the wall?

I went to investigate, could see no signs of anything untoward

Back to bed, only fairly sure not to sleep, I felt, until a proper inspection could be undertaken in daylight

But live interactive bedside radio really comes into its own in a situation like this. It was actually a relief to hear that people all over the country had had the same experience, could simultaneously sigh Its not just me

And intriguing that the first technical confirmation of what had happened came in a live interview with a very nice sounding man at the US Geological service. The BBC were, apparently, unable to raise UK experts in the middle of the night


Very odd winds we have been having for the last week. Almost strong enough at times to knock you off your feet, but in very short lived bursts

But low to the ground. The tops of the trees not moving particularly, but I have had to anchor myself once or twice & yesterday I saw a granma anxiously sheltering two toddlers with her own body

No clouds scudding – none to scud anyway, after dark. Coming pretty directly from the west. Not as noisy as you would expect from its strength

More like spring zephyrs, with unusual strength. Darkness, rather than light zipping around

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Smoking saints & sinners

I was quite pleased to notice that the Chief Executive of Lloyds TSB, who has earned high marks for keeping his bank well away from some of the recent follies, is a chain smoker. Simply because that shows we are not all just sad useless losers

No doubt alcohol, tobacco & so forth are things a saint must avoid, but …. Many people genuinely do not wish to be saints, & it is probable that some who achieve or aspire to sainthood have never felt much temptation to be human beings - George Orwell

You will die for my beliefs

I came across this savage poem by Simon Rae going through a Common Place book for 1991/2.

The title is All Purpose Late Twentieth Century Creed

It has even more force in the twenty first century

I believe in my beliefs.
Its my belief that my beliefs
Are truer far than your beliefs
And I believe that your beliefs
Are threatening to my beliefs,
So I’m defending my beliefs
And all who hold the same beliefs
Against your dangerous beliefs
And who share your false beliefs
Or what I think are your beliefs.
And I will die for my beliefs;
And you will die for my beliefs.

And what, in fact, are my beliefs
Beyond the complicating reefs
Of tedious theology
And arid ideology?
The usual: a divine Creator,
Whose love rings earth like the Equator;
Justice & the Rule of Law
(And giving hand-outs to the poor);
Respect, of course, for Mother Nature,
Care for every living creature;
And that in the pursuit of Peace
All wars (excepting mine) should cease

The Joy of cricket

Simon Barnes’ somewhat lugubrious take on the point of sport, its highs & lows, joys & pains, can get a tad tedious at times

But he is always worth reading

Especially for gems like yesterdays

He compares 20/20 cricket to Lady Chatterleys Lover & ends:

But I ask myself: is this a game you would want your wife or your servants to watch?

That made me laugh out loud

Monday, February 25, 2008

hedgehog cartoons

Click on images to enlarge

Related post: A hedgehog writes

String theory

If ‘the world’ is like a ball of tangled string, & infinite, then no theory or system is ‘true’ in the sense that it applies throughout the system (that is the system made up of humans & animals, & time & things, & their inter-relations, as well as the rest of the universe). There are infinitely many perspectives, infinitely many directions, including those for time

‘Truth’ in our limited sense is something that explains a puzzle, straightens out an infinitesimally small bit of the tangle – and may cause another tangle somewhere else in the already tangled mass (from VI 16 1991)

Related post: The Universe as a bundle of thrums

Uncles advice

God? Come-come, dear boy,
You’ll have to change your stance.
Believe in something real -
Like History, or Chance

Richard Kell

I also like the last verse of a poem of his called This be the Converse (after Larkin). Its first line is They buck you up, your mum & dad:

Life is no continental shelf:
It lifts & falls as mountains do.
So, if you have some kids yourself,
They could reach higher ground than you

Bad laws drive out good

On Saturday I read that the Schools Minister has conceded that some young people will not face formal enforcement action if they fail to comply with the coming law on staying in education until the age of 18. It is not clear who will decide on these exemptions, or if there will be any formal method of appeal

Today we hear that the government also intends to make it compulsory for all new houses to be suitable for older people, by for example the provision of ground floor loos & shower rooms & turning space for wheel chairs. Again, it is not clear how these provisions are to be enforced & who will decide on exemptions, if any. Any protest from say, me, that this will have perverse effects will be shrugged off, or lead to accusations that I am not in favour of making it easier for the elderly to stay in their own homes.

Round this part of the world it will mean living in a 3-storey terrace house on a cramped brown field site because we cannot afford to build on any of the tiny green bits left in our overcrowded island. And half the ground floor will already be taken up with a garage so that at least one of our family cars does not have to be parked on the street. A ground floor lavatory will not be much use when I am marooned on an upper floor

Matthew Parris wrote a very good column about this sort of thing, which he calls declaratory law making, which Ministers & politicians themselves then work to subvert. An example was the Act to reform party funding which was then undermined by Labour through the use of loans

Matthew Parris fears that this leads ultimately to a general cynicism about the potency of politics itself

I think it is worse than that. It is a kind of corruption even worse than financial shenanigans

It is as if those elected think that power is just a toy. They get to play dressing up games with their Wouldn’t it be nice if everybody…. fantasies & the full panoply of the law. They believe everything the salesman tells them about the miracles of modern technological databases, just like little boys use to believe the Scalextric ads on tv

Whether they intend simply not to enforce, or actively to subvert them, their Acts of Parliament exist as laws of the land. These may well be enforced, by existing functionaries who fail to use their common sense, or by future governments

They will in either case be observed by the law abiding (assuming they know about them, that the marketing message has got through) at what may be considerable inconvenience, nuisance or cost or even misery to themselves

More forms, more tick boxes, more targets

Politicians are not there to play games with our lives

Related posts: Tony Blairs black day
Pomp & cavalcades

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Use both sides of the paper

Sainsburys have started to print their receipts on both sides of the till roll. Very clever & very green

But is the technology clever enough to judge when it has got half way down a whole trolley full of food? Or is it just the Reward points which go on the back?

Intelligence community

I had dimly been aware that one of our cuddly new communities is The Intelligence Community

I Googled the term to get some idea of its use

Goodness me! Its official! With whizzy web sites

In the 1960s I used to enjoy William Haggards crime novels – much truer, so reviewers assured us, to the real world of espionage than James Bond

I look forward to happy hours of reading these web sites. I have already sampled, as a taster, the story of the CIA cook

I am not sure Colonel Russell would have approved

Links: Culinary Delights Soar to New Heights at CIA Thanks to Head Chef
The Culinary Institute of America

Related post: Limiting the spread of democracy

Being helpful

Writing about what is interesting to doctors reminded me of the old Civil Service language

PC – pre (Alastair) Campbell

To be told that your contribution was helpful was to receive very high praise indeed. Gold Star

You chortled to hear someone thanked for their interesting contribution

It usually meant completely barking

Interesting cases

Max Pemberton, in his Trust Me, I’m a (Junior) Doctor tells the story of an inappropriately enthusiastic consultant who expressed his delight – in the patients hearing – that his diagnosis of a rare tumour had been confirmed by the test results. He walked off, rubbing his hands with glee, without telling the patient that his tumour was entirely benign & easily treated

It is an unfortunately common complaint of patients that doctors do not seem really interested in their problems

The tragedy is that, when they are, it is often not Good News


The joy of eating

I was going to do a rant on how official advice on food, diet & nutrition is couched these days in boring numbers, counting rules, league tables of healthiness

Food is meant to be delicious, a pleasure, something to be shared

To evoke memories of childhood

To vary with the seasons

To act as a kind of social glue

Then I realized how difficult it is to have a public discussion of food in these terms

It goes way beyond mere political correctness. One treads a minefield. Risks involvement in all kinds of cultural, moral, political stand-offs

Religious sensitivities – some as unexpected as alcohol in crisps

All sorts of new, liberal secular moralities. Animal cruelty, food miles, fair trade

Even the re-emergence of the class war

What is Tescos for?
To keep the hoi polloi out of Waitrose

Friday, February 22, 2008

A mans pride in his wife

Mens pride in their wives can be a very touching to witness

It can also be dangerous – a mask for a deep-rooted emotional sense of possession & ownership

A man will say My wife. A woman does not emphasise the possessive in that away but says My husband, often with a slightly interrogative inflexion

Put your left leg out

How do you know which is your left leg?

Well, obviously, you learned at a very early age that that is the proper name for that bit of your anatomy

But if you close your eyes, how do you feel, (without touching) or know where your left leg is?

For reasons which I shall go on to explain, I think it is because you always know where your big toes are

If we assume that the you who knows this is located somewhere in your brain there must be some kind of messaging, circuit system which constantly lets you know AOK! We are still here

The importance of the question

A logic in which the answers are attended to & the questions neglected is a false logic … you cannot find out what a man means by simply studying his spoken or written statements, even though he has spoken or written with perfect command of the language & perfectly truthful intentions.

In order to find out his meaning you must also know what the question was (a question in his own mind & presumed by him to be in yours)

RG Collingwood

It is also important to know how the media can turn this neatly around & leave us believing that the question an interviewee is answering is one which sprang, unprompted, from his own mind & not one which has just been put to him by the journalist

Related post: Exams 2: Ask a simple question

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cool it, Daddy-O!

Young people will not stop binge drinking because of adult hand wringing

Especially when the silly old things give every impression that they truly believe that you can go into Tesco & emerge with a can of strong lager for 22p

Only very sad old people buy that weak & watery value stuff which tastes of you-know-what. In packs of 4

Young people might stop bingeing when appearing, in public & on world wide tv, in the same state as did, reportedly, the celebrity presenters of the Brit awards, starts to appear every bit as uncool as if they had all been doing it wearing flared jeans, fair isle tank tops & mullet hairdos with tasteful blond highlights

Doom & gloom on the buses

Yesterday evening I learned of another quirk in the way that the current rules for free bus travel work in this neck of the woods

Around here if your trip either starts or finishes in your county, then it is free. This is the result of voluntary agreements between the bus companies & the councils & goes further than what is prescribed by law. The county in which you live pays the costs of your journeys

My most common bus ride takes me from Derbyshire, across Cheshire & into Stockport. The whole journey is free unless I want to break my journey in Cheshire to shop or visit the hospital. If I then want to continue to Stockport, I have to pay for that bit

The lady who got on the bus immediately behind me last night in Stockport wanted to make the same trip into Derbyshire, but she had a Cheshire pass, so she asked the driver how much she needed to pay to cover the final leg.

The driver explained that she would have to pay nothing. Technically, she would need to get off the bus at the Cheshire border, then get back on again to start a new journey. But no need to worry about that, just stay seated & the driver would deal with the ticketing

Everything changes in April when bus travel for the elderly will be free wherever your journey starts or ends. Very nice. Thank you very much. Only what they have had in London for years. Even Mick Jagger is entitled to a free bus pass

I understand though that the Government has also laid down national rules about which council pays for which journey. It is possible, for instance, that Stockport Council will have to pay for my bus rides home

I am recounting these details, not because I expect people to be interested or to think they matter to anyone under 60

The awful thing though is that I think they may cause everybody a great deal of trouble

Not only is entitlement to free travel being expanded in the same year that record numbers of people will qualify by celebrating their 60th birthday, but the rules determining who pays must make it extremely difficult to predict where the costs will fall. Thus playing havoc with the cash flows & financing of bus companies & councils

Coming on top of the serious problem of financing equal pay for male & female local government employees, I will not be surprised if we are in for the biggest crisis in local government finance since the Poll tax

Related post: Nationalising childbirth


There was an interesting Moral Maze last night. Usually I find the programme unlistenable to, generating far more heat & shouting than light. This time the contributors were interesting & for the most part showed great restraint.

Nigel Hawkes also wrote a very helpful piece in yesterdays Times, which presented the evidence which ought really to make the press understand that their reporting does contribute to the spread of a suicide cluster, & therefore that they really should exercise restraint in their coverage

The Moral Maze discussions were largely focused on the question of whether life is always worth living. Turning the question round – Is life worth ending? – gives a different slant & brings in the hard question of method

It is one thing to have an over-romanticised teenage fantasy about death by firing squad, quite another to imagine, confidently, how one might bring it about by direct action oneself. This is part of the reason why 'copycats' are important - someone has proved that the method works

Methods depend heavily on what is available of course & vary over time & place. Swallowing paraquat & self immolation have figured in previous outbreaks which I remember

It struck me that hanging is not mentioned by either Langston Hughes or Dorothy Parker in their mid-20th century American ditties on the subject, but I was wrong in the latter case.

Related posts: De mortuis
Dulce et decorum
Christina Rossetti

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Dusty file sits on Whitehall desk

The journalist who broke the story about yet another lost disc, allegedly, is just like one of the worst kind of old fashioned malicious gossips. The one who takes pleasure in others misfortunes & always thinks the worst, knows more than you know yourself about your own business. In the end all the neighbours hate her & are on the miscreants side

Trying to pick out the facts, as far as possible, from confused accounts, somebody in the Netherlands sent sets of genetic fingerprints on a disc to the Attorney General, who passed it to the Crown Prosecution Service. There it sat until it was passed to National Policing Improvement Agency, the body responsible for the DNA database. NPIA then told Home Office Ministers that CPS had been sitting on the file for a year

Had the Dutch ever queried when they might expect to receive the results of their enquiries?

Why did the police snitch on the Prosecutors?

Do journalists really believe that this is another data loss story, or are they just so determined to shoehorn every last event into their latest ‘narrative’ that they will treat the rest of us like idiots?

Would anyone think this a story if it involved that old cliché of files which sit gathering dust while pin striped mandarins sit drinking their tea

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


I put that word in the title because it is one of the few technical terms in statistics which does not have meaning in everyday language.

I have always felt that statistics (& statisticians) suffer such a poor public image because, in part at least, their words do not mean what everybody thinks they mean

In the theory & practice of statistics:

Average does not mean most

Error does not mean you did your sums wrong

A random sample is not one drawn from any group of people or objects who happen to be conveniently to hand

And significant does not mean big, important, or even noteworthy

Related posts:

Seasonal flu

Anyone who has contact with a university will be familiar with the scourge of Fresher flu - the outbreak of coughs, colds & snuffles which follows exposure to a contagious cocktail of germs from all over the country which the new students bring with them along with their fresh faced eagerness to learn

Now that I am a lady of leisure I recognise a similar seasonal epidemic

Half term flu

This attacks in particular the elderly who are exposed to an alien cocktail of underage germs which are suddenly released into the community at the same time as their strength & resistance are diminished by their sudden inability to find a seat, not just on the trains or buses but in any public place. All seats are occupied by young people sprawling everywhere.

I know it is not their fault. They are just programmed to do that by the adolescent brain.

And have you noticed how half term is even worse now that even 3 year olds have to pack their leisure travel into the school holiday breaks?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Wrapping up warm

This poem by John Mole is such a poignant evocation of childhood. Especially in these days of heated bedrooms & global warming. I cannot remember the last time I saw an icicle hanging from the eaves

And, as a Raynauds sufferer, I wish I could find again my 10-year old package of heat

Warmth was an art
When I challenged the cold
To a jumping start
At 10 years old,

When an icicle-chime
On the breath-filled air
Struck Christmas time
And I was there

With a slip & a slide
And a skipping beat
Wrapped up inside
My package of heat

Which is still the gift
I remember best

The real problem with ready meals?

One of the drawbacks of the proposed traffic light system for food labelling is that it has trouble distinguishing between ingredients & prepared products or meals

So Marmite (too salty) & cheese (too fatty) are bad

But apparently OK if purchased already mixed with, say, wholewheat spaghetti, sprouts & orange segments as part of an unimaginably disgusting ready meal

About 5 years ago now I slipped, for a while, into the habit of living mainly off ready meals, for the usual reasons – busy, too tired to cook

As it happened I was also keeping my own databases of nutritional & ingredient info from the back of the packs, so I had at least a general idea of what I was eating. There did not seem to be much that was objectionable, apart from hydrogenated fats. The additives, for the most part, especially in ‘superior’ brands, did not seem so very different from the kinds of thickening or raising agents I would use in home cooking

One thing I did learn is how often all the major brands & supermarkets change the recipe for standards such as spaghetti carbonara. I imagine this has more to do with reasons of cost & supply, rather than a constant striving for improvement

What really puzzled me about this diet was that I rarely felt well fed, in the simple sense of satisfied or full. Even when I took to buying, say, a near-500 gramme spag bol said to be enough for 2

It is difficult to make direct comparisons, but 1lb raw weight of spaghetti, mince, tomatoes & onion would be more than I could eat in a sitting

My curiosity was really aroused when tubs of mashed potato became popular

Mashed potato is one of my favourite comfort foods. Simple to make, yes, but the pan & the plate are a pain to wash, so I took to these tubs eagerly

Same problem. I just did not feel full. True, the texture was more wet & gloopy than I would make for myself, but there were no declared additives in any of the brands I tried

So unless there is some loophole in the regulations which allows (even encourages) a company so careful of its reputation as say, M&S, to get away with not declaring a particular additive, this could not be the explanation

I am left with the thought that it must be something to do with the texture of the food

Something in the cook → chill → pack → transport → reheat process destroys whatever it is that presses my FULL UP button

I have only a 50-year old GCE O level biology to guide my thinking in this, but I wonder if it could be something do with cellulose?

It must be something that takes a while to have its effect. It was never apparent to me before, nor is it now, when I just use ready meals as a welcome but fairly occasional way of having something good to eat at the end of a busy day

Related post: Obesogenic lycra

Mains services

I do not think I have ever eaten in a restaurant which serves mains

Electricity, gas – yes

Water – most certainly, yes please

Dinner – no thank you

Stars within

I think we should study the stars within ourselves –

Sir Martin Evans on Desert Island Discs, on why study genetics rather than, say, cosmology

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The book of life

The will to live – to keep on living – is, at bottom, an overwhelming desire to see what will happen next

Only if it is terminally boring, or unbearably terrifying, do we close the book by act of will, or consent to having it taken away, or hand it over to someone else

Mostly, we just put the book down for a while because we have something better or more pressing to do

No, wait a minute,
I can’t be old already,
I’m just about to ------
Connie Bensley

Related post: They used to do WHAT?

Forgetting to remember

You have to remember in order to know you have forgotten

There is 1st & 2nd order memory: remembering that you do (or did) know the persons name, then remembering what it is

Or – what does flemp mean? I know that I do not know, & have never heard the word before

But I could well be embarrassed by being shown that I once used it in something I wrote. 3rd order memory?

Related posts: Known unknowns Compressing the Human Memory File

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Limiting the spread of democracy

If our Labour government is so keen to spread democracy around the world, why are they so keen to develop communities at home?

Even going so far as to give first place to Communities in the Department of Communities & Local Government

These communities are profoundly UN-democratic

Many people have no choice over which community they are assigned to

Communities hold no elections

Their leaders are self-appointed

A nice, colonial model for our leaders to treat with

Empty shelves

Is it my imagination or are some of the supermarkets reducing their stock levels of food? Putting less out on the shelves so less is left unsold at the end of the day or before the sell-by date? Now that inflation is back in food prices, tight cost control has presumably become even more important.

Or just experiencing problems of supply?

It seems to be happening with vegetables & meat in particular, but also with ready meals

Bulbs to last a lifetime

The bulb in my bedside lamp blew on Thursday. That galvanised me into thinking more about what to do about energy saving

Sainsburys had only one kind of 60-watt equivalent bayonet-fitting long life bulb on the shelf. It was a very odd elongated shape & did not look as if it would fit under any of my lampshades

So I started thinking about doing the unthinkable & stocking up on the evil planet-destroying kind

I do not think that I ever need to replace more than 4 bulbs a year. So 100 of them should be enough to see me out even with a little better than average life expectancy (mine & the bulbs). Total investment, less than £25

Now all I need to do is work out how much shelf or cupboard space they will need

It really is time to start getting rid of some of the books

Related post: Hip fracture & energy efficient light bulbs

Friday, February 15, 2008

All skies work

I love this poem by Fleur Adcock. For itself, of course, and also for all the memories it brings back. Though these days I do unfortunately tend to think first of the monstrosity that is the MI6 (or do I mean MI5?) headquarters, before moving on in my mind to look at the river


Coming out with your clutch of postcards
in a Tate Gallery bag & another clutch
of images packed into your head you pause
on the steps to look across the river

and there's a new one: light bright buildings,
a streak of brown water, and such a sky
you wonder who painted it - Constable? No:
too brilliant. Crome? No: too ecstatic -

a madly pure Pre-raphaelite sky,
perhaps, sheer blue apart from the white plumes
rushing up it (today, that is,
April. Another day would be different

but it wouldn't matter. All skies work.)
Cut to the lower right for a detail:
seagulls pecking on mud, below
two office blocks and a Georgian terrace.

Now swing to the left, and take in plane-trees
bobbled with seeds, and that brick building,
and a red bus .... Cut it off just there,
by the lamp post. Leave the scaffolding in.

That's your next one. Curious how
these outdoor pictures didn't exist
before you'd looked at the indoor pictures,
the ones on the walls. But here they are now,

marching out of their panorama
and queuing up for the viewfinder
your eye's become. You can isolate them
by holding your optic muscles still.

You can zoom in on figure studies
(that boy with the rucksack), or still lives,
abstracts, townscapes. No one made them.
The light painted them. You're in charge

of the hanging committee. Put what space
you like around the ones you fix on,
and gloat. Art multiplies itself.
Art's whatever you choose to frame.

Culture on the buses

The government has announced a new scheme to give each schoolchild 5 hours of culturally enriching experiences per week. Presumably outside of school hours, since the curriculum is already under considerable time pressure. Visits to art galleries, the theatre, concerts & music lessons have been mentioned

Such generosity will, it is hoped, help to narrow the gap between middle class & disadvantaged children

Now poor children do not, usually, live in 2-car households with parents willing & able to provide a free chauffeuring service to ferry the children to events all over the city or the county. And neither do their friends.

So much of the governments generous £15 per annum allowance will be swallowed up in bus fares

Old & young

The main difference between the old & the young is that the old have been young

And some of us can remember what that was like

A hedgehog names index: P

This is an (intermittently) on-going experimental project
No links are provided. If you want to follow any of them up, use the BLOG SEARCH box above↑

Vance Packard
Ruth Padel
Patti Page
Deborah Paige
Norman Painting

Francis Palgrave
Henry Palin
Michael Palin
Sarah Palin
Lord Palmerston

David Pannick
Mica Paris
Dorothy Parker
Matthew Parris
Eric Partridge

Coventry Patmore
Marguerite Patten
John Patterson
Jeremy Paxman

Jill Pay
Leon Payne
Sir Robert Peel
Hugh Pennington
TN Perkins

Robert Peston
Richard Peto
Venetia Phair
Michael Phelps
Prince Philip

Arlene Philips
Benjamin Philips
Ben Pimlott

Henri Poincare
Clive Ponting
Steven Poole
Frank Pope

Jonathan Porritt
Cole Porter
Dr Mark Porter
Theodore (Ted) Porter

Michael Portillo
Colin Powell
Enoch Powell
Hugh Powell
William Prest

Ben Price
Dawn Primarolo
Selwyn Pritchard
Edmund Purdom
Libby Purves

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Math & haute couture

Yet again I listened to a self-confessed innumerate radio presenter express surprise that a mathematician struggled with simple arithmetic

Can Jean-Paul Gaultier sew a fine seam?

Does Valentino sew on his own beads?

Could Christian Dior stitch a neat buttonhole

John Graunt

We still ask ourselves why women are, apparently, keener on going to the doctors than men are, & if that is the explanation for the shorter lifespan of the male.

Things have not moved (much) since John Graunt was writing 350 years ago:

VI It appearing that there were fourteen men to thirteen women, and that they die in the same proportion also, yet I have heard Physicians say that they have 2 women Patients to one man, which Assertion seems very likely, for that women have either the Green-Sickness or other like Distempers, are sick of Breedings, Abortions, Child-bearing, Sore-breasts, Whites, Obstructions, Fits of the Mother & the like.

VII Now, from this it shld follow that more women shld die than men, if the number of Burials answered in proportion to that of sicknesses, so as few more die, then if none were sick; or else that men, being more intemperate than women, die as much by reason of their Vices as women do by the Infirmity of their Sex, and consequently, more males being born then Females more also die.

Link: John Graunt's Homepage
Related post: The price of long life & happiness

Animal warmth, human coldness

Once upon a time man lived in very close proximity with all sorts of domestic animals - in the same room as the pigs for example. We have been gradually distancing ourselves, though dogs, cats, hamsters may still be considered as acceptable domestic companions

We lived with livestock partly for warmth, partly for convenience, partly out of economic necessity. Who would spend time or good money building them a house of their own? But we had no compunction about killing them for food, & eating everything but the whistle

In a cold climate a source of warmth is essential for human survival. But humans were also aware from the earliest days of the dangers of heat - not least because fever was a symptom of the most dangerous of diseases

We mostly think of humans as special beings, apart from animals. But most of us are at least a bit confused by animal rights arguments about the status of chickens & pigs.

The old suspicions about animals as a source of disease persist, but are confused with, or by, a new suspicion of 'chemicals' in our food, which are unnatural & therefore clearly more dangerous than 'natural' animal sources. At its most confused, the 'natural' (prions, e coli) become confused with the chemical & lack of ice cold hygiene

As we became wealthier & more fastidious we ate only the best bits of animals & distanced ourselves from their owners warm but messy ways. This distancing saved us from some infections at the cost of introducing new dangers such as BSE; it also posed new problems of how to dispose safely of the parts we did not wish to eat.

A bright clean supermarket selling plastic wrapped premium cuts may seem more hygienic than a bloody butchers shop with sawdust on the floor but, out of our sight, what happens behind the scenes to all that blood, bone, offal & fat which we now reject?

Was primitive vegetarianism a feature simply of warm wet countries, where the climate & soil could provide an adequately balanced vegetarian diet for humans? Or of a climate which would provide a particularly dangerous combination, the ideal circumstances in which bugs could breed, one where the combination of warmth & wetness & animals should be avoided ?

Modern hygiene is a conflicting combination of heat & cold; boiling water to kill off the bugs followed by refrigeration to keep them at bay.

The first stage - the boiling water - like the animals - is increasingly pushed into the background and hygiene is equated with cold, clean, clinical.

Global warming is our fear, not a renewed Ice Age

The pig served as an auxiliary department of sanitation right down to the 19th century, in supposedly progressive towns like New York & Manchester - Lewis Mumford

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Damned liars

The press reported yesterday that old ladies are the most likely to ‘falsely deny’ to doctors that they are smokers

Well go to the top of our stairs

Don’t seem so surprised. Of course we do

At least we stand a chance of getting away with it. Of escaping from the surgery without The Lecture (again). Unlike our poor plump sisters

We only went in about a bunion

So put that in your pipe & smoke it

Related posts: How to spend my taxes Lies, damn lies, and ?

Kenneth Kendall BBC 6 oclock news March 1962


I haven’t not seen film of 9/11 just because I no longer watch tv

I had spent the day of the attack in the archive & the library, immersed in Victorian England

In retrospect, one of the oddest things is that I had neither heard nor overheard anyone relaying or discussing the news. People just do not seem to have been discussing it in public

I had learned of the Kennedy assassination for example on a bus in the Old Kent Road when a man got on & announced it to all & sundry

On 9/11 I knew something had happened as soon as I opened the front door. In those days my idea of a burglar alarm was to leave lamps & the radio on timer switches. Radio5 was clearly in rolling news, not football, format at 8.10pm

I sat down to listen & by 8.20 was shouting at the radio Tell us what happened, not just peoples reactions, & wondering whether it was worth plugging in the tv & trying to coax a (probably green) picture out of it. But since whatever had happened was clearly in America, not the UK, I thought telly might well have reverted to normal programming & I was better off concentrating on listening

It was after 8.30 when they finally went to a news summary

As they say, the pictures are better on the radio

Though in the circumstances better is hardly the right word, I made the decision then & there that I would be able to see events more clearly if I did not put myself through that particular emotional wringer

And anyway news organisations here soon made the decision that nothing was to be gained by showing the footage over & over again, so there has not been all that much of a chance

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

TV watching

Sometimes you think you are the odd one out in something, only to find out that actually everybody else is doing it too

Not watching tv I mean

Andrew Billen has pointed to this non-habit among both performers & tv professionals

With me it began by accident when my tv went kaput about 6 months before 9/11. I was researching the market for a new one just around the time we started to hear about the digital switchover, so I thought I would leave it for a bit, until things were clearer

And I found I much preferred life without it

It does mean that I must be one of the few people in this country who never saw film of 9/11

Map reading & parcel wrapping

If men are so superior at spatial tasks & reasoning, why are they so rubbish at wrapping parcels?

Especially presents

Perhaps that requires emotional literacy as well

Accidental poetry

An accident of layout & line spacing produced this intriguing little poem down the left hand side of a letter in todays Times


HRT & respiratory infection

Could there be a link between HRT & respiratory infections?

I started taking hrt 23 years ago now, at an unusually early age following tah & bso.

During the 9 years I took it I suffered, on average, 1 or 2 quite nasty chest or sinus infections each year, bad enough to send me to the surgery for an amoxyl prescription. I had never needed such help before

Since stopping the hrt I have had no such infections, apart from one a few weeks after my last patch went into the bin

It was only quite recently that it occurred to me to wonder if there could be any causal connection between this conjunction of events

Could it be because of an effect on mucus in the respiratory tract? More of it, or thicker, or just stickier than before?

We know that mucus quality varies with the hormonal cycle. With a constant daily dose of oestrogen (other things, such as the absorption rate, being equal) this cyclical variation presumably just disappears, leaving one perhaps a permanently welcoming host to the bacteria which cause these infections

Monday, February 11, 2008

The economic effects of keeping the change

Across the whole economy ‘kept’ change must add up to quite a lot. I wonder where it shows up in the economic statistics.

If, in the expected hard times ahead, people start looking after their pennies, will the net effect of collecting your change be to keep real consumer spending up, or to make it seem even further reduced? Volume up, prices down (relatively speaking)?

Some at least of the ‘kept’ change has been ending up in the charity sector. This casts new light on my observation of the behaviour of youngsters at the McDonalds counter. And gives me a new respect for McDonalds management for diverting this particular throwaway habit to good causes

Related posts: Keep the change Recent Economic Changes

Making PMQs more interesting

The Prime Minister gave an interesting interview about his sporting passions to Eamonn Holmes on Radio 5 on Saturday

As many of those in the studio commented He really knows his sport

Especially his football. The facts & statistics – old matches, goals, results & players names – spilled out of him in a way that sometimes seemed to threaten to get out of control

It occurred to me that this could be a new tactic for him to adopt at PMQs. When he gets really fed up with David Cameron he could spout football facts instead of economic statistics. At least it would be entertaining (for some)

The Prime Minister also revealed that he had once thought of perhaps becoming a football manager, & made no secret of his admiration for Sir Alec Ferguson, hairdryer tactics & all

That is probably why he has now decided to bring to the fore the youngsters in his Cabinet

Someone commented that this early ambition made it easier to understand Browns frustration at having to sit on the bench as No2 to Tony Blair for all those years

And look what happened the last time we got a No2 to manage England at football.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Keep the change

I was in the newsagents just behind a girl who was buying a bottle of fizzy drink. Oh, just keep the (5p) change she said, dismissively, to the man behind the counter

He told me that I would be surprised at how often that kind of thing happens these days. People just cannot be bothered

Now I have what I know is close to an obsession with giving the right change, if I can, when paying by cash. This is because I hate accumulating a mass of cash in my purse – it is surprisingly heavy, & if not kept under control will eventually lead you to having to scrabble to count out £4.72 in small change because you have no note left

I have noticed how the people I am handing over the money to find it increasingly difficult to check. It is not just youngsters who struggle – people are just not fluent at it any more. A consequence of plastic & automated transactions I suppose

No wonder these machines which change coins into more manageable forms of currency are so popular. Though at 7% commission it will be a long time I think it worth saving myself the bother of counting

The language of the media

What do journalists mean when they say “It emerged that last night that …”?

Is it code for unofficially, off the record, not for attribution? Or, It arrived in an anonymous brown envelope? We had had a few drinks & I am not sure if I have got all the details right? Or, We do not really know if this is what happened but we will just run it up the flagpole & see if anyone salutes?

The other odd aspect is how shy a journalist can be about using the word I, when they are anything but shrinking violets. They use the name of their organ instead. So an article by Damian Whitworth talks of The Times following an auctioneer for a week. I assume he just means that he did it himself, although in these days maybe they used a crack team of operatives to conduct undercover surveillance

The BBC is using this trick far too much these days. Nothing is news unless it can be prefaced by The BBC has learned. I hope Dr Williams has learned too – there would not be all this hoo-ha if he had just given his lecture to the lawyers without trailing it on The World at One

The exact opposite has happened when politicians are being talked about. Then it is always Gordon Brown, never The Prime Minister

Related post: Flummery

Saturday, February 09, 2008


Beryl Bainbridge told Kirsty Young that, in the 1960s, one might well succumb to a man out of simple politeness

At the end of of the 60s a book was published with a title something like A young womans guide to manners, There were many such titles at the time but this was a success de scandale because it dealt with manners in the bedroom

The one quote which has stuck with me all these years: Many a young woman has lost her innocence at the age of 18 because she was too polite to say No

(The word in the book was not innocence but I have learned to be cautious about the words I use in a blog)

I guarantee that if you repeat that quote to a roomful of women of a certain age the response will be a collective sigh. Oh yes – I know what that feels like

The Cardinal & the Archbishop

The problems besetting Dr Rowan Williams put me in mind of the 1850s

The influx of Irish immigrants to England in the wake of the Famine placed enormous strains on the Catholic clergy, some of whom paid with their lives for their efforts in tending to the sick & destitute

They struggled on their own in the sense that, since the Reformation, there was no hierarchy of bishops to provide organisation & support

Cardinal Wiseman, the head of the Roman Catholic church in England went to Rome in 1850 to seek the permission of the Pope to establish such a hierarchy

The Cardinal’s (now Archbishop’s) choice of words to announce the agreed plan was unfortunate. It was widely interpreted to mean that the Pope was preparing to retake control in the Government of England as a whole & not just in the governance of his church & congregations

There was outrage & Parliament soon passed The Ecclesiastical Titles Act of 1851 which forbad any Roman Catholic see or bishop from bearing the same name as an existing Anglican bishopric

The mood of Anti-popery continued & contributed towards the outbreak of a riot in Stockport in June 1852 in which 1 man was killed & 100 injured. One man was eventually transported for manslaughter

The immediate cause was protest at the annual parade of Roman Catholic children (then in its twentieth year) which was deemed by some to be in breech of the Royal Proclamation against the wearing of religious vestments & the carrying of religious banners in public

In that decade there was also the continuing row over the admission of Jews as MPs (settled in 1858), & the refusal to award Oxbridge degrees to non-Anglicans. And, according at least to popular supposition at the time, the Indian Mutiny was sparked by the Army's success in offending the religious sensitivities of both Moslems & Hindus by introducing a rifle whose cartridges were greased with pig & cow fat

And yet the distinguished historian GM Young could write:

Of all decades in our history, a wise man would choose the 1850s to be young in

Friday, February 08, 2008

British arguments

A man with a very nice voice & a delicious north east (England) accent called (I think) Ibrahim, gave a very nice (in the original sense of the word) & gentle put down to Victoria Derbyshire in her radio phone-in programme this morning. She had just confessed her inability to understand a clip from the Archbishop of Canterburys lecture on the incorporation of some aspects of sharia into British law

A highly intellectual reasonable man needs some kind of an interpreter or bridge, he said, to translate his argument for those who react with emotion & fear. If someone in her position felt unable to do that, then who could?

Actually that Radio5 morning phone-in encourages me to believe that things are not nearly as bad as are sometimes made out. Large numbers of Muslims, of all shades of opinion, feel free to join in the debates, & not necessarily only on such obviously ‘Muslim’ subjects

One would think, by the reactions, that British law makes no concessions to religious authority at all. But of course it does & always has done, though not always without a bloody battle or two along the way

I got married in a Roman Catholic church. The religious ceremony had to be supplemented by a civil one to make us married in the eyes of the law as well as those of God. If the priest had not been suitably registered with the authorities then a civil registrar would have had to attend to make a properly honest woman of me

When it comes to divorce the Pope – a foreigner! - still plays a part in dissolving the bonds between Roman Catholic partners, almost as if Henry VIII had never been

Petticoat Lane market used to be world famous for being allowed to open on Sunday to accommodate the Jewish traders, despite the laws on Lords Day Observance

Even between Protestant sects there were bitter battles in the C19th. Over the right of Dissenters to have a university education, to be judges or MPs or to hold other public offices. To be free of the need to pay rates to the Church of England & to have non-sectarian state funded education for their children

I am not suggesting it will be easy, but I for one would welcome some real enlightenment about what exactly are the problems & possible compromises to be made with Sharia law

When it comes to private disputes, British citizens are free to settle them according to any rules they like, or by the decision of anyone they choose. The Law only comes into it when they can not agree, or a third party (with a legitimate interest) complains, or the state, in the person of the Crown, decides to prosecute

Related post: Known unknowns

Uppies & Downies

This is an old name for the traditional games, thought to be the forerunner of modern soccer, which were played in towns & villages throughout the country at this time of year. Between sides drawn from those who lived at the top of the hill & those who lived down below. A few still take place – there is a famous one in Derbyshire, at Ashbourne

There were few rules & the games were very rough. Often there was not even a ball. Much mayhem & injury ensued

A kind of English carnival to let off steam before Lent begins. Just about acceptable as such, but a tedious nuisance if repeated throughout the year

It strikes me that Uppies & Downies would be a good term to describe the relationship between press & politicians in this country

A pointless battle between the 2 groups who consistently come at or near the bottom of any most admired or respected poll. Incomprehensible to spectators

But, to the press at least, it really matters that they give no quarter to those they despise

The fuss over expenses provides a good example. I heard one young BBC reporter going close to the line in saying that it just was not good enough that the proposed root & branch enquiry should take 3 months. Of course, that is too long to keep even a good story going

It might help if the term for the area mostly under discussion were changed to office costs The word expenses, to a journalist, is just a nostalgic term for long boozy lunches

I think the most pertinent comment which I have seen was in a letter to The Times which pointed out that MPs were in for a shock if they have to meet, as employers, the same standards of fair recruitment with which other employers have to comply. By laws passed by those same MPs

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Manners unmakyth a woman

This lunchtime a gentleman held the door open for me as I left the library. Middle aged, middle class good manners

I did not like to point out to him that the door is an automatic one

I have never been able to understand why I should feel insulted by male courtesies. Far from expressing contempt for the weaker sex I think that, at worst, they are merely demonstrating, by having learnt to do things without having to think about them, the strength of Whiteheads quote about civilization.

Usually it is simply courtesy. Or even kindness. And who could object to kindness in a man?

Though, as one who was frequently the only, & sometimes the first ‘female’ on my little patch of the world of the work, I have to admit that trying to work out how best to update or renegotiate these etikets has presented me with some of the greatest difficulties or embarrassments, & sometimes indeed left me (usually silently) spitting nails & howling with frustrated rage

I was 22 and in the first week of my first full time non-teaching job after graduation. A secretary came to tell me that the chief wished me to go along to join him in a meeting in his room

Nervously, I knocked & opened the door. To the sound of clattering & scraping chair legs as the 5 men round the table leapt to their feet

With 5 pairs of eyes trained on me I just wanted those wooden floorboards to open up & swallow me

Nothing & nobody had prepared me for this

I had been to co-ed schools where sometimes, especially for maths or physics, I was the only girl in the class

Even at university, in those days when only a quarter of students were female, I had sometimes been the only girl in a class or tutorial group

None of the boys would ever have dreamed of greeting my arrival like this

For one wild moment I thought perhaps I should act like the Queen (graciously) or Lady Bracknell (imperiously): Gentlemen, please be seated!

I just concentrated on getting in to my own seat as quickly as possible


Related post: Crime & government

Words that go clunk or click

Every time you say or think or write a word there is a little explosion of meanings & connections inside your head

The same thing can happen when you hear or read a word, except when, going forward & outside the box, they clunk

Price update

There is a notice on the bus today PRICE UPDATE

Guess what that means

If I were an anti social teenage vandal I would have taken my biro & scratched out that DATE

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Why did I put my purse in the tea caddy?

It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case.

Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them

Alfred North Whiteheads dictum applies to individual citizens as well as civilizations

It is particularly helpful if, like me, you are chronically absent minded. Mostly just in small ways - gloves & umbrellas. More disastrously - keys & official work passes

And, since chip & pin, debit cards

The rule is to so organise things that, even when distracted, you will just put whatever it is where it is supposed to be & where you can find it again, without you having to think about it

So, only ever have one handbag on the go at once. Be blowed to having one to match each outfit

Try to remember to check new clothes - especially jackets & trousers - for good secure pockets, before you go ahead & buy them (Whoever invented the mans suit was possibly a sufferer. Or a friend of GK Chesterton)

And, please, will somebody soon standardise chip & pin machines so I do not get distracted by working out which way up it goes, the buttons are all in the right place & do not sport an F2 where one of my digits should be, and have displays which I can read, not grey-on-grey invisible unless the light is just right

Good vibrations

We are not much further towards knowing why seemingly meaningless vibrations have such an effect on our mental state

Richard Morrison on music, in a review of Oliver Sacks Musicophilia

Other facts gleaned
  • singing can help restore speech to stroke sufferers
  • rhythmic music can unlock the movements of Parkinsons sufferers

Related post: Vibrations

Teenage rebellion

When I was a young teenager the most common way in which we (knowingly) pushed the boundaries of the law involved going to the pictures

Anybody could get in to see a film Certificate U. But if you wanted to see an A-rated film you either had to be, or to be accompanied by an adult

Adult meant aged 14 or over. Along with a lot of other legal age limits I guess it had just never been adjusted in line with the raising of the school leaving age to 15

It was common practice to go to the pictures with your friends, no adults needed

One way to get into an adult film was just to hope that the lady in the box office did not challenge you when you went to buy your ticket

But the dilemma was that you then had to pay the full price. Apart from the universal instinct not to pay more than you need for anything, or just not being able to afford it, what if the lady in the box office henceforward insisted on your paying adult price every time

So the most usual tactic was to hang around outside until a suitable-looking adult came along, who would agree to buy a child ticket on your behalf. Motherly looking ladies who might sympathise with childish anxiety were a good bet, but so were grown up young men of 20 or so

All this depended on a delicate system of social control in small town 1950s England. First, parents made a judgement as to whether their child was mature enough to cope with going to the pictures with their friends. The lady in the box office no doubt made her own judgements about whether any given A film was truly unsuitable for our sensibilities. And we had to be perfectly confident that the adults we approached would, at worst, just tell us to Get away with you

It undoubtedly shocks me these days to see children on the bus on Friday evenings, so young that not even the sternest driver would demand to see the pass which proves they are entitled to pay half-fare, armed with half bottles of vodka or 2-litre bottles of strong cider.

I should be very surprised if any of them could have bought these in any of the supermarkets which I use. I suspect friendly adults must be involved, or at least children who look old enough to get away with presenting fake id

The problem is that no unrelated adult feels very confident now about showing disapproval in any way

But what on earth do the parents think about their children being hung over on Saturday morning?

This is not just a problem of disadvantaged children from the lower social classes or disadvantaged backgrounds. Think Cornwall at the beginning of the public school summer holidays

And anyway how can we expect youngsters to believe that getting drunk is not a good way to celebrate & have fun when that is what adults all around them do. They talk quite openly about how they cannot remember what happened on Saturday night

Even journalists & presenters on, for example, Radio 5 Live, talk to each other & their interviewees as if getting plastered were a normal reaction to any big match (win, lose or draw) or significant life event

Related post: Children & Social Control

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The British journalist

Humbert Wolfe (1885-1940) wrote:

… knowing as the pine trees know
that somewhere in the urgent sap there is
an everlasting answer to the snow
and a retort to the last precipice,
that, merely by climbing, the shadow is made less,
that we have some engagement with a star
only to be honoured with deaths bitterness…

He is also author of

You cannot hope
to bribe or twist
thank God! the
British journalist

But, seeing what
the man will do
unbribed, theres
no occasion to

Related post: A truly great editor looks after his staff

Murdered on duty

Belton Cobb wrote an interesting book Murdered on Duty which attempted to catalogue all murders of policemen in the hundred years which followed the passing of the 1857 Police Act

Interestingly the number of such deaths was much lower in the second 50 years than it had been in the first. Cobb suggested 2 main reasons for this. First the improvements in medical treatment & in the means of transport to hospital made for a much lower mortality rate for injured men. Secondly, the gradual understanding that the danger to police could be much reduced if they adopted conciliation or other methods of lowering the temperature when violence loomed, & the development of training in methods which meant fewer injuries to police in the first place

I was thinking about this because I heard on the radio that the lawyer for Harry Roberts had entered the debate on police monitoring of communications with prisoners

Harry Roberts was convicted of the murder by shooting of 3 policemen at Shepherds Bush in 1966. This was shortly after the suspension of all capital punishment in England. Before that, the murder of policemen was one of the categories for which the death penalty was retained under the 1957 Homicide Act, so feeling ran high

There are some (to me) mysterious legal complications over Roberts appeal for parole after 40 or so years in prison on a life sentence

Such a murder came as a very great shock in 1966, when Dixon of Dock Green gave us our television idea of a policeman – even though the original character of that name had been shot on film by Dirk Bogarde.

But the main reason I always notice press references to the case is that we were then living in Kensal Rise – not too far from the crime scene. One night we were rudely awoken at about 2 oclock one morning by the heavy sound of police boots pounding across the flat roof above our heads. They were chasing – without success - a suspect in the murder

It strikes me that an update to Cobbs tale, to cover the third 50 years of policing, would be very instructive

Creation & family history

It is said that all societies have their creation myth, or at least a myth of ancestry and origin. Thus before the coming of Christianity to Anglo Saxon England many of the kings traced their ancestry to the god Odin

It seems possible that the vast increase in the resources available for tracing our own family histories has done as much as scientific enlightenment to slacken the need to hold on to the Biblical myth of creation & the Protestant religion as an important element of notions of Britishness

Obesity & marital status

Yesterdays Times carried an obituary of someone described, right in the headline, as larger than life. In this case the obituarist clearly meant it both literally & metaphorically. Since the man died well before his time, as some would say (how do they know when is the right time for each & every individual?) it is easy to imagine that, in these days of war on the overweight, such a phrase may become taboo, even as a euphemism.

But which of us, secretly & at least for some of the time, does not wish to be described as larger than life, in the metaphorical sense of course

This reminded me of a weekend piece on the radio also about obituary euphemisms. I thus learned for the first time that there is a subtly different alternative to that discreet post mortem outing He never married

For anyone who, for a whole possible variety of personal or social reasons, found that marriage was something which they either could not, or never wished to, embark upon, the correct phrase is: He died unmarried

I wish I had known that earlier – I could have avoided some minor embarrassments

Monday, February 04, 2008

The price of long life & happiness

We know, do we not, that
  • Slim people are healthier & live longer lives than people who are fat
  • children of married parents do better than those whose parents are unmarried or are divorced

How securely do we know that people who change their status from the undesirable to the desirable achieve the expected benefits? Or vice versa. Particularly if these changes are externally enforced

Consider the following:

In this country female mortality is lower than male mortality at every age. Women live longer than men. The state of being a man carries a higher relative risk of death

Would a man live longer if he had a sex change operation? Or hormone treatment? Or had his Y chromosome swapped for an X?

And if he did, would it be worth it?

Related post: HRT for 15 year-olds

Just leave it all to Tony

I am absolutely passionate about this. I believe that the Middle East is a region in transition … It can go one of two places. One is where the economy becomes the cutting edge of globalisation …. Or it becomes a region dominated by … a wrong headed view of Islam … I keep saying we need a clever strategy …. One thing I do do, & I get criticised for it, is to state the Israeli view from time to time ….

I am completely in favour of Europe because I think that it is the future for Great Britain & all the countries of Europe

Quotes from interviews with Tony Blair published in Saturdays Times

So not to worry. He will sort out the Middle East before the next American President is inaugurated, when he will be free to graciously accept the European presidency . How very fitting that he should be relieved of all necessity of answering to an electorate or to parliament

This I (the one writing here) thinks that T Blair is a nutter, not because he 'does' religion (some of my best friends …) but because he seems to believe that, when he finally meets his maker to account for his actions, it will be the ultimate summit

Just the two of them

Comparing the scars on their backs

the one thing that John Prescott could get cabinet agreement to was that they should leave it to Tony - Lord Butler

Dr Bowdlers Catch-22

When I tried to check out the film Lolita I found that all web pages with that name in the search string are barred. I could not gain access by clicking through, for example, the Internet Movie Database, never mind via a keyword in the Google search box

So how is anyone supposed to check on what offence they might cause by this, or any other name, if they do not already know?

Perhaps they could take a leaf out of the Thames Water Authority book. When they finally got the power to send out their own water bills (they used to come with the council rates) they hired a retired merchant seaman. His job was to check that no alpha-numeric customer id number contained a string of 4 letters which might cause inadvertent offence to a cosmopolitan population

Not that I am suggesting that merchant seamen are especially qualified to identify words which might offend in this context, but I can think of other candidates

Stop press: I typed this in Word originally. The Microsoft spellchecker did not recognise the word Google

Saturday, February 02, 2008

A bed of sorrows

I do not know whether to laugh & cheer, or yawn over the fuss about the Woolworths Lolita bed

Consolation for the judge who asked Who are the Beatles

And for me, who did not know who they were talking about when they said Heath Ledger had died

And for those who are surprised that Katie Melua has to explain who Mary Pickford was

What everybody knows changes with the generations

I do not see why anyone under the age of 50 should flinch at the name Lolita. Unless they have a degree in English literature or in film studies

When did Nabokov last figure in the best seller lists?

The Jeremy Irons film sank without trace. Only those old enough to remember James Mason & the heart-shaped sunglasses will automatically think of undesirable meanings in the name

The bed in question is hardly something you would see in a boudoir. It is workmanlike & incorporates a desk. So it is just the name which offends some

My copy of Chambers (1993 edition) gives Lolita as a diminutive of Dolores

Sorrows indeed for Woollies

Thomas Bowdler has shewn the truth of the old saw, that the nicest person has the nastiest ideas, & has omitted many phrases as containing indelicacies which we cannot see

Contemporary review of The Family Shakespeare

Submarine clouds

The skies have been magnificent this week - at least when I was safe & warm & looking at them from the bus

Great submarines or barrage balloons floating stately in the sky. Some black, some grey, some white. One, anchored above the Cheshire Plain, lit up in glorious silver by the sun. I swear it was more than a mile long. Harried by smaller, angrier, faster moving, wispier waspish ones

Link: Submarine clouds in the sky

troubles in government

I shall not be publishing this post - at least for now - & I am wondering about my motive. If I do not want to say it in public, why not just not write it at all?

I think I want a record of this thought in case it may turn out to be interesting (to me) at some future date to check when it was that I first had it

On January 23 there was a rather low key announcement that the Prime Minister had appointed the first ever Permanent Secretary in his office - Jeremy Haywood, a seriously heavyweight civil servant. This follows closely on the appointment of Stephen Carter as strategy adviser - another who could not be said to fall into the category of party political adviser

This struck me as slightly odd but I thought no more about it until Westminster Hour on Sunday

That discussion made me realise that the disarray in Downing Street has been serious & that emergency action has been taken, almost whether Gordon Brown liked it or not

Published 1 May 2009

Friday, February 01, 2008

Previously in Favourite Quotations

The past is the only dead thing that smells sweet - Edward Thomas

And surely, he that hath taken the true altitude of things, and rightly calculated the degenerate state of this age, is not like to envy those that shall live in the next, much less three or four hundred years hence, when no man can comfortably imagine what face this world will carry - Sir Thomas Browne 1605-82

Public sentiment, not the law, determines the quality of life of those who dare to live a bit differently - Matthew Syed

Godot is waiting for you - Francis Cesare

Wicked men should look older - Patricia Beer

Any living cell carries with it the experiences of a billion years of experimentation by its ancestors - Max Delbruck

The brain is encased in silence & in darkness - David Eagleman

Surely thy body is thy mind - Robert Bridges

A scientist makes science the pivot of his emotional life, in order to find in this way the peace & security which he cannot find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience -Albert Einstein

... the heart/ May be in peace & ready to partake/ Of the slow pleasure spring would wish to hurry -Elizabeth Jennings

That inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude - William Wordsworth

The words are like a poem. They speak for themselves - Jean Claude Trichet

There are no foreign lands; it is the traveller only that is foreign - Robert Louis Stevenson

Cary Grant made men seem like a good idea -Graham McCann

It is, of course, one of lifes persistent disappointments that a great moral crisis in my life is nothing but matter for gossip in yours - Phyllis Rose

If a historian is not in some sense a revisionist then she must be a plagiarist -Stephen Howe

Nous n’irions plus aux bois
Les lauriers sont coupés - Théodore de Banville

Marx talks a lot of sense, until he doesnt - Jeanette Winterson

Our destiny lies in our endocrine glands - Albert Einstein

If marital stability is a goal for children (as I am sure it is), then why have so many people reared in stable households been unable to repeat that stability in their own lives? - Mark Berelowitz

My room in London was on the ground floor & the daylight reached it in sadly damaged condition – Henry James

Compromise is only the beginning of a new argument - Lancelot Hogben

The cat has a diapason of sounds – Harry Elmer Barnes

Writers must write. They do not however have to publish – Victoria Glendinning

Change is seldom enjoyed by the aging, whether they be individuals or nations - Langston Hughes

Previously in Favourite Quotations
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