Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Not just a technical difference

Ireland is one country which still pays attention to the difference between GDP & GNP.

Irish GDP grew in the first quarter of this year for the first time since the last quarter of 2007.

The rise was a very respectable 2.7%, but this is largely attributed to healthy profits of multinational companies (up by €2 billion in a year). In terms of GNP (the income which stayed with Irish residents), the picture shows a continuing decline.

Related post
Income or product

Ronnie Ronalde

Blow me down – Ronnie Ronalde is still alive, living in Australia & still performing at the age of 87.
You do not hear many people whistling these days, but in my childhood lots of men took pride in their ability to whistle a really good tune, no doubt under the influence of stars like Ronnie Ronalde. Of course, even if they did whistle in the street, nobody would know; they either couldn't hear, above the noise of the traffic, or would not be listening, isolated in their own i pod world.

Related post

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Previously in favourite quotations (11)

I strive to be brief & become obscure - Horace

Great men are often tardy with their truths - Elizabeth Jennings

Thoughts are real. Even thoughts of unreal things - Erica Wagner

The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it isn’t utterly absurd. Indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible - Bertrand Russell

Start from apparently self-evident premises, argue with impeccable logic, reach an unacceptable conclusion, - & beat a hasty retreat - Isaiah Berlin on English empiricism.

Making small, almost justifiable smoothing adjustments to the numbers can easily become a slippery slope to a large deliberate fraud - Patrick Hosking

In 1855 Mr Thomas Blackwell of Crosse & Blackwell explained to a Select Committee that his firm had recently given up the habit of coppering pickles & fruits & artificially colouring sauces, despite consumers initially being disgruntled to discover that pickles were actually brown not green & that anchovies were not naturally a nice bright red - Kathryn Hughes

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change - Charles Darwin

A Hedgehog Names Index: N

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↑

In order to find all references it is probably best to use surname only in the search.

Rafael Nadal
VS Naipaul
Dadabhai Naoroji
General Napier

Napoleon Bonaparte
Martin Narey
Thomas Nashe
James Naughtie

Joseph Needham
W Neilson
Pablo Neruda
Mick Neville

Cardinal Newman
Isaac Newton

Peter Nieswand
Florence Nightingale
Richard Nixon

Daniel Noble
Monty Norman
Alfred North Whitehead
Lily Norwood
Henri Nouwen

David Nutt

Monday, June 28, 2010

Separate or equal?

On Saturday I saw what is, for me, a first: a man taking a little girl into the men’s toilets. Well it was in McDonalds & she was the middle of his three small children, the eldest of whom was no more than seven years old, & the family were all going in together, but still it was good to see that not everybody is completely paranoid about things these days.

I first saw a man with a child in the ladies toilets way back in the 1970s, but that was a baby needing a nappy change, the only facilities were in the ladies & he was a young Canadian backpacker in Luxembourg, so a bit exotic anyway.

Over at least the last two decades it has been normal to see boys, even as old as ten, in the ladies toilets, since people started to get nervous about sending them in to the gents on their own. I always wonder how the boys feel about this, and at what age they start to rebel, as I assume they must.

We do not, generally, have single sex toilets in private houses & in many ways there is no reason why there should not be unisex toilets in semi-public places such as offices – at least so I used to argue when I worked in a tall building which had the ladies & gents on alternate floors. OK if your office was on the ‘right’ floor, but a pain if you had to go all the way down a flight of stairs & then back up again. It also got you disapproving looks, & sometimes audibly disapproving comments if you had to use the lift, from those who fail to appreciate that not all disabilities are visibly obvious.

And, as a colleague was fond of saying, women will always be at a disadvantage until there are unisex loos in the workplace because the men are wont to use the need for a loo break as a sneaky way of going off to agree their own conclusions to a meeting.

Separate loos may also be unfair to women if not enough of them are provided. But what is fair? Is it equality of provision in terms of equal numbers? This was the subject of a nicely judged conversation on More Or Less this week between Tim Harford & John Banzhaf. The isues which need to be considered & argued over - of how to define fairness, unfairness & discrimination between groups - apply equally to all other areas of service provision, even to equal pay, since they are in part biologically & in part socially determined.

Mind you Robert Crampton recently reported that at least in some of the trendier pubs in London young women are taking it upon themselves to correct any imbalance in provision by simply going in to the men’s room if the queue for the ladies is too long.


Jane & Prudence

I have just started to make acquaintance with the novels of Barbara Pym. I had not realised what a wicked sense of humour she had, but even so it is no wonder we had a women’s liberation movement when you consider the lives of her typical heroine – an Oxford graduate in mid twentieth century England.

I was amused by the fact that more than one character in Jane & Prudence makes subversive reference to John Donne’s new found America.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Back to the House

David Laws was in the House of Commons for the emergency budget.

Gordon Brown has been spotted there too, but only two days after the Budget



A lovely picture in the paper of a baby penguin with its parent at Edinburgh zoo.

But it was the name which really grabbed my attention – gentoo.

The OED suggests it may (how?) have come originally from a word used to describe some of the inhabitants of India, first recorded in 1638, albeit with a different spelling: Three hundred slaves whom the Persians bought in India; Parsees, Jentews ... and others.

Shows how tricky etymology can be – that spelling seems to suggest a connection with Jews, but the etymology is the same as that of gentile.

And why on earth is its proper scientific name Pygoscelis papua? The only origin I can find for papua is 'A native or inhabitant of Papua; also formerly an Australian Aborigine' areas where I believe penguins are unknown.


A Hedgehog Names Index: Mac Mc

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↑

In order to find all references it is probably best to use surname only in the search.

Ellen MacArthur
Lord Macaulay
Sir Ken Macdonald
Ben Macintyre

Andrew MacKay
Harold Macmillan
Louis MacNeice
Iain MacSween

Ed McBain
Damien McBride
John McCain
Graham McCann
Mary McCarthy

Val McDermid
Melanie McDonagh
Joe McElderry
Stryker Mcguire
Claude McKay
Virginia McKenna

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Organic food makes you fat

Because you think its good for you, you think it’s ok to make a pig of yourself - see Organic Food Has a ‘Health Halo,’ Too

Environment in action

Friday morning I made a particular point of looking out for Himalayan balsam while walking to the station. None to be seen, anywhere. I suppose there must have been a local campaign to get rid of it – it is certainly on the Environment Agency’s list of invasive species which ‘upset the balance of the ecosystem.’

Something else is changing our ecosystem however. I started noticing last year the way that mud banks & sand banks were developing in the stream; this year not only are these growing apace, but the beds of the stream, the river & even the culvert are getting noticeably filled with stones – not just pebbles but larger ones, I guess about the size a house brick would be if it were squashed flat.

The river bed has always been well covered with such stones but lower downstream, from the point at which it levels out with very little further to fall before it reaches sea level; the water usually flows quite fast up where we live, leaving any stones little chance to settle.

It seems obvious that this must be a result of all the rain & cold weather, but I am at a loss to work out if the stones are being washed down from higher up (several roads have been closed recently while landslips were repaired), or whether the increased flow is eroding, cutting away at, the rock in the bed of the river.

It is like watching all those diagrams of the history of river basins come alive in real time in front of your eyes.

Related post

Government web sites

Francis Maude announced yesterday that hundreds of government websites are to be axed in an attempt to save millions of pounds.

Good – if that means the remaining websites will be sensibly organised with users in mind – easier said than done, I know. As all the COI documentation shows.


Radio reception

Can the human body interfere with radio reception? Or rather, how does the human body do this?

A question that sometimes bothers me, when it happens. At certain times I can certainly cause interference with FM reception by moving around the room; some times the only way I can get a clear signal is to find the precise spot at which to hold, with two fingers, the piece of wire which acts as an aerial. Is this something to do with atmospheric conditions or something - metabolic or physiological - about my body? A possibly alarming thought, though not the sort really worth worrying about.

The question did come back into my mind yesterday when listening to callers to Radio 5 talking about the supposed reception problems with the new I phone. At least one caller said he had no difficulty, no matter how or in which hand he held the phone; others claimed a serious problem


A failure of legal argument

Bystander, the magistrate & blogger, is unimpressed by the arguments put forward by former Solicitor General Vera Baird in a recent appearance before magistrates on a speeding charge.

That gives me an excuse to tell a story about a fellow student who was charged with failing to stop at a T junction. Instead of just pleading guity by letter & acccepting an endorsement on his licence, he went to court to defend himself. He explained to the justices that, since motion is a series of infinitely small stops, there must have been a point at which he was indeed at rest.

The magistrates, impressed by his mathematics but not by his driving ability, fined him £2.


Nice Try

Friday, June 25, 2010

Looking glass law

An extraordinary case from the Court of Appeal was reported in The Times on June 21.

The prosecution had refused to disclose allegedly indecent images to the defence team on the grounds that they (the prosecutors) would themselves be committing an offence if they did so.

They had been prepared to allow them to be viewed on a laptop in a glass walled court conference room, with a police officer outside the room in order to maintain some form of control against possible misuse.

The judges, thank heavens, made pretty short shrift of the argument that the Crown Prosecution Service or the police might be guilty of a crime in providing the material in a way which made it possible for the defendant to have a confidential discussion of it with his lawyers.

But in this area as in others, we seem dangerously to tremble on the brink of saying that only the prosecution is allowed to know what evidence they have against you.

I am left puzzled about what happens when such cases go to the jury. Presumably they have to be kept under observation while they view the material.

A victim of the volcano

According to the analysis by James Bone in yesterday’s Times General McChrystal is a victim of Eyjafjallajökull. A simple 2 day access agreement turned into a boozy night in a Paris bar & a boozy bus trip to Berlin as the European air space was closed.

So just an unlucky break for heroic leader? More Icelandic revenge?

More like an occasion for the reason, when you read all the background to the climax.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Angry man

Obama has certainly learned to do anger now. I nearly said 'in spades' but I'd better avoid more Anglo-US misunderstanding & settle for And How! First Tony Hayward & now General McChrystal.

It is unworthy of me but I cannot help that my reaction to the oil leak, even after the seriousness was clear, was ‘Serves them right.’ Serves them right for driving those ridiculously clunky gas hungry monsters & for all the damage they have wreaked on other oil producing countries.

For too long Americans had been benefiting from some of the cheapest pump prices on the planet, letting others bear all the externalities.

So far BP – understandably perhaps – has been taking all the flak, but the contemplation of what will happen to us all if the other oil companies take fright is not comfortable.

Related post
Voting for what

Educating a poet

I caught a very brief interview with poet Matt Harvey on RTÉ Radio1 this morning. Turns out he spent part of his childhood in Ireland, where his father was working as a set designer for RTÉ.

And one of his abiding memories from that time is of being taught by his baby sitter to sing How Much Is that Doggie In The Window – backwards.

That explains a lot.

A tax on shopping

We recently heard that Tesco takes £1 out of every £7 that we spend on the high street. I have been wondering how many of those £7 are actually taxes, collected by retailers on behalf of the government. It could be nearly £3.

I have been meaning for some time to attempt an estimate of the total tax on shopping, but lack the energy & will to really make the effort. My guess is 40% - 4 out of every £10 - on the grounds that public expenditure in normal times takes about 40% of our gross national income & in an economists way of looking at things expenditure always equals income.

The rise in VAT will be noticed, & commented upon when it shows up in the price labels & the till receipts.

It is odd how many people think that VAT (& possibly excise duty) is the only tax they pay when they go shopping, unaware that on top of VAT & duty (sort of sales taxes) we contribute to the shopkeepers bill for Employers National Insurance (sort of payroll tax), Business Rate (sort of property tax) & Corporation Tax (sort of profits tax) & doubtless others as well. We may also be contributing to government or council fees& charges for services such as waste collection.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Two pictures of coins caught my eye in the paper last week.

One is the Maple Leaf coin described as the largest gold coin in the world which will be auctioned on June 25.

The other is a new £5 coin issued by the Royal Mint to mark the 2012 Olympics & the 70th anniversary of the start of Winston Churchill’s career as prime minister.

2012 will also mark the Diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II & I found myself idly wondering whether, with such a long reign, the number of coins bearing her portrait which have been minted constitutes some kind of historical record. Queen Victoria reigned just as long of course, so it is interesting to speculate whether the number of coins produced during her reign would have been greater – because not so much use was made of paper money & there were no plastic cards. On the other hand, because of economic growth & inflation, the amount of money in circulation must be very much greater during the reign of ER II. And in making an estimate we would also need to take account of the effects of Empire, Commonwealth & Independence.

By coincidence History of the World in 100 Objects on Monday looked at the Vale of York hoard and considered among other things what the coins could tell us about the links which existed, over a millennium ago, between England, Scandinavia & places as far away as Samarkand.

One of those things I should like to pop back for in a few hundred years time – to see what interpretations the historians & archaeologists of the future are drawing from finds of the coins bearing the head of Elizabeth II.


I try to stay away from the deluge of coverage of the Budget as it happens – it is easier to take it all in when the noise has died down. So I was surprised to hear our MP saying on local radio this morning that he was surprised there had been no increase in duty on alcohol or cigarettes.

It is astonishing that these easy targets should have been excused this time – though they will of course pay the rise in VAT when it comes in.

Could this be part of the new coalitions more liberal stance on human foibles, a backing away from trying to force us all to be good? A cynic might prefer the explanation that the Treasury has evidence to suggest that further increase in taxes would be counterproductive, leading to an increase in smuggling & a drop in revenue.

It is also dangerous to make to deprive the people of their opium when times are about to get tough & revolt or rebellion may be in the air.

An excuse for a souse

P’s & Q’s

Nobody under the age of 30 says please or thank you any more Robert Crampton grumbled in his Times column the other week.

That is true. But I think it very likely that my generation is to blame.

Some two decades past a friend was providing most of the child minding for her toddler grandson. I was visiting one afternoon, tea & biscuits. The grandson indicated his desire for a biscuit – the plate was by my side. Say please, I automatically instructed – only to get my head bitten off by my friend. Don’t say that! He can have a biscuit if he wants one, he’s only little, he doesn’t have to say please.

Well, I probably had presumed too much, but my memory of childhood is that grown ups always told you to say please if you wanted something - & not just parents, relatives, neighbours or teachers but complete strangers too; everybody had a duty to teach good manners to the young.

Strangely though I think it was only your mother or others close to you who instructed you to say thank you. I particularly used to dread – though I cannot work out why - the moment of leaving a children’s party when mother instructed you to say good bye to your hostess & Thank you for having me.

It is about ten years ago now though since I started to notice the real advantage of saying Please & Thank You to those who are now in their teens or twenties. It was in some shop that I asked Please may I have X – I don’t think I ever do it more abruptly - & the girl serving almost went Ah, how sweet! Of course you can, she said. It still happens quite often.

It even works on the kind of teenage male old ladies are supposed to find frightening or alarming; if they are blocking your way just say Please can I get past? & they move; I don’t even mind if they say Of course you can, love, though I bristled at the hoody who called me darling.

On younger boys – aged about 8 to 12 – the affect is comically & sweetly galvanising. I have twice had the experience of having to ask boys to move so I can continue to negotiate stairs on the side which has the hand rail. The first lot were engaged in a play fight but they immediately jumped to the other side of the staircase & flattened themselves against the wall, saying Sorry! And just last week when I had to go down a steep stone stair case in town because the usual path is closed for repair I came across two boys sitting there, up to some kind of mischief judging by their demeanour. But as soon as I asked one to move so that I could continue to hold on to the rail, he too jumped up with apology & shot to the other side – perhaps just grateful not to be ticked off or reported for whatever it was they were up to.

Mind you I never use, & would not dream of instructing a child, to stick to the other nicety which was drummed in to us.

If you asked to be allowed to do something: Can I get down from the table now, please? the answer was Well you can, but you may not. You really were not granted your wish until you used the precisely correct word.

PS It is disappointing to learn from the OED that The expression [P's & Q's] is unlikely to be a shortening of pleases and thank yous, since this is apparently not attested independently as a phrase before the 20th cent.

Inky potatoes

The jury is out on whether I am being lazy & sluttish or admirably conservationist by adopting one of my labour saving tricks – cooking all the vegetables in a single pan. Not necessarily all together for the same amount of time, but judiciously starting with the potatoes & adding the others according to cooking time; the top layer may even be effectively steamed this way. It certainly saves on energy & washing up.

We had our first broad beans of the year last night. I had been thinking of celebrating with Jane Grigson’s recipe – shuck the skins from the individual beans & cook for hardly anytime at all, serving with melted butter or oil, lemon juice. black pepper - but that is more of a lunchtime dish for eating out in the sun. We had some very good ham & Jersey new potatoes, so I settled for those with a salad of finely grated carrots with mustard seeds & lemon.

So start off with the potatoes & throw in the broad beans (still in their individual skins) for just the last 5 minutes.

I had forgotten what broad beans do to the colour of the water. Faced with a plate of blueish black potatoes cooked by someone else – well, I am not sure I could force them down at all. But I knew how they had got that way – they tasted fine.

Perhaps some celebrity chef will do the same & start a whole new food fad.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Far away, knowing little

Something was wrong with Philip Eden’s voice on Radio 5 last might; I do hope it is just a summer cold or hay fever, nothing more troubling than that.

It was sobering to hear him tell of the numbers of deaths there have been recently through exceptionally heavy rain, not just in the south of France but in countries as far apart as China, Ghana & Bangladesh – probably Myanmar too, though not much news gets out of there.

Most of the time we are deemed to have no interest in events so far away, our own problems so much more pressing.

Pregnancy advice from the press

Extraordinarily ungenerous comments in the press about the dress worn by the prime ministers pregnant wife during the visit by President Sarkozy & his wife, illustrated in The Times by an even more extraordinarily coquettish photograph of the two women looking back over their shoulders at the cameras in what seemed to be a dimly lit night club or bar – I suspect that this was probably just the reflection of the tv lights in the shiny black door of Number 10.

I have to say that I did not think very highly of the black & white dress, but really, it was not worth so many column inches.

What someone could very usefully do however is to find a scientist who can prove, in time for a big splash next Saturday, that wearing high stiletto heels after the first trimester of pregnancy will do more damage to your baby than wine, cigarettes & bottle feeding.

Away for some time?

I heard just the beginning of the Chancellor’s budget speech – he seemed to be enjoying himself.

Apart from bus passes there is little I am likely to react to immediately.

What I should really like to know though is whether Gordon Brown or David Laws is in the Chamber to hear the debate, or even to contribute to it.

Sharing the pain

This government seems to have ways.

On June 5 Iain Coucher, ‘the boss of Britain’s railways’ who earned more than four times as much as the prime minister was quoted in The Times as saying that he would refuse to take a pay cut, rather against the spirit of the government’s pledges on public sector pay, since his organisation was merely the government’s contractor.

On June 21 Rail News reported Iain Coucher to step down as chief executive of Network Rail‎ -

Of course it could just be a coincidence

Monday, June 21, 2010

Ascot flummery

I like a bit of flummery, can appreciate that there are usually good reasons for rules, punctiliosity & protocol, but the Court Circular was really annoying me last week.

Daily we were informed that “The Queen, with the Duke of Edinburgh, honoured Ascot Races with her presence today.

That’s putting him in his place – uncalled for, whatever the historical nicety. No wonder that those who marry into the royal family sometimes feel like kicking over the traces

Clouds for today

Glorious weather for the longest day today – the sky an intense blue at midday, with only a few clouds around the edges of the bowl above us.

There were quite a few puffy clouds over towards the Dark Peak but only their tops were visible, peeping like curly haired children over the rim of the nearby hill.

The sky was much clearer over towards the airport, only a few wispy bits, possibly the remains of contrails. Except for one cloud which, extraordinarily, looked like the upturned head of a large broom, bristles pointing skywards.

But when I removed my polarised sunglasses the odd shape disappeared, leaving only a few flimsy streaks of almost invisible white.

Overheards Sunday 20 June 2010

Someone using the name Zorba Eisenhower emailed Broadcasting House: The England football team, as befits the new austerity, are cutting back on the number of goals scored & matches won.

On Poetry Please devoted to love poems, Roger McGough remarked, with special reference to The Sunne Rising, that ‘in Donne we can truly smell the bedroom.’

Well yes, but the problem I have with that is that mention of Donne’s bedroom always conjures up for me the one at St Pauls in which he wrote Devotions & Meditations at great speed while still convalescing after his bout of relapsing fever. The smell must have been anything but enticing (or sexy), what with all that purging & all those singed pigeons.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Inflation for our sins

Snickers & Mars bars are on special offer again – multipacks of 5 for £1. So I expect a price rise soon.

Cigarettes have gone up in Sainsbury’s, by 2p. Not a big percentage of the over the counter pack price, but quite significant margin on the cost price minus VAT & tobacco excise.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

For love or money

I have recently read Elizabeth Jane Howard’s autobiographical memoir, Slipstream. I missed it when it came out in 2002 – not surprisingly really since I had little time for general reading around that time, but it was probably seeing or hearing the reviews which made me think I had actually read her obituaries.

One thing that struck me about this tale is that, yet again, it shows the great difference it makes to be born to a life of relative privilege & affluence. She never fell into completely desperate circumstances despite not having the kind of education that such a girl would get today, of having a less than totally supportive relationship with her mother, & a string of what might be called unwise, unhappy or sometimes plain abusive relationships with men. The handing over of her daughter to others to bring up, with a network of family, social & work friends & contacts helped her through - plus of course her own gifts as a novelist & her determination & hard work, not just in her writing but in her looking after the needs of others.

Vulnerable young women from less advantaged backgrounds are not so fortunate if they fail to live up to the standards expected of them.

We do not know the details of the serious case review of the ‘kidnap’ of Shannon Matthews which led to her mother being sentenced to 8 years in prison. The other accusations against the mother which were spelled out in the newspapers however include:

Being a neglectful mother who engaged in a series of relationships with different men.

Routinely putting her own needs before those of her seven children.

Failing to put the need for a consistent & secure parental relationship over her own need for relationships with several male partners.

It is also variously reported that she was not given the contraceptive advice for which she asked, or that she persistently failed to take her pills (an assumption on the writers’ part that there were no good reasons for not being on the pill). Elizabeth Jane Howard mentions two abortions, which were not at that time legal but were easy to arrange by those who were in the know & could afford the doctors bill.

In the famous writer the ‘great hunger to be loved, to be in love’ is, if anything, a plus.


Related posts

Making memory

I had been wondering why I have no particular personal memory of the events of Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland – it most certainly it is not, for me, one of those 'where were you' moments.

The answer came when someone mentioned an event which possibly got even more world wide publicity which took place in London two days later on February 1st.

Bernadette Devlin, the young MP for Mid Ulster punched Reginald Maudling – in the House of Commons – as he made his statement on the events in Londonderry.

I was actually in Barbados at the time & I remember two of my male colleagues who were staying in the same hotel calling me to go & look at the television news reporting this unprecedented event (there was no film of the House of Commons proceedings in those days of course). And I never saw any film of the events of Bloody Sunday at that time.

I think we were probably more concerned about the implications of the events surrounding the independence of Bangladesh & the withdrawal of Pakistan form the Commonwealth than with what was perhaps understood as an internal problem for the United Kingdom.


Friday, June 18, 2010

A tangle of geometry

Had one of those senior moments yesterday – couldn’t call to mind the word for an 8-sided figure, at all.

A glimmer of light – octangle? Don’t be silly.

But when it did come I suddenly wondered – why isn’t it an octangle?

Alternatively, why don’t we have triagons?

The OED does allow ‘octangle’ but finds no quotation later than 1883 except for one from the Fort Worth Star Telegram in 1997: ‘The basic unit of Schwarz's system are the ‘octangle’,..and squares that are created by the spaces between intersecting octangles’ which doesn’t get us all that much further, though it led me via Google to a poem by Daniel Schwarz which starts


Circular, triangular, rectangular, octangular
Shapes are beautiful, pristine, full of wonder
They can hold lives, they can hold what used to be, they can hold lies

The OED gave ‘no results’ for triagon but did have triagonal, which, it says sternly, is an erroneous formation for trigonal, ‘Of, pertaining or relating to, a trigon or triangle.’

My head is in a real spin now.

I wonder why we make such an exception for a 3 sided figure?

Well we couldn’t sing about the square on the hypotenuse of a right trigon, could we.

Related post

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hedgehog names index: K

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↑

In order to find all references it is probably best to use surname only in the search.

Anatole Kaletsky
Miriam Karlin
Ormonde de Kay
Kevin Keagan
Fergal Keane

Garrison Keiller
Richard Kell
Kelly & Deasy
Sir Christopher Kelly
Ruth Kelly

Bridget Kendall
Kenneth Kendall
Maurice Kendall
Helena Kennedy
Jackie Kennedy

Paddy Kenny
Mark Kermode
Andy Kershaw
Sadiq Khan

Anthony King
Ian King
Martin Luther King
Miles Kington

Jock Kinneir
Neil Kinnock
Rudyard Kipling
Julie Kirkbride
Eartha Kitt

David Kolb
Shyamji Krishna-Varma
Nikita Kruschev
Nina Krushcheva

Living for tomorrow

People used to accuse England of being a country living in the past. These days we seem to want to live only in the future – even the present isn’t good enough.

The news presented to us by the media is mostly about what somebody is expected to say, or something which may be about to happen. We still, despite the fright over the economy, cheerfully flex the plastic to spend money we trust will come tomorrow.

And the supermarkets are already stocked up with school uniforms all ready for the new year next September – woollen skirts, trousers, jumpers & jackets (or at least their man-made alternatives).

Well buying now should ease any cash flow problems for more cautious parents, but children, particularly, should just be left to enjoy themselves today while the sun shines.

Burn, bash & bury

As Girl Guides we were strictly enjoined to leave our campsite as far as possible in the condition in which we found it. There would, inevitably, be yellow patches in the grass where our tents had been pitched, but they would soon recover when exposed once again to the sunlight. Divots must be replaced. And all waste or litter disposed of.

For waste disposal the mantra was Burn, Bash & Bury. Especially the cans which had contained the soup, beans or tomatoes on which we feasted.

Burning took place as the campfire subsided; cans were then bashed with the wooden mallets we used for hammering in the tent pegs, rather than jumping up & down on them, & the blackened remains buried in the pit we had dug at the edge of the field.

Come to think of it that is how we dispose of household waste today, under the rather more technical sounding terms incinerate, compact, landfill.

Related post
Burning desire

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Vacuuming the washed & squashed

Pink horsechestnuts were not the only surprise I got when I went down with the washed & squashed the other day: the recycling bin was full, & there were bags of plastic bottles piled up all around.

I had noticed that the bin was pretty full one day the previous week when I was just passing by, but I put it down to the normal emptying having been missed because of the Bank Holiday, I did not expect it still to be unemptied at midday on the following Monday.

Fortunately I managed to squash in my small collection of bottles into the crowded bin & did not have to face the moral dilemma of what to do. Well, it is not a dilemma at all really, there is no way I am going to walk all the way back home to store them till next week, & I am not going to carry them into town to see if they have any bins there; I would just have done like everybody else & left them on the ground.

I have heard of a local authority which was experimenting with some chips in its public recycling bins which would send a message when one was getting full so that the council could ensure that it was emptied in good time. It would be good if such chips could also be used to allow the public to check before they make the journey, to ensure that there was space – much as we are now promised, by notices on the station platform, that we can ring a number to get a text which will tell us exactly what has happened to the train we are standing there waiting for. (Fortunately I have as yet had no reason to test out whether this service does actually work in real time).

This Monday I got another surprise. I felt confident that the bins would have been emptied, if for no other reason that the doctors’ surgery over the road would have been making a fuss about health risks.

The usual methods of emptying these bins seems to be either similar to what happens with builders skips – a vehicle arrives carrying an empty one which is swapped for the full one, or the full bin is hoistd up & its contents dropped into the body of a much larger truck via a kind of trap door arrangement in the floor of the bin.

Plastic bottle collection is much more sophisticated. The collection lorry is equipped with a giant vacuum hose, about 1 foot in diameter which sucks all the bottles out via a kind of trap door on the front of the bin low down to the floor. Sadly the operator was just finishing up, coiling the hose back onto his vehicle as I arrived, so I missed the childish excitement of watching the bottles whirl round & round through the transparent plastic hose. All the fun of the fair!

All this effort & ingenuity, just to get rid of our waste.

We have been warned

A warning - Iceland Meteorological office - Earthquakes Mýrdalsjökull, Iceland

And a helpful tip - Mýrdalsjökull pronunciation: How to pronounce Mýrdalsjökull

Poets honoured

A shock when I looked at the honours list on Saturday, but a very nice one. Wilson Harris has been given a knighthood.

What took them so long – he is 89 years old & to be honest one of those people I rather assumed must have died. I wonder how many people have had to wait until his age to earn a knighthood, & how many people older than he have been awarded any sort of honour this time round. (Come to think of it, Doris Lessing was almost that old when she won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but there is only one of them awarded each year.)

This knighthood did not get any extra publicity in the London papers or on the BBC as far as I am aware. Nor did the OBE for Wendy Cope, though Simon Armitage was interviewed about his CBE.

In years gone by I might quite often have read through the whole of the honours list, just to see if there was anyone I knew, or knew of, on there. Of course in my Whitehall days there was a kind of professional interest in seeing who was up & who was not – there were subtle interpretations to who got what. That kind of pay & rations approach is used much less these days, but there is still some interest, so because I had started & because it was all legibly laid out in The Times this year I went down the list, at least as far as the OBEs.

The category ‘for political & public service’ usually given to long serving MPs seems to have gone out of use, though there are a few awards this time ‘for public service’ only, without any further explanation.

One category which has always intrigued me was that of civilians from the Ministry of Defence, no details other than name & grade – civil servants from other departments usually carry some indication of their actual job. There are still some on there - Grade B1 or B2. Those mean absolutely nothing to me but there is a little voice inside which always says Aha! Must be a spy

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Hedgehog names index: H to I

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↑

In order to find all references it is probably best to use surname only in the search.

Geir Haarde
Gottfried Haberler
John Haigh
Marshall Hall
Monty Hall

Robert Hall
Vincent Hanna
David Hanson
Keir Hardie
Septimus Harding

Bess of Hardwick
Thomas Hardy
Tom Harris
Henry Harrison
Prince Harry

Stephen Hawkins
Denis Healey
Edward Heath
Roy Heath
Reginald Heber

Rose Heilbron
Von Helmholtz
Beatrice Hen-Pilé
Mark Henderson

Peter Hennessy
Henry VIII
Thierry Henry
Judith Herrin
Andrew A Herring

Edmund Hervey-Smith
Michael Heseltine
Walter Rudolf Hess
John Heywood
Rosemary Hignett

Morten Hilmer
John Buxton Hilton
David U Himmelstein
Myra Hindley
Michael Hintze

Damien Hirst
Jo Hockley
David Hockney
Douglas Hodge
Kip Hodges

Al Hoffman
Lancelot Hogben
Douglas Hogg
Richard Hoggart

Michael Holding
Bernard Hollowood
Eamonn Holmes
Lord Home
Thomas Hood

Antony Horowitz
Patrick Hosking
Elizabeth Jane Howard
Sir Michael Howard
Peter Howard

Philip Howard
Sir Geoffrey Howe
Denis Howell
Fred Hoyle
AAE Hubrecht

Dr Bob Hughes
Langston Hughes
Patrick Hughes
Paul Hughes
Andy Hull

John Humphrys
Tristram Hunt
Sir Tom Hunter
Samuel Huntington
Ian Huntley

Laurence Hurst
Aldous Huxley

Armando Iannucci


Taking the voodoo out of medicine

The anniversary of the laser reminded me of a question which I have never got round to putting to someone who might know the answer.

Is it possible to imagine that one day soon it may be possible to carry out medical tests without having to extract blood from the body? What I have in mind is being able to shine a light through, say, that piece of skin between stretched thumb & forefinger & by the magic of some kind of spectroscopy (not, I suppose atomic absorption) find out all you need to know?

It ought to be – sticking needles in people is very primitive.

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MS also stands for

Medium shot (photography)
Morphine sulphate
Multiple sclerosis
Master of Surgery
Master of Science
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England supporters

Saturday evening, about 6 o’clock, a small boy almost ran into me full pelt as I was going into & he was coming out of the bus station. A gorgeous little boy, black hair, brown skin, big black eyes & long eyelashes. No more than three years old. Wearing an England football shirt, the rather elegant one in dark blue, not the garish white or scarlet.

His mother & another woman followed him round the corner. Both were dressed in full burqa plus niqab.

I have seen a small number of cars flying a similar dark blue England flag with a small red & white Three Lions badge in the corner. Is this official merchandise or a private enterprise solution for those who, for purely aesthetic or more complicated reasons, prefer not to flaunt the flag of St George.

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Telling the story at length

The Saville report is due to be published today we are told, after 12 years in the preparation. Leaks say that it is 5,000 pages long & will retail at over £500 a copy. Even so it will not go very far to defraying the costs of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry.

In about the same number of years Charles Dickens published The Pickwick Papers, Sketches by Boz, Nicholas Nickleby, Master Humphreys' Clock, Martin Chuzzlewit, Oliver Twist, Dombey and Son & David Copperfield.

War & Peace has typically over 1400 pages as a paperback. Marquez covered 100 years in under 500 pages.

I wonder who will produce the abbreviated version of Saville.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Talking posh

Have you noticed how everybody – well, BBC radio presenters, commentators & political pundits at least – is suddenly talking a lot more posh than they used to?

Must be trying to keep up with the prime minister.

Mind you, the last pm but one was on the radio this morning, & he has definitely gone posh now that he no longer has to pretend to be one of us.

Related posts
Suave condescension

The lost cuckoo

In April I open my bill
In May I sing night and day
In June I change my tune
In July far far I fly
In August away I must

After writing about birdsong the other day it suddenly occurred to me that I don’t think I have heard a cuckoo this year. There usually is at least one if I walk to the station along the other bank of the river away from the main road.

Farewell to all that

It was interesting to note that as well as visiting the Cabinet Office & meeting with Permanent Secretaries last week the Queen was still carrying out (possibly completing) the formal duty of winding up the previous Labour government. On Wednesday Alistair Darling, Yvette Cooper & Liam Byrne, among others had their audience with the Queen at Buckingham Palace to take leave upon relinquishing their ministerial appointments. I wonder if these audiences (which have been taking place on various occasions since the formal installation of the coalition), are carried out in strict order of precedence according to some protocol, or whether it is just a question of fitting in with everybody’s diary.

Also interesting to note that Nick Clegg had the regular prime ministerial audience of the Queen. I wonder if this means that the prime minister & his deputy are taking it in turns, week by week, or whether this was because Mr Cameron was away on his visit to Afghanistan.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Thanking the servants

It is perhaps only those of us who can remember the resignation of Harold Macmillan & the subsequent row over whether the Queen had acted properly, according to the constitution, in appointing Lord Home, rather than Rab Butler, to be prime minister who can perhaps appreciate what a great relief it must have been all round that the transition to our new coalition government went so smoothly from that point of view. And why it will have meant a lot for the Queen, at her own request, to make a visit to the Cabinet Office to express her thanks.

(Note: Watch for the lady in the blue dress in the opening section of the BBC video)

Tennyson’s Throstle

I used to love reciting this poem when I was primary school age – it had just the right amount of rumpty-thump rhythm, & was just joyous.

Summer is coming, summer is coming.
I know it, I know it, I know it.
Light again, leaf again, life again, love again,
Yes my wild little poet.

Sing the new year under the blue.
Last year you sang it as gladly.
New, new, new, new! Is it then so new
That you should carol so madly?

Love again, song again, nest again, young again,
Never a prophet so crazy!
And hardly a daisy as yet, little friend,
See, there is hardly a daisy.

Here again, here, here, here, happy year!
O warble unchidden, unbidden !
Summer is coming, is coming, my dear,
And all the winters are hidden.

Throstle is a name still used sometimes round here for the song thrush, & a lovely Google coincident led me to a recording of its song made in Derbyshire which is held in the British Library archives.

There are only a few birdsongs which I can recognise these days, though the thrush & chaffinch are definitely among them.

But even in my childhood when adults were always keen to have you listen to & learn the various songs I was always puzzled by their ‘It sounds just like …’

Especially the yellowhammer, which supposedly repeats, over & over, ‘A little bit of bread and NO CHEESE.’ My ears were never sharp enough for that.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

National museum of data

Computers have certainly done a lot to make vast amounts of data available & there are no end of sites trying to make at least some of it accessible & comprehensible to a wider public.

But it is all a bit hit & miss, hard to find your way around, particularly if you are trying to find something specific rather than just marvel at what you happen to come across.

Then there is the continuing problem of trying to persuade those who gather data to lodge it somewhere in a form that it can be shared or reanalysed, looked at from a different point of view or in the light of new discoveries, by others

What we need is something like national data archives, a sort of cross between the collections of the great museums (especially the Natural History Museum), libraries & archives. We specifically need the skills of indexers, classifiers, taxonomists & archivists; search engines are not enough.

Related posts


What is that? A large wagon turning into the lane, smart navy blue with the name OUTOKUMPU emblazoned in white on the side.

Just delivering stainless steel to a local factory.

But how strange never to have come across before the name of a company “fast becoming the undisputed number one in stainless,” with its roots in Sheffield & a Finnish copper mining town.

We have so many more links with Scandinavia than we think.

Needless warning

The weather forecasts on local radio early on Wednesday morning included a Met Office Severe Weather Warning, naming our local area specifically. Heavy rain expected, so be careful if you are driving.

The warnings were dropped from the forecasts later in the morning though it wasn’t made clear if this was because they had been withdrawn by the Met Office or the presenter had just forgotten about or gotten bored with them. But I wore my raincoat & swapped my sandals for leather shoes, though there was no sign of rain when I left the house at midday, carrying my heavy duty umbrella.

No rain in town that afternoon, but we know things can change radically within a few miles. And, though the hills were touched by low misty cloud when I got home in the evening, the pavements were bone dry, no water was dripping from the trees – there was no sign of rain at all. My umbrella stayed furled, might just as well have saved myself the bother of carrying it, left it at home.

In its determination never to be caught out by another Fish No Hurricane embarrassment The Met Office has gone overboard with its warnings, the overriding criterion which is ‘the strong likelihood of severe weather which may cause considerable inconvenience to a large number of people and/or present a danger to life.’ Needless to say these can cause anxiety & it was my suffering from such a lot of this when the national weather forecasts repeatedly failed to make it clear whether warnings applied to our area or not that contributed to my migrating to local radio.

But we still got subjected to worry about “Heavy rain - Rain expected to continue for at least two hours and to give at least 15 mm within a 3-hour period or, following previous heavy rain events, 25mm/day."

Friday, June 11, 2010

Anglo Iranian Oil

Robert Peston had to be reminded that the change from British Petroleum to BP was not the first time the company had changed its name. I had been wondering why nobody mentioned this in the midst of the recent emphasis on Britishness!

Is President Obama familiar with the story of how the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company became British Petroleum, especially with that part of the story in which the CIA lent a hand?

The earlier proceedings in which the UK government attempted to prevent, under international law, the takeover of the Company by the then government of Iran was an important element of International Law 101 for students in the 1960s.

Reckless banks and BP: What they have in common

International Court of Justice

BBC News The Company File From Anglo-Persian Oil to BP Amoco

History of Iran: A short account of 1953 Coup

Anglo-Persian Oil Company Coup

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mardy gowks

I was watching a young woman loading a small girl & a baby into a double buggy. The little girl was not very happy about it & was making her feelings plain.

Stop stressing so much, said the young woman.

There is the answer to why we are all suffering so much stress these days- we just have a word for it.

Once upon a time the child would have been mardy – “spoilt, sulky, whining, moody” according to the OED.

Babies who slept through the night, children who did not whine & sulk, these were all good children, a credit to their mothers.

Related post

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Whitehaven's turbulent past

Whitehaven was described as a peaceful town before Derrick Bird shattered the tranquillity with his unexplained shooting rampage last week. But it was not always so – Whitehaven had a turbulent C19th past, not least because of religious controversy which attracted some strange characters to the town.

In the mid-1850s Samuel Kuttner was a travelling lecturer who claimed that he had converted from the Church of England to Catholicism. In 1856 he was reported to be touring Ireland & in November 1857 was in Whitehaven.

His activities came to the attention of the Reverend William Darby, recruited from Ireland by Hugh Stowell to be a 'controversial lecturer' in Manchester, specialising in lecturing to the working classes on the errors of Catholicism. Rev Darby took it upon himself to go to Whitehaven to expose the frauds of Kuttner & also wrote a pamphlet on the subject.

Kuttner claimed to be a German native, 'one of the best linguists in Europe', to have a collection of doctorates, to have been an ordained minister in the Church of England & to have been the principal missionary in Jerusalem (on a salary of £500 or £600 a year) for a society whose aims were to convert the Jews. However he saw the error of his ways, consulted with Cardinal Wiseman & converted to Catholicism; as a married man he could not be ordained as a Catholic priest & seems to have relied upon his audiences for contributions to the upkeep of his wife & children. Catholic clergy in Whitehaven at least seem to have believed his story & supported him on his lecture platform in the town.

Darby claimed that Kuttner was in fact a German-Jewish shopkeeper from Granby Row in Manchester who had learned what little he knew of Anglican & Roman theology by attending Darbys lectures held at the National School in Granby Row in 1856.

"He appeared about 47 years of age, of a short, thick, burly figure, dark hair, Jewish physiognomy & spoke with a strong foreign accent. His temper was excitable, his manner pompous & overbearing, his reasoning illogical, his quotations of Scripture inaccurate, & his theological views were a strange compound of Judaism, Infidelity & Romanism. He seemed to despise with equal heartiness [various translations] of the Bible. He was constantly vapouring about his knowledge of the Hebrew original. He asserted that our Lord did not know Greek & other things equally absurd."

In collaboration with a Whitehaven Presbyterian minister, Rev Joseph Burns, Darby attended public meetings there in April 1858 to expose the frauds. A meeting on 22 April 1858 broke up in disorder & the local police refused to be responsible for Darby’s safety

Darby’s pamphlet Romish Frauds (1858) appears to be the only source for details of Kuttner’s story so nothing is known about his life after the Whitehaven incident. It is however interesting that the infamous Murphy gave his last lecture in Whitehaven (in 1871) & there suffered the injuries which contributed to his death.


Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Pink horse chestnut

I got a surprise as I walked down the track to take the washed & squashed to recycling the other day.

Two large horse chestnut trees, one on either side of the path, were bearing pink candles.

Perhaps I simply never noticed before.

Today I stopped to take a closer look; there are only a few candle bearing branches, the lowest on the tree, both on the side next to the track rather than outside in the sunlight. So maybe it is something to do with this years unusual weather conditions.

Triangular meadow

Just before you get up to the top of the lane to the main road there is a piece of land which presumably belongs to the developers of the (still new-ish) estate. It is not much use for anything, being basically a long narrow triangle with a sinuous hypotenuse, but it has been used for storing various bits of equipment during the long saga of construction. Even that came to an end last year when the, hopefully final, job was the installation of a low level crash barrier along the inside edge of the pavement, obviously put there lest any driver misjudge the corner to go straight over the edge & down into the culvert twenty or thirty feet below. It also has the added advantage of making the land inaccessible for parking.

This year it is well on the way to becoming a beautiful mini wild flower meadow.

The main practical regret for the development of the field was the loss of a valuable soakway & the worries about the effect on local drainage. The field had been left fallow for years & was gradually being taken over by weeds rather than becoming a meadow – bit of an eyesore, some thought. Occasionally animals were brought in to graze, usually goats or ponies & some sheep one year. I thought it looked rather French, particularly on one side where a completely ramshackle shed – wooden walls weathered grey, rusty corrugated iron roof – was surrounded by a mass of pink – some Himalayan balsam, mostly rose bay willow herb. It could have been an impressionist painting.

The mini meadow is mostly a riot of buttercups, always one of my favourite flowers as a child. There are a few thistles, some ragged robin & ragwort & I spotted a small clump of forget-me-nots (or possibly speedwell) hiding low to the ground. A lot of wild chives, scabious, some tall clover, plenty of plantain, dock & nettles & a variety of grasses.

Life always finds a way.

Ageing hacks

It is not just me who is made to feel my age by the youthfulness of the prime minister & his deputy. And there is a good reason why it was the media who looked old & tired during the last election.

Those who get to do the interviews are now all older than those two young men. Only Eddie Mair & Jeremy Vine (both b.1965) come close, followed by Nick Robinson (1963), Evan Davis (1962) & Nicky Campbell (1961).

Then come Andrew Marr & Adam Boulton (1959), Michael Crick (1958), James Naughtie (1951), Jeremy Paxman (1950), Dimbleby minor (1944), John Humphrys (1943) & finally David Dimbleby (1938).

I have concentrated on the men because they are mostly men, for reasons which Ceri Thomas (1963) so helpfully explained a while ago.

When the habit of treating politicians, even prime ministers, with respect & deference began to go out of fashion in the 1960s it was young men such as David Frost who helped lead the way.

All these media men of today belong to the baby boom generation, those who, as David Willetts (1956) has explained Took Their Children's Future. These boomers have grabbed the best jobs in political broadcasting & are just hanging on to them rather than let the younger ones come through. Which means it is odd that in politics we have let in David Cameron (1966) & Nicholas Clegg (1967); I suppose it only becomes clear that the boom is really over several years after the event, & these two are being dragged along in the slipstream.

The argument that being part of a boom generation gives you the power to muscle in & take over is given a little extra weight when you consider the years of birth of our last seven prime ministers, starting with Harold Wilson: 1916, 1912,1925, 1945, 1953, 1951 & now 1966. The baby famine generation of the 1930s completely missed out on this office. Expect never to see a prime minister born in the 1970s.

Note: Except for Nicky Campbell & Ceri Thomas all dates of birth have been taken from Who's Who

Related posts

Monday, June 07, 2010

Deadly coincidence

I have been reading FACTS ARE SUBVERSIVE the latest collection of essays by Timothy Garton Ash. There is much to ponder in this book, but for now I just want to record one coincidence, if that is the right word, which I have not seen pointed out anywhere before.

The Berlin Wall fell on 9 November 1989; the Twin Towers fell on 11 September 2001. 9/11 is the European way of writing 9 November.

This prompts me to dare to put a toe in the water & record one thought which comes back to me when I think about the American 9/11: it was a brilliant plan.

In saying this I do not wish in any way shape or form to say that I approve, admire or support the cause of the attackers. I have tried to think of an alternative word, one that combines in just the right way the ideas brilliant & malign ( or malignant in the old sense of disposed to rebel against God or against constituted authority), but remain stumped.

Before September 2001 the talk was of rogue states, or terrorist attack by small dirty bombs containing chemical, nuclear or biological agents.

9/11 took two of what, to outsiders at least, seemed like attractive & cherished freedoms of America.

The first was just to be able to fly from A to B in the same casual, take it for granted way that we English took a train. I was so impressed to see this the first time I took an internal flight in the States, landing at what were still small airports with just a low concrete building for a terminal, passengers walking on without clearly having to be rich or on a cheap package holiday.

The other freedom concerns American education or training. Despite improvements over here, it has always been possible to access education more freely in America, without the need to start specialising from a very early age, or losing everything if you have temporarily to drop out along the way. Learning to fly in England is still not an easy thing to do, & the way the bombers were able to take lessons with a minimum of formality made this frustrated pilot at least feel envious.

And so that is why the word brilliant pops in to my mind. A surprise attack, which perhaps caused even more immediate physical destruction than the perpetrators had hoped for, while at the same time achieving the result of knocking the stuffing out of belief in some cherished American everyday freedoms. They took the ordinary & the everyday, not the frightening & the unknown, & turned them into weapons.

Related post

What is Knowing and the Known?

On yesterday’s The Museum of Curiosity on Radio 4 Michael Welland said that scientists were too keen on making programmes with a title such as 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Earthqukes when it would be much more iluminationg all round if they made programmes about 10 Things We Do Not Know About Earthquakes.

Then on last night’s World Service Forum neuroscientist Dan Glaser, who works with ballet dancers & acrobats on questions such as the relationship between what we see & our physical movements stressed the importance of discussing the problem with, seeing the relationship from the practitioner’s point of view, designing experiments with those in mind, not just dismissing ideas such as muscle memory because scientists know that muscles don’t have memory.

Hear hear! For too long scientists & science teaching have been too much concentrated on cramming, climbing up the pyramid of the shoulders of giants to absorb Truth as it is known, with no emphasis on the excitement of exploring terra incognita.

And just to put the icing on the cake of this little exploration, the first Google result I got for Michael Welland led me to The Page 99 Test: Michael Welland's "Sand" which is about the long journey of an individual sand grain down a river to the sea – two great finds in one.


Bad bananas

According to a helpful graphic in the Times my eating 1 banana would bring the end of the world as close as if I ate 8 apples or brought home 8 new plastic bags from the supermarket.

If I cared to, I expect I could find out if these (presumably English or UK) averages apply to me, given for example that I do not shop by car, or if they apply to New Zealand apples as well as English ones.

I also wonder what the carbon multiplier effect might be of a banana compared with an apple – for example how much carbon might be produced by the way an apple farmer spends the money I pay him, compared with the same amount paid to a banana farmer?

These estimates come from a book by Mike Berners-Lee, who surely must be a relative of the inventor of the web ?