Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Seasoned by weather

Thanks to an item on RTE Radio 1 the other morning I now realise that this blog is entirely responsible for the long run of miserable summers which we are having to endure. I apologise, & will do all in my power to bring back better weather ASAP.

I knew that it was a long time, but I hadn’t realised that there has been no decent summer since 2006 – at least not in Ireland & so presumably not in the north west of England either. So it is not a coincidence that there has been no good summer following the commencement of this blog in the autumn of 2006; the world shifted on its axis at this seismic event & the jet stream rushed in to blow it all away.

We had seven days of warm weather & no rain – though not an awful lot of sunshine – last week but Saturday marked the beginning of the end, with several sudden sharp localised showers of the type to which we have become all too miserably accustomed.

Sunday brought thunder; one lone massive rolling rumble just after lunch, followed much later by two shorter but sharply resounding cracks around tea time which set all the dogs barking & brought an immediately noticeable sharp drop in temperature.

Monday was back to heavy intermittent showers & today is actually cold enough to make everybody regret not wearing a heavier jumper or jacket.

Much more fuss has been made about rain this summer. Since it has also hit the south east & especially London, the national media have noticed, have themselves endured the sheer exasperation, frustration & vexation leading to depression & fatigue brought about by having to dash or scurry whenever forced to go outside; the fashion writers have been dishing out advice on what to wear – they should have consulted us who have the wisdom brought about by long experience.

Funnily enough though, I don’t think our summer has been noticeably worse than the others we have experienced in recent years, even though the weathermen have been telling us about record rainfall in every region. Some time I must get round to looking at the variability on a much smaller finer scale – could be interesting.

Whether the weather be fine,
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold,
Or whether the weather be hot,
We'll weather the weather
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Not the Queen’s acting debut

Contrary to what we were being told, Her Majesty’s appearance in the James Bond Olympic spoof was not her first acting role.

I had a children’s book about her which told how much she enjoyed taking part in amateur dramatics, especially at Christmas at Windsor Castle

Google has come up trumps with a photo, captioned “21st December 1941: Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret (1930 - 2002) and Princess Elizabeth during a rehearsal of 'Cinderella, the first Royal pantomime at Windsor Castle. The two princesses are in costume for their parts. (Photo by Lisa Sheridan/Studio Lisa/Getty Images)”

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The world’s mad business

The Day of Judgement

With a whirl of thought oppressed
I sink from reverie to rest.
An horrid vision seized my head,
I saw the graves give up their dead.
Jove, armed with terrors, burst the skies,
And thunder roars, & lightning flies!
Amazed, confused, its fate unknown,
The world stands trembling at his throne.
While each pale sinner hangs his head,
Jove, nodding, shook the Heavens, & said,
‘Offending race of human kind,
By nature, reason, learning, blind;
You who through frailty stepped aside,
And you who never fell – through pride;
You who in different sects have shammed,
And come to see each other damned;
(So some folks told you, but they knew
No more of Jove’s designs than you).
The world’s mad business now is o’er,
And I resent those pranks no more.
I to such blockheads set my wit!
I damn such fools! – Go, go, you’re bit.’

Jonathan Swift 1667-1745

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Cruel & unusual duties

We have some very funny ideas about the best ways to celebrate Her Majesty’s 60 years of service.

We make her spend hours on a barge in the pouring rain.

We make her jump out of a helicopter, showing her knickers. Walk downstairs without benefit of handrail or banister to hold on to – no wonder she was breathing a sigh of relief when she reached level ground.

And we make her stay up well past her bedtime till we are ready for her to pronounce the few words which make the Games officially open.

She certainly sounded tired, maybe even frail, when she finally got to speak her part.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Shades of meaning

I got a shock when I walked into the bathroom – for a moment I thought the floor was covered in gobbets of soot & black dust.

Well next door has builders seeing to the roof, perhaps all the noise & banging could have dislodged some of the century’s worth of smoky smut & grime from our roof space – but where was the hole it had fallen through?

I am never at my best first thing in the morning.

When I collected my wits I realised that it was a sheet of newspaper, laid there for a purpose. What I took for black blobs of dust were actually the hair on the heads of the crowd at the opening day of the 1948 Olympics, part of a magnificent series of photographs, archival or new, being published in The Times.

1948 resembled 2012 in that a dreary wet summer turned gloriously sunny just in time for the Games, which opened on a day when the temperature reached over 30° A good half of the crowd sat, bareheaded, in seats completely unprotected from the elements; a few wore hats, but many relied on their newspaper, placed tent-style, on top of their head, which induced great waves of nostalgia in me. Actually I thought that if they had really been letting themselves go they would have fashioned their newspapers into folded hats, or created makeshift caps by tying knots in the corners of their hankies; that none did so means that they retained a certain sense of the decorum appropriate to the relative formality of the occasion.

One correspondent to The Times found it odd that not one pair of sunglasses could be seen in the poster-size panoramic photograph of the crowd, putting that down to post-war austerity where there was not enough money such fripperies.

Actually my memory tells me that sunglasses were actually frowned upon for most of my childhood. At best they were an unnecessary affectation, adopted by Hollywood film stars, poseurs, unrelaibale men & women no better than they ought to be; at worst they were actually bad for your eyes. And in between they provoked a response which, it now strikes me, is not dissimilar to the modern objection to the full Muslim veil – although in that case the objection is that you cannot see the face, with shades the unease is down to the fact that you cannot see the eyes of the person you are talking to. It would have been the height of rudeness to keep your darkened glasses on while talking to someone.

On days when the sun really did blaze down a hat would have provided all the protection  your eyes needed from the glare. If no hat were readily available you could improvise with a scarf, towel, or yes, newspaper.

It still causes me a certain frisson of concern to see sunglasses on a child not yet old enough for secondary school, and as for babies in dark glasses - send for social services.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Useless advice

I was one of those troubled by leg cramps in pregnancy – the sort that really are too much to bear. They stubbornly resisted the most widely recommended prophylactic – all four volumes of the London telephone directory being used to raise the foot of the bed to encourage blood to flow freely back from the feet & calves.

My husband’s patience was being sorely tried, & so I mentioned this ‘minor’ problem to the doctor at my next antenatal appointment, when by chance I saw the kindly registrar rather than my usual SHO whom I found rather intimidating & prefectish.

How much milk do you drink?

At least two pints a day, I said proudly, expecting real Brownie points for once, only to see him slowly shaking his head.

Well stop – no more than 1 pint a day, and that includes everything – cereal, drinks, rice pudding …

It worked for me – who cares whether or not it was simply the power of persuasion.

In the Good Old Days the British Medical Journal used to carry an occasional column, under the general title Old Wives’ Tales, which considered whether there might be any scientific basis for the kind of traditional remedies on which so many of their patients might have relied, even for some years after the NHS was there to offer something supposedly more reliable. One day in the later 1970s it dealt with precisely this topic of milk & pregnancy cramps. As I remember it ummed & aahed rather a lot about calcium & ended up more or less firmly on the fence

The modern on-line NHS Choices is even less helpful: “leg cramps that occur during pregnancy should pass once the baby is born.

Babycentre reports that “Your leg cramps may be happening because you have a shortage of nutrients and salts, such as calcium or magnesium, circulating in your blood”, but is not really convinced.

The cure that worked for me is unlikely to be of any help to any currently expectant mum - does anybody at all dare to consume even one, never mond two or more, pints of (full fat) milk these days?


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Skimming milk

I found a few references in The Times archive to problems caused by an overproduction of milk in England in the summer of 1957 – thousands of gallons were reported to have been poured over fields or into excavations in Wales & the West of England or into quarries in Devon.

The problem lay with too much skimmed milk – a by-product of butter manufacture – which had very little value except as pig food at a few pennies per gallon, but even the animals could not make pig enough of themselves to soak it all up that summer.

The response of the Milk Marketing Board was an advertising campaign to encourage more human consumption of whole milk. A campaign fronted by lively, pretty, healthy, athletic-looking, blonde Zoe Newton was judged a success, with evidence that young people in their teens & twenties had begun to drink more milk, & even that “Some of the dance halls now find milk bars a popular & profitable line”

I wonder what went wrong in the years since then?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Dairy cream

Ever since the maniacal belief that whole milk counts as a bad food, something to be shunned, skinny blue skimmed stuff only for those who want to stay healthy, I have been puzzled by one question: What happens to all the cream? Why do we not hear Shock! Horror! stories about ‘them’ simply pouring it down the pits* since there is no market for the evil stuff?

I expect the answer is that we consumed it anyway in cream cakes & puddings; at least then we knew we were sinning & could seek salvation through repentance, were not conflicted by the competing good/bad for you claims of fat mixed with calcium.

I do not pretend to understand the causes of the current problems over milk prices, though I am aware that the future of dairy has been a long-running plot line in The Archers. I note however that, though often mentioned only as an aside, that there has been a sharp fall in the demand for cream now that the world is going through hard times & must learn to go without luxuries for a while.

*Google has failed me in my search for stories about surplus milk being poured down mines in England in the later 1950s


Monday, July 23, 2012

Odds & ends

The milk wagon which went past as I stood at the bus stop on Saturday bore the logo of First Milk.

Nigel stepped up from What the Papers Say & got to do his own pick of Radio 4’s week.

BBC Radio 4: Graham Seed’s Pick of the Week
Related posts
Wandering milk
Going through a vulgar phase

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Old economies

Consumer price inflation slowed again this month, prompting some optimistic hopes for really low rates by the end of the year.

Well, we can but hope, but I would not be too sure. We may be in for some shocks over food prices.

Drought over large areas of the USA, fields too wet for cows on this side of the pond, leading to lower yields & a threat to silage making for next year.

But, since food prices contribute only 10% of overall inflation as measured by CPI, the overall damage may not be that great.

The effects on farming make me fear much more for Ireland – the last thing they need now is a drop in farm incomes.

Good rain

This poem by Langston Hughes was featured on the St Swithin’s day edition of Something Understood

In time of silver rain

In time of silver rain
The earth puts forth new life again,
Green grasses grow
And flowers lift their heads,
And over all the plain
The wonder spreads

Of Life,
Of Life,
Of life!

In time of silver rain
The butterflies lift silken wings
To catch a rainbow cry,
And trees put forth new leaves to sing
In joy beneath the sky
As down the roadway
Passing boys and girls
Go singing, too,

In time of silver rain When spring
And life
Are new.
Langston Hughes

According to one web source, Hughes wrote this poem in dedication to Lorraine Hansberry when she told him she had cancer.

BBC Radio 4: Something Understood
Mixbook: Lorraine Hansberry & Langston Hughes
Lorraine Hansberry 1930-1965

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The next Anita Lonsbrough

I don’t think I have really got excited about the Olympics since 1960 which left me with the ambition to be the next Anita Lonsbrough. This dream disappeared – rapidly - when I realised this would mean devoting a large part of at least the next 4 years of my life to going out early in the morning to plough, boringly, up & down in chlorinated water, which made my ears ache.

The Tokyo Games, when they came, left me largely indifferent. Any vestigial interest in Olympic sports disappeared in 1972 in Munich when the universal obsession with tiny Olga Korbut seemed to me disturbingly unhealthy.

My enthusiasm for such international events was partly restored by the Commonwealth Games in Mnachester which did a lot of good, not least in helping the city, withdrawn & depressed by economic decline, to start looking outwards again & showed an old style coming together, away from the elite part of the competition.

I thought I was merely indifferent to the London Olympics – bemused by the hysteria which greeted the announcement in Singapore. But the sheer bloatedness of the event, the draconian nature of the restrictions on free movement, the crackdown on any Sid’s cafĂ© which might wish to join in the spirit of the thing by offering an Olympic breakfast, & the scary nature of ‘security’ & the difficulty of finding anything non-Olympian on the radio makes me wish I had left the country for the duration.

Anita Lonsbrough

Olga Korbut

BBC: 1972 Olympics

Dirty laundry

I do not think I have found any of the previous revelations about what bankers have been up to during their years as masters of the universe to be truly shocking - anything that respectable Victorians could get up to, as revealed in the works of David Morier Evans, C 21st banking buccaneers could do better.

Until it came to money laundering.

And yet there has been remarkably little outcry about this – certainly not on the scale of that which met the Barclay’s revelations.

Just another of life’s mysteries?

FT: HSBC’s Mexico nightmare on money laundering
Facts, failures and frauds: revelations, financial, mercantile, criminal: David Morier Evans
Related post
Who’d be a villain?

The British are the financial bag carriers of the world - William Cash, Spears Wealth Management Survey 5/4/2011

Friday, July 20, 2012

Sleep to live out our lives

In England it is church bells.

In Austria it is cow bells that generate the complaints.

And an Austrian judge has found that indeed it is not appropriate to leave bells on cows overnight in a field in a place where there are human neighbours to be disturbed.

It is not a total ban, so cows need not get lost when put to graze high in the Alps.

These days however, microchips & GPS are more efficient, much cheaper, - and quieter.

Striking a balance on church bells
Spiegel online: Austrian Court Bans Cowbells After Noise Dispute
YouTube: Austrian cows with bells on

Tea bags make tea

A small detail in an otherwise tragic story caught my attention: the Glatfelter mill at Lydney in Gloucestershire makes two out of three of the world’s tea bags.

Tell me more.

Well it might be not entirely accurate. The American parent company (founded 1864) makes this claim, but it has operations in Germany, France, UK, and the Philippines as well as Pennsylvania, who may all make tea bags too.

My first (heated) discussion about the correct application of VAT rules concerned tea bags.

The rules governing which locally manufactured items could be sold within the Free Trade Area without imposition of import duties stated that local input should make up at least X% of the Value Added of the final product.

The Head of the Customs department was insistent that putting tea into tea bags added no value whatsoever to the product, which was, & remained, just tea.

Glatfelter History
Tea Bag Papers for First-Class Aroma
[PDF] Beyond Paper
George flies in with parting gift for town

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Dependency, privilege & bankers bonuses
Dyadic death

Thursday, July 19, 2012

60 million people ...

So we now have the first results of the 2011 Census, which show, among other things, that, the statisticians were undercounting the population by nearly half a million.

That’s a city the size of Manchester!

I haven’t seen much fuss about that, though Mark Easton led with it on his BBC blog.

To put it another way, given a population of 56.1 million, that means that the statisticians had an accuracy rate of more than 99%.

By coincidence, if my memory is correct, the same size of error was revealed by the 1971 Census. I cannot now recall what the reasons were said to be, but I think it cast further doubt on the reliability of the 10% sample census which had been taken in 1966; migration was also no doubt partly to blame, & not just from outside the UK – with no border controls, measuring the numbers moving from Scotland & Ireland was especially problematic.

It also led to calls for a full Census to be held in 1976 – obviously ten years was far too long to wait for reliable figures in a fast-changing world. Plans were made, but fell victim to Denis Healey’s cuts in public expenditure during the IMF crisis of that year.

The Times, no less, have greeted the 2011 results with a First Leader which spoke of ‘The beauty of the census’, so there is hope that this more-than-200-year-old tradition will continue in 2021 after all. The much criticised cost, of approaching £500 million, is after all less than twice the fine paid by Barclays for attempting to manipulate a different set of figures.

Some will use the Census resuls to argue that our population is too high for our over-crowded islands. I rather enjoyed checking my memory of the Ross Population Panel Report of 1973 (a UK response, in part, to the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth) which took a relatively sanguine attitude to the prospect of a Great Britain population of 66.1 million in 2011 – only a couple of million higher than it has actually turned out to be (once you add in the figure for Scotland).

But those were ‘natural increase’ projections which made no allowance at all for future migration, which was considered far too unpredictable over such a long period of time; the experts thought that the British could grow the population to the size it is today entirely by their own efforts at procreation together with a modest increase in longevity.

In trying to find some confirmation on the web of my recollection of the 1971 Census results I came across this wonderful Public Service film, made to let the people know (in a mere 137 words) of the vital importance of the need for facts.

1971 Census Film: Transcript:

Voice over: From time to time through history, the greatest need has been for facts: facts to know where to build new schools, new houses, hospitals, factories, roads. We need facts to help fight sickness and disease . and that is why on April 25 we are asking you to fill in the 1971 census. An army of men and women with light blue satchels will deliver and collect them from every household in Britain .with NO exceptions.

The form is secret. There is nothing to fear from completing it. When its contents have been analysed, it will be locked away for a hundred years under guard . and all these officials are pledged to secrecy. Identify them by the blue satchel. It's the big form with the big job to do. We need the facts . from YOU

National Archive: 1971 Census film
Explaining the Difference between the 2011 Census. Estimates and the Rolled-Forward Population Estimates
Mark Easton: England and Wales population up

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Well I never!
Who do you think you are: Francis Maude
Immigration statistics & the Eton question
GB population

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Firing time’s arrow into the air

On this week’s Desert Island Discs Simon McBurney told the story of the chunk of stratification which hung on the wall of his archaeologist father’s study, which imbued the young Simon with the sense that Time is to be measured vertically rather than horizontally.

This raises intriguing speculations about what would happen if scientists, economists, & others who use statistical time series models, were to switch around the normal practice & put time on the vertical rather than horizontal axis, so making it the dependent rather than the independent variable.

There is some support for this proposal in the idea that our perception of time depends on the number of events, or memories, packed into each segment of our joint, severall or singular span of life. Not teleology – cause still comes before effect - but effects cause time.

It would certainly liven up the debate over climate change.

McBurney also spoke of his experience of being the child of older parents, with one grandfather, born in 1870, who could conceivably have spoken to someone who was at the Battle of Waterloo – which in itself collapses one’s notions of time.

Although I have no specific memory of conversation with my great-great-grandmother, it must also be conceivable that she had talked to one of Wellington’s veterans. But the oddest notion that I have been aware of in relation of time & the family is that it used to seem as if the 1920s & 1930s, covering the childhood & youth of my parents, just never existed. Because, in a way, from a child’s point of view, parents have no meaningful existence until the child comes along.

This sense of time having no meaning beyond a child’s own existence was brought home to me by an exchange with my 3-year-old daughter.

Out of the blue one day she asked me if I had ever ridden on a motorbike.

Oh my! Yes! I used to have a boyfriend with a motorbike on which I rode pillion.

So where did you used to put me?

Her mounting distress, at all attempts to explain that this all happened when I was only 14, well before she was born, during a time she simply had no existence, led me in the end to say that she just used to be fitted on to the seat between us.

Happy & satisfied, we got on with the cooking.

Related posts

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Trouble with Dante

I have just been reading a novel, a hardback edition set in 12 point Monotype Dante. The Center for Book Arts describes this typeface as ‘elegantly created and imminently readable’

The problem is – well the book I am reading is suspenseful, & cleverly written in a mixture of stream-of-consciousness (or internal monologue) & direct speech – mixing time past & present, switching from one to the other within the same paragraph. And the change is marked with the use of a single, straight, quote mark ′.

Which can be difficult, for ageing eyes, to see, to distinguish from the adjacent serif, especially if that belongs to a capital T.

So the work has to be a very engaging one, to keep you persevering to the end, to make it worth the effort


Monday, July 16, 2012

No comment

My Bottom Line: Nick Buckles, CEO of G4S


We seem to have had a lot of electronic or digital outages just recently: Blackberry, RBS, Nat West & Ulster banks, Orange mobile networks. BBC radio seems to be suffering from an unusual amount of fall off – perhaps something to do with all the moves to Salford or away from White City & Bush House, though that does not explain why RTE went off for quite a while late one evening.

According to The Times the G4S debacle, over recruiting security staff for the Olympics, is also due in part to software failure in a shift rostering system & problems with their website.

At least it proves that it is not just the public sector that has problems getting these things right.

It was always going to be difficult to recruit people for Olympic security in the numbers set by our current fearful standards. An American expert (whose name I did not catch) told Rhod Sharp on Up All Night that you cannot recruit too far in advance because people may find other jobs to go to, & he thought that getting people vetted in time would be the major stumbling block. And heaven help us if the instruction is that all those going to the Olympics be checked with the same sort of thoroughness as are those trying to get in to Heathrow.

Problems with mobile networks will have made many businesses think hard about whether it is altogether wise to become so dependent on just one means of communication.

As for those for whom a mobile communication device provides the security, comfort & reassurance missing from their lives since that faithful fragment of chewed blanket went unaccountably missing long ago, don’t they ever stop to worry about what else they might be missing while their eyes are glued to the latest texts & twitterings?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Golden mystery

According to a report in The Times you could make a profit of 40%-50% by selling one of the Olympic commemorative gold medals from the Royal Mint on the thriving secondary market in Peking or Shanghai. For some reason certain sections of Chinese society have developed a surprising yen for them.

Like I said before, no game for an amateur.

Related post

The Wife's side of the story

Now for the Victorian wife's contradiction of her husband's version of their 50 years of married life.

After the Golden Wedding

Dear worthy husband! good old man!
Fit hero of a golden marriage:
I'll show towards you, if I can,
An absolutely wifely carriage.
The months or years which your career
May still comprise before you perish,
Shall serve to prove that I, my dear,
Can honour, and obey, and cherish.
Till death us part, as soon he must,
(And you, my dear, should shew the way)
I hope you'll always find me just
The same as on our wedding day.
I never loved you, dearest: never!

Let that be clearly understood:
I thought you good, and rather clever,
And found you really rather good.
And, what was more, I loved another,
But couldn't get him: well, but, then
You're just as bad, my erring brother,
You most impeccable of men:--
Except for this: my love was married
Some weeks before I married you:
While you, my amorous dawdler, tarried
Till we'd been wed a year or two.

You loved me at our wedding: I
Loved some one else: and after that
I never cast a loving eye
On others: you -- well, tit for tat!
But after all I made you cheerful:
Your whims I've humoured: saw the point
Of all your jokes: grew duly tearful,
When you were sad, yet chose the joint
You liked the best of all for dinner,
And soothed you in your hours of woe:
Although a miserable sinner,
I am a good wife, as wives go.

I bore with you and took your side,
And kept my temper all the time:
I never flirted; never cried,
Nor ranked it as a heinous crime,
When you preferred another lady,
Or used improper words to me,
Or told a story more than shady,
Or snored and snorted after tea,
Or otherwise gave proofs of being
A dull and rather vain old man:
I still succeeded in agreeing
With all you said, (the safest plan),
Yet always strove my point to carry,
And make you do as I desired:

I'm glad my people made me marry!
They hit on just what I required.
Had love been wanted - well, I couldn't
Have given what I'd not to give;
Or had a genius asked me! wouldn't
The man have suffered? now, we live
Among our estimable neighbours
A decent and decorous life:
I've earned by my protracted labours
The title of a model wife.

But when beneath the turf you're sleeping,
And I'm sitting here in black,
Engaged, as they'll suppose, in weeping,
I shall not wish to have you back.

And finally - the Vicar's prayer.

. The Vicar
A good old couple! kind and wise!
And oh! what love for one another!
They've won, those two, life's highest prize,
Oh! let us copy them, my brother.

Related post

Saturday, July 14, 2012

How It All Began: Penelope Lively

I have just been reading How It All Began by Penelope Lively – a very satisfying read.

It tells of the consequences of a mugging, which results in a broken hip for 77-year old Charlotte & so also has cleverly plotted consequences in the lives of those connected to her.

In the telling of the story we get reflections on ageing, the contingency of history (& historians), the value of a life of reading, of learning to read, of the meaning of money, & financial crisis. All beautifully, but deftly, elegantly & economically told – the book is less than 250 pages long in the hardback edition.

I shall resist the temptation to fill this post with enjoyable, penetrating & delicious quotes, & settle for just one:
The consultant was not the one who had done the surgery. Of course not. The National Health Service likes to make sure that you achieve as wide an acquaintance as possible amongst its operatives.
My only grumble is that this story of angst among the comfortable middle classes ends with a casual dismissal of the mugger – who was soon relieved of his ill-gotten gains by another gang – as just a ’fourteen-year-old with behavioural problems’.

Penelope Lively's official website

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Elizabeth Jane Howard: Love All

Missing the afterglow

It seems that an orange afterglow in the energy-saving light bulb in the bedside lamp is in fat a sign that the end of its (not so very long) life is near.

The bulb finally blew on Monday – without any other sign such as a pop when I switched it on, just a failure of light.

Its replacement – the identical twin of the first (came in a box of two, bought on the same day in the same supermarket) – just does not have that glow, which I find I miss.

Related post

Friday, July 13, 2012

Wandering milk

A milk wagon went past as I was standing at the bus stop – nothing unusual in that, except that this one bore the logo of Pembrokeshire Cheese.

Collecting or delivering milk, silly.

But the company’s website stresses that they use milk only from Welsh farms, so what was it doing on a B road in Derbyshire?

Perhaps local farms are providing milk to one of the other operations of the parent company, First Milk, who sometimes share tankers; or perhaps it was on a (long) diversion because a road somewhere was closed by flooding or landslips. Or perhaps the wet weather is reducing milk yields so much that a desperate search is on for alternative sources of supply.


Related post
Added 14th July: I saw the (a?) Pembrokeshire Cheese wagon passing through the village again this lunchtime, so it must be a regular delivery/pickup run

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Horse logging

Prince Charles visited the British Horse Loggers in Wales this week.

It was a bit alarming to find that the OED gives, as one definition of the word logger, from old English dialect, as ‘A heavy block of wood fastened to the leg of a horse to prevent it straying’

So it came as a bit of a relief to find that the modern British horse logger is simply one who uses horses for a wide range of forestry work.

I expect they are especially good on hillsides.


Related post

Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel was interviewed on RTE Radio 1 last week about the second book in her trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. I was surprised to hear a distinctly Irish cadence or lilt in her voice. This seemed to grow as the conversation progressed, so much so that, when I came back into the room after a brief absence, I thought (wrongly) that the programme had moved on to a different interviewee.

Mantel does indeed come of Irish stock, though both her parents were born in England. She was born, like me, in north Derbyshire & it is more than likely that school &, possibly, 1950s elocution lessons) taught her to speak proper. She attended university in London & has lived abroad in various countries, so will have experienced the urge to adapt to cadences she heard around her, rather than, as some do, sticking stubbornly to the accents of her childhood out of a kind of loyalty or badge of identity.

Related posts

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Confused hoglets

Baby hedgehogs are having a hard time in this weather, need to be rescued from waterlogged nests.

The Times report of this sad fact also introduced me to the idea that a baby hedgehog is called a hoglet.

But only since 1949, according to the OED. Before that – ever since 1611 - it was used to mean a piglet.

Americans have been known to apply it to a baby ground hog.

Still, no more confusing than wondering whether a hogget is a young sheep or a young pig.

Careful what you wish for

It has started already – even Paul Simons, the Times weatherman, said we might hope for sun next Sunday as a guarantee of a change to sunshine rather than rain.

All because of the old belief that the weather on St Swithin’s day fixes the pattern for the next 40 days.

Me, I’m hoping for the exact opposite. As one who has had good reason to mark the weather on St Swithin’s day for well over 60 years, I know that the old saw just does not work.

Related posts

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Temperance Essay

A Woman’s Hour item on temperance brought back memories of the Music Festivals of my youth.

These competitions, popular at least in Lancashire & the North West, included classes for reciters of poetry as well as singers & instrumentalists. They formed a particularly important part of the life of the Methodist church – hence the jog to my memory, for they included competitions (one adult, one for youngsters) for the best Essay which presented arguments for total abstinence from the demon drink.

I never entered that section but made by debut at the age of 6 in the ‘verse speaking from memory’ class. Green smocked cotton dress, white cardigan & ankle socks, shiny shoes, ribbons in my hair.

The set text was from AA Milne:

Has anybody seen my mouse?
I opened his box for half a minute
Just to make sure he was really in it –
But while I was looking he jumped outside.
I tried to catch him.
I tried, I tried.

[Sharp one-eighth turn to the left, feet together]

Uncle John, have you seen my mouse?

At which point my memory fades away.

When I was a bit older (9, I think) I had my first go at sight-reading. For this the competitors were taken into a room backstage & given a shortish paragraph of prose to peruse, until your turn came to go out on stage & read it out loud. I came second at this first attempt (at a passage from Wind in the Willows) – the adjudicators said they admired my honesty in simply stopping at one point to say that I did not know how to pronounce the next word, which was both French & italicised.

In trying, without much success, to find a web history of such festivals I discovered that the Buxton Music, Speech and Drama Festival – Founded 1907 is still going strong with a wide range of classes for verse speaking from memory. I wonder if Michael Gove knows about this.

Too late for this year’s event, but I hope to be able to go to the one next May.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Blackberry blossom

The blackberry blossoms are prolific this year & looking especially lush – their own plumpness full of fruitful promise.

Are we going to get a bumper crop of berries, or will the damp just turn them into grey & mouldy sludge on the bramble?

In either case they will – especially those so visible from & easily accessible at the roadside - be gathered by those much nimbler on their feet, bowls & Tupperware boxes at the ready for whenever the moment is ripe.

Some of the knowledge of the past – about what, of natures bounty, provides food for free for humans – has been lost, but everybody still knows about blackberries.

Mouths are already salivating at the thought of all those blackberry & apple pies or crumbles to come.

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Sunday, July 08, 2012

Fifty years

By another of life’s small coincidences, this poem about a Golden Wedding anniversary featured on Radio3’s Words & Music the day after I had my Darby & Joan moment on the bus.

It’s a familiar theme for popular song throughout the ages – the disappointments of marriage, a husband’s trust in his wife’s fidelity (despite his straying) & eventual recognition that staying together brings its rewards.

Next week – the wife’s side of the story

The husband's side

She's not a faultless woman; no!
She's not an angel in disguise:
She has her rivals here below:
She's not an unexampled prize:
She does not always see the point
Of little jests her husband makes:
And, when the world is out of joint,
She makes a hundred small mistakes:

She's not a miracle of tact:
Her temper's not the best I know:
She's got her little faults in fact,
Although I never tell her so.
But this, my wife, is why I hold you
As good a wife as ever stepped,
And why I meant it when I told you
How cordially our feast I kept:

You've lived with me these fifty years,
And all the time you loved me dearly:
I may have given you cause for tears:
I may have acted rather queerly.
I ceased to love you long ago:
I loved another for a season:

As time went on I came to know
Your worth, my wife: and saw the reason
Why such a wife as you have been
Is more than worth the world beside;
You loved me all the time, my Queen;
You couldn't help it if you tried.
You loved me as I once loved you,
As each loved each beside the altar:
And whatsoever I might do,
Your loyal heart could never falter.

And, if you sometimes fail me, sweetest,
And don't appreciate me, dear,
No matter: such defects are meetest
For poor humanity, I fear.
And all's forgiven, all's forgot,
On this our golden wedding day;
For, see! she loves me: does she not?
So let the world e'en go its way.

I'm old and nearly useless now,
Each day a greater weakling proves me:
There's compensation anyhow:
I still possess a wife that loves me.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Service to be resumed

Computers down again today

Friday, July 06, 2012

How to toss a coin

The Americans have a simple, if sometimes brutal, method of selecting their athletes for the Olympics. There is a trial, sudden death; the first three are chosen, past performance counts for nothing.

But nobody had foreseen the snag – or if they had, they had failed to put in place Plan B.

What happens if two (or more) competitors tie for third place?

So there was a scramble to work something out when exactly that happened this year. The two athletes involved were offered a choice: run it off or toss a coin.

Cricket seems to have managed all these years to have matters, such as who bats first, decided by The Toss without further explanation or instruction (except that it must take place outside, not in, the Pavilion). But we live in anxious, litigious times, so USA Track & Field provided detailed guidance.

First, the coin must be a ‘United States Quarter Dollar coin with the image of George Washington appearing on the obverse hub of the coin and an Eagle appearing on the reverse hub of the coin. Each athlete shall inspect the coin to ensure the obverse and reverse hubs of the coin reflect the images of George Washington and the Eagle, respectively’.

So my first question is: what happens if, upon inspection, the image of George Washington is found to lie upon the reverse hub, & the Eagle upon the obverse hub of the coin?

The toss itself must be carried exactly as prescribed: ‘the USATF representative shall bend his or her index finger at a 90 degree angle to his or her thumb, allowing the coin to rest on his or her thumb. In one single action, the USATF representative shall toss the coin into the air, allowing the coin to fall to the ground’.

If the coin falls wholly or partly on its edge, the toss is to be repeated.

There is more detail (nearly 400 words in all), but my concern is whether this protocol,  interferig as it does with the law of error by removing some of the sources of random variation in the tossing of a coin, upsets the assumptions on which the theory of a 50:50 chance for heads or tails is based.

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Thursday, July 05, 2012


On this weeks Infinite Monkey Cage, Robin Ince asked why, if astrology is such rubbish, most astronomers are Leos.

Well obviously, it’s because (in the northern hemisphere) they are all late summer babies, the smallest in the class, too weedy to make it on to the football team.

And they do less well in exams too, so they cannot do the really hard stuff of proper physics.

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The consumers of investment

On last week’s Bottom Line on Radio 4, Evan Davis asked whether ‘the market’ really does act to distribute capital in an efficient manner. During the discussion it was claimed that, taken as a whole, neither the airline nor the car industries had produced a return on the investment made in them; indeed investors had not even, in the end, got back what they had put in. Putting that together with the same assertion about the railways which recently came to my attention, & it starts to look like a law of economics, one which, if it does not do so already, will eventually apply to the newer technologies of computing & mobile communications.

We tend to focus our attention on those who do, in the shorter term, make spectacular fortunes for themselves – the Railway Kings, the Henry Fords, the Bill Gates or Michael O’Leary’s – or those who go rapidly & spectacularly bust, bringing ruination to widows & orphans & other trusting investors of life savings, thereby earning for themselves only contumely, contempt & accusations of incompetence or fraudulent practice.

Money invested does not disappear, into thin air or clouds of smoke, nor does it turn into a dead parrot. One way or another it provides income for all sorts of people, from those who deliver personal services to the (temporarily) rich, designers & sellers of fast cars & large yachts, art dealers, some living artists, but also to computer engineers, drivers of steam trains, factory workers, small businesses which supply components, miners, metal-bashers, and lawyers. Some of it even, via taxes, goes to pay civil servants, policeman, soldiers, nurses, teachers & politicians. But, sadly, in the end there may just not be enough money left over to honour the promises made to investors.

And few would say that it was therefore all a complete waste of money & effort. We still use & value, gain great benefit from, cars & planes & trains, the way they have changed the way we live our lives, the opportunities they have opened up for us. Travel by water may not figure large in our consciousness these days, being unattractively slower than the alternatives, but most of the world’s trade still moves on ships. And the invention of the wheel pre-dates recorded history. Although the capital invested has either evanesced or, perhaps, like a battery, gone permanently & irreparably flat, its useful energy all gone, the processes set in motion by those initial injections of investment energy continue, fed by what?

In his book Why Most Things Fail, Paul Ormerod, focusing on companies & brands, concludes that, while innovation is the best strategy for survival (ie continuing to be in a position to provide a return for your investors), it can be no guaranteed way of avoiding the processes which bring about extinction in a complex, ever-changing & interconnected world where the future lies shrouded & out of sight.

Innovation should not however be confused with The New, or abrupt changes of direction which require hefty new investment & steep learning curves. But nor does it mean sticking stubbornly to one’s last in the belief that tried & tested is always best. The best-managed organisations are always innovating at the margins, in ways which may not be obvious to the regular customer but astonish the returning visitor with their unfamiliar familiarity - & improvement.

For, as David Edgerton pointed out in his book, The Shock of the Old, for most scientists & engineers, their role is to operate & maintain things, adapting the old or adopting the new to meet the changing circumstances of the world about them. It is use which gives technology its value.

Ormerod’s model of extinction shows that acquiring knowledge produces considerable returns in the sense of a sharp increase in the longevity of firms. But even knowledge does not have to imply total novelty, in the sense of previously unknown facts or processes. Knowledge of the ways of the world & of how other agents – be they employees, suppliers, customers or competitors – are thinking & behaving is just as, if not even more, valuable. In this it would also be a mistake to think that in the modern world knowledge is only, or best, delivered electronically.

In another fascinating insight from The Bottom Line, discussing the results of an earlier survey which showed that the average CEO spends 60% of their (long) working hours in meetings, all last week’s participants stressed the importance of real-time interaction – preferably face-to-face – because of the amount of information conveyed by all the various modes of nonverbal communication & the relationships of trust which it fosters.

But, as a corollary, it is dangerous to collect all this information from people who are just like you – group-think is stultifyingly dangerous, makes the whole herd more vulnerable to extinction.

Even a small change in the angle of view can show the familiar in a wholly different light, & itself leads to an increase in knowledge.

BBC Radio 4: The Bottom Line

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

East-West diplomacy

According to Caitlin Moran’s tv review, that perceptive wordsmith, Alan Partridge, calls Norfolk ‘Albion’s rump: the Wales of the East’

I know somebody who had to be given a serious talking-to when he combined official figures for East Anglia with those for Wales, on the grounds that, since F-tests revealed no significant difference between them, pooling the data would produce an estimate with a smaller standard error.

A not unreasonable step from the purely statistical point of view.

But put yourself in the place of the politician explaining to public & parliament why they should be treated as if there were no real difference between them.

Darby & Joan

Sitting on the bus last Saturday on the way into town, I suddenly found myself thinking of Darby & Joan clubs.

Goodness knows why – I cannot now remember which immediately prior thought pushed the file pointer to land on that particular bit of the memory bank – because I was instantly in recall mode, simultaneously viewing film clips & being that child walking past the building – next to the Town Hall & opposite the swimming baths – a church hall perhaps? – where the Darby & Joan club held its weekly (monthly?) meetings, meetings which were always reported in the local paper.

I don’t think it was a national organisation, like Scouts & Guides, Boys’ & Girls’ Brigade, Woodcraft Folk, TocH, Rotary, Round Table, Townswomen’s Guild, or Women’s Institute, nor one attached to any particular religious denomination, but every town, village or community seemed to have one.

A social occasion for OAPs, old folk, the elderly. People older than my grandparents, born when Queen Victoria was on the throne; people who didn’t (to a childish mind) have anything else to do because they did not work anymore & so did not have much money either.

They had tea; perhaps they had a Talk from an invited speaker; they may have played games such as housey-housey or beetle drive; they may even have done some dancing. But what they, always, most definitely did have, was a sing-song. Accompanied, as was most communal singing outside of church, by a piano, played perhaps by someone who was an OAP themselves, or someone younger who had that particular skill of being able to play any tune on request. And these songs would, most likely, be the popular songs of their youth, or courting days – form the music hall or variety theatre.

The clubs don’t seem to exist any more; today’s pensioner is not necessarily poor & there are many other opportunities for entertainment & occupation, organisations such as Age UK, or social services run lunch clubs & day centres for those whose choices are limited by ill-health or poverty, but I found myself wondering where the name had come from.

The OED calls it ‘a jocose appellation’ for a devoted married couple, ‘especially in advanced years and in humble life’. The source is usually thought to be a verse published in The Gentleman’s Magazine of 1735, which contains the lines:
Old Darby, with Joan by his side,
You've often regarded with wonder:
He's dropsical, she is sore-eyed,
Yet they're never happy asunder.

The OED is not convinced, thinking it possible that the names go back to some earlier piece, & may even have been based on real people.

I was surprised to find that there are still plenty of Darby & Joan clubs in existence, including the original Club in Streatham, south west London. The opening of this club – which had its own building – was reported in The Times of 18 December 1942. The amenities – ‘comfortable lounges, reading & rest rooms, a small billiard table, bathrooms, & an advice bureau to assist with the knotty problems of old age & supplementary pensions’ – were free to users, who could also buy themselves a proper hot dinner for 8d (less than 3½p). There is even a photograph of two of the first members arriving – a rather prosperous-looking couple – captioned TO DISPEL LONELINESS.

The Streatham Club was run by the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) on behalf of an executive management committee chaired by the local MP. After the war the WVS was a prime mover in setting up Darby & Joan Clubs all over the country. Despite the name I do not think membership was limited to married couples – that would make no sense given the large numbers of widowers &, more especially, widows, in this age group.

Interestingly, the OED describes Darby as ‘A southern (not the local) pronunciation of Derby, the name of an English town and shire, which was formerly also sometimes so spelt.’

In the whole of my lifetime as a Derbyshire girl I only ever knew one person who pronounced it with an e as in herby: that was my Irish grandmother, who had spent the majority of her life in the county, so must have been aware of her difference. Nobody – in the family at least – liked to correct her.

Of course that is the way modern Americans pronounce it when speaking of horseracing or hats. Probably just another example, of which there are many, of pronunciation, grammar or meaning which we nowadays think of as Americanisms which turn out to a survival of English as she used to was spoke even as far back as the age of the first Elizabeth

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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Saving the planet

Today is the first day of our new rubbish collection regime.

Every household is now the proud possessor of three wheelie bins. The newest – made of brown plastic – is for
• Plastic bottles, tubs and trays
• Food tins and drinks cans
• Empty aerosols
• Foil
• Newspapers and magazines, junk mail
• Yellow pages and telephone directories
• Greetings cards and wrapping paper
• Cardboard packaging and boxes
• Office paper, writing paper and envelopes
We still also have the green plastic unlidded boxes to use for glass. And we remain on a fortnightly cycle, plain old non-recyclable rubbish alternating with the salvageable stuff.

I do not know how many wagons have to come round for the recycling bins – two at least, one of which deals only with the food & garden waste (in the grey wheelie bin with the green lid).

I followed this one along the main road to the village around lunch time. I shall not need to see it again to know when it is there - it trails a very distinctive bouquet, which lingers. A distinct whiff was blowing in through the window of the bus as we followed a few minutes behind after the bin men had finished their stint in the village & driven off to the north

Who'd be a villain?

The US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), levied a fine of $200m on Barclays, & the US Justice Department's Criminal Division fined them $160m.

Yesterday GlaxoSmithKline was fined $3bn for ‘the largest healthcare fraud case in US history.

So far I have heard no indignation from journalists or wrath from MPs, no public outrage, no calls for heads to roll or demands for resignation, no clamour for independent inquiry into the culture of drug-making.

I wonder why not.

Well we can only pursue one uneatable villain at a time. There can be only one public enemy number one at any one time.

Monday, July 02, 2012

From the record

Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 6 March 2012
[Mr George Howarth in the Chair]
Financial Services Bill

Chris Leslie: I might have missed the Minister’s point, but I asked him about the LIBOR situation mentioned in today’s Financial Times. Does the Treasury have a view on that story? I would be happy to give way to him if he has a view on it.
Mr Hoban: No.
Chris Leslie: The Minister does not have a view on that. That makes me worry slightly about what is happening.



OK, I concede, it was a clever (though slightly convoluted) clue. And conceded only after looking up the answer in the dictionary.
Times crossword #25,202: Mother Brown, for nothing I fix up gallery opening.

How is that a clue to machicolate, a word of which I had never heard? I get the ma bit, but was misled by thinking of what is these days a rather tired cliché of a clue where gallery = Tate, so I was thinking they had changed the T to an L, instead of analysing the clue properly according to the rules.

A machicolation (with which the spellchecker is completely at home) is ‘a space between the corbels supporting a parapet, or an opening in the floor of a projecting gallery, for dropping missiles, molten lead, etc, on an attacking enemy’ & to machicolate (which the spellchecker does not recognise) is ‘to provide or build with machicolations’.

We learned about those in primary school – made visits to a Norman Castle even more thrilling! But I don’t remember ever learning the word. The dictionary says it’s a French word, so I guess we have the Normans to thank for that too.

Come to think about it we did learn the rudiments of Norman & Early English architecture – I remember drawing Norman arches, pointed Early English windows, columns & flying buttresses. There was also one of the I-Spy books where you could earn points by locating examples; but I still have no memory of the word machicolate.

While the dictionary was out I thought to check the origin of matriculation, that important & impressive- sounding thing a certificate of which we had to get if we wanted to go to university – basically just a confirmation that we had the right number & combination of GCE O & A levels & were old enough to cope with the undergraduate experience.

It is rather disappointing to learn that it means simply being entered on a register – nothing at all exciting to schoolchildren whose teachers checked them on the register every morning.

But I rather like the fact that it is a diminutive of matrix – some basic knowledge of mathematics required.
And I like even more the fact that matrix comes from the Latin for mother & was once used to mean the womb.

We could have had some real fun pointing that out to the boys who so outnumbered us in the matriculation stakes.

And I really like the idea of womb algebra – such a change from regimented rectangular arrays.


Cancer of the matrix is difficult to cure. Guglielmo da Saliceto ca. 1250

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Doubt’s boundless sea

A poem for all those who, sometimes, fear that it is not just politicians whose lives or careers end in failure, that Reason leads us to the wrong conclusion ‘fifty times for one’ while we spend most of our time lost in ‘error’s fenny bogs & thorny brakes.’

There is always the reassurance that books will bear you up & a reminder that, aeons before the age of rubber rings or plastic water wings or arm bands, bladders were always there to give service as buoyancy aids to the unconfident swimmer.

Was Charles Babbage familiar with the image of Man (or his mind) as a ‘reasoning engine’?

Homo Sapiens

Were I (who to my cost already am
One of those strange, prodigious creatures, man)
A spirit free to choose, for my own share,
What case of flesh & blood I pleased to wear,
I’d be a dog, a monkey, or a bear,
Or anything but that vain animal
Who is so proud of being rational.
The senses are too gross, & he’ll contrive
A sixth, to contradict the other five,
And before certain instinct, will prefer
Reason, which fifty times for one does err;
Reason, an ignis fatuus in the mind,
Which, leaving light of nature, sense, behind,
Pathless & dangerous wandering ways it takes
Through error’s fenny bogs & thorny brakes;
Whilst the misguided follower climbs with pain
Mountains of whimseys, heaped in his own brain;
Stumbling from thought to thought, falls headlong down
Into doubt’s boundless sea, where, like to drown,
Books bear him up awhile, & make him try
To swim with bladders of philosophy;
In hopes still to o’ertake the escaping light,
The vapour dances in his dazzling sight
Till, spent, it leaves him to eternal night,
Then old age & experience, hand in hand,
Lead him to death, & make him understand,
After a search so painful & so long,
That all his life he has been in the wrong.
Huddled in dirt the reasoning engine lies,
Who was so proud, so witty, & so wise.

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