Saturday, 29 November 2008

The Police, according Ladybird Books.

My older brother sent me this. http://www.theclacks.org.uk/Ladybird Policemen.pps I thought it was pretty funny.

A Bench for DJK

I understand DJ Kirkby collects photographs of benches, so thought I'd post a photo of the bench in our back garden. We really like sitting on it on hot, sunny summer days, as it's beneath a 20-year old paper bark birch tree, which gives lovely dappled sunlight to enjoy.

Less happily, it's right underneath the bird feeders, one for birdseed and one for peanuts, so if you zoom in, you can see it's liberally spattered with birdshit. One of these days we'll move the bird feeders to somewhere more sensible, but for now, we just have to clean the bench from time to time.

And now I have to sort out the VCR. Ever since we bought a flat-screen TV the other week, this particular VCR has recorded a black screen rather than the actual programme. Oh, and videoplus codes don't seem to generate a programme number or channel, just the time. I have no idea why not, but I'm going to go through the basic set up process and hope that fixes it. Otherwise, I'm kind of stuck. The shop that sold me the VCR has closed, the manual doesn't mention the error message I get and googling yields nothing. I suppose I could email Panasonic, but I'll try fixing it myself first. Wish me luck!

Snail Trails

During the summer, particularly when we had the drains crisis and had to have the conservatory floor up, all the plants that normally live in the conservatory were distributed around the garden. Not all of them liked that, unsurprisingly, but that's not really the subject of this post.

Our garden is heavily infested with snails. We've not used the blue metaldehyde pellets since Jenny kept a couple of caecilians (tropical legless amphibians) in her office, feeding them earthworms from the garden. Both died after bleeding from all orifices, and we concluded that the worms had eaten decomposed remains of slugs and snails we'd killed with metaldehyde.

The snail population is very good for the thrushes, which do their best, but an unexpected side effect was that when the plants came back into the conservatory, it quickly became clear that someone had laid some eggs in one of the pots. Or maybe it was someseveral.

This morning we put the heater on so that after breakfast we could sit out there and drink our coffee, and the windows immediately misted up. No surprise there. I hadn't expected the snail trails, however.

There are quite a few tiny snails in the conservatory, and we're having to collect them up. They don't do much damage individually, but there really are quite a lot of them, and the total damage is significant.

Such a busy week

I have been working harder than I have done for years, and I've really enjoyed it, especially that great sense of achievement at the end. That's why I've done almost no blogging, so I apologise now for not visiting or commenting much.

What I've done in the past 7 working days is to take a 22 page Installation Guide and convert it into a summary which is printed on one side of A3. There are 3 flavours, depending on the exact configuration, but essentially there are 16 boxes, each of which contains a bit of text and maybe a diagram or a screenshot. The idea is that as long as the installer is just taking all the default options, this summary should be all that's needed to get the kit up and running. It took a lot of effort and I had a lot of help, but it's really great to have got it finished. Of course, the acid test will be next week when the kit gets shipped and the dealers actually start trying to follow my instructions! The Support department are anticipating a few phone calls!

Today I have to replace the roofing felt on my 3-year-old shed. Must do it today as the forecast is for rain tomorrow. That's very poor, for the felt to only last 3 years. Not impressed, but of course, it's out of warranty. Natch. Might write and complain anyway.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Last night we watched Joanna Lumley travelling up Norway in search of Northern Lights. Dead jealous that she found some. Actually, we watched because she ended up in Svalbard where we hope to go looking for fossils.

I found her a bit too luvvie for my taste, but could really relate to what she said about having waited all her life to see this. Not that I have, but it was easy to see the emotional hooks.

Fantastic. I stole these pics from iPlayer, but you can watch the whole prog there.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00dhv1n/b00dhtx0/Joanna_Lumley_in_the_Land_of_the_Northern_Lights/




Wednesday, 26 November 2008

These guys are just idiotic!

I truly cannot believe the EU actually pressed hard against measures to conserve stocks of bluefin tuna in the Med. Are they out of their tiny minds? What on earth possessed them to oppose this? Just stupid, stupid, stupid! The single most important aspect of the proposal would just have banned tuna fishing for a couple of months to give them a chance to spawn. How hard is it to work out that if you massacre them while they're spawning, you pretty soon won't have a tuna fishing industry. Bleugh! I just want to spit!

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7746965.stm

Morality Monitor 2.0

Sorry, failed.
You just have to visit this: Morality Monitor.
Hat-tip, Pharingula, of course.
love
Rob

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Amazing deep-sea squid


This is one of a small collection of photos at http://www.mnh.si.edu/cephs/vetal01/vetal01.html showing some very unusual-looking deep-sea squid, photographed by oil companies' ROVs. They seem to be new to science, and exist all around the world. There are several short movie clips as well as stills.

Looking at them, the short, sticky-out sections of tentacle seem to be what you might call the conventional tentacles, and the vertical bits look like almost unmuscled extensions that just hang in the water. Quite what they do is hard to imagine, but I'd guess it's connected with feeding. Are they sticky? Do they have stinging nematocysts like jellyfish?

Just fabulous. I love this sort of stuff!

Hat-tip Pharyngula, of course! I must start stealing stuff from somewhere else!

Monday, 24 November 2008

Playing with Fireworks!

This looks like fun, though I don't think Health and Safety would let us try it here in the UK!

http://www.koreus.com/video/grece-bataille-feux-artifice.html

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Fucking OWWWW!

This, boys and girls, is a friction burn, and yes, I am after the sympathy vote! Edit: You can't tell, but it's a photo of the lower calf of my left leg, just above the ankle.

I was out in my shed, carving the lump of paduck, when I realised that if Jenny landed at 13:45 (as confirmed by the BA website) she'd shortly be making her way to the tube and thence to Kings Cross and so home. If there was any sort of a problem, she'd phone, and since the shed is a phone-free zone, I needed to come inside, just in case.

Just about to sit down and read in the living room, I spotted that we were rather light on kindling, so went down to the cellar to collect some. I was wearing moccasin-style slippers, which have a nasty plastic sole. The stairs down to the cellar are plain wood. I wasn't rushing or doing anything stupid, but the combination of damp plastic sole and smooth wood was pretty slippery, and I took flight, as it were.

I expect to have a big bruise on my bum where I sat heavily, but the burn is the much more painful. I guess my left leg just slid down those 6 or so steps, separated from the wood by jeans and a sock, which between them removed quite a lot of skin.

I don't know what the density of nerve endings is on the lower leg, but I can tell you that those 12 square centimetres have far more than I care for, right now. They're all telling me I'm injured, and well actually, thanks guys, but I already know that!

That's what friends are for!

I've never lived alone for long, and I hate being by myself for extended periods, so I usually don't much look forward to the times Jenny is away from home. This weekend would have been the same, except I managed to persuade Jane to come to dinner last night. I do like cooking for myself (you may have noticed!) but it's much preferable to show off to someone else! I'd promised her squirrel, but in the event the man at the farm shop couldn't come up with the goods, which was a bit of a shame.

Anyhow, I'd planned all along to do a Madhur Jaffrey lamb rogan josh just in case the squirrel turned out to be nasty, so just did that instead. I cooked it on Friday evening, since, like many similar dishes, it benefits from being left to stand and then recooked.

For starters, I did a carrot and beetroot salad that I made up myself. After peeling and topping and tailing a carrot, I used the potato peeler to cut it into thin sheets, then a regular kitchen knife to cut the sheets into long matchsticks. Then I did the same with a small amount of beetroot, ending up with perhaps a quarter as much beetroot as carrot. My beetroot was cooked, because that was what I happened to have in the fridge, but raw would have done just as well. After piling that onto a couple of side plates, I scattered about half a teaspoon of finely diced fresh root ginger over each, drizzled olive oil and balsamic vinegar over and served.

I was pleased with the result, and was interested to note that not only was it rather time-consuming to make, but it took much longer to eat than you'd imagine. Not sure why. You'd have thought one carrot and half a beetroot between two would last about 30 seconds, but we were there for a good while.

Having finished that, we went back into the kitchen while I cooked the rice, spicy fried aubergine and Gujurati green beans to go with the lamb. I can't find the aubergine recipe online, but here's what I do: slice the aubergine in half lengthways, then each half into 3, also lengthways. Then cut it across into half-centimetre slices. Dump the lot into one of 2 glass bowls and glug some olive oil over. Invert the other glass bowl on top of the first, and holding tightly, shake it vigorously to distribute the oil over the aubergine. This uses much less oil than just chucking them in a pan to fry.

Take the second bowl off and throw in a mixture of half a teaspoon ground turmeric, and eighth to a quarter teaspoon of cayenne and a good grinding of black pepper. Cover with the second bowl and shake vigorously once more. The pieces of aubergine should now be evenly coated with the spices.

Using a heavy-based wide pan on a moderate heat with another glug of olive oil, fry the aubergine in batches . They're a pain to turn, but you do need to do so. Once they're starting to go golden, you should notice some of the oil seeping out. I usually judge that to mean they're cooked.

Jane was laughing at me as I cooked, because I always get in a bit of a panic, unsure of precise timings and what to do next. In the end it all worked out OK, but I did wonder once or twice.

Pudding was mango and passionfruit brulée. Nope, can't find that one online either. Dice the flesh of a peeled mango and put it in the bottom of a heat-proof glass dish. Or you could use individual ramekins. Whip 150 ml of suitable cream (double or whipping) until it's softly stiff, then fold in 200 ml Greek yoghurt and the juice and pips of 4 passionfruit. Pour that lot on top of the mango, then spread a thin layer of soft brown sugar on top, covering all the cream. Chill in the fridge for an hour. Get the grill really hot, then put the brulée under until the sugar bubbles up and starts to caramelise. I never get that bit right and I have yet to serve this dish with nice crisp caramel on top. I've tried it under the grill, I've tried a blow torch, nothing ever works for me. Jenny can manage it easy-peasy, but not me. Cool, then refrigerate until time to serve.

And it did seem to go down OK. Along with an astonishing amount of wine. I counted the bottles this morning and was amazed to be feeling fine.

After loading the dishwasher, we retired to the living room, resurrected the log fire and watched Horton Hears a Who on the big screen. I've seen it 3 times now, and I still think it's great!

So a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Thank you, Jane, I had a lovely time. Oh, and you can relax; the wine didn't stain the rug!

Friday, 21 November 2008

Convert Dead Mormons to Homosexuality!

As you're probably aware, the mormons have this bizarre habit of postumously baptising people, which is not only stupid and a waste of time, but also gratuitously offensive in the case of Holocaust victims, for instance.

Although not a Holocaust victim, I'd be mightily pissed off if they did that to me. Except, of course, being dead, I'd be blissfully unaware of it.

Now a blog called Daily Kos has set up in opposition, encouraging us to convert dead mormons to homosexuality! Brilliant!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Well, here I am alone....

Today Jenny flew to Uppsala in Sweden, where she's to be external examiner for somebody's PhD viva, tomorrow, I assume. She's back on Sunday afternoon, so I have to plan something nice to cook for her when she gets back. I should have been thinking about that already, since I'll be doing most of my shopping tomorrow night, but in reality I've done some carving, read a book for a bit (Jenny Uglow's Lunar Men, which is a great read, even if it is a bit of a tome) and watched an Attenborough (First Eden, made in the 1970's I think, about the history of the Mediterranean Sea), the latter two while sitting in front of an open log fire with a glass or two of Rioja to keep me company.

Jenny's staying with Prof Per Ahlberg and his wife Janet and daughter Anna. He, as I've mentioned before, was her first PhD student and we've known them for decades. He keeps threatening to force us to visit them in Sweden, but somehow I find the whole prospect just too daunting. A pre-teens daughter, the Swedes notorious vice-like grip on alcohol, and Per's somehow relentless earnestness make it all seem more of a task to be undertaken than a pleasure to be anticipated.

The reality, of course, is that I have almost certainly carefully picked out the worst slants on the whole biz, and when we do go, I'll have a fantastic time. I don't recall, for instance, in all Per's recent visits here, finding his company the least bit arduous; it's just the perception I carry forward, and I don't entirely know why.

Referring back to the first paragraph, and this evening's entertainment, I really love the Attenborough programmes, especially the early ones, where he is so unashamably young! And of course, the graphics are not yet computer generated, but still all made by hand and each frame individually photographed. The sequence showing the advance of Africa on southern Europe, resulting ultimately in the Mediterranean being cut off from the Atlantic was accurate, as far as I can tell, and interesting, but quaintly crude.

And this just opens a new can of worms, of course. As I approach 60, I realise that my heroes are either already dead, or getting pretty decrepit. Well, Hailwood died long before his time, of course, but Attenborough is 80. George Solti was a fantastic conductor who's recording of the Verdi Requiem (this recording is the one I like best) still reduces me to tears.

No, I'm not going to go there. It's too late in the evening, I've had too much to drink, and in any case, you're not interested in such self-centred ramblings. Good night!

Beautiful zebra fish picture

I realise I'm getting into the habit of just copying things PZ Myers posts on his Pharyngula blog, but this really is a stunning image.

He says: "This image was made using brainbow fluorescent microscopy. Transgenic fish carry an assortment of fluorescent protein genes that are randomly flipped on in the cells to produce these multicolored views of a subset of the neurons."

Click to see a larger version, and gasp in awe and wonder! Which idiot said science takes away the beauty? In this case, science shows the beauty!

To translate into English, you're looking down on the top of the brain of a very tiny fish. The brownish blobs on the left are its eyes and the tapering structure to the right is the spinal cord.

They seem to have tinkered with the genes of these fish so some of the nerves produce proteins which fluoresce in different colours, presumably when illuminated with UV or something. Since a fish this small is transparent anyway, anything that shines is visible, so here we see individual nerves snaking through the brain and down the nerve cord. Fabuloso, I say!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Another opportunity to offend!


Hey, check this out! A cut-out-and-keep card game published by the New Humanist! Make up your own rules! Click the pic to visit their site and see the whole set.

Hat tip, Pharyngula!

That stupid Radio 2 fuss

I've not been following the Brand/Woss fuss too closely, but that's not going to stop me expressing an opinion, oh no! Here's my take on it.

Yes, it was puerile schoolboy humour, and a bit over the top even for that, but come on, that's what they're known for, isn't it? Which is presumably why the Beeb allowed it to go out on air.

And there were, after all, only a handful of complaints during and immediately after the programme. It was only when the medjah got hold of it and gave it the fully hyped treatment that complaints came in in any numbers. And of course, the more complaints they screamed about, the louder the vox populi. (Is that right? I don't know much Latin, but I like to get as much in as I can, now I know it's not PC!)

Anyhow, I think the other reason there were a brazilian complaints is that it's just too easy now. No need to drag out a pen and paper, find a stamp, walk to the post box and post it. Oh now, now you just dash off an outraged email. I've done it myself!

I propose the Beeb should make it a standard policy that if your complaint doesn't arrive written on paper, using a fountain pen and delivered by snail mail, it doesn't even get opened. Then the only people who actually complained would be those who really felt strongly about it, rather than witless wonders without enough to do at work.

There! I feel better now! Please don't hit me!

On Saturday we went to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge where we saw a fabulous exhibition of grave goods excavated in Georgia over the past 50 or so years. The main site is at Vani, marked by the A on the map.

The area was known as Colchis at the time, around the 7th century BC. I'm not clear whether it was an actual Greek settlement or simply that the Greeks had set up some settlements around the coast of the Black Sea, but anyway, you get the gist. As you'd expect, they traded with Greeks and Persians, among others.

The grave goods are of an astonishingly high quality, so I took a few photos of the leaflet we brought away, so I could share my wonder with you. If I were making the 2 satyrs now (far too difficult for me!) I'd carve a wax original, then cast using the lost wax process I described a month or 2 back. From memory, they're about 10 cm high. Gold. Two thousand, five hundred years old!

The rather fuzzy basket-shaped object with a reindeer on it is a head ornament of some sort. It was only about 4 or 5 cm high, and the workmanship is just exquisite. All these things were soldered together using a charcoal brazier, don't forget.

The technique of sticking lots of tiny round beads onto the object is called granulation, and according to a book I read many years ago, was known from ancient times, then lost, then rediscovered. Who knows the truth?

Anyhow, you can't just solder them on, even using silver or gold solder, as the surface tension in the molten solder sucks it up between the granules and you lose that delicate effect of completely round granules just resting on the surface.

The technique today for silver (no idea if gold is the same) is to coat the granules and the base with a thin layer of copper and then heat carefully until the copper dissolves into both the surfaces. If you're really lucky skilled, it forms a tiny spot-weld. I've never succeeded. All my granulation is soldered, and therefore crap.
So the animals adorning the top of the head ornament are lions, I think, though they're hard to see. I was a little surprised to see a reindeer, but perhaps they're more widely distributed than I thought, or perhaps it's not really a reindeeer.

The best of the jewellery, I thought, was this turtle necklace, which I magically managed to get a reasonably sharp photograph of. The actual turtles are only a couple of centimetres long, and the granulation is exquisite. We spent hours there!

The exhibition is called From the Land of the Golden Fleece, and is in the Fitz until early January. After that, I don't know where it's going.

Ah, at the last minute, I discover you can see much better photos and get all the info (including spotting my errors!) at the Fitzwilliam Museum exhibition web page!

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Lorna and Richard's Hot Water Cylinder


Lorna and Richard had a new central heating boiler fitted at the end of last week, and the job included replacing the hot water cylinder in their airing cupboard. Since I work with metals and like to keep a bit of copper sheet about the place, they were kind enough to donate their old tank to me, so last night I dragged it over the road into our back yard. It weighed an absolute ton!

Today I cut the top off with a hacksaw, and discovered it was 1/4 to 1/3 full of limescale! No wonder it was heavy! You don't really get the right impression from the photo, but that white stuff is over 30cm deep! Their new tank came with the usual sprayed-on insulation, so it's possible they'll see a reduction in their heating bills.

Now we're going to play in the wine cellar, moving stuff from the 'lay it down' section to the 'drink it up' section. Ah, the joys of living in an ex-pub!

A Meme of 7

I've been tagged by Margot at A mother's place is in the wrong to do a meme of 7s, which I found quite hard. Actually, I can't find 7 of everything, so have done my best. Here goes:

7 Things I want to do before I die:
Visit the Galapagos Islands
See a basking shark
Finish carving my reclining nude. (I'll post a photo in a minute)

7 things I do now:
Carve wood and stone
Sing in a choir
Flashy cooking
Collect fossils
Snorkel
Drink too much
Loathe Tesco

7 things I can't do
Sing the high notes I could
Run more than 50 metres
Sub-aqua dive
Foresee consequences
See close up
Speak a foreign language other than rather basic French
Without Tesco


7 things that attract me to the opposite sex
Intelligent
Extrovert
Slim (sorry!)
Interesting conversationalist
Smartly casual dress
Not religious


7 things I say most often
Oh for goodness' sake! (often replacing goodness with other (in)appropriate terms!)
Coo! That's nice (usually food or wine)
Why did that happen?
That was fantastic dinner, Jen! Thank you. (I really do say that, and it's true!)
I'll just have one more glass.
Must I get up now?


7 Celebrities I admire (tricky. Can't think of 7)
David Attenborough
Kirsty Wark (the Edinburgh accent is the killer!)
Alice Roberts
Aubrey Manning
Monty Don (ah, how we miss Monty Don!)


7 Favourite foods
Almost anything slow cooked, esp. hand of pork roasted with garlic and fennel seed for 8 hours
Roasted grass-fed Aberdeen Angus or Little Dexter
My own roast potatoes, which might not be the bestest in the whole world, but are pretty bloody good!
Wild rainbow trout microwaved with butter, dill and white wine
Bubbling plum and orange compôte (I might have to post the recipe, since I can't find it using google)
Moussaka Muntjac. How could I forget muntjac?!
Penne with Aubergine (I add onion and top with crisply-fried pancetta)



Here is my reclining nude as she is now. Very much early days yet, of course. The real target date is September, when the Herts Visual Arts Forum has their Open Studios event, and I suspect it's going to be a struggle to make it.

Carving the shape is not too bad, but finishing stuff like this is always about 80% of the time.

The wood is called paduck and is an African hardwood which in real life looks rather redder than this picture shows.

OK, Bubbling Plum and Orange Compôte

This is from the Hamlyn All Colour Book of Puddings and Desserts by Carol Bowen, which was published in 1982 and I think is out of print, but is available second hand.
Serves 4

25g raisins
100ml medium dry sherry
3 tablespoons soft dark brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 large oranges
450g red plums, quarterd and stoned
soured cream to serve

Put raisins, sherry, sugar, cinnamon stick and a strip of rind pared from one of the oranges into a pan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat an leave to cool until lukewarm. (That latter bit (cooling) I think is redundant. I never do it.)

Add the plums to the sherry, etc, and cook gently for 6 - 8 minutes until the plums are tender but not disintegrating.

Peel the oranges and cut the flesh into segments. (I slice the peeled oranges horizontally into 1cm slices, then quarter the slices and remove the central pithy core).

Add the oranges to the plum mixture and heat through. Discard the orange peel and cinnamon stick before serving.

This is nice cold, too, and reheats well if you've made too much. And you can freeze it.

Oh yes, I have to tag 7 people: Dr But Why, D J Kirkby, Alternative Anna, Cantoris Bass 1, Trousers, Sparx, East Anglian Troy. Guess I'd better go and tell them I've done so.


Sunday, 9 November 2008

Saturday Night Indulgences

Poking around on Friday evening before shopping, trying to decide what to cook over the weekend, we came across Jamie Oliver's Spicy Pork and Chili Pepper Goulash. Yesterday, we bought the necessary pork from our local farm shop, but made a rather fundamental error. The recipe says 2 kg shoulder, skinned and boned, so we had the man get a shoulder of pork out of the fridge, skin and bone it and weigh us out 2 kg. Wrong. Even to feed 6, 2 kg is far too much meat, and it was a real struggle getting it into our biggest casserole dish. We've got a work colleague of Jenny's staying Monday and Tuesday, so planned to eat some last night and the rest on Monday, but even so. And Lorna (Richard was out doing some work thing) came to help us, but even so.... Still, it was completely delicious.

After dinner, Richard arrived and we settled down to watch a DVD called Horton Hears a Who, which is a Dr Seuss animation and was completely LOL funny. We were rolling around! I'm a bit ancient for Dr Seuss, but my younger brother was brought up on the Cat in the Hat, etc, so I'm quite familiar with it. I strongly recommend it, even if you don't have kids as an excuse. I got it from Amazon.

Today we washed the bikes and put them away for the winter, it being generally too cold, wet and miserable to ride. And after a minute amount of gardening, we've given up. I'm going up to my shed to do some carving, then we'll be having bobotie for dinner. Yum! (The recipe is not the one we use, but I can't see that anywhere. Ours uses minced lamb instead of beef, and includes a grated Granny Smith apple, but this is one of those that everyone has their own favourite version, so I'm sure the BBC one will be good.)

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Random Snippets Meme

Cantoris Bass 1 has tagged me to do this meme. I can't remember the rules, but it's something like

  • reveal 6 random facts about yourself
  • notify your tagger that you've done so
  • tag 6 other victims friends.
Actually, I don't think I'm going to specifically tag anyone, but if you feel like picking up the meme, please do so and let me know, so I can read your posting. If you look at CB1's entry, it's clear he's a crossword fan. I have no idea what gems he's revealed in his post. I just don't understand them!

  1. My maternal grandfather was head of the Post Office in South Africa in the 1950's. I didn't realise he was quite so high powered until fairly recently. I don't think he was paid much, despite the top position. At least, we never saw any indication of it.

  2. We have solar panels on the roof of our house, generating electricity which feeds into the National Grid, for which I get the same rate as I pay for the power I import. There was a short-lived opportunity a few years ago when the gummint would pay roughly half the cost of the installation, and I managed to get in there. Sadly, soon afterwards they capped the grant at some rather pathetic figure, so now there's not much incentive. Well, to tell the truth, there is an incentive because there are also these things called ROCs. Renewables Obligation Certificates. The power generators have to buy the certificates from folks like us who generate from renewable sources, one certificate per kWh. Which doubles what they pay me, since they buy ROCs at the same rate as they buy the actual power. Re-reading this, I realise it's almost completely unintelligible, but I don't have time to reword it right now. I'll come back some time later and do something about it.


  3. I love fixing things, and hate throwing anything away. When I was a kid, my father was always making stuff or fixing stuff, and I guess that rubbed off. He did all the servicing on the car, made the dining table when we lived in Cape Town, made cabinets for record players, all that kind of stuff. Now when things break at home, I always take them apart to see if I can fix them, and I often can. Washing machines, dishwashers, fridges, vacuum cleaners. It distresses me that so much is regarded as unfixable these days. There used to be a man in Royston who mended things, but he went bust because so few people brought stuff to him. They just threw it in the bin and bought another one.

  4. I have Dupuytron's Contracture, also known as Grandad's little finger. The tendon on the palm of my right hand that pulls my little finger has deposits of calcium building up inside. As the calcium accumulates, it effectively shortens the tendon, pulling the finger inwards. So now I can't straighten my little finger. The operation to remove the deposit is fairly trivial, but sadly the scar tissue that's left provokes further deposition, so they leave it as long as possible before getting out the knives. It's inconvenient, that's all. There will come a time when, shaking hands with someone I've not met before, I'll have to tell them it's not a funny handshake.


  5. Whenever I wash a kitchen knife I remember Janet in Dr Finlay's Casebook, which was a TV soap in the 60's. Dr Finlay and Dr Cameron were Scottish doctors who lived a quietly genteel life with Janet, their housekeeper. Like the Archers on Radio 4, it was used by the authorities to convey public health information, dressed up as drama. On one occasion they had an honoured guest staying but he was taken ill with food poisoning. Came down to Janet's habit of only wiping the kitchen knives rather than washing them properly. I surmise that was due to the knives in question being carbon steel rather than stainless, so you'd want to keep them dry to prevent rusting.

  6. I was instrumental in kick-starting Jenny's career in Cambridge. After she'd submitted her PhD a year or so after starting in Cambridge, she was casting around somewhat, looking for a research project. She'd often bemoaned the lack of information about the early tetrapods and the fact that all the material was in Stockholm, where the increasingly decrepit Erik Jarvik seemed to do nothing. I said (jokingly) that we should either mount a commando raid and steal the fossils or go to Greenland ourselves and find some more. Jenny made enquiries around Cambridge and soon met geologist Peter Friend, who'd run a few trips to the right part of Greenland around 1970, and he turned out to have a couple of tetrapod skulls in a drawer in his office. The truly lucky part was that these were not Ichthyostega, which was the beast Jarvik was working on, but Acanthostega, so by working on that, Jenny would not be treading on Jarvik's toes. And what she discovered about Acanthostega was truly groundbreaking stuff and resulted in quite a long publications list.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Look away now

Well everyone knows what the effects of taking antibiotics are, so no surprise there. After taking the pills for the required week, my gut flora (complete misnomer, since what lives in my gut is almost entirely bacteria) have been massacred, with the result that I now have what, in my youth, was called an "upset stomach". That in itself is no big deal, but it's also becoming obvious that the few surviving bacteria that have reproduced to fill the resultant void, as it were, are of the type to produce prodigious quantities of methane. Not an ideal combination!

Bonfire Night

Last night we went into Cambridge to see the fireworks on Midsomer Common. (And here's a message for Google maps - no, I do not mean Midsummer Common! Hell's teeth!)

Anyway, I wandered over the road to scoop up Lorna and Richard, and when we emerged from their front door there was a car parked across our drive and a man banging on the front door. He turned out to be the guy that had installed our water softener. I had been sufficiently impressed to put a reference to him on Which Local, and he was bringing me a free bag of water softener salt as a token of appreciation, as he was picking up business as a result. How nice!

I parked in the Zoology Department car park and when Jenny joined us we walked over to the common, along with about 50,000 others. The fireworks were splendid, though they were unlucky with the smoke, which was extremely dense and didn't blow away the way it normally does. The breeze shifted it around in our direction at the end, and some of the lower altitude fireworks were somewhat obscured, but overall it was a very impressive display. And no corporate sponsorship this year, so I put more in the bucket than I normally would have.

Afterwards we had a pizza and then Jane very kindly drove home. It was about time she had the opportunity to open the car up a bit, after the nightmare of the drive home from Winchester in August! She still didn't manage to get it into 6th, mind you!

Peter and Julia couldn't come to the fireworks, so they've organised dinner tonight in a Turkish restaurant which opened in Royston recently. We've been there a couple of times, and liked it a lot.

This raises a new issue. Time was, if we couldn't make it on Wednesday, we didn't eat out that week. Now that seems to have morphed into if you can't make it on Wednesday, organise another night. How long before we're eating out every night of the week? How long before I need a complete new wardrobe to accommodate the new, enlarged me? How long before I have to find a second job to pay for all this? Questions, questions!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Congratulations, USA! I've not been following the US elections closely, so have only heard Barak Obama saying how change is coming to America. I've not heard him say anything at all about the detail, so I'll be interested to see what he actually does.

Assuming he doesn't get shot first, of course.

Less happy is the prospect of California's Proposition 8 being passed, and it looks possible that'll happen (47:42 last time I looked). Proposition 8 is a hateful campaign, strongly supported by the religious right, seeking to define marriage as being between one man and one woman, thereby excluding same-sex marriages. Once again, religion sets itself up as in some magical way authorised to interfere in the private lives of others.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Unbelievably lucky (and skilled) pilot

I guess this must be available on YouTube, but I thought I'd post it anyway. Just astonishing.
Edit: Ah, the lads at work say it's computer generated. Shame. I was really impressed up until that point!



And in other news, I'm very proud of having won DJ Kirkby's Wordless Wednesday award! Thank you DJK!

Tonight, it being Jenny's birthday tomorrow, I'm cooking her a special birthday meal. Well truthfully, I'm sure she'll do some of the cooking, though I'll be wearing the chef's hat.

To start with, seared scallops, probably with sage and capers, maybe with a spoonful of lentils.
Then slow-roasted duck with sour cherry sauce, roasted potatoes, some combination of carrots, cauliflower, broccoli.
For pud bubbling plum and orange compote.

Not sure what we'll drink with it. There's some nice Chablis downstairs, as well as a rather heavily-oaked South African chenin blanc. Also some decent Crozes-Hermitage blanc, so we'll need to get down there and choose.

For the red it will probably be Klein Constantia Marlbrook, which is Jenny's favourite, but equally might be a Warwick Trilogy or a Vergelegen. We'll see, but whatever we choose, we should get it upstairs in the kitchen reasonably soon so it comes up to room temperature. I don't mean to say it'll take that long, just that if I don't do it while I think of it, I could forget and then I'd have to microwave it (shudder!).

Hopefully Jane, Lorna and Richard will appear around 9 to round off the evening.