Tuesday, 31 March 2009

YouTube bans James Randi Education Foundation


JREF looks like an interesting organisation, and I'm always up for supporting someone when The Powers That Be seem to arbitrarily stomp on them.
So I'll also be adding a link to JREF on the right and there are some instructions I need to check out, but I'm a bit busy right now. Later.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Worcester Cathedral

Well we had a brilliant time in Worcester, as before. Jenny, Jane and I drove over, stopping in Kenilworth for lunch. I'd booked a table at what used to be Simply Simpsons, and is now the Petit Gourmand. Learning that Simply Simpsons had been taken over by a couple of entrepreneurs was a bit disconcerting, but the food was brilliant, even if the service was a bit slow. We all had smoked haddock rarebit on a rocket salad, with a glass of Sancerre on the side, and very civilised it was.

Afterwards I managed to miss the M40 so we took the scenic route past Stratford and Alcester, but actually it was very quick and we were in Worcester in plenty of time.

The Saturday evensong was 'interesting'. There was a concert in the cathedral in the evening, and the orchestra was rehearsing in the afternoon, so we couldn't get into the cathedral at all before the service. The organist had the hardest job as this was a new organ he'd never played before, and he first laid fingers and toes on it about 10 minutes before the service.

It wasn't easy for us, either, as it was a year since we'd last sung there. It's surprising how much you learn about singing in a venue in that hour or so before you actually have to perform in earnest. It was not our best performance, though it got better as the service progressed. Early responses - not great. Psalms (3 of them!) distinctly iffy to start with, though strengthening as we got into our stride. Mag and Nunc (Gibbons short service) pretty good, actually. Anthem (Lord let me know mine end by Greene) that too, pretty good.

In the evening we ate in the Old Rectifying House again and had just as good a time as last year. The scallops starter, on a bed of leeks, was just exquisite, and the belly of pork quite excellent. And we had some really nice Argentinian malbec to wash it down.

Sunday morning was rather hard work, what with losing that hour in bed, but I wasn't hung over, which is always a good start. We love singing the Loosemore litany, though we'd have preferred to sing it right from the back of the nave and have less to do in the choirstalls, but you can't have everything. The Lloyd Webber Missa Princeps Pacis is a great mass, which went well, apart from the beginning of the Agnes Dei, where sadly, I let everyone down.

The problem was that Tom, the other Cantoris tenor, was facing away from me, watching the conductor, and as a result I couldn't hear him. With congregation in the row right behind us, I felt like I was singing entirely on my own, and to be honest, I rarely do that, so it frit me to def, guv. This pathetic, quavery little voice came out. Just hopeless. Anyway, no-one complained, but I'm going to have to practise singing solo, so I don't repeat the shame.

The motet was He beheld the city by Jeffreys, which went pretty well. I'd pulled myself together and just focussed on getting the entries right, so was quite pleased with that.

In the afternoon the evensong went really well. We know the Ayleward responses backwards, the psalm chant was much easier than the ones we'd done previously, we did Dick's Mag & Nunc in F# minor, which we've also been doing for years, and rounded the weekend off with John Blow's Salvator mundi which is one of the most gorgeous anthems in the entire world, I think. Somehow by the afternoon, though there were more congregation right behind me, and I still couldn't hear Tom, I managed to acquit myself creditably, so felt somewhat better about the whole thing.

Jane had kindly agreed to drive half-way home and elected to do the first half, so off we set, the fourth seat being filled by Pam Lambert, who's John had skived off to a business meeting somewhere. It was a beautiful day, and the roads were lightly trafficked, and when I started talking about taking over, Jane said she'd not done an hour yet, so we agreed she could pull off when she felt she wanted to. Which turned out to be when we got to Pam's house! I thoroughly enjoyed this rare opportunity to actually look at the countryside as we drove along. Thank you, Jane!

Visual stereotypes


I'm grateful to Greg Laden for posting about this picture and referring me back to the original blog, No Caption Needed.

He mentioned a Guardian article which I shall have to look up, but the gist of the NCN post is that the way you interpret a picture depends on a range of factors, and you can easily be seriously wide of the mark.

It's also relevent in the context of a conversation about 'framing' that seems to be going on in Scienceblogs. I had to look it up on Wikipedia, because although I thought I could work out what it was about, I wanted to be sure. And that comes down to the fact that you interpret what you see in the world in the context of the mental 'frames' you carry around with you, all unawares. Only when something doesn't make sense do you realise you need to shift the frame within which you are interpreting it. I think that's a really neat concept, and one I hope to explore a bit more.

I recommend you check out the post.

Later: Turns out the Guardian article is just a series of Nowruz photographs, each with a simple caption, so not much more info there, though the snaps are pretty good. Nowruz is the New Year celebrations in a number of middle-eastern countries, particularly Iran.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Language Alert! Language Alert!

I just love this video. My brother sent me a link to it on YouTube but I figured I just had to embed it into my blog for you!

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Wham! Bam! Thank you Ma'am!


We were watching a pair of dunnock (aka hedge sparrows) in the back yard yesterday morning. They were on the ground and she was fluttering her wings, while he pecked at her cloaca. She obviously liked this, because the fluttering continued, and all the while she was raising her backside higher and higher into the air, obviously asking for it.

For a while, he just carried on pecking, and I was thinking "Get on with it, mister, or she'll go off the boil!", expecting him to clamber on board in the normal birdie fashion, but no. After a brief pause, he flew at her from behind, performed a half back-flip and smacked his own cloaca up against hers. Then they immediately flew away. The cloacal kiss was over in an instant.

Jenny's comment was classic: "Is that it?"

A Brilliant Saturday!

Saturday was one of those days just jam-packed with little events that turned it into a very special day, so I thought I'd tell you about it. Well, it's a blog, isn't it?

I'd arranged with Peter and Jacques to take samples of our work to Walkern Gallery in the hope the proprietor, Steve Lowe, would like it enough to exhibit it for us, and we'd decided to have a pub lunch afterwards. But I also had to get up to Royson Market to collect a nest box for swifts that I'd ordered from one of the stallholders, so we had a bit of a rush in the morning. Once at the market, we took a quick peek into the fish man's van and were delighted to see wild Scottish rainbow trout. I've had these before, and they are simply delicious, so we bought 4, two for last night and two for the freezer. They were scrummy!

At the gallery we were all a little bit anxious, but Steve was very complimentary, so we could breathe easier. Unexpectedly, he had us leave what we'd brought, so presumably it's on display right now. I had to bring my Inscrutible God mask home because it can't sensibly be left perched on its neck and I must give it some sort of plinth to make it more stable, but he definitely wants to show it when that's done. It'll be a while before I can do that, as things are a bit hectic at the moment.

In the afternoon Jenny and I went to our local farm shop to complete our shopping, followed by the garden centre, but as I drove between the two I spotted a muntjac lying beside the road, so came to a rapid stop and dropped it into the boot. Fortunately the boot is lined with an aftermarket waterproof liner, so although the deer did bleed a little, it was easy to clean up. The head was pretty well completely flat, but the rest looked OK, so we speculated it must have been just the head that took the blow.

In the late afternoon we dealt with it. Edit: I've never thought about this before, but we did a dissection duet! We have an ancient washing mangle out in the back yard, and its enamel top was perfect, allowing both of us to work on the deer at the same time, which really did make it much easier. We skinned it carefully, as the abdomen was rather bloated and threatened to be very smelly, then butchered it without removing the guts. This was slightly wasteful, since we couldn't recover the loin meat which is muscles that run lengthways between the pelvic girdle and the spine around the hindmost ribs, but we really didn't want to open up the abdomen. Edit: actually I regret that, as I'd forgotten about the rib chops. The ribs make a very nice crown roast, and regrettably, we threw them all away. Can't quite work out whether or not I've have had the muscle to put up with the stink to get everything.... who knows?

I did take a big chunk of neck, which I've not done before, to compensate, so the end result was about 5 kg of venison. Since venison typically costs £20 a kg, that was definitely worth the effort.

So fish, a good response at the gallery and a freezer full of muntjac. Result!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Pat Condell takes no prisoners

You really should play this short video. I nearly didn't, until someone at work spotted it as I perused Pharyngula, and recommended it. I wish I could speak as eloquently. Hoorah for Pat Condell and hat-tip to PZ Myers for posting it on his blog.

Google pictures

This is so cool! The beeb reports that Google has launched the UK version of its Street View service, covering 25 UK cities, including Oxford and Cambridge. You can move along streets by clicking arrows, look up and rotate the viewpoint. This is the Round Church.

The Round Church (officially the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) was built around 1130, making it one of the oldest buildings in Cambridge. It is one of only four medieval round churches in England.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

We'm bin good

Although we haven't been actively thinking about fire security, we have done a couple of things which are long overdue, and it's certainly as a direct result of Lorna and Richard's fire the other week. First, I've bought replacement smoke detectors. For years we've had a pair of smoke alarms, one in the utility room watching over the dishwasher, tumble drier and washing machine (the things responsible for the bulk of UK domestic fires, I believe) and a second in the hallway, the two being linked by a cable, which means if one goes off, it triggers the other. For several months, the one in the utility room has been obviously defective, so it was about time I replaced it. Being linked, you have to have a matched pair, of course.

Second, while looking for the smoke alarms our local Merlin Mica hardware store, we spotted a dry powder fire extinguisher, which has now taken up residence in our kitchen. Apparently fire blankets are useless these days, now they've taken the asbestos out of them. You might as well use a damp towel. But a pukka fire extinguisher is a comforting thing to have.

Mica is actually a South African company originally, but there are a couple of branches near here. I didn't expect the Royston one to come up immediately when I put Merlin Mica into Google!

Jenny being in Madrid, I did myself a nice steak last night, but it was not the complete success I'd hoped, and probably not for the reasons you'll imagine when you understand that I made it a garlic and chilli sauce. I think that sounds like an excellent accompaniment for Aberdeen Angus sirloin, but anyway. I chopped up the garlic and a chilli and fried them in some oil, then added a slug of light soy and another of dry sherry, but I hadn't thought about it properly. The chilli quickly vanished, leaving almost no bite. I should have held it back and only added it right towards the end. Anyway, when the steak was ready I added a lump of butter to the sauce to give it a bit of body, and it wasn't bad, just not as good as I'd hoped.

To go with it I chopped up some potatoes and a bit of celeriac, coated them with oil, added some whole, tiny, home-grown garlic cloves and seasoned with mostly paprika and a bit of chilli powder. Can't imagine why I didn't add salt and black pepper, but I guess I was in slow mode. After about half an hour in the oven, those were pretty nice.

Accompanied by something nice and red from France, though I can't remember precisely what, right now.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Singing in Worcester Cathedral

Just back from choir practice where we're building up for 3 services over a weekend in Worcester Cathedral. I've put the programme up on the choir website here, but just to give you a taster, my particular favourites are the Greene Lord let me know mine end, the Blow Salvator mundi and the Lloyd Webber Mass Missa Princeps Pacis. That's William Lloyd Webber, father of Andrew. I love Worcester Cathedral, and adore this music, especially the Blow. I can't wait for it to start!

Methinks 'tis like a weasel

This would be funny if it wasn't so pathetic. Somebody found that one of the cushions in a church somewhere was slightly creased and that if you squinted a bit you could see what you might interpret as a face.

And then magically (and I use the word advisedly) it was a miracle!

Jeez, gimme a break!

And in other news, Jenny flew to Madrid for a conference yesterday. I had to take her to Heathrow as there was engineering work on the line between here and Kings Cross, but that was fine. It was a beautiful day for a drive.

At lunchtime I met up with Peter and Julia and Jacques and we called in at Walkern Gallery to meet the owner, Steve Lowe. We were discussing taking part in the Hertfordshire Open Studios in September, but decided over a pub lunch in the White Lion across the road that if he liked our stuff, he would exhibit it anyway and we'd not bother to pay £85 each to take part in the OS. Sounds like a result to me. So next Saturday we'll take samples of what we do and see if we can persuade him to like it.

Then in the evening Lorna, Richard, Peter, Julia, Jane and I went to the Cambridge Arts Theatre to see Ballet Black once more. I've raved about them before, so I'll spare you this time, except to say they were utterly fantastic and we were completely blown away, again.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Royal Mail

So the Gummint, in its wisdom, has decided it wants to privatise some of Royal Mail. Now to me, privatisation just says "We're pouring money into this organisation, but if we sell it, we'll stop having to do that and someone will pay us for the privilege."

Of course, the spin they put on it is all about how appallingly inefficient Royal Mail is and how much better a service the great unwashed will receive from the privatised company as a result of competition, etc, etc.

Yeah. Like the banks, frinstance. They're all privatised, aren't they. And in competition with each other. So we should have fabulous service from them, 'cordin' to the Gummint.

Yeah. Like when did you last get even tolerable service from a bank?

Red Nose Day

A few weeks ago, our new receptionist, Natalie, decided we should all come to work wearing red on Red Nose Day, for which privilege we were to pay her £2. The fine for failing to wear red was to be £10. When I read her email, it actually said we had to wear all red, not just an item of red. Even though I was pretty sure that was not what she meant, I decided to take her literally.

Tragically, I don't have any red trousers, so realised I was going to have to be inventive. For a laugh, I borrowed a long red skirt of Jenny's. I did ask first, of course. She also leant me one of her red tee shirts. I have red tee shirts, but they haven't seen this one at work.

I was a little anxious walking out to the car, but once inside it felt pretty normal. Well, apart from my thighs rubbing together, which was an unusual sensation. As I drove into the car park at work, so did another car, belonging to someone who works for a different company. Oh bugger! Oh well, I'm just going to have to go for it. I got out, and nonchalently walked to the front door and went in. It was reported later that he had seen me and was just a little surprised.

I have to say, my outfit went down a storm. Most people wore something red, a couple of others were all in red, but I did win, I think! Sadly, no-one took a photograph, so when I got home I set the camera to a 10 second delay and took one myself. The office is a tip, of course. Well, it's an office.

I would like to have folded the picture away behind a Read On link, but I don't know how to do that, so I'll just stick it here.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Female antbirds can be devious!

This posting on Ed Yong's Not Exactly Rocket Science blog is another fascinating example of adaptation. Apparently these birds are territorial and live in pairs, and as long as there are no other antbirds around, they sing duets consisting of first the male doing his thing, then the female, then the male, and so on, all very closely timed so they don't overlap but presumably there's no gaps. Unfortunately, although Ed included several links in his post, none of them is actually of a pair of antbirds singing, which is a shame. The only recording I found sounded like a lone male to me, which isn't much help.

Anyhow, if a lone female approaches, the male will continue to sing, but his female keeps butting in, which makes his song much less attractive. He stops singing as soon as she interrupts, then starts again when she stops, but the impression given to the visiting female is that he's much less competent than he really is, so she's much less likely to find him an attractive potential mate.

Wimmin! I ask yer!

Cuttlefish hunting

These cuttlefish hunting are sooooo pretty and it's really cool to watch them. I turned the sound off as it has a Japanese commentary. I'm not sure if they're all extremely tiny, or just one of them, as you can't tell from the background.

And I'm really glad the last one didn't have a go at the mantis shrimp. They are evil buggers which use a club-like forelimb to smash open crabs and anything else they feel like hitting.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Venetian Vampire found


This is really interesting, if somewhat gruesome, and explores something people did in the 16th century when confronted by something they didn't understand. The report is on the Live Science website.

Apparently during episodes of the plague, graves were often reopened for more bodies to be interred. It's thought that in this case the gravediggers may have thought the woman was a vampire, and jammed a brick into her mouth to stop her biting anything.

Those of a squeamish temperament should look away now!

A phenomenon that occurs early on in the process of decomposition – abdominal bloating – is what likely concerned the Venetian gravediggers, Borrini said. When humans die, the body releases a myriad of bacterial gases that cause a corpse to bloat with fluid, usually just a few days after death in the absence of any kind of preservation or protection from coffins.

"During this phase, the decay of the gastrointestinal tract contents and lining create a dark fluid called 'purge fluid'; it can flow freely from the nose and mouth...and it could easily be confused with the blood sucked by the vampire," said Borrini.

If the "vampire" woman was emitting blood from her mouth, the fluid likely moistened her burial shroud causing it to sink into her jaw cavity and be dissolved by the fluids, Borrini said, making it appear as though she was trying to bite through her shroud. When discovered in that state, a stone was jammed into her mouth as a kind of exorcism to prevent her from potentially spreading the disease further, the researchers think.

The Lizards of Oz

In this Science Daily report we learn that a PhD student in Adelaide has performed a genetic analysis of the gecko genus Diplodactylus and discovered, to everyone's astonishment, that there are not 13 species of this genus but 29! Yes, in an advanced country where the wildlife has been well-studied for generations, somehow they missed the fact that there were more than twice as many species of these geckos as they'd thought.

Well, to be fair to them, one species turned out to comprise of eight species that all look virtually identical. I guess if you're expecting the species to look a little different, that could be a handicap.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Regulatin' Genes Rap

This is brilliant, even if you don't much like rap. And only lasts 2.5 minutes. Hat tip: PZ Myers.

A (probably) genuine portrait of Shakespeare

For a long time, there was great uncertainty about what exactly William Shakespeare looked like. There were several images which were made after he died, but none that could reasonably be considered a true likeness.

In this report in Science News, Professor Stanley Wells, Chairman of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust discusses how that has recently changed and why he thinks this newly-discovered portrait probably does show the Bard as he looked in real life.

As the Professor says:

The identification of this portrait marks a major development in the history of Shakespearian portraiture. Up to now, only two images have been widely accepted as genuine likenesses of Shakespeare. Both are dull. This new portrait is a very fine painting.

Creationism being promoted in Hampshire schools

This report in the Telegraph is deeply worrying. Official guidance is being sent to secondary schools in Hampshire suggesting that the Xtian creation myth be taught alongside evolution, as if pupils would be in a position to make a sensible comparison of the two.

I knew this rubbish was being taught in a few private schools, and didn't like it, but I would never have thought the local education authority would sink so low.

A fish with bone teeth....

I saw this report on the BBC news website and thought it was simply fascinating. The guy keeping the fish didn't realise they had teeth (they're only 17mm long) until some of them died. In itself, that's not exactly earth-shattering, but what interested him particularly was that the 'teeth' are different from normal teeth.

It seems the fish lost their teeth a long time ago and later evolved substitutes which are simply bony projections through the gums.

Now you might ask why, if it was going to evolve a new set of teeth, it didn't just evolve normal teeth, rather than bony spikes growing up from the jaws.

The answer, I'd suggest, is connected with the fact that teeth evolved from scales. If you examine the structure of teeth and scales, they have similar structures and layers of dentine, enamel, etc.

But by the time these fishies lost their teeth, they'd also lost all trace of scales around the mouth, so when the need for biting implements arose later on, there were no scales from which to start. I imagine that bony irregularities in the gums would have provided the starting point, and that as those fish with bigger bumps were more successful, that trait would be selected for. Result: bone fangs and teeth instead of proper ones.

Neat, eh?

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

This guy Schubert

I've just ripped a copy of the Schubert Trout Quintet and stuck it on my website here because I think the third movement sounds just as though it might have been written by Scott Joplin. It's really rag-like in style and I think it's great. The whole piece is only about 7 minutes, so go on, have a listen! The bit I'm raving about starts just before half way through.

Sadly, the actual rag-esq bit is all too short!

But anyway, what on earth was Schubert on, given that he died in 1828 and Scott Joplin wasn't born until 1868?

Monday, 9 March 2009

A most beautiful octopus


PZ Myers posted this video of a blanket octopus on his blog, and I was so taken, I just had to steal it and put it up here myself. He in turn had lifted it from Deep Sea News. I gather that it only deploys the 'blanket' when it feels threatened, and that detaching a section is thought to be similar to a lizard shedding its tail, to divert an attacking predator and hopefully allow the animal to escape.

Oh, and turn sound off or you'll have to put up with irritating muzak.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Salmon Dijonnaise

This evening Jenny is in Newcastle upon Tyne, returning a pile of fossil specimens, so I'll not see her until tomorrow night. As is usual, and I've mentioned before, I like to treat myself to a culinary indulgence on these occasions, and tonight was no exception.

In the afternoon I started thinking about it, and quite quickly came up with the idea of a piece of salmon fillet in a creamy mustard sauce. My mouth started watering immediately.

I wasn't sure what veg to do with it, but I knew there were carrots in the fridge, so figured I could do something with them, but decided to leave the rest until I was actually walking around Tesco before finalising the choice. It had to be Tesco because Bury Lane Farm Shop closes at 5.30 and I didn't even leave work until 6.

Fortunately for me, having already picked up some French new potatoes, I spotted a pack of Jerusalem artichokes grown in Lincolnshire. Well, the cheese-eating surrender monkey spuds went straight back on the shelf and the Lincs locals took their place in the benign basket of bounty I was carrying around. (Sorry, I've been watching too much QI!)

I tossed the artichokes in oil and seasoned them, then put them on a baking tray at 180° C. The book said to roast them for an hour, but I thought chopping them up into 2 cm cubes would reduce that. Well, I got them down to about 40 mins, but there was still a lot of waiting involved.

After putting them in the oven, I peeled and julienned the carrots, then stuck them in a steamer. I crushed half a dozen cardamom pods with a mortar and pestle, threw away the husks and threw the seeds at the carrots. Enough didn't fall through into the steamer water to be OK. I recommend this, though you might want to crush the seeds themselves a bit, so more of them stick to the carrots while steaming.

The sauce was a plain white sauce with a couple of tablespoons of wholegrain mustard and about a tablespoon of white wine vinegar added. You need to go by taste here, so you end up with something you like. Add a bit, give it a stir, let it settle for a minute or two so the flavours meld, then taste it.

When all was done, I stuck the fish in the microwave. I just seasoned lightly with salt and pepper and a small splash of white wine, then gave it a minute to see what happened. Almost done, was what happened. Another minute at 60% power had it only the teeniest bit overcooked. Should have been 30 secs, but there you go.

And I have to say, it was simply yummy. I had a glass of an English wine we've recently discovered which we really like. This is Chilford Hundred 2004 Dry White, which I got from Cambridge Wine, but you can buy from their website. We're particularly in favour of Chilford Hall, as they're a local vineyard, only 20 miles up the road at Linton. It's off-dry with a delicious floral mouth, though nothing like the old German-style wines the English vintners used to make. The website tells me it's made from Ortega and Shönberger grapes, which makes sense.

And now I'm going to catch the second half of Darwin's Dangerous Secret on BBC2. I'm recording it, as Jenny's away, but I have no problem watching these things twice!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Guardian science blog

Hoorah for the Guardian Online which has just announced it is to include a Science Blog. Contributors will include PZ Myers, I'm delighted to say. Today's entry was written by Ian Sample and discusses a new Science Council definition of science:

"Science is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence."
There's some discussion in the comments about whether this is a tight enough definition, but I think it's a great start. I particularly liked the quote from chief executive, Diana Garnham:
"In an era where practices such as homeopathy are becoming widespread, and 'detox' is an acceptable aim for a diet, a definition creates a clear distinction between what is genuine science, and what is pseudoscience."
I'll say!

Sunday, 1 March 2009

60

Yesterday was my 60th birthday, and what a memorable day it turned out to be!

We didn't do anything unusual during the day, just some shopping, collect a pair of shoes from the cobbler, a bit of tidying in the garden, but I knew Jenny had been plotting something for months. In the run up to Christmas she'd asked several times what I wanted to do for my 60th, but then it all went sort of quiet.

All I she told me was that our transport would pick us up at 6.45 last night and I'd worked out that some folks would be coming back to ours afterwards, because we'd had to get the house ready. Of course, the whole point of a plot like this is that it only really works if it's a complete surprise, so I made no effort to winkle details out of Jenny, and she was determinedly close-lipped about it, so I had no idea what was going on.

In due course the transport arrived, which turned out to be friends Nadine and Jonathan in their VW 7-seater. I'd expected Peter and Julia, but only Julia was there as Peter had to babysit grandchildren. I was a little surprised to see Mary and Cliff; Mary sings in the choir, but they're not close friends. Still, I just went with the flow and didn't worry about it.

Although we headed for one possible restaurant venue, I was bemused when we turned away from that route, ultimately heading into Cambridge. Curiouser and curioser.

Finally we parked in the multistory near where Jenny works, where we met up with 2 other couples, one of whom was carrying a Church Anthem book. Ahah! Singing is involved. I'm going to enjoy this!

Then we headed into the Museum of Zoology, which has good accoustics, so I imagined a bunch of maybe a dozen people singing a few anthems and then heading off for food.

Until we actually got into the museum. Only then did I realise practically the whole choir and some spouses were there. Must have been pushing 40 people all in, many of whom had come a fair distance to be there. I was lost for words, and walked down the stairs in a daze, completely astonished at what was happening. There was a table with drinks already poured, attended by one of Jenny's old PhD students and her boyfriend (I think). The musical director was setting up a keyboard, there was a buffet off to one side, all arrayed amongst the mounted skeletons of the museum.

I was impressed, astonished and deeply moved. I think the only words I could say for quite a while were "Holy shit!"

Well anyway, once we'd got ourselves drinks and settled down, the singing started. It began with an arrangement of Happy Birthday, which the musical director had written especially for the occasion. Essentially a fairly standard 4-part setting but with interpolated references to bus passes, winter fuel allowances, not forgetting the U3A! Very funny and very good.

Then, out of the blue, the organist produced a psalm - Psalm (Now I'm) 60, which I think he wrote entirely. (Correction: Jenny tells me it's largely based on St Paul in the New Testament.) The chant is a variation on the Happy Birthday theme, and words much what you might expect; He who would pass his declining years with | honour and | comfort: should when young consider that he may | one day | become | old. etc. (For those not in the know, the vertical lines are called pointing, and I think that's probably as much as you need to know!) Psalms end with a gloria, and this one read Glory be to the Father | and to the | Son: | and to | Rob the | tenor. As he was at birth, is now at sixty, and (hopefully) | ever| shall be: wine without | end | A- | men. Fantastic! That they should go to the trouble to do that for me just blew me away. And David had printed the psalm out and had it framed. It's on my desk now.

So I had to choose stuff to sing, so we did the Rachmaninov Bogoroditsye, Bird Ave Verum Corpus, Tallis If ye love me, and a few others, then had some food. Afterwards, quite a bit more singing, (Montiverdi Cantate Dominum, Frank Panis Angelicus, Bruckner Locus Iste, Dering O Quam Gloriosum, Fauré Cantique de Jean Raçime and finally the rather inevitable Zadok the Priest) until we had to escape at 10. The yard gates are locked at 10, and the musical director's car was parked in the yard, so that gave us our deadline.

We retired to our house where much more drinking and merriment continued into the night. Just wonderful!

Oh yes, and I can tell I really did have a good time. I think I need to get out into the garden and air my few remaining brain cells!