Saturday, 31 July 2010

Pity the lovelorn Boa Constrictor!

Essex (UK) police have warned that a 6' Boa Constrictor, possibly driven by seasonal reproductive urges, has escaped through a bathroom window. He is called Diago (perhaps the owner intended to name him Diego after Diego Maradona, the well-known Argentinian footballer.) Does that mean that anyone spotting him should call his name and expect him to slither forward? Obviously, snakes being 'aurally challenged', (read my previous post) said call should be accompanied by repeated stamping on the ground.

The report continues, 'Although the reptile's bite is not poisonous, constrictors do bite if attacked' . . . (but they're constrictors . . . biting is not their primary, instinctive mode of response to perceived danger!)
Apparently, it is a juvenile, maybe even an adolescent, and we all know how unpredictable they can be – and that's just human teenagers – but it could be a danger to small animals. Keep your mice and guinea pigs indoors, just to be safe!
'It may have left the town' said local sources – cue lots of Essex girl jokes!


It is politically incorrect to refer to a lack of something in someone. For instance, blind people are 'visually challenged', disabled people are 'differently abled', children with learning difficulties are 'educationally challenged'. It is good and proper that people's sensitivities are taken into account for none of us can help not having whatever facility it is that we're missing. I don't know about the rest of the working world but no-one in schools in the UK is allowed to 'brainstorm' – it might offend people who suffer from tonic-clonic seizures (that's epilepsy to you and me, or even *sharp intake of breath* FITS).
There is a risk that in an effort to avoid offence we are led into a world of bizarre euphemisms. Thus a short person is 'horizontally challenged'. A fat person is 'metabolically challenged' or 'calorie-resistance intolerant'. A man (or woman) whose hair is thinning – or absent – is 'hirsutely other'. Someone who is extremely energetic might be described not as frenetic and driven but rather as 'relaxation averse' while the counterpart would be, not lazy, but 'effortfully disinclined'.
What of chronically untidy and disorganised people? Would 'organisationally reluctant' cover their condition? The pessimist could be 'antonymically optimistic' and the slovenly slut 'obversely houseproud'. I'm sure you can think of others.
The ponder that brought about the rubbish above grew in my brain as I wandered along woodland paths with the dogs yesterday; I contemplated the sad truth that I am 'adjectivally challenged'. That is to say, I have exhausted my supply of commentarial enthusiasm. I used to encourage the children I taught to consider synonyms for 'nice' and good' and (shudder) 'brill.' ('Awesome' and 'cool' and 'wicked' and 'sad' had not yet landed in the tender brains of the young scholars.) The children would spend an enjoyably competitive time outdoing each other with ever more sublime alternatives. Now, after almost eighteen months in the outer reaches of blogdom, I have reached rock bottom and have decided that the English language requires more adjectives of approbation. I have used 'lovely', 'stunning', 'superb' and their like far too frequently. I could adopt the habit of some bloggers and use the same catch-all, anodyne phrase for every blog I visit – it would be quick and efficient but add nothing to the bloggee's sense of accomplishment – or even existence! People who take the time to comment on my efforts encourage and uplift me so I try to do the same on the blogs I visit. This is particularly important when a new blogger appears on the scene, unsure quite what to expect. Therefore I am going to invent some new adjectives and would appreciate the efforts of any of you 'out there' (and some of you really are 'out there' ;-}) to add to and improve my poor renderings.
Here are a few suggestions:- gregorgeous, supraspecial, stunningese, beautifellant, wonderbrasimax, gargantuan (okay, I know that's a 'proper' word), splendera, loveheartlifly, deepspacely . . . or maybe I'll just reinstate 'nice' and 'good' in my personal vocabulary. What say you? Anyone?

Thursday, 29 July 2010

SkyWatch Friday Season 4 Episode 3 Daybreak

Daybreak - July 27th 2010, 05:08 - from the patio
When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.
Marcus Aurelius (26.04.101 - 17.03.180)

Morning is the best of all times in the garden. The sun is not yet hot. Sweet vapors rise from the earth. Night dew clings to the soil and makes plants glisten. Birds call to one another.
Bees are already at work.
William (Frank) Longgood (1917 - )

An aubade is a song or musical composition about or evoking daybreak. Sometimes it is about lovers separating at dawn.

And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hillside's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in His Heaven;
All's right with the world!
Robert Browning (07.05.1812 - 12.12.1889)
(This poem was written later - or earlier - in the year for dawn in July is around 5:00 am)

Daybreak July 29th 2010, 05:26 - from the patio
Many thanks to the SkyWatch team for their hard work every week organising and hosting this meme. To see more glorious skies around this beautiful world please click here.

Winston’s late July blog 2010

Winston here . . . p'rrrrr, p'rrrrr . . .
It's quite cold today and there's no sun so I don't think I'll be lying around in the conservatory. I'll stay in the sitting room with everyone else. It's a full house here again don'tcha know. Gillian and Paul and the children come to stay at the weekend. Natch, Tia and Foxy come with them. Gillian and all came up to a weeding but they all got dressed up in their best clothes and went out for a couple of hours and didn't even go out in the garden. I'm only a cat but even I can see that there are things out there that shouldn't be allowed to grow. Anyway, they all come back and got back into their ordinary clothes but they still didn't go outside, just sat down and had something to eat and watched the Tooduh Prance. I'm not much of a television watcher, not like Monty was, but all I could see was lots of men riding bicycles in great big groups. Sometimes some of them raced ahead and then others passed them but no-one seemed to win. The Humans liked it, though.
A bit later Paul and Gillian and the children put their best clothes on again and went out for an evening deception and they didn't come back till the next morning. Then they all went back to their own home, but they left Tia and Foxy here so I s'pose it's holidays again. On Monday Mr Human went off in his car all loaded up with all-skins and safely harmlesses. He was going to meet Gillian and the children at the boat. Paul had to work. I've never seen the boat but Mr H and everyone likes it, 'cept for Mrs H. She's all on her own now, 'cept there are six dogs in the house as well as me, so she's not lonely or looking for something to do. Mr H keeps phoning her to find out what the wind's doing. Well, I'd tell him to just look out of the window, but Mrs H gets the laptop and looks up something called the Met Office and tells him where the wind is and how fast it's going. Mr H could do it himself on the boat but he likes to keep her busy don'tcha know.
Yesterday Mrs H took Tia to see Nadia-the-Vet. She had some knotted string called snitches that had to be cut off her. It was holding her together after her operation but all the bits have joined up together again now so she don't need it no more. She had a huge cut, much bigger than Buddy's, and she had more fur cut away than him too even though he's a lot larger than her. Anyway, she must not go out 'cos there's fluid under the cut and it's got to disappear on its own, so she's got to be really quiet and have lots of rest. It hasn't stopped her grumbling at Buddy so I don't think she understands what being quiet means. She was upset when Mrs H took Frodo and Jenna and Foxy and Gus out for a walk but she had Buddy and me for company even though we was in a different room.
Buddy's doing really well after his big operation in June – he was a very poorly boy then and I thought he was a goner. He wears a harness so that the Humans can help him up steps and things if he gets stuck. He don't like them helping him up onto the settee even when he's whingeing. If they help him he turns round and gets straight off again and then climbs up on his own. He's awkward! He's ever so much brighter now and strong, too. He should be, 'cos he gets three or four meals a day – the rest of us only gets two. It's a bit of a palaver going downstairs in the mornings 'cos he don't see very well, specially when it's dark, so Mrs H holds onto his harness with one hand and the banister with the other and guides him down. He sounds like a steam engine 'cos he uses his nose to work out where he is. The other morning he went sideways and Frodo, who was a bit wobbly that day, fell down behind him and then got stuck between the poles* on the stairs. His head and front legs was on the stairs and his back legs was dangling in space. Buddy had fallen flat on the floor with his legs stretched either side - Mrs H said 'like a starfish' - and he couldn't get up and Mrs H didn't know which one to help first. Buddy was desperate to go out for a pee and she was worried Frodo would do his falling bit. Anyway, she yelled for Mr H to give her a hand. He was still in bed – well, it was just before dawn, so it was quite early. They was none the worse for it and Frodo didn't do any falling. I'm glad I'm a cat – I can leap out of the way real quick. The dogs trip over each other – clumsy things.
Since I've been on short rations, or what Mrs H calls 'a controlled diet', I'm always hungry, specially in the morning but I've still got my lovely tiger tummy. She won't feed us at 4:00 am or 5:00 am– I don't know why – so when she does show signs of serving out the food, me and Frodo makes lots of noise just so she don't suddenly forget. Then we all go to sleep for several hours and leave her in peace. I don't know what she does then. I 'spect she sleeps too! **
Time for a bit more shut-eye. Be good!
*Mrs H's note: the poles run from stair tread to ceiling and are a feature of the houses in this area. We are in the process of replacing them. There used to be poles outside every front door, too, but most people have removed them. It's my belief the architects of this housing project were influenced by the proximity of the large institution whose inmates have to be kept securely locked in! No, I'm not referring to the public school but the place at the other end of the village that we all call, quite incorrectly but perfectly accurately the 'Hospital for the Criminally Insane', though, to be fair, not all the 'residents' are murderers and rapists and arsonists – just most of them!
**Mrs H's note: Huh! Chance would be a fine thing!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

ABC Wednesday B is for Bee

My sister's name was Beryl but her husband always called her Bee. She was a very busy person, full of energy and enthusiasm. She met her husband at a dance and three weeks later they were married, rather to my parents' consternation. They need not have worried for the marriage was long, happy and fruitful and they were well matched though she was sometimes driven to distraction by his refusal to engage in arguments. They lived in a small caravan for a few years while he was still in the Royal Navy – no naval married quarters then! – and one day he so infuriated her that she threw a bag of tomatoes at him, one by one. Every one of them missed and she had to clean up the mess afterwards. Mick sat and laughed which made her even more furious.
Beryl was a beautiful child with dark curly hair and big brown eyes and grew into a striking woman but she was rather accident-prone. There are few photographs of her without a bandage in evidence. As she grew up she fell prey to various illnesses and mishaps. She had a tubercular gland in her neck which was removed, leaving a noticeable scar. When she broke her back, falling off a stool (!) she was encased in a plaster cast from chest to thighs for several months but this didn't prevent her dancing. She and Mick were very graceful dancers and were often complimented on their style. Beryl found the cast quite useful on the dance floor. If another couple carelessly barged into them she would make a point of crashing back, making sure the cast was felt, all the more surprising when it was not visible!
Beryl was fifteen years older than me and enjoyed taking me out at the weekends when I was little. Indeed, she would often ask her boyfriends, of whom she had a long succession, if she could bring her sister along on their dates. She would describe me, quite accurately, as a brown-eyed blonde, and enjoy the look of amazement on their faces at the rendezvous when a little girl appeared, holding her hand. Needless to say, I loved her boyfriends! I also loved watching her getting ready to go out – it all looked very exciting and grown-up and I couldn't wait until my turn came. Even now, I often enjoy the preparations for a formal evening out more than the event itself.
Despite her illnesses and accidents Beryl never complained, carrying stoicism to sometimes ridiculous levels. In her sixties she fell down the stairs and broke her wrist. Rather than call an ambulance or even sit down and wait for Mick to return home and help her, she carried on 'as usual', preparing their evening meal. When Mick arrived home some hours after the accident it was obvious she was in great pain and he took her to hospital where the surgeons had a difficult job setting her badly broken wrist. It was never the same thereafter, for it didn't heal straight.
Beryl was always a very slim woman. She was an excellent cook and enjoyed food, for her appetite was good, but she had so much energy that she burnt calories at a terrific rate. During her stays in hospitals she would be prescribed milk stout, rather like Guinness, to 'build her up' which she never drank but poured into the plant pots when backs were turned. The plants thrived!
Mick always bought her clothes and he had excellent taste, knowing exactly the style and colour and cut to emphasise her good looks. As a couple they were extremely good company, readily and frequently turning acquaintances into friends and living life to the hilt on a modest income.
For the last twenty-five years of her life she had cancer though none of us, apart from Mick, knew until the last three years when it became impossible to disguise or wave away. After several serious operations she finally underwent palliative surgery twelve years ago and spent her last months at home, being cared for by Marie Curie nurses, amazing her doctors by living longer than their expectations, and dying peacefully and as she had lived, with a smile on her lips. She was sixty-nine. She was Mick's soul mate and in the ensuing years he has taken great comfort from their three children and seven grandchildren. Their two daughters have her distinctive voice. His cheerful personality and natural optimism have ensured that he has never slipped into a slough of despair but there is no doubt that Beryl was his shining star as he was hers. It was a true love match.

Thank you to Denise Nesbitt and her wonderful team who organise and host this weekly meme. To see more Bs please click here.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

What were you thinking, David – or were you?

It was with great surprise and some fury that the British public, along with many of their Commonwealth and former Commonwealth members, heard David Cameron declare that Great Britain was the 'junior partner' of the USA in fighting Germany in 1940. He seemed to be unaware, or perhaps had 'forgotten' that the US remained neutral until Germany and Japan declared war on it in December 1941 following the attack on Pearl Harbour. The US had supplied the UK as well as the Soviet Union, China, France and other Allied nations
with war materials from March 1941 until 1945 through the 'Lend-Lease' law. The UK finally redeemed its debt in 2006.
Nicholas Soames, grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, defended the Prime Minister's remarks, intimating that he had been misunderstood, but compounded the insult by omitting to mention the UK's allies. His grandfather must have groaned and pirouetted in his grave!
At the beginning of World War II Great Britain was indeed a 'junior partner' – but to France which had one of the biggest armies in the world. France had 86 divisions, Germany 78, while Britain had 9 and the US just 8.
After July 1940 Britain and the Commonwealth stood against Germany until Russia entered the war in July 1941. Forces from several defeated European countries escaped to UK to continue the fight – Albanian, Dutch, French, Polish, Norwegian, Belgian, Czechoslovakian to name but a few.
Russia entered the war five months before the US and arguably was a far bigger partner than the US in defeating Germany. Russia inflicted many more military casualties on the Germans than the US. Russia had the biggest army at the end of the war with 491 divisions while the US reached 94 including those also deployed in the Pacific. The sheer size of the Russian army was at the heart of the eventual German defeat.
The first important German reversal was in the Battle of Britain in 1940.
The first major land defeats of Germany were by British and Commonwealth troops at El Alamein in 1942 and by the Russians at Stalingrad in 1943.
More British and Commonwealth than US troops landed in Normandy in 1944. The RAF had many more fighters than the USAF for D Day (2172 versus 1311). The Royal Navy was the senior partner at Normandy, providing the majority of warships.
The biggest defeat the Japanese army faced was in Burma at the hands of the British and Commonwealth (especially Indian) armies.
Throughout the war the RAF was bigger than the USAF in Europe facing Germany. In June 1942 there were 9500 British aircraft and no US aircraft. A year later Britain had 12700 and the US 5000. Even towards the end of the war Britain still had the larger force with 14500 while the US had 12200.
When military deaths are brought into the equation, Russia suffered the greatest number of fatalities, followed by Britain and the Commonwealth, with the US suffering the fewest. As a proportion of population the British suffered three times the military deaths of the US.
Britain also sustained far more major warship losses than the US (260 versus 157)
Finally, Britain suffered significant civilian casualties and the US did not.
David Cameron and Nicholas Soames were both expensively educated at Eton (current basic fees are around £30,000 per annum). Is this venerable institute not able to employ effective History teachers or is it simply the case that David (and Nicholas before him) were not paying attention during lessons?
In spite of Hollywood reworkings of historical events much of the statistical evidence aforementioned has come from US Government sources, which are both remarkably accurate and well-informed.

Wolf Whistle

Now I know wolf whistling is terribly non-pc but I admit to feeling a little pleased if I receive one – a bit like someone winking at me. A wink is very endearing. I don't know why it should be but it always makes me smile and feel that I have been included – a kind of symbolic hug. (Very important to someone who's always been on the outside looking in – sniff, sniff, sob!)
I say I feel happy if someone wolf-whistles at me but it does rather depend on the whistler. If he's young, fit and good-looking, working on a construction site during his university vacation, I am delighted. However, if he is wearing a beer belly under a stained vest and his jeans reveal more of his backside than is attractive and a fag is hanging from his chapped lips with his bloodshot eyes screwed up a) to keep said fag in place, and b) because he's got a thundering headache from a monumental hangover, I am inclined to be less than elated, particularly if he leers at me and says, 'Orye, darlin'?'
To be brutally honest (and I'm the one facing the cruel truth!) even as a passably not-too-ugly young woman I attracted more whistles from the latter category than the former, probably something to do with 'bringing me down a peg or two' because I've always looked snooty (and sound more so - think Joanna Lumley on speed) Now I think about it, what does that expression mean? What pegs are being referred to? Not clothes pegs, clearly, or tent pegs – perhaps pegs under steps or shelves, or does 'peg' mean 'level' or 'point'? Time to employ my trusty 'Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable' (BDOPAF) which informs me: 'the allusion is to a ship's colours, which used to be raised and lowered by pegs. The higher the colours are raised, the greater the honour, and to take . . .' well, you get the idea. It still doesn't really clarify where the pegs are situated and how they are moved. I imagine a flag mast with a series of holes in the lower third into which sturdy pins may be placed. The pulley to raise the flag can be secured at the appropriate point to fly the colours at the desired height – there, clear as mud!
An earlier explanation refers to King Edgar of Kent who decreed in 975 that drinking vessels in alehouses should be a standard size. This was set at a 'pottle' (four pints). Each pottle was to be divided into eight parts marked by pegs inside the tankard. Tankards were shared between drinkers and it was the ruling that no man should drink more than one peg at a sitting before passing the vessel to the next drinker. This edict presented a challenge to drink more than one peg's worth, thus taking fellow drinkers down a peg or two.
Anyway, back to the wolf whistle. I was wolf-whistled yesterday as I pegged washing on the line. We are not overlooked so I knew it was Barry whistling at me. He doesn't fit either of the above categories though he belonged in the first ranking many years ago. If he had deteriorated into the second we would no longer be associating with each other! I started wondering idly about the phrase 'wolf whistle'. Wolves are not known as siffleurs (don't you just love that name?) being more readily associated with howling, growling, barking, yipping and whining. According to one source they also hiss, but nowhere have I ever read or heard that wolves whistle. Wolf howls can carry for ten miles in perfect weather conditions. Whistles carry further than human speech; Silbo is a whistled language used for centuries by shepherds in the Canaries and can be heard at distances of six miles.
Googling the phrase led me to answers that suggested it developed from slang; a 'wolf' was a man who gave unwanted sexual attention to women. Another idea was that in the 60s it was common to refer to an attractive person as a wolf, in much the same way that women are described as foxy, though I have never heard of a woman being called a wolf. Time to look in BDOPAF again – sadly, this told me what it meant but not its derivation. The Cassell Dictionary of Slang repeated the definition and informed that the phrase has been current since the 1950s, comparing it to a wolf call.
The closest I have come to a derivation is that sailors used whistling as a way of communicating with each other in harbour, though never at sea, in case their whistles should be confused with the boatswain's piped calls. Seeing an attractive woman ashore a sailor would whistle to alert his shipmates.
It's amazing how much time can be spent simply pondering and I'm sure it's an indication that I really haven't enough to occupy my days!

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

ABC Wednesday Round 7 A is for amoeba

Appreciative thanks to Denise Nesbitt and her Able Assistants who organise and host this weekly meme. To see more As please click here.

One of the first lessons I remember as an eleven-year-old at my grammar school was biology when we learnt about the Amoeba. I  found it quite fascinating and drew a neat (for me) little illustration in my brand new biology book. It looked a little like the diagram below.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
We didn't have live Amoebae to study or films or even slides but the teacher taught clearly and well. Would I have remembered as much or more if video clips had been available? Who can tell!
Video clip courtesy of YouTube

So you think you know Dalmatians?

The curse of the Dalmatian is that it is instantly recognisable. I don't believe there is a child alive in the Western world who cannot correctly identify a Dalmatian – and even many in Asia, following the 'Dalmatian on a bicycle' clip.
(I have mixed feelings about this – bike riding doesn't come high in a dog's natural life, but as the dog's tail is wagging, I assume he's relatively unfazed, but maybe he's using his tail for balance . . . I digress!) We have Walt Disney to thank for this breed's recognisability (Is that a word? If not it should be!) The film was adapted from Dodie Smith's book 'The Hundred and One Dalmatians' which was possibly inspired by the birth of fifteen puppies to her own Dalmatian. (Now you know why we never bred from our Dalmatians – we ended up with more than enough cats when we bred our Burmese and they're a lot smaller than the dogs!)
The trouble is that the cartoon Dalmatians are impossibly cute and even in the remake, with real Dalmatians, (which caused a lot of anger and horror in the world of the Dalmatian breeder and exhibitor) they are portrayed as friendly, approachable bundles of fun – and they are, once they know you. Puppies, of course, are always delightful. An adult Dalmatian has centuries of breeding behind it as a guard dog, a protector of its people. These dogs were bred to run ahead to clear the roads of obstacles (people!) and to guard the carriages of their owners, running alongside to see off highwaymen. The most desirable dogs ran between the wheels of the carriages where, presumably, they were not easily seen. Imagine the shock to a robber when a spotted dog launched itself at him, barking and lunging.
A fit Dalmatian can run for hours. If the speed of the accompanying horse or bike increases the dogs maintain their cadence and simply lengthen their stride – they are a delight to see.
Anyway, along with the cries of delight from children, 'Look, look, Dalmatians!', come the inevitable comic remarks, 'Where are the other ninety-nine then?'
At the time of that question we had three Dalmatians - 101 minus 3 is . . . ?
'What d'you call him? Spot?'
I wonder why we never considered such an original name.
Added to this is the confusion of seeing a Dalmatian with brown spots (brown is correctly known as liver in Dalmatians, chocolate in Labradors, tan in Jack Russells, even brown in some breeds!) 'That's not a proper Dalmatian' was one confident comment. Another asked, 'Do they go brown as they get older?' in the same way, presumably, that some black clothes acquire a coppery sheen with age (or is that just mine?) Yet another onlooker wondered if puppies started off brown and gradually turned black.
Dalmatians are basically white dogs with the same potential problem that can afflict genetically white animals of any species – deafness! Responsible breeders are eliminating bi-laterally and uni-laterally deaf dogs from their programmes. Many more irresponsible breeders are not. Nonetheless, interested bystanders ask, 'Is blindness a problem?' Well, yes it is, for Buddy Liver Spots, whose sight has been deteriorating since he had meningitis three years ago – otherwise, no.
Having jumped these predictable hurdles there come the requests to stroke the dogs. Dalmatians are expected to show a degree of reserve but Dominie never understood this. She was a very big, extremely gentle girl who loved everyone, particularly children. Buddy, before his sight failed, was very fond of attention too but now sees only shapes and shadows and uses his limited vision in conjunction with his mouth to work out if the thing approaching is edible – this can be off-putting! (Did I mention that Dalmatians are very greedy, easily as gluttonous as Labradors though without their amazing siphoning speed? Our grandchildren have never forgotten the incident of the cake.)
By now, some two minutes into the encounter, it has become obvious to all but the blind and deaf that Frodo the Faller is not at all happy that strangers are approaching his people, especially his woman – me! (I suppose you could say I'm his bitch.) He takes 'a degree of reserve' into another realm. He is shouting for all he's worth, looking every inch the guard dog. At home he is as gentle as a lamb, a sweetheart with puppies and kittens and babies, allowing cats and dogs to share his food or even take it away from him. Out of doors his job is to defend. He will not attack – that is not his way. He will merely keep danger, in whatever form it appears, at bay. To this end he resists friendly gestures from dogs and humans alike.
Appointing himself as my protector made showing him an interesting exercise. As a pup he simply wore suspicion in his eyes. When he grew up he started to grumble softly when the judge 'went over' him. When we galloped (inelegantly, in my case) round the show ring he attempted to take lumps out of any dog he considered was moving too close to me. Neither he nor I enjoyed his show days and we stopped with some relief when he embarked on his falling career.
Trail bikes, motor bikes, quad bikes are all forbidden in the forest but it remains a favourite venue for them. One day, a youth on a trail bike roared past Barry as he ran with the dogs, nearly crashing into them. Frodo took great exception to this and accelerated after him, deaf to all commands to return. Eventually, Barry caught up with him. The youth's bike had broken down and he was on his knees in a ditch with Frodo preventing his escape. Every time he tried to move Frodo blocked him, barking fiercely but not touching him. It really was a case of, 'Call your dog off, mister, PLEASE.' It's noticeable now that any bikers take another path when they see us – word gets around.
So, if you see a Dalmatian you don't know, give him time and space to overcome his natural reticence or, in the case of Frodo, come to our house where he will welcome you as one of the family!

Monday, 19 July 2010

Microfiction Monday #40

Susan from 'Stony River' dreamt up this meme which she organises and hosts each week. Susan provides a picture and a challenge to write a fiction in 140 characters or less (including punctuation and spaces!) It's fun! Honestly! Click on her name to read more marvels of microfiction and perhaps be tempted to join in.
Here's this week's picture followed by my effort.
You'd think she'd have picked a red gerbera. Pink clashes horribly with me. Wonder if there's any water in that jug? I'm drying out here.
(137 characters)

Macro Monday

Thank you to Lisa of 'Lisa's Chaos' for organising and hosting this meme. Click on her name to visit and see more mesmerising macros.
Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) or wild geranium is a very common cranesbill, seeding itself freely around the garden. I suppose it is technically a weed but I love to see it growing with wild abandon in nooks and crannies and next to snootier plants.The flowers are pinkish-mauve and the stems turn a beautiful red as the plant ages.  It can easily overshadow other plants, developing height and spread according to the space in which it's growing so has to be controlled. It roots very shallowly so is easy to pull up and, like all geraniums, the foliage has a pungent smell which I like but many don't.
Strictly speaking, this photograph is not a macro shot as it has been cropped from a larger photograph.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Pet Pride - Jenna

Bozo and his human organise this weekly meme and it's fun! Click here to see more and perhaps join in . . . ;-)

Jenna, like many young beings, likes to take a toy to bed with her. It's there, ready to be played with again as soon as she wakes up.
Do you think this is her version of a comfort blanket?

Today's Flowers #102 Hemerocallis and Lily

Thank you to the Today's Flowers team who work so hard to maintain this meme. To see more flowers around the world please click here.

Hemerocallis 'Frans Hals' with veronica behind.
 Hemerocallis are often known as daylilies although they are not lilies at all. The name daylily comes from the Greek words 'hemera' (day) and 'kalos' (beautiful). Hemerocallis are native to Asia. The flowers open at sunrise and wither at sunset and are often replaced by another bloom on the same stem the following day.They are not generally scented.
This shot clearly shows the buds that are yet to ripen and bloom.
Hemerocallis grow from fleshy roots and form clumps. They are perennial.
This is a true lily, also perennial, and in this photograph hosting a bright fly, possibly a hoverfly. Enlarge for detail if you can bear it!

Golf and all that jazz . . .

I understand there is something of great import happening in the golfing world – oh, okay – I know it's the Open! (Ermm, open what? Bottles of champagne for the winner, no doubt, to accompany the huge cheque!) I should know more, having taught the children of a golf cognoscenti many years ago. He produced what were then known as 'videos' – however, better-known characters, celebrities even, or perhaps those with more lucrative or influential contacts, cornered the market, I believe. I'm not an aficionado so he could be very well known in golfing circles and I would be none the wiser. Anyway, that was all a long time ago. (My eldest daughter went out with a golfing promise for a while, when they were both at secondary school. He was a nice lad – unfortunately they parted company before he'd had a chance to make his mark so I don't know how far he progressed.) Even longer ago, I went to school and was great friends with a junior Kent champion - or would that be a Kent junior champion? She was very promising, but hated the game, only playing it because her parents insisted and her mother enjoyed the social cachet of being a member of 'the Golf Club'. I wonder if she took it up again in later life?
Golf is played on beautifully-maintained landscaped greens and while I appreciate the beauty of some of the world-famous courses, on which amateur golfers would give their eye teeth to play (what are eye teeth? Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, one of my recent acquisitions – how did I ever live without it? – informs me that they are the canine teeth, located in the upper and lower jaws just below the eyes. Being of a disbelieving cast of mind, the result, I'm convinced of actually being completely gullible, I have just checked and my eye teeth are indeed below my eyes. They are not, however, 'just below', a phrase that intimates close proximity – I'd have to be a Pekingese to achieve that. When I was a child I knew someone who bred Pekingese and she bore out the saying that owners grow to look like their pets. Even at nine years of age I could see the resemblance!)
The current tournament – for one could believe from some commentaries ('Casey mounts home charge', 'Oosthuizen holds Casey at bay', 'Amateur Jeong joins the fray') that the contenders are jousting rather than aiming small balls at small holes in the distance – is the 150th Anniversary Open Championship being held at St Andrews, the course, not the University. The championship is the oldest Major (wearing crowns on its shoulders – No! No! That's just silly!) and St Andrews is the oldest university in Scotland and the third oldest in the English-speaking world.
I can appreciate that the best players in the world are very skilled and that many amateur golfers enjoy the game and the social life that accompanies it but it does not appeal to me. I can't aim straight anyway – I'm useless at darts and pool and not much better at bowling. Put simply, my enjoyment of the great outdoors is enhanced by solitude and the company of dogs.
Golf can be a dangerous game. Quite apart from the possibility of being struck by a fast-moving missile, (or a golf club if standing too close when someone's taking a shot, unlikely though that may be) golf courses cover vast tracts of land and if a player suffers a heart attack there is little hope of medical help arriving swiftly or in time. One of our friends met his demise on the golf links.
Barry was once offered a course of golf lessons by the company for which he was working. He went along to the first couple of lessons and knocked a few balls around or practised his stance or grip or whatever it was, but was totally bored and didn't finish the lessons. The argument that important contacts are made and business opportunities are realised on the golf course is fatuous. Most people can't spare the time!
He has worked in some attractive locations, one of which had golf links attached with a club room and changing facilities. In his lunch hour he would run round the course. One day he'd just dressed after his shower and some golfers came in. They assumed he was a fellow golfer and asked him what he'd gone round in. They were rather surprised when he said, 'Twenty-six minutes.'
Today is the last day of the Open. The weather has been difficult (well, it is summer in Scotland!) and it looks as if the South African Louis Oosthuizen will win, although the Englishman Paul Casey is hard on his heels. Really, it's all double-dutch to me – birdies, eagles, albatrosses – penguins and peacocks, anyone? From the live bulletin I have learnt that the South African Trevor Immelman has birdied 14 to reach -3. As with so many pastimes one needs access to a translation tool to understand what is happening.
Rather than watching the golf I shall be caught up in the excitement of stage 14 of the Tour de France – 184.5 km from Revel to Ax 3 Domaines. As well as marvelling at the sheer tenacity and stamina of the participants the viewer is treated to stunning aerial shots of superb countryside and an informative and entertaining commentary.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Camera Critters #119 Smooth or Common Newt

This little critter was sitting on a lily leaf one hot day recently minding its own business. It was unceremoniously removed to an empty carton for a photographic opportunity but soon clambered out and was put back into the pond.
Newts are nocturnal, spending their days under large stones or in compost heaps. Juvenile newts shed their skins once a week as they grow and adults shed frequently, too.
Newts live for about six years, though can live to twenty in captivity. When they are on land they eat insects, worms and slugs, catching them by extending their sticky tongues. In water, they capture their prey with their tiny teeth.
The smooth newt is the commonest species of newt in the UK and all newt species are protected by law. It is common in Northern Europe but absent from the warmer South. 

Weekend Reflections #43, Shadow Shot Sunday #113 Kiri

James from Newtown Area Photo organises and hosts Weekend Reflections. Thank you, James! Tracy from Hey Harriet does the same for Shadow Shot Sunday. Thank you, Tracy!

14-year-old Kiri went to a photo shoot a couple of weeks ago and here she is recreating some of the moments (though I gather she wasn't supposed to smile!!) The make-up is much heavier than she would normally wear!
Kiri enjoys larking around, pretending she's something she's not. Much of the time I was laughing so hard I could hardly hold the camera!
No reflections in this last one - just shadows and Kiri looking reflective.

Friday, 16 July 2010

haiku my heart friday Swans

Thank you to Rebecca from 'recuerda mi corazon' who organises and hosts this weekly meme.
Swan family swims -
Parents look to left and right,
Protecting their young.

Come fly with me . . .

Next Monday, 19th July, sees the start of the biennial Farnborough International Air Show.  Farnborough has a population of around 58,000. I'm sure exhibitors and visitors to this small town are just as thrilled to attend this event as they are when they go to the Paris Air Show or the one that's held in Berlin, the Internationale Luft- und Raumfahrtausstellung. Small and unexciting as the town of Farnborough is, it holds an important place in aeronautical history.
We live quite near Farnborough (okay, everywhere in UK is quite near everywhere else, relatively speaking) but we are only 8.5 miles away (18 minutes by car) so hear quite a lot of noise from the airshow and see unusual aircraft flying over. This week we have heard engines roaring, like super-thunder, and seen contrails - we presume they are 'practising'.
Former Iron Curtain countries now exhibit at Farnborough but we don't expect - or wish! - to see anything like the 1930s Russian Flying Fortresses. Below are two photographs of original fortresses.
I could not find any copyright for these photographs or the two that follow so cannot credit the photographer/s.
The two following photographs are modern reconstructions built to the original designs and specifications.
If you're interested in seeing and reading more click here. The computer graphics are interesting and so is the translation from Russian to English, though since my Russian is non-existent I really have no room to criticise!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

SkyWatch Friday Season 4 Episode 53

At anchor, early July
Buckler's Hard, Beaulieu River, Hampshire, UK

Thanks go to the SkyWatch team who organise and host this weekly meme. Click here to see more skies around the world.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Midweek Blues

 Midweek Blues is organised and hosted by Rebecca from 'The Dusty Cellar'. Click on the logo to see more Blues!

Earlier this month a jackdaw visited the bird table. They are shy members of the corvid family and their glossy plumage reflects the blue of the ceanothus.
Rosemary has an insignificant but pretty flower. I hardly ever use rosemary but I love to grow it - we have two bushes!
Lobelia in the hanging baskets
Another lobelia - perhaps  more violet than blue!
Nigella (Love-in-a-mist or sometimes called Devil-in-a-bush) seeds itself so generously - a joy to behold!

ABC Wednesday Z is for Zoonosis

Zoonoses are infections that can be passed from vertebrate animals to humans and vice versa. Infection passed from human to non-human is sometimes called reverse zoonosis or anthroponosis. When you live in close proximity to animals it is impossible to ignore the relationship between illness in humans and a similar pattern of illness in companion animals. For most people, however, the emphasis is usually on those diseases that occur as a direct result of contact with an infected animal or through vectors of infection between non-human vertebrates, not necessarily mammals, and humans. Some infections are serious, potentially fatal, like Ebola or anthrax, while others are self-limiting, uncomfortable for a short period and possibly contributing to a stronger immune system.
Many modern diseases arose in animals. Measles, smallpox, HIV, diphtheria and influenza were all zoonoses. Bubonic plague and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are zoonotic and it is thought that the common cold and tuberculosis may also be zoonotic.
Most people know that rats, fleas, lice, ticks and mosquitoes carry disease. Cat and dog owners and those who keep horses or parrots will know of the potential infections that may be passed on - leptospirosis, ringworms, toxoplasmosis, psittacosis. Fish and snails can also harbour zoonoses – salmonella and yersinia. Walking in areas where wild animals roam poses dangers, too – Lyme disease from deer ticks, for example. (There are other dangers associated with wild animals but they don't usually involve infection unless you live to tell the tale of the tiger or elephant attack and the wounds become infected!)

Thanks are due to Denise Nesbitt and her zealous team who host this weekly meme. Click here to see more Zs - and they won't make you push out the ZZZs

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Educational Establishments’ Current Financial Irresponsibility

A large proportion of the taxes paid by the British public goes towards the support of state (public) educational establishments. This is right and proper so long as it is spent wisely.
Having spent a lifetime in industry and frequently experienced the financial requirements and prudence necessary for the survival of companies, my husband is constantly dismayed by the lack of fiscal control currently exercised by schools. Examples of this relate to discretionary spending and lack of improvements in work force quality, competence and efficiency.
A company experiencing financial difficulties will introduce several measures of additional control including discretional spending. In spite of educational cut backs, including many cancellations of schools building projects, discretionary spending still seems to persist with little apparent control. How can it be right to allow head teachers to continue spending significant sums of money on luxurious hotels for 'team building' when there are not enough funds for potentially essential schools building programmes and when there will probably be a call later in the academic year to cut the working hours of some ancillary staff?
Improvements in work force quality, competence and efficiency are normal in a commercial organisation seeking to survive. At times of economic difficulty such needs are intensified. Over the past few years companies have made it the norm to remove the lowest performing staff - typically 5%. The benefits of cost cutting - overall workforce improvement with employees working harder to avoid being in the lowest rated 5% and opportunities for new and better talent - are very clear. Even without these measures there can be grave consequences for any manager off-loading poorly performing staff to another part of the organisation. At best such activity is regarded as avoiding proper management practice, otherwise known as laziness or incompetence, and unfairly giving the problem to another manager with overall detriment to the company. In the commercial world, such failures in management can lead to serious disciplinary action. How can it be right or acceptable to the people at the top of the educational organisation that there have only been 18 teacher dismissals for incompetence in 40 years?
In the past Barry has worked with Peter Gershon and Martin Read (ex-industry leaders employed as Government advisors on public finance) both of whom will be very familiar with normal financial controls, particularly in times of difficulty. Are their voices ignored?
This is a criticism, not of teachers, but of the top levels of management at or near ministerial rank. It is at that level that matters relating to financial discipline and work force competence must be set. It seems that Ed Balls, the minister responsible in the Labour government, was pretty incompetent. Can we be assured that the current Government will do better by delivering more effective financial controls, introducing effective plans to improve teacher quality, removing inept teachers and disciplining head teachers who fail to comply?

It’s simple . . .

When an elderly person has spent some time in hospital, following a fall perhaps, or an infection (actually, infections usually occur after the elderly any person has been admitted to hospital) tests of preparedness to return home or to remove to another care facility are conducted. Sometimes, when a patient has demonstrated confusion, mental states are checked – 'What's your address?' or 'What day is it today?' (I am frequently unsure what day it is now that I no longer have the framework of a working day, so I don't think that's a reliable marker!) Otherwise the tests are used to assess mobility, strength and a degree of organisational ability in addition to mental capability.
One test that seems to be standard involves making a cup of tea – or coffee, I suppose, if tea is not the patient's beverage of choice. It reminds me of one of the tasks that used to be set for 5 and 6-year-olds – describing in correct sequence the stages required to make a sandwich, which is probably actually definitely more taxing than making tea or coffee. That reminds me – my grandson made tea a few months ago. When he brought the mugs to us - (We're not posh, we don't often use cups and saucers. You get more tea in a mug than a cup and don't have to keep getting up to refill it, not that we're lazy, of course!) - but as I was saying writing typing, Callum brought the tea to us. It was nice and hot but had lots of tea leaves floating in it. Gillian said tactfully, 'How did you make this, Callum?' 'I put a spoonful in each mug and poured in the boiling water,' he replied, clearly puzzled. It's the logical thing to do when that's the way tea is made – at home – with tea bags. Actually, I have no objection to some tea leaves in my mug but a complete teaspoonful is too much. Since then Callum has made tea correctly in the teapot.In the hospital utility room/kitchen, specially equipped with the appropriate requisites – a short flight of steps to check safety and ability on staircases, cooker, fridge, pots, pans, baking trays, mixing bowls, kettles, tea pots, mugs, cups and so forth – the patient is invited to make tea. Some fall fail at the first hurdle obstacle, unable to find the tea (often in a tea caddy labelled TEA). Difficulties over the choice of kettle should not arise – some are electric, others are heated on a hob. The examinee may be wondering how many people are expected to take tea and whether they would prefer cups or mugs but this is not to be taken into account – it is simply the ability to make a pot of tea that is being assessed. Now, some might fail because they are of the 'old school' – warm the pot and then empty – whoever does that?? (Me, occasionally, trying to impress . . . generally I like to 'shock' the flavour out of the tea leaves!) Others may omit to boil the water and attempt to produce a good brew with cold or tepid water. Yet others may not have the strength to lift a full kettle or teapot.
On the basis that making a pot of tea is an indicator of one's mental and physical abilities I must confess to failure in the first category! At the weekend I made tea many times but twice omitted the tea leaves! So, on those performances, I would definitely not pass the competence test!

Monday, 12 July 2010

Macro Monday clematis and rose

As is so often the case I've lost the labels to these clematis so have attempted to identify them using books and the internet.Neither of them are fragrant.
The closest I've found to this one, climbing through the trees in our front garden, is Clematis 'Athena' but our clematis lacks the darker veins on the reverse of the petals - any clematis experts out there? Please?
I'm almost convinced this one, climbing over one of the arches in the back garden, is Clematis 'Pille'. At this time of year it is rampant, a mass of blooms, buds and colour.
These are buds from the old climbing rose 'Mermaid', though I think it behaves more like a rambler. It has very many sharp thorns and though the buds and blooms don't seem susceptible to damage from insects, something has been munching the leaves! It was introduced to the UK in 1918.
The buds open to pale creamy-yellow single  flowers which fade to white. I seem to remember this rose having a beautiful perfume but the scent is barely discernible this year.
Thank you to Lisa of 'Lisa's Chaos' for organising and hosting this meme. Click on her name to visit and see more mesmerising macros.

Microfiction Monday #32

Thank you to Susan from 'Stony River' who organises and hosts this entertaining weekly meme. She provides a picture and the challenge is to create a story in 140 characters or less. Click here to read more marvels of microfiction – and perhaps be tempted to join in.
On seeing this illustration several things leapt to mind and had to be firmly squashed! Here's what survived ;-)
#1: She squinted but couldn't decipher the instructions. She always forgot to read them before getting into the shower. Laser eye surgery was definitely on her to do list.
(140 characters)
#2: So this was the elixir of life but must she drink it or apply it? And did she really want to live forever in the present economic climate?
(138 characters)
Finally, especially for Susan! #3: Susan mused. If it stopped the dreadful itch she'd try it. She'd smell like bad eggs – so? It was sticky too so would patch up the walls.
(137 characters)

Friday, 9 July 2010

haiku my heart friday

Thank you to Rebecca from 'recuerda mi corazon' who organises and hosts this weekly meme. To see more haiku please click here.

Fuchsia bells swinging
Gently in a soft zephyr
Look like bright fairies.

‘Animal’s People’ by Indra Sinha

'I used to be human once. So I'm told. I don't remember it myself, but people who knew me when I was small say I walked on two feet just like a human being.'
These are the opening lines of an extraordinary novel that I read a couple of years ago. Shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize, it is narrated by the central character, Animal. He recounts his story in shocking detail, the difficulties and obstacles of his existence set out without sentiment and often with robust humour. His language is, by turns, lewd, obscene and scatological; his two major preoccupations revolve around walking upright again and sex! He tells how life changed after 'that night' when an explosion in an American chemical factory in his slum changed life forever. There is a vibrancy about this story as Animal demonstrates his resilience as a severely disabled youth living at the lowest level of poverty in the fictional city of Khaufpur, the City of Fear.
Rather disingenuously the author, Indra Sinha, who now lives in France, claims, 'Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.' In fact, the city bears a striking resemblance to Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, where on 3rd December 1984 the American company Union Carbide, manufacturing pesticides, released 40 tonnes of lethal gas into the atmosphere. It remains the world's worst industrial disaster. More than 500,000 people were exposed and 15,000 people died, 8,000 within the first weeks, others in the ensuing decades.
Survivors of that nightmare are subject to spontaneous abortions and stillbirths and the babies that survive to be born suffer from a range of disabilities – some are blind or deaf or brain-damaged, others have missing or distorted limbs or facial disfigurements. Water is essential for life, yet the source for the people of Bhopal is toxic, abandoned chemicals still leaking into it, nearly 25 years after the initial disaster.
In June, 2010, seven former employees of Union Carbide, now a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company, were found guilty of 'death by negligence' and fined around $2,000 each and sentenced to two years in prison. How can it be classified simply as negligence when in 1982 thirty major hazards were identified at the Bhopal plant but were not rectified while the same thirty major hazards were fixed at the company's identical plant in the USA? It shows, at the very least, a cynical disregard for life in Bhopal. Dow Chemical Company absolves itself of any liability for the tragedy in Bhopal because it did not merge with Union Carbide until 2001. However, it has undertaken all responsibility for more than 75,000 asbestos related law suits in the USA. These claims date from the 1940s and 1950s to the present.
India's cabinet has approved a decision to attempt to extradite Warren Anderson, the former CEO of Union Carbide. BP has spent $1.6 bn on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, in which 12 people died. It is expected to spend much more. Union Carbide has paid $0.6bn in compensation.
I have not included any photographs other than the one alongside this article – they are pitiful and horrific and immensely distressing. I, with thousands of others in the west, have the luxury of being almost certain that children and grandchildren will be born whole and straight and healthy. The women of Bhopal can have no such optimism.


This item was in our local community magazine. I don't know who wrote it so can't credit it.
'Working people frequently ask retired people how they make their days interesting.
Well, the other day my wife and I went into town. We went into a shop for about five minutes. When we came out there was a traffic warden writing out a parking ticket. I said, 'Hey, come on, give us senior citizens a break, can't you?' He ignored me so I called him a moron. He glared at me and started to write another ticket for having worn tyres.
My wife then told him he was unintelligent. He finished the second ticket and put it on the windscreen with the first then started writing a third ticket for some other small infringement. This went on for about twenty minutes because the more we abused him the more tickets he wrote.
We didn't care at all. We came into town by bus. Now that we're retired we try to have a little fun each day – it's important at our age.'

Thursday, 8 July 2010

SkyWatch Friday Season 4 Episode 52

Early July sky over Berkshire, UK - 6:46 pm
The SkyWatch Friday team organise and host this weekly meme, for which we thank them. To see more skies around this beautiful world please click here

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Midweek Blues

Rebecca from 'The Dusty Cellar' organises and hosts this meme. To join in or to see other offerings please click on the logo.
Pansy Blue, one of our blue Burmese kittens. Genetically, blue is a dilution of black. Her mother was brown, her siblings chocolate or brown. No lilacs in this particular litter.
In different lights Pansy looked more silver than blue.
A blue background complemented her colour.
Here she is curled up with a chocolate friend. To us she was, quite correctly, 'blue' - but to the uninitiated she was grey!