Monday, 24 September 2012

Kitten arrives

We have a new member of the household:-

As yet she hasn't got a name - she's just Kitten.

She seems to have a lovely temperament.

Helping me with Postcrossing.

 All cats love a mouse to play with.

 And all youngsters love a box.

Why do cats love shoes?

 Chasing the hands

Hardly a handful.

That early morning look!

Friday, 21 September 2012

What is a blog?

Recently I got an e-mail from someone – we’ll call him 'Olde' - who has only used the internet for research but in so doing came across my blog.  Having found some useful things on it (he didn’t say which blog – presumably not this rambling creation) he asked if I could tell him “ What is a blog?”  Gosh, how long is a piece of string?  The latter may be unanswerable but for those like ‘Olde’ who haven’t visited blogs on a regular basis I thought I’d have a go at an answer.  I’m sure that your comments will add to my thoughts.    Here goes.

Basically a blog is the computer equivalent of a blank notebook.  The background design etc. differs from blog to blog just as one notebook might differ from another but nearly all have a ruled column down one side of each page (called the side-bar) about which I shall write more later.

If you are given a blank notebook you may use it for whatever you like – the weekly accounts, a diary, a record of birds seen in the garden, a note of your visits to the doctor.   Whatever.  And only you can write in the notebook (unless you invite a friend to do so).  But the notebook remains private. Here is where the difference begins. A blog is almost always public (though private blogs are possible). It is a way of sharing whatever is in your notebook with the world. It has the added advantage of you being able to illustrate it with photographs.  Indeed the main objective for some people is to share their photos with the world.

If your notebook is simply a poorly-written diary of your day to day life mucking out the pigs or a whinge about your health issues it is likely to have few readers.  If your blog is full of interesting snippets of information and is written in a style that people enjoy it often has more readers, some of whom become ’followers' – that is people who get notified every time you add a new page (a post as it is called).  New people come to your blog by two main methods. Word of mouth tends to be the main one. One blogger will recommend another or mention that a particular post was of interest and link to it.  The second is by people searching for a word or phrase or a picture on a search engine and being led to your blog. So someone putting in ‘Lewis Chessmen’ was led to my Isle of Lewis blog just yesterday even though the posting about them was done twelve months ago.

Just as your notebook may be subject specific so too may a blog.  It may be about recipes, book reviews, collecting stamps, Harry Potter, household tips, gardening or any other subject under the sun.  In my case, for example, I have various blogs (many of which are inactive – i.e. I have not posted in them for a while) such as one about Exeter, where one of my daughters lives, and one about the Isle of Lewis where I stay most summers with my brother who lives there.  Other people, by writing about their home town and what they consider ordinary, may create a blog that fascinates me because their buildings, lifestyle, culture etc. appear so exotic compared to mine. And no doubt there is a vice versa to that.  Someone in Malaysia may find the trivia of life on Merseyside fascinating.

My main blog is a general one appropriately entitled ‘Rambles from my Chair’.  It rambles from being a diary to a reminiscence about things in the sixties or a cute baby animal I heard about being born in a zoo or maybe a brief note on an animal becoming extinct, a book review, or a recipe for fruit juice.  I try to avoid politics and religion though the history of the occasional Saint’s Day might get a mention or I might comment about the badger cull. I try to keep it suitable for all ages and all backgrounds and, most of all I try not to offend people. I don’t see it as part of my job to denigrate anyone (though I did once have a serious go at the American politician Sarah Palin) or put down any particular race, colour, creed, etc.. After all, why should I consider my views in that regard to be of interest to others or more worthy of being heard.

By contrast some people write political blogs while others show the depth of their devotion to their religion. Some of these can be interesting, simply because they are so informative or so well written that their style appeals. Or they may be accompanied by photos that are excellent.  I can happily live with these so long as the person doesn’t work too hard telling me off if I’m not a believer.  I like them to offer me the same courtesy I offer them by not denigrating anyone who is not of their way of thinking.

So that is the basic concept of a blog and its posts.  The blogger may post as frequently or infrequently as they wish but in most cases there is a comment box. In that ‘visitors’ to the blog are invited to make a comment.  It is not compulsory and many visitors leave no trace of having been on the blog except as a statistic.  (One can check how many visitors a particular post had, etc.) .  Others, like myself, tend to comment on every visit so that the person is rewarded for the effort of writing, to make our views known, to answer a question of theirs (I love identifying people’s insect and animal photos), to relate a similar or dissimilar experience, or simply to say how interesting the information in their post has been or how beautiful the photos.  Sometimes a comment will invite a reply and a mini-correspondence develops beneath the post itself.  

As you will notice if you visit a blog there are often two columns – the main posting one and a side-bar.  This side-bar can be used for all sorts of purposes.  Most people include in it a lead to their profile (a description as brief or as complex as they like about themselves).  There is usually a search engine which searches that particular blog for keywords.  Some people include links to their favourite blogs or blogs done by other members of their family.  Depending upon which server hosts the blog – most of mine are on Google’s Blogger (identified by the word blogspot in the address) – one may also list one’s followers. These are the people who have chosen to be notified on their blog ‘dashboard’ or ‘reader’ when you make a new post.  In many cases the sidebar also allows you to subscribe to be notified by e-mail when a person posts, though the e-mail is a bit slow to be sent. There might also be advertising – either organised by Google or done privately (I advertise a friend’s vintage store), links to the titles of earlier posts, a link to one’s Facebook page or some other social network (if one has one).  Indeed one can use the sidebar for almost anything.   

Only when I’d finished did I realise the length of my answer but I thought – well you did ask!!!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

It can’t be Wednesday afternoon – already?

It can’t be Wednesday afternoon – already?   Doesn’t time fly when you’re enjoying yourself / busy / have got too much too do/ are not quite as quick as you used to be, and people keep wanting to take your blood pressure and stick electrodes on you..…    So what have I been up to since my Sunday stroll?
Embracing Cousins

First and foremost I have had a very enjoyable few hours with a couple of ‘new’ cousins. Actually they’ve always been my cousins it’s just that we had never met before.  Looking up the name of a common ancestor, Pam came across one of my blogs and as a result got in touch.  We’ve been e-mailing for a couple of months and on Tuesday she came around, along with her partner Rob and her mother, my second cousin Edith.  

Edith and I

Pam and Rob (with Pam studiously avoiding looking at the camera - wielded by Jo!)

Pam is my second cousin once removed (the 'once removed' bit means we are a generation adrift).  Edith is my second cousin – i.e. our grandmothers were sisters and we share these common ancestors (and all their ancestors) –

Louisa Sophia Spencer (nee Lane)

Thomas Robert Spencer

Thomas Robert Spencer died of consumption when my grandmother was just 12 years old.    Louisa Sophia went into deep mourning for a year as befitted the event and she is pictured here with her black spotted veil.

Breaking with tradition Louisa, Grandma Spencer as she was called, is smiling in this photo from 1899 despite being in her widow’s weeds.  Widows quite often wore black, or primarily black, for the rest of their lives not just for the first year after their husband’s death. 

It was great not only meeting such a great trio of people but also catching up on missing pieces of family gossip from as long ago as the Victorian era.   Some misconceptions about relatives were cleared up.  For example, although a lot of our relatives died in the First World War, one that I had down as killed in action turned out to have been killed crossing the railway line at Huyton station trying to catch the train to work!  Maybe not such dangerous and unpleasant surroundings as the trenches but no less fatal.  Meanwhile we no doubt fuelled the misconceptions as we tried to work out who ‘Great Aunt Lizzie’ had really been….

It was a thoroughly enjoyable occasion . So much so that they were nearly out of the door before we thought to take photos. That's not like me!  We shall be meeting again soon to add to the store of family trivia to pass on to future generations across the country.

Teasing Teasel

 Every year our Teasels seed themselves somewhere or other in the garden – often in the most inconvenient places.  Some of them then grow to enormous heights like this 9 foot 6 inch specimen outside the Wendy House door.  (My shed is called the Wendy House to distinguish it from the gardening shed at the bottom of the garden).

 Also brightening up the garden at the moment are the Japanese Anemones.

And some of the garden greenery made a beautiful background for these carnations from the local flower shop.

A new motto

Actually, it isn’t new, Partner-who-loves-tea has always had this motto.

The Juicer

The household has a new appliance – a juicer.  Son-who-watches-films has bought a juicer and has already put it to really good effect.  

  In addition to banana ice cream (all banana but tasting just like ice cream) he has made some lovely juices.  My favourite so far is a combination of apples, carrots, watermelon, cucumber, spinach, lemon and lime.  

Right - must go next door to the doctors. There is a nurse waiting with her electrodes to do a heart trace.   I presume if they can't find any trace of a heart they put you in a box.....

Sunday, 16 September 2012

A Sunday Stroll

A book, a clock, a friend and a cup of tea ..... What more could you want?

“Dodger” is Terry Pratchett’s latest novel which came out on Thursday and which I was fortunate to be given a pre-publication copy of last weekend (thanks J!)  Needless to say I sat down and consumed it in two goes despite it running to 356 pages.  It is designed for those aged 11 to 111.

In early Victorian London an enterprising lad can find adventure and opportunity — if he is very smart, and very, very lucky. Dodger has the brains, the luck — and the cheek — to scrape by on his own. Everyone on the streets knows Dodger, and everyone likes Dodger. Which is a good thing, because life for a boy on the streets is anything but easy.  Dodger is a tosher – a sewer scavenger living in the squalor of Dickensian London.

When he rescues a young girl from a beating, suddenly everybody who normally wouldn’t go near the rookeries and squalor of the East End wants to know him as well.  And this tale of skulduggery, dark plans and even darker deeds begins . . .

From Dodger’s encounters with fictional villains to his meetings with famous people of the Nineteenth Century, history and fantasy intertwine in a breath-taking tale of adventure and mystery, unexpected coming-of-age, and one remarkable boy’s rise in a complex and fascinating world.  Pratchett himself admits that it is a historical fantasy not a historical novel and he bends dates and people to his will.  He did, however, try to avoid words inappropriate to the time like snob, settling instead for ‘nobby’.  But in this regard he was not totally successful and the occasional late Victorian or Twentieth Century word or phrase, like ‘entrepreneur, really jarred when I came across it.

Look out for Henry Mayhew, the Victorian author of ‘London Labour and the London Poor’ (which has been sitting on my shelves unread for twelve months – yes, I’m ashamed of myself.)  Meet Dickens and Disraeli and Joseph Bazalgettte, chief engineer of the London sewers.  If you work ad hard as Dodger did you may even meet members of the Royal family!  And the odd goat...

Dodger felt better when he cogitated on the word 'Turkish'. Somebody, probably Ginny-Come-Lately - a nice girl with a laugh that made you very nearly blush; they had been quite close once upon a time - had told him about Turkey. She had filled his mind with exciting images of dancing girls and light-brown ladies in very thin vests. Apparently, they would give you a massage and then oil you with what she called 'ungulates', which sounded very exotic, although to tell you the truth, Ginny-Come-Lately could make anything sound exotic. When he had mentioned this to Solomon - Dodger had been much younger then, and still a bit naive - the old man had said, 'Surely not. I have not travelled widely in the countries of the Levant, but whatever else they do to their goats, I am quite sure they don't rub them all over their own bodies. The goat has never been distinguished by the fragrance of its aroma. I suspect you mean "unguents", which are perfumes distilled from fragrant oils. Why'd you want to know?'
The younger Dodger had said, 'Oh, no reason really, I just heard somebody say the word.' Right now, though, whatever way you put it, the word Turkish conjured up visions of eastern promise, and so he became quite optimistic as he strolled through the streets all the way to the Turkish baths in Commercial Road.
If you are a Pratchett fan you’ll love it. If not, you might nevertheless like to give it a try to experience Dickensian London from a new perspective.

A Cuckoo Clock – with a difference

GB was given an RSPB clock at some stage in the last year and when I first went to stay with him this year I was rather taken by surprise when every hour (between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.) was announced by the singing of a bird of some sort – a different one for each hour. At first I thought it was a bit twee and slightly annoying. And then I found it quite good fun and finally I not only enjoyed hearing  a song thrush tell me it was seven a.m. but also found it useful for gauging the time during the day.  ‘Hello, that sounds like coffee and crossword time!’

So when I got home I ordered one (a cheap equivalent not marketed by the RSPB but of a similar nature).  I love it.  It sits on the landing outside the bedroom and study and not only tells me things like ‘You’ve been sat at the computer for too long, go take a walk’ but also makes me smile in the process. I can thoroughly recommend them.

When is a Friend a Friend?

I am getting lots of postcards – some from random Postcrossers across the globe, a few from people who ask for a direct swap, a few from relatives, some from friends and some from blogging friends.  I especially like maps and have had quite a few lately.  My other likes can be seen on my Postcrossing profile.  (Yes, this is an unceremonious and unsubtle planting of a suggestion in people’s minds!)

But what this piece of my post is really about is "What is the difference between a friend and a blogging friend?"  (Ignoring any distinction between friends and acquaintances and lumping the two together.)  I started my handwritten record of postcards received with a number of columns – person, country, date, and so on.  One of the columns indicated whether the person was a postcrosser, relative, friend, blogging friend, etc.  I then found that people were going back and forth between the last two categories.  With one postcard I’d list them as a ‘friend’ and with another it would be ‘blogging friend’. It didn’t take me long to realise there is no difference.   

One of the people now considered my Friend-über-special is someone who I met through blogging. And many of those people who e-mail me, write to me, postcard me and generally keep in touch on a weekly or more frequent basis are also folk I met through blogging (or postcrossing, so perhaps there should have been another heading ‘Postcrossing friend’).  

I feel closer now to some people who simply comment on my blog (and vice versa) than I do to the vast majority of people I worked with for years.  If the blogging friends were to walk into the room and sit down for tea or coffee there would be no lack of subjects to chat about.  Many of my former colleagues would be able to share the occasional old reminiscence and little more – we have so little else in common. So from now on I am aiming to drop the expression ‘blogging friend’ and simply refer to folk as friends. 

Cup of tea anyone?

(Photo from PhraseFinder.    
You would be hard put to find a cup 
in our house nowadays - it's all mugs!)

Friday, 14 September 2012

A Bottleneck - In My Head

Real Toads word of the week is bottleneck.  If ever there was a bottleneck it’s

In My Head
My head is a bottleneck –
New creations arrive
Faster than they can depart -
I really don’t know where to start.

My head is a bottleneck -
As ideas cram inside
Trying to get through
To express themselves anew.

My head is a bottleneck -
Where some things never
See the light of day,
Getting in each other’s way.

My head is a bottleneck -
A few thoughts escape
One by one and then
A big one sticks, again.

My head is a bottleneck -
And so much expands
Inside it.  I think,
at first,
It’s going to

If you want to see how other Real Toads have tackled the subject please click on the toad.

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