Sunday 30 March 2008

Star brightness

Stars are classified by brightness on a scale beginning with 0 in which each number is 2½ times less bright. Stars of magnitude 0 to 6 can be seen with the naked eye. Two stars – Sirius and Canopus – have minus magnitudes being brighter than 0. On the same scale the Sun would be minus 26.7 and the Moon minus 11.2.
The brightest stars visible from Britain are –
Sirius -1.58
Vega 0.21
Capella 0.21
Arcturus 0.24
Rigel 0.34
Procyon 0.48
Betelgeuse 0.90
Altair 0.89
Aldebran 1.06
Spica 1.21
Antares 1.22
Formalhaut 1.29
Deneb 1.33
Regulus 1.34

Friday 28 March 2008

Quick Shortbread Fingers


I found this recipe – in Bryony’s handwriting – among all the papers I’m sorting.

4 oz soft margarine
2 oz castor sugar
6 oz plain flour
castor sugar to sprinkle

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and knead well into a ball. Turn out onto a highly floured board. Cut into two. Roll out and trim into oblongs. Place on a greased baking tray or use greaseproof paper. Prick with a fork. Bake above the centre of a slow to very moderate oven (gas mark 2-3; 155°C) for 30 to 35 minutes.
Cut into fingers, sprinkle with some sugar. Allow to cool in the baking tray for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire tray.

I made this today with the simple variation of putting the two parts onto rounded baking trays and cut them into fans rather then fingers.

Thursday 27 March 2008


"Impressive, Huh! Girls."

Heraldic colours


Argent – Silver
Or – Gold
Vert – Green
Azure – Blue
Pupure – Purple
Gules – Red
Sable – Black

Wednesday 26 March 2008



The City of Gloucester has an ancient obligation to send a dish of Lampern, also known as Lampreys (Lampetra fluviatilis) to the monarch on his / her succession and annually at Christmas. King John fined the men of Gloucester 40 marks because “They did not pay him sufficient respect in the matter of his lamperns.”

A surfeit of Lampreys!
Henry I died of a surfeit of them.

What price a fur coat?

10-16 Otters
10-20 Foxes
12-18 Ocelots
16-26 Beavers
35-60 Mink
40 Rabbits
60-80 Sables
60-120 Muskrats
130-200 Chinchillas
200-400 Squirrels

These looked better on the Otters!

Tuesday 25 March 2008

Ad Non-sense

I have an Ad-sense spot on this blog in the vague hope of making some passive income (perhaps as much as 20p a decade?). The annoying thing is I’m not allowed to click on it myself as it breaches the terms of the advertising – obviously unscrupulous folk would just sit there clicking on the adverts on their own page to make income. Since the subject matter is related to the content of my latest blogs there have been a few that I would have been interested in visiting. Though, of course, the interpretation of the relationship is often pretty loose. A blog posting about otter conservation for example might lead to an advert for otter fur coats!

But today’s advert has me baffled. It is about Knickers for Men. That is certainly not something I have done a posting about in the last couple of days (or ever!)

Frog End Wildlife


Helen has started a new blog. I'm really loking forward to its entries as the year progresses and the garden grows....

Monday 24 March 2008

Dating a hedge

Dating a hedge by anything other than a certain historical written record of when it was planted is somewhat arbitrary but the accepted method for at least attempting it is one suggested by Dr Max Hooper:-
Age in years = species of woody plant per 30 yards x 100

On that basis the hedge I planted three years ago at The Willows was actually planted around the time of William the Conqueror!

Colour Coding – who’s who!


Black Monks – Benedictine Monks (including Cluniacs)
White Monks – Cistercians
Black Canons – Augustinian or Austin Canons
White Canons – Premonstratensian Canons
Black Friars – Dominican Friars
White Friars – Carmelite Friars
Grey Friars – Franciscan Friars
Black Ladies – Benedictine Nuns
Black Ladies (2) – Augustinian Canonesses
White Ladies – Cistercian Nuns
White Ladies (2) – Premonstratensian Canonesses

I have not been able to find out who the Brown Friars or Brown Ladies were. Carmelite Nuns wear a brown habit with a white or black head covering and Carmelite Friars wore a brown habit with a white cloak, But whether they were called Brown Friars or not I do not know. Friar Tuck is always depicted in a brown habit – to what order was he supposed to belong?

Sunday 23 March 2008

No killing on Sunday!


It's Sunday...
Under the Game Act 1831, if anyone killed hares, pheasants, partridges, grouse, heath or moor game on Sunday or Christmas Day they were liable to a fine not exceeding £5.

Ian's new blog

Ian has started a blog on the subject of his my journey towards a career (selling established hedges to improve people's driveways and gardens and promote more environmentally friendly living), a hobby (topiary) and the riverside refuge charity that he and Helen are considering (aimed at improving habitats for wildlife). Ian says "There may also be the occasional mention of otters..!"

I suspect there may be more than the occasional Otter (or two)...

Saturday 22 March 2008

Window Tax


We often hear about window tax and the effect it had on architectural styles and on changes to buildings as people bricked in windows to save money. But what exactly was window tax?

The tax was introduced in 1696 under King William III and was designed to impose tax relative to the prosperity of the taxpayer, but without the controversy that then surrounded the idea of income tax. At that time, many people in Britain opposed income tax, on principle, because they believed that the disclosure of personal income represented an unacceptable government intrusion into private matters, and a potential threat to personal liberty.

When the window tax was introduced, it consisted of two parts: a flat-rate house tax of 2 shillings per house and a variable tax for the number of windows above ten windows. Properties with between ten and twenty windows paid a total of four shillings, and those above twenty windows paid eight shillings. The number of windows that incurred tax was changed to seven in 1766 and eight in 1825.

Throughout the era of the window tax houses were known to brick up windows to either avoid the tax or keep within a lower tax bracket.

The flat-rate tax was changed to a variable rate, dependent on the property value, in 1778. People who were ineligible for church or poor rates, for reasons of poverty, were exempt from the window tax. Window tax was relatively easy to assess and did not involve prying into personal wealth. The bigger the house, the more windows it was likely to have, and the more tax the occupants would pay.
Window tax was repealed in 1851 at which time it was an annual charge of –
8 windows - £0 16s 6d
9 windows - £1 1s 0d
10 windows - £1 8s 0d
11 windows - £1 16s 3d
12 windows - £2 4s 9d
and so on up to
25 windows - £7 14s 3d
30 windows - £9 16s 3d
35 windows - £11 18s 3d

Dairies were exempt if not used to sleep in and provided they had the name “Dairy” above the door. I recall seeing dairies with the name ‘Dairy’ above the door but when I came to search for an example on the Web to illustrate this article I couldn’t find one. Have they all disappeared?

Also exempt were tenants occupying farm-houses at a rack-rent of less than £200 a year; or owner occupied farm-houses with a yearly value under £100 if the owner had no other income exceeding £100. Glass doors and glass lights over doors were subject to window tax and windows lighting two rooms, in two frames, paid as two windows.

There’s a fine on this book

Many years ago, when I was a librarian I didn’t get much enjoyment out of charging fines for overdue books and since it was in the days before computers one could occasionally buck the system and let people off. One woman who I enjoyed charging – and who laughed aloud as she paid her 9d – was the one who was late returning a book by Betty James entitled “1001 Money Saving Tips”.

Friday 21 March 2008



A team called Weakly Players beat the Eggheads last night and won £27,000. Generally speaking, teams of older members tend to do better than youngsters, confirming my ‘ageist’ view that the amount of general knowledge picked up simply by being around for a fair length of time helps considerably in this programme. Just so long as you are not around so many years that you begin to forget it all again...

The last successful invasion


The arrival of the Normans is often quoted as the last successful invasion of England. In human terms it may be but in plant and animal terms we are under constant invasion from abroad. One of the latest and most successful of these alien invaders is an Asian ladybird, the Harlequin Ladybird (Harmonia axyridis), which first arrived in South-East England in 2004. By the autumn of 2007 hundreds and even thousands of individuals had been recorded as far apart as Durham, the Lizard and West Wales. In 2006 on the Isle of Wight people had to get their vacuum cleaners out to hoover them up as large quantities of these invaders swarmed in.

Like many Ladybird species it is highly variable in appearance. Described as the most invasive ladybird on earth it was introduced on purpose to the USA in 1916 as a means of biologically controlling pest insects. At first it failed to become established but in the 1980s it suddenly spread rapidly and can now be found right across the whole of North America.

Deliberate introductions were also made across mainland Europe and although it was not purposely introduced here it arrived in England in 2004, Wales in either 2005 or 2006, and Scotland and Ireland in 2007. It is a pest species insofar as it is a threat to native biodiversity, a human nuisance, and a pest of grape growing and the and wine industries.

Ladybird recording schemes have existed for a few decades across England but they are becoming of even greater importance as the spread of this invader is tracked. Databases held by the Biological Records Centre can be seen at . The Harlequin survey has its own website at

On a more frivolous note – it’s a shame that the Harlequin doesn’t look like this – we might be able to distinguish it better!

Dry Measures


Some old English dry measures.
2 pints = 1 quart
4 quarts = 1 gallon
2 gallons = 1 peck
4 pecks = 1 Winchester bushel
4 bushels = 1 coomb
2 coombs = 1 quarter
5 quarters = 1 way or 1 load
2 ways = 1 ton
(The picture of the bushel measure is with the kind permission of Antique Farm Tools )

Thursday 20 March 2008

Dressed for the Hunt


The Red Coat Dress for fox-hunting consisted of:-
A silk hat
A plain white stock or tie
A hunting waistcoat
A pair of white breeches
A pair of top boots
No hat-guard
A plain gold, horizontal tie-pin
A red coat
A pair of white garter-straps
A pair of spurs
A pair of gloves (white) leather, wool, or string, or, in the provinces perhaps, tan leather.
The Black Coat Dress was as above but with a black or dark grey hunting coat.

The fox was not particularly bothered what they wore just so long as he kept his coat and brush!


When families have more than one child of the same sex clothes tend to get handed down from elder to younger. A great example of this was demonstrated when my nephews were young. The younger, aged three, was asked about the patchwork motif on his front. “What’s that on your pyjamas?”
Before he could open his mouth, his five year old brother answered “An upside down rabbit.”

Wednesday 19 March 2008

Early Birds


The birds to be ‘officially’ recorded in the British Isles before the year 700 AD were those which appeared in stories about the Saints or were listed in Anglo-Saxon literature such as “The Seafarer” and “Beowulf”. I have found a list of 16 species –
Robin (St Kentigern)
Crane (St Columba)
White-tailed Sea Eagle (St Cuthbert)
Carrion (or Hooded) Crow (St Cuthbert)
Wood Pigeon (St Aldhelm)
Nightingale (St aldhelm)
Swallow (St Aldhelm)
Chaffinch (St Aldhelm)
Cuckoo (St Guthlac)
Raven (St Guthlac)
Whooper Swan (Beowulf)
Gannet (Beowulf)
Whimbrel (The Seafarer)
Kittiwake (The Seafarer)
Tern (The Seafarer)
Quail (Exodus)

{I don't understand this last reference - the Bible wasn't set in Great Britain - so presumably it is some other Exodus - and I didn't think the Quail was ever a native speices. Can anyone enlighten me?}

Tuesday 18 March 2008



If you want to know what fruxaffigology is - or could be - visit.. Redactori



On a visit I once made to the zoo a young mother was sheltering from the rain in the Aquarium with her two year old son in his push-chair. Pointing to the tanks she carefully enunciated “Fish, fish.” He responded by enunciating, equally carefully, “Chips, chips.”

The Langdale Pikes and Stone Axes


I love the Langdale Pikes in the Lake District. I suspect part of the reason is that their distinctive shape made them the first group of peaks that I recognised as a youngster.

I have been up each of them – Harrison stickle, Loft Crag, Pike o’Stickle, and Pavey Ark – a few times. Amongst the most enjoyable rambles was one up Pike O’Stickle in the snow in the 1970s. Least enjoyable was a trip up Harrison Stickle in the mist when youth hostelling in the 1960s. I had intended to go over into Grasmere but ended coming back down the same way and going over via Loughrigg instead, all in a all a much longer walk than I had planned.

It was Pavey Ark that introduced me to the delights of rock climbing. Going up Jack’s Rake is graded as an easy rock climb and that led to going the whole hog with ropes and companions on Shepherd’s Crag in Borrowdale. It also caused me to lead Mum, Dad and Phil up Jack’s Rake, an experience that Mum and Dad enjoyed but it was only after we had done it that Mum shared with me the fact that Phil suffered from vertigo! Oops.

The scree on Pike O’Stickle is estimated to include the waste from between 45,000 and 75,000 completed stone axes. About 200 axe flaking sites have been identified in the Langdale pikes area and a further 350 lie between Bowfell, Scafell Pike and Glaramara. When Professor Bill Cummins examined nearly 2000 Neolithic axes from finds all over England and Wales, he found that 27% were made from the polished greenstone volcanic tuff from Langdale. The British Museum's 1978 catalogue of 368 Neolithic axes found in the Thames listed 15 from Langdale and they have also been found in places as far apart as Northern Ireland and Peterborough. In fact, most of the Langdale axe finds are in Lincolnshire and the East Midlands. The Lake District was almost certainly the first industrial estate in the country!

Monday 17 March 2008

Rooks and Crows


My Mum taught me how to tell rooks from crows. Not by the unfeathered face or ragged trousers of the rook but by the simple view that if you see more than one carrion crow they are rooks; if you see a rook on its own its a crow!.

There is a degree of truth in this old adage. Rooks feed in flocks and tend to seek a limited number of invertebrates such as earthworms and leatherjackets. These vary in distance from the soil surface according to local moisture and temperature and once a few Rooks find a good spot they will be joined by the rest of the flock. Crows feed on a wider range of animals and also tend to use stealth to capture their prey. Stealth is less easy when a bird is accompanied by others so they tend to hunt alone.

So Mum was right – if you see one rook its a crow!



Buckfast Abbey’s lavender garden
Extracted from a Gardening magazine (Author unknown):-
“It may seem eccentric and slightly hazardous to eat Lavender flowers but once you start thinking of it as a herb or a vegetable, rather than an ornamental, you will realise just how delicious it can be.”

“I have made lovely puddings using Lavender flowers. The best to use are any Lavendula angustifolia or L. x intermedia varieties. Pick the flowers just before they open, then put them in a jar and mix with caster sugar. Leave the jar on the window sill for four weeks, then sift the sugar from the flowers. This sugar can then be used to make fantastic cakes, biscuits and meringues.”
“Lavender flowers can also be used to make an interesting cup of tea. Queen Elizabeth I, when unable to sleep, is said to have partaken of lavender tea as a mild sedative. I have tried this, and its strong taste means that it’s not for the faint-hearted.”

Lavender kissing comfits were said in times gone by to make men amorous. Comfits were small but strongly flavoured sweets coated with layers of liquid sugar flavoured with orange, rose, violet or lavender.

Sunday 16 March 2008



Jo and Rich are poorly this week. So this is for them; and for Lainee, Marilyn and other friends who suffer from long-term problems but manage to keep on smiling.

This card was sent to me by Andrew when I had my heart job a few years ago and the inside displayed his usual sense of humour...

Fruit salad


Allegedly mosquitoes are particularly attracted to people who have recently eaten banana.

Apples are ranked No. 1 in antioxidant activity compared with 40 other commercially available fruits and vegetables.

Peaches were once known as Persian apples.

On average, there are 200 seeds in a strawberry.

Eating fruit helps guard us from cataracts and macular degeneration, which is the major cause of vision loss in people over the age of 65.

In China the peach is a symbol of longevity and good luck.

One quarter of an apple's volume is air. That is why they float for Bob Apple.

Banana plants are the largest plants on earth without a woody stem. They are actually giant herbs of the same family as lilies, orchids and palms.

Blueberries won't ripen once they are picked.

Peaches were mentioned as early as 79 A.D. in literature.

Blueberries are becoming more popular than ever—over 1500 new products containing blueberries were introduced in USA last year.

The same chemicals that give tart cherries their color may relieve pain better than aspirin and ibuprofen in humans. Eating about 20 tart cherries a day could reduce inflammatory pain and headache pain.

7500 varieties of apples are grown throughout the world.

Nectarines are just peaches without the fuzz.

Women used to rub strawberries on their breasts in the belief that hey made them bigger – the breasts not the strawberries.

In 2001, there were more than 300 banana-related accidents in Britain, most involving people slipping on skins.

Cheltenham Gold Cup


I got the 1st, 2nd and 3rd in my forecast for the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday but didn’t back anything because the odds on Denman were low and I don’t bet when the odds are so poor or when I’m hard up (a bit of a puritan streak that I introduced to myself when at college).

It was delightful seeing Denman, the second favourite beat Kauto Star, the favourite, while their stable-mate, the grey Neptune Collonges (25-1), earned a very well deserved third place The battle between Denman and Kauto Star was a much anticipated one like that of Arkle versus Mill House in the 1964 Gold Cup and Red Rum against Crisp in the 1973 Grand National.

Neptune Collonges led off and was never out of the top three. He is seen here leading Denman on the first circuit.

Four furlongs out.

This was the third favourite with his ear protectors which looked more like an Ipod – appropriate for a horse called Exotic Dancer!

As a treat, to compensate for not having a bet, I asked Beryl at the Co-op to give me five Lottery Lucky Dips instead. I won ten pounds! Denman was 9-4 so I would have done slightly better putting my money on the horse.

Saturday 15 March 2008

Magpie Rhymes


The following is an old rhyme which foretells the future upon seeing a Magpie or Magpies...

One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret
            never to be told.

Or, another version of the rhyme suggests -
One for sorrow; Two for joy; Three for a wedding; Four for a boy...

While a third form runs –
One - sorrow
Two - a marriage
Three - an unexpected journey
Four unexpected good news
Five – a great company will gather together.

The bad luck of seeing a lone Magpie can be countered by –
Saying “Good Afternoon Mr Magpie (irrespective of the time of day and its sex);
Turning round three times.

(But note that any of these carried out in a railway carriage may carry their own bad luck by getting you arrested!)

Your old computer


What do you do when your computer gives up the ghost? It seems that most people simply scrap it and throw it out with the rubbish or take it directly to the tip. If you are in that category, beware!

Even when we think we have deleted files they tend to remain on our hard drive and can only be removed with expensive professional software. Computers that are simply thrown away often contain tons of information which, in the wrong hands, can be used fraudulently. A far safer option is to give the computer to a reputable charity such as Computer-aid. For a small fee (around £9.00) they will collect old computers to refurbish them for use abroad in the Third World or for learning projects in this country. Charities such as these will use proper professional software to wipe the hard drive before passing them on.

Another alternative is to keep the hard drive - assuming it's not kaput, and simply add it to your new computer to give you a back up drive or extra Gb.

Grand Prix – the film


The Grand Prix season begins today. I remember going to see the film “Grand Prix” when it came out in 1966. GB took me as a Christmas treat, accompanied by Ron Arbuckle and his partner, at The Abbey in Cinerama.

I thought it was the best film ever made.. The high-speed drama, filmed at Brandshatch, was brilliant in Cinerama and although it has dated somewhat I still enjoy watching it occasionally. Indeed, the fact that it has dated has added to its charm – they don’t make cars like that any more.

American Grand Prix driver Pete Aron is fired by his Jordan-BRM racing team after a crash at Monaco that injures his British teammate, Scott Stoddard. While Stoddard struggles to recover, Aron begins to drive for the Japanese Yamura team, and becomes romantically involved with Stoddard's estranged wife. A race day accident involving Jordan-BRM teammates Pete Aron (James Garner) and Scott Stoddard (Brian Bedford) leaves Stoddard critically injured. During Stoddard's recovery, Aron becomes involved with his wife (Jessica Walter) who seems determined to leave Scott. At the same time, drivers Jean-Pierre Sarti (Yves Montand) and Nino Barlini (Antonio Sabato) also have chronicled love affairs with Louise Frederickson (Eva Marie Saint), an American journalist, and Lisa (the enigmatic Françoise Hardy).

Françoise Hardy (born Françoise Madeleine Hardy, January 17, 1944 in Paris) is a French singer, actress and astrologer. Hardy is considered an iconic figure in many respects (fashion, music style, personality) in the Francophile world. In Grand Prix she responds to the question "What do you do?" with a look that had every man in the audience swooning (or whatever the male equivalent is).

Awards: Won 3 Oscars. Another 4 nominations

The film is three hours long and I still wanted more. So did most of the others in the Abbey’s audience judging by the way they revved their cars up as they left the car park.

Some Trivia about "Grand Prix" (1966)

The cars that were used in the film, supposedly Formula 1 cars, were in fact Formula 3 cars made up to look like Formula 1's.

The helmet design that James Garner's character uses is that of then-Grand Prix race driver Chris Amon. The only difference was a silhouette of a Kiwi bird that was normally on the side of Amon's helmet (he was from New Zealand) was left off Garner's, as his character was an American.

The helmet design used by Brian Bedford is that of then second-year driver and future triple World Champion Jackie Stewart. Of the four actors, Bedford is the only one not to do any actual driving, which explains why in all segments where the Scott Stoddard character is shown driving, he has the balaclava up to his goggles.

During filming, Yves Montand spun out and subsequently was terrified to go fast again. The crew modified a racecar that was then towed behind a Ford GT40. This setup would reach speeds of 130 mph. Montand was more comfortable with this setup than with having to drive the car himself.

John Frankenheimer refused to film cars moving slowly, then speed the film up. He felt the average moviegoer would be able to notice the difference.

James Garner did all his own driving. During breaks in filming there were several mini races in which Garner either tied or bettered the professional drivers hired for filming.

The Formula 3 car's smaller engines could not spin the wider Formula 1 tires realistically on starts, so the tires were wet with gasoline for those shots, which not only allowed them to spin realistically but also caused them to smoke realistically as they spun.

The cars had to be fitted with spark plug radio noise suppression kits similar to the ones used on passenger cars because otherwise the static produced by their engine electrics interfered with the radio-controlled camera mounts on the cars.

Filming required the use of all existing Panavision cameras.

Steve McQueen wanted the role of Pete Aron but could not play it for one reason or another and lost the role to James Garner. According to Garner in a interview with Premiere magazine, McQueen lived beside Garner and would throw garbage in his yard because of the bitterness of losing the role.

Lots of the Formula One heroes of the day could be seen on set at various times including Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart.

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