Friday 31 October 2008

Moving the piano

It was a standard family joke that whenever Mum got restless she would move the furniture about. This could even involve swapping the dining room and living room over from front to back and vice versa. Even without changing the purpose of the rooms there was one item of furniture which seemed to alter its location on each occasion – the piano. Dad managed most jobs around the house on his own but moving the piano involved sending for Uncle Cyril across the road. So whenever Mum began to get restless someone would suggest we might be needing to send for Uncle Cyril...
As you may notice from my left hand column, I’ve done my own version of moving the furniture about. I hope you like the new format...
(Now all I have to do is work out a way of not giving the game away to GB when I post about Strictly...)


Oh No! It’s Hallowe’en again. I don’t like Hallowe’en. Little children banging on the door with strange masks and an air of menace hoping to induce one to part with one’s hard earned money.


If you are anything like me you are much happier behind the lens than in front of it. But if you end up being photographed there are a few tips you can use to make the outcome more to your liking.

Posture counts
Slouching makes you look nonchalant, but it can also make you look short and/or dumpy. Place one foot behind the other, and lean back just a little bit. You’ll still look relaxed, but you’ll also look tall. Stand facing slightly away from the camera, then twist at the waist to face the camera. Make it subtle - if you overdo it you’ll look like a stray from a beauty pageant. Turn your head slightly away from the camera, extend your neck, then tilt your head down. Your face will look thinner and you won’t have that dreaded double chin.

Be outdoors if possible
Avoid the unforgiving bare flash at all costs. It flatters no one! If you can’t get around it, put a clean handkerchief over the flash to diffuse it. If you can choose when and where you’ll be photographed, pick an outdoor shoot in the morning or late afternoon. The light is more flattering at those times. If you have to be photographed in the middle of the day, stand in the shade. An interesting background will make you look more interesting too. Choose a pretty outdoor scene to stand in front of, or look for a wall with interesting texture or colors. Avoid standing in front of plain or drab backgrounds. also avoid standing where a lampost or something of that ilk is going to stick out of your head!

Dress To Suit
If you know you’re going to be photographed, don’t wear horizontal stripes or crazy patterns. Opt for neutral colors over bright ones unless you are one hundred percent certain that colour looks good on you.

Count to three while the photographer is getting ready. Close your eyes and breathe in. Then, breathe out, open your eyes and smile. Your face will look relaxed and your smile will be real. Everyone has different ways of smiling. One of the main components of a good smile is to ensure your eyes are wide. Whether you smile with your mouth open or closed is something of a personal decision. Try out a variety of smiles in the mirror and try to remember to use that one when in front of the camera. And, talking of mirrors, do a last-minute check of your face: cover up any pimples, put drops in your eyes if they’re red, and make sure you don’t have food in your teeth.

Don't go all nervous and stick your tongue out - it will be immortalised...

Thursday 30 October 2008

Ottery St Mary

Whenever I stay with Helen and Ian we visit Otter Nurseries near Ottery St Mary, crossing the River Otter at a narrow bridge, above. The town itself is not somewhere you expect to hear mentioned on the national news but while I was washing up at lunchtime today, with the news on in the background, I suddenly heard the name and was horrified to see it had been devastated by floods and hail. The whole town appears to have suffered and I dread to think what has happened out at the Nursery. I wish all of the residents and businesses a speedy recovery.

The story as outlined by the BBC was as follows:-

Severe flooding, which left a Devon town virtually cut off, was caused by a "freak" overnight hailstorm, the Met Office has said. Devon and Somerset Fire Service described the situation after 1ft (0.3m) of hail fell in the Ottery St Mary area as "absolute chaos". A woman in labour was one of the dozens of people rescued from flooded homes and cars, said police. They warned motorists that road conditions were "treacherous".

Cars in the town were left tightly packed in ice after about 1ft (0.3m) of hail fell in just two hours between 0100 and 0300 GMT. The storm has been described as a "freak event" by the Met Office, which said the weather which hit the town was "hugely localised". "It seemed to be centred on Ottery St Mary," a spokesman said. Rhianne Thorneywood, whose house had flooded in minutes, told BBC News: "I've never seen lightning like it, and rain. We didn't realise it was hail and snow until I looked out and saw what I thought was foam floating on the water, but it was ice."

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service said 25 people were rescued from flooded homes in Ottery St Mary and Feniton. They were taken to the hospital in Ottery St Mary, which is being used as a shelter for people who have nowhere else to go. One fire crew got stuck themselves - in a 2m drift of hail.

The Environment Agency said two vehicles fell into Ottery St Mary's Firs Brook, one getting wedged on top of the other, which may have exacerbated the flooding. Car owner Martin Ashfield said: "I woke up this morning and the car was missing. It had obviously floated away. The Environment Agency called me and told me where it was."

The town had been preparing for a carnival this weekend, ahead of its annual Tar Barrel Rolling festival on 5 November.

Cool video!

Everybody knows that when you cool water to 0 °C (32 °F) it forms ice ... except that in some cases it doesn't! You can actually chill very pure water past its freezing point (at standard pressure, no cheating!) without it ever becoming solid.

Scientist know a lot about supercooling: it turns out that ice crystals need nucleation points to start forming. These nucleation points could be anything from gas bubbles to impurities to the rough surface of the container. Without these things, water would continue to be a "supercooled" liquid well below its freezing point.

When nucleation is triggered, then a supercooled water would "instantly" turn into ice, as this super cool video clip by Phil Medina of MrSciGuy shows:

One for the girls

Wednesday 29 October 2008

Group Therapy

A quotation which, for me, sums up part of the value of group therapy. I came across it in the early 1990s when working at the Alder Centre.

"A Hasidic story tells of a man who went for a walk in the forest and got lost. He wandered around for hours trying one path after another, but none of them led out. Then abruptly he came across another hiker walking through the forest. He cried out, "Thank God for another human being. Can you show me the way back to town?"
The other man replied, "No, I am lost too. But we can still help each other in this way. We can tell each other which paths we have already tried and been disappointed in. That will help us find the one that leads out."

from "When all you've ever wanted isn't enough" by Harold S Kushner

i before e (except after c)

I came across a wonderful book in the library – about which I shall blog more at some stage – called “i before e (except after c)” by Judy Parkinson. I can wholeheartedly recommend anyone to buy it. It is full of ‘old school ways to remember stuff’ but is also a way of learning new things. When I get my own copy I shall keep it by my bed and learn a page a night.

However, insofar as the mnemonic “i before e (except after c)" is concerned the rule is never quite as simple as it seems. The rule only works for certain pronunciations of “ie” like receive and piece. It does not work when sounded like the letter A – hence neighbour and sleigh are not i before e. Then there are other exceptions like leisure, ancient and, efficient. Consequently the rule is extended by some to read:-

“When the sound is ee.
It’s i before e except after c.”

OK but what about caffeine, species, protein, policies, weird, and seize?
All in all it’s very confusing.
Fortunately Judy Parkinson gives us a new rule –

“i before e, except after c,
or when sounded like a,
as in neighbour and weigh;
drop this rule when –e sounds as –sh.”

Tuesday 28 October 2008

Public Toilet

Here’s a public toilet in more ways than one. This toilet is in the middle of the exhibition area, at the Switzerland Fair in Basel. I guess it is that same glass material detectives used when questioning a suspect.

Some how I don't think I would fancy using it.

Won at the Fairground

This may look cruel. In fact, it's a sight I haven't seen for many years. But, these bags are not what they might seem.

These goldfish are not swimming in water. They are plastic fish embedded in clear, glycerine soap shaped like "water in a bag". Tied with an orange ribbon. A great party idea. Fun for kids from 1 to 100. Tangerine-grapefruit scent. Measures approximately 6"L from top to bottom, 3"L from bow to bottom; 2 1/2" W x 1 3/4" D.

I don't know if you can get them in this country but if you could get them through Customs - bearing in mind the strictness of Defra's International Animal Health Division - they are available from SpoonSisters.

Monday 27 October 2008


This week, for the second time running, the Sunday show outdid the Saturday show. And, once again, GB and I agree on the result. Andrew and Ola had to dance again which they didn’t deserve. Fortunately they survived.

Quite rightly Mark and Hayley lost out and departed. It's a shame when pleasant people go out but at the end of the day one has to remember that the programme is actually about dancing!

But John, once again, survived on personality, he’ll be missed when he finally does get voted off... Despite what I said above, for a while there needs to be a poor dancer to show how the others have improved and progressed. And everyone, male and female, has fallen in love with John Sergeant.

But what am I to do over the next weeks? GB is in New Zealand and won’t be getting to see the episodes until a few weeks have passed. So if I comment on Strictly he’ll know in advance what’s going on... Problems, problems!

I think, unless GB can come up with a better solution, I’ll put it on my News Blog and in this blog simply refer to the fact that I’ve made an entry. That way GB can avoid the News Blog for a while.

For GB - up, up and away...

Oh! The Places You’ll Go!
by the incomparable Dr. Seuss

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

Safe Journey... and enjoy the

To follow GB's adventures in New Zealand for the next six months see his Blog - A Hebridean in New Zealand.

Need a bigger hard disk?

A 10 Megabyte hard disk – Wow!

Sunday 26 October 2008

Panda porn

This may look like the beginning of a Panda porn movie but it isn’t. Click below to find out what it’s about.


Spelling problems and collar studs

It’s funny how some words prove blind spots for the above average speller. I always struggled with the word “Recommend” despite the fact that for decades I wrote it almost daily at the end of every report I wrote. Accommodation (which I spelled as accomodation in the draft of this posting) is another. I hate having to write yacht. I have to mentally pronounce it yacht before writing it. Then there are certain medical ones that cause me problems like haemorrhage and diarrhoea, A lot of other people struggle with necessary, eczema, separate, and – if they ever have cause to write it – Mississippi. An excellent book - ‘i before (except after c)’ by Judy Parkinson - gives mnemonics for all these. Accommodation, for example, has Comfortable Chairs Or Modern Mats.

The way I learned to spell “necessary” as a child (one Collar and two Studs) has now been replaced with One Collar and two Sleeves. I suppose detachable collars and collar studs are a completely unknown quantity to younger folk.

Realising the above made my thoughts ramble down some of the other men’s dress items that we don’t see nowadays. I went to Bryony and Mark’s wedding with a few spare pairs of cufflinks in case they were not provided with the hired shirts (they were, of course), but who else has, or uses cufflinks nowadays. And how often do you see tie-clips in use?

Bracers (or braces) for trousers and suspenders for socks seem laughable nowadays but it’s not that long since many of us wore them. And armbands were extremely useful when sleeve fashions were longer and wide cuffs caused by cufflinks were in vogue.

Do you remember the collar stiffeners getting lost or broken in the wash and spare ones having to be found?

All these items can be obtained from a super site I found when looking for a picture of a detachable collar to show my younger readers. It is the Vintage Shirt Company (Men’s shirts and accessories from 1800 to the present day).

Saturday 25 October 2008


We read a lot about recycling things like plastic bags but how often do we come across imaginative uses for them? Here are a few I’ve picked up recently:-

Use as slip-on shoe or slipper covers if nipping out to the bin, etc, on a rainy or muddy day.

Children can put them over their socks and inside their boots if going out to play in the rain or snow. (Ah yes, snow – I remember that stuff!)

As emergency gloves to pick up something nasty – including the occasional pet accident or odd slug or snail that may decide to make its way indoors at this time of year.

Make a seat cover that stays in place by putting two holes in the bottom of the plastic bag and pulling the bag over the front two legs of the chair.

Make a child's Smock or Paint Shirt: Cut a plastic bag down the middle of one side (between handles). Slip arms through handles and clip the back closed to protect their shirts from paint and other messy art projects.

Nearly everyone I know recycles their toilet roll and kitchen roll tubes by composting them or putting them in the paper/cardboard bin for the Council. But what about these imaginative alternatives from a teachers’ site:-

1. Group wires and cords together as they exit the television or computer, or tidy up long extension cords.

2. A place to wrap loose elastics.

3. As a holder for string or yarn. Take this one step further and use them as a kite handle for children.

4. Stuff them full of plastic grocery bags and keep the tube in the car for handy access.

5. Prevent clothing hanger creases: Cut the tube lengthwise and put it over a hanger to keep pants or sweaters from creasing.

6. Tape a few together to create a pencil and pen holder.

7. Hold a rolled piece of paper: Use it to take rolled notices or artwork home in place of an elastic. This works especially well because the rolls can be labled with each child’s name.

8. Rodent toys: If you have a classroom hamster, each student can get a turn to decorate a tube for the hamster to play in!

9. Seed starters: Cut the tubes into smaller tubes and use to start seeds in the spring.

10. Organize Christmas holiday lights: Wrap lights around the outside of a wrapping paper tube to keep them from getting tangled.

I especially like the idea of number 9. I can see me using it in the Spring.

Elephant self-portrait

This link is to a video that is eight minutes long. But what an incredible 8 minutes!

Friday 24 October 2008

Albert's Law

I have previously mentioned Albert's Law and on Eggheads the other day C.J. (the other one) confirmed it. He pointed out that whenever there is a quiz question that the Eggheads cannot answer they all keep tripping over the answer again and again during the next few days.

This morning Albert’s Law cropped up again. Yesterday I made quite a few comments on various people's blogs and it occurred to me that the CAPTCHA never forms a real word. I'm sure there has never been an English word in CAPTHCA the whole time I've been commenting on blogs. I wondered yesterday if perhaps they had somehow programmed into CAPTCHA a dictionary and told it to exclude those combinations. And, if so, why? I found my answer this morning when the word “stride” came up. {I copied the screen so as to show you but then went and lost it before pasting it into paint – silly me. You’ll just have to take my word for it.} So, if you’ve never seen a real word on CAPTCHA they are out there waiting for you. And hopefully, if Albert's Law works properly, there'll be one very shortly...

Light pillar

When I was up at GB’s we saw a strange phenomenon one night – a pillar of light over the Scottish mountains.

I came across the cause on a website the other day. It seems that the light pillar is a visual phenomenon created by the reflection of light from ice crystals with near horizontal parallel planar surfaces. The light can come from the sun (usually at or low to the horizon) in which case the phenomenon is called a sun pillar or solar pillar. It can also come from the moon or from terrestrial sources such as streetlights. The crystals producing the pillars are often roughly halfway between you and the lights but like all halos they are purely the collected light beams from all the millions of crystals which just happen to be reflecting light towards your eyes or camera. In the case of our pillar it was from the direct opposite point of the compass to the setting sun.

Poorly Pet?

Do you have a poorly pet but you aren’t sure it’s worth a trip to the vet? Try and do some diagnosis on-line.
I tried to find out why William wouldn’t open his dish but gave up....

Thursday 23 October 2008

What did I get for my birthday?

Didn’t get Peace on Earth – or not so you’d notice.

But I did get - first and most important - lots of good wishes!

And I got some grasses and some books - a New Naturalist book (Grouse, Number 107), Bernard Cornwell's "Redcoat"; and John O'Farrell's "An Utterly Impartial History of Britain - Or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots In Charge". Odds and ends included some fudge which has already been attacked and some lemon curd;

I was so taken with Jo’s digital photo frame that I was delighted that GB has given me one. Jo’s sits in the kitchen at the moment and mine will probably go in the dining room. Equally exciting was Jo’s present of a bread-maker – I suspect that there’ll be a few bread recipes on my recipe blog in the near future.

And Eeyore got a tail!

But I didn’t win the Lottery......... yet.


Je fais un accueil chaleureux à Louis – un fils pour Clementine et Christophe et un frère pour Hugo.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

What do I want for my birthday?

What do I want for my birthday?
Peace on Earth, goodwill towards men, or,
if that’s Not In Stock I’ll settle for

A low PSA count for GB
A holiday abroad for Jo
A degree for Richard
A piece of land for Helen and Ian
A house for Bryony and Mark
A remission in his Alzheimer’s disease for Terry Pratchett
An improvement in my eyesight
A “jack-of-all-trades” to do jobs for me
A substantial lottery win (it is a Wednesday, after all)
A speedier loading of my Google calendar
A fast death to inefficient bureaucracies, and
A tail for Eeyore.

Being realistic, I'll really just settle for half a dozen of the above!

Poison Dart Frogs

Poison Dart Frogs: The Heart-Healthy Choice

It could kill you: You know an animal is bad news when its sweat was once considered a state-of-the-art military technology. Meet the poison dart frog, which secretes a highly dangerous neurotoxin called batrachotoxin through its pores. In fact, various Latin American tribes used to collect the stuff (carefully) to poison the tips of their arrows for hunting and warfare. Interestingly, however, the frogs don’t produce their own toxin. They get it from eating insects that most likely pick up the poison from the plants they consume. The same frogs, if raised in a laboratory rather than the rainforest, aren’t poisonous at all.

But it just might cure you: Before batrachotoxin stops your heart, it speeds it up. Consequently, medical experts believe it might be possible to tweak elements of the frog’s toxin to bring patients out of cardiac arrest and potentially save lives. And because it also deadens nerve endings, batrachotoxin has potential as an ingredient in anaesthetics. Studies into other uses of the toxin are still in the early stages, but the frog’s medical benefits bolster the argument for preserving the rainforest. Most scientists believe we’ve only just begun to grasp the pharmaceutical possibilities of some of the world’s rarest and deadliest creatures.

(Source unknown - I got this article from a blog but I cannot recall whose blog it was - sorry! At least ther photos are mine!)

Hoodies and Emos

A couple of years ago Richard did an article for the Big Issue, the homeless magazine, in which he asked people not to stereotype hoodies, i.e. people, usually youngsters, who wear a particular type of hooded jacket top. As I result I knew what a hoodie was when a young girl recently said – “Just because I’m a hoodie I’m not a gangster and just because I wear glitter eyeliner I’m not an emo.”
Time to update myself again I thought. What is an emo?

This proved harder than expected. There seem to be various definitions,
Emo is, for example, a particular style of hardcore punk rock and the people who are part of its fashion and subculture. Alternatively it is any form of guitar-driven alternative rock that is particularly or notably emotional and an individual or group of people associated with the fashion and subculture of such music. Thirdly it is used for a young person who is considered to be over-emotional, especially sad or ‘emotionally lame’.

I could just about cope with these definitions (and the images which went with them – of short-haired, eye-painted, brightly tattooed youngsters.)

But then I read about emos being attacked in Mexico by punk rockers. Perhaps folk my age shouldn’t try to understand after all......

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Strictly Come Dancing

Strictly Come Dancing’s Sunday show was one of the best ever (apart from the result which GB and I both agree was wrong). We were treated to the wonderful singing of Katherine Jenkins accompanied by principal ballerina Darcey Bussell from the Royal Ballet.

There was a brilliantly choreographed and performed Paso doble from some of the professional dancers.

Then Strictly’s own Alesha Dixon sang her latest hit. “The Boy Does Nothing” accompanied again by the professional dancers. If you missed that you can see it below.

Alternatively you can watch the whole show for the next six days on BBC iPlayer.

I've decided that one of the things I would do if I won the Lottery is treat myself to a visit to Strictly to see one of the shows.

Birthday grasses

These are my birthday presents from Helen and Ian. We cheated and got them when I was in Exeter. Now they are safely planted in the garden. The middle one isn't actually a grass - it's Agapanthus 'Tinkerbell' - but it's gone in the grass border as have some Aliums I bought and a Phormium.

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