Tuesday 31 August 2010

Icons of Englishness

I read about a survey of icons of Englishness which suggested the top twelve icons of England were:-

Blake's 'Jerusalem'
Holbein's Portrait of Henry VIII
The King James Bible
Punch and Judy
A cup of tea
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
The Spitfire
SS Windrush
The Angel of the North
The F A Cup
The Routemaster Bus

The Yellow Pages also did a survey and came up with these Seven Wonders of Great Britain:-
Houses of Parliament and Big Ben
Windsor Castle
York Minster
The Eden Project
Hadrian's Wall
The London Eye

Helen, Ian and I had a think about these and added a few more worth considering. (Please note we were concentrating on England only, though Ian was quick to suggest broadening it to include Scotch Whisky!).

A red pillar box
Peter Rabbit
A Pint
A Cottage Garden
Penny Farthing
Penny Black
Bowler Hat and Umbrella
Fish and Chips
The White Cliffs of Dover
Tower Bridge
The Millennium Dome
Wimbledon Tennis
A Cricket Ball
The Flying Scotsman
St Paul's Cathedral
The Rocket
The Last Night of the Proms
Strawberries and Cream
The British Museum
The Bodleian Library
Driving on the left
A Rolls Royce
English Apples
Darwin's Origin of Species
Blackpool tower
Wellington Boots
Lulworth Cove
Wordsworth's Grave
Ashness Bridge
Trafalgar Square
A Red Telephone Box
A Robin
An Oak tree

What would be your icon representing England? Would it be one of the above or something different?

Monday 30 August 2010

Happy Monday - Mary had a little lamb...

Mary had a little lamb,
The doctor had a fit!

Mary had a little lamb,
She also had a bear,
I’ve seen Mary’s little lamb
But I’ve never seen her bare!

Mary had a wristlet watch
She swallowed it one day.
And now she’s taking Epsom Salts
To pass the time away.

Mary had a little lamb,
She fed it castor oil,
And everywhere the lamb would go
It fertilised the soil.

Mary had a little lamb,
Her father shot it dead.
And now it goes to school with her
Between two chunks of bread.

Mary had a little lamb,
You’ve heard this tale before,
But did you know she passed her plate
And had a little more?

Sunday 29 August 2010

Philip Stanhope, Lord Chesterfield

Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield PC KG (22 September 1694 – 24 March 1773) was a British statesman and man of letters.

A Whig, Lord Stanhope, as he was known until his father's death in 1726, was born in London. After being educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, he went on the Grand Tour of the continent. The death of Anne and the accession of George I opened up a career for him and brought him back to England. His relative James Stanhope, the king's favourite minister, procured for him the place of gentleman of the bedchamber to the Prince of Wales.

Lord Chesterfield obviously enjoyed getting letters from his natural son, Philip, while the latter was abroad - if only so he could write back correcting all the errors...

London - July 9th 1750
....The next thing necessary in your destination, is writing correctly,
elegantly, and in a good hand too; in which three particulars, I am sorry
to tell you, that you hitherto fail. Your handwriting is a very bad one,
and would make a scurvy figure in an office-book of letters, or even in a
lady's pocket-book. But that fault is easily cured by care, since every
man, who has the use of his eyes and of his right hand, can write
whatever hand he pleases. As to the correctness and elegance of your
writing, attention to grammar does the one, and to the best authors the
other. In your letter to me of the 27th June, N. S., you omitted the
date of the place, so that I only conjectured from the contents that you
were at Rome.

London November 19th 1750
....I come now to another part of your letter, which is the orthography, if I
may call bad spelling ORTHOGRAPHY. You spell induce, ENDUCE; and
grandeur, you spell grandURE; two faults of which few of my housemaids
would have been guilty. I must tell you that orthography, in the true
sense of the word, is so absolutely necessary for a man of letters; or a
gentleman, that one false spelling may fix ridicule upon him for the rest
of his life; and I know a man of quality, who never recovered the
ridicule of having spelled WHOLESOME without the w.

Reading with care will secure everybody from false spelling; for books
are always well spelled, according to the orthography of the times. Some
words are indeed doubtful, being spelled differently by different authors
of equal authority; but those are few; and in those cases every man has
his option, because he may plead his authority either way; but where
there is but one right way, as in the two words above mentioned, it is
unpardonable and ridiculous for a gentleman to miss it; even a woman of a
tolerable education would despise and laugh, at a lover, who should send
her an ill-spelled billet-doux. I fear and suspect, that you have taken
it into your head, in most cases, that the matter is all, and the manner
little or nothing. If you have, undeceive yourself, and be convinced
that, in everything, the manner is full as important as the matter. If
you speak the sense of an angel, in bad words and with a disagreeable
utterance, nobody will hear you twice, who can help it. If you write
epistles as well as Cicero, but in a very bad hand, and very ill-spelled,
whoever receives will laugh at them; and if you had the figure of Adonis,
with an awkward air and motions, it will disgust instead of pleasing.
Study manner, therefore, in everything, if you would be anything.

Saturday 28 August 2010


This is a Polythemus Moth. It has a single large eye on each hindwing - hence the name Polyphemus (Antaraea polyphemus). Polyphemus is the gigantic one-eyed son of Poseidon and Thoosa in Greek mythology, one of the Cyclopes. His name means "very famous". Polyphemus plays a pivotal role in Homer's Odyssey. The moth, as you can see, also has a small eye on its forewings so perhaps it shouldn't be named after a Cyclops after all!

Thursday 26 August 2010

Friday My Town Shoot-out

This week's Friday My Town Shoot-out is the bloggers own choice. I thought I'd show you Eleanor Rigby.

There are quite a few things that could be used as being iconic of Liverpool - a ferry boat, the Liver Buildings, a Liver Bird, Penny Lane and so on. For me, this statue by Tommy Steele is well up among those icons.

Why not check out other people's my town shoot-outs this week.

Three reasons never to be unhappy

"The way I see it there are three reasons never to be unhappy.

"First, you were born. This in itself is a remarkable achievement. Did you know that each time your father ejaculated (and frankly he did it quite a lot) he produced roughly twenty-five million spermatozoa – enough to repopulate Britain every two days or so? For you to have been born, not only did you have to be among the few batches of sperm that had even a theoretical chance of prospering – in itself quite a long shot – but you then had to win a race against 24,999,999 or so other wriggling contenders, all rushing to swim the English Channel of your mother’s vagina in order to be the first ashore at the fertile egg of Boulogne, as it were. Being born was easily the most remarkable achievement of your whole life. And think, you could just have easily been a flatworm.

"Second, you are alive. For the tiniest moment in the span of eternity you have the miraculous privilege to exist. For endless eons you were not. Soon you will cease to be once more. That you are able to sit here right now in this one never to be repeated moment, reading this book, eating bon-bons, dreaming about hot sex with that scrumptious person from accounts, speculatively sniffing your armpits, doing whatever you are doing – just existing – is really wondrous beyond belief.

"Third, you have plenty to eat, you live in a time of peace and ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree’ will never be number one again *. If you bear these things in mind, you will never be truly unhappy – though in fairness I must point out that if you find yourself alone in Weston-super-Mare on a rainy Tuesday evening you may come close.

Bill Bryson
(* Obviously written before troops went into Afghanistan.)

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Think of a caption...

This new roll-on deodorant is really good.

Wednesday Wildlife - Broad-bodied Chaser

The Broad-bodied Chaser, Libellula depressa, is one of the most common dragonflies in Europe and central Asia. It is very distinctive with a very broad flattened abdomen.

The male and female have a broad, flattened abdomen which is brown with yellow patches down the sides. In the male the abdomen develops a blue pruinosity which covers the brown colour. (Pruinose means having a very fine powder on a surface)

Both fore and hind wings have a dark patch at the base. L. depressa is very distinctive and should not be confused with any other dragonflies in the region.

L. depressa is seen near still-water lakes and ponds, feeding on many types of small insects. They occur in both bare and sunny locations, where it is often the first dragonfly to colonise new habitats such as newly created ponds, and well vegetated ponds. L. depressa are often seen away from water as the adults are very mobile and undergo a period of maturation away from water after emergence. The adults are also migratory.

The flight period is from April to September but are mostly seen in May and June. Their flight is very fast as they dart and dive above the water.

The species is widespread and common throughout southern England and Wales. There is a distribution map available at the British Dragonfly Society site.

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Tuesday's Thoughts

On Sunday evening Helen and Ian came to The Willows and on Monday they took me to Chester Zoo before bringing me down to Exeter to stay.

Ian had hoped to see the new Giant Otters at Chester Zoo but they proved somewhat shy and elusive. Fortunately the Orangutans provided him with a welcome distraction.

Helen and I were pleased to photograph some new butterflies and reptiles.

It rained most of the time we were there but cleared up for much of the journey. We were delayed by a crash on the Northbound carriageway which had spilled over onto the Southbound but those who were travelling North faced hours of delay as the motorway was closed. Signs suggesting more long delays ahead resulted in Ian taking to the A roads through Wolverhampton which gave me my first ever sighting of the Wolverhampton Wanderers' ground.

Back on the M5 we stopped for a brief break, parking next to a very sexy beast (allegedly).

My Exeter experiences will now be continued on my Exeter blog which is being resurrected for the next couple of weeks.

Gorleston, Nr. Great Yarmouth

This is “Gorleston, Nr. Great Yarmouth” by Anthony Amies, (1945-2000) in the Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead. It is described as oil on canvas but when you look close up I would describe it as oil on a loosely woven sackcloth. Whatever words one uses to describe it the end result is brilliant.

Detail of “Gorleston”.

Monday 23 August 2010

Happy Monday – One-liners

One-liners for those of us having a bad day....

You say I’m a bitch – like it’s a bad thing.
How many times do I have to flush before you go away?
Well, this day was a total waste of make-up.
Don’t bother me. I’m living happily ever after.
Do I look like I’m a people person?
This isn’t an office – it’s HELL with fluorescent lighting.
I started out with nothing and still have most of it left.
YOU!!! Off my planet!
Therapy is expensive. Popping bubble wrap is cheap. You choose!
Practise random acts of intelligence and senseless acts of self-control.
Errors have been made. Others will be blamed...
I’m not crazy. I’ve just been in a very bad mood for 30 years.
Stress is when you wake up screaming and realise you haven’t gone to sleep yet.
This is a mean cruel world and I want my nappy and medication right now.
Earth is full. Go home.
Me, ambivalent? Well, yes and no.
Back off! You’re standing in my aura.
I just want revenge. Is that so wrong?
Nice perfume. Must you marinate in it?
Ah, did I step on your itty bitty ego?
Not all men are annoying. Some are dead.
Chaos, panic and disorder. My work here is done.

Sunday 22 August 2010

Trivia Galore

A feature writer once asked Bill Toomey, 1960s US athlete, “So how far can you actually throw the decathlon?”

The Malay name for a butterfly is kupu-kupou while moths are rama-rama. However, it is wise not to call a moth a ‘butterfly of the night’ – kupu-kupu malam – since this is the Malay for a hooker.

Bracken is the sole food plant of a mere 11 British insects and yet it covers an area of the UK the size of Yorkshire.

A frond of bracken can produce 30,000,000 spores.

A swan can have over 25,000 feathers.

In 1973, at Cranfield in Bedfordshire, a research station established to study the effects of wind had its roof blown off.

In Spain in 1540 a moth was caught and brought to trial accused of wilfully destroying an expensive tapestry. the moth was eventually found guilty and sentenced to have its ‘throat’ cut. (That Spanish Inquisition was a terrible thing!)

George Washington ate pickled tripe. (Can you get any more trivial than that??)

The word Lady comes from the Old English for bread-kneader.

Saturday 21 August 2010

The Lotty Sleigh

Despite the pounding that took place on Merseyside during the Second World War the loudest explosion in the area is said to have taken place nearly a hundred years earlier.

On the evening of 16th January 1864 a ship called the Lotty Sleigh was waiting off the Woodside ferry pier for the tide to change so she could depart for Africa. At 5pm a steward knocked over an oil lamp and started a fire on board the vessel. The fire soon became out of control and the crew abandoned ship via the ferry boat, “Wasp”.

Crowds gathered on both sides of the River Mersey to watch as the ship burned. At 7.20 pm the fire reached the cargo which happened to include 11 tons of gunpowder. The ship simply disintegrated and people in Liverpool and Birkenhead rushed into the streets thinking their houses were collapsing.

Large numbers of iron bolts and timbers rained down on Birkenhead causing a deal of damage. This iron dead-eye bolt (about 15 inches long) was thrown over half a mile by the explosion and landed in St Mary’s Churchyard.

Thursday 19 August 2010

The War in the Vendée

“General Lescure, wounded, crossing the Loire“ Jules Girardet (1856-1938 or 1946); oil on canvas 1882. This remarkable painting is in the Williamson Aryt Gallery, Birkenhead. The looks on the faces of each individual are so expressive.  The clouds are realistic, the landscape well executed and the whole picture has real depth and vision.

The War in the Vendée (1793 to 1796) was a civil war and counterrevolution in the Vendée between Catholics and Royalists on the one hand and Republicans on the other, during the French Revolution. The Vendée is a coastal region, located immediately south of the Loire River in western France.

The Virée de Galerne - which this scene depicts - was a military operation of the War in the Vendée during the French Revolutionary Wars across Britanny and Normandy. It takes its name from "gwalarn", a Breton word for the "vent de noroît" (northwest wind).

It concerns the Vendean army's crossing of the River Loire after their defeat in the battle of Cholet on 17 October 1793 and its march to Granville in the hope of finding reinforcements there from England. Unable to take Granville on 14 November 1793, it fell back towards Savenay (23 December 1793) where it was completely decimated by Republican troops under Kléber. The battle of Savenay marked the end of what would come to be called the first war in the Vendée.

Whilst I have admired many of the pictures in the various art galleries I have visited recently this is the first one in ages about which I have thought 'Gosh, I'd like that on my wall'. 

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Wednesday Wildlife - Ichneumon Wasps

The Ichneumonoidea are insects classified in the hymenopteran suborder Apocrita. The superfamily is made up of the ichneumon wasps (often inaccurately called "ichneumon flies"; family Ichneumonidae) and the braconids (family Braconidae).

The superfamily Ichneumonoidea has been estimated to contain well over 80,000 different species. They are solitary insects, and most are parasitoids—the larvae feeding on or in another insect which finally dies. As with all hymenopterans, ichneumons are closely related to ants and bees.

Some species use many different insects as a host, others are very specific in host choice. Various ichneumons are used successfully as biological control agents in controlling pests such as flies or beetles.

Jennifer Owen spent 30 years surveying insects in her garden in Leicester. She identified 1602 species of which 529 were ichneumons. They were the most common group of insects in the garden – more common than beetles or bees or flies. Of these 529 species, 15 were new to Britain and 4 completely new to science. Later she added a further 74 species.

The Biodiversity of Urban Gardens (BUGS) project in Sheffield, which finished in 2002, also found that the ichneumonidae were the most common group of insects.

A print of an ichneumon by Edward Donovan.  Edward Donovan (1768–1837) was an Anglo Irish writer, natural history illustrator and amateur zoologist.

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