Wednesday 27 February 2013

Ponytails Ahoy!

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My hair is now the longest it has ever been. Just about longer than when I was at college. It was growing nicely at college when GB got married and I had to be moderately respectable for the wedding. When I retired I let it grow but then we moved house and I thought I’d better look reasonable for my new neighbours – for a while at least. It was growing nicely when Daughter-who-loves-food got married – another haircut necessary. A couple more years and Daughter-who-takes-photos followed suit and I had it trimmed again. Not quite so much that time though. And now it’s had some more time to grow. Ponytail here I come.
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The Goddess Wiki tells me "A ponytail is a hairstyle in which some, most, or all of the hair on the head is pulled away from the face, gathered and secured at the back of the head with a hair tie, clip, or other similar device, and allowed to hang freely from that point. It gets its name from its resemblance to the undocked tail of a horse or pony. Ponytails are most commonly gathered at the middle of the back of the head, or the base of the neck. Depending on fashions, they may also be worn at the side of the head (which is sometimes considered formal) which is worn over one ear, or on the very top of the head (allowing the hair to fall down the back or one side of the head). If the hair is divided so that it hangs in two sections they are bunches or pigtails if left loose, or pigtails or braids if plaited. Unbraided ponytails worn above each ear are sometimes called dog-ears. It is common for those who wear tight ponytails to experience traction alopecia, a form of hair loss. Sometimes it will cause a headache. Ha, ha! Just as if..."
Do you know how to grow your hair faster? I thought I'd look it up. It said "Ensure you are having your daily intake of Zinc and Iron; have a healthy diet; and take plenty of vitamins B and C". I can do that. “Massage your scalp – if you do this regularly, it gets the blood flowing in your roots which promotes hair growth." Dad did that and he kept a fine head of hair into his nineties. Then I came to the bit that said "Maintain good general health and avoid stress". Oh well, I wasn't that bothered about it growing quickly.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

The Letter A

oxford lit1I have always been interested in words and dictionaries. When I was at college I read my way through the Oxford Companion to English Literature – effectively a dictionary of who’s who in English literature with a lot of word meanings thrown in for good measure. It was whilst I was there that I also received my first gift of a dictionary.

oed cI think that at the time I was using some version of Collins or Chambers dictionary but a girl friend gave me the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. Bearing in mind how hard up we all were and how special a book it is I have treasured it ever since. Even though both older and newer editions have subsequently come my way it is still the one I turn to as ‘my dictionary’. (Thanks Judy!) I began to read my way through it but gave up at the end of ‘A’. I think the need to do a little bit of work on my degree forced me away from words for a while.

oed sSome years later I bought the larger two volume Shorter Oxford and that has been the one to which I turn as the voice of authority for my word blog. I’ve never managed to afford the complete Oxford (and if I had had the money, the space it requires might have been an issue!).

Words and phrases for my word blog have come from a variety of sources. In the beginning it was primarily words that I came across while reading, the meaning of which I had to look up. Then there were also words that were answers in crossword puzzles or word games that were equally new or unfamiliar to me. To those words and expressions were added words that I came across while reading books about lost or unusual words like Mark Forsyth’s ‘The Horologicon’ or Novobatzsky’s ‘Depraved English’. Dr John’s Dictionary has been another fun source as I have read my way through a couple of books of extracted words from it, like the Penguin Classic version by David Crystal.

paintingIn case you are wondering about the relevance of that picture – it has none… 

Phrases tended to be ones which struck me as familiar but whose origin I didn’t know. So, in a conversation, for example, Partner or I would suddenly say ‘I wonder where that expression comes from?’ Looking it up would yield an answer of interest and onto the blog it would go.

Gradually I added words which were more familiar to me but which I thought might be less familiar to readers whose first language was not English. This was because my two most enthusiastic commenters were (and still are) in that category.  Thanks Meike and Monica.

oed2And now I have one more source. I’m reading the dictionary again. The two volume Oxford Illustrated Dictionary, to be exact. We bought it in an Oxfam shop in Chester a couple of weeks ago. 180213 dictionaries 4652The word blog is scheduled a long way ahead but in a couple of months you can expect a lot of letter A words to appear….

Monday 25 February 2013

Monday’s thoughts

Quotes of the Day

‘While a gentleman is speaking to you do not let your eager attention and visible preference betray the flutter of your heart.’

from John Gregory “A Father’s Legacy to his Daughters”, a popular conduct book of 1774.

‘On the first date, avoid staring romantically into his eyes. Otherwise he will know that you’re planning the honeymoon.’

from Ellen Fein & Sherrie Schneider “The Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr Right”, 1995.

Wi-Fi Indoor Plant Sensor Indoor

KoubachiDid you forget to water the plants? Well, Koubachi is here to change all that. This revolutionary Wi-Fi plant sensor tells you when and how to care for your friendly Ficus (or any other indoor plant). All you have to do is stick the sensor in the soil, download an app, and listen for a notification on your phone! Now, there’s no excuse to let that poor plant die

That’s in the past

For the past ten years I have had to move the washing machine whenever the electricity meter reader has called. It’s our fault for having the washing machine in the corner where it is but there’s nowhere else for it. So I rock it and heave it until eventually the man can stoop down and shine his torch on the meter and read the numbers. This is the tall thin man who called at the door and simply stood there with a miserable look and said ‘Electric’ like it was ‘Open sesame’. He wrote the numbers in his book and without a word turned and headed for the door. My only consolation was that every time he left, despite my ‘Mind the step’ he managed to trip on the little black strip at the bottom of the doorway.

This week a different man called. A jolly little man, more round of body and face. “May I read the electricity meter, please?” So different. I brought him in and began my usual heaving act only to have him shout “Hold it!” “I expect we can manage without all that effort,” he said. I must admit my immediate reaction was that if tall thin man couldn’t see it then surely pleasantly fubsy meter reader wouldn’t be able to see into the space. He instantly proved me wrong by leaning over and sticking his head in the gap. “5432” (or whatever), he exclaimed. “There we are, that was easy – no need to move it. Thanks very much.”

He left with another “Thank you” and, because he took notice of my warning, he managed to exit without stumbling. In the past I had been left with a washing machine to move back into place and a distinct sense of disgruntlement at the world. This time I thanked him profusely as he left and returned to what I was doing with a distinct sense of all being well with the world.

When you visit someone with a job to do, what a difference an attitude makes.

By popular request

230213 ivy 4676 “Who are you looking at?”

230213 ivy 4673“OK – you want a photo do you?”

230213 ivy 4672“Well, why didn’t you say you wanted me to face this way?”

Saturday 23 February 2013

Shakespeare on Saturday


I have just admitted defeat and increased the size of the image on my laptop screen – again.  It’s easy enough to do and its no great hardship but I have been putting it off for ages because it is yet another sign of the rapidity of the deterioration of my eyes.
It’s either increase the size or keep having to clean the screen where my nose has rubbed against it!  The thought of death has never scared me.  (Though I should prefer it to be some time off and painless.) But the prospect of going blind scares the hell out of me. Hopefully that too – if it ever were to happen – is a long way off.


On a happier note I must mention again the subject of postcrossing.  It never ceases to amaze me how many people go to a great deal of effort to find just the right card and stamps for the stranger to whom they are sending.  All that is required by the ‘rules’ is that they send a postcard to some total stranger picked for them by the computer.  But many people read the person’s profile in detail, choose or find an appropriate card, put the requested type of stamp on it – if available, and write what they think will be of interest to that person.  All that and still posting it as soon as possible – usually that very day or the next. 
For a while just forget my rant against Hilary Whotshername.  Forget the wars in the less fortunate parts of the earth.  This can be a lovely world to live in.

Live Writer

I have decided to use Live Writer as an experiment. But I notice that even with Live Writer I am getting large spaces between paragraphs.  I must see if I can find out why it happens because it bugs me.

Shakespeare Cats

Some books can be read in half an hour and yet still deserve their place on our bookshelves, whence they will be taken down and admired time and again.  Partner-who-loves-tea and I have just been given such a book by a certain member of the genus Poecile.
from “Alas, poor Yorick!”
It’s called ‘Shakespeare Cats’ and is by the artist Susan Herbert.   It is brilliant.  Thirty two paintings with their appropriate brief extract from the play and an artist’s sketch on the opposite page.
“Blow winds, and crack your cheeks, rage, blow.”

Fountain pens

According to the Goddess Wiki - "The earliest historical record of a reservoir pen dates to the 10th century. In 953, Ma'ād al-Mu'izz, the caliph of the Maghreb, demanded a pen that would not stain his hands or clothes, and was provided with a pen that held ink in a reservoir and delivered it to the nib, which could be held upside-down without leaking, as recorded in Kitab al-Majalis wa 'l-musayardt, by Qadi al-Nu'man al-Tamimi (d. 974). No details of the construction or mechanism of operation of this pen are known, and no examples have survived."
I can confirm that no examples have survived because from the age of nine I haven’t  found a fountain pen that didn’t stain my hands.
“In 1828 Josiah Mason improved a cheap, efficient slip-in nib in Birmingham, England, which could be added to a fountain pen and in 1830, with the invention of a new machine, William Joseph Gillott, William Mitchell and James Stephen Perry devised a way to mass manufacture robust, cheap steel pen nibs. This boosted the Birmingham pen trade and by the 1850s, more than half the steel-nib pens manufactured in the world were made in Birmingham. Thousands of skilled craftsmen and women were employed in the industry. Many new manufacturing techniques were perfected, enabling the city's factories to mass produce their pens cheaply and efficiently. These were sold worldwide to many who previously could not afford to write, thus encouraging the development of education and literacy.”
“In the 1880s the era of the mass-produced fountain pen finally began. The dominant American producers in this pioneer era were Waterman, of New York City, and Wirt, based in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.“
“Pens still tended to leak inside their caps and at the joint where the barrel opened for filling so many inventors turned their attention to the problem of leakage. Some of the earliest solutions to this problem came in the form of a "safety" pen with a retractable point that allowed the ink reservoir to be corked like a bottle. In 1907 Waterman began marketing a safety pen that soon became the most widely distributed such pen. For pens with non-retractable nibs, the adoption of screw-on caps with inner caps that sealed around the nib by bearing against the front of the section effectively solved the leakage problem (such pens were also marketed as "safety pens", as with the Parker Jack Knife Safety and the Swan Safety Screw-Cap).”
“During the 1940s and 1950s, fountain pens retained their dominance: early ballpoint pens were expensive, were prone to leaks and had irregular inkflow, while the fountain pen continued to benefit from the combination of mass production and craftsmanship. This period saw the launch of innovative models such as the Parker 51.”
It is a Parker 51 that I am using at the moment.  Well, I'm not using it at this exact moment because I'm using a keyboard...  But unlike the Parker 51 that everyone else uses my Parker 51s (I have three) all include a something created by a sub-designer.  An auto-leak device to ensure inky digits.
I was thinking about this the other day as I wrote a letter and I was also reminded that at one time pens dripped large parts of their contents, leaving great blotches on the paper.  At least they don’t do that nowadays, I thought.  It was no more than a minute later that the letter was christened with two large blots.  Ah well…

Have a Nice Weekend

I’m off to write some postcards.  Then, if the sunshine of the last few days keeps up I’m aiming to tidy the patio.  Or, to be a bit more alliterative about it, I’m planning to plant pink primulas in the patio pots. What are your plans?

Thursday 21 February 2013

Buying books

Last Saturday after visiting Chester, I came home with a headache, exhaustion and a very happy mien.  After half an hour home the headache, which had developed during the afternoon, was gone again (killed by a naughty excess of tablets) and we examined the goodies the day had yielded.  As well as three items of clothing for Partner there were some books (surprise, surprise).  In fairness, one book was very slim and one was a mere pamphlet and there were only two others.   

But by weight those two others equalled our last five trips to charity shops.  They were the two volumes of the Illustrated Oxford English Dictionary.  Published in 1978 they are more like the encyclopaedias we had as children.  They should provide hours of fun and education. While were buying them I argued (weakly and knowing my guilt feelings would be assuaged by P-w-l-t) that we hadn’t really got room for them.  She laughed and picked up the pamphlet.  “We haven’t really got space this, let alone those!  But when has that ever stopped us?” she said. 

 lexicomane  (noun)  a lover of dictionaries

A Right Royal Rant

Have you read Hilary Mantel’s attack on Katherine, the Duchess of Cambridge?  Amongst the many unkind things she said were that Kate had no personality and was a plastic princess designed to breed. If Hilary has children presumably she was also ‘designed to breed’.  If not perhaps it is pure jealousy over Kate being pregnant.  How dare someone who has no good reason (and can there ever be a good reason for all the vile comments she made) attack a perfectly blameless girl who never did anyone any harm?  It is so horrible.  A classic example of foul, distasteful and quarrelsome writing with no purpose other than self-aggrandisement.

It’s a nasty piece of writing from a nasty piece of work.  I don’t know Kate so I have no idea what personality she has.  Hilary Mantel doesn’t know Kate either but on the basis of Kate’s public face – which her role in life requires her to display – she has judged Kate as having none.  How in earth can you make that judgement without knowing someone?  I didn’t do stand-up jokes in my work place.  Should all my former work colleagues have therefore assumed I had no sense of humour?  I never swore in work – does that mean all my former colleagues should assume I never do swear or that nothing ever fazes me or annoys me?  I was never seen without a tie in work.  Does that mean I always wore a tie out of work as well. Of course not.  How would anyone have the right to describe me simply from my behaviour and appearance in work?

And yet, out of the blue, simply for a bit of self-publicity this Hilary Mantel has seen fit to judge and attack the Duchess of Cambridge calling her things like a plastic Princess, a breeding machine and so on.  Apart from one aspect of the behaviour of one female American politician I have never used this blog to attack anyone.  Never until today, that is.  Now her behaviour makes me want to attack Hilary Mantel but how do I do so?  I don’t even know the woman and unlike her I can’t just invent things.

Two things I can make a reasonable judgement about Hilary Mantel though.  Firstly, her writing has never deserved the acclaim and prizes it has won.  In my review of Wolf Hall – done long before this controversy – I rated it only eight out of ten and made the comment that "When The Times called it ‘The most gripping story you’ll ever read’  they lied but it is a passable historical novel."  Wolf Hall is by no means the best historical novel I have read and the reason for its Booker Prize I have yet to fathom out.  In particular I really dislike Hilary Mantel’s use of the word ‘He’.  I was taught that ‘he’ referred to the last male mentioned.  Sometimes Hilary obeys that rule but equally frequently she uses it to refer to Cromwell even if he wasn’t the last person mentioned.  It’s so confusing and whilst it may be a clever style it’s so difficult to follow at times that one has to re-read a paragraph to understand who the ‘He’ is.  That may seem like a petty thing but when it goes from start to finish it’s very off-putting.

A comment on my review said “My daughter gave the book to me for Christmas a couple of years ago. She should have blown the money on riotous living instead!” 

And secondly, in my view, she is very unattractive.  I have never said that about anyone before and probably never will again but I think she has made herself fair game.  However, I leave you to judge for yourself.

Her frozen smile looks like an advert for botox gone wrong.  How can someone whose face looks like that of a blow-up doll (not that I am overly familiar with such things) talk about the ‘plastic Princess’?  As a friend of mine said ‘How much did that face cost you, Hilary? I’d as ask for my money back!’ 

Despite not being a royalist, as you may have gathered the whole affair annoyed me. 

Rant over!!

P.S. At least Kate doesn't need to rely on publicity shots taken fifteen years ago! 

Rant now really over!!!!

Wednesday 20 February 2013

A Shocking Ramble

Fanny (Frederick) and Stella (Ernest), two male cross-dressers who shocked Victorian London in the mid-1870s.

 Shocking – The Sixties

 Equally Shocking…
This is the Skull Chapel in Czermna, Poland.  It’s the only such place in Poland and one of three in Europe. It holds the bodies of the people who died in the 30 Years War, the Silesian wars and epidemics.

Surely Shockingly Uncomfortable
Surely shockingly uncomfortable to sit down in.  This is Tilda Swinton as Orlando, photographed by Karl Lagerfeld for Vogue, July 1993.  The story of Orlando begins in the Elizabethan age and ends in the present day (that being 1928 in Woolf’s book and 1992 in the film version).

Shockingly Neglected
The nyckelharpa is the most ethereal of instruments, nearly lost to the world but kept safe in a small region of Sweden.

The nyckelharpa (literally "key harp", plural nyckelharpor), sometimes called a keyed fiddle, is a traditional Swedish musical instrument. It is a string instrument or chordophone. Its keys are attached to tangents which, when a key is depressed, serve as frets to change the pitch of the string.

The nyckelharpa is similar in appearance to a fiddle or the bowed Byzantine lira. Structurally, it is more closely related to the hurdy gurdy, both employing key-actuated tangents to change the pitch. The nyckelharpa and its tonal range appear on the reverse of the Swedish 50 kronor banknote.  A depiction of two instruments, possibly but not confirmed as nyckelharpor, can be found in a relief dating from circa 1350 on one of the gates of Källunge church on Gotland.

Shockingly  Endangered
These are said to be the top ten most endangered animal species (by which is meant, I assume, species of bird, mammal, reptile / amphibian) 

1.Ivory-Billed Woodpecker
A North American bird so endangered it may actually be extinct

2.Amur Leopard
The world’s rarest cat: Only 40 left in Russia’s Far East

3. Javan Rhinoceros
No more than 60 of these swamp-dwelling Asian rhinos exist

4. Northern Sportive Lemur
Here’s the scarcest of Madagascar’s fast-dwindling lemur species.

5. Northern Right Whale
Hunted to near extinction, 350 right whales still swim the Atlantic

6. Western Lowland Gorilla
Disease and illegal hunting are taking an alarming toll on this gentle giant of a primate

7. Leatherback Sea Turtle
The population of the world’s largest turtle is dropping at an alarming rate

8. Siberian (or Amur) Tiger
The world’s biggest cat weighs as much as 300 kilos (660 pounds)

9. Chinese Giant Salamander
Humans are eating the world’s largest amphibian into extinction

10. The Little Dodo Bird
Samoa’s little dodo bird is in immanent danger of following the large dodo into extinction.

Whatever memories the day may bring, whatever hopes it may bring, have a shockingly good day, fellow bloglings!

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