Tuesday, 31 August 2010

It might never happen

It's a corollary to one of Murphy's laws: the closer one gets to the long anticipated holiday, the more likely the guy at the next desk is to struggle in, macho style, with some ghastly contagious lurgy he caught at the weekend.

Cue eight hours breathing in the heady mix of germs they're breathing out, whilst trying to tune out their incessantly gruesome snooks and coughs.

The planned vacation looks set to be a corker. Instead of cocktails, it will be Lemsips. Rather than sightseeing every sneeze will be accompanied by the blinking reflex which prevents the eyes from exploding out of their sockets.

Who granted Murphy the right to create laws anyhow? What kind of a person would enjoy making the decree that 'Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.'

Meanwhile it's time for industrial strength Berocca with lashings of Echinacea, obsessive hand washing, crossing of fingers, and touching of wood.

I prefer Bob's law (you know - Bob the Builder): 'Cheer up love, it might never happen!'

Giant haystacks

Summer is fading as the days shorten. Myths of Avalon find modern context with the mist rising from rivers and fields as the sun breaches the horizon. The wheat harvest has finished, bales of straw litter the fields like so many monochromatic liquorice allsorts. Here and there they're piled into giant haystacks. Crows scour the stubble polishing off field mice marmalised by the combine harvesters, while in ploughed fields they compete with gulls for the worms.

"The sky is overcast with continual rain and cloud, but the cold is not severe."
Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus writing about Britannia in 94 AD.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Blink of an eye

Given it is a Bank Holiday weekend and the Leeds Festival is on I took the decision today to stay home and avoid the traffic carnage.

Instead I took a look at my genealogy stuff, which as per usual soaked up my entire day in the blink of an eye. Today’s project was to strip all references to living individuals, and produce a version that could be published on the internet without putting the whole family at risk of identity theft.

Along the way I tweaked the code that produces the website. Every time I take a little dig into the code I end up scratching my head and cussing. I’m not a born programmer, I’m more of cut and paste merchant, so when I have to do something new it takes a long long ole time to get it right. When I do eventually get there I can't help grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

Anyhow, the end result is here.


At this time of year many folks land on this page looking for a Cheshire Cat pumpkin pattern. Checkout the Zombie Pumpkin website links below, and my Pumpkin page for inspiration! 

Zombie Pumpkins!

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Devoid of meaning

Occasionally a common or garden word will suddenly become strange. Having just used it in a sentence a sense of panic ensues - was that the right word? Repeat the word several times and it becomes an alien collection of random sounds, totally devoid of meaning.

Take the word 'thank' which we use dozens of times a day. We say 'thank you' to thank someone for doing some fairly thankless task, where the thanker feels that by thanking the thankee the thanked person will feel appreciated.

I'm struggling to think of other examples where we take the infinitive of a verb and append the direct object 'you' to make a meaningful sentence. Walk you, stand you, play you, run you. All gibberish.

Of course there is always that infinitely adaptable word 'fuck' which can adopt the same construction as 'thank you', but frankly you can use 'fuck' meaningfully in any role a sentence has to offer, as our friends from Monty Python will confirm.

Coming back to 'thank'. According to the internet, (give us this day our daily Google, and forgive us our plagiarism, as we forgive those who borrow from us,) the word thank derives from Old English 'pancian', meaning to give thanks, which in turn derives from the Proto-German term 'thankojan', which also spawned the Middle German term 'danken', meaning to thank. The English term 'thank you' was shortened from the phrase 'I thank you.'

Repeat the word 'thank' several times... Thank thank thank thank thank. After that exercise I can't help but feel it should be one of those onomatopoeic words: thank - the sound a plank makes on hitting a water tank.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Electronic inanities

I've had to don my iPod earphones to drown out the electronic inanities issues by the soporific 'educational' toy the child in front is playing with. 'What comes after 4?'.... 'Well done !!!' This insipid drivel is blasting the eardrums of the whole carriage accompanied by its trite bingly bong congratulatory jingles.

True to British stereotype I refrain from asking whether the child could use headphones or put the gadget in silent mode. I'd rather fume. I suppose I'm being churlish.

Why do we patronise our offspring with a cartoonish representation of reality? It seems that under-threes are enveloped in a world of primary colours and massively simplified 2D representations of the world. It doesn't get much better for older kids. Girls seem to be directed towards a world of pink. We gush and coo over the smallest achievement, and talk to them in idiotic singsong tones.

I can't help thinking we do our young a disservice by smothering them in a cotton candy universe. Rather than dumbing the universe down surely we should be stretching their ability to understand its complexities.

G is for Giraffe :

One of these pictures might help you recognise a real giraffe if you saw one, and tells you a bit about where they live, and see those big trees? That's why giraffes have long necks - so they can eat the juicy leaves on top of the trees that none of the other animals can reach. The other picture is cutesy, awwh aren't giraffes sweet. Err... No.

A bit gusty

The 6.05am train to London Kings Cross gradually shuffles into movement pulling us southward.

The Met Office issued Severe Weather warnings yesterday, concerned that monsoon-like downpours and gales would strike England through the night. I checked the news and the live departures website for my train when I woke this morning, but so far nothing has occurred to affect my commute. Given the 'severe' warnings I wonder whether Cambridgeshire will be one big lake by the time we reach it.

The sky is darkening, low clouds skirt the tree tops, odd rain drops splatter trails across the window as we pull into Retford. Colours blanch from the countryside, trees becoming silhouettes disappearing into the murky grey. Visibility drops to 200 yards, mist swallowing all beyond. Now leaving Newark the clouds thin to reveal wisps of blue sky, while ironically the rain becomes heavier, streaking horizontally across the window as the train accelerates. Arriving into Peterborough, the rain has stopped, and the cloud layer retreated to a more usual height. We're passing through Cambridgeshire now and it looks pretty dry out there. We haven't seen anything resembling the promised gales and torrential rain, or any signs that such weather has struck.

Perhaps the Met Office were being overcautious. They've never lived down Michael Fish's prediction that ‘it might be a bit gusty’ back in 1987 which rather understated the hurricane force winds that subsequently struck the UK claiming 22 lives in the worst storm for 284 years.

Sunday, 22 August 2010


I joined dad for a 'crack of dawn' walk round Golden Acre Park yesterday. My brother and I got dad a media centre computer for his 60th birthday. It connects into his TV and enables him to browse the internet, view photos, and play music. He’s got it up and running and gave me a demo. We listened to a little Bob Marley with Milkdrop visualisations running on the telly. Mesmerising.

Afterwards I dropped him and his partner in Millennium Square to pick up Classical Fantasia tickets. While they queued I drove across to Costco, to try out my newly minted membership card. Most of the food comes in family sized containers so I stuck to the non-food items. Costco was great fun, fortunately I was saved from bankruptcy by a call from the folks who were ready to be collected.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Memory lane

I took a little trip down memory lane on Thursday and visited the city of York where I lived for a year after my marriage failed. I was in town for my quarterly follow-up with an oncologist.

I parked up by my old flat, and walked into town via Bootham Bar. I’d promised a colleague that I’d pop in to Bettys to pick up his favourite blend of Earl Grey. While I was there I couldn’t resist getting some Blue Mountain coffee for myself. If I’d allowed myself more time for my little shopping expedition I would have taken afternoon tea there, but with time pressing I headed back to my car to drive across to the Nuffield Hospital.

It says a lot about York traffic that it took me a full thirty minutes to drive two miles to the hospital. By the time I parked up I was running a couple of minutes late for the appointment. Amazingly the consultant’s surgery was running close to schedule. I’d only been sat in the waiting area for a minute when I was called in. I could feel the resentment drilling into my back from everyone waiting.

Ten minutes later after a bit of a chat and a physical exam I found myself back at my car, with relief endorphins flooding my system. I can relax until my next check-up which will be with a London consultant. That will involve several appointments for range of tests including an MRI.

I enjoyed the drive back to Leeds with the aromas of tea leaves and ground coffee filling the car. Thursday was Ladies Day at York Racecourse, and my route took me past the course just as the colourful crowd was leaving. People watching relieved the tedium of inching through the stop start traffic.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Economically valueless

Today I passed an advert for an oil company touting their research into algae to create a fuel of the future. Should the corporates discover a new way of making hydrocarbon based fuels we'll be doomed to further consumer driven destruction of our ecosystem.

It would be a blessing if our current way of life came to a crashing holt when the final drop of oil is pulled from the earth. War, famine, disease, and death most surely would ensue, but we're not exempt from Darwinian Evolution simply because we've coined the phrase.

I'm not an eco-warrior, environmental nut, or green handwringer. I couldn't say that I give much credence to the theory that humanity are causing climate change. I'm simply a pessimist with respect to human nature. We spread across the planet, busily devouring finite resources as though Earth is a cornucopia. It isn't.

The genetic imperative to breed and ensure the viability of offspring leads individuals to care about sustainability. This meme transfers to our elected representatives in government who care about being re-elected. This results in laws that protect individuals and the environment from the worst excesses of business. Perhaps I am able to feel untroubled by the impending doom of our species because I bequeath no legacy to the gene pool. I'm not a breeder. The parental instinct to protect one's offspring has never been awoken in me.

In business, the individual's imperative is overlaid by the survival imperatives of the business: growth and profitability. Social and environmental issues created by business just create more business opportunities. For diversified corporates this is ideal. Sell a food colouring agent that causes hyperactivity in children, and this creates a business opportunity to develop and sell a treatment for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. There is no survival advantage for a business to care about sustainability.

Increasingly corporate interests trump those of individuals in government legislature. Follow this progression to its natural conclusion? Margaret Atwood in her book 'Year of the Flood' does just this.

Ironic that I explore these thoughts whilst the train carries me through the beauty of the countryside, but it would be a mistake to confuse our landscape with untouched nature. For centuries our land has been shaped. Scraps of the primordial woods that once covered the land survive here and there, but most are planted forests created for sport or timber crops.

The large fields of monoculture crops are protected by pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. They may be fenced with hedgerow and trees, a thin skin of eco-diversity, but only because hedgerows are protected by UK & EU law, otherwise the imperative of business efficiency would have rung their death knell.

Small mammals, insects, birds and fish remain. Large wild mammal species have been whittled down to foxes and deer which provide a sport of sorts. The only wild spaces in Britain are those that are economically valueless.

Exxon are thrilled by the prospect of their algae biofuels because :

"Algae can be grown using land and water unsuitable for crop plant or food production, unlike some other first and second generation biofuel feedstocks."

So finally every inch of the planet will serve us. A terrible prospect.

Curiously foreign

It is so curiously foreign to feel whole and balanced. This week I have had an unrivalled amount of energy and concentration to bring to bear in my work. I have heard assertive and confident tones to my voice in meetings and on conference calls. I'm not tired by the daily and weekly variants of my commute.

Echoes of a past version of me. A deja vu moment for the soul.

Will my new found equanimity will triumph the anxieties attendant on my appointment with the oncologist tomorrow?

Answers on a postcard to...

Monday, 16 August 2010

Blinking and breathing

I seem to have made a decision to participate in life beyond the autonomous actions of blinking and breathing. It was not a choice I was conscious of making. The actual moment passed by unrecognised.

It is nearly two years since my last cancer diagnosis. The first year zoomed by in a flurry of treatments and appointments. The second year dragged me along in a state of numb distress and depression.

Off work, socially isolated, dealing with the daily discomfort of lymphedema, there seemed nothing in my future but the prospect of more bouts with cancer. I couldn't see much point in living my life. Each day I continued the bare routines of existence, on the premise that a reason to live might crop up, whereas ending it all would certainly rule out any further contemplation on the subject.

A few weeks ago I saw a headline about a solar eclipse which sent me off on an internet quest to learn more about the phenomena. I discovered a great website with predictions for all the eclipses, detaining the when and the where of each event, beautifully plotted out on maps.

On a whim I looked to see when one might see a total eclipse without travelling to some obscure place. On Monday 21st August 2017 a total eclipse will occur over North America. Totality will be visible on a path that runs from Lincoln Beach in Oregon, through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee to Awendaw in South Carolina.

The solar eclipse of 17th August 2017

It is a little too far in advance to book the flights, but I plan on being there.

Last week, inspired by my dad, I embarked upon a diet, which is going strong with 9lbs lost (the bulk of which will be water as my body depletes its glycogen store). My goal is laid out in a spread sheet that I'm using as a detailed food diary and weight record. In return it calculates my BMI, lbs lost and progress towards my target weight.

It was only yesterday that I linked the proposed eclipse vacation with the diet, and realised that I had made a long term plan and set myself a personal challenge.

My eyes lift from where they were focussed on my feet, and my gaze lengthens to take in the distant horizon.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The fringe of unremarkable

I haven't felt inspired to write this week, but suddenly the urge is here.

I took the bus from work to Kings Cross, and received an object lesson in how the world would have impinged on the olfactory senses before the advent of soap and deodorant. I guess it must have been the fellow sat behind me, though constrained by societal norms I could not turn to confirm my supposition.

A man with walking sticks boarded, and the lady next to me relinquished her seat. A young man who'd been fidgeting so vigorously I'd assumed he was high on something took the seat. I looked over to the man with the sticks and he was smiling. I'm not sure if it was with incredulity, or he genuinely didn't want the seat. A stop later an elderly bloke got on, and mister fidget immediately stood and offered him the seat.

The fidgeter practically bounced off the walls and ceiling for the rest of the trip. It was a real relief to get off. I stole a quick look the odious gentleman behind me as I debarked. He looked reasonably well presented, on the fringe of unremarkable, with a hint of homelessness.

I have a first class train ticket for my journey back to Leeds, so I'm resting in relative peace and comfort.

As we pulled out of Kings Cross we passed Kings Place, sheathed in waves of glass. Reflections of light and sky shimmered across the glass creating a realistic impression of a waterfall of flowing water. It was a most captivating illusion. I was rather bemused that this facade had been created where only a handful of trains per day would see its effect.

Since leaving the bus I keep catching a whiff of that malodourous scent. Either I've been contaminated somehow, or the smell lingers in my nose. The thought also occurs that the pong might actually originate from me. Halitosis? I must remember to stock up on sugar free mints.

I embarked upon a low carbohydrate diet on Monday. I feel my head is in the right place. It is like a switch has been flicked. I've transitioned from being unhappy about my weight to doing something about it. Temptations and excuses are easily fended off.

I've just arranged to meet dad for a 'crack of dawn' walk tomorrow - 5:30am. He is my inspiration, we've both travelled the 'obese to normal' trail together before.

Dad turns 60 tomorrow, but he doesn't want a party, so it will be a low key evening. My brother and I have been scheming for several months regarding his presents. I hope we've got it right.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Lovly Jubbly

I took a little time today to rebuild my computer with Windows7 and Office10. Luvly jubbly! I then spent some considerable time getting everything running properly, including my genealogy stuff.

Over the last couple of years I've been working on the family tree, researching both male and female antecedents. It became a massive project as the number of families I was researching doubled with every generation I uncovered. Some branches were more traceable than others of course. In some directions I got back as far as the 1600's, but other branches became untraceable much more recently than that.

I have found that my family are humble folk consisting of agricultural labourers, miners (coal/lead/stone), mill workers, domestics, smiths, masons, shoemakers, dressmakers, brickmakers and labourers.

My mother's family were all Yorkshire based as far back as I've been able to go. What I discovered on my father's side reflects the massive population migrations of the industrial revolution. My agricultural labouring forbears left their Norfolk and Staffordshire roots to travel to the coal fields of County Durham and Northumberland.

So far I have uncovered 196 direct ancestors, and another 702 relatives.

Should you be inspired, I've posted my primer for researching Family History in England.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Cluck and coo

Waiting on the platform for the train,
Commuters cluck and coo amongst themselves,
A squeal of brakes as the train arrives,
Startles the pigeons from their hidden perches,
Breaking the ventriloquist spell.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Eaten alive

I saw a GP yesterday about this itchy rash. She's given me antihistamines, and a referral to a dermatologist in case it doesn't clear up in a few days. She said that it could be a reaction to insect bites but it didn't look like bedbug bites. I managed 9 hours sleep last night. Amazing the difference it makes when you don't think you're being eaten alive.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Whmp, whmp, whmp

I was in Liverpool last Sunday for Zappa Plays Zappa. I wouldn't describe myself as a Zappa fan but I'd definitely make the effort to see Dwezil again. The show was awesome. Everyone in our group trooped back to the Liverpool apartment after the show for a natter and a nightcap. I bowed out early to get some sleep knowing I had to rise early and catch the 5:27am to London. The banter and the "whmp whmp whmp" coming through the walls from an adjacent nightclub kept me awake despite my valiant efforts.

I'm sleep deprived again this Monday. An itchy rash developed behind my knees, and has spread over my legs during the course of the week. The most benign thing it could be is contact dermatitis, or stress related eczema. Less pleasant would be insect bites - bedbugs perhaps. Worst case, and hopefully unlikely, would be a misguided autoimmune response triggered by a tumour. Perhaps I've seen too much House MD; it's one of the favourites from their differential diagnosis sessions along with Lupus.

It was the bedbug thought that had my skin crawling last night keeping me awake. Every prickly sensation had to be swatted lest it be a bug. Every spot was a fiery burning itch. I managed maybe an hour of sleep before my 4am alarm released me from that hell.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Flitting in and out

Like my landlady I've been on the phone to a pest control agent about a wasps nest. I was weeding in my garden when I suddenly found myself surrounded by wasps who weren't too pleased with my activities. It was only then that I noticed them flitting in and out of a gap in the garden wall. Similarly I also discovered an ant nest while mowing the grass. The Nippon Ant Killer has been ordered. I guess I could live and let live, but we have enough competition from the corvids already.