Cartoon Canonisation

Earlier, I found myself thinking about the television of my childhood days – I think this form of nostalgia is an occupational hazard (along with presbyopia) of my advancing years.  At least I haven’t started telling complete strangers my age… yet.

In common with, I assume, all generations, I believe the television of my youth was vastly better than that produced in these debased, modern times.  Though there are some honourable exceptions, for example, I would heartily recommend Shaun the Sheep (despite the sub-optimal spelling of our hero’s name) to any comers.

Almost everything I know about herbs, I learnt from the Herb Garden – and I have now eaten most of the characters, though have yet to try (Constable) Knapweed (I’m not even sure what you might serve him with – a writ of habeas corpus?).  To this day, I tend to sing the relevant song to myself when chopping each herb – though I grow increasingly shaky on the words (but, this is one area in which the internet is a real boon).

Much of my knowledge of society came from the folk of Trumptonshire.  I well remember my disappointment on starting my first job – which was in an office above a factory – to discover that at knocking-off time there was no siren and the staff did not dress up in period costume to dance whilst accompanied by the local lord on his “Dutch organ” (which is a lot less dodgy than it sounds).

I would say that Oliver Postgate was (at last partly) responsible for getting me a job.  The interest in Norse myth, engendered by the tales of Noggin the Nog, paid off many years later.  A talk on Egil’s bones (he of the saga, combative nature and Paget’s disease) as my interview “party” piece won me the job in education from where I was later able to muse about various gerunds to such great comic effect (see previous post) – but you really shouldn’t blame Mr Postgate for that.

But, finally, we come to the main subject for tonight’s symposium.  Mary, Mungo and Midge – an animation produced by the makers of Captain Pugwash – tried to convince us of the joys of living atop a tower block with a large dog.  I fear it was not wholly successful in this brief, but it did move children’s “drama” away from the boarding school or countryside for the first time.  (By the way, for a good laugh – and an indication of how times have changed (or at least, children’s fiction) – I thoroughly recommend the recent Good Show Clarissa on Radio 4.  It contains vocabulary that even I have stopped using!).

Many a time I have found myself inside St Mary’s, or more recently, Great St Mary’s (I refer here to churches, there has been no tupping with the canonised deceased, I can assure you – though I suppose it might count as one of the obligatory two miracles were it to happen).  St Mungo is the patron saint of Glasgow – not bad for a dog!  But, even after 40 years, no St Midge – not even a Venerable or Blessed Midge!

The time has come to campaign for poor little old Midge.  Our exact tack will depend on whether he was martyred or not – but the first step is a recommendation to the Pope.  Thereafter, we are probably looking for miracles performed through Midge’s intercession.  It is 40 years since I last saw MM&M, but I do remember he would stand on Mungo’s muzzle and press the buttons on the lift to descend (or ascend) – so perhaps we should be looking for miracles within the works of Messers Otis or Schindler?  (Certainly, through the entire TV series, the lift never once failed – which I think would make it unique – and miraculous – in tower-block based TV drama)

Please feel free to report your lift-based miracles here, and let’s get Midge the canonisation he so richly deserves.

The Other End of the Stick

I like to think my mind is associative in its operation – but others might, less charitably, compare it to a butterfly or describe me as easily distracted.  Being positive, this enables me to make intuitive leaps – and, occasionally, these do not end up with me landing (intuitive) face first on a hard surface.  Less positively, it does mean my mind wanders into places where its journey is probably not justified by the source material.

In the first of a new strand, I thought I’d explore some of these journeys to see if, as I rather fear, I am alone…

The Royal Academy is soon to hold an exhibition of drawings by the master of the fête galante style, Antoine Watteau.  Unfortunately, whenever I read his name I can’t help but think of P G Wodehouse and the standard greeting between members of the Drones Club.  (Well, that or Jules suggesting his work for a bona tattoo for Mr Horne.  Very bold!).

Yesterday lunchtime (an illusion I know, but one I am doubly keen to retain) I spent listening to the Britten Sinfonia.  For their encore, they played an arrangement of Bach’s Air on a G String (utilising the same forces – mostly electromagnetic – as Schubert required for his Trout Quintet).  Sadly, throughout this beautiful piece of music I could only picture Gregor Fisher in the photobooth with a cigar – which would be rather an unexpected end to a game of Cluedo.

Cycling to the gig, I passed a hostelry advertising a forthcoming (always a better use of any marketing spend than a past) event – an Old Skool [sic] Disco.  What a debt, I thought, we owe to Nigel Molesworth.  However, it struck me that as he was in form 3B in the mid-fifties, disco would seem an unlikely choice – I think the jive or perhaps the cha-cha-cha would be a more historically accurate dance for those claiming St Custard’s as their alma mater.

Many years ago, I worked in the education department of one our red-brick universities.  Around the faculty, I kept seeing posters about KS3 Reading (also KS1 and KS2) – and did wonder why the ceremonial county town of Berkshire should loom so large in the National Curriculum.

At the same time, I found myself pondering the ancient oriental art of the tea ching – which I presume (given my limited Chinese) revolves around the examination of tea leaves for predictive ends.

Now, who among us can say, in all honesty, that similar thoughts have not disturbed the equanimity of their own minds?  As I thought…

Pet Peeves

For the last few weeks, I have been keeping a small pet – or, rather, a growing army of them.  I think they were introduced by some sort of super-insect which managed to sting (or bite) me in the snow-covered days of December 2010 (when I might have considered myself safe from such unwanted attentions)  – and left some guests behind.  They have been living just above my right ankle, and have been pretty disappointing as companions – offering little more than some serious itching and a growing red ring of irritated flesh. To be frank, single celled animals do not make good pets – and the time has come to evict them.  I did consider a celebrity-fronted, public vote-based television extravaganza – but I decided this could take rather a long time to evict all my squatters if only one were allowed to leave each week, so decided to give the medical profession a chance.

My local pharmacist wouldn’t give me anything and told me to see my GP – so I made an appointment and then waited the obligatory two weeks the NHS allows for me to either (a) recover or (b) die for the date of the appointment to arrive (or perhaps the appointment was fixed, and it was me who arrived?).  Rather inconsiderately, I took neither of the NHS’s preferred options – so today I had my seven minutes under the medical spotlight.  Well, the average appointment with your (or in my case, a random) GP is seven minutes – but mine barely made it to one (I was in fact out before my appointment officially began).

I left with a prescription (all £7.20’s worth) for the wonderfully named Flucloxacillin – a beta-lactan antibiotic closely related to penicillin (though I did not have to scrape it off any mouldy bread – to be honest, at the price I would have expected fresh bread and lots of it).  I have to take four of these tablets per day, spread across the day for the next week.  Simple enough you might think, but I have to take them either on an empty stomach or at least an hour before eating.  Since I rarely leave as much as an hour between meals, this is going to be quite a challenging regimen – I can have one on waking, but how I will fit in the other three I’m not too sure at this stage.  I think some of my meals are going to have to bulk up, to absorb some of the surrounding grazing – or I’ll have to utilise my insomnia and take some in the middle of the night.  Any better ideas gratefully received…

My other pet problem is the neighbourhood cats (or maybe cat – I have yet to involve SOC Sawston to confirm the culprit) using my planters – and especially my strawberry planter – as a latrine.  I am rather fond of strawberries and less than fond of feline excreta – and while some animal manure makes fine fertiliser, so far as I know this is limited to that of vegetarian (or maybe, omnivorous) critters (and even then, may require some period of rotting).

As a result, I want to discourage cats from using my patio in this antisocial way – but without using overly extreme measures as I have nothing against cats in theory (or in pipeline form).  Checking out my local garden centre, there seem to be a number of commercial options.

  • I can use very expensive sonic devices (or hire a human scarecat – scaredycat? – as my contribution to the Big Society) but have my doubts as to the effectiveness of either.
  • I can use various forms of non-lethal spikes to surround my soft fruit – but knowing my ineptness, I fear these are more likely to injure me then to discourage Felis catus (I have seen one cat navigating spikes on a neighbour’s fence with no difficulty, as do the local pigeons who I think may have been the target).
  • The third option is to resort to chemical warfare – there seem to be a range of granules on offer, or I’ve heard that lion dung or garlic can be effective.
  • If I had more space, and were a Member of Parliament, I could try a moat – as cats have yet to develop either flight or artillery which rendered such defences out-dated in the military sphere.

I think I am probably leaning towards the chemical approach – which seems appropriate in this, the International Year of Chemistry.  However, it has been about 13,000 years since lions last stalked the Fens – back in the Pleistocene – and I’m not sure that the fossilised leavings of play-doh giant cats would be much of a deterrent to their smaller, domestic, modern counterparts. I’m also rather fond of Allium sativum, and so any that enters Fish Towers, fairly promptly thereafter enters the Fish.

I’m thinking of a plant-based solution (rather than forking out for shop-bought chemicals) and apparently cats are less than fond of lavender, rue or penny-royal.  Penny-royal is related to mint – which I believe is technically described as mildly invasive (in rather the way Poland in 1939 found the German Reich “mildly invasive”) and so may become a problem itself.  Rue is quite a large plant – and, as previously established I have no regrets – so that leaves me with lavender.  I rather like this option (assuming it works) as it will repel feline invaders whilst pleasing me – but most importantly, given its planned function, it decomposes to produce the phrase “lav ender” which is exactly what I am aiming to achieve.  Fate has spoken – I shall hie me to nursery (hopefully the type without small children) and return laden with Lavandula angustfolia.

Metablog: Supplemental

(Subtitle: Well Trousered, Sir!)

I think we all knew that I was enough of a geek that I would be able to use some of the argot of the United Federation of Planets.   In fact, you should imagine these metablogs being read in the voice of Patrick Stewart (none of the other Starfleet captains were anything like as well served in the voice department) which would give these electronic utterances a welcome, if entirely undeserved, gravitas.

Blogging has had its challenges this week as WordPress suffered a Denial of Service attack on Thursday.  I like to imagine it was “the man” trying to silence me – perhaps an assault on my searing political insights but more likely in response to the broadside of waterfowl based puns unleashed on Wednesday.  Either way, better people have been trying to silence me for many years – but with rather limited success so far…

As I may have mentioned before – but am far too lazy to check – WordPress let’s me know the details of any searches which bring the unwary into my electronic clutches.  This morning, some “innocent” was brought to my electronic door searching for “disturbed trousers”.  This was slightly surprising, so I checked myself – and to my alarm I find that this blog is the top result on Google for the phrase “disturbed trousers”.

So, you heard it here first – this blog is the number one destination in the entire internet (billions upon billions of pages) for anyone seeking disturbed trousers.  But fear not, I shall not be resting on my laurels (though lesser men might consider such fame enough to cap a lifetime of achievement).

Urine Charge

Yesterday, the discovery, by researchers at the University of Twente, that people with full bladders make better decisions was reported.  I must admit that I would have anticipated quite the opposite, expecting such folk to make the fastest decision possible so that they can then rush off to the nearest (suitable) porcelain to obtain some relief.

But, the findings are clear and, in particular, say that such desperate folk are much better at controlling important or expensive decisions – rather than just making snap judgements. The Dutch suggest that the restraint required to prevent accidents “leaks” over into other areas of the brain.  Given the very poor decision-making and judgement exercised by many in authority in this sceptred isle – Parliament springs instantly to mind – I wonder if this research could find an immediate beneficial application.

I’ve always found Newcastle Brown Ale is very effective at filling my bladder – but I suppose the alcohol may tend to counteract the improvement in judgement (to be honest, I never tested myself on the sort of occasions when I was consuming Dog in any quantity) – so perhaps the use of water would be a safer bet in any practical application of the research.

Could this (uri)nation be returned to greatness – and could we “slash” the amount of our money being pointlessly wasted – by the simple of expedient of removing all the WCs from the Houses of Parliament? To boost the effect, the Palace of Westminster could also dispense free water to members and have the sound of running water playing very quietly in the background of the chamber.  Not only would the standard of decision-making improve, but the length of debates would tend to be curtailed quite effectively as well – though there might be a small rise in the cleaning costs associated with running parliamentary democracy on this basis.

Could this be extended to the voting process as well?  On arrival at the Polling Station each voter is required to drink a litre of water (or other suitable beverage – some choices could well increase voter turn-out) and then wait 40 minutes (to allow nature to take its course) before exercising their franchise.  We could see a small increase in spoiled ballot papers – but it would give new meaning to the P in PR!


I fear I am going to disappoint anyone tuning in to see a youthful Kirk Douglas in sandals and Roman dress (for one thing, this blog is very short of pictures of any kind).

Instead, with the LHC returning to action following its Christmas break (strictly speaking, I suspect the break was for its human workers, rather than for the LHC itself) and with Brian Cox shortly to return to our screens (cue swooning ladies across the land), I find my thoughts turning to particle physics once more.

One of the theories vying to explain life, the universe and everything (or, perhaps more modestly, to supplant the Standard Model of particle physics) is known as Supersymmetry (also known rather sweetly, and more succinctly, as SUSY).  As a lapsed mathematician, this is quite appealing as every time you can invoke symmetry you get to halve the amount of work you have to do.  As a result, SUSY seems to hold out the hope of a short cut to easy street.

The big downside seems to be the need for a whole raft of new elementary particles – with each existing boson needing a “super” fermion partner and vice versa.  This does suggest the need for an awful lot of lycra for all these super-particles (it’s going to be like a femtoscopic version of the X-Men).  As theoretical physicists have better things to do then think up clever names for all these new particles (and apparently don’t have the number of a local dog breeder or racehorse owner who always seem very creative in this area), the new particles are named by prefixing an “s” to the name of an existing fermion or suffixing “ino” to that of a boson.  In this way, we have the slightly pedestrian selectron and photino – but much better is on offer…

  • The W boson is paired with the Wino fermion – which I presume does not travel in a straight line.
  • Each lepton is paired with its corresponding slepton – which I presume are the bosons which carry the fundamental force of lethargy.
  • And then we come to the squarks – for example, the top quark being paired up with the stop boson (which, in homage to Terry Pratchett, may well relate to his fundamental force of bloody-mindedness).

The LHC is hunting down these wonderfully named particles – but, unhappily, it isn’t finding any and they’re running out of “places” to look.  This means SUSY could soon be consigned to history – which would be very bad news for soldier’s feet.

Prescription Description

As regular readers will know, I try avoid to the television news for fear of the consequences on my blood pressure.  However, despite my best efforts I did catch about 2 minutes of the 10 o’clock news on the BBC last night – though I should make clear that the rant which follows would apply equally to any other provider of televisual current affairs.

Those with a vaguely operable hippocampus and a passing interest in recent happenings, may be aware that the folk north of the border have decided to stop charging patients for prescriptions.  Given the famed ill-health of the Scots, I can’t help worrying that this might turn out to be a tad expensive – but if you’ve just paid £7.20 for 7 pills you would probably admire their pluck (and consider a move rather closer to the source of good whisky).

A story of some little interest, especially if you were a poorly scotsman.  However, I reckon I could cover it in a pretty short sentence – “Free prescriptions in Scotland” should suffice (at least if I added a finite verb to the ensemble of words).  Even adding some background about the fulfilment of an election promise (something of which we Sassenachs can only dream) and the date of implementation would still only leave you with a fairly short paragraph.  I think I could deliver this from behind a desk (or propped on the corner of one, depending on channel) in under a minute in a manner which could be understood by the entire English speaking audience over the age of 4 – even without the aid of a nubile young lovely to assist me and despite my tendency to digress.

However, according to the BBC I am over-estimating its viewers significantly.  They chose to send a reporter to a pharmacy and as this pharmacy was rather generic looking, and the reporter lacked a strong accent, the piece was helpfully captioned “Glasgow” so that we would know we were in Scotland – though I wonder if they should have also explained that Glasgow is a city in Scotland given the poor take-up of geography qualifications reported in recent weeks (at least in these days of “compliance” we can be sure that it really was in Glasgow, and not just round the corner from White City).   I assume the pharmacy was to help the hard of thinking place the word “prescription” into an appropriate context since it is so often used in other ways, particularly by those in property law who are famed for their weak powers of comprehension.  Our reporter then delivered a 2-3 minute piece to camera surrounded by tablets, corn plasters, sun lotion and the other staples of the pharmacist’s trade – before we were returned to someone behind a desk in a studio.  I do wonder if a photograph of a pharmacy – perhaps with a tartan-clad bagpiper photoshopped into it to give it the appropriate geographical vibe – could have been used and the piece delivered from behind the desk?  Better still, given the extremely simple nature of the story, perhaps we could forego the visual aids entirely?  Surely, in these times of tightened belts and given the focus on cutting costs, a newsreader merely “reading” the “news” would have been a much more cost-effective option?  I would not wish to deny any reporter an afternoon out and a bit of fun. However, I doubt he would have been too upset to miss the opportunity of standing around a small branch of Boots – a frankly rather dull activity which most of us can do almost any week at only very modest cost, but usually don’t (unless we have a prescription to collect).  He might even have enjoyed the chance to stay at home (or in the office) doing some actual journalism – though perhaps since Wikileaks, journalism has become rather passé (why work on a story if you can just wait for some Australian hacker in need of a haircut to “leak” everything and then just cut-and-paste it?).

Am I being unreasonable?  Did you enjoy seeing a man standing around in a chemist’s? Would you like to see men pointlessly standing around in other shops?  Would you have preferred a woman?  A minor celebrity?  A trained animal of some sort?  Call my premium rate phone line now to register your vote and be in with a chance of winning a free prescription.  (Calls will cost no more than £7.20.  All votes will be ignored.  Terms and Conditions apply.  Please note, free prescription can only be claimed in Scotland after 1 April 2011.)

Duck Off!

Yesterday I read a headline saying that ruddy ducks in the UK were down to only 120 individuals.  Ho hum, thought I, another species being driven to the verge of local extinction by cruel happenstance.

Today I read the full story, and discovered a rather different state of affairs.  Apparently Oxyura Jamaicensis is being systematically wiped out at the request of our friends in Spain.  It would appear this is not evidence of further prejudice against our strawberry blonde friends – the name ruddy comes from the reddish plumage the male duck acquires when on the prowl for a bit of (stiff) tail.  He also acquires a case of blue bill  – and no that is not a mis-print, “i” is very much the vowel for which I was aiming.

No, like American GIs, the ruddy duck came to these shores in the 40s (though unlike the GIs, did not largely return home at the end of the last unpleasantness) and has been having its wicked way with local white-tailed ducks  – I presume by offering the waterfowl equivalent of nylons.  It seems the male white-tailed duck is quite unable to compete with this interloper in the avian boudoir, and as a result the stiff upper-lipped (and tailed) white-tailed duck is disappearing to be replaced by the (quite literal) bastard love-children of the male ruddy duck.

It would seem that the epithet “ruddy” can also be applied in its pejorative British meaning to the duck.  As a result, some 4400 (could there be a TV series here?) have been shot in recent years – though I have been unable to ascertain whether they make for good eating (though with only 120 left, they are a dwindling potential source to form a tasty partnership with the world’s most widely grown tree (and, very definitely, not the only) fruit – Citrus sinensis).

Apparently, trade in the ruddy duck is illegal without a licence – leading me to imagine criminal duck-trading rings.  Black market pochards or wigeons being traded in the reedy back streets of our major cities to satisfy the cravings of desperate adduckts.

I could apologise, but we both know that, like Edith Piaf, I have no regrets.