Democracy Inaction

The southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean are aflame as the peoples of a whole series of countries demand democracy or democratic reform.  Next week, we in the (usually) more sedate UK get to play with our long standing democracy-style system of government and to vote on reform of our very own.

The AV referendum has been the only topic of conversation in the workplace, at dinner parties or down the pub for weeks now.  The tabloids and broadsheets have been covering the great AV referendum to the exclusion of almost anything else.  I think I may have caught an occasional story about two people getting married somewhere in London tomorrow – but this has been confined to the occasional short paragraph buried in the middle of the more high-brow papers.  AV memorabilia is in sale in every shop and, apparently, many have applied to hold street parties to celebrate the event – I have already seen some bunting out!

Regular readers will know of my deep theological learning – I have RS O Level, you know (and didn’t merely scrape through, either) – and so will no doubt want to know which way I am leaning.  GofaDM can exclusively reveal that the Fish will be voting Yes to AV: you really can’t beat the King James version.  I was at school in the 1970s and was exposed to the modernising horrors of the Good News Bible, a text utterly lacking in majesty or soul – who in their right mind would ever mine that 70s monstrosity for a telling quotation? (It is very much the flared trousers and terylene tank-top of biblical fashion for my money.)   While I’m sure the Vulgate is very good, I’m afraid my Latin really isn’t able to do it justice (you’re disappointed in me I know, all I can say is that it’s on my “to do”list). So, it is the Authorised Version for me every time.

Sadly, I shall be on my way to Finland on polling day – so I will miss out on the party atmosphere that will engulf this sceptred isle, but don’t worry I will be putting in my vote for the good old King James version before I leave.


Fatuous Flavours

Waiting at the checkout in Budgens (yes, I don’t only frequent Waitrose – I am a man of the people) to pay for my caster sugar and copy of the Mortician’s Gazette (the weekly that makes your day) my eye was drawn to the proximal display of sweets.

One of these was a packet of bubble gum which boldly advertised its flavour as “atomic apple”.  Now, I love alliteration as much as the next man (I would refer you to the title of this post for but a single example) but this struck me as an alliteration too far.  According to my dictionary, atomic has a number of meanings – but only one of these could even remotely apply to an apple, viz: of or relating to the atomic bomb or atomic power.

Not an obvious choice for an adjective to apply to a flavour, especially given recent events.  Is it one of a series of such flavours? Radioactive raspberry, nuclear nectarine or Chernobyl cherry perhaps?

Or perhaps the adjective applies to the apple?  Now I have munched my way through scores of different varieties of Malus domestica, but never a nuclear one.  Would they perhaps glow in the dark?  A song of yesteryear (1924 apparently) posed the musical question, “Does your chewing gum lose its flavour on the bedpost over night?”, perhaps this gum (if applied to the bedpost) could be used as a night light.

I assume the atomic apple itself would be a cooker (rather than an eater), perhaps they would even cook themselves.  The atomic apple does have the sound of the sort of labour saving nuclear invention dreamt up in the 1950s.

Or is this a brave attempt by Messers Hubba and Bubba (disappointingly – as a fan of the Scottish play – no Messers Toil or Trubba) to soften the public up prior to a resurgence of nuclear power?

Extending the definition of celebrity

Cycling back from Waitrose this afternoon I was overtaken (quite slowly) by a black Ford Prefect (the first time I have ever knowingly seen this particular model of car).  Was I wrong to find this (exceedingly indirect) brush with celebrity rather thrilling?

Where’s Tufty?

I know what you’re thinking – well, obviously I don’t (and wouldn’t it be disturbing if I did?), unless it’s “Doesn’t he have something better to do with his time?”, but I know what I’d be thinking if I were you – does the world really need a series of books in which the viewer tries to find a myopic squirrel, wearing a stripy jumper and bobble hat, in a crowded scene?  Whilst I don’t know the answer to this question, I am concerned that I would be transgressing the intellectual property rights of at least one person (either corporeal or corporate) should I go ahead.  Lacking the funding for the legal protection of a super-injunction, this blog will try to steer clear of such obvious plagiarism.

When I was a nipper, the teaching of road safety was entrusted to the paws of Tufty the squirrel and his woodland pals.  After all this time, I don’t recall if Tufty was a red or grey squirrel, but given the amount of my childhood which was in black and white, I suspect he may have been grey (whatever his species)  We are, of course, going a long way back – in those far off days, there were only three TV stations and days in the week and the human eye had yet to develop cones.

Tufty – who was a bit goody-goody for my taste – was very keen that we should find a gap in the parked cars (which in those days, did not require many miles of hiking) and look right and left and right again before we stepped out into the road (I think he was probably also quite keen that if we saw an oncoming vehicle whilst looking, then we should wait rather than stepping out regardless).  Squirrels, however careful they are with the traffic, have but a limited time upon the earth and I think Tufty was later replaced by Darth Vader (if nothing else, definitely not too goody-goody – and a man you’d think twice before crossing (a principle which should also be applied to roads)).

I was reminded of Tufty, and my early road safety training, by the tendency of pedestrians in Cambridge to walk out into the road without looking at all.  Indeed, they often seem to walk down the middle of the road without an apparent care in the world, spurning the empty footpaths provided for their benefit.  I have wondered if they hail from foreign climes where wheeled transport is unknown (though this must be in ever diminishing portions of our crowded planet) – but have had to reject this theory.  Even rabbits – not known for their intellectual prowess – have sufficient wherewithal to get out of the way of an oncoming bicycle or motorised conveyance (even if they are not always successful). Having recently listened to an episode of  “In Our Time” on the subject of free will and the nature of determinism (not helped by quantum theory, I’m afraid) I wonder if the denizens of East Anglia have been gripped by a sense of fatalism.  If everything has been determined, and there is no free will, then why apply even basic common sense when crossing the road?

Whilst I find determinism very persuasive, I think I am a compatibilist and so will continue applying such basic common sense (the least common of all the senses) as I possess to my everyday activities in the fond hope of prolonging the suffering of these reading this blog.

Laser Let Down

As a child growing up in the 1970s, lasers always seemed very exciting – but like so many views of the future from that period, the reality has been somewhat of a disappointment.

I will admit that lasers have achieved an unexpected ubiquity in our lives – though mostly reading spinning silvery discs (providing they are free of fingerprints) or used for pointing at rather dull business presentations (though, I still favour the stick or finger myself).  The US Navy have recently demonstrated a laser “gun” firing on, and disabling, a medium sized dinghy – which is more in line with the promises of science fiction. However, the video for this is not wildly impressive: a small fire starts on one of the outboard motors and slowly grows.  I think I could have disabled the boat faster using darts (or a sharp stick) despite my lack of skill with “the arrows” (never could manage to finish on a double, but this is probably less important in naval warfare).  It certainly doesn’t look like the action surrounding the classic rejoinder, “No, Mr Bond. I expect you to die,” is going to become a reality anytime soon.

I have seen a laser mouse on offer – but, it was only a computer peripheral.  On mature reflection, perhaps a laser-equipped version of Trixie (or Dixie) would be a bit of a problem around the house (and not just for Mr Jinks), at least until someone develops a fridge with shields so that I can keep my cheese safe.

I also fear the days of computer mice (laser or otherwise) may be numbered, now that the touchscreen has become so popular.  Am I alone in rather regretting this development?  In days of yore, one spent much time and effort avoiding fingerprints on the screen and cleaning them off should they appear.  Now many devices can only be controlled by touching the screen – and none come with those white cotton gloves beloved of archivists which I would view as an essential accessory.  I know the touchscreen has been in vogue in the science fiction of recent years, but I think that along with FTL travel and artificial gravity (or acceleration as I like to call it) we must assume that genetic engineering will produce people with grease-free fingers in the future (which may explain the lack of a Star Trek: CSI).  Lump me in with the followers of Ned Ludd if you will, but I like a proper button (or preferably, more than one) and a screen viewable without the distorting patina left by sticky or greasy digits (even if they are my digits).

But I seem to have strayed from the path of my argument, like a modern motorist with a broken satnav.  Earlier today I read about the final indignity for the laser: apparently, in future the spark plugs in our cars may well be replaced by lasers.  It is claimed they will be more efficient than the current system – but, if science fiction was going to enter the world of personal transport, I have to admit I was hoping for something a bit more exciting than a spark plug replacement.  Jet packs, rocket bikes, hover cars, cars that could travel through interstellar space and/or time – even the SPV, though I never understood why you drove it facing backwards – were what we promised, and all we get is a slightly better spark plug.

In so many areas, actual technology today far outstrips anything the science fiction of my youth could imagine (though, I think we should all be grateful that the forecast obsession with silver clothing (worn with a string vest?!) did not come to pass) but when it comes to transportation we are still pretty much using late nineteenth century technology. Perhaps the time has come to re-invent the wheel?


Very like a cake walk I would imagine, but yeastier (and lower in fat, though that may depend on the bun – and the dancer).

Following the substantial success of my (almost) hot cross buns, I have taken the lessons learned and repeated the experiment – replicability being very important in any scientific advance.  Doubling the proving time and temperature (in celsius, not kelvin which is beyond my oven’s capabilities and would, at best, have yielded charcoal), followed by lowering the cooking temperature by 10% and time by 20%, yielded an octet of hot (cross-less or full moon) buns as close to perfection as is possible in this entropy-afflicted world.  Whilst I am blaming the “recipe” here for the need to make adjustments to the process before I could craft perfect buns (nothing to do with either my hair – which may need cutting, but is not yet in any state to form a credible bun – or my six glutei (yes, I do have six – trust me), which are “of steel” or certainly feel like it when sitting on a hard pew), it could be that the temperature calibration of my oven is less than accurate.  This begs the question (in my mind, if nowhere else): are there oven tuners that could be called in to ensure that the temperature I select by dial is the one delivered by element? (In the same way that a piano tuner ensures that the middle C key on my piano produces a note a smidge over 261Hz when depressed – which would make it part of C Minor, I suppose).

This successful replication opens the (oven) doors to a much wider range of Saccharomyces-based cookery in the days to come (assuming there are plural days yet-to-come, but let’s be positive!).  I rather fancy tackling the “rollicking bun” made famous in the Sorcerer (G&S reference, natch) – but I have yet to find a recipe (or a regular source (sorce?) for eye-of-newt or toe-of-frog, though I do live in the right area for the fenny snake – even if I rather suspect that filleting a snake may call for specialised skills) – so I may have to make do with that card-carrying friend of Dorothy, Sally Lunn (which apparently is not a Bath bun, though is a bun from Bath).

Did you notice how my brackets have started nesting?  Well, it is the spring and bracket eggs need somewhere safe to be incubated before they hatch into new brackets. Well, you didn’t think brackets just bud asexually like yeast did you?  Come on, there are clearly two sexes…

{And several species…}.

Danger HXB!

Well, Easter is finally almost upon us – and with it a slew of bank holidays which seem to have caught Mother Nature on the hop given the current expectation of hot and sunny weather throughout (either that, or I have inadvertently strayed into a parallel universe which whilst similar to my traditional home does seem to be exhibiting some striking differences).

This bunching of bank holidays, like London buses, has generated a couple of news stories about the timing of Easter.  The rather variable nature of the timing of the Easter bank holidays was apparently addressed way back in 1928 (before even my time).  The Easter Act 1928 will set Easter to be “the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April” once it is activated – rather than its current dependence on the full moon.  Presumably, as today, those wishing to celebrate the various Christian events linked to the timing of Easter may continue to use a lunar calendar (rather than the official, UK Easter) – the exact choice of Easter date going back to the ancient split between the churches of Rome and Byzantium (which could yield three Easters each year in this country, with possibly negative consequences for the current obesity epidemic and the well-being of the Easter bunny).

I’ve always found Easter a curious festival – a strange admixture of Aztec (the chocolate) and Christian/fertility (the egg) symbols, coupled with the frankly Pagan lunar timing.  In fact, chocolate goes back well before the Aztecs – with cocoa used for beverages by the Mokaya as much as 4000 years ago (and still used by the Fish today – though I don’t normally mix it with chilli at bedtime).  Chocolate in bar (or, indeed egg) form had to await the conquistadors and then the industrial revolution.  I suppose that prior to the invention of the Minstrel and/or the Frigidaire, bar chocolate would have been rather impractical in the heat of the Mexican jungle (even if you started with a bar, you’d be back to a drink pretty smartly).

The other Easter timing news comes from my own local university, where a Professor Colin Humphries has discovered, after extensive research, that the Last Supper was on a Wednesday (and not as previously believed, a Thursday).  I must admit I did wonder why this mattered given the fact that Easter can move by a whole 4 weeks, a one day shift in one of its events didn’t seem all that significant.  Perhaps, I mused, the Good Lord was an Orange mobile customer and had taken the disciples to the flicks using their 2-for-1 deal and had been able to fund the meal out of the money he’d saved – which clearly wouldn’t have worked on a Thursday (or in the 1st Century AD – well, not without a previously undocumented miracle or two).  But no, apparently this research was designed to tackle an important issue in the biblical narrative where the gospels disagree about the timing of the Last Supper and the sheer number of events which took place between it and Good Friday (though, if anyone is going to have good time management skills one feels it should be the Son of God).  The good Professor Humphries (who I like to imagine in a red-and-white striped top, and having a tendency to milk-based kleptomania) likes to think that his work will finally lead to the implementation of the 1928 Act and the fixing of the date for Easter.

But what, I hear the few of you to have made it this far whimpering, does this have to do with the title?  Well, let me tell you my chickabiddies…

I am pretty agnostic and have no great fondness of chocolate eggs, so Easter is of little import to me – but for one thing, the hot cross bun (HXB – more St Andrew than JC, I suppose).  I do rather love a hot cross bun, but have always struggled to make a decent bun of my own, leaving me reliant on the kindess of strangers (or more often, dearest mater) or the local bakery.  However, I buy very little (pre-?)prepared food (can you pre-prepare?  Or is this just before, before paring?  I do have a paring knife – but it only helps within a fairly limited scope of food production…) preferring to create it myself from the stuff of chaos – or basic ingredients, as the less poetic authors of my various recipe books would have it.  So, today I have once again attempted to make hot cross buns – well, if I’m honest they are only hot buns (I’m too lazy/agnostic to bother with the cross) – this time employing my breadmaker (a machine, rather than a member of my household staff) to prepare the dough and cutting out the need to knead by hand (and with it, one possible mode of failure and dough under the fingernails).  I do have to form the buns and leave them to prove (to be honest, they didn’t even manage the simplest of lemmas) which took massively longer than suggested at a rather higher temperature and then bake them (which took rather less time than the instructions led me to believe).

This process took place whilst I have been writing this post, and I have now sampled a few of my hard-wrought wares.  I can pronounce them delicious and an almost total success – or they are when fresh; they may only be fit for use as artillery rounds by the morning (assuming any survive that long!).

The HXB is fully and safely defused!


The correct spelling (or, at least a correct spelling) is eudaemonics – but I thought I’d help you out with the pronunciation.  Eudaemonics (as I’m sure you all know) is the art or theory of happiness – a topic much in the news of late (though I may be the first to apply this particular word to it).

Our current government seems very keen to find out how happy (or otherwise) we are (I was slightly surprised that the recent census raised no questions in this sphere) though it is not entirely clear to me what they will do with this information once they have obtained it (perhaps they follow Robert Louis Stevenson, and think that  “Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.”)  It would seem that despite huge increases in wealth, health (and safety) over my lifetime, we the ungrateful electorate are no happier – and may even be less happy (though the definition of “happiness” does seem to involve an awful lot of hand-waving to me as a lapsed pure mathematician).

I like to think that I am a fairly cheery chap most of the time, except when lack of food or sleep impinges on my otherwise sunny disposish, but recent research from the proudly government-free Belgium suggests I may be the victim of self-delusion (which I guess also makes me the perpetrator).  Apparently, happiness in humans follows a U-shape curve over time (and at last the true reason for the title emerges, slightly shame-faced, from the thick undergrowth of this post) with maxima in one’s twenties, seventies and eighties. The very nadir of human happiness, this research and others suggest, occurs at 45 – the very age at which I find myself (not that I was looking all that hard – I don’t really hold with all this “new age” nonsense of finding oneself, I generally find that if I look down, there I am).

Trying to be positive – which clearly can’t be easy for a chap of my vintage – every day from here on in I should become happier (though I’m not sure how the rest of the world will cope with me if I live to any advanced age – I shall be quite insufferable).  However, given that our rulers seem to take it as an affront that we (the ruled) are not happy – despite their sterling attempts to reduce our wealth and health which are so clearly correlated with declining happiness (and I rather fear they may have failed to understand the difference between correlation and causation) – I am slightly worried about a Logan’s Run style purge of the middle-aged who are selfishly dragging down our national happiness.  I fear we forty-somethings are very much viewed as belonging to the B-arc of society.

I think I shall either have to start lying about my age – do I go higher (well-preserved) or lower (long paper-round)? – or I will have to become relentlessly cheerful whenever in public.  Luckily, cheerful is not too hard to manage at this time of year: Spring is well and truly sprung, I can (and indeed do) gorge on rhubarb and asparagus, my journeys by bike supply balmy weather, the sight of buds a-bursting and the mellifluous sounds of our feathered friends a-singing, my local butcher has started stocking Blacksticks Blue and the new series of Doctor Who returns to our screens on Saturday.

Let joy be unconfined!  (The poor lass must be due for parole by now).

Rural Utopia

The regular reader will know that I have made my domicile in the village of Sawston in the (very gently indeed) rolling countryside of South Cambridgeshire (though as a cyclist, I can assure you that it is more topographically varied than those who use powered transport might think).

Today, I read news of a report by the Halifax – the ex-building society which is now part of a tax-payer bailed-out bank – and so an unimpeachable source (you never hear about imnectarinable sources do you?  Maybe the furry skin is important in establishing veracity?).  This report states that South Cambridgeshire is the best place to live in rural Britain (and, thus by extension, the world).  Apparently, we lucky residents enjoy high income, good health, high educational standards and, apparently, it doesn’t rain very much either (oddly, the report doesn’t mention the very high standard of local blogging?!).

The whole “not much rain” thing is a very popular statement to make about the area round Cambridge – it is often alleged that we get less rain than Barcelona (which is clearly a lot wetter than we all think) and that the climate is semi-arid.  I would take issue with this statement given the number of times I have been drenched whilst living here – indeed, when I first moved to Cambridge (in one “flaming” June) it was so wet that after a few days I ran out of dry trousers to wear (my slacks were getting wet faster than I could dry them).  As further evidence for the prosecution I offer exhibit B, a 100 litre plastic vessel which captures water from my roof (I really hesitate to describe moulded green plastic as a barrel or butt – no cooper was involved), the contents of which I use to water my extensive grounds.  Despite the driest February and March since the invention of rain (or something like that), this vessel is still full to the brim – which does not seem entirely compatible with the alleged aridity of the region.  When landscaping my gardens with Pampisford’s answer to Capability Brown (and you hadn’t realised he was a question!), I deliberately selected plants which would thrive in the baked soils of the Mediterranean climate I had been promised.  Sadly, the excessive precipitation (in the form of both rain and snow) has caused many of these to perish – and I am now thinking of accepting the reality of the local climate and going for bog-loving plants with a penchant for snow.  On the plus side, the actual climate does seem very positive for viniculture and last year I had a bumper crop of grapes – so many in fact, that I (an inveterate grape-glutton) became bored of grapes (talk about ungrapeful) and have started to think of preparing the first vintage of Chateau Sawston for 2011.

However, despite my disagreement with the volume of rainfall, I would agree that South Cambs is a pretty good place to live.  Apparently, as a resident of this rural nirvana I will enjoy the highest rural life expectancy in the land – so there should (statistically) be many more years of my mildly diverting ramblings to come… (Perhaps, we will be able to toast this fact with a glass of Sawston’s finest in years to come).

The Wales Way

.. where the wind’s like a whetted knife, to paraphrase John Masefield.

As admitted in the About page of this blog, my familial name is from the Principality – though has become mildly augmented in its travels through time.  My other given (as opposed to taken) names have rather less of a Welsh flavour about them.

Reading an article in the Technology section of the Grauniad today, I saw a way to reclaim some increased Welshness via my middle name.   Seldom used, except on forms, my middle name is Kenneth  – which apparently has a Pictish origin though further back the source name hails from Cornwall and also passed into Wales (the Brythonic languages were less distinct then than is the case today).  The article was penned (or more likely typed) by a chap hight “Cennydd” which looked Welsh to me – but then again, “llama” looks Welsh to me (and South America does have a decent Welsh population) but apparently comes from the Quechua.  My limited knowledge of Welsh pronunciation suggested it might be homophonous with my middle name.  After a little research (OK, recourse to Google and Wikipedia) I was able to confirm both my pronunciation and its status as the Welsh variant of Kenneth.

So, in future I shall be Stuart Cennydd Ffoulkes – sounds the same, but it says Wales right through the middle (like a stick of Welsh rock).  My new initials will be SCF – which will help to avoid confusion with a Swedish maker of ball bearings (it hasn’t happened yet, but you can never be too careful!).  The other big advantage of SCF is that it can be used as a musical signature: E Flat, C, F, F when I compose my magnum (other iced lollies are available) opus.

You may think me mad, but I prefer to think of it as a form of C Fever (in an overly contrived callback to Mr Masefield and the source of the title for this post).