30 April 2007

New Porcupine Tree CD and..

I'm pretty fond of Porcupine Tree so I'm not sure why I haven't gotten around to buying their new album yet. Fear of a Blank Planet was released two weeks ago.

In the meantime Rush are just about to release a new album, Snakes and Arrows (Rush have been one of my guilty pleasure bands since I was about 16!); Alan Davey, the Hawkwind bass guitarist has just released Human on the Outside. I feel some purchases coming on.....

A grand coalition of democracy activists, pro-reform clerics, parties loyal to former president Khatami and the so-called pragmatic conservatives of Ayatollah Rafsanjani. Is planning to use the ballot box to deny Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second presidential term.... Unless the move is vetoed by the hardline Guardian Council which is a definite possibility

The alliance is mining to exploit the president's unpopularity, arising from high unemployment, rising inflation and an expected rise in petrol prices, to win control of the Majlis in general elections which are due within 10 months.

"The past two years have been a very bitter time for Iran," said Mohammad Atrianfar, a leading opposition figure "Ahmadinejad has done everything upside down. He has done a lot of damage at home and abroad." Mr Atrianfar said that a majority in the Majlis was now critical of the president and would certainly impeach him but for the support he enjoyed from the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The president has faced mounting over high unemployment, especially among younger people, rising inflation and escalating housing costs. Significantly, for a major oil producer, heavily subsidised petrol prices are due to rise next month, hitting poorer people hardest in a country with poor or non-existent public transport.

In an unusual intervention, Grand Ayatollah Yusef Sa'anei, one of Iran's most respected Islamic scholars, has attacked Mr Ahmadinejad's government for failing to tackle social ills such as youth unemployment, drug addiction, and gender inequality. In a rare interview with a western newspaper at his office in the holy city of Qom, Mr Sa'anei said:

"The government should be at the service of the people. But it is putting too much pressure on the people. It bans newspapers, sends people to jail, segregates boys and the girls at the universities, makes noise about hijab."

On the other hand the President of Iran doesn’t exactly have a huge amount of power –more than, say, Mary McAleese but nothing like the power wielded by George W Bush. The real reins of power are most certainly held elsewhere. It also remains to be seen whether the opposition’s efforts will be stifled by the Guardian Council. If the coalition is allowed to stand and if it wins then perhaps it will be the first stage towards a better Iran.

29 April 2007

Don’t Bring Harry?

Ever since the 17th Century our monarchs have ruled but with no real power. The last king to try and rule as something approaching an absolute monarch ended up losing his head in January 1649 (Charles I was not quite a sun king though - more like a Swan Vesta). His son James II was deposed for being a catholic and his successors, William III and Mary II were given the job on the basis that they largely shut up and let Parliament hold the reins of power (I KNOW that’s a gross oversimplification).

So for the last 300 years or so, the three real functions of the monarch have been to: Sit on the throne; Shut up and look regal for the benefit of the lumpen masses; Produce the next throne sitter and a spare or two for good measure (accidents or American divorcees happen)

The heir to the throne is groomed to do these things. Function iii can be of course be performed while waiting for functions i and ii, but it can be a long wait – Prince Charles may well be in his seventies before he becomes Charles III. In the meantime he has plenty of time to rail at modern architecture.

The heir’s siblings,however, are just reserves in the event of anything happening. In the past a younger sibling did have a reasonable chance of becoming king or queen (Henry VIII was a spare, Elizabeth I succeeded her sister William IV succeeded his brother and so on) but the last time a spare was unwrapped and given the crown was in 1936 when Edward VIII abdicated.

It is unlikely that Harry will be anything other than a prince. So where does that leave him? He is irrelevant to the succession so he has chosen a profession that many of his predecessors have chosen in the past – he has joined the military. At present he is known as Cornet Wales (cornet is an old term for a second lieutenant in a cavalry troop. It is still used in the regiments of the Household Cavalry). His regiment, the Blues and Royals is scheduled to undertake a six month tour in Iraq.

Whether or not Harry will join his regiment in Iraq been a matter of serious debate even though it was always clear that the Blues and Royals would be deployed to a conflict zone during his service. The regiment is due to depart for Iraq within days, the Prince's posting has become the subject of fraught negotiations between the Ministry of Defence, the Army and Clarence House. The head of the Army, Sir Richard Dannatt, will decide (if he hasn’t already done so) whether to permit his deployment. His decision will surely be based on an assessment of the dangers to Harry but also to those who might face extra risks because he is in their midst.

Should he go to Iraq Harry's most likely role will be long-range reconnaissance patrolling in Maysan on the Iran border, something that has been considered a relatively safe duty (or at least safer than patrolling the streets of Basra). Having said that two troopers were killed this month in Maysan in an attack which might have been a "dry run" for a similar attempt on Harry's life.

Militias have boasted that they are preparing to capture or kill the Prince. One group claims it will send him home to his grandmother without his ears. Most of these are probably empty threats but it seems likely that the opportunity to kill or, better still, capture a member of the royal family will be too tempting a prospect for an insurgent to pass up. I can only imagine that attacks on British forces in Iraq will increase considerably leading to the loss of more of his comrades.than may have been the case if he were not there.

The Guardian and other papers are reporting that additional special forces are being deployed to Iraq to monitor militia activity so the indications are that he will be going.

Whether the British Army should be in Iraq or whether we should have a monarchy in this day and age are different issues

The Diver: Regeneration

or just known as the Diver the statue is located in the Thames at Rainham. As is obvious the tide was out when I visited - usually it is partially submerged. Twice a year it it completely underwater. I will have to consult the tide tables before visiting again so I can get some photos of it partially submerged.

Call me a birdbrain nevermore

The birds of the family corvidae appear to be a clever bunch - The New Caledonian crow, for example, can fashion very primitive tools and to use them to extract grubs from crevices in trees. So perhaps it is no surprise that Scientists have revealed that the Raven is a bird of surprising intelligence (okay so no Raven is going to be designing a nuclear reactor anytime soon but even so...)

Writing in the Scientific American Bernd Heinrich and Thomas Bugnyar describe a series of experiments that demonstrate the bird’s intelligence. In one experiment ravens were allowed to sit on perches from which pieces of meat dangled from string. But to get the treat, the raven had to perform a complex series of actions: pull up some of the string, place a loop on the perch and hold it with a claw, then pull up another section of string and hold that loop on the perch. By repeating this process half a dozen times, a raven could reach the end of the string and get the meat.

'Some animals can be taught how to get food this way,' Heinrich said. 'However, I found ravens could perform this complex sequence of actions straight away. These birds have never seen string before or encountered meat hanging this way, yet they worked out exactly what they needed to do to get a treat.'

Many animals, birds and insects are capable of carrying out complex actions: nest-building, for example. However, such creatures are programmed genetically to undertake the different steps involved in such behaviour. Little intelligence is involved. By contrast, ravens have demonstrated that they can work out complex sets of actions, involving no tests or trial and error. This implies that they use logic. 'The birds acted as if they knew what they were doing,' the two researchers say in Scientific American. 'Ravens have the ability to test actions in their minds. That capacity is probably lacking, or present only to a limited extent, in most animals.'

Other experiments show that Ravens will let other animals do work for them. In the wild, they have been known to make calls that bring wolves and foxes to dead animals so that these large carnivores can break the carcass apart, making meat accessible to the birds. Scientists believe that ravens evolved their intelligence because of their complex social lives and scavenging lifestyles.

28 April 2007

Something I learned today - The Chinese in Britain

Earlier on today I picked up a copy of the new BBC History magazine. Apart from marking down a few books for reading in the near future (Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign, the Hamburg firestorming, Cromwell as a military commander and the story of Eddie Chapman, a thief, turned double agent) I was particularly taken by an item on a forthcoming BBC radio series.

Radio 4 starts a series of programmes about the history of the Chinese community in Britain. Apparently the first known Chinese man to come to Britain was a young Jesuit convert from Nanking called Shen Fu Tsong who arrived at the court of James II in 1686, James II was so taken with him he had his portrait painted and hung in his bed chamber. Shen was the first person to catalogue the Chinese collection in the Bodleian Library, showing the librarian which way up to hold Chinese books as well as what they contained.

One of the first Chinese women to settle in Britain did so at the start of the 20th Century, Song Ling Whang, made the journey from China to Britain, on foot with a group of other young people. They followed the route of the trans-Siberian railway line, performing acrobatics and making paper flowers to earn their way. What must have made things particularly difficult for her was that she had bound feet.

I’ll have to try and catch this series (via the net as it is on while I am at work). One thing for sure I don’t think I’ll complain about sore feet any time soon....

More flowers brazenly showing off their bits

I've had a crap week and while there are subjects of interest, I think a day of gardening is in order. Here's anohter pic of a tree paeony flower. Definitely one of the best features of our garden.

27 April 2007

Robyn Hitchcock - Flesh number one

Conflict on a spring day

Sorry that the quality of these photos is not that good but I tried to capture a little conflict between Bebe and a strange cat. The wall in question was always seen as neutral ground. The black cat obviously does not know local catiquette - he even sticks his tongue out at me!

This week's entry For the Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats. More cat photos as ever at Plant porn and pussycats and at Yet to be named.

26 April 2007

Birds of a (brutal and paranoid ) feather...

Myanmar (Burma) and North Korea, two of the world's most isolated, paranoid and repressive states have agreed to restore diplomatic relations after a break of over 20 years.

Myanmar broke off relations with North Korea in 1983, accusing the Koreans of orchestrating a bomb attack against the South Korean president during a visit to Rangoon. Visiting North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Yong-Il, and his Burmese counterpart signed the agreement restoring relations on Thursday.

It would appear that rapprochement is born out of self-interest: North Korea needs Myanmar’s natural resources while Myanmar wants access to military equipment. If a pariah state is on the receiving end of sanctions who better to trade with than another pariah state?

I daresay that this will be to the detriment of the citizens of both countries. North Korea and Myanmar are both crying out for regime change.

Tap are back...

Spinal Tap are back...A short film by Rob Reiner explaining why Messrs Tufnell, St Hubbins and Smalls had reformed Spinal Tap, was shown last night at New York's Tribeca film festival.

According to the film, Nigel Tufnell has been working as a farmhand raising miniature horses; David St Hubbins is a now hip-hop producer who runs his studio from a colonic irrigation clinic; and Derek Smalls has been in rehab for his internet addiction.

Spinal Tap will appear at the Wembley leg of Live Earth on 7 July alongside such reformed (and po faced) dinosaurs as the Police and Genesis"They're not that environmentally conscious" said Reiner"Nigel thought it was just because he was wearing too much clothing."

This is Spinal Tap is one of my favourite comedies so I am always glad when Shearer, MCKean and Baron Haden-Guest of Soling (or should that be Mr Jamie Curtis?) work together. .

The Majesty of Rock

25 April 2007

An Edward Heath non-story

If Brian Coleman, conservative Member of the London Assembly for Barnet and Camden, is to be believed Sir Edward Heath was warned by police to stop "cottaging" for gay sex in the 1950s because it could harm his political career.

Writing in the New Statesman Mr Coleman said:“Ted Heath managed to obtain the highest office of state after he was supposedly advised to cease his cottaging activities in the Fifties when he became a Privy Councillor.” Mr Coleman claimed that it was "common knowledge" among Tories that Sir Edward had been given the warning he was being positively vetted for membership of the Privy Council in 1955. Not only that but gay men had in effect run the Conservative Party in London, whether as officials, councillors or volunteers.

Sir Edward, was Prime Minister from 1970 to 1974. He died in 2005. His biographer, John Campbell, does not believe that there was any evidence that he was gay "except for the faintest unsubstantiated rumour of an incident at the beginning WWII ". His view is that Heath could have been a latent or repressed homosexual or heterosexual, or simply asexual.

Derek Conway , who succeeded Sir Edward as Conservative MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup, said there had never been any hint of impropriety in the former prime minister's life. "If there was some secret I'm sure it would have come out by now," He said.

I think Derek Conway is probably correct: if there had been any substance to the cottaging story I’m sure it would have come out before now especially since he was a shade less devoted to Thatcher. The 80s would have been the time for the story, if there was one, to emerge - perhaps as part of a whispering campaign to see Heath out of parliament.

If, in the unlikely event, the story is true then being discreet was a no-brainer if he wanted the highest office. He was Chief Whip when Harrow MP and Foreign Office minister Ian Harvey was found cavorting with a Coldstream Guardsman in St James’s Park. Needless to say his ensured that his next career was pursued outside of Parliament...

Robyn Hitchcock on BBC 4

What is it with BBC 4 at the moment? a couple of weeks ago there was a Hawkwind documentary, on Friday (27 April) it will be showing a programme about Robyn Hitchcock!

"One heady week last summer, cult singer/songwriter Robyn Hitchcock recorded a group of new songs in his London house" accordign to the blurb. The documentary, Sex,Food, Death....and Insects, was first shown last month in the USA on the Sundance channel.

I knew where I will be at 9pm this Friday...

Earth 2?

Perhaps not but Astronomers have found the most Earth-like exoplanet so far. And one that could have water running on its surface. The planet, Gliese 581c, orbits the red dwarf star Gliese 581, which is 20.5 light-years away.

"We have estimated that the mean temperature of this 'super-Earth' lies between 0 and 40 degrees Celsius, and water would thus be liquid," explained Stephane Udry of the Geneva Observatory "Moreover, its radius should be only 1.5 times the Earth's radius, and models predict that the planet should be either rocky - like our Earth - or covered with oceans."

Gliese 581c is the smallest exoplanet found so far, and completes a full orbit of its parent star in just 13 days. It is 14 times closer to its star than the Earth is to our Sun. However, Giese 581 is smaller and colder than the Sun - and thus less luminous - the planet lies in the star’s "habitable zone". The “super earth” is one of three exoplanete discovered in the Gliese 581 system.

Commenting on the discovery, Alison Boyle, the curator of astronomy at London's Science Museum, said: "Of all the planets we've found around other stars, this is the one that looks as though it might have the right ingredients for life.”

24 April 2007

Wordless Wednesday - St Andrews is a horned church in Hornchurch

This week's wordless Wednesday. I will explain in the first comment

If Kryptonite exists.....

In the 2006 movie, Superman's enemy Lex Luthor, steals a kryptonite rock fragment from the Metropolis Museum. On the case are written the words "sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide with fluorine".

In a case of life imitating art a newly discovered mineral has been found to contain exactly the same elements as the green crystals that rob superman of his powers (apart from fluorine) . Unlike kryptonite, the mineral is white and powdery, emits no radiation and comes from Serbia rather than outer space.

So a mineral is discvered in europe that contains most, but not all, of the elements that make up a fictional mineral. It’s not much of a story really.. then again more fool me for this post!

Source: The Scotsman

23 April 2007

Garden 21 April

New things are in bloom, some a good month ahead of schedule. The photos above are of the flowers of a species Tree paeony, Paeonia lutea ludlowii. The pitcure below is of an Abutilon flower.

What the over sexed dog in your life needs?

Randy dogs and legs were made for each other, just like nitro- and glycerine... ! have been fortunate never to have a dog ever seek to use my leg for sexual gratification. Others, of course, may well have suffered this indignity but help is at hand:

A French designer has come up what he describes as the Hotdoll, the first dog sex toy for dogs. The Hotdoll is a plastic playmate specifically shaped so the hips feel like a female dog. And covered with a 1cm-thick gel skin to keep them soft to the touch. They come in black, white, large and small.

Designer Clement Eloy said the Hotdolls are a 'natural way to control a dog's sexual impulses'. He said he came up with the idea after his friend's dog had to make use of a cushion and wondered why they didn't have dolls for dogs.

I had to check the date to see if April Fool’s day was three weeks too late this year! On the other hand I suppose for those dog owners who consider it somehow unacceptable for their dogs to scrabster* their legs then the Hotdoll is just the ticket I suppose....

Source: Metro

*Scrabster: either a town in northern Scotland or the expression used by Douglas Adams in the Meaning of Liff to describe such canine capers

Today is...

The feast day of the Patron Saint of:





The hellenic army

Agricutural workers





Palestinian christians





Field workers








Herpes sufferers


Skin diseases

(possibly even same sex mariages)

Oh and England too... Poor sod must be exhausted with that lot!

22 April 2007

Simulacrum corner

As seen on a Black Poplar at the Chase Nature reserve, Hornchurch (or is it over the Dagenham border?). Oh and a thank you to my 30,000th visitor

My obsessions

I was tagged a little while ago by Tyger regarding my obsessions. Sorry I haven’t gotten around to setting them out yet Tyger but here goes....

1. Cats

And what of your Sempervivums?

Perhaps this is not surprising given the number of feline residents here at Hope Cottages (not our name for the group of houses but some Victorian builder’s). We have had five here since we bought the place in 1992. Four will be well known of course through my Friday cat blogging, the fifth, Oscar, died in 2002 aged about 17.

The great thing is that you know where you are with cats, under the thumb that evolution will probably bring them in a million years or so!

2 the Not-wife

She is the love of my life, I am the bane of hers or so she says. She is quiet, I am loud; she is slim, I am carrying too large a belly; she has beautiful long brown hair, what’s left of mine is grey. She is 43 this summer, but looks about 10 years younger... as one online friend said when I showed her a photo of the not-wife “you lucky bastard” I think I am... The not wife does agree that she should come second in this list so I am not about to be beaten to death with a hammer!

3. Music

I have quite a sizeable record/cd but my two greatest musical l obsessions are for Robyn Hitchcock and Hawkwind. (Again no big surprise).

Dave Brock

Hawkwind I first encountered when they appeared on Top of the Pops in 1972 with “Silver Machine”. My sister had a copy of their 1974 album “Hall of the Mountain Grill” but it wasn’t until 1979 that the obsession started. A Hawkwind gig was my first ever concert (December 1979) and they remain the band I have see most times. I fell out of love with them in the early 90s but love was rekindled a few years ago. They are still going strong, albeit with a reduced fan base, and they are well worth seeing live. Even though Dave Brock is a pensioner now, Hawkwind have always evolved musically.

Robyn Hitchcock

Although I had heard of the Soft Boys in the early 80s I did not hear anything by Robyn until I was at University. A purchase of the Soft Boys album “Two Halves for the price of One” and the single “He’s a Reptile” later and I was hooked.

4. Cats

Perhaps this is not surprising given the number of feline residents here at Hope Cottages. We have had five here since we bought the place in 1992....

5. Photography

I don’t pretend to be much good but I am quite pleased with some of my photos. I have far too much kit - a Nikon F70 35mm SLR, a Nikon D50 digital SLR, Nikon coolpix and Panasonic Lumix compact digitals and a Bronica ETRS medium format camera. I still have an old lubitel and a Pentax Super A somewhere too. If only my six numbers came up then Hasselblad and Leica products would be on my shopping list!

I have a liking for statues, flowers and insects (err surprise, surprise!). Perhaps I should invest in some kit to do proper macro work.

6. Reading

I read a lot of fiction and History and little else except the Fortean Times (I still sneak a look at 2000AD at the station WH Smiths to see what Judge Dredd is up to – unsurprisingly it seems that age has not dimmed his capacity to dole out lots of violence) . Political tracts of any persuasion are usually for insomnia or the impending toilet paper shortage. There are some books I can go back to time and time again (Third Policeman, Confederacy of Dunces and several others) but I also go through phases with authors. Often when I find an author I enjoy I feel compelled to read everything they have written. I did that with Herman Hesse in my teens, John Steinbeck, T C Boyle, Carl Hiaasen, Graham Greene, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and many others. Most recently it’s been Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. It may come as no surprise that Flann O’ Brien is well loved here...

7. Alcohol

I used to be quite a heavy drinker, I don’t drink very much now but when I do drink I want something palatable. An Islay malt, a Cote Rotie, a good quality Zinfandel (NOT a white one!), Chateau Musar (a wonderful thug of a wine which can be used for unarmed combat) a Frambozen, a nice warm real ale with bits floating in it... Ah bliss. But not all at once and some of them very sparingly as my taste sometimes exceeds the capacity of my wallet.

8. Shoes.

Hell is uncomfortable shoes. I shelled out on a couple of pairs of Church’s about 10 years ago and they will last me for quite some time to come. I may be a scruffy sod with coffee stains on my tie but my shoes are well turned out!

9. Fountain Pens

I am one of the few people who still regularly uses a fountain pen. I have a small collection of vintage pens. My favourite is a 50 year old Conway Stewart with a “cracked ice” pattern. I must also be one of the last few people still to use a propelling pencil (a Yard o led form the late 40s) Shame I have a scrawl rather than handwriting...

10. The Kinky stuff

The not wife and I both enjoy dressing from head to foot in rub... err I think I will keep that one private! But I do like Kinky Friedman. Oh, did I mention I love cats?

Who to tag? Elasticwaistbandlady and Sonia too (I think I can hazard a guess at at least one of her obsessions (Quilting perhaps?)

Davina - An early outing for David Tennant

He may be the current Doctor but one of his earliest tv appearances was in the sitcom Rab C Nesbitt. He appeared in one episode (in about 1993?) as Davina, a transsexual barmaid. I'm delighted that someone has edited his bits in the episode and put it on You Tube.

21 April 2007

Geranium versicolor

The garden is going mad, many things coming inot flower much earlier than usual. This one we would expect next month

St Andrew's Hornchurch

Paisley, McGuiness and cricket

On Thursday Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness sent a joint invitation has been sent to the Irish World Cup cricket team asking them to attend a reception at Parliament Buildings to mark their success in the Caribbean. Mr Paisley will become Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Mr McGuinness is set to take over as Deputy First Minister in May.

In the letter to the Irish World Cup cricket team Mr Paisley described their success as "a marvellous achievement". "I warmly congratulate the team and pay particular tribute to the Northern Ireland players and their manager, Ulsterman, Roy Torrens," he said. "They have put local cricket on the map. Qualifying for the tournament itself was tremendous, but making the Super Eight stage was nothing short of remarkable.”

Ireland provided some of the biggest shocks of the tournament by beating Test playing nations Pakistan and Bangladesh. Their achievements saw the side reach full one-day international status. Mr McGuinness , (surprisingly) an avid cricket fan,echoed Mr Paisley's praise.

An editorial in yesterday’s Irish Independent reminds us that even couple of months ago a joint communique of any sort would have been unthinkable. Perhaps the next step WILL be for Mr Paisley to throw in the sliothar (the ball used in hurling) on All Ireland Final day in Croke Park!

I have never had time for ether Paisley or McGuiness. I would much rather have seen neither of them taking the First Minister and Deputy posts but the people of Northern Ireland made their choice. However, I have been astonished at the way they appear to have resolved huge differences and gotten down to the business or government. As for the Irish cricket team success, perhaps it was even more unthinkable than Paisley and McGuiness working together. Hold on, Martin McGuiness an avid cricket fan. I would never had guessed that!

20 April 2007

Father Ted - Speed 3

Father Ted with all its extreme silliness was one of our favourite sitcoms. Set on Craggy Island, a fictional and god forsaken spot island off the Irish coast , it featured three dysfunctional priests: Father Ted Crilley, who had embezzled money for the funds to send a child to Lourdes (or perhaps it was resting in his account (although he swore the funds were just resting in his account); Father Dougal who would lose a thinking contest with a piece of lichen and Father Jack Hackett, a whiskey priest (and a brandy, beer and vodka priest too)

This episode is a spoof on the Speed movies. Pat Mustard, an amorous milkman loses his job because of Ted. Dougal takes on the milk round but Mustard has a terrible revenge in store. The episode features, a mass on a trailer a brick and a lot of hairy babies.. Enjoy!

Sadly Father Ted ended after three series and a Christmas special. The death of Dermot Morgan (who played Father Ted) shortly after the final series means that it will never return.

John Bythesea.

According to today’s Independent the second Victoria Cross ever awarded was sold at auction yesterday. It fetched a price of over £155,000. The recipient, John Bythsea, had a career which literally ran aground.

During the Crimean War the Royal Navy was also deployed against Russian forces in the Baltic. It was during the bombardment of a fortress at Bomarsund in the Aaland Islands that the first VC was won: Ship’s Mate C D Lucas disobeyed orders to lie down when a shell landed on the deck of HMS Hecla. Instead he threw the shell overboard saving many lives.

The British command had learnt that secret messages were being sent to Bomarsund via a neighbouring island. Lieutenant John Bythesea and stoker William Johnstone, volunteered to intercept the messages. The two men spent three days in hiding before they spotted five Russians carrying postbags. Johnstone and Bythesea ambushed them capturing the mail and three of the Russians. For this action they became the second and third recipients of the VC.

After the war Bythesea was promoted to Commander and saw action in the second outbreak of the Opium Wars with China. He was subsequently promoted to Captain but trouble and humiliation were to stile in 1872 commanding the battleship Lord Clyde. The Lord Clyde was ordered to assist a stricken British steamer that had run aground on the Mediterranean island of Pantellaria. The Lord Clyde also ran aground and had to be rescued by its sister ship the Lord Warden. At a court martial Bythesea and his navigator were severely reprimanded and dismissed from their ship.

He was never employed at sea again but he served as a consultant to the Indian Navy from 1874 to 1880. He was made Companions of the orders of the Bath and the Indian Empire in 1878. He died in 1906. William Johnstone had died in 1857 in the West Indies. Bythesea’s Medal can be seen in the Naval museum in Portsmouth, Johnstone’s is in the County Museum of Natural History in Los Angeles.

Wikipedia has an entry on Bythesea as it does on all VC winners.

just a ted in a (smaller) box

I think ted is working his way down to a matchbox! This week's entry For the Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats. More cat photos as ever at Plant porn and pussycats and at Yet to be named.

19 April 2007

Celebrating St George's Day

In response to greater interest in St George's day in recent years (although I suspect that a fair proportion of patriotic Englishmen and women would still be hard pushed to give the date of his feast day) there will be a day of events in London. The main event will be a celebration of English humour in Trafalgar Square, the highlights being a screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and an attempt to break the world record for the biggest number of people playing in a coconut orchestra (at present the record is 1785 and was set in New York). There will also be a screening of Futtock's End if anyone remembers that!

Needless to say the idea of comedy on St George's feast day has caused outrage, well outrage is a bit strong but the One London Party(both of them) is up in arms. Damian Hockney, leader of Party, said: " Now that he (Livingstone) has been reluctantly forced to acknowledge the presence of the English, he has done it in the most bland, insulting way possible - by ignoring the rich indigenous traditions of London and England and instead focusing on the vague, generic notion of English humour. Will he be screening episodes of Father Ted' at the annual St Patrick's Day festival...?"

Why not humour? It is one of the things we are meant to be famous for. Besides, I daresay the screenings will get a good attendance and people will have fun in the process. As for Father Ted on St Patrick's day I say bring it on!

For me though the day will be another work day. I will commute to London, do my job, get irritated in the process, go home and probably blog something.

18 April 2007

Pope not infallible shock horror

According to its publisher Pope Benedict XVI's new book Jesus of Nazareth sold more than 50,000 copies when it went on sale on Monday - the pontiff's 80th birthday

The book is a personal meditation on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, and criticises capitalism's exploitation of the poor and the absence of God in Marxism. An English-language edition is due on May 15. In the introduction the Pope stated that his portrayal of Jesus was his personal view. "Therefore, everyone is free to contradict me," he wrote.

However, Catholic bloggers took the opportunity to point out that he wrongly identifies a US theologian. In a paragraph citing books about Jesus, he identifies John Meier, a professor at Notre Dame University as a Jesuit. Mr Meier is in fact A PRIEST OF THE NEW YORK DIOCESE.

"The Pope is not infallible - there's a little mistake in his last book," Italian journalist Sandro Magister said in his blog Settimo Cielo (Seventh Heaven).... That the Pope can make such a dreadful error shakes my faith in Catholicism - so shaken that I may not go to mass on Sunday....

(NB I do know what is and isn’t covered by papal infallibility)

Wordless Wednesday - Langtons, Hornchurch

Langotns was a small manor house in the centre of Hornchurch. It was bought by the council some time during the last century and is now mainly used as a registry office and venue for wedding functions.

This weeks Wordless Wednesday entry

17 April 2007

Oh dear, Bryan

Bryan Ferry has apologised for comments made in an interview with the german paper Welt am Sonntag. Ferry had praised the look of the regime's parades as well as the work of the Nazi architect Albert Speer.

"The Nazis knew how to put themselves in the limelight and present themselves.” He said"Leni Riefenstahl's movies and Albert Speer's buildings and the mass parades and the flags - just amazing. Really beautiful." Ferry also reportedly revealed that he calls his west London studio his Fuhrerbunker...

The upshot of, all of this was the release of a statement on his behalf: "I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused by my comments on Nazi iconography, which were solely made from an art history perspective,"

Bryan Ferry: advocate of the Fourth Reich or yet another musician who could do with engaging his remaining brain cells before opening mouth? The latter, I think.

16 April 2007

Another guilty pleasure - Iron Maiden Phantom of the Opera

Textbook NWOBHM*: long hair, spandex, and proper head banging. None of your goatee and pierced eyeball nonsense of modern HM Bands! A video from when Paul Di Annio was still the lead singer (ie before Bruce Dickinson).

* NWOBHM - New Wave of British Heavy Metal as was the phrase used circa 1980

Disco from hell or music for an eye infection

Automatic Lover by Dee D Jackson. Reached number 4 in April 1978. Music to go with conjunctivitis, gunk filled eyes and no way of wearing my lenses. So if I am suffering then you can suffer too!

15 April 2007

Teenage non-indigenous omnivore terrapins

Skuds had a post yesterday about feral terrapins. Today I took a trip to a local park and noticed over a dozen red eared Terrapins taking advantage of the warm weather and having a sunbathe by the edge of the ornamental pond.

The Red eared Terrapin (Trechemys scripta elegans) is not indigenous to the UK (no big surprise there). They come from North America and were in big demand during the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle craze.in the 90s. The purchasers did not realise that the tiny 50 pence sized terrapin would grow to around 40cm (16 inches), could live for 40 years, require a lot of care and can deliver a painful bite (not to mention disease)

The terrapins are almost totally aquatic, only leaving the water to bask on sunny days. They hibernate over the winter at the bottom of ponds they enter a state of torpor. They feed on vegetation, insects and small fish, and even ducklings. The British climate is a bit too cold for them to reproduce here

Reptiles & amphibians of the UK

Thinking Blogger meme

As I have said before (when first tagged as a thinking blogger by Bryan) memes spread like wildfire through the blogosphere. This one has come again courtesy of Elasticwaistbandlady , Tyger and now Sonia. I can only imagine that the thinking blogger accolade comes from them thinking "what's he crapping on about today!"

I'm not sure if it is in the spirit of memes to have a second (or a third of fourth) go but bugger it! This time I nominate:

Pete, Roger B at Words and Pictures, Betmo, Dave.

And the fifth spot? I thought I would use it as a plug for either Siani (who documents among other things her beloved Gower Peninsula) or Foti Farm....Decisions, decisions...

The participation rules are simple:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote

14 April 2007

XXX SEX Free hardcore porn photos.........of lily beetles doing it

These two happy exhibitionists knowing each other in the biblical sense on on of our Snakeshead fritillaries are Scarlet lily beetles (Lilioceris lilii). Sadly they are major pests and will do a lot of damage to our lilies and fritillaries if left unchecked. We left them to do their doings one year and we lost most of our lilies. Their fun didn't last long - Once I took the photos, I squashed them. They are just the only garden pest we will actively seek and destroy.

For further information check these sources

Royal Horticultural Society

UK Safari

Rhode Island Rex


Scientists have finally found a genetic link between dinosaurs and birds. Tiny pieces of protein extracted from a 68-million-year-old dinosaur bone have given scientists the first genetic proof that the Tyrannosaurus rex is a distant cousin to the modern chicken.

"It's the first molecular evidence of this link between birds and dinosaurs," said John Asara, a Harvard Medical School researcher, whose results were published in the journal Science. Scientists have long suspected that birds evolved from dinosaurs based on a study of dinosaur bones, but until recently, no soft tissue had survived to confirm the link.


That changed in 2005 when Mary Higby Schweitzer of North Carolina State University reported finding soft tissue, including blood vessels and cells, in a T. rex bone dug out of sandstone from the fossil-rich Hell Creek Formation in Montana. Schweitzer, in another study appearing in this week's issue of Science, found that extracts of T. rex bone reacted with antibodies to chicken collagen, further suggesting the presence of birdlike protein in dinosaur bones.

Amur tiger back from extinction

For once it’s good to see some good news about tigers. Having been pushed to the point of extinction, the Amur tiger, seems to have made a remarkable recovery. The latest census of the tiger, which hides in an isolated region near the Chinese border, shows there are between 480 and 520 animals surviving in the wild.

In the 1940s the sub-species had nearly died out, with around 40 tigers left. Yesterday, Yuri Darman, the head of WWF Russia's far east office, said the tiger's comeback was good news. But he warned that the species remained critically endangered and was at imminent risk if China succeeded in lifting the global ban on tiger products at the Global Tiger Forum in Kathmandu. "The success of the tiger population is mostly the result of the tiger ban in China and the support of the Chinese government," said Mr Darman.

The tiger may have made a comeback but the Amur leopard is struggling to survive. There are only around 40 remaining.

13 April 2007

Last British Officer of WWI dies

Philip Mayne, who was thought to be the last surviving British officer of WWI died last Monday (9 April) aged 107. He had been commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Engineers in September 1918.

There are now just six British WWI veterans remaining (of which three live in Australia). There are believed to be 31 veterans still alive worldwide. 20 known veterans have died since the beginning of the year.

But it’s my glands, err my genes

Today’s top news seems to be the discovery of a gene that contributes to obesity. The discovery may explain why some people easily put on weight while others with similar lifestyles stay slim.

The gene in question (known as FTO)has two variants: low risk and high risk. 16% of the population have two copies of the high-risk variant, 50% have one high-risk and one low-risk, and 34% of people have two low-risk variants.

People who inherit one version of high risk variant are more likely to be obese. Those who inherit two copies of the high risk variant weigh an average pf 3kg (almost 7lbs) more than those with two copies of the low risk variant. They also have 15 per cent more body fat.

Family studies have indicated that obesity is influenced by genetics (and not just behaviour), while mutations have been found to cause rare obesity disorders such as Prader-Willi Syndrome. The findings, however, provide the first link between a common gene and a tendency towards obesity. If the biological function of FTO can be understood then it may be possible to design drugs that manipulate it to help people to control their weight.

The effect of FTO emerged from a key study of the genetic origins of disease funded by the Wellcome Trust known as the Case Control Consortium, in which 2,000 people with type 2 diabetes had their genomes compared to 3,000 healthy controls. Scientists from Oxford and the University of Exeter first found that certain versions of the FTO gene were more common among people with type 2 diabetes, but that the effect disappeared when the data were adjusted for obesity. This led them to wonder whether FTO really influenced obesity instead, and they followed up their theory in a further 37,000 people.

FTO will not be the only gene that influences obesity, and inheriting a particular variant will not necessarily make anyone fat. “This is not a gene for obesity, it is a gene that contributes to risk,” said Professor McCarthy of Oxford University. The research involved too many people to control for exercise and diet, so it is not yet known whether FTO affects how much people eat or how active they are. But it may explain how people with apparently similar lifestyles differ in propensity to put on weight.

Independent experts called the discovery highly significant. Susan Jebb, of the MRC Human Nutrition Unit, said: “This research provides clear evidence of a biological mechanism which makes some people more susceptible to gaining weight in a world where food is plentiful and sedentary lifestyles the norm.”

Finding a genetic element in obesity is obviously not the end of the matter and is not the “get out jail free” card for those of us who need to stretch our necks a little just to see our toes! There is obviously a lot of research to do yet and this research may provide drugs that help control our weight. However, we have an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and no amount of drugs will overcome that. At the end of the day sensible eating and exercise will continue to play the major role in controlling waistlines.... Now to practice what I have just preached!

Robyn, please don't look at my leg like that

I can't remember why Robyn was really licking his lips (so to speak). This week's entry For the Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats. More cat photos as ever at Plant porn and pussycats and at Yet to be named.

12 April 2007

Girlschool - Emergency

Sometimes all my taste is in my mouth but what teh hell, it's my blog, so my rules.. I did see them live when I was 17

Kurt Vonnegut

I was sorry to hear that Kurt Vonnegut had died as he was one of my favourite authors.

For no good reason at all Vonnegut's passing brought to mind (and brought a smile) "the Dancing Fool", the Kilgore Trout story outlined in Breakfast of Champions:

A flying saucer creature named Zog arrives on Earth to explain how wars could be prevented and how cancer could be cured. Zog brings the information from his home planet, Margo, where the natives converse by means of farts and tap dancing.

Zog lands at night in Connecticut. He no sooner touches down than he sees a brush-fire spreading toward a house. He rushes into the house -- farting and tap dancing -- warning the people about the terrible danger they're in. And the head of the house brains Zog with a golfclub.

We shall not see his like again

click here for the Guardian report of his passing

10 April 2007

We the people of the Blogosphere, in order to form a more perfect cyberspace....

When Tim O’ Reilly and Jimmy Wales came together to propose a set of guidelines that would filter out offensive and abusive comments from blogs, it is perhaps unsurprising that they were met by a torrent of abuse.

For example the media site 910am described it as "weapons of mass stupidity" and carried the health warning "do not read on a full stomach". What has gotten people’s goats is a draft set of rules on introducing the concept of civility to the blogosphere. They have posted a seven-point programme that would attempt to address abusive comments on the web, while preserving the free spirit of the medium. Point one of the code is that anyone signing up to it would commit themselves to a "civility enforced" standard to remove unacceptable comments from their blog.

Unacceptable is defined as content that is used to abuse, harass, stalk or threaten others; is libellous or misrepresentative; or infringes copyright, confidentiality or privacy rights. Anonymous postings are also to be removed, with every comment requiring a recognised email address, even if posts are made under pseudonyms.

To back up the code, they propose a "civility enforced" badge marking sites which subscribe to the guidelines, and an "anything goes" badge to denote those that do not. The proposed guidelines can be interactively amended by web users, until a final version is agreed.

Many blogs already do some or all of what is proposed but It is the first attempt to apply a common framework to the blogosphere (pop 71m and rising)

The draft guidelines have prompted wide debate with varying responses. Dan Gillmor of the Centre for Citizen Media, a group devoted to grassroots media attached to Berkeley's graduate school of journalism, rejects the need for a code of conduct. He says bloggers require only one simple rule: be civil. To define unacceptable behaviour is to create a monster, he says, as "Who'd be the judge of it? The government? Libel lawyers? Uh, oh."

This is the draft code of conduct is set out on Radar O' Relly and is basically thus

1. We take responsibility for our own words and for the comments we allow on our blog.

2. We won't say anything online that we wouldn't say in person.

3. We connect privately before we respond publicly.

4. When we believe someone is unfairly attacking another, we take action.

5. We do not allow anonymous comments.

6. We ignore the trolls.

The site expands on these points. O’reilly and Wales also propose an "anything goes" badge for sites that want to warn possible commenters that they are entering a free-for-all zone. The text to accompany that badge might go something like this:

This is an open, uncensored forum. We are not responsible for the comments of any poster, and when discussions get heated, crude language, insults and other “off color" comments may be encountered. Participate in this site at your own risk.

To be honest, I can’t see why the code has been greeted with such a harsh reception given that many bloggers do some of these things already. All it does is codify civility! Anyone who has been on the receiving end of a web-psycho’s attentions would welcome the code, I’m sure.. or would we?

Personally I don’t violently disagree with what is proposed although I can’t see that it will make a lot of difference. If you have a blog you set your own rules as to what is acceptable (the Poor Mouth runs on the “my blog, my rules” basis”) . I don't need a code of conduct for that and I expect all but a tiny few who have commented here don't need it either.

The problem is that the trolls and psychos out there obviously wold not comply with a code and would not react positively to any attempts to make them comply (the prospect of them getting beaten to death by a man mountain might, but I am a peaceful soul and would never suggest any thing of the sort! on the other hand I wouldn't mind an hour with the arsehole who cloned my old yahoo chatroom id and some pilliwinks...).

I don't see how banning anonymous comments will solve anything. How easy is it to create an id. What does jams o donnell really mean apart from the fact that I've read Flann O'Brien's book the Poor Mouth, what's benefit do you get from asking for email addresses on haloscan comment thingies if you get kissmyshinymetalarse@upyours.com? many of us that use pseudonyms do so to protect our anonymity anyway.

The maxim "don't feed the trolls" is good advice for anyone.

I must create a button (who am I kidding, get someone to do it for me) that says "this blog may feature use of words like poo, bum, boobs and willy. Enter this blog at your own risk."

09 April 2007

Another Crab Spider photo

The dangers of You Tube

For me, You Tube is a goldmine of music videos that I can blog when I am too tired to post , if I have nothing to say, or if I just want to put up a video of a favourite musician. Copyright issues aside, You Tube should be a harmless entertainment medium. It should not be banned (as it was recently in Thailand) and unless someone posts a criminal act it should;d not land anyone in prison. Criticising an exam system does not in my view constitute a criminal act, but then I am not the Turkish state!

Last year , a Turkish teenager made a video of himself lip-synching a song that blasted Turkey's university entrance system and put it on YouTube. Unfortunately the video did not go down well with the Turkish authorities. Deli, the band that released the song, faces charges of insulting state employees and will go on trial May 2 in Ankara. If convicted, the five musicians, along with their manager and a former band member, face up to 18 months in jail, although they could get off with a fine or a warning.

I'm not sure if this is the original video

The clip shows a teenager bopping around and making gestures against a blank backdrop while lip-synching the song. The minor, identified in media reports only by his first name, Hakan (or hako?) , will take the exam this year. Hiss video logged hundreds of thousands of hits and elevated the song to prominence among young Turks who dread the university exam, and many older Turks who viewed the experience as a trauma.

The song is called "ÖSYM," the Turkish acronym for The Student Selection and Placement Center, the state institution that decides which students go to university, based on a three-hour exam every June . The lyrics of are mild by western standards (Apparently the worst thing said is “shove that exam up your arse”) and despite claiming to enjoy the video Prof. Ünal Yarımağan, chairman of the university placement system, asked lawyers to investigate anyway.

Deli will release its first album in April, and didn't include the song "ÖSYM" to avoid controversy. Bass guitarist Enis Çoban, who studied textile manufacturing, said there was more censorship in Turkey than in Europe or the United States, but less than in China or Iran. "Compared to dictatorships, Turkey is like heaven," Çoban said. "Turkey still has a lot missing, but we believe that it is on the right track to improve itself."

News source: Today's Zamam