Millibrachiate Tentacular Coelenterate


"best to ring me as am at <name of husband>'s funeral tomorrow".

I have just had a very wobbly five minutes trying to work out why one of my closest friends didn't let me know her husband had died (echoes of the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode where Larry returns from holiday to find his mother has died and been buried, but his father didn't let him know because "your mother wouldn't have wanted to ruin your holiday"). Then I remembered her husband's name is the same as that of one of their friends, a law professor, who has had cancer for a while.
Link | 1 comment | Leave a comment | Mon, Jan. 16th, 2012 04:18 pm

Quiz of the Year Meme
Q: What year is it still, just about?
A: 2011.

Q: What memorable things did you do?
A: Can't remember.

Q: Foreign countries visited?
A: None. I did go to Steep Holm and Brownsea Island, if those count.

Q: Best book?
A: Philip Pettit, Republicanism (only a quarter of the way through, but with Quentin Skinner's Liberty before Liberalism this is clarifying the reasons for many of my political gut instincts). Alice Oswald's Memorial, Christopher Logue's War Music, Bernard O'Donoghue and Hugo Williams.

Q: Anything else?
A: No.

Bonus Star Wars question:

Q: What is going on in that cartoon feature film you have watched half of several times this week, fast-forwarding through the talky bits because your nephew finds them boring and/or frightening?
A: Short answer: the goodies and the baddies are trying to kill each other. Long answer: it seems to be something like the Uruguay Round of the GATT negotiations, but with more droids, light-sabres and clones.
Link | Leave a comment | Sat, Dec. 31st, 2011 11:12 pm

Kindle on Linux
There have been various dismissive reports recently that Kindle owners don't read more, or read more but what they read is trash, and so on (last night's News Quiz, for example), but I'm still taking mine everywhere with me and it has undoubtedly meant I'm reading more, and reading fiction for the first time in years - George Gissing's The Odd Women is in the electronic reading pile at the moment, as are Finnegans Wake, The Day's Work, Moby Dick and Three Men in a Boat*. I thought TMiaB was hilarious when I was a child, and I can't for the life of me see why now (my mother said the same thing recently, which is why I'm reading it).

Amazon seems to want people to see "Kindle" as the name of the cloud reading system rather than the name of a particular device or app, and I was wondering this morning if there is any way to read Kindle books on a Linux machine. Turns out there is -, which allows you to install a Chrome extension, download books, and then read them offline using HTML5's ability to store and retrieve data locally.

[Edit - I don't actually want to read books on a computer screen, I think e-ink is a much better way to read large amounts of text. I notice that the plug is being pulled on Microsoft Reader.]

* Also: 50 Economics Ideas You Really Need to Know (which was cheap), Palgrave's Golden Treasury (my own conversion from Project Gutenberg), Ulysses and Us: The Art of Everyday Living (not as interesting as I thought it would be, fairly shallow), I, Partridge (which I suppose is also fiction, though I believe Alan Partridge is a real human being), The Disappearing Spoon (fascinating book about the chemical elements, spoiled very slightly by the author's belief that Hitler's Germany was an example of socialism in action).
Link | Leave a comment | Sat, Oct. 29th, 2011 09:19 am

Sutton Park

I still wouldn't say my bike was ideal for off-road travel, but it is possible.

I didn't know what to do today, but fancied going to Birmingham on the train, reading some books, going to the museum and art gallery. The National Rail website told me that was possible, providing I didn't mind setting off after lunch, changing at Nuneaton, and travelling at an average speed of 15 miles per hour. Things haven't improved since the days when I used to have to take the train on a Sunday if I wanted to visit my grandmother. I drove. By the time I got to Brum the idea of going to the museum was less attractive than a trip to Sutton Park, and since I had the bike in the boot...

Sutton Park is a rough circle of heath and woodland two miles across, a short distance from New Oscott where my grandparents used to live. We'd feed the ducks at Wyndley, or when we were older go swimming at the (heated, indoor) swimming pool there - my mother used to swim in the unheated, outdoor Bracebridge pool when she was a child, but we were made of softer stuff. Cricket, picnics, flying gliders - but the one thing we never did in there was cycle. I parked at Blackroot, near the extremely posh Four Oaks estate to the north of Sutton, and set off slightly unsure of where cycling is permitted. The official answer is only on the bridleways (which are not always wider or better-surfaced than the footpaths), but the real answer is "where you can get away with it". First stop was Wyndley, to say hello to the ducks again (a disappointing bunch these days - mallard, tufted duck, coot, Canada goose - there were far more species there when I were a lad). As with yesterday's ride, I went further than I had planned but not to quite the same extent - to Boldmere, across the centre of the park and over the railway, and back through the woods and the dozens of little bridges at Bracebridge (I remember thinking Bracebridge was the best place in the world, when I was at the age where running over wooden bridges is about as exciting as anything can be). I had an expensive Beck's at the Bracebridge cafe (I decided I was going to sit by the waterside with a cold beer and read R F Langley*, and not pay too much attention to how many coins I got in my change), and then back to the car, about five and a half miles in total.

* The last position in Langley's teaching career, I have just discovered, was at Bishop Vesey's school in Sutton Coldfield, very near the park.
Link | 4 comments | Leave a comment | Sun, Oct. 23rd, 2011 11:03 pm


Things I have learned today: 25 miles on a folding small-wheeled bike is too far for a flabby middle-aged man who hasn't ridden a bike seriously for years. Riding along flat fenland roads in the sunshine is exhilarating on the way out with the wind at your back, but not much fun on the way back when the wind is blowing straight into your face. That church in the distance was not Thorney (which I needed to keep well to my right) but Eye (which I was supposed to be heading towards), hence the interesting kink to the outskirts of Peterborough on this map. The villagers of Crowland declared for the King in the civil war (unlike virtually all their neighbours), fortified the church (the huge remains of an abbey), kidnapped several prominent citizens of Spalding (including the minister), and used them as human shields when the church/fortress was besieged. This does not strike me as a good way to behave. Luckily none were killed, and only seven people died when Oliver Cromwell turned up a couple of weeks later to finish the job (one was killed by falling through the church roof).

I am now going to have a very hot bath.
Link | 2 comments | Leave a comment | Sat, Oct. 22nd, 2011 08:23 pm

Two Poems for National Poetry Day
The Nuthatch

I couldn't fathom why, one leafless
Cloudcast morning he appeared to me,
Taking time off from his rind-research
To spread his chestnut throat and sing
Outside my window. His woodwind
Stammering exalted every work-day
For weeks after. Only once more
I saw him, quite by chance, among
The crowding leaves. He didn't lift
His head as he pored over his wood-text.
Ashamed of the binocular intrusion
Like breath on eggs or love pressed too far,
I'm trying to pretend I never saw him.

DeathCollapse )

Both by Bernard O'Donoghue, in his Selected Poems.
Link | 4 comments | Leave a comment | Thu, Oct. 6th, 2011 09:10 pm

I appear to have signed up for the February presentation of "Using Mathematics", the OU's introductory maths module, and linked it to a BSc in "Mathematics and its learning". This will, entirely coincidentally, entitle me to old-style fees* provided I keep plugging away and finish the degree before 2017 (shouldn't be a problem - 30 credits and finish the MA in 2012, 120 credits each in 2013 and 2014, 90 credits in 2015). A further advantage is that most of the OU maths modules seem to have two presentations a year, which I preferred when studying for the BA - you can start one in the autumn to end in the summer, and another at the start of the year to end in the autumn, so you are actually only studying the two concurrently for a few months.

* The transitional fees apply to anyone registered for an undergraduate degree before next September.
Link | 2 comments | Leave a comment | Fri, Sep. 23rd, 2011 02:51 pm

I am slightly suspicious about the "new" copy of Matthew Francis's Dragons which arrived from an Amazon Marketplace seller this morning, as there was a squashed aphid on the fourth page (a little of it was also on the fifth page). On the whole, though, I've had some excellent bargains buying second-hand poetry from Amazon.

I read about a dozen books of poetry while I was on holiday - Michael Hofmann, Frederick Seidel (I am not sure whether he is a genius or a knowing charlatan, possibly both), John Burnside, Charles Simic, Billy Collins (astoundingly bad - write down some trite observation, split on commas and full stops, hey presto a poem!), Bernard O'Donoghue, Lachlan MacKinnon, Anthony Caleshu (quirky poems on themes suggested by Moby Dick) and Hugo Williams amongst others. I read Williams's Collected Poems before I went away, the first few books were pleasant but didn't engage me, but by the late seventies he is consistently great, alternating between his childhood (the son of intermittently wealthy film stars, his brother is the actor Simon Williams) and his shambolic love life as an adult (this Guardian interview gives you a pretty good idea of the tone of the poems). Of the post-Collected collections Dear Room was gulped down in a lunch hour the day it arrived, and I saved West End Final (his latest) as a holiday treat. Bernard O'Donoghue occasionally finds himself tramping down the same boggy lane as Seamus Heaney, but there's no sentimentality at all in his version of rural Ireland, just hard work, exile and death - I have ordered second-hand copies of his older collections, and am waiting to see which insects are included.

One of the poems in the book that came today is online - Ocean.

Link | 7 comments | Leave a comment | Mon, Sep. 5th, 2011 11:53 pm

Pebbles with fossils

These are the offending fossils which are Not Hello Kitty.

Old Harry

Old Harry

While down in the New Forest, I took a boat trip from Poole Harbour to Swanage, round Old Harry.


Chalk shouldn't be able to bend like that.

Anvil Point and Tilly Whim

We were supposed to go all the way up to Dancing Ledge, but the sea was too rough (it wasn't very rough, but clearly more than enough for the harbour ferry - I'm surprised they go out of the harbour at all). So this is as far as we got - not as close to Tilly Whim as I would have liked. This sea quarry used to be a tourist attraction but was closed in the early seventies because tons of rock kept falling down, and for some reason Dorset county council wasn't keen on allowing any more visitors. The boat turned back, and we had an extra hour and a half in Swanage before heading back to Poole.

Link | 3 comments | Leave a comment | Sun, Sep. 4th, 2011 12:02 pm

Down in the flood
I'm drinking a bucket of coffee in Starbucks in Poole this morning, recharging the netbook, downloading podcasts and retrieving a paper I should have downloaded and printed beforehand (Will Kymlicka has published at least two papers with titles along the lines of "X, a reply to A, B and C" and I have the wrong one with me). Off to Brownsea island in the afternoon.

Camping in the New Forest - last week the weather was dodgy, but I'm happy in a tent with a pile of books. With hindsight, Thursday was not the best day to decide the weather was so bad I should drive through Christchurch, Bournemouth and Poole to see my grandmother. I found out later that the police had advised residents of Christchurch, Bournemouth and Poole not to drive anywhere unless it was an emergency. By the time I got to Bournemouth, the roads (in the outskirts, the highest part of the town) were flooded to a depth of a couple of feet in places. When I got to Poole (twenty miles, three hours) the Dolphin shopping centre was flooded, and I ate lunch in the Asda car park. My grandmother was overjoyed to see her brother Bill, and kept asking me about the house she owns in Southampton (she never has owned a house in Southampton, she lived there with her father and stepmother more than eighty years ago). Swanage was wet but not under water, so I had a bag of chips on the sea front and headed back to the tent (still intact and almost entirely dry inside) via the inland route.
Link | Leave a comment | Mon, Aug. 22nd, 2011 11:14 am