Friday, September 28, 2007

At best a pyrrhic victory

My political predictions have always been rubbish, but here goes.

I do not know who might win a November election.

But Gordon Brown will not gain anything worth having.

Except, perhaps, 2 1/2 more years in power (in 2 1/2 years time) than he is guaranteed anyway.

There is no issue on which to vote. Especially now Blair has gone. Brown seems to be doing OK(ish). Not sure about Cameron.

All we will get will be political anoraks playing their tedious war games all over the airwaves.

So there will be a record low turnout, even if the weather is reasonably good

This, of necessity, means a greater variance around the national average swing. Greater unpredictability of outcome. Idiosyncratic local factors having proportionately greater effect. A hospital closure here, there a sitting MP who has got up too many local noses, an attractive new candidate over yon

So even if GB wins, no one except a political anorak will believe he has a mandate for anything very much at all, really

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Well I never!

A picture of oppressed Victorian womanhood

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

HRT for 15 year-olds

from Private Eye, circa 1990

Should we prescribe oestrogen for young males aged 15 to 24?

Their mortality rate is 3 times the rate for females in the same age group

A lot of this excess mortality is due to accidents caused by the daft things young men do when fuelled by too much testosterone

So calm them down with HRT

If this is a silly solution to a silly question - why is that so? How does it differ from much of the health advice with which we are daily bombarded?
Bird needing hormone replacement (7) - Times cryptic crossword clue

2 Marsham Street

More photos of historical interest now that their subject has been demolished
Such a reviled building in its time. Domineering, out of scale, dwarfs surrounding buildings. True, up to a point. In fact, because of surrounding narrow streets & angle of vision you could barely see it except from alongside. Certainly not from Millbank or Parliament.
I started to think much more kindly of it one day at the Oval Cricket Ground, from where you could see the 3 towers in the distance. The proportions were elegant, near perfect.
The towers were built during the 1960s, but construction was interrupted by a prolonged strike.
A friend of mine, who lived near by, swore she would never want to go to work there. She was nervous of being high up anyway, but was convinced that the steel frame had rusted so much while left exposed during the strike that the building must be unsafe.
She was right. By the mid-1980s the North Tower had cracks into which you could insert a hand. These pictures must have been taken about 10 years ago, when they had had to put up nets to catch the bits falling off!
It was the curtilage which really spoiled it. Why do pilotis always manage to be so windswept? And those ugly wartime concrete bunkers which, so rumour had it, they had tried & failed to demolish. Rather reassuring that, in its way. I wonder if they managed to demolish them before they built the new Home Office?

Mystery contrail pictures

I was sorting through some old photos when I found these, which must be about 10 years old now.
I cant work out whether the way one contrail seems to loop over the other is just an optical illusion, caused by the angle of view

Or something due to atmospheric conditions?

Or was it a near-miss?

Ancient tree

I love this photo of the bark of a very ancient Californian tree

Saturday, September 22, 2007

More on tenants

Children are noisy. Babies cry. Toddlers race around, bouncing on beds & doing a Batman jumping off the settee. They also do a lot of damage to your furniture, fixtures & fittings. Furnished accommodation was pretty much the norm, partly for convenience, partly because the landlord then had greater powers vis a vis the tenant. Would you want to be the next tenant of a single bed previously occupied by a small child?

Irishman, in the ads of those days, was code. Code for: I dont want single, Irish men as tenants. Probably here as temporary or seasonal migrants, employment insecure & uncertain so not a reliable payer of rent. Likely to do a moonlight flit. Probably working as a navvy, so bringing a lot of mud into the house. And over fond of a drink.

A nasty stereotype. But being Irish, as such, did not necessarily make life so difficult. I doubt a young Irish barrister would find it more difficult than his English equivalent to find somewhere to live

Unlike the pin-striped, plummy-voiced, Oxbridge-educated barrister in Two Gentlemen Sharing, who, when it came to finding somewhere to live was 'Hopelessly black, madam, hopelessly'

The differences between these categories illustrates the subtlety of discrimination, the differences between the remedies needed, & their likely success in practice.

To formalise anti-discrimination legislation is to risk encouraging competitive victimhood - My problems are worse than your problems. Adjudicating, holding the ring between all the claims, requires the patience of Job & the judgement of Solomon, & the tact to not alienate those who feel that their problems are undervalued & ignored because they cannot be attributed to membership of a particular group.

I wish the new overarching Equality Commission all the best

Desirable tenants

I dont really want to be an apologist for the discriminating landlords of the 1960s, but in the face of so much right-on-ness I feel like pointing out a few things

The first is the nature of rented housing in those days. All those grand houses in the crescents of Notting Hill, all those smart Fulham terraces would, in those days, have been houses in multiple occupation. Tenants occupying one or more rooms, with minimal, if any, structural conversion to give them a self contained space behind their own front door.

Often sharing cooking facilities. And bathrooms - if they were lucky & there was one on a half landing. Otherwise it was a weekly trip to the Municipal Slipper Baths. Just check out the Census statistics &, if you can get hold of a copy, the Enumerators Instructions for the 1971 Census of England & Wales.

The landlord - often a widow - was quite likely to be sharing the house too.

Wouldnt you want some say over who lived with you in such hugger-mugger fashion?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Children not wanted here

According to a comment I saw in yesterdays Times the Commission for Racial Equality, no less, has perpetuated a myth in its valedictory report.

The myth is that newsagents windows used to carry cards advertising accommodation which said:


The report also claimed these cards were still common 30 years ago. 1977? That surprises me - I thought they were illegal by then.

What I can say (having been excluded on 2 of the 3 counts) is that in the 1960s such cards used to say:


Cathy Come Home is such an iconic piece of tv - doesnt anyone remember what it was actually about?

Older viewers may also remember a tv comedy series - Marriage Lines - starring a very young Prunella Scales & Richard Briers. Particularly the hilarious episodes where, in order to avoid eviction, they tried to conceal her pregnancy from the landlord.

I prefer not to think about why dogs rather than children now seem more plausible equivalents of Black & Irish

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Work & freedom

I found this poem by Vikram Seth so very affecting when I first read it 18 years ago.
Over the years I have quite often given a photocopy to friends. Including (with some trepidation) to one who came over to England on the Kindertransport
All have found it affecting too

Don Dirk of Dowdee

Once you start, the memories come flooding
Ho, for the Pirate Don Dirk of Dowdee!
He was as wicked as wicked could be,
But oh, he was perfectly gorgeous to see!
The Pirate Don Dirk of Dowdee.
His conscience, of course, was as black as a bat,
But he had a floppety plume on his hat
And when he went walking it jiggled - like that!
The plume of the Pirate Dowdee.
His coat it was crimson and cut with a slash,
And often as ever he twirled his mustache
Deep down in the ocean the mermaids went splash,
Because of Don Dirk of Dowdee.
His conscience, of course, it was crook'd like a squash,
But both of his boots made a slickery slosh,
And he went through the world with a wonderful swash,
Did Pirate Don Dirk of Dowdee.
It's true he was wicked as wicked could be,
His sins they outnumbered a hundred and three,
But oh, he was perfectly gorgeous to see,
The Pirate don Dirk of Dowdee.
I cant believe I knew the whole of that by heart when I was 7 ( theres more!) but I must have done. I did it as my party piece at the street party for Coronation Day.
Were things really better when we had to make our own entertainment?

Is this Herman Munster?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Old age & callow youth

There are so many ways of being despicable it quite makes ones head spin. But the way to be really despicable is to be contemptuous of other peoples pain. You ought to have some apprehension that the man you see before you was once even younger than you are now & arrived at his present wretchedness by imperceptible degrees

Jacques, in Giovannis Room by James Baldwin

Now I am an old lady Im quite pleased to see I put that in my commonplace book when I was 25

I never could understand money

For years now THEY have been telling us that we are, financially, an ignorant lot

More likely to get divorced than to move our bank account

We ought to check regularly, move to take advantage of the best deal

Odd how often best is assumed to need judging purely in terms of immediate direct financial costs

No account taken of the opportunity costs of all that time needed to check which terms & conditions apply

Or the indirect costs – all that time needed to travel further or in the wrong direction to find a branch. Or hours spent on the phone to India. Or buying, checking & installing all the security needed now that your home computer might otherwise provide an open invitation to pass through the door to your bank account.

All those new account details to be remembered, along with the PINS. Though not, of course, to be written down anywhere, ever

And do keep up. Try to remember who you are banking with this week

Not all that many years ago I was approached in Cross Street in Manchester by someone looking for the Midland Bank. Its here somewhere, I said, casting round. No, she said, Ive walked all the way along twice & cant find it.

, I said, Well I know Ive seen it, but I cant remember where exactly. Youll just have to ask someone else.

Esprit d’escalier – a few yards further along I was passing HSBC. Of course, that’s the new name for … But the seeker had disappeared from view

Financial ignoramuses also ought of course to know that the one time you ought not to change your bank account is when there seems to be a chance that your money might disappear completely in a puff of electrons on a hard disk or through some other mysterious means.

We should know that that will only make things worse

Cartoon by Pugh

Monday, September 17, 2007

What would you have done?

For me, the following story tells as much about what happened in 1930s Germany as could any more complex account

Max Delbruck had reached the stage of his career where he should apply for a permanent university post. By then all formal correspondence of that kind should be signed off with 'Heil Hitler'

Delbruck (from an upper class Protestant family) was reluctant to do this. He consulted a friend.

How would you normally expect to sign? asked the friend

Oh um - Yours very respectfully said Delbruck

You wouldnt mean that either said the friend

Delbruck signed the letter

Related post: Work & freedom

Cynics paradox

A sadist is one who is kind to a masochist

Im giving up being a masochist, I enjoy it too much

Overheard: If he really loved me, he'd have married someone else

What did I tell you?

In financial markets it is usually a mistake to follow any line of argument to its logical conclusion

- Anatole Kaletsky, Times 17 September 2007

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Epitaph for an unliberated woman

aka The Tired Womans Epitaph. By that prolific poet, Anon. No comment required

Here lies a poor woman who always was tired;
She lived in a house where help was not hired.
Her last words on earth were: "Dear friends, I am going
Where washing ain't done, nor sweeping, nor sewing:
But everything there is exact to my wishes;
For where they don't eat there's no washing of dishes.
I'll be where loud anthems will always be ringing
But, having no voice, I'll be clear of the singing.
Don't mourn for me now; don't mourn for me never -
I'm going to do nothing for ever and ever."

Except that the bit about anthems echoes, for me, Hardys Church Romance


This cant be said to be a really good poem, but it sticks in the mind. And the more you think about it, the more it says about this lottery we call life, especially in these DNA obsessed days

A million million spermatozoa
All of them alive;
Out of their cataclysm but one poor Noah
Dare hope to survive.

And among that billion minus one
Might have chanced to be
Shakespeare, another Newton, a new Donne
But the One was Me.

Shame to have ousted your betters thus,
Taking ark while the others remained outside!
Better for all of us, forward Homunculus,
If you'd quietly died!
Aldous Huxley: Fifth Philosophers Song
One of the things that intrigues me is the different ways 'forward Homonculus' can be stressed. As a battle cry, or as an admonition about your presumption

Friday, September 14, 2007

Even now we are old

Until quite recently I think I could, if pushed have recited virtually the whole of AA Milne, especially When We Were Very Young. James, James was probably my favourite, which I remember loving as a small child for its word play & rumty-tum rhythm

I got a shock when I read it to my own daughter for the first time. What an awful thing to tell a child - Mummy disappearing like that! But she seemed unconcerned, just as I had been at her age

I think its because it catches that delicious small-child imperious self-importance. Dont go out without consulting ME. Plus its just the kind of thing they like to make up when they first start telling their own stories: And then a great Big Bear came & ATE THEM ALL UP!

James James
Morrison Morrison
Weatherby George Dupree
Took great
Care of his Mother,
Though he was only three.
James James
Said to his Mother,
"Mother," he said, said he;
"You must never go downto the end of the town, if you don't go down with me."

King John
Put up a notice,

James James Morrison's mother
Hasn't been heard of since.
King John said he was sorry,
So did the Queen and Prince.

(Now then, very softly)

J.J.M.M.W.G.Du P.
Took great c/0 his M*****
Though he was only 3.
J.J. said to his M*****
"M*****," he said, said he:

The semiotics of beards

Beards are often supposed to indicate an inclination towards revolutionary & democratic sentiment. This is because beards are generally supposed to be cultivated as a sort of natural right by lovers of natural rights, the men who like all signs of Manhood (with a large M) & who are to think a well-grown beard the true qualification for the Suffrage. Possibly there is a party who would justify their dislike to woman suffrage, secretly to their own hearts, on the ground that women have no beards ... but if it be thus obviously a hasty & false impression which associates beards in general with revolutionary, democratic or even Fenian sympathies ...
The Spectator 26 October 1867
In an historic exception to regulations, RAF soldiers have been given permission to grow bushy beards for tours of duty in Afghanistan - The Times 13 September 2007

Thursday, September 13, 2007

No one so much as you

I love Edward Thomas & this poem is so perfectly controlled.

No one so much as you
Loves this my clay,
Or would lament as you
Its dying day.
You know me through and through
Though I have not told,
And though with what you know
You are not bold.
None ever was so fair
As I thought you:
Not a word can I bear
Spoken against you.
All that I ever did
For you seemed coarse
Compared with what I hid
Nor put in force.
My eyes scarce dare meet you
Lest they should prove
I but respond to you
And do not love.
We look and understand,
We cannot speak
Except in trifles and
Words the most weak.
For I at most accept
Your love, regretting
That is all: I have kept
Only a fretting
That I could not return
All that you gave
And could not ever burn
With the love you have,
Till sometimes it did seem
Better it were
Never to see you more
Than linger here
With only gratitude
Instead of love -
A pine in solitude
Cradling a dove.
For some reason it reminds me of Audens Lullaby. A bit lost about what to 'do' with love received. A bit English, really?

A Church Romance

Now I think about it, it is indicative of something about the times we live in that Blogger Profiles do not provide automatic space for a list of favourite poems. Perhaps because singer-songwriters have taken over

This poem by Thomas Hardy is one of my favourites. It conjures up so much about the life of the couple. With its powerful cadence & slightly laboured hesitant rhythm it reminds me of the harmonium in one of the chapels I was taken to as a child. A bit asthmatic & wheezy, but valiantly pedalled by a lady probably almost as old as the one in the poem

A Church Romance

She turned in the high pew, until her sight
Swept the west gallery, and caught its row
Of music-men with viol, book and bow
Against the sinking sad tower-window light.

She turned again; and in her pride's despair
One strenuous viol's inspirer seemed to throw
A message from his string to her below,
Which said: "I claim thee as my own forthright!!

Thus their heart's bond began, in due time signed,
And long years thence, when Age had scared Romance,
At some old attitude of his or glance
That gallery-scene would break upon her mind,
With him as minstrel, ardent, young and trim,
Bowing "New Sabbath" or "Mount Ephraim."

Thomas Hardy

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Anonymous sources, Media nonentities

Have you ever heard or read a news item which announced "A politician said ...." or "A novelist wrote..." or "A director has made a film"?

Or one which omitted to give details of the title of the book or release dates of the film?

So why is this a perfectly normal, in fact the usual form used for scientific, technical or other forms of news?

Today we are told about claims by "medical researchers" about the safety of the Pill. Who are these people? Where do I find the report so that I can evaluate the claims for myself?

One thing is for sure. Theres no point relying on journalists for this. Unless they are very specialist they dont have a clue; they pride themselves in being no good at sums, fail even to ask the basic questions of who, when, how, where & why

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The small things in life

As a hybrid hedgehog/fox I could never be a campaigner. For one thing I dont like crowds or limelight, for another I seem inconsistent. Easily accused of being devoid of principle

One thing that comforts me is the strong belief that even just thinking can in some way (not exactly morphic resonance) help shift the accepted ways of the world

And small things send out ripple effects. like ripples in a pond

Is life worth living?

This is a question for an embryo, not for a man -- Samuel Butler II

It depends on the liver!

C'est une question de foie!

Look after the liver & life will take care of itself!

It is better to be a good liver than to have one - Mike Costello

Monday, September 10, 2007

Could you explain that again please?

I do agree with one thing Richard Dawkins has said. Though I would put in a claim for having been saying it myself at least since the mid-1960s, his is the more elegant formulation as the Law of the Conservation of Difficulty: Obscurantism in an academic subject expands to fill the vacuum of its intrinsic simplicity

I was reminded of this by the following: She argued that "opening the black box" that the topic of responsibility has largely been in reflection about justice, reveals unsuspected problems for the luck-neutralisation understanding of the basis for egalitarianism

Which just confirms my own conviction that in this country at least academic philosophy long ago disappeared up its own fundament.

This comes, not from a collection of academic papers, but from an obituary in The Times. I am surprised that the editors should approve of the quote marks, the double use of 'that', never mind jargon such as luck-neutralisation

Good Lord, Deliver For Us

Matthew Parris remarked in his Saturday column that Few politicians are interested in government ... sound, capable, efficient public administration.

Yesterday I heard someone on the radio say that Politicians in this government think if theyve announced something, it has happened

I often fear that lawyers have the same sanguine point of view. Last week an Appeal Court Judge said that all should be on the national DNA database - including all 100 million annual visitors to the UK. I thought he might just be being provocative, to make a point. Reductio ad absurdum. But then I heard him being challenged about practicalities & he said But it will happen because it must. So Im not sure now

So much easier just to blame effete civil servants for the failure to deliver. I once heard a very new New Labour apparatchik say that civil servants thought they had delivered the policy on one piece of fruit a day to every school child once they had sent out a circular. No they didnt, but what exactly did the adviser have in mind? A fleet of white vans & early morning trips to Nine Elms?

A consolation

Something else I found amusing at 25:

As a beauty Im not a great star
There are others more handsome by far,
But my face, I dont mind it,
Because Im behind it -
Tis the folks in the front that I jar

Possibly by Miles n'Gopleen?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A yard & a half

A yard and a half of 36

I know exactly what that means

I can feel it, see it, as I hold it up, arm outstretched, & let it unfold - it stops short about a foot from the floor

Whether its a soft wool, polyester jersey, lumpy linen, bog standard cotton, or gorgeous beaded brocade

I know exactly what sort of garment it could make. How it will feel when I wear it. Where it will fit, touch or not touch, my body

We are talking textiles & home dress making

I know, even though I cant remember when I last made myself anything to wear, or even when I last got the sewing machine out

Im making the point that theres an awful lot more to learning than just reading writing & calculating. You learn with your whole body & all senses - just like a baby on a bus

I will never understand metric measurement of cloth in this way

And I am saying that education fails badly if it does not take account of this. Not by dividing children into those who learn best in one way & those who learn best in another way. We all need to learn in all possible ways

Zig zag

Yesterday mid-day I was standing at the bus stop waiting for a bus into town

A young man approached & asked me if I was going far. I didnt know him at all so we fenced a bit - me not prepared to give anything away till I knew what he was after

Turned out he had a Zig Zag to sell - that is, the local version of an all-day bus ticket

Hasnt he heard of the elderly persons bus pass? or did he just think I dont look old enough?

I was surprised. Not by the enterprise as such - common for years in the city - but by the fact that it had arrived in the village

But then, since the last fare increase, a Zig Zag is now cheaper than the standard return fare for even a simple there & back trip to town. For those who have to pay, that is. So anyone who has completed their return journey has a potentially saleable commodity on their hands

I regret now that I said no straight away. I should have found out the price

Lucy Cavendish

A 2-volume edition of her diaries was published in 1927 - now sadly out of print. STOP PRESS: An edition is available in the US

The Dictionary of National Biography confines her to the entry under her husbands name: As a widow, she gave an impression of pious seclusion, declining the mistress-ship of Girton College, Cambridge, in 1884. And for a long time I simply called her by the shorthand form of Lady Fred in my research notes

Light dawned one day however & I realised that the Cambridge college must be named after her.

A talk she gave about education is also available

Lord Lytteltons Daughters by Sheila Fletcher, published in 1997, tells the story of Lucy & her sisters, making use of all their diaries

Friday, September 07, 2007

Dutiful daughter

Another of my nominated favourite books is Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir. A must-read for the title alone, I thought. I first read it (in English) when I was about 25, married, a mother, soon to be divorced (a bold step in those days). The following passage seemed suitably angst-ridden at that time

A writer ought to feel he was damned; any kind of success was suspect, & I used to wonder if the very fact of writing something didnt imply failure: only the silence of Valerys M Teste seemed to me to express with dignity humanitys absolute despair

I started a vast novel; the heroine was to live through all my own experiences: she was to be awakened to the meaning of 'the true life', enter into conflict with her environment, then be disillusioned by everything: action, love, knowledge

I didnt even want to write anymore; the horrible vanity of all things had me by the throat again; but I had had enough of suffering & weeping in the past year; I built a new hope for myself

In momets of perfect detachment when the universe seems to be reduced to a set of illusions & in which my own ego was abolished, something took their place; something indestructible, eternal; it seemed to me that my indifference was a negative manifestation of a presence which it was perhaps not impossible to get in touch with

Tales of the ionosphere

Medium wave reception went funny again last night & was still bad this morning. I was just thinking I hadnt noticed a problem for some time, then remembered the last time was in fact exactly a year ago.

No lunar eclipse this time, though the weather is very similar - warm & mostly clear with high pressure sitting just to the west. Is that what does for the ionosphere?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Lady Frederick Cavendish

Lucy Cavendish, born Lucy Lyttelton, was the 2nd daughter of the 4th Baron Lyttelton

Her mother died, from complications of the birth of her 12th child, when Lucy was 16

Lucy married, in what was clearly a love match, Lord Frederick Cavendish, a younger son of the Duke of Devonshire. Before her marriage she had been a maid of honour to Queen Victoria

Her mothers only sister, Aunt Catherine, was the wife of William Gladstone

So she was well placed to observe mid-Victorian society & politics at the highest level

She was not overawed - except by her father-in-law, the formidable 7th Duke - & wrote about it all with wit & liveliness, & with charm, in her private diaries

Her father, who had suffered frequently from bouts of depression, died by throwing himself over the balustrade at his London home & falling to his death 2 floors below

To their great sadness, Lucy & Frederick had no children, but they remained very close

In 1882 Gladstone asked Frederick to join the government of Ireland in an emergency Cabinet reshuffle

Lord Frederick was murdered while taking a stroll in Phoenix Park in Dublin on the afternoon he arrived in the city

Lucy was left a widow at the age of 40

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Lady Frederick Cavendish: Some quotations

A wretched new craze called a Telephone

Dr Jenner … horrified me with his ugliness which is something suggestive to me of Voltaire

8 April 1864: … Garibaldi is in England, which fact makes everyone stand on their heads; & I suppose all young ladies will shortly appear in red shirts, which, to my disgust, have come into fashion

Rome 27 November 1867: The wretched Fenians have been condemned to death; & out of the 5, 3 have been executed. It is very sad & terrible, as they are the first who have been executed for a political offence; but it seemed inevitable. There have been deputations & demonstrations against the sentence in London. Foreigners think England must be in danger; somehow one can't feel that a bit. Never did I take in better the immense strength we have in our fearless freedom of press, opinion & discussion, than now, when there are anxieties & disturbances & an impending revolution in national power

There were Dickens & Landseer; neither very pleasant to look at, though one saw wit & genius in Dickens odd eyes

5 May 1864: … a long pull at Mill On Liberty which shakes & bewilders nearly all my opinions, leaving my head in a bag

4 May 1865: Pre-Raphaelism seems, like homeopathy, to be becoming less a school apart & more infused into schools than it was … still some tinny, paper mache, gaudy skies, solid green seas, ugly red haired pink faced women in all colours of the rainbow & cotton velvet grass

The underground from S Kensington to Portland Rd was charming & wonderful & far less underground than I had expected
18 March 1869

… a nice new house near Longstone … [with] some Rosettis, very clever & with wonderful colour, but rather hateful, I think, from self-consciousness & a sort of sensuousness; & I cant see why all his unfortunate damsels should be in such haggard & wasted ill health

… a pretty villa [in Italy] where Morris the decorator-poets wife & daughters are. Mrs Morris might have stept [sic] out of any of Burne-Jones pictures & is in fact the original of the favourite PB [sic] lady (having sat to Rosetti) - haggard & wistful eyed with a heavy bush of black hair penthouse-style over the forehead; certainly handsome
December 1877

Lady Frederick Cavendish had a governess who was 'over-severe & apt to whip me for obstinacy when I was only dense … At Brighton I used to be taken out walking on the parade with my hands tied behind me, terrified out of my wits by Miss Nicholsons declaring it was 10 to 1 we should meet a policeman'
Kathryn Hughes: The Victorian Governess

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Can I do you now, Sir?

A while back the BMJ carried a long article on patient dignity. The advice was all a bit too touchy feely for my taste: I would prefer someone speaking in the tones of a bank manager discussing, with a customer of good standing, the available options for a pension. Something equally vital as health for postponing death for as long as possible

Actually I have long thought that the best way to instil respect for patients into medical students would be for them to have to conduct full physical examinations on the Dean, the professors & the consultants

Lady Frederick Cavendish

A mystery blogger seems to be transcribing the contents of one of the books I have listed as a favourite - The Diaries Of Lady Frederick Cavendish

Interesting, cos I am otherwise the only Blogger who has chosen the book

Perhaps the interest will grow & we can get a new edition published


Romantic books for boys

When I looked at The Dangerous Book For Boys I was instantly transported back to my Junior School days when I understood something which I, & perhaps most of us, have been in danger of squashing & suppressing

Male romanticism

Summed up perfectly in both the title & the content of the book

Male romanticism consists in
  • being brave
  • fighting evil
  • rescuing damsels in distress

There may be faintly, in the background, an awareness that rescuing fair maiden may - aw shucks - bring reward

Oh - & dont forget the magic of machines

Also pretty well summed up, now that I think of it, in the Cadburys Milk Tray ads of a few years back

For girls, the romance lay in the box of chocolates

For boys, romance lay in abseiling down the mountain

And it is a sad but true fact, that boys can sometimes make the same mistake as the hunter tom who proudly lays a dead field mouse or shrew at your feet. In the expectation or receiving your gratitude & admiration for his prowess

Monday, September 03, 2007

Another of lifes mysteries

If sport is so healthy, why do top sportsmen spend so much time at the doctors?

And yet still so often have to retire through injury? Ill-health retirement at what for most of us is the prime of life?

The physics of food trays

One effect of the new rubbish collection regime was that I started to think how to reduce the volume of stuff in the dustbin, now that it only gets emptied once a fortnight

Its amazing how much less space is taken up now that we can recycle plastic bottles & cardboard

Turned out that plastic food trays & pots were the main remaining culprits. You cant stack them one inside the other because of the varying shapes & sizes. They are hard to squash - naturally. Their job is to protect the contents from damage in transit, no use if they collapse at the slightest knock

You can squash even the strongest upmarket trays from Waitrose or M&S if you apply pressure at the right points. Problem is, they tend to spring back again, even after youve jammed them in the bin

The solution came as a surprise to me. I was squashing a ready-meal tray, grungy with gravy, so I used a sheet of newspaper to protect my fingers & just folded it into a parcel. It stayed folded, no sticky-back plastic or knotted string required. The technique works on the strongest trays & on round pots

So my puzzle is - how can something as weak as a single sheet of newspaper keep those forces in check?

Want to see a filthy postcard?

Have you noticed how anti-smoking campaigners are getting just like earnest animal rights protestors?

One clue is in the voice when they are being interviewed. It starts tight & rises higher. Especially if female, they start to sound on the verge of tears. Our premisses are so obviously ones with which all sane people will agree, our logic is impeccable, it is incomprehensible that some people still refuse to stop smoking NOW. Why do you just not get it?

And now, just like animal rights protestors, theyre going to show us nasty pictures. Only not just on street stalls, in their own time, set up by bands of like-minded folk


Sunday, September 02, 2007

All logic fails

All logic fails when pushed to its logical confusion

Systems fail under the weight of their own contradictions

How long can the NHS continue? Post code lottery v local decision making? Personal treatment choices v target survival rates?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Not bad if you can get it

The current basic single pension is less than £90 a week. My bus pass is worth about £30 a week to me given my current travel patterns

They used to do WHAT?

I am not one of those who wants to live for ever but I should very much like to be able to pop back, say once every 50 years. Just to see what future generations are saying about us

This is prompted by the reactions to the reports that Arthur Miller placed his son into care 40 years ago. And he used to describe him as a mongoloid! How could he?

Well lots of good people thought that way. And I dont believe it happened in the Miller case but there were plenty of medical professionals who believed it unkind to let a mother even see a handicapped baby

It was also perfectly normal to restrict visits to children in hospital to one a week, & to keep you out of the consulting room while a child received treatment - the mothers distress conveys itself to the child, you know. Margaret Drabbles book, The Millstone, conveys some of this very powerfully.

Such a condemnatory attitude towards Miller seems to me particularly ill-behoved in a generation whose medical advisers take it for granted that one of the aims of ante-natal care should be to seek & destroy any foetus suffering from Downs Syndrome

Some current favourites for what our descendants may say about us:

  • surgery: You mean to say they used to cut people open?
  • fat: They used to think that eating fat was bad for you
  • education: They used to herd all children into special buildings where they had to sit down all day & were only allowed to mix with others who were born in the same year as they were


The many lives of Rebecca Miller

Related post

A breath of fresh air