Thursday, 24 January 2013


So I caught a tutorial on jam making by Emma from the Butch Institute.  Gets home and made half a litre of raspberry and bramble jam, and some scones.  I haven't yet attempted to clot cream.


Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The joy of sales

Today I got a knitted fleece, a weatherproof fleece, and a fleece-lined goretex jacket all for £80.  I haz a warmz.  Slightly disconcerted that I now take a size 14 in outdoor jackets.  I don't mind, but it's weird.  I'm 9½ stone just now, at my heaviest I was 11 stone, yet at 11 stone I took a size 10 and at 9½ stone I take a 14.  How in the hell does that make sense?!

Monday, 21 January 2013

The Burchill Fiasco.

Read this,

and this,

and then this.

To those involved on the ground it's a game of Oppression Olympics, but to those running the Observer it's clickbait.  The controversy brings in readers, and the spike in traffic bumps up the Observer's advertising revenues.  That's it.  All the pain and the upset, the division, activists making enemies of those who should be friends, the abuse, the hounding, the forced-outing, the public harassment; it's all so the Guardian group can make a few extra quid.

Shifty bastards.

In defence of schools

Schools are too quick to close these days.  When I was a kid we trudged through a foot of snow...

But what's changed?

When I was a kid, the buses and trains were run differently than they are today.  Buses worked in the snow. Trains had a limit, but when that limit was reached the Men In Orange would be out on the line with shovels. Transport did what it said on the tin back then.  Today the trains shut down with no prior notice whatsoever once the snow gets past an inch.

Insurance was different too.  Snow cover is hard to afford these days.  Slipping on ice is now a suing matter, while back then it was one of those things. 

Staff who work with students have less autonomy today.  This is partly understandable; endless paedophile scandals and the general underfunded crapness of social services has led to overtightening of rules.  Where it gets to the point where a teacher cannot help a child put on sun cream, or hug a child who is distressed, I for one think it has gone too far.

Yesterday, the buses would run, kids could be gotten home safely.  If the worst came to the worst and a freak blizzard of biblical proportions snowed the town in at the last minute, the kids could be bedded down in the school hall and the cafeteria set to the bulk output of hot chocolate.  It never happened, but if it did then the teachers would get on with the job and be praised for it.

Today, the buses won't run, parents will need to leave work early and drive their kids home (if they can).  If the kids are kept in and our hypothetical blizzard happens, the teachers will be slammed for failing to foresee the unforeseeable, parents will become hysterical, the Sun will screech "but what if there'd been a paedo in there?!?!?!", and somebody will get sued into next Tuesday.

Headteachers today must - with no warning whatsoever - pre-empt the point at which the trains will shut down, the buses will stop running, and get the kids out with time enough to get them home.  Heads must judge if it will snow enough to shut the transport the night before, and decide if the two hours teaching they'd get done are as good as a wasted day.

You'd need a masters in geology and the wisdom of Solomon to balance all this and, inevitably, the balance will be gotten wrong.  It is natural therefore to err on the side of caution.  I don't envy them the task.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Bored now...

Snow is keeping me from doing anything in the garden with my offtime and I can't get near the Xbox alone for RPG-ing.  Cue me killing time on Minecraft, working out how to run a points system for a map-wide rail network using improvised XOR and XNOR gates.

In other news: Our Squeaky aced her GCSE Maths exam.  So proud :)

Friday, 18 January 2013

In Pictures: SNOW!

The garden

Snowy buddleia is snowy

A blade of Grazing Rye, sown as a cover crop between the rows of V. faba, pokes up from beneath the snow.  

The ramp

This is the inside of one of the bins, taken about half an hour after the binmen took the refuse.  Prior to them taking it, the bin had had a lid on it.  In the half hour since the closed bin was opened it managed to fill with snow to an inch deep at the base of the meniscus; and mark you that's a bloody deep meniscus, on the shallowest side it's 4 inches from base to height, and on the deepest side it's a foot.

So I went down to Radnor Gardens to see it in the snow:

This snowman was pursuing these ducks at a very sedate pace:

And downriver, Twickenham was shrouded in fog and snow.  It was hard enough to see that far in these mild conditions; if the wind picks up to a blizzard I would not want to be on the river, or on a bike, or doing anything whatsoever where a lack of concentration might kill me or someone else.  

Winter is in full swing!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

The smelliest job so far!

Last night I moved the composter from the dark side of the patio to its final home by the strawbrary.

Fiddliest and smelliest job I've ever had to do in that garden, and I've done poop patrol!  

  The baseplate for the composter arrived, finally, after one lost delivery and one delivered broken.  I could not get that thing to fit on.  Nope.  No fitting on for that baseplate.  I chalked it up to the fact that it was cold outside, the composter body was at 0ºC while the baseplate was at room temperature, and so Physics has a thing to say.  In reality, this was my excuse for saying "sod it, it's 0º out here and this smelly thing is making my hands wet in 0º!"  I ended up laying the baseplate on the ground and standing the composter over it.  The weight of proto-compost should hold it all together.  

  Sliding the body of the composter up over the contents was a bit tense - would it stay together like a putrid blancmange or would it go everywhere?  It stayed!  The rest was work for a fork, a shovel, and eventually a hose.  The contents were somewhere below half the height, but as the thing is slightly conical I reckon it's full to about half the volume, or 165 litres.  Whilst I was forking out compost I took the opportunity to study the strata within.  Some bits seem to decompose faster than others.  Things that are watery (like cucumber) or mushy (like banana) seem to go first.  Things with a hard shell (like the pumpkin from Halloween) appear to take a lot longer.  Eggshells break down surprisingly readily.  Any leaves that get in there seem to turn slimy.  

  I've taken a photo of some of the strata, laid out on one of my favourite childhood building materials: the knackered, rusty sheet of wriggly tin (of dubious acquisition).  For the sake of your breakfast I've left out the bits where putrefying is actively taking place.  Upper layers on the left, lower layers in the right.  Rightmost is damn near compost!

This time next year, Rodney, we'll have compost.  

Monday, 14 January 2013

In Pictures: MugGate!

This is what happens when the same bunch of activists are cooped up together in the same place for too long. If they don't get new blood, new ideas, the occasional voice of reason, they start to get a bit... sidetracked. Next thing you know it's "OMG there are TOO MANY MUGS!"

  This is a real conversation that I was involved in.  I'm "Bill Door" below:

  It's funnier with rum.  

Update:  I've since been banned from Occupy London for "flaming".  Apparently it's now offensive to point out that we've got bigger things to worry about than mugs.  

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Primary Succession

This is cool.

Norderoogsand has sprung up from beneath the sea like a kraken of sand.  It has since become home to 50 plant species and a bunch of sea birds.

Photo: Telegraph
  Dunes rise above sea level all the time and usually sink just as readily, but this one is different.  What makes it different is the same force which has driven our evolution from bacteria to human beings: luck.  Call it chance, fate, divine intervention, whatever.  The right factors were in place at the right time.  Those factors were a mild sea and the presence of spores from simple plants.  The mild seas didn't destroy the proto-island, whilst the spores grew into simple mosses and lichens.  Those mosses and lichens put down roots and bound the sand into a basic soil.

  Once a moss organism dies it decomposes into compost, adding organic matter to the sandy soil.  This organic matter - or humus - contains carbon, nitrogen, and other essential elements.  Birds drop guano containing further essential elements and ions such as calcium, potassium, sulphates and phosphates.

  Over time, the soil becomes rich enough to support more complex plants.  The seeds for such plants are also carried over in the stomachs of birds.  These plants have deeper and stronger root systems which will help bind the deeper layers of the soil.  When they die, their roots will decompose and leave humus in the deeper layers.  Eventually this process will clear the way for shrubs to take hold.

  There is a selective pressure here.  A selective pressure is a natural force which says "A can live here but B cannot".  In this case it is the salt water.  Sand doesn't hold rainwater very well by itself, so for now all the moisture is seawater.  Only those plant which thrive on beaches or in areas with high salinity will be able to live on Norderoogsand in the early stages.  Once the soil is rich enough in deep humus to support shrubs it should also be absorbent enough to retain rainwater.  Even so, it will still be quite saline.  Coastal shrubs will be best adapted to these conditions.

  The potential for trees to grow on Norderoogsand is uncertain.  Soil that sandy might not hold a tree firmly enough.  Deposits of lime from bird droppings will gradually improve the soil structure.  Clay would make a nice addition, but it will not arrive there by itself.  If sufficient generations of plants live, reproduce, die and decompose that peat has a chance to form then that is perhaps the best chance we have of seeing trees arrive on Norderoogsand.

  Higher land animals are highly unlikely until the ground is very very stable and the plantlife is sufficiently fecund.  Likely it'll just be birds and amphibians until the trees appear.

  Alternately, the island could be helped along.  A little clay, a little peat, a couple bay trees and this island would be halfway toward a climax community.  This won't happen though.  Biologists and geologists will argue - and rightly so - that Norderoogsand should be left alone to be observed.  Primary succession is a rare occurrence, so the data which can be gained by watching it happen from scratch is scientifically invaluable.  It can tell us something about our world that we do not yet know.  The process of succession is slow, but when seen from end to end is a miracle of nature.  I urge you to keep an eye on it.

I wish I was there...

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Bargain of the year!

I picked this up in a charity shop on my way home from Kew.  £4 for 4.56kg of book, or 88 pence a kilo.  Unreal!

Now bring on the weekend so I can waste my day off playing Mass Effect.

My Botanical Adventure

Went to Kew Gardens for the first time today.  I really should've gone sooner.  The guide thingy suggests you leave yourself two to three hours to get around the place - aye, sure, if you're an anorexic on a souped-up granny scooter being piloted by the Stig!  I was there for five hours and I reckon I'm lucky if I got to experience half of it.  I'm going to include the bulk of the photos on a separate page because I took 103, but I'll post a choice few here.  I went in the Winter, so I presume you've got to see it again in the Spring, Summer and Autumn to really get a sense of the lifecycles of the specimens there.

 Me amidst an amazing collection of palms and ferns

The Coffin Tree can grow to be among the tallest trees in the world!

This fish was watching me.  

This Cycad is older than Kew Gardens.  Cycads as a bunch are older than the dinosaurs!

And for reference, here's a cycad being munched on by a Triceratops

This is a Banksia, named for a local boy...

There's a gallery of botanical art there, it has its own building, The Marianne North Gallery.  It features a load of paintings by Marianne North plus the Shirley Sherwood Collection, a collection of paintings by various artists.  There's a whole section on fungus for any myco geeks.  Sadly, no photos allowed.

I stopped for a burger halfway through.  It was a hell of a burger!  Venison.  You heard me; a venison burger!  Venison, in a burger.  I'll stop now.  

There were piranhas

The turtles were nothing like the ones you see on the telly though.  They weren't even armed!  Bit naff really.  

Now the Kew Pagoda is a bit of a local landmark.  You can see it from over the Thames in Brentford, from half of Richmond and Sheen, and of course from the top of a 65 bus.  So I decided to see where in the Gardens I could grab the best long shot of the Pagoda.  

Here's it up close

The Treetop Walkway is the highest publicly-climbable structure in the Gardens.  The Pagoda is taller but you aren't allowed up it.  Here's the walkway:

I expected the views from there to be amazing, and they are!  You need to get that high and see Brentford, see Sheen, to remind yourself that you're still in London.  

But the view of the Pagoda was obscured by tree branches.  

Still, at least in the Winter you can see it at all.  In the Summer that'll be a wall of green.  The view from the top of the Temperate Greenhouse (the biggest greenhouse) is significantly clearer, albeit with a big tree blocking part of it

Best view however was straight down the Cedar Vista from the corner of that wee lake in the North of the Gardens:

These parakeets live all over Richmond Borough.  A shitload escaped from some private collection back in like Victorian times or something and the rest is history.  Their ubiquity in Strawberry Hill has seen them nicknamed "green pigeons".  

I saw a Japanese Minka house.  These were made of wood and ridiculously versatile and durable.  

I saved the Evolution exhibition for last.  It was cool, though some prat had vandalised part of it.  It was full of fossils, ancient living species and models of ancient extinct species.  These Liverwort have been around for 400 million years - twice as long as the mighty Cycads!

A fossil

Aaand I'll put the rest on a side page, because there's bloody loads of them!  Suffice it to say that a great day was had and I'll be back there in the Spring.  

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Amazon fail!

I ordered a baseplate for my composter 2 months ago.  After 6 weeks I messaged them to say it hadn't arrived, so they re-sent it.  It's just arrived now, I get it out of the bag and it's cracked through.  FML!

On the plus side: my festive blues have lifted and I'm visiting Kew Gardens tomorrow.