Monday, July 27, 2009

The Wrong Stuff

Not so long after the tragic and early death of my brother tragic and early death of my brother , my mother decided that I needed to mix more with children of my own age, preferably little girls.

I really knew boys better than girls, except for school. The boys went to Cubs where they did dramatic stuff like tracking in the woods, cooking over camp fires and, most exciting of all, used penknives. I couldn’t wait.

The first blow was that I couldn’t be a cub. Missing the vital Y chromosome, I was excluded from the Masonic life of woggles, dib-dib-dib, and bob-a-jobbing. I howled with rage. I wanted to be a boy.

Eventually, I was offered Brownies. When we arrived that first evening, Brown Owl was busy with all the dun-coloured little girls. Tawny Owl explained that, if everything went well, then I could make my Brownie Promise and have my own shapeless little brown sack to wear, complete with beret. Effort and application would lead to badges, she beamed. Yes, but what about the weaponry? I wondered. When would I be able to have a penknife? Her smile slipped slightly sideways as she steered me towards the group of little girls. My mother shot out of the door as fast as possible. She’d see me afterwards. Glancing over her shoulder, she gave me a hard stare and a reminder to behave myself.

Instead of setting off for the woods, we went into a big hall. Not on the plan. Which Six would I like to sit with? The Elves, The Pixies? Ok, no knives at the moment but a bit of magick. Oh, yesss. I could do that.

I sat cross-legged on the floor waiting for the incantations to start. Nothing doing. We did some dancing, hopping around on one foot and holding hands. This was getting tedious. There were some badges to award. Handicrafts involving sewing and knitting, demonstrating you could stand on one leg or skip, service requiring you to serve tea and cakes. Boy, was I getting pissed off by now.

Next up was a senior Brownie making the passage to Guides. We all sat in a circle around the Toadstool as this poor galumphing child was hauled over the plaster toadstool by a huffing and puffing Brown Owl and Tawny Owl. The members of the troop all sang, except me.

To be fair, I had no idea what was going on.
To be honest, I didn’t much care, either.

The child next to me asked why I wasn’t singing. I could have said it was because I didn’t know the words. Too easy. I said that I wasn’t singing because it was silly. No, it’s not hissed the knowledgeable one. I turned my complete disdain on her and announced loudly that the whole darned thing was silly.

The next thing I was skimming along the floor with my toes barely touching the floorboards. Was this the promised magick? Nope. Just me being hauled out of the hall at top speed by Tawny Owl. The full anger that can only be generated by a menopausal woman dressed up in a paramilitary uniform came blasting my way. When she paused for breath, I yelled back. Not only was it silly, but I was there under false pretences. There was none of the promised knife wielding and I wanted nothing to do with the stupid, stupid Pixies and Elves. My torrent of rage was brought to a halt by a stinging across the legs. She’d slapped me. Grabbing me by my upper arms, she pushed me down to sit on the steps. Sit there till your mother comes back.

By the time she returned, my fury had slipped away leaving tears and a large red weal on my legs. “Not the right time ..”, “ Perhaps when she’s older …”. Fragments of rejection.

We walked home in silence, my mother rigid with humiliation. She explained to my father that I wouldn’t be going back. She turned to me and asked what I had to say for myself. Hugging the dog, I explained that none of this would have happened if I could only be a boy.

He picked up his cap and a bucket. “Coming to feed the chickens, lovely?”

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Another throw of the dice

A little probability conundrum.

About twenty years ago, I worked in a very sociable office. The camaraderie was great and we tended to do team dinners and so on. One of the team was a young man, a delightful carrot-top, in the "sandwich" year of his degree. He went back to university but stayed in touch. We bumped into each other occasionally in the nineties but lost touch by about 1997.

Last week we made contact through a business social networking site. We exchanged a few catch up emails and shared family photographs. Carrot-top remembers my children when they were youngsters and was stunned to see photographs of them all grown up. I was delighted to see his wonderful red haired genes have appeared in both his daughters.

He suggested that, the next time I was in his neck of the woods, we should catch up for lunch. Turns out we share the same neck of the woods. In fact, the same tree. Carrot-top works at Number 55 and I work at Number 82.
We laughed. A coincidence.

We met for lunch and rabbited away like crazy with a dozen years' of catch up. I brought him up to date on my children's growing up years. My son, a physicist, studied for his first degree at the same university as his brother teaches. Physics.
We laughed. A coincidence.

Carrot-top enquired if Junior Mad had ever had anything to do with the particle physics side of the department. Not for his first degree, I replied, but funnily enough ... The penny dropped. Dr Carrot-top. Carrot-top's older brother. Senior Research Fellow. Dr Carrot-top. Supervising Junior Mad's PhD.
We laughed. A coincidence.

Care to work out the probabilities? Some of these factors are independent and have no link at all to each other and others are connected.

The likelihood that, if we met again, we would work out the coincidence, would be close to 100%. Not definite, but close. Say 95%

That my son went to university in the first place? Probably close to 100% again, given his background. It's close to 40% for the wider population but we know that children of parents with degrees are more likely to go into higher education. Let's call it 75%.

That my son chose to study Physics? A relatively unpopular subject. Say 5% out of the total of subjects studied.

That his brother and my son are are at the same university? There are 85 universities in the UK teaching some sort of Physics. Slightly less than 1%

That his brother supervises my son? About 10% of Physics graduates go on to do a PhD. Quite often they stay at the same insititution. Say about a quarter. Again connected to the whole university and physics thing above.

That we should work so close to each other? We were in the same field twenty years ago so we would be more likely to be working in the same area. There are roughly 120 streets / zones where we would be likely to work. Less than a 1% chance.

Just on my fingers and toes, it's about 1 in eleven million. Still, better odds than doing the National Lottery.

You didn't know I had that many toes did you?

Sunday, July 19, 2009


MPhil (Cantab)


Thursday, July 16, 2009

In case of an oink

Ok, not a joke but it got your attention, eh?

I've filched this from Family Affairs , since she has some concise and sensible words on Swine Flu for UK residents, in case you need them sharpish.

Symptoms include a high temperature (38C/100F or higher) and two or more of the following:
sore throat
runny nose
limb or joint pain

Follow advice at or call NHS Direct on 0845 4647 (08454 242424 in Scotland).

If you are still worried, contact your GP who can prescribe Tamiflu if required.

Do not go to your pharmacy, surgery or A&E without first speaking to your doctor. A friend or relative should collect Tamiflu for you if you are the one that is not well. So beforehand, make sure that you know someone who can be your "flu buddy".

Let's also keep some perspective on this. It still seems to be a mild type of flu. Yes, we see reports in the media of deaths. And these are very sad for those families. But in a bad year, seasonal flu contributes to an extra 20,000 premature deaths. Swine flu like seasonal flu will be worse for people in poor health.

So, Mr Mainwaring, don't panic.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A game of consequences

My mother believed in Causality, especially when it came to Blame. When something happened it was the direct result of an action. A fine example of Newtonion Physics operating in real life. So when I went into premature labour and Madette popped out some two months ahead of schedule, the first question my mother asked “What did you do?”. Labour had started in the early hours of the morning. It woke me up. So the answer to the question was, “Nothing”. It just belonged in the “stuff happens” category. Probably if you had the diagnostic tools, you could trace it back to something defective in my physiology but there was nothing about the days or even months before that would have given the game away.

A friend, not part of Explaining Nothing , is given to burbling on about Fate. They mumble about Fate having a hand in our lives. We were meant to do something, go somewhere because of Fate. No it wasn’t. Some things just happen at the same time. They’re called coincidences. Sometimes they’re good and sometimes they’re bad. Sometimes we take control of our own lives and don’t pass the buck to poor old Fate.

It’s written in the Stars. Pre-ordained. I share my birthday (date and year) with Vladimir Putin. So we are supposed to share the same love of justice, being even-handed and diplomatic. Well, we both seem to be running to fat in middle age. That’s because we’re Librans. I haven't asked Vlad recently but I put it down to cake. Which one of us would you be most afraid of? Just because I don’t have the ironmongery to hand, doesn’t make me nicer. But it’s got nothing to do with our birthdays.

Rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has a lot of useful pointers for everyday life. “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” I suppose it’s at least a statement of good intent. Isn’t it a shame that we are having such a both turning them into reality. They are known as mitzvahs to the Jews. They've got 613 of them to help the individual and the nation come closer to God and to holiness. However, being closer to the Palestinians seems to be giving the state of Israel a devil of a time with the whole reality of rights. While I’m on the subject, I happened to notice which states hadn’t got round to signing or ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Amongst the usual suspects are Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Singapore. And the Vatican. Yes, you read that correctly. The Vatican. Please someone explain that to me. Or better still, go and explain it to them.

But these rights. Yes, some of them are in the bleeding obvious category. Born free and equal in dignity and rights. Right to life, liberty and security of person. Not subject to to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It almost makes you weep for humanity that we have to write these things down.

Perhaps it’s not rights that we need but some obligations. For someone to enjoy their rights, someone else needs to be fulfilling their obligations. So here is my “Declaration of Obligations”:

The obligation to care for your parents when they are old and frail. To sit with them as they leave this life behind. To argue with the bureaucracy for them to give them dignity and comfort.

The obligation to care for your children from the moment of their conception. They did not ask to be conceived. Give them unconditional love while helping them to understand their obligations and realise their potential. To help them grow into fully capable adults able to manage their own lives when you have gone.

The obligation to care for your partner, to support and love so that they can be happy and fulfilled. And through thick and thin.
Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds

The obligation to see everyone as individuals because, if you recognise them as each one precious and unique, you will know that you have no right to torture or degrade them or treat them less than yourself.

The obligation to care for the planet so that you don't diminish other people's rights to security, shelter, food.

The obligation to care for your animals. Feed, love, tend with compassion, even when it means letting them go.

The obligation to care for yourself so that you do not diminish the total of human happiness and well-being. By failing to look after your body and mind you deny someone else the possibility for care.

So, not Blame, Fate, the Stars or even Rights. Stuff happens. Deal with it. And remember your Obligations.

What are yours?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Wrinkled Lemon

Last week I picked up the "Eat up your leftovers" campaign from Home Mum of Two and I have tried to keep a diary of what I cooked or prepared or bought and what happened to any leftovers.

But before we get into the finer points of my food diary, you should know that I am very boring and, therefore, on work days breakfast is invariably porridge and lunch is always a salad and fruit. The only leftovers are the apple cores, banana peels, orange pith and tea bags. Even I struggle to eat them up. We now have a green bin in the office so that we can dispose of food waste.

Asparagus spears with a slice of ham and a lump (not a slice, I'm afraid) of homemade bread.

Munched a few strawberries. Strawberries in season are such a treat. To have strawberries and asparagus in the same meal. Heaven. I try to avoid these out of season since, though they look good, they rarely taste of much. Hulls and calixes went on the compost.

Leftovers The end bits of the asparagus. But since this is new season's asparagus, the whole spears are still quite tender and the ends have been diced up and put in the freezer to make soup.

Jacket potato with homemade vegetarian chilli. A few weeks ago I made a pot of this for visitors who couldn't come because I had some kind of flu. Probably not pig flu, but since one of my visitors is not in good health, we gave it a miss. Leaving me with a bucket of the stuff. It's quite tasty but I find it impossible to cook a dish like that for less than six. And I'm mainly on my own these days so I save up this kind of cooking for visitors and then I can have a few small, individual leftover portions. This has been frozen in individual portions. I'll likely be still eating it for the London Olympics. There's a thought. Do you suppose they've got catering sorted out?

Ate up the remaining strawberries.

Salad with grilled mackerel.

Leftovers The mackerel skeleton had quite a lot of flesh so I boiled it up quickly to create a fish stock. Look away now if you're squeamish. The bits of head meat detached beautifully and a patient Spottie Boy was rewarded by his Omega-3 treat. The stock is in freezer for make a fishy risotto. The now naked skeleton was wrapped in newspaper and binned.

Went to see the National Theatre's "outside broadcast" of Phedre at my local cinema. It started at 7pm so I had to dash in, walk and sort out dinner for Spottie Boy and then get to the cinema.
Thought I'd grab a pot of yoghurt before I went out and then have something to eat when I got in after the performance. It wasn't going to be too late and I'd be back by 9:30 when I'd have some Marmite on toast.
It's probably not the sort of play that goes well with your dinner. I went with a friend who brought a box of chocs. There's very little that can put me off chocolates. Phedre is more like Eastenders than the Archers. In fact, they knock the Windsors into a cocked hat when it comes to dysfunctional. It's about an older woman who falls for a younger man. Not just an "Am I having a hot flush or is he really cute" kind of a thing. A howling and shrieking and tearing her hair and throwing off all her bling kind of a thing. And did I mention that he's her husband's son from an earlier marriage? And it gets worse ... her husband goes missing and she thinks he's dead. Result. She can chuck away her big knickers, put the bling back on and throw herself at the young man. Who, by the way, has the hots for a pretty young girlie who's been forbidden by his father to marry anyone so that her family will die out. You might gather he is not that keen on the menopausal baggage. In fact, he's a bit of a po-faced prig. He's been "saving himself". Ha! So when he thinks his father is dead, he thinks "Result, me and pretty young girlie can be happy ever after". Then his father returns. Bugger. Not dedded after all. As you might guess, it's all downhill from there. Lies and plots and counter plots. Quite shouty too. Blood and guts trailed across the stage.

Leftovers Box of chocolates. In fridge for a less messy evening.

There for dinner since I sloped off early from work. Collected Red&Gold Woman in Swindon where she'd been showing off. Alright, working. Dinner was nicoise salad with a liberal trail of anchovies. R&G woman is a caring and compassionate sort but she'd kill for anchovies. Probably with her bare hands. Nice bottle of High Tide Chardonnay. I'm a bit resistant to the New World chardonnays but the High Tide is light and aromatic, more like a Sauvignon Blanc.

A couple of the Phedred chocs. Yum. So much nicer without entrails.

Leftovers a smidge of salad stripped of its anchovies. What, the wine? Leftover?

After a quick no-leftovers sort of breakfast we were off to meet up with Cousin J who was also coming to stay for the weekend. Lunch was homemade bread (already made and in the freezer) and cheese, followed by fruit. We ate up the leftover salad.

Leftovers We didn't manage to eat all the bread and cheese and there were a couple of pickled onions to fight another day. Bread will do for toast on Sunday morning. Cheese back in fridge. Cheese rind in dog.

Dinner was my signature dish. Dead deer dinner Casserole vension marinaded in Guinness with a splash of port and some walnuts. Served with Pembrokeshire new potatoes and local Savoy cabbage, stir fried in a whisk of walnut oil and a grating of nutmeg. Ok, I know it's summer but when I offered the Visitors seasonal light produce or Dead Deer Dinner, they wanted DDD.
Pudding was locally produced ginger ice cream.

Did I mention a glass of wine? Whenever, my smashing neighbour comes to dinner, she always stumps up with a delicious bottle of red even if I'm offering her cheese on toast.

Leftovers Enough DDD to feed two people. It's in the freezer waiting for someone to share it with me. A couple of new spuds and a bit of the green stuff remain. This is not the kind of cabbage that Dave Pie & Mash would recognise. Still al dente, it'll fight back. Combined with the potatoes, it made a superior form of bubble and squeak for Monday night.

Leftover bread toasted for breakfast. Stumpy end of it now remains. Turned into breadcrumbs to make stuffing at some future date.

Once we had scraped the explosion off the walls and many other surfaces, it was almost time for lunch. We tried our best to earn it by climbing to the top of the hill and then had Sunday lunch in the pub.

Roast beef, Yorkshire pud, roast potatoes, carrots, swede, cabbage. Portions were boy-sized.

Leftovers We admitted defeat and so I whipped out a handy bag and salvaged the meat, veg and potatoes. When you have a dog, you've always got a bag secreted about your person for one reason or another. That's two Sundays on the trot that Spottie Boy has enjoyed a proper roast dinner.

If you didn't eat up all your leftovers for the week of the challenge, you were to suffer the "eat a lemon" punishment. So here's the lemon ... aha more leftovers!