Sunday, October 28, 2012


New world

After just over six years of blogging I have decided that the left hand tail has got too long. And I am too scared to try to connect the existing blog to a new and improved template, so operations have now been moved to PSMV2 being a short version of pumpkin stroke marrow volume 2. The volume was required as PSM2 was taken.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Black Beauty

Have now finished the book, having acquired and started it on our summer holiday (see August 26th). It was an interesting read even though the reason why I wanted to read it in the first place still eludes me. But I was reminded of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' and was not surprised to read in Wikipedia that the book had originally been intended for adults and triggered a wave of interest in horse welfare.

Bearing reins were a particular target, being straps commonly used at the time of writing to force the head of a fashionable shaft horse up, a practice which is uncomfortable for the horse and can lead to long term health problems.

The large numbers of brutal horse men and boys was another, with alcoholic drink being cited as a strong contributing cause. I suppose at a time when horses were all over the place and a lot of life was pretty brutal anyway, it was inevitable that there would be a lot of brutal treatment of horses. Unlike cows - of which there were presumably comparable numbers but, I would imagine, were the subject of far less wanton cruelty - they lived with us and worked for us - and there were both good and bad relationships with horses. Furthermore, provision for horses in old age not too clever and I suspect that the phrase 'going to the dogs' originally meant being sent for dog food when you were too old to work any more.

Broken knees get a fair amount of air time, which prompted me to find and peruse an article on horse damage by someone called 'Claims Five' in the horsey part of the online Guardian, an article which reminded me that mending damaged horses was a lot harder than you might think, much harder than mending apparently comparable damage in humans. There are also some interesting guidelines about horse euthanasia lifted from No doubt we will get there on our own account one day.

The story is written in the first person by the horse in question, Black Beauty. Now while I doubt whether horses are capable of thought - the story does not require speech or great intellectual gifts - I do not doubt that they are conscious. They know about pain and pleasure, they have memory and they have fear and anticipation. So in owning a horse you are taking on a big responsibility - that is if you don't cave in and decide that one large animal owning another large animal  is not really on. This is what, I think, has most struck me. Not yet a veggie., but there are maybe glimmers of the veggie. light!

BH tells me that the book was banned in South Africa at one time because it was thought that the title might corrupt. I should have thought that the content would have been far more corrupting - the read across from horses to slaves - albeit in its modified aparthied version - being all too obvious.


Tea party

A not very good snap of a singular beech tree at Claremont, from last week. Singular not because of its girth which was substantial but not unusual, but for the length - maybe 10m - of straight clean trunk, which is unusual in beech in my experience.

Visit enhanced by quite a decent sausage roll. The wrapping was the usual rather fatty puff pastry favored by our sausage roll makers, but the inside was unusually tasty sausage meat, served warm which is how I like sausage rolls best. Neither hot nor cold. Plus the minced meat was not cut with all kinds of exotic fruits, vegetables and spices. Whoever, for example, thought of the strange idea of putting leeks in sausages?

Moving on to the tea party, I want to record my contribution to not paying tax for the UK Chapter of this illustrious organisation.

We deploy what is known in the taxing trade as the surviving partner concession. So rich person (1) marries a younger person (2) sufficiently before death. All assets then transfer without tax to person (2) on the death of person (1). Person (2) then marries a younger person (3) sufficiently before death. All assets then transfer without tax to person (3) on the death of person (2). I see no reason why this process should not continue ad infinitum or at least until the Ides of March. It might come to an untimely end if the last person fails to remarry before expiring him or her self, but taking care with medical matters and employing the services of a specialised matrimonial agency should mitigate this risk.

If we all do it, the inheritance tax take would fall to pretty much zero, which is where, of course, it ought to be.

And gays are OK because the concession has recently been tweaked to include their marriages.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012



One of the freebies picked up at the Olympia the other day was a nicely produced booklet for children called 'À la découverte de l'Europe', also, I now find, available in a very whizzy online format. Must have cost a bit to put together.

An engaging and jolly introduction to the world of Europe. I learn, for example, that the Germanic peoples were the Angles, Saxons, Franks, Goths and Vikings and that the Germanic languages are Danish, Dutch, English, German and Swedish. Neither of them groupings which I would have come up with unaided. More interesting, the booklet suggested much similarity between the United States of Europe and the United States of America. Europe has 25 or so states, half that of the US, but very much the same order of magnitude. As are the populations, products and such like. But with a big gap between the small number of states with more than 35 million people and the rather larger number with less than 15 million - with nothing much in between. Including both Cyprus and Malta - the former surprising me, being in two rather unsettled halves, with one half more or less belonging to a non-member, Turkey. And the structural arrangements looked to be very much modeled on those of the (US) constitution, with executive (the Commission), legislature (the Parliament (roughly congress) and the Council (roughly senate)) and justice (the Court); perhaps appropriate as the constitution was very much the product of the European enlightenment. Not to mention the comfort blanket of the euro over a good part of the whole. Will it one day come to rival the dollar? No doubt much political science ink has already been spent on compare and contrast, so no need for me to add any more to it.

The other diversion was prompted by the childhood adventures of Oliver Sacks in the world of photography, adventures which have now sparked my own, albeit transient, interest. What exactly was a contact print? I asked Mr. Google and found out roughly what a contact print was, but could not find any nicely potted essay about photography, in general. So off to the library where in short order, in far less time than that spent online, I found and took out 'The History of Photography', a fat older book from OUP from 1955, formerly of Sunbury and now of Epsom Library. But an excellent introduction to the whole business. The glory days of chemistry, research (not the institutional, team work stuff you have to do now. Private enterprise by yeomen, gentlemen and a few ladies), patents and fortunes made of the second half of the nineteenth century. The searches for just the right chemicals to do the job, searches sounding not so unlike those we do these days for drugs. Fascinating stuff - but in large part made obsolete by the replacement of analog film processes by digital ones. A lesson, inter alia, on how easy it is to get diverted away from the business in hand, be that painting the kitchen or whatever!

Sunday, October 21, 2012



Off to London today to see what was cooking at at Olympia, a place I have not visited for a very long time.

On the first leg from Vauxhall Cross to Abingdon Villas (in Kensington), I carelessly broke the 30 minute Bullingdon barrier, costing me an additional £1, so maybe I had better start wearing a wrist watch again so that I can keep a better eye on the time. I then thought to visit St. Mary Abbots church (who is St. Mary Abbot?) but was caught out by getting there a few minutes before they started a Choral Matins, something I do not think one comes across very often. I find from their site ( that they also offer services using the Common Prayer Book, Sung Eucharist and Taizé Prayer, which last does not look very Common Prayer Book at all. But I do not suppose that any of it is to be found anywhere near Epsom and it would probably have been interesting inside, so I must go back on a week day and hope that the place is open. Second leg back towards Olympia no problem.

Onto to the show where there was plenty to interest, despite the rather loud background music. Two stalls offering tuition in British Sign Language, one offering Esperanto and lots offering Spanish. One could, for example, learn Spanish in the shadow of the Incas in Guatemala. I might even take up the offer of access to an online BSL learning package at a modest £14.99 a year (special expo price offer from One stall offering jobs for those who could speak appropriate Asian languages in the security service. A lot of youngish people milling about, with a sprinkling of slightly eccentric looking older bodies. I guess I fell into the latter category.

Onto Kensington High Street where I took my first fall, finally getting around to getting a bicycle helmet, in part because most of the people you see cycling around London have them now. Sold a rather more expensive hat than I was expecting at CycleSurgery, a Giro Aeon at near £XXX, but at least it was a good fit. I dare say there was a premium for the location and the helpful staff - but help which one would not have got buying the thing online.

The second fall took place on arrival back at Vauxhall Cross where I was inside the Bullingdon barrier by 1 minute but needed lunch, and for the first time for a long time went into a Prêt, a chain which has always irritated me, perhaps because it is successful and run by a couple of old Harrovians (or some such), but also because of their claims for their sandwiches, which I find tiresome. As I do the inverted snobbery of leaving the accent out of the word 'Prêt'. However, needs must, so today I wound up with a large cup of orange lentil with coconut curry soup with two micro baguettes. The curry was not particularly hot by curry standards, although I would have preferred less hot, but was quite a decent soup nonetheless and the rolls were quite decent rolls, despite their silly packaging. As, I might add, were the rolls in the sandwich bars we used to have in the seventies before they got pushed out of business by the like of Prêt.

And then home to the first flexing of my prize Thornton slide rule for some years. It just happened that when there was a need, it was nearer to hand than the calculator. And quicker for the sort of sum in question.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Two towers

Quite by chance, I find that two important features of my civil service life are no more.

First, bullingdoning across Vauxhall Bridge I noticed that Riverwalk House is being demolished. A small, rather dreary looking 12 story tower block, probably from the 70's. Rather dreary inside too, and the whole only relieved by quite a decent Henry Moore in the garden. The home for a while of the late Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (an outfit with a rather grander title and rather grander aspirations than their product justified, at least by the time that I got there) and my home for a few months. I was cycling from Liverpool Street at the time so it was handy that there was a store room in the basement which doubled as a bicycle shed.

Second, cruising around the Internet, I noticed that Filenet had been gobbled up by IBM. Filenet had grown from nothing to be quite a big company by the end of the millennium on the back of selling large optical discs and associated imaging and work flow systems to insurance companies and the like for hard core image processing, and I got to know them on the back of their document management product, knowledge which earned me one or two trips across the pond and one or two more to the back rooms of the National Archives. Not to mention one to the storage company somewhere in East London which took on some of our paper records, where we learned to horror of some senior staff that our vital records were apt to be stacked up next to pallets of baked beans. Who know what else beside. Not clear from the Wikipedia entry whether Filenet's fortunes were declining as their specialised offerings became less specialised, perhaps with some of them being given away with Windows, whether the founder-owners wanted to cash in and go surfing (the company was Californian) or whether the company was simply an attractive plum to pick to a cash rich IBM.

PS: idly wondered about how protected the images were on yesterday's pictures library. Answer: fairly well, with no saving allowed at all, unlike some picture palaces which let you save a thumbnail. On the other hand, you can save a screen scrape. Presumably with some loss of resolution and not good enough to hang on the wall but possibly good enough to include in a word document. The stolen image looked OK on my screen but did not come out very well on my cheap skate printer - which does well enough with pictures from some more legitimate source.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Jigsaw 24

After something of an interval, back with this river scene from Falcon, made in Hatfield in Hertfordshire. Photograph from Vic Guy - an outfit which for once for an outfit on a jigsaw box, I can actually find on the internet. See

Quite a dear outfit, with the price for a slight variation on this very scene being around £40 for a 24 by 18 inch print. Easy enough to find by using key words in their advanced search facility. Some lucky soul must have spent many hours keywords this extensive image library. It is suggested that for commercial applications, such as jigsaws, I need to get in touch for a custom price.

I then see that the picture is of Worcester cathedral, a place which I have never visited and which I had not realized looked more like a large parish church than the home of a bishop, despite being a great favorite with Good King Joihn. But armed with this information I find that I can buy this actual scene for the same price as the variation. Catalog number 017758-19. Just to be sure that all is well I put the catalog number to Mr. Google who comes straight back with Worcester Cathedral from one V. K. Guy. Clever stuff!

But oddly, he can only offer 4 images from Surrey, two of which are a grotto at Virginia Water. But I suppose for an outfit based up in the lakes of the far north one should not really expect more.

A pleasing, gentle puzzle; good for winding down, Doing a few pieces here and there. Very regular with four pieces meeting at nearly all, if not all, interior vertices. Only a sprinkling of exotically shaped pieces. With the expanse of water made easy by strong colour and pattern coding. No problem knowing which way round a piece should be. And with the sky made easy by not being very big and being broken up with a lot of well defined cloud.

Started with the edge, which I completed, albeit rightly nervous about errors in the top edge. Then the skyline, then the boat line. Not able to complete this last and had to turn up into the cathedral to anchor it, not reaching the right hand edge until some time later.

Buildings easy. Then start pushing out from the boat line.

Steps easy. Then thought to do the flower-water line but ended up just doing the flowers. The line was not well enough defined to be helpful. Now left with two islands of water, two islands of trees and two islands of sky, knocking them off in that order. Slowed down towards the end by the need to fix some errors in the top edge.

Interesting how the water turned out in this photograph; the strong texture struck me as being more like that of a painting. Maybe someone has written about how such images get generated from mobile surfaces. Is it some arcane mathematical consequence of capturing a fixed planar image of something exhibiting both reflective and prismatic features moving around in three dimensions?

Thursday, October 18, 2012


St Lukes (failed)

Today was to have been the first visit to the St Luke's autumn season of lunch time concerts, but it was cancelled at such short notice that I got to do the margins anyway.

Got to Waterloo while still puzzling how they were going to take down the tower crane strapped to the side of the tall tower going up on the upstream side of St George's at Vauxhall ( Far too tall for a mobile crane to reach it - at least so I would have thought - so all I could think of was that the upper sections folded down, from which position they could be lowered down the side of what was left of the crane. If each section of the tower was secured to the one below by four suitably complicated bolts, one at each corner, undoing the two inboard ones ought to make this possible. Clearly taking down would be a good subject for a televised web-cam. There must be lots of frustrated senior builders like me out there to watch it.

Bullingdoned from Waterloo to St Luke's. First stand on arrival was full, second stand also full. But I learned how to ask it where a not-full one was and got an extra 15 minutes for my trouble. The third stand was indeed not-full and turned out to be conveniently near Whitecross Street where I was able to buy my usual tea and bacon sandwich. I was entertained while I ate it by a rather broken down gent. who explained to me that he was 72, a veteran of both Royal and Merchant Navies and that he had visited 46 countries in his time at sea. He was born in Portsmouth which gave me the entrée with my naval connections there and I was pleased that the young, busy and foreign waitress was able to give him time as he flustered about.

For once the bacon sandwich was supplemented by something from the lunchtime food market in Whitecross Street, in the form of a considerable wedge of bread pudding for £2.50. I was attracted to it in the first place because it was whiteish rather the the brownish one gets from regular bakers, but it turned out to be rather damp, rather free of fruit and rather oddly flavoured. Some spice which I did not recognise but did not much care for. But I got it down OK.

After the concert that wasn't, taxied back to St. Batholomew the Great with a pleasant and talkative young taxi driver who told us all about her two daughters, her ambitions to get them into a forthcoming academy (a spin off from the Olympics it seems) and the lack of decent night life in Stratford. Which last is odd given my understanding that the place is crawling with youth from all over the globe. She wasn't too sure where the church was but between us we got ourselves to the entrance arch in West Smithfield. Church just as impressive as last time (May 12th) with a novelty in the form of a memorial tablet on the wall, the head in which was supposed to weep, although the trusty told us that weeping was now off as the radiator which had been placed underneath the tablet had dried up the tear ducts. I wondered whether, if it did weep, that would count as a miracle, given that whoever erected the tablet (ever so many years ago) had had the intention and expectation of weeping inscribed on the base. I thought that maybe miracles had to be surprises; disqualified if you planned for one.

On exit we were treated to the sight of a paramedic on a bicycle heading into the nearby Barts.. A bicycle with very large baskets and with both it and its rider decked out in full green, yellow and blue glory. One comes across policemen on bicycles quite often, so all I need now to complete the picture is a fire fighter's bicycle, perhaps with a little trailer as their stuff is both bulky and heavy.

Bullingdoned back to Waterloo where I had another opportunity to try my hand at the W. H. Smith express (DIY) checkout with a copy of the Economist, with which I have been getting on rather well. Maybe it will topple the TLS off my top spot. And my first opportunity to walk the length of the fine new mezzanine level, which I rather liked, even if the shops selling things like shirts masquerading as luxury shirts were not all to my taste. There were also a couple of decent looking snackeries.

Home to Epsom, with the train thoughtfully stopping just outside the station so that we could admire the antics of the large dump truck as it failed to dump its load of rubble into the large skip, the edge of the skip being slightly too high for comfort. And the lumps of rubble were a bit too big to be wanting to poke them into life with a shovel from the edge of the skip; far too much chance of going down with them.

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