Sunday, 29 March 2015

Who do we think we are?

The English are, without mincing words, a mongrel race.  We have, mixed up in our blood, vestiges of Celts, Saxons, Angles, Jutes, Danes, Vikings, possibly Romans, and definitely French.  Well, Norman - and the Norman blood is basically Viking, Norman being a corruption of Norseman.  That, at any rate, was my thinking.  Of course, all those racial sources are centuries old and there have undoubtedly been more blood-types thrown into the mix during the last couple of hundred years, but I am concerned here with the long ago.

I wouldn't say that my ideas have been blown out of the water exactly, but they have most definitely been subject to - shall I say - modification.  Research published earlier this month shows that there are distinct DNA grouping around the country.  For example, the Cornish DNA is different from the Devon as shown on this map.

The research studied the DNA of "white British people who lived in rural areas and had four grandparents all born within 50 miles (80km) of each other. Since a quarter of our genome comes from each of our grandparents, the scientists were effectively obtaining a snapshot of British genetics at at the beginning of the 20th century."

What is quite surprising is the lack of Norman influence in the DNA, most people being distinctly Anglo-Saxon.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Thoughts on reading the newspaper

Actually, I wasn't so much reading the local freebie yesterday as glancing at the advertising wrap-around.  There, with two photos, one six months before, the other six months after (according to the captions), was a young lady who was quoted as saying, "I'm getting married in six months and i need a brilliant smile".  I was so enraged that I n early smacked the dog over the head with my bowl of muesli.

"No!" I shouted, "you don't NEED a brilliant smile; you would like to have one."

You probably guessed by now that I am on one of my favourite hobbyhorses; the sloppy use of the English language.  I know, I really shouldn't get so worked up about such a little thing as the use of "need" in place of "would like".  but I'm afraid it's just a red rag to a bull as far as I am concerned.

The English language is considered by many to be the richest language in the world.  We have more words to describe a gradation of emotion than any other language, so why do professional copywriters (and a host of others to whom words are a way of making a living) use only the top and tail of that list: love, and hate.  What's wrong with all the words in between, such as like, dislike, abhor, adore and all the others?

My second thought is not a rant, merely a "wonder why".  It concerns the crash of the German plane that, it transpires, was the result of the co-pilot suffering from depression and committing suicide, at the same time killing all the passengers and the rest of the crew.

Why have the European authorities not adopted the American rule that if the pilot or co-pilot leaves the cockpit, another member of the crew moves in so that there is never just one person in the cockpit at any one time?

And why did nobody notice that the co-pilot was ill?

Friday, 27 March 2015

A load of Blarney

Skip mentioned that he is planning a holiday - alright, he calls it a vacation, which sounds a bit like doing Number 2s - in Ireland.

I think that perhaps my vast experience of the Emerald Isle might be of some use to him in his planning so as a matter of civic courtesy I propose to warn him tell him of some of the delights to be found.

It was way back in 1965 that i first visited what Skip might think of as The Ould Country.  The Old Bat and I flew into Dublin, where we picked up a hire car.  We spent just the one night in Molly Malone's fair city - and what a flea bag it was.  We couldn't wait to get out and head south for Wicklow and Waterford.  They make very nice crystal there, not that we could afford to buy any given our impecunious fairly-newly-married status.  From here we headed westwards, towards the rougher part of the country.

Firs stop (or it might have been the second; it happened so long ago that I've forgotten most of the details) Blarney castle for to kiss the jolly old Blarney Stone.  Yes, you doubting Thomases, it really does exist!

You have to lean backwards and reach across the gap to kiss the stone while being held safely by the local guide - always assuming you have tipped him sufficiently.  And no, that's not me in the picture, though I'm sure I had a photo somewhere.  there are, naturally - this is Ireland after all - several legends surrounding this stone, which, on being kissed, bestows eloquence on the kisser.

Some say it was Jacob’s Pillow, brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah.  It was also said to be the deathbed pillow of St Columba on the island of Iona. Legend says it was then removed to mainland Scotland, where it served as the prophetic power of royal succession, the Stone of Destiny.  When Cormac MacCarthy, King of Munster, sent five thousand men to support Robert the Bruce in his defeat of the English at Bannockburn in 1314, a portion of the historic Stone was given by the Scots in gratitude – and returned to Ireland.  A witch saved from drowning later revealed its power to the MacCarthys.

Both the Old Bat and I survived the experience and carried on the the far south-west of the island.  It was here, for the first and last time in my life, that I was persuaded to mount a real horse!

You will notice that scant regard was shown for health and safety.  But I much preferred the dogs at a farm we stayed at.

We booked into a hotel in Killarney for a couple of nights, allowing us to take a day trip round the Ring of Kerry.  It seems to have been developed into a much more popular tourist attraction than is was back in 1965.

Part way round, we stopped at a cottage advertising morning coffee.  The lady asked us where we were staying and we told her we were in Killarney.  She promptly exclaimed that everybody in that wicked city was a thief - and then proceeded to charge me at least twice what I would normally have paid for two coffees!  I was too gob-smacked to say anything!

We then headed north along the western coastline into Galway and Connemara.  I suppose it could have been considered scenic, but to me it was desolate and lonely.  The fields were littered with large rocks, the houses little more than thatched hovels.

Anyway, Skip, I'm sure you will enjoy your holiday, though I confess I have never been back again.

Thursday, 26 March 2015


So I took a leaf out of Skip's book, who had taken a leaf out of...  Well, never mind.  What it comes down to is that I tried out that thingy where you type in your name and the computer tells you what a wonderful person you are.  Guess what?
You are full of energy. You are spirited and boisterous.
You are bold and daring. You are willing to do some pretty outrageous things.
Your high energy sometimes gets you in trouble. You can have a pretty bad temper at times.

You are wild, crazy, and a huge rebel. You're always up to something.
You have a ton of energy, and most people can't handle you. You're very intense.
You definitely are a handful, and you're likely to get in trouble. But your kind of trouble is a lot of fun.

You tend to be pretty tightly wound. It's easy to get you excited... which can be a good or bad thing.
You have a lot of enthusiasm, but it fades rather quickly. You don't stick with any one thing for very long.
You have the drive to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time. Your biggest problem is making sure you finish the projects you start.

You are usually the best at everything ... you strive for perfection.
You are confident, authoritative, and aggressive.
You have the classic "Type A" personality.

You are very intuitive and wise. You understand the world better than most people.
You also have a very active imagination. You often get carried away with your thoughts.
You are prone to a little paranoia and jealousy. You sometimes go overboard in interpreting signals. 
As I say, hmm.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015


Few things are impossible to diligence and skill. Great works are performed not by strength, but perseverance.
Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784) 

The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will; and the other from a strong won't.
Henry Ward Beecher (1813 - 1887)

I have never been quite sure if the Old Bat is obstinate or persevering; perhaps the answer is both - in equal measure.  However, this past week  she has demonstrated her perseverance.  When we came back from France at the beginning of last week, she was well into developing a cold.  Today, she has finally succeeded in passing it on to me!

Actually, she must be feeling pretty rough because she has asked me to cook dinner.  ME!  COOK!  This calls for my version of penne a la matriciana.

And the cold calls for my favourite cure: fresh air and scotch.  I've had the fresh air - a couple of hours out with the dog - and I have promised myself a scotch this evening.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015


Richard of York gave battle in vain.

Indeed he did, at Bosworth in 1485 - although whether the acronym refers to King Richard III or his father, another Richard, Duke of York, who died at the battle of Wakefield and thus failed to become King of England, is uncertain.

What turbulent times those were, back in the 15th century.  England was riven apart by the Wars of the Roses in which the Tudors of Lancaster vied with the Plantagenets of York for the throne.  They were called the Wars of the Roses because each side had a rose as an emblem, the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York.  Bosworth was the final battle in the wars which led to the death of Richard, the last of the Plantagenets, and the rise of the Tudors.  (One needed to be pretty tough to be a king back in those days; the king was expected to lead his army into battle.)

Richard's body, stripped naked, was dragged from the battlefield and buried in a shallow grave at a monastery in Leicester.  The monastery eventually gave way to a car park (though I assume other buildings were there in between) and an architectural dig discovered the skeleton some two and a half years ago.  It was proved to be the skeleton of Richard III by DAN comparison, as explained by the University of Leicester:
"Cecily Neville, Richard’s mother, would have passed down her mitochondrial DNA type to all of her children. This means that Richard III and Anne of York inherited the same mtDNA from their mother - and as long as Anne’s daughter(s) had a daughter, who had a daughter (highly likely in an age when eight to ten children was common!) and so on, the mtDNA type (or a near identical type) will have been passed down those lines of descent. Michael Ibsen and Wendy Duldig are two such female-line relatives of Richard III."
Anyway, the remains are to be re-interred later this week. Last Sunday, the coffin containing the skeleton was taken from the University to Bosworth and then back to Leicester where it is to lie in state in the cathedral.  I was amazed how many people turned out to watch:

Copied from

There is still some confusion - and, indeed, argument -over whether or not Richard was the evil man portrayed by Shakespeare who was responsible for the murders of his two nephews, both of whom were before him in the line of succession and by whose deaths he became king.  It has been suggested that this story was made up by the Tudors, the last of whom was still ruling when Shakespeare is believed to have written his play (1592).  The Bard would not have wanted to cause offence to the sovereign, so he would have toed the party line - he probably knew no different anyway.

On the other hand, Richard is said to have been a good king and was responsible for introducing a number of significant changes to English law, including the presumption of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and a reformation of the jury system.  But history is written by the victors.

Either way, on Thursday this week, King Richard will receive a proper burial - 530 years after his death!

Monday, 23 March 2015


You, dear reader, may blame Suldog for this post, if indeed blame is to be attributed.  You see, Jim wrote about how, when he was a few years younger than he professes to be now, he managed a baseball team which was known (or maybe unknown) as the Green Sox.  You can read about it right here if you feel so inclined.

I told him (in the comments), "One day - if you twist my arm very hard - I'll explain how I opened the batting for England against Australia"

Jim, who is never one to shirk a challenge, immediately took me up, replying, "I would LOVE to hear the story. Cricket, I assume"

So you see, it really is his fault that I am inflicting this cricketing tale on you.

I had quite forgotten about this story until I read Jim's post and I would have thought that it probably happened in the summer of 1954.  That may well be the case, but I had also thought that the Australian cricket team were touring England whereas they were in England in the summer of 1953.  But exactly when it happened is immaterial.

At that time, it was possible to buy a game which I now find is spelt "Owzthat".  The tin measures just over an inch on the longest side and contains two hexagonal dice.  One is the batsman's die and the sides are numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and Owzthat.  (I should perhaps explain that, in cricket, the fielding side appeals to the umpire by shouting, "How's that?")  The second die is the umpire's and the sides are marked ‘bowled’, ‘caught’, ‘not out’, ‘stumped’, ‘L.B.W.’ (leg before wicket) and ‘no ball’.

The batting side starts the game by rolling the batting die. Any runs signalled are recorded on the scorecard. When a 'owzthat' appeal is signalled, the umpire die is rolled for a decision. The batsman has a 1/3 chance of being not out, if the 'Not Out' or 'No Ball' is signalled. As in real cricket a 'No Ball' entitles the batsman to an additional strike (roll) and an extra run. A batsman is out if 'bowled', 'stumped', 'caught', or 'L.B.W.’ are signalled, and the next batsman comes to the crease. Depending on the cricket format the batting side is dismissed when all the batsmen are out or and if the over limit is reached. The other side then bats in an attempt to score more runs and hence win.

The game I remember was the one in which England (me) played Australia (can't remember who) and I opened the batting together with the now legendary Len Hutton.  Among the other members of the England team were Peter May , Colin Cowdrey and (my favourite) Godfrey Evans.

I know that England won the real-life Ashes series of 1954-55, but just who won the match in which I played is a fact lost in the mists of time.

There are several Owzthat games for sale on Ebay with asking prices as high as £30 - but I don't think I will be tempted, although this was a very popular game 60 years ago.