RHKCPs

As I discovered on a behind-the-scenes tour of parts of the Natural History Museum (NHM), the real strength of a museum is in its collection of Really Helpful, Knowledgeable, Committed People, as much as in its collection of artefacts.

Behind the scenes at the NHM
Are RHKCPs.
Museums everywhere depend
On people such as these.

They’re Really Helpful, Knowledgeable
And totally Committed
To taking care of all the stuff
That others have submitted.

If you’re researching something special
And need to know its history,
Just ask an RHKCP –
They’ll help you solve the mystery.

They know where every item is,
Who found it, when and where.
They treat each item, large or small,
With parental, nurturing, care.

The strength of a Museum,
Which the public rarely sees,
Is in the folk who work there –
The RHKCPs.

[Image: Wikipedia]
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Begin at the beginning . . .

In chapter 12 of Lewis Carroll’s book Alice in Wonderland, the King of Hearts offers his Herald, the White Rabbit, such good advice that I thought it deserved expanding a little. So, risking decapitation, I have put a few extra words into the King’s mouth.

Begin,” said the King, “that’s the secret,
For nothing gets done if you don’t, see?
It’ll stay on your really-must-do list,
And finished it certainly won’t be.

“The place to begin’s the Beginning –
Don’t start in the Middle, my friend!
Then worry away at the matter
Until you arrive at the End.

“When you get to the End, my advice
Is to Stop – there’s no more to be said.
(But make sure you keep clear of the Queen,
For she’s sure to screech ‘Off with your head!’)”

[Image: jergames.blogspot.com]
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The Society of Radiator Geeks

A guide showing us round a museum remarked that an earlier visitor had become excited over one of the building’s radiators – apparently, it was a rare example of its type. He’d told the guide he was a member of a ‘radiator club’. My search engine couldn’t locate one, but such an organisation is clearly needed. Here’s my proposal:

The radiator, that thing on the wall,
Gets ignored every day. After all,
It doesn’t need telling to warm up your dwelling
As you hang up your coat in the hall.

I think there should be a Society
To celebrate their endless variety.
So I’ll set up a meeting for fans of space heating
To make rules to ensure its propriety.

My Society of Radiator Geeks
Will meet every couple of weeks
To find out what’s humming in the weird world of plumbing,
And discuss radiator antiques.

They will make it their special vocation
To seek out and record the location
Of rads new and old; then, before long, behold –
A Radiator Map of the nation!

[Image: thisoldhouse.com]
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Something in the air

News reports in February 2014 featured ‘smog’ in Beijing, a problem that used to plague London. Londoners first knew it as the ‘pea-souper’ fog, then mainly a result of emissions from coal fires. Nowadays, it’s also vehicle and industrial emissions that cause it in many of the world’s cities. A timely reminder that, while the air holds the oxygen that lets us live, it has lots of other invisible components, too – some beneficial, others decidedly not.

There is something in the air
Which turns up everywhere
And gets inside your body, uninvited,
Like pollen in the breeze –
The stuff that makes you sneeze.
It has many things with which our lives are blighted:

There’s dust and smoke and fog,
Particulates and smog,
Bacteria and viruses and prions,
UVA and UVB
In the daylight that we see,
Cosmic rays and all their highest-energy ions.

The air itself, or course,
Is usefully the source
Of oxygen, the stuff that makes blood red;
But most of it’s N2,
With argon, CO2
And hints of other gases, too, it’s said.

There is something in the air –
Lots of it, everywhere;
And most of it, it seems, is out to get us.
We just have to do our best
With the air that’s in our chest,
Doing battle with the problems that beset us.

[Image: Wikimedia Commons]
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London underground

Dr Richard Ghail, of Imperial College London, and others have discovered that the structure of the London Clay is not the simple syncline it had been pictured as until around 2004 – the maps of the British Geological Survey (BGS) showed hardly any faulting. But evidence of a continental collision some 300 million years ago, the Variscan orogeny, still shows up today as SE–NW ‘strike-slip’ fault patterns in southern Britain, and Dr Ghail’s research has shown that the London Clay is riddled with them; where this creates voids, groundwater can flow through them. In the Lambeth Group of sediments, which lie below the Clay, he has also found that oxygen-hungry iron compounds – a potential hazard for tunnellers.  He’d like to use his research techniques on data from future missions to Venus, a previous focus of his work. (Note: readers are advised to remind themselves of the tune of “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic”.)

If you dig into the London Clay, you’re sure of a big surprise –
If you are tunnelling London Clay, it really would be wise
To tap into the specialist knowledge of Richard Ghail of Imperial College
’Cos, underground, the geology is no picnic.

Every geologist who’s been good is sure of a treat today:
There’s lots of marvellous strike-slip faults in the wonderful London Clay:
Beneath the city it’s not very pretty and water flows where nobody knows,
And that’s because the BGS never mapped it.

Picnic time for Richard G
Is finding unknown faults where everyone thought there weren’t any.
Spot them, plot them on the maps, see how they match Variscan orogeny!
See him gaily gad about, for he is mad about tectonic geology.
At six o’clock his ICL students will write up what he’s said,
Because they all want an MSc!

If you dig into the Lambeth Group, you really should beware –
If you disturb the Lambeth Group, you’d better not breathe the air,
For Doctor Ghail has found green rust eats oxygen; and so you must
Be careful, for it certainly is no picnic.

Picnic time for Richard G
Is Venus, which, it seems, has plate tectonics like Earth’s today.
Watch him, catch him unawares, and see his research getting underway.
See him gaily gad about, for he is mad about Venusian geology.
He’d really like to climb on a rocket and do his work in space –
He’d be an orbiting PhD!

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Life is like a ladder

As yet another birthday approaches, I’m trying to pretend it isn’t.

Life is like a ladder
Whose length you cannot measure.
When you’re young, each birthday rung
You greet with childish pleasure:

The next one seems so distant
It’s almost out of sight
As you devour each endless hour
In days of cloudless light.

Then, when you’re part-way up,
You forget you’re on a ladder.
It’s more a race whose frantic pace
Is getting ever madder.

But as you keep on climbing,
The gaps between each stage,
Which once were vast, as each one’s passed
Get smaller as you age.

As birthday rungs approach now,
You look the other way
And, at this stage, deny your age.
“You’re as old as you feel,” you say.

So how long is this ladder
Whose top’s not yet in sight?
Who cares, I say! Enjoy each day –
But keep on holding tight.

[Image: workitdaily.com]
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Of course, I never do it

Roads in Britain have a speed limit of 70 miles per hour, though you’d never think it applied on motorways.

I’m cruising down the motorway, at spot-on seventy,
So why is all the other traffic overtaking me?
Where are the traffic cops? Now come on, all you chaps,
And nab those rascally drivers with your radar speeding traps!

I know my speed exactly, thanks to satellite technology.
And, though I am no expert in the field of criminology,
A law’s a law for everyone, with ignorance no defence,
And breaking one so blatantly is clearly an offence.

Of course, I never do it. Well . . . not for very long . . .
And surely just a short time over seventy’s not wrong?
(Oh dear, there goes my argument: duration matters not.
I have no leg to stand on. Arrest me on the spot.)

[Image: driving.co.uk]
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Unnecessary ologies

In a book* about research in teaching there’s a sentence which made the eyes of a certain teacher glaze over: “Ontological assumptions will give rise to epistemological assumptions, which have methodological implications for the choice of particular data-collection techniques”. We had to look up ‘ontology’ (it’s the nature of being) and ‘epistemology’ (it’s the theory of knowledge, with the stress on ‘pis’). I thought it might have been more simply expressed, so I thought of a question to test it:

“Will the Sun rise tomorrow?” It’s easy to ask,
But the answer’s dependent, you see,
On a theory of knowledge: in what way can we know?
(About anything, actually,
Epistemologically speaking.) Now make it
Ontologically perfectly clear
What you mean by “the Sun” and “tomorrow” – there must be
No ambiguity here!

And now what you need is a method, by which
You’ll acquire what you think you can “know”,
Using clever techniques for data collection.
And then, when it’s done, off you go:
Collect all the data and set up a theory,
And test it, to see if it’s “true”.
But still it depends on your theory of knowledge
And what the meaning of things means to you.

So Hitchcock and Hughes could have made things much simpler
If they’d said (as I’m sure you’ll agree),
“Just have an idea, and a way you can prove it;
If it works every time, QED!”

* Graham Hitchcock and David Hughes: Research and the teacher, 2nd edition (Routledge, 1995)

[Image: idahoptv.org]
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Ageless

What’s the secret of staying young? It’s a secret, but as it’s you, I’ll let you in on it.

The world’s full of tricksters, determined to sell you
The secret of youth, but their schemes have no value.
But I know the answer, and now I shall tell you.

I’ve discovered a method of not getting old,
The knowledge of which is more treasured than gold –
A secret that never before has been told.

Its value in pounds is as much the Earth weighs,
So shower me with cash if you think that it’s worth praise:
The secret is simple: just stop having birthdays!

In case your relations protest in a rage,
Just tell them politely, “If you’ll disengage
From birth anniversaries, then I won’t age!

And, if they agree they will give it the chop,
Say, “But presents are something I don’t want to stop,
So here is a scheme that will do as a swop:

Once a year, in its place, I’ll assign, if I may
A birthday-replacement No-Age Present Day”.
Then everyone’s happy, for ever and ay!

[Image: by Dr Vaggeils Fragiadakis, at isizmile.com]
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Oh! Mister Porter

Two nineteenth-century gentlemen, best friends at Oxford and encouraged by Louis Agassiz, amassed a fine collection of fossil fish, which are now in London’s Natural History Museum (NHM). But 9,658 of them, sent by train to the British Museum (BM), nearly didn’t make it . . . (This should be read, or sung if you must, with the rhythm and unusual rhyming scheme of George Le Brun’s 1893 Music Hall song of the same name.)

Landed gentry, through and through, were William Willoughby Cole1
And Philip de Malpas Grey Egerton2 with his Parliamentary rôle.
They loved to fill their cabinets with curious collections,
And fishes of the fossil sort were their main predilections,
So off they went Grand Touring to see what they could buy.
But William’s later blindness meant that he would then decide
To send the BM all he had. But things turned quickly bad,
For they were stolen from the train, and so aloud he cried:

“Oh! Mister Porter, what shall I do?
I sent my rocks to Euston, but
They all got nicked at Crewe.
Ten thousand fossil fishes all dumped into the Dee,
Oh! Mister Porter, how could you let it be!”

“It’s not my fault, Sir. I did not commit this heinous crime.
But, as you say, your fish are dead, and have been for some time –
They won’t be swimming anywhere! Have patience, and you’ll see
Your goods will be located soon and rescued from the Dee.”
And so they were3, and forwarded to Dear Old London Town.
Egerton’s collection4 too, un-looted, made its way
To Bloomsbury’s Great Russell Street, entire, intact, complete.
They’re now in the NHM, of course, where you’ll see them on display.

“Well, Mister Porter, I s’pose that thanks are due:
I sent my rocks to Euston, but
They all got nicked at Crewe.
Ten thousand fossil fishes all dumped into the Dee,
But you, Mister Porter, have rescued them for me!”

1. William Willoughby Cole, later 3rd Earl of Enniskillen (1807-1886) [left-hand photo]
2. Sir Philip de Malpas Grey Egerton , of Oulton Park, Cheshire (1806-1881) [right-hand photo]
3. Well, most of them, anyway . . .
4. Some 7000 specimens, mostly fossil fish
[Images: Geological Society]
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Noddle models

The human brain evolved to help our ancestors survive all that Nature flung at them. And it’s done it by setting up models of what it perceives, in an attempt to remove the mystery of cause and effect. But it’s not got the bits of brain that would let it grasp with certainty such things as what’s before the beginning of time, or after the end of it; or what’s outside the edge of the universe. I wouldn’t be without mine, but it does have its limitations.

The brain seeks explanations:
It does the best it can
To guess what’s really going on
So it can make a plan.

Scientific man would say:
“For rational explanation,
Experiment, and so obtain
Sufficient information
To set up a hypothesis.
Then, if it tests ok,
Accept your theory. Thus, it seems,
The mystery’s gone away!”

And so it has – till someone else
With better kit, maybe,
Repeats the test and finds there is
A small disparity
Which means ideas must be revised;
New models must be found,
And what was once a ‘natural law’
Is now a tad unsound.
We should, in all humility,
Admit our grey-goo noddles
Can’t grasp reality itself,
However good our models.

Our hunter-gatherer forbears used
The same approach. They sought
A causal link from A to B,
But found a different sort:
Had things they’d done, or said, or thought,
Brought trouble or success?
Was something watching every man –
A ‘spirit’, at a guess?
And could this ‘spirit’ be provoked,
Appeased, or brought on-side
By sacrifice or ritual
Most carefully applied?

“Why yes,” said shamans, chiefs and kings
(Whose stature had been grown
By claiming that the spirit-world
Should deal through them alone.)
And so religious man evolved;
But still, inside their noddles
Was not reality itself
But just imperfect models.

The brain seeks explanations:
It does the best it can
To guess what’s really going on
So it can make a plan.

See also Model makers .

[Image: theguardian.com]
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I will change it

What to do with a duplicated Christmas present (to the tune of the traditional Czech ‘Rocking Carol’):

Here’s a special Christmas gift, it’s from me.
Oh, you’ve got one, I can see!
I will change it, change it, change it,
I will change it, change it, change it:
Take it back to where I bought it
(With receipt) and they will sort it.

[Image: telegraph.co.uk]
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Santa-tracking

There’s a website that  claims to show Santa’s present delivering progress in real time as the world turns on Christmas Eve. A certain bearded reindeer pilot got to hear of it and was Not Amused:

It has come to my attention
From a source I cannot mention
That some children (and some adults, I believe)
Are confused and quite upset
By the wretched Internet
Whose ‘Santa-tracking’ site on Christmas Eve
Puts flags upon a map
(No doubt there is an app)
That claim to point to every place I stop.
They’re puzzled, for they’ve seen
Other ‘Santas’ when they’ve been
Enticed into a ‘grotto’ in a shop.

Let me set the record straight:
I’m in a quantum state,
And the Principle of Heisenberg applies:
You cannot fully know
What I am and where I go
And those who say they can are telling lies!
Kids have known through all of history
My existence is a mystery –
I don’t exist until I am observed,
As Schrödinger declared. It might seem shocking,
But I’m here, and I am there,
It’s like I’m everywhere;
So just keep calm and go hang up your stocking.

[Image: theguardian]
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Jon Richfield

Answers to questions posed by readers of the ‘Last Word’ page in New Scientist regularly appear over the name “Jon Richfield, Somerset West, South Africa”. How can one man know so much?

Who is Jon Richfield? A polymath, he.
And why’s he much cleverer and brainier than me?
No question’s too tricky, no problem’s too tough,
This fount of all knowledge knows all sort of stuff.

I’m getting suspicious: can I dare to suggest
That he taps in to Google from Somerset West?
Or is he New Scientist’s info-net nerd
Who pretends to write in to this journal’s Last Word?

So who is Jon Richfield? I haven’t a clue!
This fount of all knowledge seems too good to be true.
Yet, like Father Christmas,  if he didn’t exist,
I’m tempted to think old JR would  be missed.

[Image: New Scientist]
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Santa’s proof

It’s not just children who wonder about Santa . . .

Poor Santa needs help. Consider his plight:
Traversing the skies in the blackness of night
With only a reindeer’s red nose as a light,
And undeclared goods in a sack, out of sight,
He hasn’t got radar, he’s not wearing white –
It seems the poor fellow just can’t get it right.

Air Traffic Control, in a panic, declare,
“Unidentified objects, high up in the air:
One large one, nine small ones (all but one as a pair) . . .”
The RAF scramble, for though they’re aware
False alarms aren’t uncommon, they need to take care
Lest terrorist groups are behind the affair.

The jets in formation roar into the sky.
As they close on their target, they hear a voice cry:
“I say, chaps, go easy, I don’t want to die!
I’m just Father Christmas, a harmless old guy
Just driving my sleigh through this wintry sky,
Delivering toys until morning is nigh”.

“Can you prove it?”, asked the RAF man, with a sneer.
“Am I supposed to believe those are flying reindeer?”
“Ho ho ho,” said FC, “Come, be of good cheer,
And check out the soot on my jolly red gear
From the chimney descents of a long, long career.
Merry Christmas to all, and a happy New Year!”

[Image: noradsanta.wikia.com (The RAF’s pictures of this event are classified, so you’ll have to make do with this USAF one . . .)]
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Piles

Clusters of coprolites (fossilised poo), left in a ‘communal toilet’ by members of a 240-million-year-old dinosaur herd, have been unearthed in Argentina, according to a BBC report. They are said to have served to warn off predators. I wonder . . .

What did dinosaurs do when they needed to poo?
Why, the same thing as you – they went to the loo.
Researchers have found coprolites that abound
In dense clumps on the ground – a Jurassic mound!

To predators about, did the piles say, “Watch out,
You should be in no doubt we’re a herd with some clout”?
Or did dinosaurs choose to get into the news
With their communal loos? Was it simply a ruse?

[Image: BBC News]
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Misty

Dinosaur bones are occasionally found in the Wealden clays of Sussex, but on 27 November 2013, an almost complete 17-metre-long diplodocus appeared near Billingshurst in Sussex. Actually, it had been found in a Wyoming quarry by the teenage sons of German palaeontologist Raimund Albersdörfer, reassembled with a supporting structure in Rotterdam and brought to Summers Place as Lot 167 in an auction on 27 November 2013 where the Natural History Museum of Denmark bought ‘Misty’ for £400,000. (Notes for readers: This should ideally be sung to, or at least read to the rhythm of, the song ‘Nellie the elephant’. And it only works if you pronounce ‘Diplodocus’ as ‘Dip-lod-ocus’, with the stress on ‘lod’, like the BBC does.)

To Wyoming,
The Albersdörfers came,
They found a Diplodocus dinosaur, and Misty was her name.
One fine day,
She slipped her earthy chain
And off she went to be restored – a dinosaur again!

Misty Diplodocus checks her bones as she makes her way to the surface:
Limbs and ribs there? Vertebra?
Yes, they are!
Misty Diplodocus checks her bones
As she is exposed in the quarry:
Limbs and ribs there? Vertebra?
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!

She’d died in old Wyoming a long time ago
(A hundred and fifty years or more, said people who should know).
So Misty the dino was crated up and ferried over to Holland –
She had never been so far!
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!

In Rotterdam,
They wired her bones together
So Misty could be auctioned off and be preserved for ever.
The auctioneer,
With trusty gavel in hand,
Displayed to the punters at Summers Place old Misty, proud and grand.

Misty Diplodocus checks her bones
Are they all in the right order?
Limbs and ribs there? Vertebra?
Yes, they are!
Misty Diplodocus checks them again
When she’s on show at the auction:
Limbs and ribs there? Vertebra
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!

The auctioneer addressed the crowd: “What will you pay?
Four hundred thousand, any advance? It’s yours!” (She thought, “Hooray!”)
So Misty the dino discovered her worth, and felt like she was a rock star;
Her bones were all together again,
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!

[Image: BBC]
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Double-bass gymnastics

Some people reckon that Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is a brilliant composition. But I spotted three double-bass players vigorously exercising their upper extremities in its last movement at a concert by our local amateur orchestra, and thought they might disagree…

The players of the double bass, as they play Beethoven Nine,
Zip up and down their fingerboards so fast they’ll make them shine.
Such acrobatic movements, though, are rare: their repertoire
Is mainly backing up the rhythm in the bass clef, bar by bar.

I wonder if old Ludwig thought, as he penned Op. 125
“Those lazy blokes on double bass – I’ll make them come alive!
I’ll give them notes so widely spaced, so fast, they’ll have to grease
Their fingers with a tub of lard to play my masterpiece!”

Or maybe he was unaware how tricky it would be?
He didn’t play the double bass, so he could not foresee
How scattering notes across the stave was going to appal
Those fine upstanding fellows with their backs against the wall.

But hey, just look at them! They’re coping pretty well
(Although there’s so much going on, it’s difficult to tell).
But their efforts would have pleased him, if he could but have heard,
For deafness meant he scarcely caught a single note or word.

[Image: andrewhugill.com]
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Barite

The mineral barite occurs in the Dalradian Supergroup rocks around Aberfeldy in Scotland and is currently being mined at the Foss mine to the north-west of the town. Its most useful characteristics are its density (about 4.5 g/cm3), inertness, ready availability and the fact that it’s non-magnetic. Barite does dirty but useful jobs, as it explains below.

I’m not the brightest mineral when I’m mined –
I’m non-magnetic, dense, inert and cheap.
The oil prospectors reckon I’m designed
For mixing up with mud and pumping deep.

In concrete, I’ll absorb stray radiation
From nuclear and therapeutic plants.
So think of me, in Britain’s northern nation,
As Scotland does its devolution dance.

[Image: Wikimedia Commons]
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Jimmy Smuggles

It’s not widely known that Alfred Longley (1894–1965), from Worthing in Sussex, invented the over-land submarine and the underground kite. He also wrote tales about one “Jimmy Smuggles”, a chap of similar inventiveness and a Treacle Miner of nearby Sompting. Jimmy’s creations and activities are noted in Jacqueline Simpson’s 1973 book The Folklore of Sussex, but deserve a wider audience, so some are detailed below:

If you’re needing a hole lifted over a wall,
Then make Jimmy Smuggles your first port of call.
If the night sky be dark and you’re wanting it bright,
What you need is “Jim Smuggles’ Fresh Bottled Moonlight”.

Is your garden adorned by a fine weeping willow?
Well, don’t let the poor thing weep into its pillow,
Act now, for it’s tragic to witness such grief:
Buy “Jim’s Weeping Willow-tree Handkerchief”.

For breakfast, you’d better be safe than be sorry,
So eat “Smuggles Porridge”, direct from his quarry,
Then stir in some treacle from Jim’s Treacle Mine
For a meal that is nourishing, tasty, divine!

So who’s this Jim Smuggles, and where can he be?
Inventor, philanthropist, friend of the tree,
Provider of food that comes out of the ground –
Jim Smuggles of Sompting is somewhere around . . .

[Image: tansyrr.com]
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D’Arcy’s secret

D’Arcy Trinkwon is a brilliant concert organist, a master of his instrument and of an incredibly wide and varied repertoire. I came away from a recent performance at Worth Abbey, where he is currently organist, convinced that he could not possibly have played a Widor Allegro with just the usual human complement of limbs. He was hidden from view behind the console, but occasionally a hand would appear to turn a page. Here’s how he does it:

I’ve sussed the Trinkwon secret,
How he casts his magic spell.
He uses both his feet, of course,
But he’s got four hands as well.

You only see the usual two
When he takes his seat to play,
But then he secretly deploys
A pair he’s hidden away.

As Widor’s music whirls and swirls,
This organist engages
One hand per manual, one for stops
And one to turn the pages.

I reckon lots of practice
(And maybe evolution)
Has acted on the Trinkwon frame
To fashion this solution.

[Image (not of D’Arcy Trinwon!): haamusiikki.info]
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René’s fly

The story goes that, while watching a fly buzzing round the room (or crawling over the ceiling, depending on which version you prefer), the idea occurred to René Descartes that its position in space could be precisely defined by specifying just three mutually orthogonal measurements made from a fixed point. Thanks to that fly, we now have “Cartesian coordinates”.

René Descartes was really quite smart.
When he noticed a fly, René said:
Mon Dieu! Its position
Is described with precision
By coordinates: x, y and z.”

[For American readers: the letter z is pronounced ‘zed’ in Britain.]

There may be an alternative explanation: see “Helpful Helena”.

[Images: Wikimedia Commons; New South Wales Curriculum and Learning Innovation Centre]
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Harald Sverdrup and the MOC

The sverdrup, named after oceanographer Harald Sverdrup (1888–1957), is used to measure the volumetric rate of transport of ocean currents. It’s equal to one million cubic metres per second. Researchers have looked at what might happen if fresh-water flow into the Arctic Ocean were to increase by one sverdrup for ten years. They found that it could stop the Meridional Overturning Circulation (MOC) which in northern latitudes depends for its motive power on the cooling of an upper layer of saltier water. And that would cut off the transport of warm water to northern Europe from the Gulf of Mexico and drastically affect the UK’s climate.

The sverdrup is a unit
Of ocean volume flow.
It’s used in Arctic modelling
(I thought you’d like to know).

Now Greenland’s massive ice sheet
Is shrinking, and its ice
Could do just what the models do,
Which isn’t very nice:

Fresh water, say researchers,
If dumped at such a rate
Into the Arctic Ocean,
Could change its present state.

Its sea ice and albedo
Would both reduce; and so
The Gulf Stream’s North Atlantic Drift
Would be the first to go.

The globe is getting warmer,
The evidence is clear:
Those sverdrup flows of melted ice
Will not just disappear.

If we don’t cut emissions,
The MOC will die;
And GeoVerse’s readers
Will know the reason why.

[Image: Wikipedia Commons]
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A dog’s tale

Many a dog owner these days has a special sort of sling which helps them to throw a tennis ball for their dog, saving a great deal of muscular action in the arm department. One I saw today even used it to pick the ball up when the well-exercised animal dropped it at her feet. She looked as though she could do with the sort of exercise she was giving her dog. The dog thought the same:

My owner is a chubby lass
Who has a sling she uses
To help her effortlessly throw
My ball to where she chooses.

The exercise I get is great!
I wish she’d get some too,
But biting hands that feed you is,
In doggy lore, taboo.

She’s got herself addicted –
Eats chocolate by the ton.
And such a couch potato!
I’ve never seen her run . . .

But I’ve a plan to make her fit,
A plan that cannot fail:
I’ll make a chocolate launcher
And fit it to my tail.

Next time we’re out for walkies,
I’ll wag my tail with zest
And watch her chase the chocolate –
It’ll all be for the best . . .

She’ll run and puff and pant and grunt,
And work up quite a sweat.
I hope, when she recovers,
She’ll thank her thoughtful pet . . .

[Image: sweetclipart.com]
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Coming apart

Certain sayings have sinister undertones.

Night has fallen;
Morning has broken.
The world is cracking up fast –
It’s all on the blink!
I’m beginning to think
This poem could well be my last . . .

[Image: 1.bp.blogspot.com]
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Joseph

A name from the 18th century branches of the family tree.

He’s here! He’s arrived!
A brother for Jess,
A grandson for Gordon and Mo.
His name’s really Joseph,
But it won’t be too long
Before we’ll be calling him Joe . . .

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When continents collide

At the Open University, Dr. Clare Warren researches what happens to rocks when continents collide.

Keep a lookout for Clare,
Dice with her if you dare!
Continental collision’s her scene:
What is burial’s relation
To rude exhumation?
(Of rocks metamorphic, I mean.)

The geochronology
Of red-hot geology
Is what’s occupying her brain,
For what turns her on
Is where old rocks have gone
And how they will surface again.

[Photo: Open University]
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An orbital track

I saw the sunlight reflected from the International Space Station as I put out the empty milk bottles last night. Moving from west to east, it eventually disappeared into the Earth’s shadow.

It was twenty past ten one dark night
When I saw a fast-moving bright light.
It went straight as a die
Across the black sky,
Then it suddenly vanished from sight.

Its Earth-circling astronaut crew
Must have had a spectacular vies
Of the Earth, far below.
But there’s one thing I know –
I wouldn’t go up there! Would you?

[Image: NASA]
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Cats eyes removed

A Dorset village offers an unusual removal service (and I’m not just talking about apostrophes in road signs).

As I drove up the road into Milborne Port,
A sign by the road made me angry, distraught.
For the sign said, quite blatantly, “cats eyes removed”,
A practice of which I have never approved.

It’s evil, it’s cruel, it’s barbaric and wrong.
But there’s money involved, so it won’t be too long
Before humans get rich and the cats just get blind,
And their owners will purr, “It’s all right, never mind”.

Rise up, cats of Dorset: be wary, be wise,
The Milborne Port folk are after your eyes.
And what you must do, if you value your sight
Is knock over that sign under cover of night!

Then send out a message for dogs to surround it –
Just say there are bones there! They’ll dig all around it
And cover that sign up with soil – a disguise
That will save Dorset’s moggies from losing their eyes.

[Photo: melaniemallen.wordpress.com]
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Existentially baffled

The other sixteen of our group had got to the tea parlour at Gilbert White’s house in Selborne, Hampshire. before us and had been served their cuppas, coffees and cakes. As the three of us came in, the waitress, probably keen to sit us near our friends, asked “Are you the same people?”. My head whirled . . .


“Are you the same people?”, the waitress enquired
As we entered the café for tea.
“Well, I’m always changing,” I thought to myself,
“Today’s me’s not yesterday’s me”.

But maybe she meant: “Are you nineteen the same?”.
Could she see an invisible glue
That made us a single, biological being,
With multiple bodies on view?

Could she sense how all things are connected?
Can she tell what will be on the news?
And has she already precisely foreseen
The beverages that we’ll choose?

What mystical talents this waitress must have.
I wonder what else she can ‘see’ –
Molecules, atoms, Higgs bosons, perhaps?
She’s wasted, just dishing up tea.

We sit down, confused and excited.
One says, “Yes”, one says “No – well, maybe . . .”,
But I can’t come up with an answer.
Existentially baffled, that’s me.

(See also Hello, what are you doing?)

[Image: confusedcartoon.blogspot.co.uk]
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Clerk of the Weather

My parent’s generation used to talk about this character – invariably male – who was apparently in charge of the world’s meteorology. We’ve had a long, hot spell recently – I wondered what he was up to. (The picture shows UK forecaster, Michael Fish, MBE; I do hope he hasn’t secretly taken over the job . . .)

The Clerk of the Weather is sleeping.
He must be – we haven’t had rain
For week after week here in Sussex.
No wonder we gardeners complain.

I reckon this Clerk is a new boy,
Whose training has barely begun.
He’s nodded off reading the Manual,
And the great Weather Dial’s stuck on ‘Sun’.

We need a new Clerk of the Weather,
One who can balance things better,
Who can sense when we’ve had enough sunshine
And throw in some days a bit wetter.

That’s what he did in the Old Days:
The Clerk used to crank up the heat,
Then drop in a really good thunderstorm
To cool us all down as a treat.

You’d think, with the latest technology,
He’d be a bit more on the ball.
The weather’s a mess: folk are thinking
It might not need clerking at all . . .

“The What of the Weather?” say young folk.
“A ‘clerk’? What’s a ‘clerk’?” they exclaim,
For clerks and their quill pens are history –
Now ‘apps’ is the name of the game.

Perhaps that’s the problem. He’s got one,
This Clerk of the Weather – an app!
I hope he soon learns how to use it,
For his efforts so far have been not at all what we would have liked.

(See also Weather or not)

[Image: BBC]
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Mineral donors

Everyone knows about its dinosaurs, but London’s Natural History Museum also houses a magnificent collection of some 417,000 mineral specimens, donated by a variety of collectors almost as diverse as the minerals themselves.

Clayton M. Cracherode1 donated a load
Of specimens in a bequest.
Nikolai2, Charles3 and John4 and the well-known Anon
All sent in their brightest and best.

Charles Hatchett, Sir Hans5, R.P. Gregg, Dr. Kranz,
Two Barons6, a King7 and a Prince8,
A Dowager Countess (Of Aylesford, no less)
And others, before them and since,

Collected with care many minerals rare;
And then, so that others could see ’em,
Donated them all to be shown in the hall
Of the Natural History Museum.

1. Rev. Clayton Mordaunt Cracherode, FRS, FSA
2. Major-general Nikolai Ivanovich Koksharov of St Petersburg
3. Rt Hon Charles Francis Greville, PC, FRS
4. John Ruskin
5. Sir Hans Sloane, FRS
6. Baron Ignaz von Born and Baron Franz Coelestin von Beroldingen
7. King George IV
8. Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria

[Image: Natural History Museum]
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A Round Tuit

Expert procrastinators say “I’ll do that when I get around to it”, so I thought I’d test the idea.

 

I need a Round Tuit.
Have you got one to spare?
A new one or used one,
I really don’t care.

When I get a Round Tuit,
Oh, the things I will do!
I’ll mend things and paint things,
Hang a picture or two;

I’ll clean out the lofts
And the garage and shed;
I’ll sort out the garden
And kill the weeds dead;

I’ll mow both the lawns
And learn how to cook;
Maybe laze in the sunshine
And read a good book.

There is such a long list!
Will I ever get through it?
Perhaps, after all,
I don’t need a Round Tuit . . .

[Image: bytesdaily.blogspot.co.uk]
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Triasacarus fedelei

In August 2012, a group of researchers reported the discovery, near Cortina in Italy, of two new species of tiny gall mite in 230-million-year-old amber. They are the oldest fossils of an extremely specialised group called Eriophyoidea. Their body form has changed little, although most modern forms feed on flowering plants instead of conifer leaves, as one of them, Triasacarus fedelei explains (he’s the one in the top picture).

I am a little mite
Who wasn’t very bright –
I fed upon a conifer, you see.
I hung around too long
And its resin, thick and strong,
Enveloped me and stuck me to the tree.

Now in amber fossilised,
I bet you’re quite surprised
To see my microscopic little frame
With its legs (two pairs, of course)
And its fancy feathered claws.
And hey! I’ve got a fancy Latin name!

With the novel body plan
Of the Eriophyoidea clan,
My species is heroically tenacious;
Yet Triassic mites like me
Evolved, eventually,
When flowering plants arrived in the Cretaceous:

They found that they were led
To munch on these instead –
It meant they lived to feed another day!
But they still have feathered claws,
And their legs still come in fours:
Why change what isn’t broke, I always say.

[Image: National Geographic]
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Here

“Where are you, Dad?” came a young voice from one side of the large shop-floor. “Here,” came the unhelpful, though precisely accurate, reply.

I’ve been here all my life,
It’s where I have to be.
Everyone else is somewhere else;
The person here is me.

I’m used to being here,
Although I’m all alone.
Born here, raised here, lived here – it’s
The only place I’ve known.

If I hear you call me
In a shop, I’ll shout “I’m here!”
(That won’t be very helpful, so
Just wait till I appear.)

But, if I ask “Where are you?”
Be careful to avoid
The answer “I am here, of course!”
Or I shall get annoyed.

My here belongs to me;
You’re here‘s a different place.
But let’s be glad the universe
Has found us both a space!

[Image:www. icssupport.org]
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Font

Font (or Bleau, if you’re French) is climber-speak for an area of unusual geology around Fontainebleau, in which huge boulders of hard sandstone are dotted about on sandy ground. Ideal for ‘bouldering’, and for wondering abut how the landscape was formed.

The Forest of Fontainebleau,
Is where climbers a-bouldering go
To seek out the thrills of applying their skills
Without ropes – just a crash-pad below!

The boulders which scatter the land
Started life as concretions of sand
Which formed when the lime from an earlier time
Infiltrated the grains. Understand?

Of the next step, there seems little doubt:
Erosion from streams round about
Left sandstones projecting and nothing protecting
The sands underneath, which washed out.

The sandstone then broke off in blocks
And fell to the ground as rough rocks
With lots of good grips for bouldering trips
For the Forest of Fontainebleau flocks!

[Image: Wikipedia commons]
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Funny

“Funny? I laughed until I cried” refers to a spectacularly good joke. “That’s funny, I’m sure I left my keys there” is about something that doesn’t seem to be what we expect, but it’s because we haven’t taken other things into account (you did leave the keys there, but they got knocked into the waste-paper basket when you stood up). But “it’s a funny thing, time” and “funny things, children” refer to things we simply can’t make head nor tail of. When you boil it down, everything is funny in one way or another.

There’s funny ha-ha, funny peculiar,
And funny it can’t be explained.
It’s a funny old world and no mistake,
But it does keep the brain entertained1.

Funny ha-ha’s what you get when a joke
Makes you laugh out loud, smile, groan or cry;
Funny peculiar says “something’s not right”,
And you’re left wondering what’s not, and why . . .

But funny it can’t be explained is by far
The most interesting one, and the best
At giving your grey matter something to do
Making models2 and theories to test.

What’s inertia and mass3? What is time? How big’s space?
And how did it all come to be?
Why are some people horrid and some people nice?
And will there be honey for tea?

Religion’s old dogmas and science’s “laws”
Both offer, with no commonality,
Ways to make sense of the world as it is4;
But neither should claim it’s reality5.

For we are a part of the thing we’re explaining –
We cannot look in from outside;
And our brain’s not equipped to get at the truth6,
Though Descartes and others have tried7.

So there’s funny ha-ha, funny peculiar,
And funny it can’t be explained.
It’s a funny old world and no mistake,
But it does keep the brain entertained.

1. See Ignorance is bliss
2. See Model makers
3. See Definitions
4. See Science and religion
5. See First impressions
6. See Causes, Brain strain and No time like the present
7. See Confusion

[Image: The Spectator]
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Persistence of identity

On a walk around a large wooded National Trust garden, we met a couple we knew who were going the other way round. Some time later, we passed them again and I remarked that, a little while earlier, we had met a couple who were just like them, only younger. Or had we? It made me think . . .

I passed a person in the street I thought I’d seen before –
An hour or so ago, it was, maybe a little more;
But that one had been younger! Strip the problem to the core:
Identity – does it persist? And how can I be sure?

The answer is, I can’t be sure. But here is the solution
(It’s “survival of the fittest” – put it down to evolution):
We’ve learned to make such judgements when we haven’t all the facts
To stop us being gobbled up in animal attacks.

Our too-pedantic ancestors who needed all the answers
Got eaten, while their brothers kept their distance, took no chances
And made assumptions like: “That creature’s one to keep an eye on –
I can’t be sure, of course but, well, it looks just like a lion . . .”

I thought about this as I walked (a multi-tasking feat!),
When something made me turn around and look back down the street.
The person also turned. He said, “I passed a fellow who
Was just like you a while ago, but he was younger, too!

[Image: bbc.co.uk (Stephen Wright’s street photography)]
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A Central Igneous Complex

The geology of the Isle of Mull shows her long and turbulent history. Her oldest rocks formed when she was in the southern hemisphere; desert sands formed as she drifted northwards through the tropics; lava poured over her as Europe separated from North America; massive igneous intrusions blasted through to form her Central Igneous Complex; and finally, ice had its wicked way with her, ruining her complexion, but making her wildly attractive to geologists and naturalists alike.

Poor Mull, she’s got a Complex.
Her history is to blame:
Born in southern climates,
She’s drifted, lost her aim.

The signs of Mull’s long journey
Are written in her face:
Desert sands and lavas
A crazy, mixed-up case.

And then, to make things worse,
Volcanoes, earthquakes, ice,
Have left their awful imprints
And Mull has paid the price.

But that’s what makes Mull special
To folk who brave the crossing
In ferries, boats (and coracles?)
On stormy seas a-tossing.

There’s nowhere else quite like her –
Unique, some folk would say.
Her Complex makes her special;
Go visit her one day!

[Map: Expedia.co.uk]
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Science

A visit to London’s Science Museum was certainly interesting, but its exhibits seemed strongly focused on technology; and although technology can be a useful product of science, I wasn’t sure the Museum was really promoting “science”.

What is science? Who is she?
Invention or discovery?
Both are useful, both are fine,
But I prefer a different line:

To wonder at, then wonder why;
To think a bit; then, by and by,
To cry “eureka” in your bath;
And later, in the aftermath,
To test your theory many times
Against existing paradigms.

And if your idea seems to fit
Your test results, you should submit
For scrutiny (by anyone
Who cares to check what you have done)
Your method, so that they can, later,
Try to replicate your data.

And if they can, your theory’s strong;
But keep in mind you might be wrong.
If tests are done with more precision,
Your first ideas might need revision –
Don’t believe you must be right,
But seek instead a new insight.

That is science, that is she:
To wonder first, and then to see
A way to understand what’s there.
That’s science – and it’s everywhere!

[Image: chemistryland.com]
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Roger de Boxgrove

Since the early 1980′s, discoveries in the gravel pits at Boxgrove, near Chichester, have provided detailed insights into the life and palaeoecology of the earliest colonisers of Northern Europe, some 500,000 years ago, and not long – in geological terms – before the onset of the severe ‘Anglian’ glaciation of the British Isles. Finds included human teeth with tartar deposits and cutmarks (assumed to be due to the use of stone tools on meat held in the mouth), fine worked flint tools (‘bifaces’) and the shinbone of a hefty Homo heidelbergensis. Intriguingly, both ends of this tibia – dubbed ‘Roger’ after its discoverer – had been gnawed, possibly by a wolf, though whether before or after Roger’s demise could not be determined . . .  Surprisingly, the archaeologists missed a fragment of deer antler, on which Roger had scratched the following:

I’m Roger de Boxgrove, a ‘Heidelberg’ Man.
I am tall, with big muscles – a bit like Tarzan.
Your Sussex geology’s serving me well,
With flints for my hand-tools, and good food as well.

I make my own tools for butchering the meat
That the younger blokes catch, so we can all eat.
I call them “bifaces” – it seemed a good name;
And if they get blunt I just knap ’em again.

Our food preparation is basic, I know,
But time’s of the essence – it’s “rhino to go”.
We cut up the meat so our ladies can stew it.
Meat cutting’s an art, so here’s how to do it:

You hold in your teeth a nice juicy joint
And slash bits away with a razor-sharp point.
It might not do much for your dental enamel,
But there’s no better way of carving a mammal

We keep our eyes open for lions and bears,
To make sure they’re our meal and we are not theirs!
(There’s this wolf I keep seeing, with a glint in his eye,
Keeps looking at me – I can’t work out why . . .)

Some talk of climate change coming our way;
It’s getting much colder, that’s all I can say.
My kids might move south soon, but I shall stay here.
Sorry, must go – got to cut up a deer . . .

[Image: johnsibbick.com]
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Geoarchaeology

Geoarchaeology uses geology to inform archaeology. This interdisciplinary approach means that, for example, archaeologists looking for evidence of human occupation of an area can more precisely determine where to excavate, potentially saving much wasted time and money. The alternation of glacial and interglacial periods in southern England generated large, episodic changes in sea level superimposed on a steadily rising land surface. Together with the effects of freeze-thaw action on the exposed geology, they produced the features cited in the third verse.

A knowledge of geology
Can help with archaeology
For those who seek our ancient human roots,
Removing the impediment
Of overlying sediment
And proving that our ancestors weren’t brutes.

They lived, as now we know,
Where ancient rivers flow;
But river courses change as time goes by.
So you need to find the places
Where those rivers left their traces –
It’s data geo-science can supply.

River terraces, raised beaches,
Brickearths, ‘head’, ‘solution features’,
Now buried, unexplored, perhaps unknown,
Can indicate a site
Where investigators might
Turn up a crafted flint or butchered bone.

If carefully assessed,
Such evidence can suggest
How Palaeolithic people  once survived.
And thus, with these two ’ologies,
Helped along by new technologies,
Geoarchaeology has arrived!

[Image of section through the Bytham River gravels at Brooksby Quarry, Leicestershire, UK: Copyright University of Leicester Archaeological Services 2015 (used with permission) – see also Stratford upon Bytham]
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Twittering

To tweet or not to tweet, that was the question to which I thought I knew the answer – until my son implied it was an evolutionary imperative.

“I’ll never go on Twitter,
It’s birds who tweet, not me.”
That was the argument I’d use
Until just recently.

Until, that is, my son said:
“Dad, you’re behind the times.
You ought to get connected
So you can tweet your rhymes.”

Reluctantly, I signed up.
I checked the FAQs
And entered all my details.
It seemed I couldn’t lose.

But one Q wasn’t answered;
It bugs me. This is it:
On Twitter’s social network,
Is one who tweets, a Twit?

[Image: The Telegraph]
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Ache’s and pain’s?

A Sports Massage business used this heading in an advertisement in our local paper. It’s run by someone I’ll call Andy.

To Andy, whose business is there to ensure
Its patients with problems will soon find a cure
For problems with muscles and pains in the joints,
I’d like to complain on a couple of points:

Aches and pains in the plural, though nasty, I’m sure,
Are nothing to those that your readers endure
When seeing your Sports Massage ad in the press
Whose errant apostrophes add to their stress.

In reply to your question that asks: “Ache’s and pain’s?”,
Have you spotted the errors that message contains?
The apostrophes in it are ghastly mistakes,
You really don’t need them in “pains” or in “aches”.

Apostrophe use is a tricky affair,
But plurals don’t have them – they shouldn’t be there!
Possessives they’re not, and there’s no missing letter,
Please, Andy, delete them, and make me feel better.

 [Image: theoatmeal.com]
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Let cuttlefishes be!

South East of England sea users have identified 31 areas that need protection against damage from human activity such as dredging for gravel. Of the 31 proposals they have put to the government, 17 were flagged as being at ‘higher risk’. But of these, the government is considering only 7 for designation as Marine Conservation Zones in 2013. This poem explains how the cuttlefish, one of the many creatures and organisms that live in the sea off the Sussex coast, is much more than a bony treat for caged birds.

A cuttlefish has got three hearts –
One more than Doctor Who!
But what they pump is not blood-red;
Instead, it’s greenish-blue.

Their cuttlebone gives buoyancy
(Without it, they’d be squid),
And they can camouflage their skin
To disguise where they are hid.

If predators appear, and think
They’re something nice to scoff,
Their ink sac squirts a jet-black cloud
Which rather puts them off.

They’re really quite remarkable,
With W-shaped eyes,
And tentacles to grab their prey
And spit to paralyse.

So let’s conserve their habitats
Off Sussex by the Sea,
And let’s not dredge their special spots –
Let cuttlefishes be!

[Image: http://masseffect.wikia.com]
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Please do not bend

The postman occasionally brings a letter with puzzling instructions printed on its envelope.

The envelope, dropped through the letterbox, said:
“Please do not bend” in a type bold and red.
Well, a message like that one you cannot ignore:
I obeyed it – and that’s why it’s still on the floor.

[Photo: cuckistitchingcove.blogspot.com]
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Possessives

It’s not always quite as straightforward as adding an apostrophe–s, as I found when I consulted the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors and Hart’s Rules.

The possessive of words, I confess
Is often a cause of great stress.
The great and the wise
Forever advise,
“End the word with apostrophe–s”.

If a singular  word ends in s,
It always applies – more or less1.
And if it’s a name
Then the rule’s much the same,
Even when there are two, as in “Jess”,

Unless it would sound a right mess –
Then you leave off the s, I would guess2.
And with plurals, it’s clear –
No extra s here.
(Well, that’s sorted out then. Success!)

[Image: thewriter.com]

1. But if the added s would be silent in speech, it’s generally omitted e.g. “for goodness’ sake”.
2. Like “Bridges” (not “Bridges’s”) – also with the possessive of  ‘ancient’ names, like Xerxes, Jesus, Herodotus.

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Fallen headlines

The front-page headlines of newspapers have for some years now been moving ever lower, displaced by a line of ‘Reader Offers’ and ‘Win a Meal’ boxes. In our local paper last week, it was over half-way down the page. I felt that a protest was called for, and wrote to the Editor at their offices in Market Square.

On behalf of the Society
For Saving Fallen Headlines,
I pen this hurried note to meet
Your newspaper’s tight deadlines.

Sir, here is why our members
All flew into a rage:
Your last-week’s front-page headline
Was half-way down the page!

That poor, defenceless line of text
Had no way to complain.
On her behalf, our members trust
It won’t occur again.

For if it does, Sir, be aware,
That we’ll turn up in force
To demonstrate in Market Square
(Quite peaceably, of course).

I hope it will not come to that;
I hope you’ll not frustrate us.
Please act before it is too late –
Give headlines back their status.

[Image: free.clipartof.com]
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A Government warning

A correspondent working Abroad emailed to say that “A Government warning said everyone travelling in icy conditions should take a shovel, hat, blankets, a supply of food and drink, de-icer, rock salt, a torch and spare batteries, a petrol can, first-aid kit and jump leads”. He wondered why people on his tram were looking at him.

A Government warning was recently aired:
“In icy conditions, if travelling far,
Take jump leads, torch, blankets, rock salt – be prepared”.
But it wasn’t restricted to travelling by car . . .

So walkers, and folk on the tram and the train,
Are weighed down with baggage that’s really not needed.
Their terrible plight should help to explain
Why imprecise warnings are best left unheeded.

[Image: openclipart.org]
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Asteroid 21012 DA14

It’s January 2013, and a 130,000-tonne asteroid, known as 2012 DA14, is due to pass within 35,000 km of the Earth – that’s closer than one-tenth of the mean distance of the Moon – on 15 February. NASA’s Near Earth Object  Program estimates the chance that it will not collide with the Earth as 1 in 556,000. I hope they’ve done their sums right . . .

A hundred-and-thirty thousand tonnes of Solar System scrap
Is heading fast in our direction. But don’t get in a flap:
Astronomers have done the sums and confidently say
It’ll come much closer than the Moon, but everything’s okay.

I hope their observations have been made with high precision,
I hope their theory’s good enough to back up their decision,
I hope they got completely right the flight the asteroid’s taken,
Or else we might not be around to say “You were mistaken”!

[Later note: Phew – they did get it right! But they hadn’t spotted another asteroid, a third of the size of 2012 DA14,  that did enter Earth’s atmosphere that very day. It disintegrated over Chelyabinsk, some 1500 km east of Moscow, the shock wave shattering windows and causing many injuries but no deaths.]

[Image: Lupu Victor Astronomy]
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Fingers crossed

We found a pair of mittens belonging to a granddaughter on the floor of our car, just after her parents had whisked her up to Fort William for Hogmanay. But they are resourceful folk – here’s one solution they might have considered:

When travelling with one-year-old tots
To the wintry land of the Scots,
It’s a wise Mum who kits
Out her offspring with mitts
’Gainst the cold in this chilliest of spots.

But oh dear, if those mittens are lost,
Will small fingers succumb to Jack Frost?
No! Be unorthodox –
A spare pair of socks
Will keep her hands warm (fingers crossed).

[Image: crunchyroll.com]
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Function denial 2

When is a gate not a gate?

“Please keep this gate,” said the sign,
“Shut at all times of the day.”
Well, it can’t be a gate if it’s always closed –
Just a fence with pretensions, I’d say.

[Image: Dockerills.co.uk]
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The poinsettias’ plight

In previous years, these pot plants with their colourful bracts have been big sellers in the weeks before Christmas. But this year, with only a few days to go, the shops and garden centres seemed to have huge numbers left unsold.  Perhaps there were other attractions.

We’re Christmas Poinsettias, stacked up on the shelves
Next to old Santa, his grotto and elves.
We’re very attractive (well, we think we are)
The loveliest present for Christmas, by far.

Long hours in darkness we willingly spent
To colour our bracts up in time for Advent.
The shop’s very busy, and people are eyeing us . . .
But they’re walking straight past us – why’s nobody buying us?

It seems we must face it: the fact is, this Yule,
The followers of fashion all think we’re uncool.
Our chances of being in every home dwindle
As customers fight to snap up the last Kindle.

But nil desperandum: there’s just one last chance –
Will Boxing Day discounting give us a chance?
We’re not very hopeful, though; everyone reckons
We’ve had it, we’re doomed. The compost heap beckons . . .

[Image: Royal Horticultural Society]
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Some like it hot

During an expedition in April 2010 aboard the Royal Research Ship James Cook, scientists from Southampton University and its National Oceanography Centre used a robot submarine and HyBIS, a deep-diving vehicle, to locate and study volcanic vents at a depth of five kilometres in the Cayman Trough, an undersea trench south of the Cayman Islands. The vents shoot jets of copper-rich water at temperatures hotter than 450 ºC high into the ocean’s lower layers. Around the vents, the team discovered a new species of pale shrimp congregating in hordes around the six-metre tall mineral spires of the vents. They named it Rimicaris hybisae, after the deep-sea vehicle that they used to collect them. Instead of conventional eyes, the shrimp has a ‘light-sensing organ’ on its back, which may help it to navigate in the faint glow of deep-sea vents. Here, one of them describes its novel lifestyle:


Here in the Caribbean, at the bottom of the sea,
Your colour-sensing frontal eyes would be no use to me.
I’m Rimicaris hybisae, a shrimp who likes it hot;
I’ve got some useful optic gear, but ‘normal’ it is not!

My sunless evolution had to take a different tack:
To navigate my world I have an organ on my back
Which ‘sees’ black-body radiance around a deep-sea vent.
My life might not be bright like yours, but I am quite content.

I feed my tame bacteria just underneath my shell
With sulphuretted hydrogen (the stuff with bad-eggs smell)
That gushes from these vents all day. It’s symbiosis, see?
The H2S keeps them alive, and they give life to me.

Tube worms use symbiotic bacteria too: see Sightless symbiosis

[Photos: National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton]
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The Hoff crab

A group of assorted British scientists on the RRS James Cook used a remotely operated vehicle to explore parts of the East Scotia Ridge in the Southern Ocean between Antarctica and South America. In January 2010, they discovered a number of new species living around its deep-sea hydrothermal vents. One of these was a new species of ’yeti’ crab, characterised by a dense ventral coating of long setae (hairs or bristles) covered in filamentous bacteria. These crabs were crowded together – up to 600 per square metre – around vent chimneys. One of them explains:

    

On the East Scotia Ridge, where new sea-floor is born,
There are mineral towers of chimney-like form
Whose cosy environment shelter affords,
And that’s where my mates and I gather in hordes.

Now here is a fact that you’d never have guessed:
Volcanic vents can put hairs on your chest –
The hairs trap bacteria which I like to eat:
I scrape ’em all off and they go down a treat!

I’m a yeti crab really, but lacking a name,
Which the crew of the James Cook ship felt was a shame.
Can you guess what they called me? Go on, have a stab!
That’s right, I’m the hairy-chested Hasselhoff crab!

[Images: Daily Mail (map); BBC (crabs on vent chimney)]
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Jack

Some jobs leave little room for error.

A knife-throwing artist, called Jack,
Could never quite master the knack.
His throws from a distance
Perforated assistants –
Which must be why Jack got the sack.

[Image: deviantart.com]
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Advertising works!

There’s a message (not the one in the picture!) on an old piece of board that’s been leaning against the back wall of a commercial building as long as I can remember.

That sign had been there for ever.
I think it was trying to prove
That people will do what signs tell them.
(What the sign said was: “DO NOT REMOVE”.)

[Image: tsufit.com]
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Keep calm and carry on

Some astronomically catastrophic events are predicted by astrophysicists, but they do serve to highlight how lucky we are to be alive.

In one billion years from today,
With a 10% brighter Sun shining,
All our vaporous water will have gone;
So for life1, there’ll be no silver lining.

Don’t worry, don’t fret, don’t panic!
Keep calm and just carry on.
The present is yours to experience –
Enjoy it before it is gone.

A runaway greenhouse effect
Will inevitably come into play
As the Sun fattens up and gets brighter
And boils all Earth’s water away2.

Don’t worry, don’t fret, don’t panic!
Keep calm and just carry on.
The present is yours to experience –
Enjoy it before it is gone.

Andromeda (M31),
Which is now just a faint, fuzzy blur,
Is due for a Milky Way crash3,
And that’ll create quite a stir.

Don’t worry, don’t fret, don’t panic!
Keep calm and just carry on.
The present is yours to experience –
Enjoy it before it is gone.

The time will arrive, one fine day4,
When the Sun will swallow the Earth
As it swells to become a red giant
And shine out for all it’s worth.

Don’t worry, don’t fret, don’t panic!
Keep calm and just carry on.
The present is yours to experience –
Enjoy it before it is gone.

Footnotes:
1. Most current forms of life, anyway
2. In about 3 billion years from now
3. Over the period between 4 and 7 billion years from now
4. Over the period between 5 and 7.5 billion years from now
[Images: Jozef Kotulič (Wikimedia Commons), BBC, NASA, Oliverbeatson (Wikipedia Commons)]
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Daisy Bell

The song, “Daisy Bell”, composed by Englishman Harry Dacre in 1892, doesn’t actually record Daisy’s response to her suitor’s proposal that she join him on a tandem. He has now, somewhat posthumously, agreed to reveal what it was:

Here’s the truth about cycling Daisy,
Who I’d wooed for many long days. She
Replied, when I asked her,
“T’would be a disaster!
Ride a tandem – with you? Are you crazy?”

[Image: www.daisyfield.com]
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Gordon’s garden – the latest

I hadn’t done anything major to my garden for quite a while, but now I could see that the lumpy, weedy thing I jokingly called a back lawn really needed some serious restoration work. It seemed to take my garden by surprise.

Hi! I am Gordon’s Garden.
So far, this year’s been good.
I know in past years, I’ve complained*,
But I hope you understood.
It’s a give-and-take relationship:
I give, he takes away
The lovely food I grow him
And moans about my clay.

But this year has been different
Up to now. He’s shown goodwill
And not gone on at me at all.
I wonder if he’s ill?
Oh no, he’s not!  Look, here he comes
To renovate my lawn . . .
He’s strimming off my lovely grass . . .
And now my lawn is gawn.

To injury, add insult.
Seems I’m not good enough:
He’s covered me with sandy loam
And fertiliser stuff.

He’s raking it and levelling it,
And now he’s scattered seeds:
‘Hard-Wearing Lawn’, the box declares –
He can’t have liked my weeds . . .

I’ll soon be Gordon’s Garden
With a head of bright green hair.

I feel that I’ve been slighted.
I’m hurt, but I don’t care.
At least his mind’s diverted
From going on at me;
I bet it doesn’t last, though –
It never does, you see.

* See Gordon’s Garden and Gordon’s Garden, again

[Images: Nick Lawson (rough grass);Which (raking & grass)]
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A Jurassic Coastal Lady

Selling fossils to visitors barely kept the wolf from the door of Mary Anning’s family in their storm-lashed sea-front house in Lyme Regis. Following the example of her cabinet-maker father Richard and older brother Joseph, she became adept, not just at finding them in the Lower Liassic rocks of nearby Black Ven, but also in preparing them as fine specimens. Local gentry helped publicise and sell the complete ‘crocodile’ (later to be named Ichthyosaurus) which she and Joseph found and extracted in 1811/1812. Scholars soon beat a path to her door to take advantage of her local knowledge and expertise; but Mary was of the wrong sex, class and religious persuasion to be acknowledged in academia. Recognition of her contribution to palaeontology was slow in coming, but in 1838, nine years before her death, aged just 47, the British Association raised an annuity to support her. And in 2010, the Royal Society included her in a list of the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science.

She who once sold sea-shells on that tongue-twisting sea-shore
Wasn’t just a “fossilist”. Miss Anning was much more:
Survivor of a lightning strike, selling fossils from her door,
She grew to be an expert and a fine preparator.

Her Dad it was who showed her how her finds could extract cash
From seasiders from Town, down for a gentle Georgian splash.
Then brother Joseph found a skull. She realised in a flash
There might skeletal remains to find; at once they made a dash
To Black Vens’s treacherous shaley slumps; but it would have to wait
Until the mudslides had dispersed – the weather would dictate.
At last she dug into the shore (or so the tales relate)
And found the bones of Ichthyosaur for her to excavate.

More ichthyosaurs, and plesiosaurs, pterodactyls and the rest
Brought Mary to the attention of the brightest and the best.
But Mary was a woman, poor, self-taught, and not well-dressed –
She wasn’t even Anglican! So, as you might have guessed,
Her expertise was used, but barely recognised in print;
Her fossil finds brought income of a sort, and just a hint
Of fame, but not of fortune. She would never make a mint,
But the BA raised a pension so that she would not die skint.

But die she did, mid-forties, of a cancer of the breast.
A dogged palaeontologist, of a character possessed
Which drove her ever onwards on her dinosaurial quest –
This Jurassic Coastal Lady, from Lyme Regis in the west.

[Images: Wikimedia Commons]
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Calendar days

Our calendar begins each new week’s page with a Sunday.

It’s Sunday, the Sun day:
The week’s own Number One day.

It’s Monday, the Moon day
A come-round-much-too-soon day.

It’s Tuesday, old Tiw’s day:
A make-your-mind-up, choose day.

It’s Wednesday, old Woden’s day:
A let’s-get-up-and-go-then day.

It’s Thursday, old Thor’s day:
A got-to-do-those-chores day.

It’s Friday, old Frige’s* day:
A dreaming-up-ideas day.

Its Saturday, old Saturn’s day:
A lets-wear-gaudy-patterns day.

It’s Sunday, the Sun day:
Next week’s new Number One day!

*Pronounced ‘Free-ya’s’

[Image: Bournemouth University Research Blog]
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MSW and the Bluebell Railway

You can’t just dive in with a digger and a truck to move a rubbish tip, not when it’s designated Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) anyway, as the Bluebell Railway in Sussex found to its cost (around £3.5 million).

Municipal Waste, when it is Solid,
Is “MSW”, and it is horrid.
And if you want to have it moved,
Its risk potential must be proved.
A case in point is worth a mention:
The Bluebell Railway’s planned extension.

When Doctor Beeching’s axe came down
On Sheffield Park to Grinstead town,
The cutting north of Kingscote station
Looked like an open invitation.
It soon became the ideal place
For councils needing dumping space.

Filled to the top with this and that,
Plastic bags, old tyres and tat –
A hundred thousand cubic metre
Clay-topped pile (to make it neater).
But Bluebell’s doughty volunteers
Said, “We will shift it in ten years”.

Environmental Planning rules,
Complex risk assessment tools,
Weighing up the key statistics,
Working out the job’s logistics –
All this and more had to be done
Before the clearance was begun

Then ninety thousand tonnes of stuff
Was taken out. It left enough
To modify the track profiles
Along the Bluebell’s last two miles.
And it will open, so they say,
In March next year*. Hip, hip, hooray!

* 2013 – just 55 years after the line closed!

[Images: http://www.bluebell-railway.com]
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Silenced!

It was last heard during the disco at a young friend’s wedding.

I lost my voice at the party –
I had to shout, you see.
If you should ever find it,
Please post it back to me.

[Image: http://kihm2.wordpress.com]
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Special skills

A few days in the company of granddaughter Jessica revealed some developing abilities not routinely found in an eighteen-month-old child.

How marvellous it is to view
How children grow from one to two.
Grannies and Granddads are allowed
To feel a little smug and proud.

But we can’t help a slight suspicion
That Jess has had advanced tuition:
Behind the many skills she’s gaining
Must be some intensive training . . .

How else could little Jessica be
So handy with an Allen key
And know the proper way to clamber
Up the flinty walls at Bramber*?

Her Mum and Dad, of course, say “No,
We simply let her have a go.
She watches everything we do,
Determined she will do it too.

“We climb, and we use Allen keys
With Jess around; so that’s why she’s
Picked up these skills herself, we guess.
We know she’s special – that’s our Jess!”

* A ruined Norman castle in Sussex.

[Photo of sculpture on building in Lisbon:  Pedro Ribeiro Simões, on Flickr.com]
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Civil War

In the English Civil Wars (in which the Scots and Irish also became embroiled), the two key figures each felt a divine imperative.

 

1629–1640: Charles I governs without Parliament
“God wants me to rule,” said Charles Stuart,
“It’s called the Divine Right of Kings.”
God wants me to fight you,” thought Cromwell.
“You’ll see what such arrogance brings.”

1634: Ship money
“You’re here to raise taxes, not govern,”
Said Charles to MPs. “I decree
That all towns shall pay me ‘ship money’,
Even those that are far from the sea.”

1637: Revised Book of Common Prayer imposed in Scotland
“God wants me to alter the Prayer Book,”
Said Charles. “You have to accept its new style.”
No we don’t,” said the Scots Presbyterians,
It’s Catholic, it’s evil, it’s vile!”

1642: Charles fails to arrest 5 MPs in the House of Commons
Charles Stuart demanded of Parliament
“Are five guilty of treason here now?”
I’m the servant of Parliament,” said the Speaker,
And speak only as this House may allow.”

1642–1646: The First English Civil War
The Parliament signed up an army,
And so did King Charles: it was war.
But the King couldn’t get into London,
And totally lost Marston Moor.

The New Model Army won battles:
After Langport and Naseby both fell,
Charles hoped to find refuge in Newark,
But the Scots turned against him as well.

They handed him over to Parliament
Who locked up the King out of sight.
When the Army removed him to London
He escaped to unwelcoming Wight.

1648: The Second English Civil War – Charles executed in 1649
Imprisoned in Carisbrooke Castle,
The King sought a deal with the Scots;
But Lambert and Cromwell between them
Tied the Royalist forces in knots:

They fought battles widespread and bloody
As the country folk looked on with dread.
But Cromwell put down the uprisings –
And in Whitehall, King Charles lost his head.

1649–1651: Ireland and Scotland
Uprisings in Ireland, then Scotland
(Which had hailed Charles’s son ‘Charles the Second’),
Were savagely dealt with by Cromwell
And the Second Charles fled, for France beckoned.

1653–1658: The Protectorate
You are no parliament”, said Cromwell
In the Commons, removing the Mace.
Thus Cromwell became ‘Lord Protector’:
“Your Highness,” folk said to his face.

1658: Cromwell died
When his urinary tract got infected,
He died and, some say,  was interred
In a corner of Westminster Abbey,
Though the facts of the matter are blurred . . .

1660: Charles II proclaimed King in London
A Parliament, freshly elected,
Decided to offer the crown
To the Second Charles over the Channel,
So he came back to Old London Town.

1661: The Restoration of the monarchy
He was crowned in Westminster Abbey –
But not before Cromwell’s remains
Had been exhumed and hung up at Tyburn,
Shrouded, and weighed down with chains.

Charles I and Oliver Cromwell: a history lesson
“A King by Divine Right,” claimed Charles,
“Had to do what God told him he ought.”
But He told me to fight you!” said Cromwell.
Now we see what such arrogance wrought . . .

[Images: http://www.universitystory.gla.ac.uk/images/UGSP00178_m.jpg (Charles); http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/exhibitions/Cromwell/scan9.jpg (Cromwell]
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Jet Stream

It’s about 10 km above us, and has appeared in our weather forecasts in the last few years as a contributing factor to unusual weather.

If the weather in summer has a cold, windy, wet theme,
You can bet it’s because of this new-fangled ‘Jet Stream’.
It’s a fast-moving air mass, high up in the skies,
That blows from the west, unseen by our eyes.

Met Office folk use their special black arts
To plot anticyclones and winds on their charts:
They reckon that knowing the Jet Stream’s location
Helps forecast the weather in store for the nation.

To pilots, it can be a blessing or curse:
The turbulence round it is bumpy, or worse.
But to fly in it westwards is fast and saves fuel –
Avoid it on eastbound flights, though, as a rule.

The Jet Stream’s been useful to help us explain
Why the weather this year has been such a pain:
We can blame it for all of our weather below –
How we’ve managed without it before, I don’t know.

[Image: www.bbc.co.uk]
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Fishing nets and Cornish pasties

Sydney Savory Buckman (1860–1929) was the son of James Buckman, who developed the single-rooted parsnip and was somewhat obsessed with ammonites. Sydney is reported to have explained discontinuities in the rock sequence using these interesting analogies.


If you find discontinuities a difficult idea,
Syd Savory, Jim Buckman’s son, can help to make it clear:
“A fishing net has strings across – like strata; then again,
Its holes are like the time-gaps in the stratigraphic chain.”

But why aren’t sediments laid down without such awkward pauses?
Why do we find these sequence gaps, and what could be their causes?
These questions Buckman pondered long, and then he had a thought:
“Just think about a pasty, of the proper Cornish sort.

“In the morning, it exists: you can see it; it is real.
You put it on the table, it will be your lunchtime meal.
At one o’clock, you eat it up, enjoying every bite.
And thus it disappears from view – ‘eroded’ from your sight!

“If on the table now you place a slice of bread for tea,
Between the two you’ll see you’ve got discontinuity!
The pasty ‘stratum’ did exist, but now it is no more –
That slice of bread now lies where Cornish pasty laid before.”

Next time I’m on a field trip, I will think of S.S.B.
His wacky explanation is a good one, you’ll agree.
But just in case it slips my mind, I’ll take an aide-memoire:
A pasty and a fishing net, on the back seat of my car.

[Image: www.ammonit.ru]
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Keep taking the tablets

It pays to take careful notice of medical advice.

“Keep taking the tablets, this one’s for your heart –
Keeps the blood pressure down; one a day for a start.
And this one should lower your cholesterol count –
We’ll see how you fare with the smallest amount.

Your acidic reflux, with which you’ve been troubled
Should respond to this third one, or the dose will be doubled.
And lastly, this one, for the gentleman’s curse;
It isn’t a cure, but things shouldn’t get worse.”

I listened intently to every word
That the good doctor uttered, in case I mis-heard.
But my brain became tired, as he droned on and on,
And my eyes started drooping – concentration had gone.

I think I dozed off for a second or three,
And I missed the last word of his message to me:
“Keep taking the tablets, old fellow,” he said,
“Keep taking the tablets, or else you’ll be . . .”

[Image: telegraph.co.uk]
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Money spider

An old wives’ tale put to the test.

A money spider on my hand
Was tickling my skin.
They say it means I’ll soon be rich,
But the chances do seem thin:

How can it be that such good luck
Can come from one so tiny?
Just then, I noticed, on the ground,
The glint of something shiny
. . .

I bent to take a closer look ­–
My eyes grew ever wider.
But as I reached to claim my prize,
I dropped my money spider.

O woe is me, calamity!
A monumental glitch!
Without my money spider’s help
I’ll never strike it rich.

I knew, of course, that such a myth
Offended common sense;
And yet that spider came up trumps,
For there it was – five pence!

[Image: ramblingsofazoologist.com]
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Waste paper

What should have been a simple purchase, needing a simple receipt, took 640 mm of till-roll paper to complete. I felt moved to write to the offending shop.

I went into your shop in town
To buy a single item –
You’d think the details wouldn’t take
A foot-long slip to write ’em.

It itemised the VAT amounts
At rates from nought to twenty
(Three of which were zero, so
Just one would have been plenty).

Three times it showed the company’s name,
Its numerical ID,
Sales and Tax Invoice Numbers,
With lots of space left free.

And after that, the till spewed out
Another foot of text
With offers that I didn’t want.
It left me mighty vexed.

All I really needed was
A record, short and sweet,
Just saying what I’d bought, and when –
A simple till receipt.

What a mindless waste of paper,
Unnecessary bumf!
We customers don’t need it.
It makes us angry. Hrrumph!

 [Image: bbc.co.uk]
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On the naming of dung-stones

The geologist, mineralogist, and determinedly eccentric Reverend Willam Buckland (1784–1856) was the first to give a name to a type of fossil about which his colleague, Dr. William Wollaston, believed Georgian England would probably have preferred not to talk.

You’ll know them when you see them, for they look like what they are.
Of various shapes and sizes, but the fanciest by far
Are the curious stony spirals, which young Mary Anning’s eyes
Picked out among the ichthyosaurs whose bones lay in the Lias.

“Well, what d’you make of these,” she asked a visitor to Lyme –
Bill Buckland, who would help her out whenever he had time.
Now Mary was a curious girl: she’d found inside these stones
The fossilised remains of ancient fishes’ scales and bones.

Bill wasn’t one to tiptoe round indelicate ideas.
When Mary handed him her finds, he said, “Well it appears
They’re stony . . . and what’s more, I think they quite resemble dung!”
And into his collecting bag these curious things he slung.

He sent some off to Wollaston, to get them analysed.
“They’re rich in phosphate,” said the Doc, “But you’d be well advised
To watch your reputation, lest it crumble into pieces
By getting close and personal with animals’ old faeces.”

But Buckland didn’t care: he was eccentric, and he knew it!
If something scientific needed doing, he would do it!
“These things are useful,” Buckland thought. “They show what sort of food
Their owners once had preyed on, caught, and gobbled up and chewed.”

“They need a name, though,” William thought, “and it should be in Greek –
My dictionary should have in it the very terms I seek.
First ‘stony’ – ah, that’s lithos. And now ‘dung’? Well, let me see . . .”
He turned the pages . . . “Kopros! There! So ‘coprolite’ t’will be.”

[Photo of shark coprolite: fossilsofnj.com]
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Sunshine

After what seems like weeks of gloomy, wet weather, the Sun has made a welcome return. Not for long, though, if the forecasters are right.

There’s  a bright, shiny Sun where the rain clouds used to be,
And it’s beaming down on you, and it’s beaming down on me.
Quick, slap on cream to block it out – especially UVB!
How long will it stay there? Well, we’ll have to wait and see . . .

[Image: clkr.com]
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Run, rabbit!

It’s not just the farmer with his gun, gun, gun that today’s rabbits have to cope with.

Run, rabbit, run, rabbit, run, run, run!
Here comes a car, doing a ton, ton, ton.
If you’re not fast,
This breath may be your last,
So run, rabbit, run, rabbit, run, run, run!

[Image: dailybunny.org]
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Al Fresco is innocent!

But is is too late?


Next door they are cannibalistic.
I suspected there might be foul play
When  I overheard one of them saying,
“We’re eating Al Fresco today”.

Now I know Mr Fresco’s not perfect.
He’s not the most honest of folk;
But to cook the poor fellow and eat him?
Well, that’s getting beyond a bad joke.

Al Fresco has never done anything
Deserving a sentence of death,
And I’ll make sure this dreadful miscarriage
Is righted, until my last breath.

A reprieve should be given immediately –
The judgement was much, much too hard on him.
I decided to write to Her Majesty,
Requesting she posthumously pardon him.

But first, I went round to the neighbours:
“Al Fresco is innocent!” I cried.
“Yes, of course, mate,” they said, “Come and join us,
The burgers are just being fried . . .”

[Image: clipartkid.com]
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Willie the worm

A sartorial lesson.

Young Willie the worm
Liked to wriggle and squirm
As he burrowed his way through the dirt.
But he wondered one day,
In a worm sort of way,
What life would be like in a shirt.

“A shirt would look fine
In a wormy design
Without any collar or arms.
I’d wear it to show
All the girl worms I know,
Who would straightaway fall for my charms!”

He soon got to know
A worm who could sew,
And she made up a shirt for young Willie.
Though he thought he looked cool,
All the girls cried, “You fool,
“That shirt makes you look really silly!”

Young Willie worm found
That his life underground
Had been better not wearing a shirt,
So he threw it away.
You can find him today,
Still burrowing his way through the dirt.

[Image: www.clker.com]
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Slow Joe

An impossible dream.

A young snail called Joe
Was so terribly slow;
He wished he could slither much faster.
Though he tried some improvements
To speed up his movements,
It was something poor Joe couldn’t master.

He thought, “If a bird,
Like a thrush, ever heard
How terribly slowly I slide,
He would peck me; and then
He would peck me again,
And I’d end up inside his inside.”

But then, in a dream,
Joe thought up a scheme
Which he couldn’t get out of his mind:
“If I had two feet,
I could whiz down the street
And leave all my snail friends behind!”

And, what do you know –
He started to grow
One more slimy foot! “That makes two!,”
Said Joe. “Well I never,
That’s ever so clever,
I wonder what else I can do.”

In his dream, he thought, “Why
Cannot snails like me fly?”

And the moment he thought it, he found
He’d sprouted some things
That looked just like wings,
So he flapped them and flew all around!

“Whoopee,” shouted Joe
As he zoomed past a crow.
“I wish I could fly to the stars!”
At once, from his shell
Grew a rocket. “Farewell,”
Shouted Joe, as he shot off to Mars.

When he landed, he found
That the red Martian ground
Wasn’t what he had thought it would be:
There was nothing alive.
“I shall never survive!”
Cried poor Joe. “What is happening to me?”

Just then Joe awoke,
And his Mummy snail spoke:
“Why, Joe, you’ve been dreaming, you know!”
Said Joe, “I’ve been flying!
But there’s no denying
I think I would rather be slow!”

[Images: sweetclipart.com; billieachilleos.co.uk; wikipedia]
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Scratching the surface

Geologists, like astronomers, wring grand deductions out of the very limited types of evidence available to them here on the surface of the Earth: their deepest borehole has penetrated less than 8 miles into the crust. They have nevertheless made great strides. But the Earth itself is not impressed.

Oh, you think you’re very clever
With your surveys and your mapping,
Your stratigraphic columns
And your geo-seismic zapping.

You can work out strike directions
And calculate the dip,
But you can’t predict eruptions
Or when my plates will slip.

Your boreholes barely touch me,
Even though my crust is thin.
You’re just an irritation
That’s tickling my skin.

Your tiny toy submersibles
Just potter round my oceans,
And you’ve only just discovered
My plate-tectonic motions!

At least you know my age now,
And how I came to be;
But I doubt you’ll ever get to grips
With the very core of me –

My life is still in turmoil,
I feel my insides churning.
Just bear in mind how little
And how shallow is your learning . . .

[Image: clipartpal.com]
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Boring Chalk

For a tunneller, certain Chalk strata have undesirable characteristics, such as the presence of hard flints or sand-like phosphatic chalk. Tunnelling is expensive, but so are delays and damage to tunnel boring machines which hit unexpected geology. So engineers planning to tunnel through the Chalk have two conflicting objectives: minimum cost and maximal information. Professor Rory Mortimore told a recent meeeing how he uses selective borehole drilling to achieve a balance between them, and offered some sage advice.

As I might have said before, Professor Rory Mortimore
Is just the guy you need to give a talk
On the varied lithographics and the complex statigraphics
Of that soft, white, porous limestone we call Chalk.

Inspired, perhaps, by moles, he is happy boring holes
But examines every core for tell-tale signs:
In cold and draughty shacks, he looks for fossils, flints and cracks
To check it stratigraphically aligns
With exposures, known to most, on our sunny Sussex coast,
Where the flint and marl bands show in all their glory.
That way he gets a clue about what tunnellers must do.
But visual correlation’s half the story.

Borehole geophys is the latest thing there is –
It can spot phosphatic chalk. And, what is more,
Cameras can record all the layers freshly bored,
As back-up to each frail, extracted core.
Initially, he’ll drill his boreholes far apart, until
A sequence goes against his expectation.
Then, because it’s made him warier, he drills out more cores in that area,
So tunnellers have better information.

“Expect the unexpected; be excited, not dejected
If things don’t always turn out as they should;
For knowledge must advance by serendipity and chance,
It’s much less fun if everything ’s understood!”

[Photo: The Sun]
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Here in Horsham

Singing the praises of an ancient Sussex market town.

Come and shop until you drop,
Come and eat until you pop!
You’ll be welcome when you stop
Here in Horsham!

We’ve a Carfax, not a Square,

We’ve a Causeway; but beware –

There’s a dragon in its lair,

Here in Horsham!

We do music, arts and dramas,
We’ve got markets for our farmers,

Check our Wealden panoramas

Here in Horsham!

Sip your coffee, beer or tea
In a town with history,
And relax, unwind, feel free,
Here in Horsham!

[Images: Horsham’s Forest Neighbourhood Council, micromagus.net, Wikipedia Commons, roadsofstone.files.wordpress.com, wscotimes.co.uk/Toby Philips, s0.geograph.org.uk, Wikimedia Commons]
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A short Planck

Physicists reckon you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between two points separated by less than this distance (about 1.6162 times 10-35 m).

Reductionism’s met its match!
Where quantum physics reigns,
At sizes down at Planck length scales,
It’s too much for our brains.

[Image: symbolic-mirage.blogspot.co.uk]
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It’s a granular world

Tough physics, but a solution to an age-old puzzle.

The text I see in front of me,
When magnified, looks spotty
How come, then, it looks smooth to me?
(And don’t tell me I’m dotty.)

It seems we live in a granular world
Where things are all in pieces;
And when you try to look at them,
Their mystery increases.

We like to think we’re solid stuff;
But we’re on shaky ground,
It’s quarks and quanta that make up
The things we see around.

Max Planck said space, and time as well
Are not continuous things:
Each has its smallest little bit –
Complexity, it brings!

Which means, in fact, that you and I
Are really rather gritty,
And all the washing in the world
Won’t help to make us pretty.

But if the world is granular,
I reckon it explains
The lost-sock mystery: it must
Have slipped between those grains . . .

[Image: Wikipedia Commons]
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Free-range chipolatas

I spotted a packet of these and wondered how they had been produced. A subliminal voice explained.

Our free-range chipolatas all enjoy a happy life,
So your conscience can be blameless as you slice them with your knife.
They get fresh air and exercise, with access to fresh grazing
In meadows whose diversity is something quite amazing.

We give them the conditions that allow them to have fun:
They run and jump and frolic as they soak up all the sun.
At night-time, they can snuggle into beds of pristine straw
In conditions of such luxury you’ve never seen before.

Come and view our free-range lovelies on their eco-farm in Devon;
See how blissful their existence is in chipolata heaven –
It’s why their skins turn golden brown, and why they taste so yummy.
But please don’t ever tell them they’ll end up inside your tummy . . .

[Image: abelandcole.co.uk]
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Directions

I have just directed an innocent visitor who sought the location of Horsham’s Register Office to where it used to be until three years ago. Oh well, if she ever manages to find where it moved to, she will at least have learned more about the geography of the town.

If ever you are lost, and are driven to accost
A local for directions, I’m the chap
Who with confidence will say, “Oh, it’s easy – that’s the way…”.
(You’ll wish you’d come prepared and brought a map.)

I’ll dish out clear directions so chock-full of imperfections,
They’re guaranteed to drive you round the bend –
So many bends in fact that, though I might have lacked
Precision, you will get there – in the end . . .

And your knowledge of the place will have grown at such a pace
That, if people ask you which way they should go,
You can confidently say, “Oh, it’s easy – that’s the way…”,
And it’s me you’ll have to thank for all you know.

[Photo: solidaritysojurns.org]
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Apostrophe aid

Like other punctuation marks, the apostrophe’s job is to clarify meaning. But, as Lynne Truss in her popular book Eats, Shoots & Leaves (Profile Books, 2003) notes, it needs our help. The website of the Apostrophe Protection Society (yes, there really is one), under its Chairman, John Richards, gives examples of apostrophic wrongdoing and offers guidance. I thought I ought to do my bit too.

The wrongly-used apostrophe
Is like a weed. It is, you see,
Good punctuation, in this case
Appearing where it has no place.

You mustn’t think of them as cure-alls.
They can’t turn singulars to plurals:
As every well-read over-eight knows*
There should not be one in “potato’s”**.

You should develop this obsession:
An apostrophe denotes possession;
And also, you will find it fits
Where something’s missing, as in “it’s”.

(But rules like that can cast some doubt,
For “its” – possessive – goes without!)
Don’t let the weeds grow. Make a fuss
And, if in doubt, consult Lynne Truss . . .

* I wonder if this is true, these days?
** Unless it’s possessive, of course . . .

[Image: http://aworldelsewhere-finn.blogspot.co.uk]
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Lifesavers

An email from the chairman of the local Lifesavers Club wanted me to donate my Waitrose tokens to his cause. (You’re given a token as you leave the store, to put in one of three boxes near the exit; at the end of the month, Waitrose divides £1000 among the charities according to the depth of tokens in each box.)

Shopping’s not simple in Waitrose.
Hard enough to decide between brands;
But then, when you’ve filled up your trolley,
You’ve another tough choice on your hands.

Three charity boxes accost you,
In which you can see little mounds
Of green plastic tokens from shoppers
Which Waitrose will turn into pounds.

How do you decide which to favour
With the token the checkout girl gave you?
Well, help is at hand in an email
From swimmers who’re training to save you:

“Hoard all your discs until April,
Then into the box with the label
‘Horsham Lifesavers’ appended
Please post every one, if you’re able.”

It’s the first time I’ve ever been lobbied
To influence how I should vote.
But I’ll donate my little green tokens
In the hope that they’ll keep me afloat.

[Photo: snowdonia-society.org.uk]
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Bakin’ eggs

A Wiltshire company called Stonegate markets its free-range eggs in girly-pink boxes, labelled ‘Ella Valentine Baking Eggs’. I worried that people (like me) might not buy them in case they weren’t suitable for dunking soldiers in at breakfast. They replied to my anxious email, saying they just wanted to get more people baking.

These eggs aren’t just for bakin’,
There’s more that they can do:
And one of these days these eggs are gonna
Give you breakfast too.

You can fry ’em, poach them, boil ’em
Use ’em in your shampoo;
But one of these days these eggs are gonna
Get you bakin’ too.

That’s why these eggs from Stonegate
Were ‘born to be baked’ – it’s true,
Cos that’s what Ella Valentine
Wants y’all to do.

Are you ready, eggs? Start bakin’!

[Image: popsops.com. Apologies to lyricist Lee Hazlewood, and singer Nancy Sinatra, whose 1966 boots were made for walkin’.]
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The mind of a sat-nav

My trust in modern technolgy, based largely on ignorance of its inner workings, nearly led to rejection of a potentially useful bit of kit.

My sat-nav is very demanding.
She insists that I do as I’m told
In a tone that is firm and commanding,
Persistent, unfriendly, ice-cold.

I felt differently when I first saw her:
“That’s the sat-nav for me, I declare –
She’s so slim, so petite, I adore her!”
And that’s how began our affair.

I was sure I could soon get to know her,
But what ought to have roused my suspicions
Was the USB socket below her,
And her long list of Terms and Conditions.

“Such details,” I thought, “are distractions.
As we travel through life’s hidden byways
I’ll discover her subtle attractions.”
But I soon found that her ways weren’t my ways.

We started off well, as we travelled
On routes that I knew pretty well;
But my trust in her guidance unravelled
When she sought out the back roads to Hell.

“Turn left at the junction,” she insisted,
When I knew turning right was the norm.
Down lanes that were narrow and twisted
We sped, as I strove to conform.

I knew I would get no apology:
She would claim her technology forced her
(Like hormones in human biology).
I felt it was time I divorced her.

I grabbed at her 12-volt supply,
“This’ll teach you,” I growled at her screen.
Just in time, though, I realised why
She had taken us where we been . . .

. . . And I let go the threatened supply lead.
In her wonderful, caring, devoted way,
She had faithfully satisfied my need
And avoided a jam on the motorway!

So we’ve patched up our quarrel, made amends again.
The past is forgotten – it’s history.
We now have become best of friends again.
But the mind of a sat-nav’s a mystery!

[Image: dailymail.co.uk]
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Theory and practice

A persistent urban myth says that scientists have shown that bumblebees can’t fly. While it’s true that basic fixed-wing aerodynamics would arrive at that conclusion, the bumblebee has developed a wing action that is anything but fixed!

I am a big, fat bumblebee.
I cannot fly, theoretically
And yet I do! You see, the fact is,
It just takes lots and lots of practice . . .

[Image: ‘Ernie’ at Wikipedia Commons]
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Undescribed

Micropalaeontologists deal with the miniscule hard parts of long-dead organisms. One type of such fragments is called an otolith, or ‘earstone’, a tiny concretion which once acted as a gravity sensor within the inner ear of its host. Once the subtle differences in their form have been described in the literature, they can tell an expert, like Dr. Adrian Rundle, what species they came from. (Dr. Rundle’s inquisitive nature has also driven him to examine similar present-day organisms, including woodlice!) Somewhere in his vast collection are a couple of unusual squid otoliths from Bracklesham Bay whose descriptions have not yet been published. He will, he says, get round to it one day. Can’t be soon enough for one of them . . .

I’m an undescribed species from Bracklesham Bay;
An anonymous otolith, me,
From the ear of a squid. I told it which way
Was ‘up’, and which ‘down’, in the sea.

I’d a purpose in life, and that was terrific,
But my squid has long rotted away.
I’m an ‘earstone’ of sorts, but nothing specific –
What species I am, none can say.

Microfossil I may be, but I still have my pride,
And I’m desperately seeking ID.
Put me under you microscope, peer down inside,
And describe to the world what you see.

All things have descriptions, from microbes to men,
So please, Dr. Rundle, go to it:
Stop messing with woodlice, pick up your pen –
It’s a tough job, but someone must do it.

[Image: www.perceptions.couk.com]
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Quack knack

According to her Mum, a certain young lady (nearing her first birthday) seems to have a certain rapport with local pond life.

You won’t find her driving a truck
Or up to her knees in cow  muck,
But this baby’s skill
Gives her parents a thrill –
For Jess can converse with a duck!

[Photo: m.flikie.com]
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History lessons

History was not my strong point, but it taught me some other valuable lessons.

Oh, how I hated History! As far as I could see
The regnal dates of kings and queens would be no use to me;
And learning who fought who, and why, I saw as interfering
With what I yearned to know about: Mechanical Engineering.

Although what history I learned I now have quite forgot,
I’ve learned, at least, what history is, and also what it’s not.
Objective and complete it ain’t: lest you should be deluded,
Historians select what things they think should be included.

A point to make, an axe to grind, a publisher to please,
Or just a dearth of evidence, from which they have to tease
A narrative that tries to paint a picture of the past –
But never yours or mine of course, for we are never asked . . .

And yet, in History I learned to question what I heard,
To check and challenge what was taught, examine every word.
The Mean Sidereal Year, he said, was quite precisely this;
But I had heard another value, not the same as his!

The History of the Calendar took second place, I fear,
To the accurate description of the Mean Sidereal Year.
We argued in a courteous way, remaining quite polite,
Each quoting different sources proving each of us was right.

Eventually, he sought support from someone who should know –
The Astronomer Royal at Greenwich. And his reply was “No,
Your student’s right”. Which shows just how an error’s propagated
When information handed down is not evaluated.

[Image: cg.ukwebdev.com]
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Durham Cathedral

In the late 1970s, I found myself in Durham, whose gigantic cathedral sits atop a rocky promontory on a bend in the river Wear. The story goes that monks carrying the remains of the hermit-saint Cuthbert from Viking-ravaged Lindisfarne, ended up there after following two milk-maids looking for a dun (brown) cow. At that point, Cuthbert’s remains became immovable – a sign, they thought, that his new shrine should be built there. The present edifice was begun in 1093 by the conquering Normans. I went to look at it.

You can see the cathedral from miles all around,
Perched high on its river-bend rock
Like a castle, exuding its status and power,
To which pilgrims would piously flock.

I wasn’t a pilgrim, I sought no-one’s bones
And needed no guide to direct me;
I wandered towards it, just curious to know
How this Norman-built pile would affect me.

As I crossed Palace Green – a calm, peaceful place –
The cathedral itself seemed to grow
Till it loomed huge and menacing, blocking the sun
From its visitor, cowering below.

Persevering, I manfully aimed for its door –
Now ominous, solid and black . . .
Then, just like the coffin with Cuthbert inside,
I stopped. Unlike him, I turned back.

This fortress, this edifice, wasn’t for me.
No doubt it’s magnificent inside;
But its size reeked of wealth and the things of this world,
And its stones shouted “power” and “pride”.

I wondered what Cuthbert, the hermit, would think
If he saw where they’d buried his bones.
As I retraced my steps along old Dun Cow Lane,
I thought I could hear Cuthbert’s groans . . .

[Photo: www.nearthesea.co.uk]
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A feminine fan

Around 62 million years ago, sea levels were falling and the northern North Sea was being stretched by tectonic forces. It began to split and a chunk of it sank lower, forming the Central Graben. Over time, it filled with sediments which included a large outpouring of sands and clays from the Moray Firth area. This ‘tongue’ of Scottish debris spread out into a fan on the sea floor which now has its own feminine moniker. It appeared fleetingly on a slide at a recent lecture on 3-D seismic surveying.

In the North Sea, a fan has been seen
By a seismic surveying machine –
It’s a sediment tongue
Formed when mammals were young.
And the fan has a name: it’s Maureen!

[Image: BGS]
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Getting stuck in

Proposals submitted by the UK Penetrator Consortium (led by a UCL group at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory) under the ESA Cosmic Vision program envisage half-metre-long “micro-penetrators” being deployed from orbiters and directed at around 300 m/s straight down into the top few metres of the surface of unsuspecting Solar System bodies. They have included “MoonLITE”, in which interesting parts of our own Moon would be impacted by four penetrators, and later ideas for gathering data from moons of Saturn and Jupiter. At the moment, though, they’re still just proposals . . .

Look out, Enceladus! Look out on Titan!,
Look out, the Moon’s old regolith dust!
They’re planning to fire a whopping great bullet
To penetrate into your unwary crust.

Europa, as well, is a possible target –
The Jovian moon with a cold icy shell
Whose surface has cracks, caused by huge tidal forces,
Through which might leak water – organics as well?

“Is it life, Jim, but not as we know it, perhaps?”
Is one question they really would like to get solved:
Not Little Green Men; but molecules instead –
Indicators that life of some sort has evolved.

On the Moon, they’d be looking for evidence of water,
Especially in craters lying close to its poles,
And probing the far side’s untested geology
With their sleek high-velocity ESA moles.

But maybe the whole thing is not going to happen –
Will it lie dormant, along with MoonLITE?
Can Europe support such a grand ‘Cosmic Vision’
When government cash is so terribly tight?

[Image: www.mssl.ucl.ac.uk]
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Gibbs Dentifrice

This was a solid pink block of pink stuff in a tin which had to be vigorously scrubbed with a rotary action of the toothbrush so that the foam produced would transfer to the bristles. It seemed to last for ever. Children were warned that ‘Dragon Decay’ would attack your ‘Ivory Castles’ if you didn’t use it. (Before my time, the Dragon had been a Giant; but whatever he was, he managed to breach Mr Gibbs’s defences without too much trouble.)

“It’s Gibbs Dentifrice,” my parents would say.
“It’s the best way we know of keeping at bay
The terrible spectre of Dragon Decay.
You must brush your teeth well, at least three times a day.”

I expect you remember. It came in a tin
Containing a block of bright pink stuff within
Which you’d scrub with your toothbrush, and then you’d begin
To shine up your gnashers for a sparkling grin.

More fun, though, was toothpaste, in tubes you could squeeeeeze
And squirt out a mint flavoured sausage with ease;
And red, white and blue stripes appeared by degrees!
But I still feel nostalgic for Gibbs Dentifrice . . .

[Image: http://kertaskuno.blogspot.com]
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It’s Christmas in Horsham

It’s Christmas 2011, and there’s a recession on. In Horsham, the King’s Head is still closed, and budgets are having to be cut, yet the town’s restaurant count keeps rising.

It’s Christmas in Horsham!
There’s room at the inn,
But it’s still boarded up
So you cannot get in.

It’s Christmas in Horsham
With restaurants galore!
(If money’s so tight,
Why’re they opening more?)

It’s Christmas in Horsham!
You can shop till you drop;
But Broadbridge Heath Leisure
Is faced with the chop.

It’s Christmas in Horsham!
Our young folk won’t cheer,
For their Youth Clubs are threatened
With closure next year.

It’s Christmas in Horsham!
Unemployment’s so high
That it’s tough for our NEETs,
Whatever they try.

The recession is biting,
The future’s unclear
But it’s Christmas in Horsham,
So, er, be of good cheer . . .

[Image: West Sussex County Times (Derek  Martin)]
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Trolleyhogs

A trolleyhog is a sub-species of supermarket shopper which has acquired an evolutionary advantage by impeding the hunting-gathering activities of others.

Trolleyhogs are trouble: they are crafty, they have guile,
And they’ll park their laden trolley in the supermarket aisle
Not parallel, but crosswise, so blocking off your route
As they dither over vegetables and dally round the fruit.

Trolleyhogs are clever: they can sense, from far away,
The place they should be stationed to cause the most delay.
Where aisles are at their narrowest, that’s where they’ll meet a friend
And talk about the weather. Cor, it drives you round the bend!

Trolleyhogs aren’t focussed, they’re in a dreamlike state
Until you want to pass them, when their trolley will rotate
As they spot the very thing they didn’t know they needed.
They’ll then do all they can to ensure your way’s impeded.

Trolleyhogs will strike when nobody expects it
And drive all other shoppers in frustration to the exit –
Survival of the fittest! Red in tooth and claw,
A trolleyhog attack will clear the busiest store.

But I have a wicked wheeze to thwart their evil plan
Of blocking shoppers’ movements by whatever means they can.
I’ll grab the mike in Sainsbury’s: “In Tesco’s,” I will shout,
“The aisles are flowing freely and there’s room to move about!”

They simply can’t resist an aisle that’s blockage-free:
It’s like a red rag to a bull, or nectar to a bee.
They’ll turn around and hurry to the exit without stopping,
And go and clog up Tesco’s – then I can do my shopping!

(Actually, of course, by this time a Sainsbury security person would have appeared and offered to do something interesting with my own trolley and my neck. I’d claim poetic licence, but I doubt it would work.)

Photo: The Guardian
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The milkman’s horse

Nostalgia in a pint bottle (and they are still pints!).

I remember the milkman’s horse.
It would stop outside our gate
While the milkman put its nosebag on
And I wondered what it ate.

My Dad would thank the milkman’s horse
For he would often find
A bucketful of free manure
The horse had left behind.

How times have changed! No milkman’s horse,
No nosebag, no manure.
Electric floats, though smooth and quiet
Don’t have the same allure.

But the milk they bring is just as good,
(Nostalgic, me? No fear!)
In one-pint bottles, made of glass,
The same as yesteryear.

[Photo: That Woman’s Weblog]
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Thirty days hath September

This ancient rhyme is good for working out how many days there are in each month. Assuming, of course, that you can remember the rhyme itself . . .

Thirty days hath September*,
Some others, and maybe November.
Quite a few have thirty-one –
But which, I can’t remember.

* Just to confuse matters further, a 15th century manuscript (Harley 2341) in the British Library has November here!

[Image: davidbrim.org]
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