Tuesday, 25 August 2009


Now that the neighbours have vacated, the property is starting to weather. Without routine maintenance, it has allowed the wind to blow the door open and the inner cells can be seen clearly.

I am assured that the occupants will not return to the site of an old nest.

Monday, 24 August 2009

A lifetime of object relations..

The Science Museum and Natural History Museum sit side by side. Whichever you access first will eat your afternoon with no problem.

In the Science Museum I found the following evocations of my childhood. These objects are the ones that form a framework for my memory and to find them all within a day was spooky.

My first spade. A little more yellow in the mix as I recall, otherwise, as evocative for me as 'Rosebud' was for Charles Foster Kane. I return to the image of this small, useless artifact at least a dozen times a year. And can remember times between then and now when I have recalled it's smell and feel. It bounces from year to year.. keeping my recollections sequential at least.

Two cases further along, this early ancestor of Lego...

Bayko. Here is a link to the endless Bayko enthusiasts sites.. Don't miss Nerd's corner and its tireless descriptions of brick tile preference that identify the (now adult) builder as an 'Upper' or a 'Downer'... I guess the construction of accurate representations of post war semi detached housing kept them away from the alternatives..

I consider myself fortunate to have escaped Bayko with my life or, at very least, my sight. The construction of these frustratingly well engineered Terry and June's required an afternoon inserting steel rods with acupuncture like precision into small holes in a Bakelite base. These would provide the framework and foundation for walls and ceiling tiles. By the time the right spacing and depth of fixing had been achieved, it was teatime. TV beckoned. Best leave that there then, on the floor. I'll get back to it later. There it sat, thirty or so steel pins sticking up from a dark green base... my baby brother learning to walk... Yark!

A little later, I began my lifetime struggle with arithmetic. If only I could have taken this with me. The wooden rods that so logically illustrated the relationships between numbers made more sense to me than writing them down. Still do really..

I came to see numbers as colours and even formed a construct about the ways the Cuisenaire rods related to Monopoly money.

In the system, there are 10 rods measuring 1 cm to 10 cm. Rods of equal length are assigned the same colour. Most Cuisenaire rods follow this system:

This system, in tandem with small class and good teaching in a small school, enthused me. Topology started here. But it was effectively paused here when I failed to see eye to eye with the future Lord of Ardbrecknish in double maths. An apparent inability to convey the beauty of numbers without frustration and my failure to understand without illustration met head on. Thank goodness I wasn't spared the coloured rods at least. He went on to choose Black Rod I think.

At this time, I was required to remember one number only.

I remember it still. Along with the 'Write on wipe off' pull-out drawer you could scribble numbers on with fingernails. Available now for how much?

In 1960, the 'phone bill would be checked with something far more immediately mysterious than Cuisenaire..

Operated with a small rod, (is a pattern emerging here?) the numbers were assigned a hole in a perforated strip that nudged the next along when carrying forward. Very effective and neat. And as close to a pocket computer I could imagine at the time. It fitted in my father's inside pocket 'till they went out of fashion. It then went rearwards and was sat on frequently. I remember at least one calculation left undone due to the inability of operator to move the perforations on.

Nothing changes...

Because, outwith the cockpits of Supercar and Fireball XL5, computers were a far off dream. Cut away diagrams in the Eagle and the delicious fantasy of TV Century 21 magazine promised that we would all be carrying them in the future. Ferranti et al were trying their best I thought and were offering regular updates on their new business and technical difference engines. I was delighted to find that I recalled the shape and feeling of wonder that this evinced in me as a boy.

All Two Kilobytes of it! Astonishing then for it's sophisticated Deco lines and promise of brain challenging mathematical gymnastics. Astonishing now because of it's size in comparison to it's power. My analogue watch has a regulating processor that outstrips this leviathan by many powers and I am considering giving it away and buying a new one.

Turning the corner, I came upon this distant memory (in print) of a machine from 1937. The Children's Encyclopedia (by Arthur Mee) told of the 'Wonders of the atom' and it's use in healing the pale and loathe to thrive through Gamma, Beta, X and Theta rays. These had been singled out by smashing small round balls of electric force into eachother. The resultant grainy evidence garnered from the sputtering splash of force on smoky plates and reproduced for us by Mee.

Cern was a long way off indeed.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

South Bank.. Covent Garden.. South Kensington

Against all expectations, £7.50 bought an all day pass enabling quick and easy access to everywhere in London from Thames Ditton. I later found that one quick visit to the interweb brought a textback service to the phone. Type 'A' to 'B' and send to 60835 and instantly the best laid travel plan arrives. (Here's the web version)

Trains, buses and the underground excel in both the small and larger aspects of the journey. If this comfort and efficiency can be maintained at such a scale, how come the Northern transport system smells of .. well, just smells?

The temperature stilled at much more manageable twenty five, a walk to Hampton and the biggest breakfast ever set us up for tramping round the South Bank of the Thames.

The day was easily taken up with guided and unguided tours of Tate Modern. Highlights included Pollock, Rothko and Bacon..

..and this, a combination of the three... spied in the bottom of a tub of frozen soup. The only food available at home.

Next.. the museums.

London in August..

A visit to the South Bank, Tate Modern, Science and Natural History Museums...

Preceded by a morning at 31 degrees c in Hampton Court gardens. That's about 86 degrees f!

The odd mix of formality and Tudor approximation of geometry.. opulence and painted windows alternating with the glazed frames even royals paid their taxes for..

This garden has been remodelled more lately with needles of Juniper trees contrasting with the lopsided cones that now reflect earlier topiarists attempts at uniformity.

These obelisks reminded me of much later surrealists forms. It's easy to turn this hot weather garden into something much more Mediterranean. The fountains and classical statues reminiscent of Yves Tanguy


Giorgio De Chirico

In an attempt to salvage some comfortable memories for later, we headed for the waterworks that frame the palace and the grounds. Even the locals were gasping!

Herons stood still over the water, teeming with stickleback and frogs apparently without interest.

At least they weren't at the mercy of Ice cream sellers who nodded that 'Yes, I have bottles of water.. £1.60'

The water lilies, dragonflies and weed performed just as expected in the heat...

I wondered what Claude Monet would have made of Photoshop..

So went to the Tate to see..

...and spent much longer with his version than I had with mine.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Fields of Gold

A walk across the local field of barley the other day. Having seen the recent news about crop circles, I realised that I had no idea about the texture or substance of the raw material.

A gate, half way around the field led to the local tributory to the Coquet......

...where I came across two simulacrae of variable quality.

The missing lion from the fourth plinth:

..and an elephant, poorly subsumed into the fabric of a beech tree..

Enthused by my discoveries and keen to find more faces in the hazels, I chanced a trip over the brook, chose to progress over a wet slippery log and fell in.

The next five minutes found me, Gollum like, fishing blindly for my varifocals, barely visible in the silt...

No pictures. My camera survived but, discretion being the better part of valour, it stayed on the bank.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Fish Pie..

No connection with anything. No physics or cycling involved. No other reason than this is a favourite. And, I have realised that I cook. That's what I do mostly.

So cycling will be involved. It has to be.

I have been given carte blanche access to my neighbour's courgette patch during his absence on retreat. I add this plus purloined parsley and dill. Stolen herbs. They taste.. stolen.

I throw things together and tend not to measure. This frustrates some but I leave the details to the reader to refine. This is what I did today..

Poach some smoked cod or whatever in milk until flaky. allow to cool in the cooking liquid and then remove skin and any bones (eccchhhhh). Place large chunks in a bowl. I then add prawns.

Chop a large onion or two small ones and sautee gently in a tablespoon or so of oil. When clarified and soft, add the courgette and allow to cook until it concedes defeat. Remove from the heat and add a tablespoon (I think..) of strong white flour. Return to the heat and stir for approximately thirty seconds. There will be a bit of sticking on the bottom. Don't fret, this'll resolve when you add milk (I used skimmed because I forgot to keep the cooking liquid.. Duh!)

The milk goes in a bit at a time until cooked to sauce. I used to worry at this point but I have yet to make a sauce with lumps in. Or they are disguised by the veg.. Either way, it works. Aim for about a half a pint. I make it just a little too thick so as to accommodate the bottom of a bottle of white from the night before.

Take the sauce off the heat and allow to cool for a bit. Chop the herbs finely and throw in a handful. Fresh parsley and dill are like greens. More the better. If dried, read Delia.

Pour the resultant gold green liquid over the fish and allow to cool again. Don't worry about a skin forming. This is a good thing. It's scaffolding.

You will of course have boiled some potatoes to soft. With their skins on. Add some milk, pepper and grated low fat cheddar (Oh I don't know.. a handful). Mash, but aim for crushed rather than puree. This is not an affectation. More a feature of construction.

Spoon onto the fish and sauce and add a little more cheese mixed with spring onions.

Into an oven set to 180 for around as long as it takes to brown and bubble. The crushed potatoes brown more unevenly and add much needed texture to the whole I think.

It took me an hour...

This was a summer's work. If you enlarge the image, the cells of the nursery can clearly be seen. Wasp pie. They are done now.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Avian toilet.

No, not the unfortunate placement of the Housemartin nursery over the front door but the use of a torrent by the resident Collared Dove.

I have seen pigeons rolling on grass and allowing other pigeons to groom their underfeathers and Starlings are regular visitors to the bird bath. I had never seen a bird take a shower though. Both underwings received equal treatment and fastidious attention was paid to cleaning out the resultant debris before settling once again to resigned complacency.

I am reminded of the Chicken joke as 'told' by Ernest Hemmingway:

"Why did the chicken cross the road? .... to die .... in the rain ..... alone ........ "