Archive for February, 2013

I am the Litter Lady!

Day 1 of usefulness went well. I had the following two instructions.

Un-litter the land – take a trash bag to the local playground or park and pick up litter.
(The Difference A Day Makes by Karen M. Jones)

Separate your rubbish – keep aside things that need recycling and, once a week, take it to your local recycling bins.
(Going Green by Simon Gear)

The second one requires nothing of me as I am fortunate enough to live in an area where the council provides each individual home with three recycling bins – one for food, one for paper and one for everything else. So I already have that covered. That box is ticked.

The first one I did when I got in from work yesterday afternoon. I got a recycle-able paper bag and walked to my favourite park. Along the way, however, I noticed three things.

The first was that there was rubbish on the ground that I was passing to get to the park. So I started picking that up on my way and filling my bag.

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The second was that walking with my head down looking at the ground gives me a bit of a bad back as I tend to look up when I walk. I felt a bit Hunchback Of Notre Dame-esque.

The third was that I had left my Crocs on after work which, Danda says, makes me look ‘like a tramp.’

So there I was, hunched over, in my best tramp get-up, collecting rubbish in a bag. I dread to think what people thought I was doing. Getting padding for my pretend mattress made of old newspapers and plastic bags, probably.

Anyway, despite my Hunchback and bad Crocs, I soldiered on until, at the end of the road into the park, I found a load of recycling bins. I recycled all I could, emptied the unrecyclables into a bin and then recycled the bag.

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I then straightened up and treated myself to a long walk around the park.

I no longer had my hunchback or my bag of rubbish but I did still have my Crocs on….

Trying to be useful

Ok, everyone. It’s time for me to admit something. I’ve been living selfishly. It is the first time I have done so since deciding a while ago, that I was going to live unselfishly. I did my undergraduate degree in Human Rights and officially have letters that I can put after my name to prove I have some knowledge in this area. I became very interested in the issue of capital punishment and went to law school with this in mind.

…And then the law degree was long… And difficult…. And dry…. And not so interesting…. Which took me by surprise. I also wasn’t very good at it. No matter how much I studied and prepared and did masses of extra reading, I’d go to tutorials and the tutors would ask a question. As the excitable student I am, I’d be there, hand in the air going “Me! Me! Pick me! I know!” Then I’d say something like, “Fisher v Bell.” And the tutor would go, “No.”

….Ah. Um. Ok.

My exams last May were tough. My brain almost caved in. I needed a break. I liked people and I wanted to do good things with my life. But I needed to retreat and recoup.

My operation midway through the degree also didn’t help. I know it’s illogical and I know there is no answer to it but I felt annoyed and wanted to know why. Why had it happened to me? I wasn’t annoyed actually, I was pissed off. Really pissed off. Retreating and recovering was a way for me to also process what had happened. There’s nothing like a brush with death to clarify the important things in life!

So since May I have been doing things I like, to kind of shake everything off and make myself a blank page again. To start from scratch and remember what it is want to do. So I have been blogging, baking, eating, writing, reading, walking, seeing friends. And it is lovely. I like my life and I like how I spend my time.

But now I’m ready to get involved again. I want to do useful things with my time again. I watched Cloud Atlas tonight and someone said there is no point joining a cause you believe in as it will just be a drop in the ocean. The reply was that yes, it is just a drop in the ocean but the ocean is made up of drops.

I’m going to do an experiment for a while. I’ve downloaded two books about small daily actions which can make a little difference. One is about trying to live a more environmentally friendly life. The other is about anything and everything. I’ll post the tips from both books and try to do whichever is most feasible, or both if I can.

Let’s see how being nice goes….

Wish me luck.

Things I did yesterday

1. Giggle with glee at a programme about little fluffy baby penguins.

2. Fall asleep for about half an hour in the bath… Oops.

3. See a man have a new willy built for him out of his forearm skin and muscle on Embarrassing Bodies.

4. Get home from work to find one of my lovely neighbours had left cake on the doorstep. Mmm.

5. Read a story about ferrets getting married (yes, married) in Chat. Where else?

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6. Make a beautiful soya latte. It I might say so myself.

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7. Get mega involved with an episode of Crystal Maze and get a bit shouty at the woman who was flapping around trying to the puzzle in the Aztec zone and getting it all wrong.

8. Sign up for a local stag beetle conservation project thing.

9. Daydream about taking a city break to Amsterdam.

10. Have a really vivid dream about a friend who lives in Australia and her telling me she’ll never move back to England and that I should move to Australia too. In the same dream I was trying to work out how to reheat fried eggs and scrambled eggs without overcooking them.

Special pigeons

We’re mixing it up this week and having the guest blogger’s contribution on Monday, instead of Wednesday. Enjoy!

I recently visited a place in England which was very top secret during WW2. It was where the government set up a special department for breaking codes used by its enemies: Bletchley Park. Wartime communications, especially military, were normally sent in some coded fashion. This has been the way for many hundreds of years; a way of trying to prevent your enemies knowing what you are planning either defensively or against them directly.

We’re all familiar with the idea of a code: something which changes the letters of normal words into something which hopefully is hard to decipher if the message falls into enemy hands. A simple code would be like this: nwpf usppqt up uif csjehf. It means “move troops to the bridge”. You can probably see it’s just a transposing of the normal letter by one to the next letter in the alphabet. Nothing else has been done so the same number of letters appear in each word once it is coded. A slightly harder version might be npw fus ppq tup uif csj ehf where the letters are grouped into threes and it is much harder to see how the words are made up. Of course there are much more complex versions of coding and ones based on some mathematical formula. During WW2 the Germans had invented a machine which produced one of the most complicated forms of coding. It needed three wheels to be placed into the coding machine each set to a certain letter of the alphabet. Once in place when the operator pressed say the letter “a” out would come “t” and then after “b” was pressed out would come “m” say and so on. The receiver of the message then put the same three wheels in at the same positions and typed the coded letter and out would come the real one. The only way you could fathom it out would be if you know which wheel settings had been used and in which of the three slots. Anyway the job of the folks at Bletchley Park was to try and figure out how the wheels altered the normal letter into the coded one. There’s too much detail to go into here but here is a picture of the front of the machine they built to try and duplicate what the German coding machine was doing.

 

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Alan Turing was the man in charge of the project and the machine was called a “bombe”. (The word bombe came from anglicising the name of an earlier simpler machine used by Polish code breakers. They had called theirs bomba kryptologiczna). Although it looks like something sat on a table it is big – it actually reaches to the floor and is taller than a person.

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It’s amazing seeing all the wires making the connections to wonder how Turing’s team could have possibly been able to work out how to make it.

 

Bletchley Park is a very big site and if you wanted to read all the info boards you’d need a whole day. I couldn’t spend the whole day but I was there about 5 hours. A number of the huts that were used during the war have been made into exhibition areas on different subjects. One in particular was very interesting because it was on a subject which many people know little or nothing about – how pigeons were used in the war. If you read my post from 18.7.12 about bird droppings you will remember I was not very complimentary about pigeons because of the mess they make on our cars, houses and washing. However, one of the films I saw showed how during the war there were times when homing pigeons were essential: when radio silence had to be maintained. Agents on the Continent would use them to send messages back to England with information about troop movements and requirements for the resistance organisations. The use of them was taken so seriously that the occupying forces used snipers to try and shoot down pigeons flying over the area. Anyone keeping pigeons would of course be under suspicion. Paratroopers sometimes carried them in their uniform to release when they had landed. I was surprised to learn that flying relatively short distances over The Channel back to England they could fly at speeds of 60mph.

Pigeons have been used for carrying messages for hundreds of years (different ones of course as they don’t live for hundreds of years individually!). One ancient ruler actually set up a regular messenger service using carrier pigeons between Baghdad & Syria. They’ve been used at various times throughout history for carrying valuable information; and scientists still don’t really know how they find their directions. A number of theories have been postulated: inbuilt compass, using invisible magnetic lines & using physical geographical features like roads or rivers. Some appear to follow roads or rivers when trying to get their bearings. Anyway however they do it, it seems to work.

The usefulness of carrier pigeons led to a number of measures being taken by both sides in WW2. Look at this poster headed “Defence of the Realm”.

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You could get 6 months in prison or £100 fine for shooting one according to this poster issued in Leeds. Also the government offered a reward of £5 for info leading to a person being convicted of shooting a homing pigeon.

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This poster I assume was done for publicity purposes to frighten the local community. This man as you can see was shot the day before the notice was put up. He was shot because they believed he had released a pigeon with a message for England. Pigeons’ abilities were taken very seriously by both sides. However the film mentioned that there were horrendous numbers of casualties & birds which didn’t make it home. Some may have been shot; some may have been killed by natural predators; some may just have not found their way back. Despite this they clearly supplied enough good intelligence to keep the idea going and homing birds have continued to be used even in conflicts of recent times.

A day in Bath

Yesterday, Danda and I went to Bath for the day. I had a day off work and neither of us have ever been so it seemed like a fun day out. We had a minor panic when one of the tube lines we needed to use wasn’t operating but we found another way without a problem.

After arriving in Bath, we just kind of wandered up a road in front of us, looking at stuff. There is lovely Georgian brickwork on all the buildings and there are an awful lot of shops. We stopped off briefly to get me a hat as it was pretty cold then came unexpectedly across this….

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It is the building containing the new outdoor pool which uses the hot water from the thermal springs. It reminded me a bit of being in Rome, where the buildings and streets are beautiful and grand and you stumble upon fabulous things round every corner.

We decided to come back to the Thermae Bath Spa, which was opposite the outdoor pool, in the afternoon. For now, we wanted breakfast, which we found nearby, and the Roman Baths. We knew the Roman Baths were near Bath Abbey so we wandered down some side roads looking for the Abbey. After a little while, we found a tourist map and spent a few minutes looking on it trying to work out where we were and where the Abbey was.

“It’s just up the road,” declared Danda, having used his manly skills to deduce the correct direction. Then we looked out from behind the map and realised…

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…we were practically standing in front of the rather large Abbey, looking at a map, trying to work out how to get to the Abbey … Fail.

Inside Bath Abbey is spectacular.

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It is large and covered in carved stones memorialising Bath’s lost loved ones. Some were young men leading Indian regiments into battle against opposition in Afghanistan. It’s quite an odd concept to get my head around, these young men dying in such far flung corners of the worlds in wars that are long forgotten now.

Then there was this stone which challenged my existing ideas about what makes love so special…

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As we left, I saw a sign saying the Abbey coats £2000 a day to run! Crazy.

Second stop, Roman Baths. Amazing amazing amazing. They are the UK’s only natural spa and literally steamed as we watched them…..

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It was a work of engineering genius to see. My awe at the achievements of these people grows with each new thing I learn. The stones and coins and carvings on display here are fantastic. So many and so well explained. There was even a skeleton of a Syrian man found here.

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Whilst at the main pool, I had a little feel of the water for a photo ..

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…then noticed a sign sternly informing visitors that touching of the water is not allowed! Don’t tell!

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After dawdling about here for ages being amazed, we decided to head for the spa and have a dip. On the way we stopped to watch a street performer display possibly the strongest arms I have ever seen.

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We then headed to the spa and got in the queue. It was 3.15pm. We were still in the queue at half three and had our hearts set on a relaxing swim and sauna. 3.45pm arrived. 4pm. We were getting closer but veeerrry slowly. 4.15pm. We’d been in the queue an hour. It suddenly sped up and we had hope. Then it slowed and we lost hope. But we were so close by this point. It would have been silly to give up. 4.30pm. 4.45pm. Slowly. Slowly. Then suddenly a little flurry and it was our turn. Finally. At 4.50pm. An hour and 35 minutes after joining the queue. My toes were extremely cold by now and I just needed some hot water to defrost them.

We practically ran in, threw our clothes at the lockers and ran off to the rooftop pool. Plunging into it, the icy toes and nose and fingers melted immediately. Although we were outside, on the top of a four storey building, with a view of Bath for miles around, we were in a huge lovely hot bath. It was awesome. We swam to the edges and looked through the glass sides at the town and the beautiful Georgian architecture and the hills behind. It was surreal.

We had to run out of here as the fresh cold air hit us and we descended the stairs to the steam rooms. Inside there was a massive forceful power shower in the centre and four round glass rooms. You could enter any one of them and sit on the benches inside. They each had a different smell in the steam. There was lemongrass and ginger, lotus flower, eucalyptus and mint and sandalwood. I liked the lemongrass the best. In between each room, we power showered to wake ourselves up. Lastly, we went down to a pool where the water was warm and welcoming and had a jacuzzi in one corner and a little corridor with power jets pushing you through from one end to other. It was a little crowded but still lovely. After a second visit to the steam room, we then had to change out of our swimming gear and into outdoor clothes as our train was leaving in half an hour, hence the massive rush.

We got to the station in plenty of time and I finished the day sitting by the cafe drinking lemon and ginger tea, eating a flapjack and reading Wonderpedia, my new favourite magazine.
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All in all, a wonderful day. I can fully recommend it.

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Off on a day out!

Today, Danda and I are going to Bath. I’m not just informing you of my plan to stay clean. For those of you not based in the UK and perhaps unaware of this fact, there is in fact a town called Bath Spa in England. It is where the Romans built lots of baths, once upon a time. Hence the name. (The Romans called it aqua sulis. Don’t ask me what that means.) There are also, predictably, lots of spa retreat type places to visit.

The plan for the day is as follows:

Arrive
Have breakfast
Find some Roman bath ruins to look at
Have lunch
Find the thermal spa place we looked up online and spent some time swimming and lolling about in the warm spring water plunge pools
Have dinner
Get the train home

So as you can see, it is a day of baths in Bath. The weather is chilly and I probably don’t have enough layers on. I have a chai latte warming my cold fingers and Danda is looking out the window all hyped cause he loves trains and planes and engines and boys things. He’s just said, “They’re amazing, trains. Aren’t they? Absolutely amazing.”

And so, to Bath! I will report back tomorrow. 

Things I have learned whilst hiding from Danda

1. I do not fit behind the bath. Not even if I take out the end panel and crawl in backwards. My shoulders and head still stick out.

2. Make sure it’s actually Danda you can hear parking outside the house. Twenty minutes of hiding by the outside toilet in winter is not fun if it’s not even him.

3. Between the sofa and the bookshelf is probably the best place so far but it is quite uncomfortable and I get foot cramp if I am not found in the first two minutes.

4. Panic-hiding does not work. Despite my best hopes, Danda is not to be fooled by a girl standing in the middle of a room with a hastily arranged duvet over her head.

5. Positioning pillows over my body and laying on the bed would have worked, had Danda not been actively looking for a hidden Laura.

6. If you want to hide behind a door, make sure Danda cannot spot you through the gap next to the hinges.

7. Don’t accidentally press play on the audiobook on your phone just as Danda approaches to look for you.

8. Pre-plan hiding places. Some things really are worth the effort.

9. Don’t look out from your hiding place to check if you are being looked for. The likelihood is that you are being looked for and have just given your hiding place away.

10. Taking a phone call whilst hiding will give you away. Even if you’re just whispering.