Archive for January, 2014

Things that have been interesting recently

Yes, I know. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to get back to blogging. And yes, I have been sadly absent ever since I said that. I have no more excuses apart from laziness. I shall try to do better. I promise.

Anyway, I have learned a lot recently and I thought I might share a bit of that with you.

1. When deciding to “experiment” with one’s cool new hairdo, going to bed with it wet is definitely NOT recommended. The fluffbomb look is so not the way forward.

2. Crepitus is the sound that broken bones make when they knock against each other. Nice. (Learned that on a First Aid course last week.)

3. That saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone,” is true. My favourite flask and I were parted when I left him at the First Aid course on Friday. I then spent three hours yesterday journeying across London to be reunited with him.

4. Expecting to have a relaxed few weeks is pretty much an invitation for the busiest few weeks ever.

5. When someone is injured on e.g. their leg, when putting them in the recovery position, you want to roll them onto their injured side. Also, if they’re pregnant, you want to try and roll them onto their left side. I forget why.

6. It is kinda hard to breathe when someone bandages you under your chin when practising what to do with head injuries.

7. I love bus journeys. When going to the First Aid course, I chose to do the 1 hour bus journey every day rather than the 20 minute train journey. Give me a book and a flask of tea and I could’ve sat there all day.

8. Not going to the dentist is not cool. Danda’s been ignoring a painful tooth for months and finally went to the dentist, who had to take it out cause it was too badly infected. It took the dentist TWO HOURS to get the tooth out and Danda has now had a sore swollen face for days.

9. Sometimes babies prefer books to food.


10. Probably the most interesting thing I have recently learned is that books like this exist.

I also have something else to admit. Remember how I said one of my resolutions was to walk in the park more. Um. Well. I’ve been once since New Year. Yeh. Woops. Maybe I’ll go today. It’s this damn sofa, though. It’s so comfy.

O god, I’m watching the music channel and Michael Buble just came on. Save me.


It’s Rambler5319 taking over for the Wednesday post again. Here goes….


Sometimes when you are reading you come across interesting bits of information;  and sometimes you just seem to hit a lot of it at once. That’s what happened to me so this week I’m just going to pick a few of those items which I’ve come across in my reading:

1. The word serendipity which means something which happens by accident or a nice surprise. It was first used by Horace Walpole (1717-97), son of Robert Walpole, Britain’s first prime minister. He built a house in Twickenham called Strawberry Hill which had its own printing press. Apparently, in a letter from 1754, he explained that he made up the word by using the last word in the name of a fairy tale: The Three Princes of Serendip. Now that’s not a fairy tale I’d even heard of so a bit more research revealed that it is an English translation of a story published by a Venetian writer in 1557; this was itself a translation of a story by a Persian writer in 1302. Serendip is apparently the Persian name for Sri Lanka.

2. In another book I read that in June of last there were still 21 people who had been born in the 19th century. They were all women!

3. In a history magazine I sometimes get they have a regular feature in which famous people pick someone they regard as a kind of hero in terms of their influence and someone they hold in high regard from a historical point of view. This time Princess Michael of Kent chose her history ‘hero’. The person she chose was Yolande of Aragon, (1384-1442). Now I’ve not heard of her (but I did remember the Aragon bit from Catherine of Aragon, 1485-1536, first wife of Henry VIII). She introduced Joan of Arc to Charles VII and let her use the army of Anjou. That army had been on the march south to Marseilles to board a ship to Naples; it was going to help her (Yolande’s) son. The army turned back north. And we all know what happened, in 1429, when they fought a certain battle at Orléans: the English army was defeated. 

4. I saw the film Long Walk To Freedom about Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) last week. He’d joined the ANC (African National Congress) in 1942 and always advocated a peaceful, non-violent opposition to the South African Government. In 1963 he and 10 others were given life sentences. He was released in 1990 after 27 years in prison.  Just over 50 years after joining the ANC he and President F.W. de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and one year later (1994) Mandela became South Africa’s first black president. I didn’t know he was a member of the royal elite of his tribe (The Tembu) and that he’d gained a law degree in 1942.

5. In a book about the life of William Lever, the man who produced among many other products, Sunlight Soap. He was a philanthropist of sorts. He built a village for his employees to live in – he called it Port Sunlight (on the Wirral, the opposite side of the River Mersey to Liverpool). Instead of streets of back to back housing which urban/industrial development introduced he built houses with gardens front and back set along wide roads. However those who rented them had to be very careful they did not disobey the rules – HIS rules. A worker could lose his house if he was found to have bad habits. These were noted as slothfulness, drinking, gambling, dishonesty or even to not fully enter into the other activities laid on in the village for time outside of work. Quite a tall order I reckon looking through the list but then he was providing a very nice place to live; and the people knew the alternative that city dwellers had to endure.

6. A number of newspapers carried an article about a man who had been spared jail even after having been found dealing in drugs. The reason – he was helping to care for his youngest son. Well that sounds sort of reasonable. But wait – there is a bit more to this story as the headlines showed. The man in question has claimed to have fathered 22 children by, wait for this, 11 different women! Police had found a stash of drugs at his house and messages from his customers. He has convictions dating back over 40 years. He says he loves kids but follows that with an admission that he doesn’t speak to them all AND that some of them don’t even know he’s their father. Is he in anyway bothered? His response – “I don’t regret anything….”

7. Another one from the press. You can hire a motorhome (portmanteau word again) for £8,000 ($13,143) per night! But not just any old motorhome – no this one USED to be owned by Jensen Button. Button is a Formula 1 racing driver with 15 wins to his credit (out of 247 races). In the package, the owners will bring the bus to wherever you want it. You will be welcomed on board by a team of waiters; they stay for as long as you have the thing along with a gourmet cook. Just remember that Button used to own it; he got rid of it in 2011. Just checked my wallet – I’m about £7,980 short – oh well never mind.

8. a) I’m reading a book about roads – a kind of history which of course includes the development of the car and in the UK the motorway system. Speed cameras are yellow boxes on poles at the side of the road; they’re called Gatso cameras. I didn’t know that the name comes from a Dutch racing driver – Maus Gatsonides – who wanted to know how fast he was going round corners. He reckoned it helped him win the 1953 Monte Carlo Rally. However it was almost 40 years later in 1992 that the first one of these cameras appeared on the A316 near Twickenham Bridge. It had a photo roll which could store 200 photos. It was used up within 30 minutes! Once warning signs were put up the number of offenders dropped from 8,000 to just 100 per week; but, bear in mind, this figure was for people exceeding 60mph in a 40mph limit!!

b) This book also tells me that the first person to be issued with a speeding ticket in the UK was Walter Arnold of East Peckham (Kent). In 1896 he was fined for speeding; he had been ‘judged’ to have done 8mph in a 2mph limit. (I’m not sure how they calculated the speed in those days.) He was fined 1 shilling (£0.05p/$0.037) plus costs.

The Canadian prime minister’s wife was given a speeding ticket in 1910 for exceeding a 10mph limit.

Amazing the trivia you pick up. 

A thing that happened

So the other day I was looking through old photos and I found this one….

O, that? In the gold jacket? Yeh, that’s me. Just lounging about doing my normal ‘dressed-down’ thing. Casual.

Anyway, I looked at it and was like, “Wasn’t that fun? When I had hair like that?”

So I went upstairs, stood in the bath and cut all my hair off.

Stage 1 – muchos hair


Stage 2 – tied up in a bobble and cut it off


Stage 3 – petit hair

So. Um. Yeh. That’s what I did the other day. And now it sticks up in the mornings and is ever so slightly bouffant. Wanna see? You probably don’t but here it is.

Anyone else thinking Jesse Pinkman/adolescent boy?

Shady characters (Part 2)

Morning all. Here’s Rambler5319’s post for this week, a follow up from last Wednesday. Enjoy it!


If you didn’t catch last week’s Shady Characters you might want to have a quick read so you know where the title comes from. (Check out Shady Characters 8.1.14).

For this week we’re back delving into Keith Houston’s brilliant book.  We’re going to look at a character you’re probably all familiar with but also don’t know that much about: it’s the @ sign or symbol.

I was originally taught this in relation to costs or weights when doing “sums” at school. You might have a list like this:

1 bag of nails @ £5.20 = £5.20

2 hammers @ £7.00 = £14.00

12 screws @ £0.10 = £1.20

Total £20.40

Or it might be groceries or whatever. It was just a way of telling you to multiply the number of items by the cost per item.

Even if you’ve learnt a foreign language at school you probably didn’t learn what that language calls the @ sign. I know I didn’t. A survey was done about 16 years ago to see what different countries call it. Well here are just a few examples with translations of what those countries call this now ubiquitous symbol:

In Danish/Swedish it’s called snabel-a (means “elephant’s trunk” in English).

In Dutch it is called apestaart (means “monkey’s tail” in English)

In German it is called klammeraffe (means “spider monkey” in English)

In Herbrew it is called strudel (means “roll-shaped bun in English. Now you know where Apple Strudel comes from if you’ve ever had it. Maybe that could be written Apple@ or maybe not as a certain computer manufacturer might object! Think actually there should have been an “interrobang” here – see last week’s post.)

In Norwegian it is called grisebale (means “pig’s tail” in English)

Any readers from other countries? Let’s know what @ is called where you live? 

I think any of these are acceptable; they’re certainly more colourful than our somewhat mundane rendition. In English we simply call it the “at sign”. If you’ve got an email address you’ve got an “at sign” straight after your name or whatever you’ve called yourself for communication purposes along with whoever is allowing you to use their network; you might be a company, individual or group of individuals but you’ll have an @ in there somewhere. Ever wonder where it came from? Why are you, for example,, or or me@whatever? Why can’t you just be you? Of course the @ symbol is absolutely necessary because it performs a vital role in the communication story. But what is that role and why is it @ and not something else?

Ok well I won’t give you the whole story as it’s quite long and goes back hundreds of years (read KH’s book for that): the symbol appears in a letter from the year 1536 but it didn’t mean “at” in that instance. We’ll bypass the explanation for why there’s a curly bit that goes round the “a”; that seems to have a number of suggested origins. Instead we’ll jump straight in, with the fully-formed symbol, as it appeared in approximately the mid-Victorian era.  The very first typewriter was being developed in Milwaukee and it actually didn’t have the @ symbol on it. @ appeared about 20 years later (1889) on a key on machine made by a competing company. At this time, though, it didn’t have a recognised place on the keyboard and was put with various letters or another character which, like today, also needed the press of a shift key to get the symbol onto the paper; occasionally it had its own key.

Now wind the clock forward again to 1969-71 when the idea of linking computers over a wide area across the USA was being developed. A guy working on writing programmes for use in that project recognised the potential for using it to exchange messages although that was not his primary remit. Anyway it seems that in thinking about how to address messages he needed a character to tell the computers how to recognise what was to be done with a message that “A” wanted to send to “B”. From what I can see it was a kind of “let’s-see-what-we-could-use” approach and he just picked @; he could have picked something else BUT he didn’t and so we use the @ sign.

The part following the @ sign is the computer system you sort of “live on” in this internet world. You might live on system “google”, I might live on system “yahoo” or wherever; just like you might live at 15 Acacia Avenue in London, you now also have an alternative address in a “place” that doesn’t actually exist – the internet. Yes you’re on someone’s computer but the internet is not there, it’s not an actual place, it’s simply a collection (network?) of computers holding vast amounts of information and talking to each other and to you and me. Those computers with the traffic between them and you and me is what we call the internet: part of “the internet” is in America, part is in England, Australia, Russia, Canada or wherever. It’s an indefinable amorphous entity made up of many parts -but it’s there.

But I suppose the unanswerable question often asked is “Where is it @?” (Haha)  

Or could it be used within expressions?:

Perhaps an item of men’s attire: top@, bowler@ or pork pie@. Or maybe just in words like @tack, @tempt, @tune, silver pl@ter etc. Or even places: L@takia (Syria),

Whatever happens it’s an interesting little character & it’s definitely here to stay.


3 years!

So yesterday was the 3 year anniversary of the most frightening time in my life – my big scary colon failure and resulting operation. The following is a reblog about that time.

I should probably tell you that it contains the worst ever photograph of myself. Get ready!

Ok, I feel that I am at a stage in my blogging ‘career’ where I can share a few things I normally wouldn’t share with strangers. But we are no longer strangers to one another. So yesterday whilst having a nose bleed, I remembered the last time I had a nose bleed, which was during my hospital stay, post-big-scary operation.

Because what happened to me was quite unusual (they had never seen it in that hospital before), there was no ward for me really so I had just been put on a ward where there was space. I slept intermittently during the day and was awake at night, when the lady in the bed opposite me would cry out things like “Ohhhh… The squire! He’s starving to death!” in her sleep. It was a bit random. The lady next to her had bowel cancer and wore a colostomy bag and talked about not being able to go on public transport because she always had to be a few minutes away from a toilet.

This one night, I had a little nose bleed. I pressed my button for a nurse to come and got a tissue. Which the blood soaked through. Then another tissue. And another. And another. We couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t stop. Then I remembered that they give you blood-thinning medication sometimes, don’t they, if you’re lying down a lot. So that you don’t get blood clots in your legs from not moving them. And, as we saw in a previous post, I was not too keen on going for a walkies!

Thus, my nose bleed went on. And on. And on. Because my blood wouldn’t clot! Every time, I thought it would have stopped and took the tissue away, it started flooding out again. I felt like my brain might come out through my nostril if it didn’t stop.

Eventually the nurses just rolled up two of their little square spongey pad things that they use to clean wounds up with, and shoved one in each nostril and hoped that would stop it and force it to clot.

Quite amused by the whole situation, I waited until they’d cleared up and left then took a photo.

Bear in mind, I couldn’t get my enormous ten inch stapled wound down my front wet so hadn’t showered or washed my hair in about five days.

Are you ready?

Lovely, isn’t it?…….

Don’t answer that.

Shady characters

Wednesday is Rambler5319’s day so here’s his latest offering. Enjoy!

No, not those rather dubious folks who you imagine are trying to get money out of you with some dodgy scheme. These are characters, some of which appear in print, some of which do not and some of which did but don’t any more.

I expect, like me, that among your Christmas presents you may have received a book: perhaps a novel, perhaps a text book for a course you’re on, perhaps a reference book, perhaps an atlas – road,  world, historical or whatever. Books are nice presents especially if the giver has written something inside especially for you.

I like my Kindle but nothing beats a real paper paged book. It’s an experience turning a real page not an electronic one; and of course you can flick through the pages which you can’t do with a Kindle. If you want to search for something you read in a book but have forgotten where it was then you can’t beat the Kindle for speed. It also can’t lose a bookmark which can drop out when you move a book about; it will always remember where you’re up to and synchronise with other devices like your phone. If I’m reading a book on the Kindle and then open up the same book on my phone it knows immediately where I got to on the Kindle and I can start reading from there with the phone. It’s brilliant.

Anyway back to my present. It was from a good friend and someone who knows my sometimes quirky tastes in books on the English language and its own often quirky rules of spelling & grammar. This one is on an area I hadn’t really given much thought to: the history of, and sometimes the disappearance of, punctuation marks. I mean I know that we’ve got the full stop, the comma, quotation marks, question mark, exclamation mark, colon, semi-colon, dash, hyphen & the & sign – all the regular ones we use. What I hadn’t really given much thought to was how these came about and what about ones that used to be used but either aren’t any more or only very rarely: the pilcrow, octothorpe, dagger & manicule. There are also some which have been proposed but never got accepted into general use – the interrobang for instance and its many different designs. What’s an interrobang I hear you say? You’ll have to wait till later! (There is a clue in the last two sentences.)

Remember way back in history when you see pictures of those stone inscriptions, often in Latin or Greek in books, how they were always in capital letters AND there weren’t even spaces between the words; and some languages didn’t have vowels (e.g. Hebrew). Furthermore the writing ran left to right on the first line and right to left on the second repeating this alternate pattern all the way down the page. Check this out:



(I can’t believe how many times whilst just typing those lines above that I did actually press the space bar and have to go back and delete it!!)

It probably didn’t strike you, as it didn’t me, to think of how exactly, over a long period of time, it was decided to keep the same direction (and some languages decided to go right to left all the time) and then that spaces should be introduced; and then punctuation marks; and then how did lower case letters arrive on the scene when they didn’t exist before. There was a time when there were none and then there was a time when these enhancements were all there. The development, sometimes over hundreds of years, is not something I’d really thought about.

As I sat down with Keith Houston’s book which he’s called Shady Characters I was wondering whether he would get me interested in what might, on the surface, appear a rather dry subject. Firstly the cover itself is unusual in that the lettering of the words is debossed. What’s debossed you might be thinking? You are probably familiar with books which have lettering which is raised up from the surface of the cover – this is called “embossed”. When the lettering is sunk into the surface it’s called “debossed”. actually cites this exact use in the example it gives – The design on the book’s cover is debossed. I reckon this is the first book I’ve had which has been done like this. But could KH’s text get me interested? I needn’t have worried. Right from the off when he started with the Pilcrow mark (¶) I wanted to know more. That’s because probably, like me, at some point you’ve pressed keys and suddenly found lots of these things appearing on the page when typing in an earlier version of Microsoft Word; and you also found it was so frustrating trying to get rid of them. I certainly did. Today we know the symbol as a paragraph mark. If you’ve never seen them just open one of your own Word documents. (Btw I’m using Word 2007.) Click on the Office button in the top left of your screen and look at the bottom right corner of the box which opens up, right next to the “Exit Word” button is <Word Options>. Click on that and then on <Display>; in the second block of options you will see “Paragraph Marks” and by ticking the box and coming out of it you will see lots of these little “pilcrows” through your document. They mark your paragraphs.

Remember the question about the interrobang? Here’s what Microsoft’s symbol library has for it – _ Now I don’t know what will happen when LLM transfers this to WordPress so let me just give you a brief description. Imagine a normal question mark where the vertical stem continues upwards into the area of the curved part at the top and in some cases crosses the curved line. That vertical bit with the dot at the bottom is actually an exclamation mark and of course you can still see the question mark. The interrobang combines a question and an exclamation. Why would you need that? Well imagine a situation where somebody is asking a question but with extra emphasis: a group of people are preparing and cooking a meal for some friends and one of them finds that the meat is not cooked properly – “Who forgot to set the temperature on the oven” Does it need a question mark – yes; does it need an exclamation mark – yes as the person speaking is clearly annoyed and possibly knows whose fault it is. “What would you use?” or maybe “WHAT WOULD YOU USE!” Or even “What would you use?!”

That’s why in 1962 Martin K. Speckter came up with the idea of combining the two marks. That way if you were reading the sentence you would know to raise your voice but also by infection make it obvious it’s also a question. So hey presto! This combined question & exclamation in one. You can see that the “interro” bit of the name comes from the longer word interrogative meaning a question; the bang bit apparently comes from a slang English word for an exclamation. Now my dictionary doesn’t have this meaning but I do know the expression “to bang on about” something which means you are trying to emphasise it by repeating it so there’s a connection. And so the name “interrobang” which also strays into the area of portmanteau words – (remember Can I have a word from 27.6.12?)

Now Microsoft have a few versions of the interrobang and here they are, slightly enlarged, so you can see the design a bit better  ]^_`.(If these symbols don’t come out on transfer to WordPress then, in Microsoft Word, just click on <Insert> and on the very top right click on <Symbol> then <More Symbols>; set the font in the drop down to <Wingdings 2> and you should see 3 of the marks in the bottom right of the first screen of symbols. I prefer the one where the vertical bar doesn’t go all the way up and through the curved bit so here are a couple of examples from Google images:

For whatever reason the mark hasn’t caught on although you’d think it was very usable.

There are a number of products which you can buy: T-shirts, mugs, cuff links, pendants, even an i-phone 5 case with the symbol on, etc which all perpetuate the mark. If you’re really interested check out this site:

The world of the interrobang can seem a little strange.

Well that’s my first look into the world of punctuation marks. We’ll look at a few more next week.

If you want the full story then get Keith Houston’s book. He gives the history, development and up to date situation of the various marks. I found it a fascinating insight into these often ignored tools of punctuation. They’re just there and we don’t tend to think much about them but this book certainly makes you give them a second look.

Yogic aspirations

[Disclaimer: This is a very boring post. You probably shouldn’t read it.]


Is ‘yogic’ a word? Well, if it’s not already, I’m making it a word. There. See? It’s a word now.


I guess I’m kind of writing about the fact that I have a ‘to do’ list in front of me and it’s 13:54 and I’m sitting on the sofa. Where I’ve been sitting since about 9.30am. I really need to find a job where this is acceptable behaviour. I’d be soooo rich. The yoga mat is rolled out on the floor. It does not look tempting. I’m not a yoga-hater or anything but using it will require me to get up and go stand on it. My ability to do this is hampered by my sitting-on-the-sofa thing.


Other things on my ‘to do’ list include, but are not limited to; washing, doing the dishes, putting clothes in the washing machine, going for a walk in the park, posting a letter, going to the shop to get milk, taking the Christmas decorations down, etc etc. It goes on. When did this become my life? Running basic tasks have to go on a ‘to do’ list before I can consider doing them? 2014 needs to be the year when I stop being so feeble. 


14:00 Right. I’m going to do them. Now that I’ve put them on a list, I am obliged. The internet has recorded it. Where to start? Any suggestions? I guess I’ll take the Christmas decorations down first. I might need to ask Danda to come back to help me. And maybe a few of the neighbours. I’ll make a little start on it.

14:05 Ok, one thing crossed off list. Next. O god. All the options look really boring. I guess I should wash the dishes?

14:35 Dishes washed and kitchen tidied. Wow, this post just got MEGA interesting, didn’t it? I’m sorry to subject you all to this but it’s the only way to make myself actually do things, it seems. I guess I should wash myself at some point today. And I guess now is as good a time as any.

15:00 People! I have lots to report! Not only have I washed, I have also washed my hair and put some clothes in the washing machine! Never let it be said that I don’t go the extra mile for you. (I have to talk to you all about my hair a bit later. It’s very important.) I have also put a leg of lamb in the oven with a load of rosemary from the garden and dried oregano. I will slow roast it for five hours until dinner time. It seemed an appropriate method of cooking because it kind of reflects me today – slow roasted. 

15:05 It is becoming harder to avoid the things on my to do list which require me to leave the house. Dammit. I can post the letter and get milk in one go so I suppose I should get dressed and give that a go. Sorry, sofa. I’m off to bigger and better things.

15:15 Getting dressed wasn’t actually on my to do list but it feels like a pretty big step in my day so I thought I’d let you know that it has happened. 

16:30 Time flies when you’re having fun! I went out to do something which should have taken two seconds and didn’t I just see everyone in the world who I know? My favourite colleague was at the deli so we had to have the ‘How was your Christmas?’ chat. Then one of Danda’s close friends came in so we sat down for a coffee and some nibbles. Then two deli regulars popped in and the Christmas chat was needed again. Then another deli regular came in and there was more chat to be had. Then, as I was trying to leave, my gallery owner friend said hi so I had to go in and look at the art and have the chat again. Everywhere I turned, there were people I liked saying hello. So now it’s a bit dark so I’ve had to sacrifice the walk in the park. The yoga mat is still looking at me. What else can I do first?

16:40 Just completed a task that has needed my attention for a long while. Remember my worms? My lovely, irritatingly active worms? Who were making compost for me? Well, during the cold weather I felt a bit concerned about them, in their high up box, exposed as they were to the elements. Danda convinced me that it was the right thing to do, to let them free into the garden. They had done a good job composting for me and I had lots of beautiful compost but perhaps their shift was over. It was time to release them. So for the past few weeks, I’ve been meaning to let them free in the garden and I’ll just get some more when the weather goes nicer and start composting again. But I felt like a mother, unwilling to let them move on and lead their own lives, free from my apron strings. But today, I put it on my to do list and therefore I had to do it. Had to. And I have, my friends, I have. I did it to delay the inevitable yoga session.

16:55 I lasted three minutes. Too much upside down stuff doing downward dog and filled my head with snot. Session over. Probably time to start on this from my to do list.

16:57 Danda home. To do list abandoned. A friend is coming over for dinner to share the lamb. Need to go and buy vegetables and juice. We’ll talk about my hair another day.


Now, wasn’t that inspiring?