Posts Tagged ‘UK’

Meritocracy, privilege or equality?

Good morning all. Wednesday brings my guest blogger, Rambler5319, and his post prompting by a certain new arrival on the UK scene…

 

Last week LLM mentioned the birth of a certain baby: George Alexander Louis – one who is now 3rd in line to the throne here in the UK. (According to the statistics he is just one of 14,000 babies born in the UK last week.) The birth has stirred up interest in a particular area over the past week or so – privilege and the benefits it confers on later generations. Some people are not happy about those who simply inherit a pot of money or land or a title, and don’t have to work for it; others are quite content to live in a society where there will always be inequalities. My reason for writing about the subject is that the BBC dedicated a whole programme on the radio to a discussion on the subject. They have a discussion series called The Moral Maze and it tries to tackle controversial issues; it uses the format of a panel who question “witnesses” (3 or 4 on each prog) who come to state their case on the subject for the week.

Many folks consider life (in general) is unfair: those with money and privilege seem to get access to jobs, education and many other opportunities, those without don’t. The difficulty comes when we or the state take the view that the “playing field” should be levelled so that all have an equal opportunity to get the position under consideration be it a place at university, a job or membership of a club or team. How can it be done? Some would say we already have that in that anyone can apply but that it’s an equality of outcome that would be the best solution. For that to happen though certain things would have to be put in place which might seem unfair to those who do not get what they believed they deserved.

First principle to think about is – do we believe in the idea that if you work hard and get the results you need in exams for instance you should get the place that was offered? However if we then have a situation, as has happened in the UK in recent years, that for example the government wants more people from, as they put it, poorer sections of society to go to university how can that be achieved? Their answer is that you help them with maybe some extra teaching or finance or bursary payment. This though puts the university admission system under great strain because how do they decide between two candidates applying for say one place? Do they admit a person from a poor background who needs financial aid or say a middle class person who can afford to go because their parents simply have more money than the poorer person? Do you see the problem? Yes, they can admit say 10 people from poorer backgrounds to various courses but in order to do that 10 people from what is considered a higher social group have to be excluded. Is that fair or is it simply what we would call social engineering – making a university population a cross section of the wider society in terms of its social & financial groupings? Is that more morally right? Shouldn’t the emphasis be on the academic achievements of the candidates for the places and other factors come in afterwards? If the grade required in a particular subject is for example a “C” and there are two applicants – one has an “A” and one a “B”. Suppose the B grade applicant is from the poorer background – can you see the problem? Why should one way be more right than another? How many students from poor backgrounds would we expect to find in say some of the top universities like Oxford or Cambridge? It is not simply a case of grades it is also one of expense once you’re there. A further problem arises if, as history tends to confirm, that the people from the poorer social grouping, for one reason or another, don’t do as well academically as those from the more affluent neighbourhoods. Again this is not necessarily down to the child. It may be that the school itself has a poor record and one of the reasons for that might be due to poorer quality teachers ending up in say schools in poorer areas. The child may have come from a family in which education was not valued & books were not read. It could even be that the parents were just not interested in the child; perhaps it was not even wanted. There are a number of possible reasons and we can’t just blame or highlight one.

Second principle to think about is that of inheritance. Is it morally right that you or I as a parent should seek to do our best for our children? Do we believe that if we work hard and accumulate wealth during our lives that we have the right to pass it on to our children? In other words should you get what are called your “just deserts”? I think most people would say that this system seems fair – if you work hard, you get the rewards. Again we can do this in a number of ways but in the final analysis a big question is about what we leave behind for them. Suppose the parents “work their socks off” so they can pay off their mortgage so that their children can inherit their house and not be in debt. Should those parents be penalised for having worked really hard to be able to leave their children money or property or whatever? One speaker in the programme suggested that those who leave “excessive wealth” should have it taken off them. When challenged by the panel as to what he would define as excessive of course he couldn’t and also couldn’t say who should do the defining. The panel’s conclusion was quite simply that his idea amounted to straightforward theft!

Another speaker used the phrase when speaking of the opportunities that it was “unacceptably unfair” to those at the bottom of the social scale. As with the previous point, he was unable to properly define “unacceptably”. In the end he went down the route of saying that some things were unacceptably unfair but not all. He then went on to discuss the idea of rewarding those who “fulfil their potential”. In other words if you are not so clever academically and are expected to attain a grade C and you then do or perhaps achieve even higher, say a B you should be rewarded. This is a nice idea but think about this – suppose a student who was expected to achieve an A just misses it and gets a B. If both are applying to the same university, who is more deserving of the place? – Both have got B grades but to whom would you give the place if you had to make the decision? And why?

The last speaker came up with another generalisation: it’s unfair that bright kids from poor working class backgrounds are losing out to middle class kids who are less bright. I’m not sure how you could prove that. Surely I’d be just as “right” to say that bright middle class kids are losing out to bright working class kids because the latter are being favoured by the social engineering going on in higher education entrance procedures.

Now there isn’t time to go into all the arguments for & against but it seems clear to me that it will be incredibly difficult to move from our present position. Consider this – those who say the present system is unfair because a certain person only “got in” or “got the job” because they were born into a higher income family, than those who did not, haven’t got a practical alternative. If the current system is deemed unfair then how can you replace it with one which bestows favour on lower income groups in order to level things up a little? That just means there will be similar cries of unfairness by those who qualified but were discriminated against in the interests of some social policy either by the state or the institution concerned. You will simply be replacing one unfair system with another unfair one. So can anything help? Do we just have to accept that, as has been the case throughout history, in a society where money buys things those with the most can buy the most of whatever it is – material possessions or access to jobs & education? Is it unfair that one is born into a rich family and one into a poor?

The end of a white-throated needletail

Today it’s time for guest blogger Rambler5319 to take over again. Enjoy!

 

What, I hear you say, is a white-throated needletail? Never heard of it? Well if you hadn’t up till last week and you live in the UK you certainly will know about it now. It’s a bird. The paper I bought had an article about one; curious I thought – how come? Well because it died. However it’s the manner of its death which caught the nation’s interest. Surprisingly, here in the UK, the papers took on an almost “Chat” type of presentation. It was possible to read the story in The Guardian, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Mail, The Independent, The Spectator, The BBC News Channel & innumerable blogs and various bird appreciation forums & websites (NPR, The Scottish Sun, The Scotsman, Rare Bird Alert UK, International Business Times) to name but a few. Amazing. What had happened to merit such blanket coverage? Well, this particular bird had flown into a wind turbine blade and killed itself. What you might not know is that the bird in question is quite rare in the UK as it generally lives in the Far Eastern/Australasian area. The Australians apparently call it the Stormbird because it is often seen during stormy weather and bushfires.

Now it’s the rarity value that got certain people interested: since 1950 only 5 recorded sightings of this particular type of bird and only 8 or 9 in the last 170 years! In fact there hadn’t been a sighting over here since 1991. About 200 birdwatchers (some sources say 20, some 40, some 80 etc – I’m not kidding) from all over the UK had travelled north to the Island of Harris off the NW coast of Scotland. (Apparently if you’re a native of the island, though it’s not actually an island in its own right, you’re called a Hearach; as of 2001 Census there were less than 2,000 residents. You may of course recognise the Harris bit of the name being that of a world famous cloth produced there: Harris Tweed.) However, back to our bird; somehow it seems to have either got lost or been blown off track because it shouldn’t have been anywhere near the UK.

I thought a few pertinent facts here might dispel some of the near hysteria about the event. Let’s be quite clear, it was one bird! The Australian Government is quoted as saying that although worldwide numbers of the species are not known it is not considered to be threatened.

It can reach speeds of up to 106mph in flight and, so my paper told me, “copulation takes place in mid-air at high speed!” Report headlines varied from an “accident” to “killed by a wind turbine” to the somewhat OTT Men’s Daily News which led with “rare bird slaughtered by a turbine”. Nothing like a bit of hyperbole to get the readers flocking, eh?

Some called it “the bird of the century”. One group of four friends had driven for 17 hours to get to the spot. Obviously this was a big event in the bird watching world. So up they went; set up their cameras & video recorders; got their binoculars out and waited. And then all of a sudden there it was – the white-throated needletail. In it came, flying across the sea heading for the island. Cameras clicked, videos recorded, twitchers watched with great anticipation hoping to see it for a while flying around. However for some reason the bird didn’t see the 120ft (36.6 metre) high wind turbine and flew straight into it – BOOM, down it went. Bird watchers raced across to the turbine hoping to help it up after it knocked itself out. But NO, there it was, lying on the ground, just dead. And that was it. Don’t ask me how it didn’t see a wind turbine when, in its natural habitat, it allegedly flies around in bad weather and around bushfires. I can’t explain why, but it didn’t. The death was pounced on by the anti wind farm lobby and there was even talk of a serious threat to the species. Remember it was one bird and from a species which the Australians do not believe is threatened at all but hey who wants the facts?

Maybe it was what is called a “slow news day” here in the UK. (This is when not much reportable news is available on the recent main topics so the various papers and agencies grab whatever miscellaneous bits of things happening that they can.)

The time I met Danda at the airport

A little while ago, Danda jetted off into the sun for some Portugal-based fun. I was supposed to be away at the same time but due to some nonsense rules in Texas prisons, I had to postpone it. So I was here and Danda went and had beach fun with family.

On the day Danda was due home, his flight was getting in at 23.15. I left the house at about 10pm and, anticipating boredom, took a Narnia book with me, Prince Caspian to be exact. Now Prince Caspian is a pretty good book, not very like the film apart from the basic story. There is no romance between Caspian and Susan and no rivalry between Caspian and Peter.

Anyway, there I was, on one train then the next, head in my book, wondering if Prince Caspian would beat Miraz and would Aslan come back and help by waking up the trees. There was a lot going on, you know?!

I got to Gatwick and took the shuttle from the South Terminal to the North, head in my book. I got to the North Terminal and looked on the arrivals screen. Danda’s plane had landed and the baggage was in the baggage hall. He’d be about fifteen minutes yet. I might as well chill for a few minutes.

There was a Costa coffee next to a doorway and a sign saying ‘UK arrivals’ above it. Well, I thought, he is arriving and we are in the UK. That must be where he’s coming out. I grabbed a bottle of water, sat within view of the doorway and got reading.

Then Danda called.

“Hi, have you landed?”

“Yeh, where are you?” Danda asked.

Now I’m a girl who loves doing surprises. I love them! I think that’s why I love Hide and Seek so much. And that’s why I said, “Just reading on the sofa.”

“Ok, I’ve just come out so I’ll be ages yet.”

O, he’s only just come off the plane so he’ll be a little while yet, I thought, whilst burying my head in my book again. Still, no-one had come out of the gate I was sitting by, which I thought was a bit wierd. I gave it another ten minutes, then thought something was up. I got up and walked to the arrivals screen and suddenly saw it… The international arrivals gate….

Ah, UK arrivals meant arrivals from other flights within the UK… Not just that we are in the UK. Of course we’re in the bloody UK. As if they would have specified where we are!? Hmm… Top dunce points to Laura.

So I needed to be at the international arrivals gate, not the UK arrivals gate… To be fair, they’re not that far apart so it’s not like I was miles away but I was all taken up with Prince Caspian so I was oblivious to it all.

I stood outside the international arrivals gate for a minute but felt something was wrong. There was no-one coming out. I had to give up my surprise fun and just call Danda…

“Danda, where are you?”

“I’m just on the bus to the car park to pick up the taxi. Why?”

“I’m standing at the international arrivals gate….”

“No! At Gatwick? You’re there?”

“Yes, I came to surprise you but I’ve missed you.”

“O no! Let me get the taxi and come back for you. Where exactly are you stand….. beeeeeeeep.

His phone died. I called back. Nothing. Just the answerphone. Again and again. Eventually I just had to go out to the road and hang about, hoping he would be able to find me.

So for ten minutes, I stood there, in front Gatwick airport, stranded and unsure whether I’d be picked up.

That’s right, I came to meet Danda at the airport and I ended up stranded, waiting for Danda to pick me up.

Well done, Laura. Well done.

*He found me quite easily and I invented a cover story about having just been at the toilet when he came out the gate. It made me sound less stupid.

Advertising nonsense

The other day I was flipping through one of the many catalogues we get sent at work. They are full of new products on the market and cool discounted deals and all the usual advertising jargon you see in the world of products of this sort. Occasionally, though, I come across something which is utter crap.

The most offensive one I saw recently was this nonsense tag line for a coffee company…

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What can this possibly mean? Hand-roasted coffee? Hand picked, maybe. Even handmade. But hand roasted? How is that even possible? The workers at Union have limbs which can reach temperatures of over 100 degrees so they simply hold the coffee in their hands for a while? Or they have huge walk-in ovens so they each take a handful of coffee and walk in the oven to caress the coffee beans gently whilst they roast, in the process roasting themselves alive and getting third degree burns, but they don’t mind. They sacrifice their bodies for the sake of bringing us ‘hand-roasted’ coffee. How lovely.

What?! What can it mean? Hand-roasted? Any suggestions?

Next up, a tea company.

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Design led. Is that supposed to be a good thing? I’m not sure why that would seem good. Do I want a tea company which is taste led? So I know I’m getting a nice tasty cup of tea? Or even innovation led? So I know that maybe I’m getting something new and interesting. Perhaps a fantastic new tea experience which could change my life.

No! This tea company doesn’t give two hoots about the taste, the innovation, the potential for new experiences. It couldn’t give a cuppa for my morning being made or ruined on the strength of my tea-drinking experience. No. What they care about is the design.

The design. That’s right. They’ll throw any old PG Tips in the box without a care in the world. So long as the design is good, this company is happy. They are design led. Good to know.

The next nonsense is geography-specific.

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Stonewall Kitchen, advertising their product in a UK magazine, which is being sent out to small delis and shops around the country, are enticing me to buy their product and stock it in my shop by telling me that I will recognise their product from ‘artisan shops in the US.’

O, thanks for pointing that out. I couldn’t think where I recognised it from. I just knew I’d seen it somewhere!

Because I’m always hanging out in artisan shops in the US.

Always.

I’m never out of them.

I practically live in them.

Ridiculous.

Rain

It’s my regular guest blogger with something very topical right now in England… Rain! Enjoy.

 

Let me start with the answer to last week’s (27.9.12) puzzle question. No-one was brave enough to give it a go so here it is. You remember the tank for the boats to go in weighed 252 tons and I asked what it would weigh if two boats weighing 24 tons each were put into it. So that means what does 252 + 24 + 24 equal. Well the answer is 252. Why?

Simply because when you put the 48 tons of the two boats in, an amount of water overflows the tank and that amount of water if you caught it and weighed it would be 48 tons. (So 252+24+24 really does =252!).

Ok now on to this week’s subject: RAIN

I suppose after the bad summer the UK has had and just last week the almost 3 continuous days of rain it was inevitable my thoughts would turn in its direction. Why did it happen? Was there something special going on in the weather sphere?

I think we can all probably remember a time when there seemed to be (and possibly was) rain for days on end. The world has had incredible blips in the rain making cycle which are totally off the scale of normal weather. You may remember, in 2004, the village of Boscastle in Cornwall being badly damaged by flooding caused by just 8 hours of rain.

Rain affects all sorts of things, some for good some for bad. It gets our food crops growing and waters the natural landscape & woodlands. It can stop sporting events, cause rivers to overflow and make you and me wet in varying degrees. Sometimes it seems that every time we go out it is raining. In the paper last week big reductions of UK-produced honey were reported. The reason: wet weather from April to August meant honey bees had far less time to get out and about to do their job of pollinating. (Scotland’s ‘crop’ of honey was down by two-thirds because of the rain; a Derbyshire farmer said he was down 90%!).
Let’s start, as they say, at the beginning. How does rain start? What happens to make it?

Well, first off, it’s back to schooldays geography: heat acts on water on the Earth’s surface, as water droplets increase in heat they become less dense and therefore rise up into the atmosphere where they form clouds. All clouds are simply water droplets hanging up in the sky. They won’t fall down until other things take place. I’m sure you’ve quite happily looked up at those pretty, fluffy, rounded white ones and thought you were ok as they wouldn’t rain on you. I’m also sure you’ve looked up at increasingly darker ones and thought, “It looks like rain”. We do that don’t we? The fluffy rounded white ones are called cumulus and they pass through 3 stages before they get to the state when rain is likely: they start with cumulus humilis which grow into cumulus mediocris and then to the rain-bearing cumulus congestus. One stage further and congestus will grow into Cumulonimbus and this is the baddie as far as the weather goes. It’s the fatal motorway pile up of the weather world. It brings the extremes: hail, snow, lightning, hurricanes and, sadly, sometimes death. I wonder if you imagine what clouds would look like if you were up there alongside them. We tend to look up and think a bit two-dimensionally: we can see their length and we can see their width or so we think. How many of us think of their height (depth)? Think of when you’re on a plane flight: you look out of the window and when coming in to land you see the plane go into the cloud layer and then come out underneath. It’s hard to imagine that depth from the ground looking up because we can’t really see it. Well, the Cumulonimbus is big, massive in fact in physical size, starting at a height above ground of about 6,000 ft (1828 metres) and going up to about 45,000 (13,716 m). That means it can easily be taller than Mount Everest (29,029 ft, 8840 m).
Now let’s stop there for a mo’. How and more importantly where will the ‘heating’ process begin that results in these cloud formations? Think about it. Obvious really isn’t it? It has to be in the areas where the Earth’s temperature is at its greatest. That means the equatorial & tropical regions around the middle of the Earth. Gavin Pretor-Pinney gives an easy to understand example in his book The Cloudspotter’s Guide:

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He uses the lava lamp. You’ve probably all seen one and some will have owned one; my family had one when I was growing up and it was amazing how long you could look at it just waiting to see what the next shape it formed would look like. The ‘lava’ is in the bottom of the glass container when the lamp is switched on. It then heats up causing parts of the lava to become less dense and therefore to rise up in the liquid. Finally when it gets far enough away from the heat at the bottom it becomes more dense, increases in weight and falls back down to begin the whole process again.

That’s why rain doesn’t start in the polar regions; it starts in the middle degrees of latitude around 00 (+/- 23.5 degrees of the tropics) and then works its way either north or south when the cooling process begins. This is the crucial point in the life cycle of rain – its birth as it were. At some point the water droplets then become too heavy to remain up in the air as clouds and will begin to fall as rain. All the preceding states could be considered as foetal or ‘ante-natal’; it is growing from random rising water droplets into clouds and waiting for the ‘something’ to happen which will release the droplets from the cloud to fall on us down here.

In the Boscastle example earlier the ‘something’ was warm air picking up moisture from the Atlantic. It travelled to the Cornish Coast where steep cliffs forced the air upwards. As we said above, the droplets would then cool sticking together forming clouds and further cooling resulted in them falling back to Earth as rain, but because of the massive volume of moisture they were carrying it was very heavy rain. Many records were broken in the Boscastle disaster just because of the amount of rain that fell in such a short time. One fact that intrigues me is that in that one afternoon 7 inches (almost 178mm) of rain fell and yet 10 rain gauges all fairly close by recorded under 3mm! How bizarre is that? It’s like Boscastle had its very own village rain cloud with all the taps turned on – if ever you wanted a definition of a local phenomenon that has to be it. It is believed that it was an occurrence of what is known as The Brown Willy Effect. Now before you go thinking X-rated thoughts let me explain: it is a meteorological term meaning heavy showers developing over high ground but then moving quite a way from their place of origin. Brown Willy comes directly from the Cornish Bronn Wennili which means “hill of the swallows”. It is the highest point on Bodmin Moor (420 m). So now you know.
And here it is.

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(Thanks to Stephen Dawson for photo – re-used under Creative Commons licence)

The disastrous flood that occurred in 1953 along the East Coast of England affected Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Kent & parts of the Thames Estuary, killed 307 people, damaged 24,000 homes and caused 30,000 people to be evacuated. It was not caused by primarily by rain but by a storm surge of water and a high Spring Tide. (We’d probably call it a tsunami today.) What is interesting is that one of the villages affected by it was called Salthouse. Given recent posts about salt I couldn’t resist checking the place out on line to see what its origins might be. Sure enough there’s a history there of salt making going back to Saxon times and beyond from remains discovered in the area. Maybe that’s one to investigate next time I’m down that way. It’s on the ‘things to do next year’ list.
People write music about the rain, sing about the rain, paint pictures or take photos with rain in, write about the rain and even eulogise in poetry about it. We’ll look at some of those next week but for now I want to direct you to one of the most famous and most shown film clips.

Who can forget the words of that classic song about the pleasure of rain, “I’m singing in the rain”? Gene Kelly was “laughing at clouds, so dark up above” but I doubt we do; he also “walked down the lane with a happy refrain”. Do you? Now I’ve watched this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WttNlbaECDY) and I’ve made a few notes. This guy is such a bad example to kids. Here are a few things which troubled me:

1. He puts his brolly down after just 43 secs. Therefore he gets very wet. Why would you do that?
2. At 1m 21s he actually takes his hat off for a full 7 secs so his head gets soaking wet. It’s off again briefly at 1m 52s. Would you want your child copying this sort of behaviour?
3. At 2m 27s he does the “kick-the-point-of-the-brolly-with-your-foot” trick so it spins-round in the air and he catches it by the handle. He then does it spinning from his own hand and catching it again a bit later. All this time it is not covering him and so he continues to get even wetter.
4. At 3m 1s he stands under the gutter downspout and drops his brolly down so he can get his head soaked again.
5. From about 3m 10s he jumps in the puddles splashing all over the place and seems to think this is just jolly good fun.
6. Only at 3m 40s when a policeman arrives does he seem to think his behaviour is incredibly childish and he acts sort of embarrassed and towards the end bumps into a passer-by and actually gives his umbrella away!

Now come on, hands up any of you who are parents out there – would you want your child to behave this way? No, I’m sorry Mr Kelly this is just not good enough!

I couldn’t finish without telling you about a super video on the subject of rain. Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPodpYu_Ruo&feature=related. How long is it? I kid you not – the timer shows 8 hrs 1 min 13 secs!!! There are a few picture changes and a few thunderclaps but it really is just the sound of rain falling. Check it out (for a minute or so) if you don’t believe me. I’m sorry but I’ve only managed to listen to the first 7 hrs 59 mins then I had to go out so I can’t tell you how it finishes!

Signs of the times?

It’s that time in the week again, time for the guest blogger to take over….

“Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched
With a woeful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale;
And then it left me free.”
(Keep reading to find out where these lines are from if you don’t already know.)
I went on holiday recently; it turned out to be a real assignment. Congratulations to the weather which had been very wet for many weeks but which gave me a rain-free, hot, sun-filled week. I visited Norfolk, in a part of the UK called East Anglia, and stayed in a cottage in a small village called Ringstead: it’s a few miles inland from the seaside town of Hunstanton popular with traditional holiday makers. I soon became aware that there are many signs which are meant to give info but sometimes don’t actually say what they mean or don’t say it correctly. On day one (actually a Friday), I took a walk round the seafront there and, in the fairground which had closed because of earlier bad weather, I was surprised to find the following:
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Can you see the mistake? Go on, look again if you missed it.
A short distance away was this one:

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Apart from the obvious danger of getting into a barrel, can you see the (4) mistakes in this one? Not too hard, eh? Easy to see how kids pick up the bad habits when they do their own writing.
By the way, did you know there is an Apostrophe Protection Society in the UK? It’s actually been featured in a prog on TV some years ago. Here is a quote from their site:
“We are aware of the way the English language is evolving during use, and do not intend any direct criticism of those who have made mistakes, but are just reminding all writers of English text, whether on notices or in documents of any type, of the correct usage of the apostrophe should you wish to put right mistakes you may have inadvertently made.”
Although I am not a member I do think they’re making a very valid point and if they don’t highlight the issue who else will? Check out the “Examples” tab on their site (www.apostrophe.org.uk) and look at some of the howlers – including stuff written by teachers!
Back to the pics. Well, clearly I was on a roll. I’d been going for only 10 mins and had two signs bagged already. I could see another one on a fence in the distance so ran over to see what it said:

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Doh! No mistakes and after me eagerly running all the way over.
Then further along the Promenade was this one:

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Now I know some people might say you should beware of Cliff Richard but after asking the locals it seems no-one knew who this Cliff Falls guy was. Anyway we had a lovely walk along the beach under the overhanging red rocks and we waved back at all the people who were shouting and waving at us from over on the promenade. We couldn’t tell what they were saying but we thought – this seems to be a really friendly town.
A couple of days later I was in a Craft Centre and came across this one:

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Pointing to the sign, I suggested to the Craft Centre lady that perhaps Harry could help. She was not amused. Oh well…
However, was wondering if LLM might want to apply. Why? Well, it seems she might be good at it. If you read her blogs regularly you will have come across the following examples (there are more):
31.7.12 – An Admission – “I pottered over, friendly mission face on….”
27.7.12 – I came, I saw, I passed – “After work, I pottered off home….”
20.7.12 – To Aslan’s Mountain with a wisdom stick – “As we pottered along, admiring the views….”
13.7.12 – Searching For Agatha – “…and potter about in the countryside for a while.”
I like that expression “to potter” or “potter about”. It gives a real sense of relaxed meandering; while others frantically push and shove or drive manically you are in no rush, plenty of time to look around and take in the landscape (or townscape). It speaks of a detached air, of being happy in oneself, unconcerned with the normal daily grind. Yes, pottering about is good. I must have a go at it.
Just across the road was this:
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You know what happened? I went in and…… that’s right, there were no ancient mariners! Fancy having a pub just for ancient mariners. I reckon they’re probably a dying breed! (By the way the verse at the start of this post, if you hadn’t guessed, is from Coleridge’s The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner.)
On the Sunday, we went to a Flower Festival in a nearby village. At the entrance to the church we saw this sign:

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Yep, you’ve guessed it…….. inside there were no guide dogs….. just loads of people!
There were a number of historical displays inside. This one was about the Norman Conquest. I approached with caution believing it might be one of those things which when people get close it suddenly jumps out at you (and shouts something scary) because there’s a real human being inside who was just keeping very still. There wasn’t……so it didn’t. (I suppose if a person had had an arrow stuck in his eye it would have been quite hard to stand still):
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Now apparently the idea that King Harold II (Harold Godwinson) was killed (1066) by an arrow in the eye comes from the pictures on the famous Bayeux Tapestry. However, it also shows what some believe to be another figure also representing Harold being killed by a sword. So it might have been arrow, might have been sword or could have been both.
Another display sign was this one:

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Can you spot the mistakes this time? (I count three. Did you get them all?)
Towards the refreshment area and other stalls was this one:

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Just one this time. (Apologies to American readers who, I know, do spell it this way).

On Tuesday we went on the Wells to Walsingham Light Railway. The sign told me this amazing fact:

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I was impressed – the longest 10¼” gauge in the world! Where did the idea for that width come from? You might think it must be one of those Victorian oddities from long ago but surprisingly this one was built only very recently (1982). You probably won’t be surprised to know that there is actually a Ten and a Quarter Inch Gauge Railway Society and there is a website if you’re really interested.
Thanks to the Wells & Walsingham Light Railway for permission to use the following two photos from their website (as mine didn’t really come out that well).
We travelled on the blue engine. It was called the Norfolk Hero (began in service in 1987 & named in honour of Admiral Lord (Horatio) Nelson. He was born in 1758 in Burnham Thorpe, just 5½ miles west of where the railway starts & 9½ miles east of the village where I stayed):

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There is a second engine (new in 2011) called Norfolk Heroine. It is named in honour of Edith Cavell, a British nurse who worked in Belgium during WW1, born 1865 in Swardeston near Norwich in Norfolk. She was shot, in Oct 1915, by the occupying German forces, for helping prisoners escape.

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Also nearby was the following warning sign:
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You might have to enlarge it but it’s typical of the signs organisations like this have to put up because of the (blame and) claim culture which infects everything these days. It’s a steam train, it runs on coal, it puffs out smoke – what do people expect? However what I didn’t expect was to get hit by one of “the smuts” in a very painful place. Just 15 mins into the journey I suddenly found myself blinking like mad as a piece of smut (prob coal dust) blew into my eye causing me to rub like mad to try and get it to the corner where I thought it wouldn’t hurt as much. Apart from that it was a really enjoyable day out on the little train.
Here’s another ‘spot the mistake one’:

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Easy that one? Hope the art was going to be better than the spelling. (I wouldn’t still be there to find out though.)
I like this one because it’s a good pun-like trade name:

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Check out the barber’s name in line 4. Hair salons and barber often do call themselves distinctive names. An unusual one I remember from some years ago was called – “Curl up and Dye”.
I’ll finish with one from the main road in the village where I was staying:

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It gave me a good laugh anyway. Again you’ll need to enlarge it to see the small text but noteworthy bits are: the price – one quacker, published by – Eggsactly Newspapers and the motto (top right) – “Out for a duck, not run down”. And there are two of them near to the pond. What wags these local rustics are, eh?
I’ve decided – I like signs, especially when sometimes they DON’T say what they mean, sometimes when they’re just fun to read and sometimes when your response is tongue-in-cheek. I didn’t intend to take pics like this but, after the initial spots on day 1, looking for more just became routine. You’re probably asking yourself what assignment was he on about at the beginning of this post? He’s not mentioned it at all. Can you see it now? What assignment? (Do you see what I did there? What a sign meant – haha).

Bird Droppings

It’s over to my guest blogger today for some fascinating facts on this subject:

 

Today I thought I would take a break from the more serious subjects I’ve covered recently. The topic today is bird droppings (or more commonly pooh). Unsightly mess? Spoils public buildings & many other structures – definitely. But how much do you know about it? Will you even carry on reading this because you think it’s boring and uninteresting. Tell you what – I thought that before I started thinking about it. It almost became something “to get excited about” as LLM might say.
I wonder if you’ve ever been hit by bird droppings from the sky as you walked along outside? I have. I was fortunate though, it landed on my shoulder (and therefore thankfully missed my head although it did get some small splashes) and left me with a stained shirt for the rest of the day. Yes, I was on my way to work walking from the train station. Oh well, it gave people in the office a good laugh when I arrived with the mess down the front. (“I see you had some visitors drop in on way to work this morning”, and other such witty remarks.)
So what could be interesting about bird muck? Well, in case you’re struggling, one of our national newspapers came to the rescue recently. It published a survey analysing droppings found on cars in different cities in the UK. It seems to suggest that it’s not just where you park your car that affects whether it gets muck on it but that it is related to the colour of your car. Is there a colour, for instance, which does or doesn’t seem to get hit as much as others? Yes there is but it’s not as simple as that. Before we go any further let’s look at the published table below:

Red – 18 per cent
Blue – 14 per cent
Black – 11 per cent
White – 7 per cent
Grey/Silver- 3 per cent
Green – 1 per cent

This is quite interesting as you can see that nearly 1 in 5 cars that are hit are coloured red. Hmm.. perhaps you won’t buy a red car next time. Before you get too carried away by this revelation just look at those figures again. Now you don’t have to be a maths whizz to see that the figures don’t add up to anywhere near 100%. I make the total 54% (and this is the full table as appeared in the newspaper). (You might have to add 7% if the white/grey means two colours tied on that figure but it doesn’t say.) What happened to the other 46% of the sample? Were they all colours different to the ones specified? If so why not include an “other colours” category? LLM covered “getting excited” about stuff but at this point I was doing “getting angry” (at the quality of this presentation). Why publish such a rubbish table which appears to show only just over half of the number surveyed? Is the paper really that bad at its adding up? (Is this turning into a “Chat 2” blast?)
Ok so let’s look at some more of the detail behind table. They looked at 1,140 cars across five cities: Brighton, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester and Bristol. Sounds like a fair spread, north, middle & south, but wait a minute, think about this – why no London investigation? (London is noted for its population of pigeons in certain areas so should have been a good area to get a lot of test results.) Seems like a fair number of vehicles but did you know, as of the most recent figures, there are 31 million cars in the UK (and 134 million in the USA). Now take the sample size and divide it by the total number of cars (& times by 100) to get a percentage – any guesses? I’ll tell you it’s 1,140/31,00,000 = 0.00367% – that is 1/272 of 1%! Just take a moment to think about that – not half of 1%, not a quarter of 1%, not even one 100th of 1% or one 200th of 1% but 1/272 of 1%! How small is that? Now come on, since when did a fraction of 1% as small as that represent a big enough sample to make inferences about cars across the whole country. And yet, there in a national newspaper, the survey is given some column inches with no ref to how small the sample is when compared to the total number of cars on the road.
So far, amongst other things, we have: an apparently incomplete table that doesn’t add up to anywhere near 100%; we have a sample size so small that it makes it hard to deduce meaningful data; and we don’t know why the capital of the country has been excluded from the survey.
Steam is (metaphorically) beginning to come out of the ears at this point but bear with me there’s more.

The next bits are what I would call basic. Think about it – we are not told anything about the locations surveyed. Were the car parks on open ground? Were the cars just parked in streets? Were there overhanging branches or even road or rail bridges which often have metal support girders underneath providing many ideal perches for pigeons? (The car park at my own place of work actually has a dual carriageway going over it so has two bridges & therefore lots of girders & therefore lots of pigeons.)
Remember too that the research did not consider the type of birds doing the fouling of the vehicles. (They actually spelt it “fowling” at one point in the article – haha.) Whilst they could not possibly see all the birds doing the deeds it is possible that they surveyed at a place in a city where there is a resident population of a particular type of bird –pigeons, sea-gulls or starlings for example. Btw, did you know that pigeon pooh is more damaging than say seagull pooh? I’m sure you want to know why so I’ll tell you – it’s because pigeons eat seeds and therefore produce grainier pooh and it’s that which causes more blemishes on your car’s paintwork. However what about all those smaller size birds: sparrows, starlings, blackbirds, finches, thrushes etc?
The article also gives you the useful info, from car polish experts Autoglym, that car paint damage is NOT caused by the acid or alkali in the pooh which I always thought – so I did learn something useful from reading it. I won’t bore you with the technical explanation – if you’re really interested you can look it up.
Did you know that insurers estimated that the annual cost of damage to paintwork from bird droppings is about £57 million? Best advice? – just clean it off as soon as possible. Well I’d never have thought of that!
In the car park where I work two people have yellow cars. Why is yellow not in the survey table? Does this mean it’s the safest colour to buy because the survey did not spot one yellow car with bird muck?
Another stat which might have been helpful is the colour distribution of cars on the road. Supposing, for instance, that 18% of all cars on the road are red, it would be no surprise that 18% of the bird muck survey were found to be red cars would it? This again is basic stuff which any normal person would ask. It’s like saying that a survey found that the average age of people going into a particular building was say 68 and you say why so high? Why were there not more younger people going in? Ah well, you see, it’s a day care centre for pensioners. Bigger picture springs to mind here!
It takes about 3 seconds to research colours of cars sold. Here’s the table of colours of cars sold (so not the actual total in the country, but does include yellow) for most of 2010:

1: black Cars sold: 465,249 Percentage share: 24.7
2: silver Cars sold: 402,537 Percentage share: 21.4
3: blue Cars sold: 310,331 Percentage share: 16.5
4: grey Cars sold: 270,863 Percentage share: 14.4
5: red Cars sold: 192,335 Percentage share: 10.2
6: white Cars sold: 188,463 Percentage share: 10
7: green Cars sold: 20,735 Percentage share: 1.1
8: beige Cars sold: 17,237 Percentage share: 0.9
9: yellow Cars sold: 7,621 Percentage share: 0.4
10: brown Cars sold: 6,967 Percentage share: 0.4

These figures do come to 100%. Again simple bit of research – look at the top 3 in the bird dropping sample (red, blue, black) and add up the percentage figures. It comes to 43%. Now look in the table for 2010 sales and add up the percentages for the same 3 colours – it’s 51%. Not that far apart I’d say.

Inference – the more cars there are of a certain colour the more likely they are to get hit! It’s not rocket science but it doesn’t make headlines and you know as well as I do that “headlines” sell papers.
Another newspaper gave the following table apparently for most popular car colours IN THE WORLD! And here it is:
1. Silver – 26 percent
2. Black/Black Effect – 24 percent
3. White/White Pearl and Grey – 16 percent each (tie)
5. Red – 6 percent
6. Blue – 5 percent
7. Brown/Beige – 3 percent
8. Green – 2 percent
9. Yellow/Gold – 1 percent
10. Others – <1 percent
We see that this table also does add up to 100% (you do have to add 16% to the 84% total because two colours were tied in third place).
Black, red, blue comes to 35%. Not that far off 43% really.
Now, apart from the fact that I was “getting angry” about this terribly presented (bird droppings) survey, I was amazed to note what I had come to believe over many years was actually being confirmed. I have on a number of occasions come to my car to find it has droppings on and yet the one next to it has none. When it first happens you don’t notice anything special but when it keeps on happening you begin to wonder: am I parking under a bird’s nest? Is there a tree branch over the parking place? Did I definitely remove the “Pooh here” notice from the roof of my car? Ooh… wait a minute was the notice invisible? – remember “Invisible Art” from 4.7.12. Better check that.

Ok so now you know the facts but will it influence the colour of car you next buy. Will you rush to the research paper and get the info and then decide to buy a GREEN car or even SILVER?
And you thought bird pooh was not that interesting. (Maybe you still do after reading Mr Angry’s rant.) What about readers of this blog sending in the colour of their car and whether it gets “pooped on” on a regular basis.

Last word has to go to the Ornithology experts who were quoted in the article:

“The British Trust for Ornithology is more circumspect on the role of colour in the ‘drop zone’ for birds.

A spokesman said: ‘We do know that birds can be attracted to certain colours during display but droppings on cars are probably more to do with where you park; if you park where birds roost then you are going to get more droppings on your vehicle.’”

Incredible! Would you have thought of that? – and they didn’t even do a survey to back their conclusion up.