Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Walk In The Sunshine

Today, while Mrs Crox and Crox Minima hit the fleshpots floshpits stores in Norwich, Crox Minima and I decided to go on the longest walk we've done since moving to Cromer (with Heidi, too, of course). Crox Minor is a trooper and doesn't mind a hike: we chose a six-miler, starting from Cromer West Beach and walking two miles westwards along the shore to West Runton, then heading inland and back eastwards to Cromer along the North Norfolk Coast Path.

We started off at 11.15 on the most gloriously sunny day I can remember, and that's after a stack of sunny days. Pleasantly warm, a slight easterly breeze, perfect for a walk. This is Brunswick Terrace, a Victorian terrace (though with worryingly art deco windows) in Cromer with a great sea view...
I'm showing this, really, so that when summer proves a washout, and Cromer returns to its normal arctic squall, I can prove to myself that when the Sun deigns to come out, it can be as lovely a place as you'll find anywhere.

The beach walk from Cromer to West Runton is, amazingly, completely uninterrupted by breakwaters. This means that it's an easy stroll whether the tide is in or out, and the waves are terrific (in the winter they attract a few hardy surfers).

What interested us, though, was the geology. Here's a piece of cliff, between East and West Runton, looking eastwards, back the way we'd come. You can just make out Cromer Pier in the background.

Now, I admit it's not the best shot, but this one section tells you all you need to know of the local geology.

The lower two thirds is chalk, Norfolk's bedrock, yielding the flints that scatter the beach and which form the basis of Norfolk's vernacular brick-and-flint architecture, and among which you might be lucky enough to find a fossil sea urchin or belemnite.

The upper third is Pleistocene sand and gravel, laid unconformably atop the Cretaceous. They hardly look it now, but these sands and gravels are the last vestiges of the most brutal glaciation to have hit Britain in the past several hundred million years. This was the Anglian glaciation, which, a shade before half a million years ago, scrubbed Britain of most of its topography.

The glaciers are mercifully long gone, even from Cromer in February, and the sands and gravels are but a fragile relic, poorly consolidated and as easily eroded as smoke and shadows. Just to the west of that section we found this:

This is a cliff made entirely of sand that has slumped into a kind of sloped dune field. Looking up, you can see the breeze carry this cliff away, grain by grain. You can see why this part of the coast is the most rapidly eroding coastline in Europe.

A little further on and we reach one of the most important geological sections in Britain - the Upper Freshwater Bed of the Cromer Forest-bed Formation, the type section of the Cromerian Stage of the British Pleistocene. The Upper Freshwater Bed is no more, no less than the muddy bed of a river that once flowed through this part of the world, some three quarters of a million years ago. An incredible diversity of fossil remains has been recovered from this section over the course of two hundred years, from plant remains, to voles and other rodents, to large ungulates, culminating in the near-complete skeleton of a steppe mammoth (Mammuthus trogontherii), the elder (and much larger) cousin of the more famous woolly mammoth.

Not that the Upper Freshwater Bed is much to look at now - a bench of brown, flaky stuff at the bottom of the cliff, against which tourists, heedless of its significance, pitch their windbreaks, and passing golden retrievers stop for a rest.
This is where we left the beach. Just up the slipway at West Runton is a cafe where they serve rather good sandwiches, made to order.

After lunch we put the sea to our backs and walked into West Runton itself. Now, I have driven through this village many times, but it's not until you slow down to walking pace that you appreciate it in any way at all. I hadn't quite realized quite how lovely West Runton is, in that way of chocolate-box rustic nostalgia peculiar to English villages. The railway station still has its old-fashioned signage, and that, with the Links Hotel close by, you'd think you'd stepped onto the set of an Edwardian-to-1930s costume drama. There are plenty of places to sit down in West Runton, all the better to witness time flow backwards.

We stepped out of the village into a tiny slice of National Trust woodland, one of the most enchanting woods I've ever walked in, until that path joined a larger way, the North Norfolk Coast Path.
This is a National Trail, and extends some forty-something miles from Hunstanton in the west to Cromer in the east. A string of farm tracks, by-roads and footpaths has been strung together with plenty of signage so you can't get lost, leaving you to enjoy roadside vistas, like this.

We got home almost five hours after we started, pleased with our achievement. For me, one result of this journey of self-discovery is that crocs aren't very good for long distance hiking. At least, not judging from the state of my feet.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A New Can of Worms

This ...... is a wormery. And not just any wormery, it's a Marks and Spencer's Can O' Worms wormery, the ver-du-ver of wormeries, the Eglu Cube of wormeries, the wormery to end all wormeries, the acme and apotheosis of all annelid aspiration and ambition.

This particular Can O' Worms has recently arrived at the Maison Des Girrafes, our old el cheapo wormery having gone the way of all inferior products: though not before I got a tray full of the juiciest, spiciest, raciest, damn-it-all sexiest compost I've ever had the pleasure of handling, and had penned a paean to the former inhabitants (all since liberated).

Setting up a wormery is damned complicated.

Considered at its simplest, a wormery is a stack of garden sieves, placed one on top of the other. You place the worms in the bottom sieve, and add kitchen scraps to the one above. The worms wriggle upward into the kitchen scraps, recycling it into compost. When they've done this, you add a third sieve, filling that with scraps - and then a fourth. By that time (it can take several months) all the worms will have vacated the bottom layer. You can then remove the compost, adding the now-empty sieve to the top.

Lost? You will be. It's more complicated than that, because there's a lowermost layer, below the bottom sieve - you can see it in the photo above - which acts as a sump, collecting a liquid that forms a potent plant fertilizer. What's more, when you add the worms, you have to bed them down in some special coir bedding, which has to be moistened just so, and give them a sprinkle of special worm food every now and then, and if the ongoing mix gets too acid, you add some special lime mixture, being sure all the time to keep a special coir mat on top, and ensuring that the worms are neither too wet nor too dry, too warm or too cold, and being sure always to tuck them in at night, but only after you've read them the right kind of bedtime story (all references to Early Birds having been excised).

What's the point of a wormery, I hear you cry? Haven't we got enough pets already? What worms do is recycle the very nastiest and yuckiest of your rubbish - the cooked food scraps off the side of your plate. You can't put cooked food in the regular compost heap, because it attracts rats, but worms love it. The wormery thus relieves your bins of a load of stinky stuff, and landfill of a lot of methane-generating yuck. Worms like lots of fibre, too, such as egg boxes, shredded bank-statements, back numbers of the Daily Beast and, bless 'em, golden retriever hair - which currently rolls around the house like tumbleweed.

The Can O' Worms comes supplied with all the parts: a block of bedding, bags of worm food and lime, and the coir mat - everything except the worms themselves. To get these you have to mail the supplied voucher and the worms will arrive by return.

In their own chauffered limo, no doubt.

And no, we won't be giving them all names. Not immediately, at any rate. Not until we see the emergence of any worms of exceptional character or intelligence (more than a guinea pig, say). Until then we'll be catching up on our background reading.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

By The Sea now available from

Some readers have asked me if my gothic schlock horror mystery novel By The Sea is available through Amazon. Well, I have some good news - you can now get it through You can't get it from, sadly, but it is still available from Lulu just the same. Ideal summer reading, I'd say.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Great Chicken Rescue

Little Hen Rescue is a Norfolk-based charity that rescues ex-battery hens from farms and installations that are going to the wall, or which are replacing chickens with something else. Rather than letting the poultry be recycled into cat food or some similarly fowl fate, LHR puts the hens in touch with new owners.

Thus it was that the Croxii made an eggscruciatingly early start (for a Sunday) and made their way to the LHR HQ equipped with two pet carriers and a large cardboard box, for the purposes of rescuing four ex-battery chooks and converting them to solar energy.

Most chooks in battery installations are crammed into very small boxes in what look like railway overhead luggage compartments. They never see the sunshine, have little room to stand up or move around, and don't know how to hold a knife and fork eat and drink for themselves. When they arrive at LHR they are very weak. Volunteer Joan allowed me to take pictures: here are some chickens rescued only yesterday. The reason why they are all sitting down is that they cannot stand up.
After a while they have recovered sufficiently to walk about ...
By the time they are ready to be re-homed they are entirely self-propelled, feisty and right little buggers to catch. Here is one of the four we rescued, in the Eglu formerly inhabited by our bantams, but who moved to Pondside Lodge yesterday.
As you can see they are all a bit scrawny - battery life is no good for feathers, but these will re-grow in time. In the meantime, though, some wear fabric tabards fixed on with velcro ... Eventually, we hope, our ex-battery chooks will have recovered sufficiently to join our bantams in Pondside Lodge. However, right now they are somewhat psychotic institutionalized, so the old Eglu provides a convenient Halfway House.

The chooks all looked rather like Rhode-Island Reds, the chickens my mother raised in our garden when I was growing up. These have a great reputation as reliable layers, which is why they are popular with farmers. I asked volunteer Rebecca what breed our chooks were, and she said that battery chooks tend to have strain numbers, selected from a number of stocks to lay as many eggs as possible. Because of this, battery chooks do have Rhode-Island in their pedigree. Indeed, two of our new chooks laid eggs in the car on the way home.

So how did LHR come by these particular hens? Or indeed, hens? Joan told me that the first part - and the trickiest - is making contact with farmers willing to dispose of their poultry in this way, and perhaps none to keen to advertise what might be distinctly substandard conditions of husbandry. Our chooks were among a flock of 10,000: the farmer wanted to get rid of them because of new animal-husbandry regulations which come into force next year, requiring battery chooks to have more room and places to scratch. But this requirement would have shaved the farmer's margins below that of majors such as Tesco, so he wanted to get rid of the flock and use his barns for something more profitable. Hence LHR has all these chooks to re-home ... in less than a month. When we arrived at LHR central, the farmyard was crowded with people buying chooks for £1.50 a pop (note - you can't just turn up: you have to register first), as well as poultry accoutrements such as layer's mash.
So, what can you do? I recommend contacting LHR through their website, and even if you can't rescue hens yourself, do your bit by refusing to eat eggs or chickens which haven't been reared free-range.
I'd like to thank Joan and the other volunteers at LHR for talking so freely to me, allowing me to take pictures, and for their hard work in rescuing poultry which have many years of happy egg-laying life ahead of them.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Erection of Pondside Lodge - A Story In Pictures

Today, as promised, I can give the full-frontal, explicit and unexpurgated story of the erection of our new chicken house.

We have been the proud owners of an Eglu, manufactured by Omlet, for some time now.

Here's our current eglu ...

... and the current residents. As you can see it's a little cosy for six bantams. Some new accommodation was needed. That's when Mrs Crox decided to order the altogether more palatial Eglu Cube. As our entire garden acts as the chicken run, we ordered ours sans the wire-frame run.

It arrived last Thursday as a pile of very large boxes ...
... which, when unpacked, made a very large pile of stuff.
Omlet thinks of everything - they even provide you with a few eggboxes
and, if you want, the chickens to lay the eggs to fill them.

The eglu cube is simplicity itself to assemble, needing only a cross-head screwdriver.
However, it's probably a good idea to have help
and some experience of self-assembly furniture. Not a problem for Your Host, who has got every single allen key IKEA has ever made, and has successfully put together a 'BENNY' Large-Hadron Collider in beech-finished particle-board, and a 'MOOMIN' uranium-enriching ultracentrifuge in plain unvarnished pine.

The Eglu Cube has a set of wheels, rather like (says Mrs Crox) a Victorian bathing machine. Here I am attaching the wheels to the base.
and here's the base, with the wheels attached.
But wait, there's more. Then you add the front ...
... attach the ladder ...
... and then the sides, and the roosting bars.. The nestbox (on the left) can seat several chooks at once, whereas in the old Eglu there's only room for one at a time, which caused a lot of squabbling as the chooks lined up like fractious teenagers outside a nightclub.

Here it is showing how you can remove the plastic roosting bars, and slide out the poo trays, which are emptied simply on the compost heap. A lot more hygienic and easier to clean than a wooden chicken coop.
Here is Mrs Crox showing how to gain access to the nestboxes through the side-hatch.
Fitting the lid - which slides to and fro for easier access -
is the only slightly tricky part. I should add that the Eglu Cube's parts all fit, within reasonable tolerance, and are of extremely high quality. Which is just as well, given that it cost £££.
Before you know it, these highly prestigious waterside apartments are finished, modelled here by Crox Minima:
... with a finishing touch by Crox Minor.
Here is Mrs Crox putting some straw in the nestbox.
... and introducing two new residents.
But what of the old Eglu? Ah, well, for that you'll have to tune in tomorrow for the next eggciting installment.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hot Girl-On-Girl Action

Just a quick note to promise readers a weekend of hot girl-on-girl action here at the Maison Des Girrafes as we install a new chookery ... and swoop to the rescue of some ex-battery-operated chicks as they are converted to solar energy. You read it here first. Now, what sort of adverts will Google place next to this post, I wonder?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Weigh In

Today at a weighing machine in Boots I tipped the scales at 19st 5lbs. This is a millstone milestone as it means I have lost half a stone - or, if it's any easier, 59,236,456,552,232,271,872 electronvolts, sort of - if the pounds are expressed as pounds per foot, since my campaign began several weeks back. Or maybe half that, as I have two feet, simultaneously, at the same time and both together. There. Glad that's cleared up. Closed Wednesdays.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Star Trick

Saturday nights are always tricky at the Maison Des Girrafes. That's the night when Mrs Crox, Crox Minor and Crox Minima stay up to watch Ritual Humiliation of Mindless Obese Proles with Ant and Dec or some such nonsense, and last night was worse because after that there was that annual festival of kitsch, From Russia With Love The Russia House the Eurovision Song Contest. In past years this celebration of decerebrated pointlessness was made almost bearable by the avuncular, hibernaceous tones of Lord Terence of Wogan, but even he's gotten fed up with it, so instead we are forced to tolerate it in the company of a particularly vile homunculus, whose tones, while equally hibernaceous, are very far from avuncular.

I have lately discovered that My Brother-in-Law and fellow Cromerian is similarly afflicted, so we are getting into the habit of escaping on Saturdays to our favourite hostility, The Horse's Neck, for a pint or two of Lobster's Finger. Last night, however, we did a detour by way of the Cromer Enormodrome to see the latest Star Trek movie, called - eponymously, if you will - oh, heck, it's the age, you know, that's what does it. Thingy.

I am here to report that it's a rather good film, especially for those who grew up seeing the original series.


"Yes, Mr Spock?"

"I'm picking up a Strange Message on the Subaetheric Hypergalactic Warp Relay, Captain."

"What does it say, Mr Spock?"

"Captain ... I can't believe my ears..."

"I can't believe your ears either, Mr Spock."

It tells of the youth of Kirk and Spock, and something of the origins of the famous crew of the U. S. S. Enterprise, and their first mission in space together. A tear leaped to the eye on first glance at the rubric 'N. C. C. 1701', which to the uninitiated might refer to the recent Ruling on the Harmonization of Combine Harvester Blade Width Regulations from Norfolk County Council, but which, in fact, doesn't. Dramatic irony is added by a very confusing time-paradox-loop-wossname, and the fact that Lt. Uhura has the hots for the young Spock, rather than - back in the swinging sixties - for Kirk, an occasion which led to the first on-screen inter-racial kiss ever seen in the Sirius Sector.

Now, I have seen comments from the more aspergic scientifically minded among my friends and colleagues, picking holes in the plausibility of various aspects of the plot and general miso soup, such as 'black holes couldn't work like that', and 'that's no way to park a supernova'. It might come as a surprise to learn that practically everything in Star Trek is total and utter phooey, and always was, from the existence of warp drives (which the Late Arthur C. Clarke - though he was very much alive when he said it, in his novel The Songs of Distant Earth - famously damned as a device used by the Producer in the Sky to get from point A to point B in time for Next Week's Exciting Episode) to the disturbingly terrestrial gravity in all the spacecraft (even the little shuttles) to the fact that the aliens, most of whom look suspiciously like actors with pointy ears, can interbreed freely with humans. What my friends are doing, of course, is missing the point, transnadgering their fusion spandrels in the Eczema System when they should really be in orbit around Alopecia by now.

Back in the day, Star Trek existed to make a point, or, rather, several interrelated points, about the importance of humanity - human unity - in the face of great and often seemingly overwhelming adversity. Forty years ago, segregation was still a live issue, and so was the Cold War, and the War against Japan was still fresh in the minds of many. Yet here we had a crew that included a Russian (Chekhov) a Jap (Sulu) and (gasp) women, some of whom were of color (the fact that an interracial kiss on TV is nowadays hardly cause for a raised tentacle owes much to Gene Roddenberry boldly going where nobody etcetera etcetera). Not only that, the enigmatic Mr Spock was the product of an interracial union that went very much further than the other side of the tracks. To be sure, the whole shebang was led by the all-American James Teflon Kirk - to have had Nichelle Nichols personing the bridge would have been too much to ask back then, and maybe, even today - but it's hard to underestimate how forward-looking Star Trek was. So much so, that all the talk of phasers being set on stun and dilithium crystals was so much scientific jabber-jabber, indistinguishable from magic.

What Star Trek always had was a quality I'd like to call mythic depth, and it is to this quality that the new movie owes its success. Even while watching the minutiae of the action, you know that there's a backdrop, a history, a reason for the characters to be doing what they are doing with such conviction, and that these reasons are ones which should be comprehensible to any viewer - and yet still, somehow, retain a remnant of the exotic. Mythic depth is especially important in SF, and especially in Space Opera - the genre to which Star Trek belongs. Space Opera, which began, eighty years ago or so, with the pulp romances of the likes of E. E. 'Doc' Smith, always had backdrops of dizzying vastness - the histories of planets and even entire galaxies came to rest on the actions of one or a few protagonists, as if they were characters of myth. The sense of depth is heightened by the apparent boundlessness of the vistas, and the sense that whatever problems the protagonists might encounter, they will overcome them because it is their destiny. It's no coincidence that Space Opera grew out of the Western, and that the genre is peculiarly American. (It's a curious fact that latter-day resurgence of Space Opera in print comes from British writers - Iain M. Banks, Justina Robson, Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton - but one has the impression that the settings are, to a degree, ironic).

What the pseudoscientific chat about warp drives and matter-transporter beams and so on does is heighten the sense of mythic depth - that important element of the exotic that's so necessary for Space Opera to succeed as fiction. So much so, that the plot of the latest movie turns on such phooey - black holes, time paradoxes, matter transportation - and nobody gives a damn. In the same way that stars heading towards the more explosive end of the Hertzsprung Russell Diagram balance their crushing gravitational fields with the outward push of ever more exotic fusion reactions, disbelief is suspended by the force of mythic depth. And as someone once said in another (but remarkably similar) context - may the force be with you. One might say that SF, and indeed all fiction, is really all about how ordinary people react to extraordinary situations. The additional trappings of SF, as opposed to fiction more generally - the aliens, the space drives, the apocalyptically powerful weaponry - are there to turn the screws that little bit tighter. In conventional literary fiction, the predicaments suffered by the characters are more or less internalized. By that, I mean that, in general, their actions affect only a small number of people directly, and most of all, themselves. SF is the reverse - actions are in the main externalized, and the choices of the protagonists will materially affect the lives of billions. It's that scale - the contrast between split-second action and massive consequence - that drives SF, gives it its mythic depth, and explain why the various trappings of SF, and Space Opera in particular, are at the same time ephemeral rubbish and central to the story.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Lunchtime On The Beach

Meanwhile, after almost a month of dry, sunny weather, Cromer reverted to type yesterday with a chilly squall. The wind and rain had eased up sufficiently by lunchtime for the Personal Fitness Trainer to take me out. Following Amy Charles' advice that some serious beach walking would do wonders for my physique, I donned the crocs and headed down to the beach for the mile beach walk between Cromer and Overstrand, the next village to the eastward. Here is the beach, which, as you can see, is heaving with humanity.

And here's the wintry sea.

I shucked my crocs and walked barefoot almost the whole way. The sea looked a lot colder than it was. The Personal Fitness Trainer was barefoot for the whole distance, but she's a dog.

We got to Overstrand, and here are the crab pots to prove it.
Considered as podiatry, beach walking is fabulous - exfoliates those painful heel fissures like nothing else. I still have more of a catering pack than a six pack, but after that walk my legs ached so much I knew I was doing something right.

Roofless in Cromer

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Which James Bond Villain Are You?

There's a meme on Facebook in which people are encouraged to take a quiz of the general format

Which [object/ person/ thing] are you?

A quick scan of my Facebook page reveals that my friends have inhaled deeply of this stream of trivia, rating themselves alongside characters in Star Trek; evolutionary biologists; Britpop bands; world leaders; female characters in Japanese cartoons; chemical elements; classic novels and (gasp) eukaryotic organelles. And all that since the weekend. I have forsworn this particular delight. However, I know which quiz I'd take ... because, in my line of work, I already know the answer.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Die Wissenschaft bei Tolkien

Die Wissenschaft bei Tolkien, now out from Wiley , is the long-awaited German translation of my 2004 book The Science of Middle-earth. This is the first non-English edition of this book, and was championed, chivvied along and (most importantly) translated by my friend, the gentleman, scholar and tolkienist Marcel Buelles. Perhaps now the book might be translated into other languages. After all, there are active cells of Tolkien enthusiasts all over the world, from Brazil to Sweden, from Holland to Italy. You can even find bits of The Lord Of The Rings on T-shirts in Hebrew

and the Estonian Tolkien Society has the coolest T-shirts ever.

Gravy Train

At the weekend, Crox Minima (aged nearly 9) and I had a double-date at the optician. We both had eye tests and ordered new spectaculi. My bill came to a nystagmatizing £375. My employers, being the enlightened souls they are, cover the cost of the eye test (£25) and will contribute up to £50 to the cost of lenses and frames, which helps modulate the intake of breath somewhat. On Monday morning I downloaded the required form, filled it out, and sent it to the Fees Office Personnel. Crox Minima, however, came out with a bill of precisely £0. As she is under 16, her eye test is free, and so are her lenses, and frames, too. I think it's an absolute scandal! OK, OK, she's only a kid, but that the tab for such personal items should be picked up by the taxpayer, that is, me? Already, I feel I'm paying for the National Health Service single-handed. What's a boy to do?

My father came up with the obvious solution. I should become a Member of Parliament. As the Honourable Member for Cromer South-East I'm sure I could claim the full cost of my spectacles, and more besides. Many other expenses clamour for my attention.

First is my annual season ticket to London, which costs me £6,000. Given that I spend a lot of time on trains, I could probably designate coach B on the London-Norwich express (and back again) as my London Home, and call the cost of a season ticket an interest-only mortgage.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I'm sure I could claim expenses on behalf of Mrs Crox as Head Zookeeper. I also have a Personal Fitness Trainer, who doesn't come cheap, either. She recently had a skin condition that required £60 worth of antibiotics to treat, though the Fees Office might baulk, I suppose, at claims for a bill (£206) to have her spayed. On the subject of vet bills, Felis cromercroxorum has to go and have his annual check-up and injections

which cost £35 a pop, and even Beelzebun Demon Bunny of DOOM
has to have occasional jabs against myxomatosis. The other day, the Croxii accompanied Hermione the Chicken

to the vet, who had something wrong with her feet (the chicken, that is, not the vet, though the vet might have had something wrong with her feet she wasn't telling us about. It's hard to tell, she had shoes on at the time - the vet, that is, not the chicken).

And on the subject of chickens, we've just ordered a new Eglu, which I guess could be claimed for. We're keeping the old Eglu, though, so we can re-designate it as the chickens' second home, and claim an allowance on that. If people can have a second-home allowance, why not the chickens? Given that zoning regulations prevent us from having a farm in what is after all a suburban garden, they are less chickens than members of the family. Feeding this lot isn't chickenfeed - well, it is chickenfeed, but it's also guinea-pig feed. As we have eleven g-pigs, they take a lot of feeding. And it's also hamster-feed, bunny-feed and snake-feed, and dead mice for snakes can cost almost a pound a piece.

Elsewhere in the Jardin Des Girrafes, I've spent about £2,500 on two sheds, £1,500 on landscaping, and oodles more on a conservatory, patio, garden furniture, plants, etc etc. Indoors, the Maison Des Girrafes continues to be a money pit, and that'll also generate quite a lot of claims for plumbing, electrical work, redecoration, flooring, general maintenance and a man to replace the lightbulbs. They're expensive lightbulbs, too - energy-saving R63 spotlights cost at least £10 each. We also spent £500 on a TV, and we should claim for that, as well as DVD rental: though I think I'd draw the line at porn films (in Norfolk we know how to make our own entertainment).

There's also Caroline, the trusty 1995 eVolvo, who needs to be kept on the road so I can take the children to music lessons and swimming and Mrs Crox to Slashers Supermarket and other important matters of constituency business.

The list could go on ... and on.

The question, now, is if I am to stand for Parliament, which party I should represent. But really, does it matter? As the animals looked through the window, they gazed first at the pigs, and then at the men, and then at the pigs again, and found that they could no longer tell the difference between them.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Against Stupidity

Today, Crox Minor (aged 11) sits a Science SAT (examination), the result of which will determine her place on the starting grid in High School, which she starts in September. For the rest of the week she'll be taking similar tests in Literacy and Numeracy, and, who knows, Arithmancy, Transfiguration, Ancient Runes, Potions, History of Magic, Herbology and Lunacy. She is by turns excited and terrified by this, but - for the first time in her life - appreciates the importance of these tests and is striving to better herself. 'Last year I got a 5b in Literacy', she told me, yesterday, in between bouts of pretending to be an axolotl, 'So this year I want to get a 5a'.

However, the goons who run education in this country - a chippy collective of washed-up hippies from the sixties, it seems - want to abolish the Science SAT and the teachers themselves want to boycott SATs altogether. Gee Minor is sad that by the time Gee Minima gets to her age, in two years time, she'll be denied the opportunity of sitting not just the Science exam, but SATs of any kind.

It's a tedious, class war thing, as it always was, in which clever children are deemed to be 'middle class' and thus discriminated against. When I was Crox Minor's age, I was marked down for noting that 'dinner' is eaten at dinner time, rather than at lunch time. Things never change, and as long as so-called educationalists continue their politically motivated drive toward mediocrity, Britain's workforce will continue its slide down the greasy pole of knowledge and skill.

'Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain', wrote Schiller (although he said it in German). And if the gods have trouble, what are we mortals to do?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Weigh In

Back on 20 April I announced to a quiverish world that I weighed 19st 7lb. Today, almost three weeks later, I weighed in at 19st 6lb. A paltry improvement - almost discouraging - but at least I wasn't any heavier. My diet, though, seems to be having beneficial effects in other ways. One is oral hygiene. Usually, when I brush my teeth, a small amount of blood comes out, a signal of bacterial infection. Now, however, as hard as I might scrub, my brush is blood-free. Must be the fact that I now consume almost no refined sugars or dairy products. I've also suffered for years from psoriasis, but this now seems to be in long-term retreat. My diet might be a contributory factor to that, too. That, and increased sunshine. And (look away now, Madam) profuse licks from the Personal Fitness Trainer.
A Personal Fitness Trainer, yesterday.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Hunt For Gollum

At a cost of about fourpence to make and absolutely free to you to view through the magic of the internet (I watched on my iPhone, naturally) comes The Hunt For Gollum, a 40-minute micro-epic based on a few of the twiddly bits of The Lord of the Rings.
I'll say little more about the plot because anyone who hasn't read the Appendices of The Lord etc etc would be bored, and everyone else would find it completely unintelligible. Suffice it to say that it's less to do with LOTR than a kind of prequel to the Peter Jackson version, evident from the stylings, the music (which is completely original for all that it sounds like Howard Shore out-takes) and the valiant cast of Mortensen and McKellen lookalikes. Well, they must have had fun making it ... and it's something to chew over while we wait for the big-budget version from Jackson and Del Toro. Go there and see for yourself. Think of it as your birthday present. Preciousss.

This Woman's Work

A rare back view of Mrs Crox, hard at work in her home office, early this morning, her secretarial staff in attendance.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Maison Des Girrafes Caption Competition #39

OOFTUGs (Orders of the Unicycling Girrafe) awarded lavishly for the most interesting/insightful/strange entries. If any. (In the Town Hall if wet. Restrictions may apply).