Tuesday, June 30, 2009
I bought this hat in Snowbird, Utah, in the mid-'90s. I had been at a conference there one summer, and on the last day I went to the hiking store where they were selling equipment at a knockdown price. I bought a pair of lovely Timberland boots for $35. And this hat. With boots and hat I hiked up to 10,000 feet (I was wearing other clothes at the time, not just boots and hat) after which I ran out of atmosphere and had to come down.
In 1998 I took the boots and hat with me to Kenya, where for a couple of weeks I was part of a palaeontological field crew in a remote region to the west of Lake Turkana. I still have the boots, but, alas, not the hat.
Ever since then, this hat - worn with pride on three continents - has been my constant companion. Sun, wind and rain have burnished the brown felt to a shade of green.
Until last Friday.
That's when I went for a walk in Cromer with Canis croxorum, and came back without it. I think I must have put it down somewhere while we rested on a bench for a minute, and didn't pick it up.
So, if you are passing Cromer and happen to find my field hat, do call by at the Maison Des Girrafes and collect a reward. This will be a half-dozen eggs. No big deal, really - pretty much anyone who calls by these days gets a half-dozen eggs, whether they want them or not. They're good eggs, though.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Idyllic, isn't it?
Well, for all sorts of reasons I won't go into, we're in the process of moving from this one and taking up another. Over the past couple of weeks I'd been going down to the old hut to remove our stuff. Today was the last day, when I'd remove our last few bits and pieces. A couple of items of camping gear. Buckets and spades. A couple of old styrofoam boogie boards.
Except, when I got there, I found the doors smashed in, and most of our few pitiful items stolen.
The same drunken oafs who did this tipped someone else's beach hut from the prom and onto the beach - and ripped out and destroyed a bench seat at the top of the cliffs.
Clearly, there exist people - if you can call them people - who are so stunted, so dead inside, that they cannot create, they can only destroy. There are well-meaning people who would say that people do this because they lack opportunity - but after decades in a country in which people have worked very hard to extend opportunities to all, there remain a few who piss on their own chances.
I would say more, but I think I should stop now before I demand the return of the death penalty.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
After that we walked it off on the nearby saltmarshes. Canis croxorum was in golden-retriever heaven - lots of new and amazingly pungent sniffs to sniff, ducks to chase, and extremely stinky creeks to swim in.
The saltmarshes at Stiffkey, earlier today.
While she was doing that, the rest of us were collecting samphire.
Samphire (Salicornia europaea) or glasswort is a saltmarsh plant which is not, as I thought, an alga, but a green plant distantly related to magnolias. It is something of a culinary prize - it grows only on saltmarshes, and only for a few short weeks in June and July. At this time of the year it is the vegetable-du-jour for all self-respecting knit-your-own-tofu Guardian readers, who pay £££ for it in the delis of Islington. It's all over the Stiffkey marshes like a cheap suit, ready for the Croxii to take their pick, absolutely free. The plants are very small - only two or three inches tops - but are very easy to recognize from their vivid green colour and somewhat prehistoric appearance. Here is one, just before I picked it.
In no time we'd collected more than enough for a teatime feast.
Once home I cut the stalky and stringy bits off, and steamed the plants for no more than a couple of minutes above the pan in which Mrs Crox was hard-boiling some eggs newly laid by the flock. Here is the final result, with oven-baked potatoes.
Samphire done al dente has a delicious crunch, and is great with butter and a little pepper. It is, however, fearsomely salty, as one might expect from its habitat. It could be that we should have boiled it in lots of water, rather than steaming it, to remove some of the salt. For all that, served with homegrown eggs and not-homegrown spuds - a meal fit for Captain
Monday, June 15, 2009
Cpl. Bolger was a career soldier. All his life he dreamed of joining the Parachute Regiment, and as his mother told me, he lived a life far fuller at 30 than many who might live to see 60, and he was doing a job he loved - being a warrior on the front line.
The funeral service took place at Cromer Parish Church, which was full. This is no mean feat, as Cromer Parish Church is quite extraordinarily huge. Many people in the town turned out, including the Mayor. I sat between the Vicar's wife (her husband was conducting the service) and one of our local librarians (who'd gone to school with Stephen). The church was full of soldiers, young and old, and the coffin looked quite a sight, draped in the Union Jack, supported by Cpl Bolger's uniformed colleagues. I attended not as a believer or even a Christian, but as a member of the community, and sang I Vow To Thee My Country and Lord Of All Hopefulness and Onward Christian Soldiers with the best of them. Such is a finger in the eye of those more militant atheists who say that all religion is bunk - I challenge them to find anything that might offer even a crumb of communal solace in any trendily untraditional simulacra of such occasions. I recently attended a funeral of an atheist at which a reading by Dawkins' Unweaving The Rainbow was read. Even the reader laughed at the effrontery of Dawkins, who had, he said, suggested the passage himself. (And the subject was buried in the ground by a minister, nonetheless).
But I digress. At times like this one reflects on the meaning, or otherwise, of war, and whether Cpl Bolger's life was a life wasted, and one's mind turns to Wilfrid Owen's anthem from one particularly bloody and pointless conflict:
If in some smothering dreams you too could paceI say to you, here, in this post, that whereas dear old Wilfrid Owen had a point in the case of the Great War, one might look at the situation in Afghanistan and invite him to get stuffed. First, Cpl Bolger wasn't a dumb conscript but a professional soldier, who knew perfectly well what he was getting into. Second, the war in Afghanistan does have a point, and it is very much pro patria mori.
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
What Cpl Bolger and his colleagues are fighting, on our behalf, is a force that would take over all mens' lives, all our lives - a force whose determination is strong and goal is explicit, to destroy the tradition of tolerance and freedom we have long enjoyed, and under which we have prospered, and replace it with strictures that few would tolerate - the subjugation of Christians, Jews, homosexuals, intellectuals or indeed anyone they don't like, and the reduction of women to the status of herd beasts.
We should, therefore, counter the snide hectoring of motley assemblages such as the Stop The War Coalition, and the armchair criticism of the Guardian-reading metropolitan chatterati whose wholesale appeasement of what they call 'multi-culturalism' is an invitation to dhimmitude. Cpl Bolger was indeed fighting for our country, and all the values which all of us take for granted (including, I might add, Guardian-readers). In the cause of such values he died a soldier's death. He died a hero's death, and as such I salute him - and damn all or any of you who would use the freedoms we cherish to say otherwise.
The Order of Service contained the following thoughts from Theodore Roosevelt - which were, apparently, on Cpl Bolger's Facebook Page. They are worth quoting in extenso.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the trimph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.As an editor, I could reduce this to just five words - put up, or shut up.
Friday, June 12, 2009
Thursday, June 11, 2009
While we're on the subject of Crox Minima, it was she who recently hosted a birthday party at the Sticky Earth, so while the assembled nine-year-olds were having a riot at one end of the cafe, I decided to indulge in some therapeutic pot-painting at the other.
What you do is buy an item of unglazed ceramic, paint it, and they'll glaze and fire it for you for collection a few days later. I decided that what the house needed most was a new sign to go outside the front door to
The subject now began to emerge, at first, ghost-like ...
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
containing two 500g bags of compost worms (Wormus wormus) which the label describes as 'selected for their composting ability'. The time had come for action. Timeo Danaos Et Dona Ferentes. We shall fight them on the beaches. Delenda Est Carthago. The piano's on my foot. The first thing I had to do was take the previously delivered block of coir, intended as worm bedding, and break it up in a bucket of warm water...
... into a kind of semi-solid mess with the consistency of something like a mixture between bran flakes, soggy tea leaves and peat (this process was most therapeutic). I then spread this out in the penultimate wormery tray (reading from the bottom) or the antepenultimate tray (measuring from the top) ...
There followed the Moment of Truth, when, with halloos of 'Cry Havoc!' a kilo of worms was let loose ...
After a few minutes the worms burrowed into the worm bedding ...
... and when they'd done that, I was able, with the appropriate direction, to place a moisture-retentive coir mat on top ...
... and, finally, seal the lot with the lid.
The wormery is now ready to take its first compostable materials. The leaflet advises cooked food scraps, tea leaves and vegetable peelings, which sound fair enough - but it also advises coffee grounds, which sounds wrong to me. Caffeine is a potent molluscicide, but does it also do the dirty on worms? I don't want to risk it.
The worms also like shredded paper (of which we have loads, as we shred a lot of BNP election leaflets, adverts for mobility scooters and so on to make compost and pet bedding); hamster droppings (ditto) and - get this - vacuum-cleaner dust. This means that the old vac bags won't go into landfill as they have done, but be disembowelled into the wormery. Result! At last, a good use for the golden-retriever hair that drifts on the breeze like tumbleweed over the sitting-room floor.
There is also a long list of things worms don't like, notably citrus fruits (too acid); plant seeds (not dead); grass clippings and leaves (makes things too hot); dog or cat feces (carry human pathogens), and, most of all, anything in excess. Sometimes, even worms can have too much of a good thing.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
I'd like to describe three deaths, which happened over a space of four days about a week ago. Two you might have heard about, a third you probably won't have.
The First Death
On Saturday, 30 May, Corporal Stephen Bolger of the 1st Parachute Regiment, a career soldier working in the Special Forces Support Group, was killed while on active service in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Cpl Bolger's death means a lot to me because I know his parents, who are near neighbours in Cromer, where I live.
The Second Death
The Third Death
On Tuesday, 2 June, I was on a train between London and Norwich which stopped for about an hour in the middle of Essex. The reason was a fatality at a level crossing further up the line. I don't know whether the person deliberately threw themselves in front of a train, or if they had decided to cross the track regardless - to risk death for the sake of a few seconds time saved. An anonymous life, cheaply bought.
What do all these deaths have in common? Dr Tiller was slaughtered by extremists who fail to see that it is in any way odd to have a religious devotion to the sanctity of life so intense that it impels them to take life from others, just as human; and which also curtails the freedom of many in society, women in particular, to live lives as human beings as opposed to mobile incubators, slaves to the whims of God and their menfolk.
Cpl Bolger gave his life fighting for the same things as Dr Tiller - for freedom, freedom of choice, freedom from religious bigotry and extremism, in a country where women risk death by going to work, or even for seeking an education. Whatever one thinks of the war in Afghanistan in terms of geopolitics, there are some things that are worth fighting for.
What of the third death? The anonymous fatality that delayed a few hundred commuters for an hour or two, and quickly forgotten? A death that happened on a glorious summer's evening? In some ways that is the most scandalous of all, because it shows how some people think so little of life that they are prepared, as if on a whim, either to remove it from themselves, or risk it for a few seconds time saved.
Now, suicide was once a crime, on the grounds that only God had the right to determine the time and manner of one's death. Even if God is out of the picture, the sanctity of life remains. But then, how does this apply to the abortionist, or the soldier, whose business is also death? The arguments are too long, complicated and painful to rehearse here, but I would say this - that Dr Tiller and Cpl Bolger were, through their activities, supremely respectful of life and would take it only after lengthy soul-searching and calculation about its consequences. Those ranged against them, although claiming equal sanctity, were driven more by blind doctrine rather than rational thought.
There's a revealing passage in
Monday, June 8, 2009
Our rescue chickens, mentioned a few posts ago, have now settled in. They are permanently ravenous, and are beginning to look less raw and scrawny and their feathers are starting to grow back. Much of the food seems to get translated instantly into eggs, some of vast size - at least to our eyes, habituated as we are to the eggs of bantams, which are usually much smaller. An egg laid yesterday tipped the scales at 75 g - which would be classed as 'very large' in any country you care to name (in Western Australia, for example, it would be graded as 'Mega' or 'XXXL'.) At least one of our chickens thinks its a duck, or even a goose - or perhaps has ambitions to be an ostrich.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
It started a few weeks ago when Crox Minor, she of the Unicycling Girrafes, conceived an affection for these curious creatures. Yesterday, she and her classmates were asked to write a short pamphlet on the subject of an endangered species of their choice, so Crox Minor naturally gravitated to this extraordinary amphibian.
That's when the trouble started. You know, your mind reacts a lotl when it notes that the new manager of Chelsea FC is called Carlos Axolotl, a name and a task which smacks a lotl of a kind of inverse of nominative determinism. You know, that Jungian phenomenon in which people have names appropriate to their calling - carpenters called Mr Joist, or electricians called Mr Sparks, or accountants for members of parliament called Mr Fidel D'Expensez. But were one to imagine a name diametrically opposite to that of the task of football manager, one's mind would have to be wracked a lotl to come up with anything better than Axolotl.
And on the subject of the expenses of parliamentarians, the news is that they've been avoiding paying tax - a lot'll have to be repaid, and those who refuse to face up to their responsibilities - or their constituents, are asking to be throttled.
I shall now conclude with a small item of verse.
A CLERIHEW ON THE AXOLOTL
Has got a lot of bottle
For claiming that it's really all the rage
To reproduce while still in the larval stage.
Monday, June 1, 2009
Being, as I am, a person of sufficiently magnificent dimensions that accommodating my menswear needs can be somewhat problematic, the Croxii spent Sunday afternoon in ASDA, a supermarket at the more populist end of the spectrum which does very cheap clothes in enormous sizes. Thus I was able to snarfle a load of XXXL T-shirts at a fiver each. I am currently sporting one, yea, even as I write, featuring Mr Incredible, the big-boned superhero with whom I most identify.
A visit to ASDA on a warm Sunday afternoon, however, is not without its demerits. Now, I am the first to admit that I am hardly a paragon of ripped, toned or buff loveliness, but in our brief visit I saw so much blotched, saggy, baggy, beer-bellied, tattooed, droopy, wobbly, pimpled, pasty, discoloured, blancmanged, lardy-assed, piebald, pierced, mis-shapen, ill-stuffed, obese and dangly human flesh that I began to think that a wholesale move to Islamic dress wouldn't be such a bad idea. Burkas? Bring 'em on. For both sexes. Stripping off might be fine for the beach - but when shopping for sausages, best end of loin, chump chops and lunch tongue, so much is exposed that unflattering comparisons are all but unavoidable. And given some of the clientele with whom we were forced to, hem hem, consort, one wouldn't dare.