Sunday, August 29, 2010

Three Books

There's a programme on BBC Radio 4, the station which proverbially over-fortifies the over-forties, called A Good Read. In it, the presenter and two guests each introduce a book they've read recently, and discuss them. The books are usually fiction, but they do manage an eclectic mix, and I find it a great way to learn about books and authors of whom rumour has yet to reach mes oreilles. The following post is rather like that, except that I get to introduce all three books. Hah! The eclecticism is, however, maintained - indeed, I decided to write this post having just read three books, each one excellent, but each very different from the other.

My copy of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, a novel by Marina Lewycka, had been on our shelves for a long while, Mrs Crox having bought it ages ago as part of bookstore three-for-two offer. I had been persuaded to read it for want of something to while away the hours on the train, and by my colleague Dr R. D. of Hertfordshire, who had found it amusing.

It is indeed billed as a comedy, and perhaps it is - I found it much darker than the blurb promised. The protagonist is a sociology lecturer (and prototypical Guardian reader) whose mother has just died, leaving bereft their 86-year-old father who is on the point of senility. She (the Guardian reader, that is) is immediately locked in battle with her hard-as-nails, Thatcherite sister, ten years her senior, over what to do with their mother's legacy. But there's a more immediate threat - the father is courting and seems to be about to marry Valentina, a 36-year-old immigrant from the Ukraine, whose hair and embonpoint are as fake as her reasons for being in the UK. Why the Ukraine? The entire family, you see, is a postwar immigrant from that country. The protagonist had been born in the UK, but her elder sister grew up in the dregs of war-torn Europe - explaining their political differences. I won't tell you what happens, but glimpsed between the comedic elements are disturbing panoramas of a family trying to keep itself together amid the wrenching social upheavals of the twentieth century. When you leave the book, it is the upheaval that remains. Bittersweet and thought-provoking.

I had been sent Timeswitch by John Gribbin by the author himself, and devoured it in a few large gulps. Gribbin is best known for his prodigious output of popular science books (his book In Search of Schrödinger's Cat finally put me straight about the Double-Slit Experiment), but he has written SF in the past. Timeswitch is a return to the genre. It's good old-fashioned, straight-down-the-line, Hard SF in the tradition of Arthur C. Clarke or Gregory Benford. It concerns scientists and science, time travel and time paradoxes, and the hardcore physics is front and centre. The schtick is this - British boffinry in the twentieth century is involved in a secret time-travel experiment in which one of their number goes back in time in an effort the derail the Industrial Revolution. The idea is to slow or prevent greenhouse warming. It soon becomes clear that we're not talking about any twentieth century we know - this is an alternate Universe in which Harold won the Battle of Hastings, the British Empire rules, and science is far in advance of ours.

Alternative History is a respectable subgenre in SF, and one of which I am rather fond. One of my favourites is The Alteration by Kingsley Amis, an adventure that takes place in 1976 in an England in which the Reformation never happened. As you might expect, Amis scores in literary allusion where Gribbin rules in solid physics - and although you can see the endings of both books a mile off, the plotting is excellent. Particularly so in Gribbin's book, where it's tighter than a Liverpudlian Z-lister on daytime TV. The plotting has to be tight - loose ends in time-travel heists are liable to come back and bite you like a bull-terrier named Möbius. Alternative history has begun to leak through into real history - historians no longer see history in terms of single and therefore inevitable outcomes, but study what might-have-been. A useful compendium of this kind of history is Virtual History, edited by Niall Ferguson, and I'd also recommend The Shaping Of America in which A. L. Meinig presents a detailed view of the growth of the United States that gets away from the old Manifest Destiny view.

Now, I am rather keen on ScrabbleTM, and this is the subject of my final selection, Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis. The author writes about the business of sport for the Wall Street Journal, and this is his drama-documentary, if you like, of two years spent in the wacky world of competitive ScrabbleTM in the U. S. and A., where they do things differently from what they do here. As Fatsis tells us about the variously obsessive and dysfunctional experts in the game - when interviews progress to living and traveling with them and sharing their highs and lows - he gives us a detailed breakdown of the game's history, and the tortured relationship between the geekery of scrabbledom and the toy-company executives for whom ScrabbleTM is just another product line.

But as Fatsis is sucked into the obsession himself, the book becomes less a documentary and more a personal odyssey. This is very much the confessional-style of American journalistic writing, in which the supposedly neutral journalistic observer becomes part of the story. This can work very well indeed (a recent success was Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which I enjoyed immensely) but one can understand how some readers might find this uncomfortable, as documentary drifts into drama. What, then, is one supposed to be reading? What messages should one take away from such treatments? In my view, the way a story is told matters less than whether the story itself is good. Skloot's was, indeed, a great story that needed to be told. Fatsis' is less so, not because the book is less well-written (it's superb), but because the topic is less likely to have the same broad appeal. If you aren't a scrabbler, I wonder how much you'd take away from this book, with its knife-edge play-by-play commentaries and detailed discussions of such arcana as rack management and anagramming. If, however, you are a devotee of  ScrabbleTM, you're bound to like it. It's certainly improved my game.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Razorshell Heroes

We have a problem with our chickens. The problem is that they aren't laying any eggs, and haven't been for quite some time. Actually, that's not quite true - they are laying eggs, sometimes, but the eggs come out without shells on. Instant unpoached eggs. Yuck.

There might be all sorts of reasons for this. One of the most obvious (so obvious that we didn't think of it at all, it having been suggested by a scientifically minded cousin) is calcium deficiency. Looking back, this seems likely. The grit we used to give the chickens used to have quite a lot of ground seashells in it - these days it looks more like gravel.

What's a boy to do? Or a girl, for that matter?

If you want a job done, you do it yourself. It was time for some serious seashell gathering. Cromer beach, for all its charms, was out, because it has very few shells. Crabs are king - the most common (or least infrequent) mollusc is the slipper limpet (Crepidula), although you can find a few whelks (Buccinum), dog whelks (Nucella), winkles (Littorina) and very rare top shells (Calliostoma), chitons (Lepidochitona) and other stuff. But it would take a lot of hunting to get the volume of shells we needed.

Along the coast, though, we knew that Holkham Beach would provide rich pickings. And so, earlier today, off we went, pausing only at Picnic Fayre in Cley to get posh picnic grub.

Holkham beach is among the most spectacular beaches in Norfolk, if not Britain. The scale of it is staggering, and hard to appreciate in mere photographs. Here's a view from our picnic perch atop the dunes, themselves quite some distance seaward of the beach car park.

Crox Minima is sitting beneath the hat (bottom left). The three tiny brown blobs you can see on the horizon are horses - Holkham's enormous expanse of sand is a Mecca for riders.

This is the beach when you finally reach it.

Everywhere on this endless, endless expanse of sand are razor shells (Ensis) interspersed with oysters (Ostraea) and cockles (Cerastoderma). The razors, in particular, are found in enormous drifts, where you can scoop them up by the handful.
Where razors come to die. Mrs Crox and Canis croxorum on the horizon (right), for scale.

Having got a bagful of shells
we hoofed it back to the car park. We'd set off in fine weather. However, we were plagued by insistent scattered showers, which chased us up the beach...
... and settled in to a rather sharp and autumnal downpour. Once home, I set up my sophisticated, high-tech shell-grinding operation.
Razor shells are easy to break - you can crumble them between your fingers. Cockles are much harder, and oysters are merry hell. It takes a lot of pounding to break those thick, laminated shells. After ten or fifteen minutes of hard pounding I got to this semi-ground shell meal,
which aroused interest in the target audience.
Let's hope they start laying eggs again! Honestly, the things we do for our livestock.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Ecce Cromo

I'm going to have to renew my passport soon. The big problem with this exercise is finding a suitable self-portrait, one that conforms to the strict regulations on pose, size, background colour, number of heads and so on, but which won't get immigration officials twitchy, calling security and reaching over for their list of terrorist suspects. Here's a rather fetching one from my collection,
though I have a feeling that the passports agency might not find it acceptable. I think they might like the inadvertent antlers, though.

But I digress.

I've always had trouble with my passport photo, owing to my swarthy levantine complexion and my rather doom-laden resting expression. There I'd be, prinking along quite happily, thinking of bright spring mornings and fluffy chicks, and I'd say something quite innocuous to colleagues such as 'Good morning,' and they'd run sobbing to the lavatory. On a time I walked across the commuter-clogged morning concourse at King's Cross Station, clad in my then-customary attire of designer suit (Yves Saint Laurent, if you must know), Aloha shirt, cowboy boots and dark shades, and the crowds would melt away in my path with the unspoken exhibition of the Red Sea parting for Moses. When I got to the orifice office, a colleague said no wonder, I looked like an Enforcer for the Yakuza.

My current passport photo certainly does me no favours. It makes me look like Abu Nidal's deranged younger brother. My mother once told me that when she sees mugshots of suspected Islamist militants on TV, she always remarks on how much they look like me. Now, when your own mother tells you that you look like an Islamic terrorist, you've got to worry. A former girlfriend remarked that I looked either like the actor, Alfred Molina (I had more hair in those days) or the celebrated freedom fighter terrorist handsome devil Carlos The Jackal, at least in his younger days.

But the following takes the biscuit. It comes from my colleague Mr. K. Z. of Finchley, as a poster for a forthcoming concert of his ecclesiastically cross-dressing beat combo Frankadelic at which Canadian rapper Baba Brinkman will feature as a special guest. I think it's meant to resemble Ali G crossed with a moose. I learn that the band rejected the sketch, not because it was too dark and sinister, but because it looks like me.

I wonder how the passports people would see it? It's certainly a decent likeness, even down to the antlers.

Boogie Wonderland

Turned on iPod. It played 'Lady Marmalade' by my alter ego, Patti Labelle.
Turned on 'genius' function. Now grooving to Cameo, Earth Wind and Fire, Prince, Booker T, Funkadelic and more. Great way to brighten a grey morning. Rock on y'all, ya don't stop, Cromercrox is takin' it' to the top, and so on and so forth in like fashion.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Today's Mystery Lump of Anamniotic Goo For You To Identify

Our axolotl, Squirty Benson Wilberforce III is, according to Crox Minor, who knows these things, almost certainly very likely to be possibly has a 1-in-2 chance of being female.

Squirty Benson Wilberforce III, yesterday.
This might, or, then again, might not, have something to do with this mysterious lump of goo that has appeared in her tank. For scale, the whole mass is about the size of a thumbnail.

I'm sorry it's a bit blurry - it was the best I could do with my iPhone, taking a picture of a rather small mass through glass and several inches of water. Does anyone have a clue what this might be? Squirty appears to be in rude health and possesses all the appendages she did before. At first I thought it was axolotl vomit ... but then, thought I, could it be axolotl spawn?

Any ideas?

Please send to the usual address, third park bench on the left, the Esplanade, Cromer, Norfolk, in the Town Hall if wet, send no flowers, you know the drill.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Barking Mad

How many dogs does it take to change a light bulb?

The answers, which (with variations) are all over teh interwebz in the same way that pet hair congregates in great fibrous drifts beneath the furniture in the Salon Des Girrafes, are diverse, and, more pertinently for what follows, breed-specific. [ahem, clears throat].

Golden Retriever: Who cares about a silly old light bulb? Let's go to the beach!!! 
Border Collie: Just one. And then I’ll replace any wiring that’s not up to spec.
Dachshund: You know I can’t reach that high!
Rottweiler: Make me.
Boxer: Not bothered. I can still play with my squeaky toys in the dark.
Labrador: Oh, me, me!!!!! Pleeeeeeeeeze let me change the light bulb! Can I? Can I? Huh? Huh? Huh?
German Shepherd: I’ll change it as soon as I’ve led these people from the dark, checked to make sure I haven’t missed any, and made just one more perimeter patrol to see that no one has tried to take advantage of the situation.
Jack Russell Terrier: I’ll just pop it in while I’m bouncing off the walls and furniture.
Old English Sheep Dog: Light bulb? What light bulb?
Cocker Spaniel: Why change it? I can still pee on the carpet in the dark.
Greyhound: It isn’t moving. Who cares?
Poodle: I’ll just blow in the Border Collie’s ear and he’ll do it. By the time he finishes rewiring the house, my nails will be dry.

The joke (don't you just hate it when people try to analyze humour?) ... as I was saying, the joke takes the well-known and very definite temperamental characteristics of breeds, and exaggerates them. For dogs differ not only in their physical attributes, but in their behavioural traits - they are bred that way. On the downside, everyone knows that persistent inbreeding in dogs leads to a range of potential physical problems - and not only that, mental ones. For example, the sensitive, intelligent, conscientious border collie - the one who would not only change the light bulb but rewire your whole house while he was about it - can suffer from anxiety attacks brought on by loud noises. Dogs of various breeds suffer from a version of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and others are prone to outbreaks of sudden, uncharacteristic aggression.

Intriguingly, these episodes of barking insanity could be the latest contribution that Man's Best Friend is making to human health, as my colleague Dr. D. C. of Tokyo reports in this intriguing article in this week's number of your favourite professional science magazine beginning with N.

It's like this. Clinicians suspect that many psychiatric disorders or personality traits in humans run in families - conditions such as manic depression, schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, the conviction that the world is made of spoons, and so on. So much is clear. What is much, much harder is tracing the genetic roots of such disorders more specifically. Part of the problem is that diagnosing some of these disorders can be difficult, and the possibility remains that what we think of as a single disorder could have many different, distinct causes. What, then, is to be done?

Some headway can be made by breeding mice to isolate genes of interest, and so create mouse 'models' of various disorders. Mouse models for psychiatric conditions, however, are hard to compare directly with the real thing in humans. After all, how does one know if a mouse is showing aberrant behaviour in a way that can be compared directly with human psychiatric disorders, let alone isolating a strain in which we can be sure that the mice are convinced they are Napoleon?

Dogs offer a halfway house, being more complex, cognitively, than mice, and much more similar to humans in terms of cognitive ability. They have the distinct advantage over humans, however, in that they are highly inbred. I am convinced, for example, that all golden retrievers are made in the same factory. Why, on the beach the other day, Canis croxorum and I met two other golden retrievers that matched her precisely in colour, even down to the collars. When we parted company, me and the other owners had to make doubly sure we were accompanied by the right dogs.

But I digress.

The highly inbred nature of dogs means that it is much simpler to isolate mutations of clinical interest than in us mongrel, outbred humans - fewer dogs are needed in any particular program, and fewer genetic screens are required. It is therefore (relatively) easy to link a particular disorder with a particular genetic mutation, and once that is done, one can compare the data with the cognate genetic region in humans to see if anything shows up. Of course, there need be no direct match between dog and human genes, but there tends to be one far more often than not. In this way, scientists hope to discover what genetic lesion makes some dogs (say) suffer from anxiety attacks, or chase their tails obsessively, and test whether the cognate genetic region in humans is associated with panic disorders or OCD.

Such is the progress of science. However, scientists will have to go much further before they can do the same things with cats. I deliberately omitted the punchline in the light-bulb joke above, which I can now reveal.

Cat: how ridiculous. Dogs don't change light bulbs. Humans change light bulbs. So how long will it be before we get some light around here? And a meal? And my tummy tickled?

Moral: Whereas dogs have masters, cats have staff.

Note: my colleague Dr M.-T. H. of London came up with the title of this post, one so obvious that everyone else missed it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Road to Fray Bentos

When I was a lad, and perhaps even today, you could get these tinned meat pies under the distinctive rubric of Fray Bentos. I had always thought this was a brand name, like Hoover or Marmite, so I was pleased to note that the town of Fray Bentos really exists - it's in Uruguay, and is (or was) famous for its meat-packing industry. (I should have realized this, of course - the existence of the town, not of its industry - it is the home town of Irineo Funes, the eponymous subject of Funes the Memorious, a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, one of my favourite authors).

But I digress.

Regular readers will recall that I had occasion to visit Uruguay recently, as a delegate of the 9th International Congress of Vertebrate Morphology. I didn't get the chance to pay homage, either literary or carniphilous, to Fray Bentos. However, my colleagues Dr J. H. and Dr D. E. of Toronto planned to go up country after the conference to prospect for fossils, and send me any relevant pictures. And this, friends, is what arrived in my inbox yesterday.

The Road To Fray Bentos, yesterday - Image courtesy of Dr J. H. and Dr. D. E. of Toronto

As you can see, they didn't actually get to Fray Bentos. All we see is this sign (with its teasing suggestion, in the sign for the gyratory, of a meat pie) indicating how to get there.

This sign raises more questions than it answers, which we should explore in a Borgesian manner. Had Dr J. H. and Dr D. E. followed the sign to Fray Bentos, what, then, would have happened? The existence of the sign doesn't actually say anything about the existence of Fray Bentos as a real place, any more than it signals a talisman, an aspiration, a goal perhaps never reached. It could simply stand for some kind of lost city that one ever sees on the horizon but can never approach or enter - a metaphor, perhaps, for ambitions unfulfilled. Alternatively it could be twinned with Toutes Directions, that mythical French city,  copiously signposted but never attained.

Oddly, this only serves to heighten the reality of Fray Bentos, not diminish it. For were one actually to reach Fray Bentos, would one not be disappointed? Once inside a city, you might find it hard, on contact with the grimy reality of people and shops and cars and so on, to distinguish it from any other place: and yet, in its tantalizing state almost of quantum superposition, it remains, in our hearts, that lost land of childhood nostalgia where beef is king, where unknown yet assuredly happy people pack meat pies in a state of bovine elysium, and as a result of their assiduity there will always be a comforting Fray Bentos meat pie in the pantry.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

When Engineers Have Dogs

I spend quite a lot of time throwing tennis balls for Canis Croxorum to chase.I'm not sure what it is about dogs and balls - perhaps it's a vestige of that old lupine hunting instinct - but most dogs will jump (literally) at the chance of chasing a ball. Or a stick. Or a policeman's leg. Whatever.

The thrill is in the chase, but dogs never tire of it. For dogs, there is no concept equivalent to the novelty wearing off. Which explains the charm of dogs, I guess.

As for me, I never tire of throwing balls for Canis Croxorum to chase, but to make it more fun I use a ball-thrower - a cup on the end of a springy plastic lever - which increases the effective length of my arm and allows me to throw the ball much further than I would have been able to unaided. Our ancestors, or some of them, called this device an 'atlatl'. The combination of hunting dog and atlatl was, I surmise, a winner in the palaeolithic: the hunter would use an atlatl to lob a spear or a stone with great force at an antelope, and the huntsman's dog would chase down the game. In that way, me and Canis Croxorum are re-enacting a story that's as old as humanity.

Except that modern humans of an engineering bent have found ways of bringing the atlatl up to date. I refer you to this excellent video, sent to me by my friend Mr C. D. Of Leeds, to whom I am sure we all offer our grateful thanks.

Oh no, it's Back Again

Tonight, while the rest of the Croxii are glued to the feculent trailer-trash chav rubbish that is the Xcreta Factor, I have decided to something creative. I missed the first part of the show by taking Canis Croxorum for a refreshing evening walk along Cromer East Beach.

Cromer East Beach, refreshingly, about an hour ago.
I am now taking refuge in my WearableOfficeTM, listening to Deep Purple at full volume through my noise-cancelling headphones, bracing myself against the orcs without, and trying to think of other ways of being creative.

Happily I have plenty with which to occupy myself. There's still copy for the next issue of Mallorn that needs editing, and I need to get my head around my next column for BBC Focus. As the summer disintegrates into autumn, I expect I shall have some books to start writing, too.

What is the appeal of the Xcrement Factor? I guess it panders to the dreams of millions of the tattooed, obese, chain-smoking, attack-dog-owning, shell-suited lower orders, who have no prospect of doing anything in their whole lives except consuming, producing nothing except dribbling spawn to be nurtured by the state, even from their nursery years when they arrive at school unable to use a lavatory or a knife and fork.

It panders to the idea that one can achieve fame and ... what was it? .... ah, yes, 'celebrity' ... in an instant, overnight, with little in the way of application. There are people not a hundred yards from where I sit who live their entire lives supported by the state, and say things like 'The Council is coming tomorrow to give me a New Kitchen', as if such things fell from heaven, rather than being funded by people like me, who, if they want a new kitchen, have to make it themselves out of scrap wood and castoffs. Phooey.

It also panders to the idea that the only way out of one's existence in Liverpool, say, is by singing. As if worthwhile careers such as plumbing, or, perish the thought, science, were out of the question, demanding abilities such as being able to read and right write. In such a way do the Morlocks play at being the Eloi. But they'll always be Morlocks underneath.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On The Origin of Science Writers

Now and again some dewy-eyed student intent on a career in science journalism asks me How I Got To Where I Am Today. My problem is that my career path was probably not typical. However, now I can direct all such neophytes to this excellent resource by Ed Yong in which the recollections of a large number of science writers is archived in the comments section. The totality shows, if anything, that the typical career path of science journalists is ... er ... not typical. (Thanks to my friend Dr R. P. G. of Rotherhithe for pointing me towards Ed's blog post).

Monday, August 16, 2010

What I Did In My Summer Holidays

My temporary estrangement from technology wasn't quite as complete as that which towards one had had aspirations, to coin a phrase, but was perfectly in tune with the expectations of Mrs Crox others. I think I managed five four almost three days without looking at Facebook. I did saunter through a few blogs, but I did manage to resist blogging myself, although it was a sore trial. But, I thought, one has to at least to make a show of having some backbone. More on that subject anon.

So, what did I do in my two weeks away? After I had recovered from the very, very long journey back from Uruguay, Mrs Crox felt that we'd fritter away our fortnight and end up forlorn and despondent unless we had a plan Plan. A family meeting was convened, and we scheduled a number of outings interspersed with days datively or, more to the point, ablatively related to beachside activities.

Whenever I holiday at home more or less the first thing I do is hire a skip and attempt a vast clearance of house and garden. This holiday was no exception, and the builder's vessel was soon filled with garden refuse and assorted junk, until, after a week, news had progressed round the neighbourhood, and we felt we needed to assure the hire company on collection that the revolting mattress carelessly tossed onto the skip (I use the word 'tossed' advisedly) was none of our doings doing. I also managed to do a few repairs around the house, during which I discovered that the three most useful consumer products ever invented are

1. Electrician's Cable Ties (great for tying chickens chicken wire to fenceposts, repairing chicken houses etc);

2. Gaffer Tape (great for practically everything else);

3. Trellis's Technical Tincture (essential for de-rusting padlocks at the beach hut Maison Des Girrafes Marine Biology Field Station).

When we tore ourselves away from hearth and home the highlights of our vacation included a visit to Holkham Hall to see an open-air stage production of Alice Through The Looking Glass.  Rain had been threatening all day, yea, even unto our journey to Holkham. Crox Minor's teenage mood was almost as threatening. "Oh look!" I ventured as we drove along the coast road, "some of the cows are standing up, and yet others are lying down. I wonder what that portends?" "We're all going to DIE" was Crox Minor's pithy rejoinder. We did, however, manage to dodge the raindrops and a large yellow ball appeared fleetingly in the cerulean welkin. Another morning was spent at the Nature Reserve at Pensthorpe on a guided dragonfly-spotting walk
At Pensthorpe, where I learned that these creatures are not, in fact, dragonflies.

...where once again we defied the forecasts and enjoyed a rain-free day with the presence of the celestial yellow thing once again noted. We also visited Norwich Castle Museum, where Crox Minor and I had the great pleasure of visiting the Twinings Gallery of Teapots; we sold some stuff at a boot sale (again defying forecasts of rain); and at the behest of the younger Croxii visited a theme park with the oxymoronic name of Pleasurewood Hills (at which the skies finally opened - there's a moral in there, somewhere).

But the apotheosis of our excursive zenith was Norfolk Dog Day. This event was dreamed up last year by Brigadier General Sir Oblong FitzOblong (not his real name), a very senior soldier and caninophile, and his dog, as a way of raising money for Help The Heroes, and this was the second such event. It's basically a kind of funfair for dogs - which is great. Usually, when we go somewhere, Canis Croxorum is only allowed on sufferance or has to mope alone at home
Why the long face?
This, however, was different, as Canis Croxorum could take us out. She enjoyed putting herself through her paces at a dog agility obstacle course (showing that she really is, well, blonde) and dressing up for a novelty dogs-in-fancy-dress event
Hairy Potter, a Student at Dogwarts

... and yet despite stiff competition ...
A Hot Dog, complete with mustard.

... she made it through to the second round. Although 20,000 people and several thousand dogs promenaded in complete amity, there were signs of inter-species strain:

Very little family activity happened at the beach. It is true that Crox Minor now goes surfing with her friends of a Friday evening (I have never witnessed this spectacle myself). However, Canis Croxorum and I spent a lot of time on the beach, chasing balls and trying out the terrific camera
and rather good HD-video capabilities of my new iPhone 4 [so much for a technology free holiday - Ed]

Now then, what about this 'backbone' business? Well, it seems that there is interest in my doing a new edition of my 1996 tome Before The Backbone, for which I am preparing a new synopsis and answering a very long marketing questionnaire from my publishers; and my agent reports a sniff of interest - well, more a large and enthusiastic inhalation - in my next semi-popular book The Myth Of Progression. Space. Watch. This. Looks as though I could be spending the autumn scribbling.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Au Revoir ...?

It's been all the rage, I believe, among our cousins in the colonies to compose heartfelt odes of valediction. Being British, I find this all somewhat unseemly. I mean, I stopped blogging at Nature Network back in March, but haven't felt the need to make a public song and dance about it (what I do in private is nobody's business but mine). It would be nice to follow the trend, I suppose - being British, I'm fond of amateur theatrics, so I do have a taste for Marmite melodrama - except that as I am on Blogger and therefore very much below the salt in blog terms, I have nothing to leave.

Except, dear readers, I am going to cease all interbloggery for a couple of weeks, while we Croxii take a much-needed vacation. I shall be on the beach in Cromer, hopefully, pretty much for a fortnight.

A report in the Daily Torygraph shows that many workers find vacations more stressful than work, a sensation exacerbated by the armour-plated umbilical that is electronic communication - the apparent ease of communicating with one's orifice the office makes it all too easy for vacationing workers to check in remotely when they are meant to be relaxing.

Not here. For me, it's cold turkey.

The computers and iPad will be locked away for the duration.

The iPhone will be used as a phone, and to take pictures - data roaming will be switched off.

I shall trade Facebook and Twitter for Bucket and Spade.

I shall be doing nothing more strenuous than allowing the younger Croxii to bury me in sand, followed by a refreshing dip in the sea. Mrs Crox and I feel we've had an iBasinful of teh interwebz, and need a good fortnight to refocus.

Actually, I have wondered whether I shall return to blogging at all, after this break. When Bilbo Baggins left Bag End for the last time, he said he needed a holiday. A long holiday. One from which he meant never to return.

We'll see.

The thought of cold turkey is somewhat intimidating. Will I go through with it? I might find, though, that once I've gotten over the shock, the water will be lovely. Not unlike, notwithstanding inasmuch as which, swimming in the sea at Cromer.

Nah. Silly me. Joke! Of course I´ll be back, blogging nineteen to the dozen about science, music, life in Norfolk and anything else that stirs me from my customary torpor. I´m a blogaholic and I couldn´t recover if I wanted to.

I once asked an extravagantly Italian friend of mine why he insisted in exploding every minor matter into crisis, living every step of his life as if it were Grand Opera. His reply, fortissimo, acompanied by much waving of arms, was "I´m ITALIAN! I cannot HELP it!!!"