Tuesday 24 April 2012

Google Dooodle 24/3

Today we celebrate Gideon Sundback - inventor of (you've guessed it) the zip.

Monday 23 April 2012

World Book Night 2012

World Book Night is here again. Encouraging those who don't read regularly to read (or indeed those who don't read at all).

I'm quite impressed that I've read a few of this year's 25 books.
  • Room - Emma Donoghue
  • Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic - Sophie Kinsella
  • The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
  • Good Omens - Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
  • I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith
  • The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

Nat's wbn2012 book montage

I Capture the Castle
Good Omens
The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic
The Book Thief
The Time Traveller's Wife

Nat's favorite books »


Happy St George's Day

Sunday 22 April 2012

This is Marathon 2012

My street is a little past the two mile marker of the London Marathon. 
Every year on a Sunday late in April people in large parts of SE7 a stranded on an island as the runners set off from Blackheath; come along through Charlton Village, head down towards the Thames at Woolwich and then back along the Woolwich Road towards Greenwich. 
Every year people come out of their houses to support the runners - me included. It makes me feel very humble when I spot the orange vests of the MS Society and the green vests of the MS Resource Centre; humble and grateful that people will put themselves through 26 miles of what I would consider torture to raise money. 

Now watching the runners (I think I saw some of them out on the street) on TV as they round the Cutty Sark (resplendent in its restored glory). As always, my deepest respect to all the runners; I can't even imagine how you do it. 

Saturday 21 April 2012

St George's Day Festival 2012

Here be dragonsAlmost like the real thingGreenery in the squareLovely day for it...Fake birds again...Water-lillies
The fountainsMore greeneryJelly RollerJelly Roller (2)Grass?!How many gentle flowers...
...flowers growFine dayModern art?Olympic clockThe bannerThe 4th Plinth
QueenMoorlandSt Martin'sNelsonFoxglovesTrafalgar celebrates St George (1)

Having complained every year about the St Patrick's Day Parade and us not being Irish I decided I was duty bound to go to the St George's Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square.

Lucky the weather held out as it was nice in the sunshine, but wouldn't have been much fun in the rain.

The theme seemed to be nature and gardens as the Square was transformed into all sorts of garden.

Examples of urban gardening from Pimp Your Pavement, Capital Growth, Febreze and Thames Water inspired me to get in the garden sometime again soon.

There was plenty for the children too with origami, face painting and mini-golf.

I had lunch in an excellent tea tent with some really great tea, and even a tea plant growing on my table!

My only criticism of the day. No flags. We are celebrating our patron saint so surely we should fly our country's flag. Not the Union Flag (there were a few of those). The flag of St George. You remember it, white background, red cross. Hardly ever see it these days.

Via Flickr:
Mayor of London Presents...

St George's Day Festival
Saturday 21st April 2012

Without any flags.

Friday 20 April 2012

Cats in odd places (nr 577)

Casper wants to be on the radio - he has taken it a bit literally!

Also he wants to be a panther as he is copying the pose of the one on the wall hanging!

Hall of mirrors ii

A new hall of mirrors! I didn't get a photo as I shot past in the car but it's the hoarding on the new development 62 Buckingham Gate on Victoria Street.

Skywatch Friday (61)

Magnolia with a stormy sky
Uploaded by nat_mach on April 5, 2012
© All rights reserved

Saturday 14 April 2012


I have a friend whose partner is Dutch. It is her fond hope that her daughter (not yet two) will grow up bi-lingual speaking both English and Dutch.

Language is a great gift - some people find it easy to pick up languages others not so much. One of my bosses for example fluent in Russian, French - smatterings of Italian and Arabic (and that's the ones I know about!).
Uploaded by nat_mach on September 19, 2011
© All rights reserved
I learnt French. Frequently and sustainedly. My mother had an ambition that I be a fairly fluent French speaker (she herself speaks beautiful French, even though she is English). The result of this is that from the age of four I started learning French. At that age it wasn't so much learning but reading stories (I particularly remember one about an owl and a lost tea-spoon), counting and letters; the same sort of thing that you do in Kindergarten really!

The upshot of this was that I was disgustingly precocious and when at some child development study (aged around 4 or 5) and asked to count to ten I did so in French (horrible show off).

I was lucky enough from the age of 8 to 11 to go to a private school. Here we were taught French. So I got my second solid grounding in the language. This meant that by the time I got to secondary school and started (for the third time) from the beginning I found it all rather dull. I didn't pay attention in class and soon found myself in the next to bottom set.
This didn't put me off though; and I continued to study French for A-level. Sadly lack of practice means that (after a while) I can understand spoken French and I can read French, but I can't really speak or write it.
French wasn't my only foray into the learning of languages. For two years at secondary school I was obliged to learn Latin. A mixture of a lack of application and a teacher who was far too nice for the hooligans he was teaching meant that my Latin never got much beyond declining nouns (altogether now "Puella, Puella, Puellam Pueallae, Pueallae, Puella..."). I wish I'd paid better attention, Latin is actually very interesting in discovering the roots of our own language and understanding the rules of grammar.

I also took German for GCSE - which, to my horror, shared many of the peculiarities of Latin grammar (including the neutral gender). Thanks to a native German speaking teacher I managed to pass my exam; but the only things I remember now are "IIch habe meinen Paß verloren" and "Wenn das Wetter schoen ist, gehe ich spazieren". Very useful.

I have on further occasions tried and failed to learn other languages. Mostly because they gave away a free course with a newspaper (Spanish) or I heard them spoken on TV and liked how they sounded (Japanese and Arabic). I didn't get very far in any of these endeavours; my Japanese is limited to 'thank you' and 'good-bye' and my Arabic is limited to the traditional greeting (as-salaam 'alaykum).

At least I never had to 'learn' English the way that I learnt other languages. Grammar and spelling are much easier when you have a solid base to start from. I was lucky. My primary school (the one that taught me French) also insisted pupils learn spelling and grammar. Extremely unusual, as the line from 'My Fair Lady' goes "...whereas others are instructed in their native language, English people are-n't." This means that not only do I know parts of speech, I know what to do with them!

I know, for example, that you cannot end an email "If you have any queries please contact myself" as 'myself' is a reflective pronoun (hence "Me, myself, and I"). It is my current bug-bear so I thought I'd slip it in (you hear some quite intelligent educated people doing it).

It isn't just what you say though. It's how you say it. As Henry Higgins sang in 'My Fair Lady'; "An Englishman's way of speaking absolutely classifies him. The moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him.". I think as true today as it ever was. I was born and brought up for seven years in Hampstead. I didn't learn to speak with 'received pronunciation' (BBC English) but not far from it. When we moved to Kent I was teased for sounding like Margaret Thatcher (I'm not sure how to describe the Kentish accent, but there's maybe a bit of Estuary in it?).

I still have (when I need it) beautiful spoken English (rolled out for my telephone voice and similar); although I think my everyday accent has softened. I think that the South of England has a very neutral accent and mine has certainly been influenced by living and working with people from places with stronger accents (particularly Scotland and Ireland). I think ex-Pats find the same sort of thing.

I spent years when I first started work desk-mates with an Irish girl; and I will still sometimes refer to 'that chap over there' as 'your man'. I have now worked for eight years at a Scottish accent, and often if asked for assent I will answer 'aye'.

Incidentally. I may have been taught spelling and spent many sad hours at weekends learning my spelling - that doesn't mean that I can spell. The spell-checker is always busy for me!

Monday 9 April 2012

Types of books

Uploaded by nat_mach on November 5, 2011
© All rights reserved
It has come to my attention that there are many types of books in the world...
  • Bath books: 1st you have to not care about their condition in case they go for a swim; 2nd ideally they should be 'bite-sized' books otherwise you end up losing track of time and getting very wrinkly. Good examples are those fascinating fact type books.
  • Coffee table books: these are the sort of books you buy on a whim; usually paying too much... high on image and looking good; low on actual content. They end up on a lonely shelf gathering dust and never really pay for themselves.
  • Books you love: for whatever reason; a good time of your life, the way they made you feel... you keep them and come back to them again and again. I have a few. 'My Family and Other Animals' by Gerald Durrell; as a youngster I had a horror of staying away for home and would avoid it whenever possible. When not possible I'd take this book with me. My original copy has long since disintegrated but the book still holds a special place in my heart. 'Dragon Prince' by Melanie Rawn (and the series); I had a summer job which involved a lengthy period of doing not very much waiting for dishwashers and things; I sat up in the attic kitchen and was taken to a different magical world. 'Gone with the Wind' by Margaret Mitchell; first read (preciously) when I was 9 or 10 - enchanted by the world that was 'gone with the wind'. The first copy I read was a hard back and the spine eventually fell off to be replaced with brown parcel tape (elegant). My current copy I bought cheaply in New York and used to read in queues for tourist attractions!
  • Books you hate: for me these are almost exclusively books I was forced to read as part of a literature study at school. My taste seemed to rarely coincide with that of the exam board. I also don't like reading 'to order' and a few books have later read and forgiven; some were so good that they never made it to the 'hate list'; my list includes (in no particular order) - Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice', George Orwell's 'Animal Farm', Albert Camus's 'La Peste' and Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. Irrational; many people have good things to say about these books, but I have taken against them.
  • Kids books: the favourites from our childhoods... we've all got them! Mine was 'The Nickle Nackle Tree' by Linley Dodd. My original copy was somewhere in my mother's lost and a replacement was not to be found. I eventually bought a dog-eared second-hand copy on eBay. Then suddenly all the kids from 1975 grew up and wanted the book for their own kids - it went from being out of print to freely available on Amazon. Every child I know gets given a copy... just for the pictures, I can still recite the story by heart!

Sunday 8 April 2012

Time spent with children...

...is never wasted.

Uploaded by nat_mach on April 5, 2012
© All rights reserved

I was lucky enough in my holidays to catch up with several friends and their little girls (and I'm seeing my god-daughters and their brothers tomorrow).

Busy lives and scheduling difficulties means that I don't get to see my friends and their kids as often as I'd like. This means that I notice far more than people who see them regularly how amazingly they turn from babies into little people.

One minute they are toddling around and falling onto their bottoms; the next walking and even running around all over the place. I certainly can't keep up with a two year old!

One time you see them they have only a few word 'book' and 'no' being common ones. The next time they are holding entire conversations, requesting that you 'read this book' and saying 'yes' and 'please' and 'thank you'.

Also you get to play games (the toys are so much more fun than when I was a kid) and read stories. 

Can't wait until some more holidays come up and I get to see everyone again.


Uploaded by nat_mach on September 19, 2011
Taken in Hadlow, England
© All rights reserved
When I was growing up I sang in a church choir. Easter was one of the busiest times of the year for us (apart from, of course, Christmas).

Holy Week began the week before with the joyous and triumphal Palm Sunday. Following the service a long suffering donkey (he served as Santa's reindeer at Christmas!) was pressed into service to head the procession from the church to the village hall; palms (which I suspect may actually have been pampas grass) and song.

There was a great deal of preparation during the week that followed, including the Easter Garden. A tray of turf with the tomb constructed from large pebbles and other bits of flora and fauna; to make the garden from the Gospels.

On Maundy Thursday the solemn part of Easter began with a serene and quiet vigil.

Good Friday (being a Bank Holiday) meant that the service could be observed at the traditional noon time. Another solemn service; the church stripped of all finery and decoration. Unfortunately the crucifix scene behind the alter always looked faintly ridiculous held up, as it was, by red steel legs.In the afternoon I'd usually listen to either Handel's Messiah or Jesus Christ Superstar.

Although the choir got the day off on Saturday others were busy transforming the church. On Easter Sunday morning the austerity of Good Friday was banished. The church would be a joyous riot of flowers and colour with joyous music to celebrate the risen Lord.

The church as I remember it is gone, several changes in clergy and staff, and most people I remember moved away - but I still hold a faint longing for those wonderful Easters past.

Sunday 1 April 2012

April Fools

As always sites all over the internet are vying with each other to come up with the best April Fool's jokes.

Disappointingly I have received no April Fool emails - which given the amount of bulk mail I receive in my e-mail is an achievement. I can only put it down to it falling on a Sunday.

Here are a few of the most amusing and bizarre that I've stumbled over so far today.
Daily Mirror goes with the unlikely launch of Titanic Two. The give-away (should you really need one) that the story is a hoax is the section "The only new technology on the new version of the Titanic is a Search Engine Optimiser, a device that can instantaneously geo-locate key celebrities should Titanic Two encounter any problems at sea."

The Independent goes for a hose-pipe amnesty. Hand in your hosepipes in advance of the upcoming hosepipe ban.

The Daily Mail chooses a story on an antidote for the 'pasty tax' which is a 'bubbly tax'. Cleverly this story links into climate change - just to really incense readers.

Reddit has come up with a twist on Facebook's Timeline which goes back to pre-history. Warning you might waste an hour or two playing with this one.

Firebox can always be relied on to offer up some unlikely purchases. They'll let you in on the joke pretty quickly if you try and buy one.

Some smaller sites are even getting in on the game. Local site Greenwich.co.uk notes a spelling blunder gives Greenwich an extra 'e'. They may have changed their mast-head but they haven't changed their web-address!

AdBlock for Chrome has decided to replace ads with cats. Some very cute cats on the page. Not really an original idea though as there is already the add-on for Firefox Kitten Block.

Of course the masters of the on-line prank are Google. They serve up a veritable feast of pranks - here are a few of my favourites:

Google suggest that the latest use for their self-driving car might be NASCAR. The very comprehensive page takes you through the whole pitch, including other uses for the technology.

Google China has taken it's search engine 'under the sea'. 

The Really Advanced Search Engine gives a whole host of advanced features. This includes 'rhyming slang' and the option to narrow your search results by 'content that is true'.

I also quite like the idea of Click-to-Teleport - do note that it is only in beta!

And last but not least, Google Nigeria - search for your inheritance by bank account. If you do type in some numbers you'll just get a standard search engine return.

Here are some April Fools from years past:

And yes, I know it is all over in the UK now - but it has taken nearly two hours to write this post!