Thursday, July 11, 2019


One of the unfortunate consequences of my accident back in 2008 has been the loss of proprioception, which in my case, unless I am paying attention, means I am not entirely sure where my feet are. In the initial period of recovery, when I was rediscovering my ability to walk etc, I thought that the confusion caused by staircases for example, would diminish over time. I'm not entirely sure that my better functionality is because I have learned to deal with the injury and its after effects, or because my body is recovering. 
I was a bit surprised by how little importance was attached to my worries when I was still receiving regular treatment, mind you, I still haven't got past the consultant blandly telling me that a significant proportion of people with my injury were never able to work again, the last thing I wanted to hear when I was already contemplating how soon I would be able to get up a ladder again (too quickly as it turned out). Small things, like no longer being able to pick things up with the toes on my right foot, were ignored, as was my real concern about the previously mentioned proprioception.
To give you some idea, the sensation (or lack of it), is like that one when you step off a ladder higher than you thought and your body anticipates a surface that isn't there before the crunch comes, so, unless I am paying attention steps can have unexpected moments for me.
I'm not certain that there is anything to be done, happily for me, ladders remain devoid of issues, beyond the need to pay attention to the lower rungs, and clambering about in and on things doesn't seem to have been too badly affected, it's amazing how adaptable the body can be. 

Saturday, June 29, 2019

seasonal variation

On the hottest day of the year so far, 33 degrees or thereabouts (I know, it's not that hot, but it does come as a bit of a shock when it's been cold and grey for months), I thought I'd revisit a couple of old gripes; seasonal produce and unripe fruit.

Way back when, there used to be an unlamented supermarket chain called Safeway, and their entire business model seemed to be predicated around the concept of stocking the same range of fresh fruit and vegetables all year round, thus in the middle of a heatwave in August you could buy wizened parsnips air-freighted from Australia, not to mention brussel sprouts and neeps at astronomical prices. There was a time after the demise of Safeway, when the big supermarkets; Tesco and Sainsbury seemed to embrace the seasons, and you couldn't assume that they'd have soft fruit all year round, sadly, advances in horticultural techniques have extended the growing period for fruits like strawberrys. This has not, however, meant that they are better to eat, as in order to transport them from Spain (for example), they have to be picked under ripe. So the whole market has shifted from producing the best tasting fruit, to producing specimens that look good when upripe. They seem to have done something similar to asparagus, as my local Tesco is still stocking UK grown spears.

Into the realm of weasel words comes 'ripen at home', a plastic encased package (you can't then inspect the fruit) containing fruits of such hardness that a week in an ethylene enriched atmosphere wouldn't help. Generally speaking, they either dry out, or rot before they become edible, this is a transparent effort to shift the supermarkets responsibility onto the shopper. Similarly annoying is the phrase 'perfectly ripe' when applied (at a premium) to produce that very often isn't any more ripe than the more plebeian fruits that are in the same display.

My contention is that there has been a change in policy, probably a consequence of the difficult market at the moment, and that, while there is a conscious effort to maintain a basic stock throughout the year (Tesco still has sprouts, and parsnips at the end of June, for example), I think the underlying philosophy is more to do with using the value of seasonal fruit to underwrite the costs of supplying them throughout the year. Hence now, when there looks to be a glut of stone fruits, and market stalls are selling them for pennies, the same plastic wrapped trays are available with no acknowledgement of real world pricing. A simple test is to look at the price of grapes; they used to be sold in bunches by weight (and in some stores still can be), mostly now they are sealed in plastic cartons, and at a price point of around £2.00. What tends to vary, is the weight, and also, you will often find that your plastic tub contains several small chunks of bunches, rather than a bunch, if that matters to you.
However, outside of 'premium' named varieties, it is rare for grapes to fall below that price point, even at times when they are in short supply (like now). A supermarket is a very controlled environment, it is deliberate policy not to have any references to time on display for example, the ideal customer would be one who roams the store at length and isn't very conscious of the costs of items beyond the walls. As ever, when presented with a banner screaming about price and value, you should ask; what is paying for this reduction?

A final note, to moan about cheese, why is it impossible for UK supermarkets to sell cheese that is ripe? We are offered brie and camembert that are just flavour free chalks, yet if you keep them for a couple of weeks, they become perfectly acceptable. Continental hard cheeses like gruyere, emmental or comte although obviously of impeccable origin, are so juvenile that they might as well not bother selling them.

I shall probably return to this theme, I don't think I have fully explored the ramifications of seasonal fruit and veg, and the ever increasing growth of single use packaging.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

ancient voices of children

I'm quite fond of birds in general, and find the various members of the crow family to be quite appealing to watch, especially with their hippity-hoppity strut and their evident intelligence. Somewhere close by there is a family of jays (there are also magpies and crows in the vicinity too), and today I was treated to a full on display of adolescent shouting by the three newly fledged chicks; they had lined up along a branch and bellowed at their harassed parents who were giving as good as they got. Altogether an unedifying and cacophonous spectacle, reminiscent of a toddler having a meltdown in front of the pick and mix. Eventually they realised that they had an amused onlooker and departed, swearing noisily as they went. No doubt they'll be back, they are slightly more tuneful than Magpies, but not very!

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Index of social inventions #4

This idea is based on observation, and concerns RFID chips and card readers; those now ubiquitous devices that read your loyalty cards and bank cards (and protect high value items from theft). On the occasions that I have accompanied the aged parent to the shops, I have noticed that she struggles to hear the polite bleep that acknowledges the transaction. It's well known that as one ages the high frequency tones are the first to be lost, so the discreet noise that the readers emit is quite inappropriate. 
I have a number of suggestions to improve matters; 1) add a haptic response to the card reader, so you feel the acknowledgement as well as hear it, 2) make the tone lower and a couple of bleeps, so it isn't lost in the background noise of the shop, 3) make the illuminated keypad flash a couple of times, 4) make the whole tone louder (I appreciate that this is not a popular notion).

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

young visiters...

There's a vixen in my mothers garden who is burdened with five cubs, she brings them out onto the grass every now and again to have a bit of a play. Her patience doesn't last very long, and she's looking a bit frayed, interesting that the colouration of the urban fox seems to be drifting away from the bright colouration seen more often in the country and towards a sort of muddy brown.

Apologies, I have a video, but for some reason it won't  upload, I only had my phone with me when they appeared.

Update: my researches indicated that there was a 20% mortality rate among fox cubs, and this has certainly been borne out by my discovery of a sad little corpse in the back garden. It had been mutilated, and one of its legs eaten. I couldn't determine the cause of death, although its neck was unbroken, I'm guessing that a dog fox must have been passing through, or one of last years cubs seized an opportunity to even up the odds a bit.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Index of social inventions #3

I may have already mentioned this before, it is not mine, and I claim no credit for it. I was working at the Avignon festival a few years back, and as with any arts festival of any size, the place was coming down with posters, fliers, exhibitionists of all flavours and so on. The idea which caught my attention was very simple, as the best often are. Rather than producing expensive fliers, one theatre company (doing Ubu Roi, at least one production of which is compulsory at all French arts festivals) had instead had their production details printed onto plain brown paper bags. They hadn't taken the, to me, logical step of inserting free packs of paper bags into all the local boulangeries, fruit sellers etc, but were still handing them out as if they were fliers. Thus when you bought your nectarines or whatever, you would be carrying away an unsolicited advert for a show. The shopkeeper gets free wrapping, and you get your advertising distributed for free. No-one loses, as far as I can see.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Oh no...

I had one of those 'Oh no' moments last night; I was administering parental IT support, when in front of my fascinated gaze, she typed in 'butts' to google and was about to hit return. Fortunately she paused and added the qualifier 'mary' before proceeding and I was able to breathe again. I can't be the only person who finds this form of IT support quite stressful, it's slightly easier when I'm there in person, over the phone it's almost impossible. Oh well, I guess it's something I have to accept.