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Recent Posts:
September 2005


Battle of Britain

Fertility Treatment

The Plumber's Tale of Woe

Learning to Read and Write

Bureaucracy Gone Mad

What is Really Happening in New Orleans

Hurricane Katrina

The Tooth Fairy Forgot to Come!!!

August 2005

More Surgery!"

How I Met Michael Rennie (1909-1971)

"The Sixth Lamentation" - An Excellent Book

French Onions

Edgar Albert Guest (1881-1959)

I'm Recovering Well

Well, I'm Glad That's Over!

Just Me Prattling

The Russian Mini-Submarine

Amazing Animals: The Sturgeon

The Tower Subway

Surgical Pre-Assessment

July 2005

The Coal Delivery

Spyware and Anti-spyware"

Getting Enough Sleep?

An Insidious Cancer

Americans First on the Moon

"The Lion King"

Update on my Biopsy

Have I had my Head Buried in the Sand?


Animal Intelligence

Fl./Lt. Dennis G. Hornsey, D.F.C.

The English Language

London Bombs

Marriage Advice?

My Biopsy

A Message for the World's Leaders

June 2005


A 'Perfect' Day

Amazing Animals: The Emperor Penguin

Crowned on this Day in 1509

A Sweet for a Special Occasion

King Solomon's Mines

Father's Day

Tiger, Tiger....


Cockroaches and Human Fertility

World's Best Character Actor

Computer Decisions

Food for Thought


World Ocean Day

Daft as a Brush (or Two)

Douglas Jennings, RAF Evader During WW II

Lord of the Rings

Driving Me Mad

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Monday, 29 August 2005
More Surgery!
Topic: Health Issues
Last Friday was my appointment to see the consultant at Worthing Hospital and to have my stitches removed. I was actually looking forward to that - another step on the way to recovery, especially as the stitches were beginning to pull a little. We arrived on time and sat down to wait. Eventually, my name was called. "Would your husband like to come in, too?" Yes, he would. "There are quite a few people in the room". There were about five and the consultant had a serious expression on his face, "We need to discuss your options.", he said gently. My heart sank down to my boots and I felt a lump rising in my throat.

There had been an unexpected result. It seems that the slice of tissue they removed and tested post-operation had more 'invisible' problems than they thought. At least 39.6 mm (about 1½ inches) of pre-cancerous cells continuing right to the edge of the sample. This despite the fact that my operation had entailed a "wide excision", well beyond the area of microcalcification marked by the "localisation wire" they had inserted prior to the operation. Consequently, the consultant did not believe they had succeeded in removing all the pre-cancer cells. "This type of cell can't be detected on an x-ray and will not show up later. Do you understand what I am trying to say?", he said, gently. I did. I put it into words, "A mastectomy.", I said, trying hard to be brave. "Yes, that is what we advise".

I reached out for my husband's knee and he put his hand on mine reassuringly. The consultant stressed that all these cells were pre-cancerous and did not pose an immediate threat. However, eventually they would turn into an invasive full-blown cancer, which would be much more difficult to treat. When this might happen could not be foreseen, I could take a gamble and ignore it but there would always be that nagging worry. My brain tried to keep up - all this just as I was so pleased with my free "breast reduction" - it was difficult to take it all in. I cracked a feeble joke about possibly taking up archery again. I explained that I had done archery as a teenager and that 'a large left bosom' got slightly in the way! [I remember a somewhat buxom lady at the archery club. She had had a mastectomy but didn't let that deter her and obviously thought it was all to her advantage!]

I looked at my husband - his eyes looked slightly watery but he squeezed my hand. We both agreed that the sensible thing was to go ahead with a mastectomy. My stitches having been removed, the consultant went on to say that I could have reconstructive surgery, which could be done at the same time as the mastectomy or at a later date. "It does involve a six-hour operation and we take muscle from your back", he explained in reply to my question. More scars, more pain. Why go through all that at my age? "No", I said, "I don't think I want that". I was told that I could always change my mind later, should I have second thoughts.

So, I signed the consent form and was given an admission date of Thursday, 22nd September. I would be in hospital for three nights this time. The specialist cancer nurse led us out of the room and explained more about the operation. She showed us the type of breast prostheses available - a soft one to start with and then a plastic gel-filled one which fits into a pocket inside special 'mastectomy bras'. She was very kind and supportive and I can ring her any time if I have any more questions. We walked out slightly dazed and subdued by all we had heard. My mind dwelling on the ancient tales of Amazons, one of those fabled tribes of warrior women...

We soon realised that we were hungry, so our thoughts turned to the hospital canteen. Apart from their cakes, they do an excellent choice of sandwiches. (Yes, I did have another doughnut!!). Leaving the hospital, we wondered whether to go straight home, look round Worthing again or go somewhere else. We opted for the latter and decided to visit the Marks and Spencer super-store in Shoreham. I wanted a new dressing gown, which I found, together with a skirt, a blouse, and a leather jacket! Oh, dear, I managed to spend a small fortune.

Saturday, I woke up with a slight sore throat and a headache, which would not go away. Also, my breast was extra painful and quite swollen. Sunday morning, it was still swollen and painful but slightly less tight and I could see a lovely shade of yellow suffusing my skin. I suddenly realised what had caused all the swelling — driving! I probably should have kept to a steady, low speed and enjoyed observing other road users cursing behind me! I certainly recall feeling very uncomfortable every time the car jolted over all the little uneven bumps I had never noticed before! I also remembered driving away at my usual reckless speed on coming out of the 40 mph restriction near Arundel mainly because a chap in a white van seemed to be right on my tail. He flashed his lights as if to say, get out of my way. Later, it occurred to me that he probably thought I wasn't wearing my seat belt! Well, I was, only I had pushed it under my arm instead of over my shoulder. Not sure if that is legal but I felt I had a good excuse. Will be very careful how I drive for the next three weeks and will keep to short and necessary journeys for the time being!

And yes, thank you, I am feeling much better about the whole thing now. I am not alone and I will be joining a privileged group of women lucky enough to have been diagnosed early and to be spared the ravages of malignant breast cancer, possible metastasis and the unpleasant after effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Posted by Noviomagus at 01:21 BST Post Comment | View Comments (11) | Permalink

Thursday, 25 August 2005
How I Met Michael Rennie (1909-1971)
Topic: Memories
Today, 25th August, is the anniversary of the birth of that great British actor and film star, Michael Rennie, whom I once had the privilege of meeting! I was probably 9-years-old when my late sister, Pauline, took me to one of the London cinemas in Leicester Square to see a matinee performance. My memory is not as good as it used to be because I have had a bit of trouble remembering exactly which film it was! Initially, I thought it might have been, "King Solomon's Mines", but Michael Rennie wasn't in that film - so I think the film we saw must have been, "The Day the Earth Stood Still", because that came out in 1951 and Michael Rennie was the star.

Michael Rennie as Peter in 'The Robe' - the only picture I haveWe had seats in the circle and, when we came out into the apparently deserted upstairs foyer, Pauline gave a sudden great big gasp. "Oh, look! That's Michael Rennie sitting there.", she whispered. I don't think I knew much about Michael Rennie, the actor, at the time but I turned and stared at the handsome man perched on the edge of a circular display in the middle of the foyer. It was definitely the man I had just been watching on the screen! I think he was reading a newspaper and he was obviously waiting for a friend. "Why don't you go and say hello?", Pauline urged me with a big grin.

I don't think she thought I would but, obedient little sister that I was, I marched right up to where Michael Rennie was sitting. "Hello.", I said. He looked up surprised, "Hello.", he replied. "How are you?", I asked. "Very well, thank you.", he said with a big grin. "I enjoyed the film, you were very good!", I commented. I could see Pauline out of the corner of my eye, hiding in a doorway, convulsed with laughter. "Well, bye-bye.", I said. "Good-bye.", said Michael Rennie. I remember how white his teeth were as he smiled down at me. He watched me go back to join my embarrassed giggling big sister, with his eyes twinkling and a huge smile still on his face.

[See also this interesting page with lots of photographs.]

Posted by Noviomagus at 00:01 BST Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink

Wednesday, 24 August 2005
"The Sixth Lamentation" - An Excellent Book
Now Playing: "Romance sans parole" by Fauré"
Topic: Books
Book coverYesterday, I finished reading my second recuperation book, "The Sixth Lamentation", after feebly helping to sweep up numerous hedge cuttings in the garden! In between two soaking wet days, Monday and today, yesterday was warm and sunny, ideal for gardening, and my hubby had a very busy morning indeed doing some much needed work with the shears.

"The Sixth Lamentation" is a very different story to the fantasy world of "Eragon", the book I was reading last week. It took me a little longer to get completely hooked, to the point when I really didn't want to put it down - couldn't put it down - because the author has masterfully interwoven a number of different story threads which gradually coalesce drawing all the complex characters together. The story begins in the mid 1990's but keeps returning to the past; to Paris just before and during the occupation by Nazi Germany and the deportation of the Jews. The main character, Agnes, is totally believable and the historical fact, merged with the fictional narrative, stamps the story with intense credibility. The character of the monk, Fr. Anselm, who in turn binds many of the other characters together, is also perfect. Not surprising to learn that the author, William Broderick, was once a member of a religious community and has since studied law and become a barrister.

A cracking good read which I highly recommend. (Sorry, my son-in-law is first in the queue to borrow it!)

Posted by Noviomagus at 23:01 BST Post Comment | Permalink

Sunday, 21 August 2005
French Onions
Topic: In the News
onionsDo you remember the French onion sellers? I can remember seeing them as a child when we lived in Finchley, North London. They were always on bicycles, wearing the traditional French beret, and loaded up with hundreds of onions - apparently, up to hundred kilos or more than 200 lbs! Now it seems, these onion 'Johnnies' are a dying breed.

My mother, who was French, would always buy a string of onions - each onion neatly tied to the one above. They would hang up in the larder and would keep for ages. Maybe the secret was that the long stems were intact and tied, but they certainly kept much longer than supermarket produce does today. They were large and very tasty onions, too. Of course, when we moved to the south coast, that was the last we saw of the onion sellers. My Dad grew his own from then on.

I love fried onions! I can smell them now!

Posted by Noviomagus at 12:45 BST Post Comment | View Comments (2) | Permalink

Saturday, 20 August 2005
Edgar Albert Guest (1881-1959)
Topic: Poetry and Poets
I don't know a great deal about the poet, Edgar Albert Guest, except that he was born in Birmingham, England, on the 20th August 1881. Some ten years' later, in 1891, his family moved to the United States of America and settled in Michigan, where he lived for the rest of his life. He started work as a reporter for a Detroit newspaper in his early teens and before long started writing daily verses - he became so popular, he was known as the "People's Poet". On 2nd March 1952, Edgar Guest was made Poet Laureate of Michigan, the first and only person ever to receive that title. He died in Detroit, Michigan on 5th August 1959.

Unfortunately, he is not so well known on this side of the Atlantic, which is a great shame. To make amends, I have chosen this poem of his which particularly reflects my mood at present!

              Good Books

Good books are friendly things to own.
If you are busy they will wait.
They will not call you on the phone
Or wake you if the hour is late.
They stand together row by row,
Upon the low shelf or the high.
But if you're lonesome this you know:
You have a friend or two nearby.

The fellowship of books is real.
They're never noisy when you're still.
They won't disturb you at your meal.
They'll comfort you when you are ill.
The lonesome hours they'll always share.
When slighted they will not complain.
And though for them you've ceased to care
Your constant friends they'll still remain.

Good books your faults will never see
Or tell about them round the town.
If you would have their company
You merely have to take them down.
They'll help you pass the time away,
They'll counsel give if that you need.
He has true friends for night and day
Who has a few good books to read.

Posted by Noviomagus at 00:01 BST Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink

Friday, 19 August 2005
I'm Recovering Well
Topic: Health Issues
I'm not suffering too much post-operation - just had my nose buried in a book! One of those you definitely don't want to put down and just HAVE to continue reading for as long as possible to find out what happens next. Now I've finished it, I'm experiencing withdrawal symptoms, especially as I have discovered it was the first of a trilogy - must get the other two as soon as possible! When I ordered the book over the Internet, I did wonder if it was suitable for a grandmother of my age; perhaps, it was a child's book? Well, if it was, than I definitely have a child’s mind! I lapped up every word and stretched my imagination until I felt I was a part of the story; a spellbound onlooker marvelling at each magic trick, full of concern at every evil setback and tense with sympathy during every battle. I'm worn out! Oh, yes! The book is called, "Eragon", the tale of a boy and his dragon. I recommend it to anyone with a child's heart and imagination! [You were right, Joanna!].

I have been neglecting my computer! I have checked emails and surfed a bit except for Wednesday, when the computer never even got switched it! That's one of my problems - I can't section my day off into 'do this' and 'do that' periods. When I'm doing this or that, it’s impossible to stop until it's finished, apart from necessary things like eating and sleeping, of course! I did come across a brilliant new blog whilst searching for something else on Google, second time I've done that. It's called, "The Loom" and is written by Carl Zimmer, an American journalist who writes for The New York Times Magazine and National Geographic, to name but two. He is an author of several science books as well. Reading his early August posts, I was amused to see that President Bush has been making a fool of himself again with various ill-advised comments on bringing 'intelligent design' to the classroom - he obviously disapproves of the theory of evolution! I particularly enjoyed reading the copy of the letter to the Whitehouse from the President of The American Astronomical Society, And Now A Word From the Astronomers.... However, I rather doubt that Mr. Bush will listen.

So, I have had a few very lazy days recovering from my operation and enjoying being waited on and pampered. For the first four days, I was taking it easy doing very little, reading a while and relaxing in the garden on the garden lounger and sleeping with my sun hat pulled over my face. Sunday, a noise woke me and I held out my hand thinking hubby had opened the back door. Then, the noise again - a loud rattling trill. I removed my hat and there was a tiny brown bundle of feathers hopping about on the fence about 6 feet away; a plump little wren with its little tail stuck up in the air. It trilled a few times more watching me disapprovingly and then flew away. There have been far more birds in the garden since our old neighbours moved away and took their cat with them! I had my first shower on Sunday, too - the nurse had told me to wait 48 hours after getting home. The incision is about three* inches long and I have four horrible large green stitches holding my skin pinched together like pursed lips with the scar in the centre. I will have to put up with them for another week until I see the consultant again on Friday, 26th August. I'm glad it was the left side that had to be done because, in common with many women, I was rather lop-sided! At least a cup size larger on the left - probably two! Now I seem to be virtually even on both sides so, you see, I have had a free breast reduction! One little side effect to cheer me up.

Wednesday, we went to the supermarket to do some necessary shopping - the first time I had driven since the operation. I tucked the seat belt under my arm with a small cushion and started off rather gingerly. I was taken aback at how weak I was! Even turning the steering wheel was an effort. I crawled round the store with hubby darting back and forth filling the trolley and that small effort of walking around made me burst out into a hot sweat. I was glad to get home. Thursday, I felt stronger. We went out again early in the evening to shop at Marks and Spencer and I managed much better. I have been coping well with a few easy chores, filling up the washing machine, cooking something simple and washing up. Now, as usual, I am staying up much too late - nearly 1:15 am Friday morning already. Another of my bad habits!
[Amended Friday, 19 August 2005 at 10:40 BST]

Update 24 August 2005

* As usual, I exaggerated! Got Hubby to measure the scar properly this morning and it is only 21/8 inches long.

Posted by Noviomagus at 01:17 BST Post Comment | View Comments (2) | Permalink

Friday, 12 August 2005
Well, I'm Glad That's Over!
Topic: Health Issues
Came home from hospital this afternoon - I must say, it's good to be back in familiar surroundings although I was looked after very well by the doctors and nurses! I feel a little uncomfortable, bruised and swollen; it pulls if I bend down and I haven't been able to turn over in bed but I'm not in any real pain at the moment. Everyone who noticed the purple mess on my right arm commented,'you bruise easily', but earlier today I had some more blood taken from the left arm and not a sign of a bruise there.

The night before the operation I went to bed after our evening meal (hubby washed up) feeling absolutely whacked out after dusting, hoovering, and flying about all day but, four and half-hours later, I felt totally refreshed and renewed. Amazing what a short sleep can do. My first job was sewing up the trouser bottoms of my new pyjamas, which were much too long! The rest of the night passed very quickly; I had a shower and washed my hair, cleaned the shelves in the bathroom, programmed the video recorder, washed the kitchen floor and sent an email to my sister in Spain. Rang the hospital as per my instructions to check that a bed was still available - it was, but in a different ward. Left a note of the new extension number. At twenty past six, I was ready to leave.   [Ughhh! Just found a small fly in my drink of Horlicks!]

Got into the car and found a small 'Good Luck' teddy bear sitting on the steering wheel. Hubby, dear man, standing there in his pyjamas like a lost soul waving goodbye and surreptitiously wiping his eyes! It's at times like these that he wishes he had learnt to drive a car. I arrived at Worthing Hospital just after seven, got my bag out of the boot and realised that the button and zip of my jeans were undone! I thought only men forgot to do their zips up! Joined another couple in the lift going to the same ward.

After being checked in and changing into the horrible hospital gown, I had to wait quite a while before another lady and myself were chaperoned down to the Breast Care Centre for more mammograms. Hers was very quick then it was my turn for the 'left needle localisation'. One mammogram to check they were in the right area. Then, OUCH! It felt as I imagine it would feel to be stabbed with a fine knitting needle! Another mammogram - then, to my enormous relief, I heard the doctor say, "Amazing, I have got it in exactly the right place first go!" Someone must have been watching over me. Back to the ward for some more waiting before 'Sam' came to wheel my bed down the corridor to the lift and up to the second floor, where there was a minor traffic jam, my bed coming out of the lift and another bed going in!

Canula in, injections and then the big one - the large clock on the wall said 10.25 am. I remember going through the double doors into a large room with several beds and feeling surprised that it wasn't the operating theatre. Two men in pale blue gowns and blue caps reading their notes. "Good Morning", one said, smiling at me. The next thing I remember was being woken up and offered some water via a straw. Before long, I had woken up enough to have some lunch. Someone gave me a pain-killing tablet in the afternoon. A couple of hours later, I closed my eyes. Woke with a start to find hubby, daughter and grandchildren all round my bed around 7 pm. They had spent several minutes trying to wake me! So pleased to see them all.

It was around 1.20 pm today before I was discharged and then I waited in the discharge lounge for my daughter to collect me. The nurses were very firm, 'You mustn't drive for 48 hours after a general anaesthetic and also your insurance is invalid for that time!' Sister was obviously displeased that I had been advised differently - 'I will tell them in the Breast Care Centre'. The charge for the hospital car park from just after 7 am yesterday to just before 3 pm today was £12.20 - much cheaper than a taxi would have been.

Took one of the Co-Codamol tablets, (paracetamol with codein), I was prescribed around six this evening. About two hours later, (they seem to take about two hours to kick in), I was feeling very woozy - they are pretty strong! Hubby cooked our supper and washed up. He is being very solicitous, bless him. I can remove my foam padding dressing to shower after which I must replace it - haven't looked yet to see the damage - and I have to wear a bra 24 hours until I go back to see the Consultant in two weeks' time.

Many thanks to all my kind cyber friends for all their good wishes, which were greatly appreciated! Off to bed now. Goodnight!

P.S. Woke up this morning and realised that it wasn't lunch I had on the day of my operation, it was supper! Spaghetti Bolognese served up at 5 pm. I've had better and missed my salt! Had a very good hospital lunch on Friday - fish and chips with tiny peas, diced carrots, a slice of lemon and some sauce.

    [Updated, Saturday, 13 August 2005 at 08:52 BST]

Posted by Noviomagus at 23:51 BST Post Comment | View Comments (2) | Permalink

Wednesday, 10 August 2005
Just Me Prattling!
Topic: Miscellanea
Monday was our wedding anniversary and what did we do? Gardening! Hubby has been worried about the annual pruning we usually do in August plus he wanted to cut yet another branch off the plum tree. Last week, he cut off a branch that he kept banging his head on and also cut down a peach tree that was going rotten. That was quite a bit of sawing to get everything into the bags to take to the dump. He keeps saying he might cut down the plum tree next year because it's virtually stopped fruiting. No plum jam for several years now! Anyway, we have a system for pruning with the long extendable pruning pole; he holds the pole and manoeuvres it into position and I pull the rope to cut the branch off. Works very well!

my bruised armTuesday, I had to go over to Worthing Hospital again for some blood tests before the op. So, we thought we would have a day out as well. Arrived at the pathology department and handed my forms in - just about to sit down with the magazine my husband had found for me and I was called in. The nurse didn't do a very good job; missed the vein, I think! She did apologise and off I went with a huge plaster suck over the area. Of course, we went to the hospital canteen and I indulged in yet another jam doughnut! (Hubby had one of the enormous Belgian buns!)

Had a good day in Worthing. I wanted to get some pyjamas to wear in hospital and I very nearly bought a pair I really didn't like in Marks and Spencers. However, I decided to look elsewhere and found just what I wanted waiting for me in another store - and it was reduced as well! Not only that but producing my sales receipt in that shop's canteen gave us 20% off our lunch. There had to be a third bargain waiting for us somewhere and there was. My husband found an aircraft book he wanted. It was already reduced from £40 to £19.99 and he got another £4 off because the bookshop was having a clearance sale prior to a temporary closure for refurbishment.

Watched a video in the evening, one of those 'kung-fu' films. You know the sort, hero rescues people in distress and has no end of encounters with numerous baddies firing off guns and wielding knives or machetes. All rounded up with a spectacular feet flying, forearm smashing, fist thudding fight with the arch baddy who had killed hero's wife many years before. And, yes, our victorious hero comes home with hardly a scratch let alone a bruise or a black eye!

Posted by Noviomagus at 01:15 BST Post Comment | View Comments (2) | Permalink

Sunday, 7 August 2005
The Russian Mini-Submarine
Topic: In the News
Some good news at last! After three days on the seabed tangled up in fishing nets, the seven trapped Russian seamen are safe. I can't imagine anything worse than having to sit still for 76 hours in a confined dark space, in freezing cold conditions, whilst you wait for your oxygen to run out! Three cheers for the six-man team operating our British Scorpio underwater robot craft, which was flown out to Kamchatka and delivered to the site of the rescue operations by a Russian ship. Thank goodness they were in time to save the men who reportedly had about 10-12 hours of oxygen left.

Apparently all the Russians were very brave and never complained during all that anxious waiting time. The memory of what happened to the Kursk in 2000 is still very fresh in Russian minds and they all feared the worst. I felt so sorry for the wife of the mini-submarine's commander, who was shown on BBC news last night as she tried to reassure their small twin girls that 'daddy was on a ship and would be coming home'. Well, now he is coming home and she has told Russian TV that, "I danced. I was glad, I cried and I danced for joy". A really 'happy ending' to a potentially tragic disaster.

Posted by Noviomagus at 12:49 BST Post Comment | View Comments (3) | Permalink

Saturday, 6 August 2005
Amazing Animals: The Sturgeon
(No. 4 in my series)

Now Playing: The Song of Hiawatha
Topic: Nature and Our World
My father once gave me a beautifully illustrated leather-bound book of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poems. It was old and the cover was falling apart but I took it to school as we were studying poetry in the sixth form. Stupidly, I allowed myself to be persuaded to lend it to another girl towards the end of term - and that was the last I ever saw of my book!   I particularly loved, "The Song of Hiawatha", and that was where I first learnt about the sturgeon, that most ancient of fishes:-
Hiawatha in his birch canoe
    On the white sand of the bottom
Lay the monster Mishe-Nahma,
Lay the sturgeon, King of Fishes;
Through his gills he breathed the water,
With his fins he fanned and winnowed,
With his tail he swept the sand-floor.
    There he lay in all his armor;
On each side a shield to guard him,
Plates of bone upon his forehead,
Down his sides and back and shoulders
Plates of bone with spines projecting
Painted was he with his war-paints,
Stripes of yellow, red, and azure,
Spots of brown and spots of sable;
And he lay there on the bottom,
Fanning with his fins of purple,
As above him Hiawatha
In his birch canoe came sailing,
With his fishing-line of cedar.

Extract from Part VIII Hiawatha's Fishing
Hiawatha's 'Mishe-Nahma' was the North American Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) which, despite its name is actually a river fish. Found mainly in Lakes Michigan, Huron, Ontario, Erie and Superior, it once ranged widely throughout the Mississippi River, the Great Lakes and the Hudson River. Gelatine from its swim bladder was used in the past for making isinglass, a semi-transparent substance which was widely employed commercially for clarifying jams, jellies and alcoholic drinks, as a size for handmade paper and in the making of isinglass windows for carriages and early cars. Its skin was made into leather and its meat and eggs sold commercially.

Sturgeon belong to the order of Acipenseriforms, family Acipenseridae. There are twenty-seven living species - all in the Northern Hemisphere and all in serious decline. According to WildAid, only three of the species is not critically endangered or endangered due to the demand for caviar. This is a sad state of affairs as, together with their cousins, the Paddlefish, Sturgeon are the only survivors of an ancient group of fishes from the Upper Cretaceous period (135-200 million years ago) which, with five extinct species, formed the infraclass Chondostrei. These ancient 'living fish fossils' are, therefore, one of the oldest vertebrates on Earth. The sturgeon is also the largest of freshwater fishes and the longest lived. The greatest recorded age was 154 years for a Lake sturgeon caught in 1953.

The Sturgeon's heterocercal tailSome Sturgeon live in the sea but migrate to freshwater to breed (anadromous) and others live entirely in freshwater. These primitive fish have an almost entirely cartilaginous endoskeleton with a flexible cartilaginous rod called a notochord running down the back instead of a backbone. They have heavy tube-like bodies with five rows of large bony plates or scutes along their sides instead of scales and, in common with many other primitive fish, they have an asymmetrical (heterocercal) caudal fin or tail.

Sturgeon have short, highly sensitive fleshy barbels on their slightly flattened upturned snouts which they use to find a wide variety of food including insect larvae, bottom-dwelling worms, shrimp, small fish and molluscs such as crayfish, clams, and snails. These are sucked up through their large toothless mouths which they can extend into a funnel-shape. Both anadromous and freshwater species cease feeding during the spawning season. It takes a long time, anything between 8-25 years (depending on the species), for females to reach sexual maturity and then spawning will only occur every 2-4 years or more. Their slow growth and infrequent spawning make it extremely difficult for this animal to recover from decline. Together with over-fishing and degradation of habitat, this is one of the reasons why these amazing fish have become so endangered. When they do spawn, eggs are produced in millions - some three million in the Atlantic sturgeon and up to seven million in the Beluga sturgeon. The eggs are highly adhesive and attach to vegetation or stones. Hatching takes about one week. Growth is probably quite rapid for the first five years providing the hatchlings survive, which not many do.

The Beluga (Huso husa), is found principally in the Caspian Sea with spawning occurring mainly in the Volga River and also in the Black, Azov, and Adriatic Seas, as well as the Dnepr and Danube rivers. However, access to the old spawning grounds has been blocked since the building of the Volgograd Dam, (note: from 1925-61, Volgograd was known as Stalingrad). Beluga can live up to 100 years or more and it is the largest sturgeon in the world, and probably the most famous because its roe (unfertilized eggs) is highly prized as caviar. Beluga can reach lengths up to 30 feet and can weigh up to 2000 pounds; one fish, caught in 1926, weighed 2,200lbs (over 1,000kg) and yielded 396lb (180kg) of caviar - it was estimated to be at least 75 years old. Nowadays, fish are much smaller because the 'old' population has been exterminated by over-fishing and poaching.

Without commercial hatcheries, the Beluga would probably be extinct today. Interestingly, some aquaculturists have been developing methods to surgically remove eggs without killing the fish - a piscine 'caesarean'! However, many fish still die after this operation and more research is needed. I hope you don't eat caviar but, if you must, then please purchase your supply from an outlet which supports conservation and ecologically sound harvesting.

Posted by Noviomagus at 16:52 BST Post Comment | View Comments (4) | Permalink

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