Sunday, 17 April 2005
Amazing Animals: Woodlice
Topic: Nature and Our World
This morning, I was coming out of the garage into our porch when I spotted a woodlouse on the brick wall by the front door. It was long dead of course, a desiccated shell, but it made me think of the first time I noticed something unusual about these little beasties. We hadn't been married much more than a year and we were moving into our first house in Worthing. There was a rotten tree stump in the garden, swarming with woodlice, and we were trying to clear it away. One large individual woodlouse fell on its back and froze, with its legs sticking up; it had a white patch on its underside. I bent down to look closer - it was a sort of greyish-white sack. I touched it with a tiny twiglet... A movement, a minute tear, and a horde of tiny baby woodlice started to appear one by one, hundreds, it seemed. The adult was completely motionless. Had I killed it, I wondered?
Woodlice are very ancient creatures which remind me of fossilised trilobites. There are many different species of these amazing little animals worldwide, but only 37 live in the UK. The ones most often seen in our British gardens are the common rough woodlouse (Porcellio scaber
), the common shiny woodlouse (Oniscus asellus
) and the common pillbug (Armadillidium vulgare
). All British woodlice are vegetarians and nocturnal in habit. They like living in damp places, under rotting wood, or vegetation. They actually help to recycle waste by eating decaying wood and plants and thereby improve your garden soil! They have a head, thorax and an abdomen; two large antenna (and two tiny vestigial ones); two compound eyes; seven pairs of jointed legs (one for each of the seven thoracic segments), and an exoskeleton. They breathe through gills on their legs and also have 'pseudo-lungs' which can be seen as white patches at the back of the underside. These allow gases to diffuse in and out through a pore which can't be closed. So Woody needs a damp environment or he will soon dry out.
Woodlice are actually Crustacea
and they belong to a group of Arthropods called Isopoda
, a class of animals usually found living in water. Crustaceans are hard-shelled creatures - which include lobsters, crabs, shrimps, prawns, water fleas and barnacles - strange relatives for a little creature found in all our gardens. (Incidentally, trilobites were also Arthropods.)
Woodlice are usually a dark grey colour but if you find one that is half-pale, then it has just moulted. First the back half is shed and then the front half. This process allows them to grow a little before the new shell hardens. They usually live for about two years.
The 'sack' I had first seen all those years ago is, in fact, a brood pouch called a "marsupium" in which the eggs are stored for several weeks until they hatch. The new babies only have six pairs of legs and are very vulnerable to desiccation so, at this stage, they stay in their mother's pouch for several days until they moult for the first time and get their seventh pair of legs. Most woodlice breed once a year and the larger the female, the more eggs she is likely to produce.[For further information on Woodlice, look here and here]
Saturday, 16 April 2005
Cheating in Exams
Topic: In the News
Apparently, there is an unprecedented rise in the number of people cheating in examinations. It seems that the opportunities for cheating have burgeoned with the increase in technology. The use of mobile phones
is one example. Others plagiarise essays or articles and then present them in their entirety as their own work. There are even Internet sites where you can actually buy custom-written dissertations for university courses.
This is really very shocking. I can understand a student reviewing various books, articles and essays and then extracting their own version - after all, this is what studying is all about. You should be able to benefit and learn from those who have travelled the same path before you. However, to cheat by buying other people's essays is completely dishonest and makes an utter mockery of the education system. Do cheaters think they can continue to get through life by using deceit, especially when they have to work for their livings? In all probability, these sad examples of humanity will find themselves struggling with a job for which their actual skills fail to qualify them to do. In this competitive world, how many companies can support those who do not live up to their stated capabilities?
Surely, in this cheating game, the greatest losers are the cheaters themselves. They lose out on those two most precious of commodities - self-respect and knowledge.
Friday, 15 April 2005
Never Let This Happen Again!
I heard on the Radio this morning that today, 15th April 2005
, is the 60th Anniversary
of the liberation by British troops of the infamous Nazi Concentration Camp of Bergen-Belsen
near Hanover, Germany. It is thought that some 70,000 human beings died in that camp, in the most despicable of circumstances.
Today is also the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic
, which struck an iceberg on 14th April 1912 and sank early the next morning with the loss of over 1,500 lives.
How many people, especially young people, know all about the tragedy of the sinking of the Titantic
? A great many, I am sure, especially as the story was used as the basis for a film
. How many people know what happened at Belsen or that it was a concentration camp? Far fewer, I suspect!
The story of Belsen is particularly horrifying because of the depths of man's depravity and extreme inhumanity to other human beings. Men, women and children, many already sick on arrival, who were incarcerated in an over-crowded 'hell' which, unless you are one of the few survivors, your worst nightmare could not begin to imagine. Human beings who were left to suffer and to die by means of starvation, disease, and extreme cruelty. Typhus
were endemic, huts intended for 60 housed 600, toilets were non-existent, there was no running water. The inmates' daily diet consisted of turnip and potato soup, plus a small piece of bread - if you were not strong enough to get up and queue for it, you went without.
They lived like animals, wearing tatters of lice-infested rags, sleeping in huts carpeted with human excreta. They died, mostly from starvation, at the rate of some 500 per day. Their bodies were left piled up, rotting, in full view of other inmates, including children. There was evidence that some inmates had resorted to cannibalism. Liberation came too late for nearly three-quarters of the camp inmates who were too sick to respond to treatment and failed to recover.
If you find all this shocking and revolting - you should! Recent events in the news
and a 'prison experiment
' have shown that ordinary people given power as guards can easily turn into bullies and torturers. What happened under Nazi Germany must never be forgotten - sadly, it is so easy for man's evil nature to surface. If there were to be a "next time", it could be your grandchildren who are the victims or, an even worse scenario, your grandchildren as the guards, the instigators. We must never
let this happen again!
N.B. The Belsen camp commandant, Josef Kramer, was found guilty at Luneberg of war crimes and hanged in December 1945.
Thursday, 14 April 2005
A Little Bit of Garden
Topic: Poetry and Poets
It's funny how you can discover things you didn't know you had! A couple of days ago, I was looking at the jumble of books on a book shelf, a double layer! I spied this little book hiding at the back and pulled it out. It was called The Fireside Book of David Hope
, and it had a lovely little illustration of a bird on the cover - a European Redstart, I think.
No wonder I didn't recognise it. On the flyleaf was an inscription to my parents "... with love from Kitty, Christmas 1971". So, it was a present given to my parents by an old family friend, Kitty Whiting. Her husband, George, used to work at Dormeuil Freres with my father before the war. Kitty was very Welsh and, when my son was born, she insisted that 'David' was a Welsh name - never mind the Hebrew King David or the story of 'David and Goliath' in the Old Testament, all of which predates Welsh history by some 2,000 years or more!
Back to the book - I must have brought it over when we were clearing out the house and then I had put it away without looking. I sat down to read though it. It is full of poems by a variety of poets, with an illustration for each poem. Some of the poets, John Betjeman
; Walter de la Mare
; Thomas Hardy
; A. Conan Doyle
(did you know he wrote poetry? I certainly didn't!); Alfred Lord Tennyson
and R.L. Stevenson
, were familiar names. The other poets, around twenty of them, I had not heard of before. What a super little gem!
A poem entitled "A Little Bit of Garden
" by Will H. Ogilvie
caught my eye, it certainly fits the time of year and my mood. Weather permitting, I will be very busy over the next few days because the Royal Mail delivered two small boxes - my Busy Lizzie plug plants - 300 of them! That will take a while to pot on into trays. Still, it is a very economical way to buy them and, I must admit, I am a lazy gardener. Busy Lizzies (Impatiens) need no maintenance - no deadheading - and give a beautiful show of colour in the garden and in tubs. Last year, mine continued well into November.
Here is the poem:
A Little Bit of Garden
We need no crown or sceptre,
For, now that it is Spring,
Just a little bit of garden?
And every man's a king !
A little breadth of border,
A little patch of grass,
Above it all the April sky
Where soft the south winds pass.
A spade and rake for comrades,
The smell of rain-wet mould?
And every time we turn a clod
We turn a mint of gold !
A little bit of garden,
With daffodils a-swing,
And tulip-flowers whose crimson flags
Are only flown for Spring.
Shy blossoming primroses.
Forget-me-nots of blue,
And here a blade and there a blade
Of green things peeping through.
Who seeks for crown or sceptre
When every man's a king
Whose patch of cottage garden
Has felt the feet of Spring ?
by Will H. Ogilvie(1869-1963)
From "The Fireside Book" - A picture and a poem for every mood chosen by David Hope.
Printed and Published 1971 by D.C. Thomson & Co. Ltd., Dundee and London.
Wednesday, 13 April 2005
Houston, We've had a problem here!
On the 11th April 1970, Apollo 13, the third mission planned to land on the moon, blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center at 14:13 Eastern Standard Time. About fifty-six hours later, the mission was in serious trouble. Do you think it is strange or portentous that it was on the 13th
day of April, 1970, when the mission was some four-fifths of the way to the moon, that Apollo 13
, should be suddenly crippled?
The malfunction was caused by an explosion and rupture of oxygen tank no. 2 in the service module. The explosion ruptured a line or damaged a valve in the no. 1 oxygen tank, causing it to lose oxygen rapidly. The service module bay no.4 cover was blown off. Within about three hours, the command module's oxygen stores were lost, along with loss of water, electrical power and light, and use of the propulsion system. They were about 200,000 miles from Earth. The lives of the Apollo 13 crew, astronauts James A. Lovell, John L. Swigert and Fred W. Haise, were in real danger.
It all happened in the evening thirty-five years ago, 21:08 EST. so it would have been very early the next morning when the news broke in Great Britain. I hadn't been up very long and I remember coming back into the bedroom to see my husband sitting on the edge of the bed listening to the news. "Apollo 13 is in real trouble
," he said chokingly, "they have had an explosion on board
". "Oh, no
!" The thought of three men stuck out there in space, knowing that they could run out of power, and air and water, before making it back to Earth, was to awful to contemplate.
The mission aborted, we heard that the three men had left the command module for the safety of the Lunar Module's lifeboat. Water was one of the main problems and not just for drinking, the system was water cooled. Also, the lifeboat was designed for two men, not three! The next few days were so full of tension - we were glued to the television bulletins. The three men suffered from cold, they lost weight conserving their rations, they could hardly sleep. We followed their every move. The relief was palpable when they finally splashed down alive and well in the Pacific Ocean on 17th April, 1970. It had been the tensest four days in our memories.
Well, do you think Apollo 13 was unlucky? It was certainly an unpleasant experience for all concerned but I think that the crew was incredibly lucky to survive. This was due to their own intense training and coolness under duress and also to the incredible work by the ground support personnel. So, although the mission was a failure, the rescue and safe return was a resounding and memorable success which contributed to the safety of subsequent missions.
Monday, 11 April 2005
"Around the World in 80 Treasures"
Topic: Films and TV
Have you been watching, "Around the World in 80 Treasures
", the documentary series by Dan Cruickshank on BBC2
? On the whole, it continues to be a very interesting series visiting some 40 countries on six continents. However, on the Indian continent, I seem to remember that someone called Michael Palin
did get to some of the 'treasure sites' first in his recent travel series, "Himalaya with Michael Palin". I certainly experienced 'deja vu' when Dan visited that enormous stone sun dial and its accompanying zodiac stones at the Jantar Mantar Observatory
Coincidentally, both Michael and Dan have an affinity with elephants, Michael was told he was probably an elephant in a previous life and Dan was 'blessed' by an elephant. Also, they both took time off their travels to play cricket with some young local lads! I suppose Mr Cruickshank's approach is slightly more learned and thought provoking than Mr. Palin's but not necessarily more exciting or educational.
Last week's programme on 4th April, (the seventh in the series), covered Jordan and Ethiopia. Now did you spot Dan Cruickshank's cultural faux pas? I watched the repeat last Saturday because I missed some of Monday's first showing so I saw his blunder twice. Do you remember his visit to an Arab tent to sample some of the 'delicacies'? Two Bedouin gentlemen were entertaining him, and his crew, and an enormous tray of food was placed in front of them. Did you see Dan tuck in with great relish tearing asunder some unmentionable animal part (yuk!) with his fingers? He used his left
hand to take the food - the hand considered by Arabs to be 'unclean' (you use it for personal hygiene). When eating
from a communal dish with the fingers, Arabs always
use their right hand. So, Dan's social gaffe would have contaminated the food. I bet the two Arab gentlemen suddenly lost their appetites - certainly, their faces appeared to say it all!
Well, that observation apart, tonight's episode should be very good indeed as we are whisked through Mali and Libya to Egypt, the Land of the Pharaohs. Here we will see what I consider to be one of the world's finest Treasures, the Death Mask of King Tutankhamun
(pronounced Tut-ankh-amun, please, not Tu-tank-hamun). I have had the privilege of seeing this mask
in the Cairo Museum and it is breathtakingly beautiful. Don't miss it!
Saturday, 9 April 2005
An Honest Woman at Last!
Topic: In the News
The Prince of Wales has finally married his Camilla. Watching the Royal Wedding
, I felt a personal sense of closure on the past and the beginnings of feelings of acceptance for the new Duchess of Cornwall. Don't get me wrong - the English people will never forget the late Diana, Princess of Wales
. We all loved her and suffered with her. She was a sacrificial victim but - and we must admit this - Charles was also a victim. He met Camilla some thirty-five
years' ago and fell in love. Had they married then, the British people would have loved Camilla, too. But, it was not to be. Maybe the 'system' found her 'unsuitable' at the time, who knows? Certainly, Charles, as the heir to the throne, was not entirely free to do as he pleased.
The young and beautiful Diana was caught in the middle and her marriage, to a man she loved deeply, was doomed to failure from the start. Her tragic death unleashed a depth of feeling from the British people which must have shocked and surprised the Royal Family. After all, and despite her humanity, her compassion and the extraordinary and wonderful things she achieved, her own behaviour was not exactly saintly. But, if her sons can understand, forgive and move on, so should we.
A new chapter commences and, after all the preceding traumas, today's Royal wedding and Blessing went without a hitch. Camilla looked nervous but radiant; Charles was protective and supportive. The Queen and other members of the Royal Family were all beaming. The new couple are obviously very much in love - we should wish them well.
Friday, 8 April 2005
What's new in Rome
For an inside story of what is currently happening in Rome, together with the latest news and photographs, vist the website of Seamus Griesbach
Seamus is an American seminarian at the Pontifical North American College and he is studying theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Roma, Italy. If you wonder what makes a young man study for the priesthood, read his essays on 'Celibacy'
and 'What the Priesthood Means to Me'
in his 'writing' section.
Thursday, 7 April 2005
Sex, Cryptic Crosswords and a Good Run!
Topic: Health Issues
What do you fear most as you get older? I can accept the usual minor aches and pains that come with age and having to wear glasses to read - although I'm not so happy with the extra weight which has settled round my tummy! However, one thing that I do worry about is Dementia. How terrible that affliction is! I saw it happen to my father and to my mother-in-law. My mother was as bright as a pin right to the last so perhaps there is hope for me. But everytime I forget something or do something daft, I shudder. Never mind that my son and my daughter also have mental lapses, it's mine
that I worry about.
I have always believed that one should keep one's mind active. I do crossword puzzles and, I often puzzle over the intricacies of HTML and cascading style sheets. I take vitamins and I pop one pill of Ginkgo Biloba
every day. It's supposed to increase the blood supply to the brain. I used to take more but I blamed it for causing boiling hot feet at night!
Now I see that, according to a report from the University of Queensland's Brain Institute, sex, cryptic crosswords and a good run could help fend off dementia
and other degenerative conditions by stimulating the creation of new brain cells! So, I was right about crosswords but I'm not very good at the cryptic ones! I'm too plump to run (anyway, I think cycling is better) and propriety prevents me from mentioning the other recommendation!
Of course, there are other ways to stimulate the brain such as music and good food. So called 'Junk Food
' can provide a boost of calories which can help children taking examinations. However, a good diet which includes foods rich in iron and exercise (that word again) can boost children's brainpower dramatically. Breakfast is essential and porridge is a good way to start the day but a good old-fashioned English breakfast of bacon and eggs has an even more positive effect.
So, we must feed our children properly - never send a child to school without breakfast. Make sure they exercise regularly - if necessary, switch off the television or the Play Station - walk with them to school instead of using the car, get them out cycling (there are plenty of safe routes). Healthy children grow up into healthy adults. Healthy, active adults who continue to eat sensibly and to exercise are less likely to end their lives suffering from dementia.
Wednesday, 6 April 2005
Topic: Music and Art
was born in Berlin on 6th April 1929. As a child he studied at the Berlin Royal Conservatory and the Paris Conservatory before his family emigated to the United States in 1939 - just in time to escape Hitler's persecution of the Jews. Andre Previn is one of the World's most versatile musicians, an award-winning composer of film scores, orchestral and chamber music, a conductor and a jazz pianist. He has tried his hand at everything. This has been, I think, his greatest fault.
He could have been a modern-day Mozart if he had concentrated on composing classical music. Like Mozart, he was a child prodigy. He studied composition in California and whilst still at school started working on musical scores for Hollywood films. In 1958, he did the scores for Gigi
followed by Porgy and Bess
, Irma La Douce
and My Fair Lady
He could have been one of the greatest jazz musicians ever - if he had stuck to playing jazz. He first became interested in jazz after hearing Art Tatum
, Bud Powell
and Charlie Parker
. His 1957 album of My Fair Lady
with Shelly Manne
became a best seller. Many people do not realise that nearly all the great jazz pianists were trained in the classics before graduating to jazz. Had Mozart been alive today, I am sure he would have been utterly fascinated by jazz music, which often involves 'impromptu composition' around the melody being played. In a jazz group, this 'impromtu composition' is often bounced back and forth amongst the players. The late bassist, Ray Brown
, with whom Previn recorded Jazz at the Musikverein
, was a grand master of this art.
However, Previn could not choose between his love of jazz and his love of the classics. He turned back to the classical world and worked with many world-famous orchestras including ten years with the London Symphoney Orchestra and eight years with the Pittsburg Symphony Orchestra.
In 1995, he returned briefly to jazz when he recorded his concert at The Musikverein, in Vienna. In 1998, his first opera, A Streetcar Named Desire
, premiered in San Francisco.
Without doubt, he is a genius, a giant in the world of music. But, from my point of view, I will always think of him as a great jazz pianist.
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