Sunday, 20 March 2005
Palm Trees and Parrots
Topic: In the News
Apparently, Christian churches are amongst the largest consumers of palm trees, especially on Palm Sunday. Palm fronds, usually from the Date Palm, are handed out to every member of the congregation to commemorate the triumphant entrance of Jesus riding on the back of a donkey, into Jerusalem. So, I was surprised to come across this news item last night, Palm Sunday Pact for Parrot
about an initiative in Columbia.
Apparently, there are only 540 or so yellow-eared parrots alive in the world today and they all live in the Colombian mountain forests. This is where the world's tallest palm tree, the Wax Palm
, (Columbia's national tree) grows. For centuries, Colombians have used the fronds of the wax palm for Palm Sunday. However, when fronds are cut off young wax palms, they die or their growth is seriously stunted. The practice has led to a dramatic thinning of the towering palms, which in turn, affects the poor parrot living amongst them.
So, in a special ceremony in Bogota, a priest has blessed thousands of palm seedlings of the Alexandra palm - one of the alternatives to the wax palm. These will be planted for future Palm Sundays and, hopefully, this initiative will save the wax palm and the yellow-eared parrot from disappearing from the planet.
I knew about date palms, coconut palms and ornamental palms but I had never heard of the wax palm or the Alexandrian palm before, so it made me wonder how many varieties of palm trees there were. Would you believe that there are between 210-236 genera comprising some 2,000 to 2,500 species of palm trees?
Also, I thought palms were mainly tropical plants growing in desert oases or on sandy beaches on coral atolls. So, I was surprised to discover that the great majority grow in gloomy rainforests and perhaps never see the sun, certainly the young plants don't! Apparently, there are many species thriving a long way from the tropics, which actually prefer cool climates, and will happily thrive outdoors in temperature areas such as the United Kingdom. (So, you don't need a conservatory or a greenhouse after all!)
It seems that palm trees, which first evolved during the late Cretaceous period about 85 million years ago, must be one of the most successful and wide-ranging trees on the planet.
Friday, 18 March 2005
Topic: Poetry and Poets
The English poet, Wilfred Owen
, was born 112 years' ago, on the 18th March 1893, in Oswestry
, Shropshire, United Kingdom. He enlisted in the army in 1915 and fought as an officer in the Battle of the Somme
. In May 1917, he was hospitalised for shell shock and during his convalescence, met Siegfried Sassoon
, the poet and novelist. They became firm friends and Sassoon took him under his wing, guiding and influencing him with his writing. It is thanks to Sassoon that Wilfred Owen's war poems were eventually published.
The horrors of war and Wilfred Owen's own sense of outrage at the senseless waste of life permeate through his work. Sadly, his war poems often seem to echo what is happening in today's battle zones and only serve to emphasis the futility of war. Something that human beings, whom I once dubbed 'Homo Hostilis
' (a mutated form of 'Homo Sapiens') never seem to learn! Sadly, Owen was killed in action on 4th November 1918 - just seven days before the end of hostilities. This is one of his dark poems, penned in 1917:
ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayer nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs?
The shrill, demented choirs?of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmer of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
Taken from "Selections from Modern Poets" made by J.C. Squire. Published 1934 - London: Martin Secker
Thursday, 17 March 2005
St. Patrick's Day
Topic: Special Days
St. Patrick's Day
Around a willow tree,
Pussy willows waking,
Longing to be free.
Colleens and shamrocks
And castles old and gray,
Put them all together
To make St. Patrick's Day
St. Patrick is the Patron Saint of Ireland and, in many countries, his day is also celebrated as the Feast Day for everybody called Patrick or Patricia. Did you know that, in Spain, 'el Dia de Santo' is more likely to be celebrated than a birthday? Everyone knows exactly when your feast day is and sends you best wishes for that day. That means my Spanish relatives are doubly lucky - they get Feast Days and Birthdays!
For people of Irish descent, St. Patrick?s Day conjures up visions of leprechauns, pots of gold and shamrocks. However, don?t forget that this is also a Religious Festival - I found this St. Patrick?s Day wish which highlights this aspect of the holiday:
St. Patrick plucked a shamrock
Out of Ireland?s sweet, green sod
And said, ?Behold,
A symbol of the Trinity of God!
the blessings of the Father
the love of the Son
and the peace
of the Holy Spirit.
Tuesday, 15 March 2005
Julius C?sar Assassinated
Well that was a long time ago - 44 BC to be exact. Yes, it?s the Ides of March
today - just the Roman way of noting the 15th March. I have found out that, in the ancient Roman calendar, each of the 12 months had ?ides?, derived from the Latin ?to divide?. Apparently, the ancient Roman calendar organised its months around three days, each of which served as a reference point for counting the other days. These were Kalends
, for the 1st day of the month, Nones
, for the 7th day in March, May, July, and October (the 5th
in the other months) and Ides
, for the 15th day in March, May, July, and October (the 13th
in the other months). The unnamed days of the month were identified by counting backwards from the Kalends, the Nones, or the Ides. For example, the 3rd March would be "V Nones" - 5 days before the Nones (to make matters even more complicated
, the Roman method of counting days was inclusive; in other words, the Nones would be counted as one of the 5 days). However, the 6th March was not "II Nones" - it was called Pridie Nones (Latin for ?on the day before?). PHEW!
were originally coincidental with the advent of the new moon but, as the calendar for the Roman year wasn?t quite long enough, everything gradually got out of step. Apparently, the Romans were ruled by superstition and believed that even numbers were unlucky. So they ended up with a year of 355 days made up of four months of 31 days, seven months of 29 days and one unlucky month of 28 days. To try to realign the calendar with the seasons, they created an extra month called Mercedonius
of 22 or 23 days which they added to the calendar every second year.
Eventually, even that system became so far out that Julius C?sar, advised by the astronomer, Sosigenes
, ordered a major reform in 45 BC and the Romans endured their longest year of 445 days to bring the calendar back in step with the seasons. The solar year was calculated as 365 days and 6 hours (nearly right but actually 11? minutes longer than the solar year) and this formed the basis for the new Julian Calendar
. The months were 30 or 31 days long and C?sar decreed that every fourth year would have 366 days. As this new calendar followed the seasons instead of the moon, C?sar also decreed that the year start on the lst January instead of the vernal equinox in late March.
So, did C?sar get confused with the dates when the soothsayer warned him to ?beware the ides of March??
Monday, 14 March 2005
Einstein's Theory of Relativity Comes 'Full Circle'
Topic: In the News
It is one hundred years since Einstein wrote his Theory of Relativity (E=mc?) in 1905 and, in his honour, the U.S. General Assembly has named 2005 the World Year of Physics
. I read somewhere that Einstein described his famous theory in this simple way: 'When you sit with a nice girl for two hours, it seems like two minutes. When you sit on a hot stove for two minutes, it seems like two hours. That's relativity.' (Wish it was that easy!)
Einstein had a strong belief that the laws of physics were an expression of the Divine. He hated the implications of Quantum Mechanics as this meant that you could no longer describe the universe with absolute accuracy and he spent many years trying to formulate a Theory of Everything. If he is watching from above, I am sure he would be delighted with the theories expounded in a new publication Absolute Intelligence
, available from today (the anniversary of his birthday). [Also read this article
]. Written by Ilexa Yardley, this book sets out to prove that there is a 'higher intelligence' guiding the universe . I must have a look although I suspect it may be a little too erudite for the likes of me!
Sunday, 13 March 2005
Do You Think You Are A Good Driver?
Topic: In the News
It is 70 years ago today since the introduction of the dreaded Driving Test in Great Britain and around nine years since the theory examination was introduced in 1996. Apparently, a third of motorists (including me!) fear that they would not pass their test if they had to re-take it. [see this news article
]. In fact I'm sure I would fail as, in common with a lot of women, my spatial cognition is lacking and I can't reverse park into that small space between two cars or reverse park into my own drive!
Could you pass your Driving Test today? Do you know your Highway Code? Have you had your eyesight tested recently? Are you an agressive driver? Do you think that women
are better drivers?
If you want to be a better driver, why not find your local group of Advanced Motorists
. These 'clubs' are run by volunteers who advise prospective candidates on how to prepare for the Advanced Driving Test. The approaches vary from informal classroom sessions to on-the-road advice from skilled and experienced IAM
Group Members called Observers. Even if you don't take the Advanced Test (or fail it, like I did!) your driving will improve and you will be a safer driver. And, if you have the chance, go for a demonstration drive in a Police Car (part of an LEA
evening course on "Better Driving"). Wow! The running commentary on the road ahead and possible hazards was a real eye-opener. It was also great fun watching all the other motorists pulling in and slowing down!
Go on - find out what courses are available in your area.
Saturday, 12 March 2005
"Tongue in Cheek" or "Genuine? To heck!" (Having Fun With Anagrams)
I've been wasting my time! It all started when I was browsing a Blog by That Canadian Girl
. One of her entries entitled "Greener Evil Propels Up" caught my eye - apparently, this was an anagram of her name! From there I surfed to a website called Wordsmith.Org
and checked out my own name and discovered that I am a Terse Asset
! Each name, word or phrase you enter in the 'Find Anagrams for' box brings up a huge list of possible letter combinations. However, many of these made no sense and it was all rather tedious to look through. Then, almost by accident, I found a second website called, Anagram Genius
. The text you enter here brings up just one solution but you can also search their archive and find lots more permutations of famous names. I found some odd ones, some funny ones and some hilarious naughty ones! A waste of time, definitely.... But, they do say that laughing does you good and prolongs your life. Here is a selection of the ones I found (in no particular order):
Laughing does you good: Huge and odious googly
Blog Writer: Growler bits / Web Girl Rot! / Brit Glower!
Let's eat out tonight: Hesitate to Glutton
Michael Jackson: Can jail shock me?
Margaret Thatcher: That Great Charmer / Rather Great Match
Tony Blair: Brainy Lot / Lab I No Try / Lay Briton / Arty Lib? No!
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair: Tyrannical, horny, lethal snob
George W Bush: Bush ego grew / He bugs Gore / Bugger Whose? / Bog where, Gus?
Vladimir Putin: I'm valid turnip / Dump rival in it!
President Vladimir Putin: Splendid virtue in armpit
Winston Churchill: I'll crunch this now!
Charles de Gaulle: Aged as cruel hell
Charles de Gaulle Airport: Lord, I sell parachute gear!
Bob Geldorf: Forged Blob / Dr of Gobble
Bill Gates: Legal Bits / Begat ills / I get balls
Prince Charles: Clasher Prince / Sir Lance Perch / Scalp enricher
The Prince of Wales: I, who left a Spencer / One epic, Welsh fart!
His Royal Highness, Charles, The Prince of Wales: We hope he'll chastise his self-caring son Harry
HRH Prince Charles and Camilla to wed: Shallow AC/DC philanderer in rematch
Camilla Rosemary Parker-Bowles: Amiable porker screws amorally
Great Britain: Battering IRA!
United Kingdom: Guided men to think
United States of America: Dine out, taste a Mac, fries
Sir Patrick Moore: pick roomier star
Patrick Moor: I'm a rocket pro
Saddam Hussein: UN's said he's mad / Human's sad side / Hides, damns USA / Hissed "Damn USA!"
Osam Bin Laden: Is a banal demon / Means a bad lion / an Islam bad one
The Oscar Peterson Trio (Jazz pianist): Hottest Piano Sorcerer
Alec Guinness: Genuine Class
Alexander the Great: Extra-hated General
Clint Eastwood: Old West Action / Lies down to act
I am not amused: Tedium as moan
What a waste of time: Ha, Fat awesome twit
Now, go and find some of your own!
Tuesday, 8 March 2005
The Equal Rights of Women
Topic: Special Days
. In some countries, this day is a National Holiday but here in the United Kingdom, we now seem to take the emancipation of women for granted. The majority of English women are not oppressed and women's rights are widely recognised. Perhaps we don't always have equal pay for equal work but we are not enslaved.
However, there are women in this country who are enslaved. Some are enslaved against their will in the sex trade. In many cases, these women have been tricked into coming to this country from Eastern Europe, told that jobs or education courses have been arranged for them. What a job! What an education! Other women from ethic groups with different cultures are not free to choose their paths in life, to get an education or to marry whom they choose. I'm not saying that arranged marriages are a bad thing, many work very well, but only if the girl is happy to comply with the wishes of her family. So called 'Honour Killings', because a woman has formed a relationship outside of her ethnic or religious group, baffle me. I can envisage no greater dishonour than a father or a brother murdering a daughter or a sister. Nothing a woman has done can possibly excuse that barbaric custom.
Not so long ago, women were oppressed in Spain. That only started to change after the Spanish revolution when women's rights began to be acknowledged. Even in the 1960's, women were expected to obey their husband's unquestionably and to wait hand and foot on them. The 'come immediately when I whistle' syndrome was commonplace as was the 'I must not be seen to be carrying the shopping or pushing the pram' syndrome. The idea of a man sharing the household chores and his wife going to work in an office was untenable as it reflected on his ability to support his family and his wife would have been in the company of (God forbid) other men. For reasons of modesty, a married woman could not join her children in a public swimming pool, as other men would see her in a revealing swimming costume.
The lack of education amongst the poor classes in Spain also meant the virtual enslavement of many young girls forced to work long hours as live-in maids. They had to clean the house (and I mean, clean) every day, strip and air beds, prepare food, wait on table, do the laundry, mend and iron clothes from the moment they got up to the moment they dropped into bed. If they were lucky, they had a day or an afternoon off every week or, in some cases, every month - all very similar to the conditions in this country in the 19th century. Today, the education of women has changed all that and the middle classes can no longer afford the luxury of permanent live-in maids or even a daily help. However, this exploitation of the poor still happens in many countries today where women and children work for a pittance. Some of it fuelled by the greed of the Western World for things like cheap clothes.
Another violation of women's rights is violence. Violence in the home is an obvious problem but there are other forms of 'accepted' violence - one of the worst being female circumcision. A custom that mutilates a women severely leaving her virtually unable to experience a sexual climax and unable to give birth without being cut first and stitched up afterwards. In some case, the removal of tissue in young girls is so severe and the stitching so tight that she will have difficulty in emptying her bladder and further problems can arise when a girl reaches puberty.
Women are human beings as are men, not a separate species. We are the heart and soul of the family, we nurture and give values to our children, we can and do achieve great things if given the chance. In Britain we have women doctors, surgeons, lawyers, engineers, scientists and company directors, to name a few careers now open to women. We have even had a woman Prime Minister. We should celebrate and give thanks for our freedom. We should remember that all women worldwide have the same basic right to be educated, to be emancipated, to be treated with respect, to be free.
Saturday, 5 March 2005
My son, who lives in London, emailed me this lovely photograph of Andrew meeting Mr Snowman in their back garden a few days ago! Andrew, who is fourteen months old, seems to be very interested in Mr Snowman's nose! I bet he was thinking, "Ah, I like carrots!"
The picture reminded me of this silly verse:
|Let It Snow|
I made myself a snowball,
As perfect as could be,
I thought I'd keep it as a pet,
And let it sleep with me.
I made it some pajamas,
And a pillow for its head,
Then last night it ran away,
But first - it wet the bed.
I wonder what Andrew thought of the snow? They seem to have had quite a lot in London. Down in our part of the world, we have seen a few snow flakes but, apart from an 'icing crust' on top of the car one day last week, nothing has settled for more than an hour or so!
Thursday, 3 March 2005
All About Books
Topic: Special Days
It's World Book Day! What do you like to read?
Last Thursday, I asked my Grandchildren what was their favourite book. Elliot didn't hesitate, "The Cat In The Hat", (by Dr. Seuss
), he said. Stephanie smiled and then said, "Pants". No, not a childish imprecation but apparently the name of a book showing animals wearing all sorts of coloured pants. When I went upstairs, I had a peek at all the books on the shelf in their bedroom. Couldn't see it. Mentioned it to my daughter when she came home. "Pants?", she looked puzzled, "No she hasn't got a book called that - must be a book in the school library." So, my curiosity aroused , I searched the Internet and found this book
by Giles Andreae. Must be the same one!
When I was a small child, I loved a book called "Mr. Tumpy and his Caravan", by Enid Blyton
, about a caravan that could fly. There were lots of little pictures telling the story - a bit like a comic book, I suppose. As I got older, I read avidly all the Tarzan books I could find and then all the other books by the same author (Edgar Rice Burroughs
) on Mars, Venus and Pelucidar, that strange world in the centre of our own planet Earth. I remember reading about the 'purple sward' on Mars and rushing to the dictionary to find out what 'sward' was. The late Dr. Carl Sagan
, scientist and astronomer, also grew up reading the Mars stories. He once admitted to standing with outstretched arms towards the Red Planet as had John Carter (the fictional hero of these Martian tales) who was transported through space to wake up on the planet. Silly stuff? Maybe, but it certainly awoke an interest in astronomy in the young boy and set him on his path through life.
A bit older still and I was borrowing all the books I could find by Jules Verne
from our local library. He was probably one of the first science fiction writers to 'invent' things which were ahead of his time and which we take for granted today. I also liked reading poetry and I remember coming home from the Church summer fête clutching two old and tattered poetry books I had found - both with pencilled additions and comments and obviously much loved by their previous owners. My mother did not seem to be too impressed by my 'grubby' purchases but I still have those books today. In one of them, I discovered "Horatius
" an epic poem by Lord Macaulay
- one of my favourite poems. Talking of epic poems, my father once gave me an old and beautifully illustrated book of Longfellow's poems which had belonged to his adopted mother and I loved reading, "The Song of Hiawatha
". Never lend anyone a book you treasure. I took it to school when we were studying poetry and stupidly lent it to another girl. A few weeks later, it was the end of the summer term and I was leaving. I never saw that book again.
More recently, I have enjoyed reading the Earth's Children books by Jean M. Auel
, particularly the first of the five books, "The Clan of the Cave Bear
" (which I couldn't put down). The other books are: "The Valley of the Horses", "The Mammoth Hunters", "The Plains of Passage" and "The Shelters of Stone". Although these stories are fiction set in the twilight days of Neanderthal Man and the dawn of Cro-Magnon Man, Jean Auel has woven into them many real archaeological sites dating back to the Ice Age and has described artefacts and ornaments which can be seen in museums today. She also meticulously researched plants and fauna living at the time and this enormous attention to detail really brought the stories to life for me. I am looking forward to the sixth book which is currently being written.
I can't leave non-fiction books out in the cold. If, like me, you are interested in genetics and the mysteries of life on Earth, I can highly recommend, "Almost Like A Whale - The Origin of Species Updated", by Steve Jones
. It is thoughtful, brilliant and witty and very interesting indeed without being too scientific (if you know what I mean!).
Why don't you visit your library or your local bookshop today and find an interesting book. It will make a change from some of those boring old programmes on television!
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