Thursday, January 30, 2014

Happy Year of the Horse!

May you win all your races!

Monday, January 27, 2014

King Aethelstan the Glorious

I was in Wiltshire at the weekend and decided to drop in on King Aethelstan who was buried in Malmesbury Abbey in 939. He was the grandson of King Alfred the Great and I was wondering if his bones may be used for the DNA match with Alfred.
Here's a photo of Aethelstan's tomb which was built in his commemoration in the fourteenth century. His poor nose has been swiped by somebody. The tomb does not mark the spot of the grave. The bones are somewhere under the Abbey floor but their exact location is unknown so he can't be disinterred. RIP Aethelstan the Glorious!

Friday, January 24, 2014


I have a question for you: in 100 years' time what current social norms will people think are barbaric?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cartoon of the day

Monday, January 20, 2014

Simpson's paradox

One hope for the Murray-Federer quarter-final in Melbourne is that Federer will be a victim of Simpson's paradox ie he'll win more points than Murray but still lose the match. Dr Ryan Rodenberg of Florida State University reckons Federer has only a 14% success rate in winning those matches where he scored fewer points than his opponent.
An example of this paradox in relation to tennis was the longest ever match: John Isner vs Nicolas Mahut in the Wimbledon Men's Singles tournament in 2010. After playing for 11 hours and 5 minutes over three days, Isner won 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6 and 70-68. Over the course of the match, Mahut won 24 points more than his opponent and so one might have expected him to win by a set.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Forever blowing...

Did you see the photos of the frozen soap bubbles?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Quack of the day

I took my father for his check-up at the Southampton eye clinic today. The consultant who'd performed the operation peered into his left eye for about five minutes and said,
"It all looks really good: no burst blood vessels. It's healed very nicely!"
"You operated on his right eye," I observed.
He didn't apologise...

Monday, January 13, 2014

Hats off!

One of the charity shops in Winchester has a large array of hats in its window. Don't you think this was a bargain for £20?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Freaks of the week

This apple tree is bearing fruit in Cromarty in the Highlands...

meanwhile thousands of dead bats are dropping from the skies of Queensland, killed by the heatwave...

and it's so cold in North America that there's ice at the Niagara Falls.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Last traveller's tale

The drive from Aqaba to Petra across the snowy valleys was stunning. Petra did not disappoint: the dramatic approach through the Siq, the scale of the buildings and the mysteries of the tombs. There were not many tourists, there was bright sunshine and the white hills in the distance were the only clue that it was winter.
Many young children rushed up to us crying, "Ten postcards for one JD!" "Where you from?" they asked. When they heard we were English, they shouted, "Lovely, jubbly!"

Monday, January 06, 2014

Traveller's tale

We'd planned to drive up from the Dead Sea to Karak, the largest Crusader castle in the Middle East, 1000m above sea level. In view of the weather forecast, we were advised not to go but, we thought, we're English and we're used to rain. It would also be our only chance to see it on the packed itinerary which we'd set ourselves.
The road wound up the mountain, the rain poured and torrents with many stones in tow gushed down from the mountainside in front of us at frequent intervals, almost making the way impassable. We drove on, slowly climbing, hoping we wouldn't meet large vehicles skidding downhill on the hairpin bends. When we reached our destination, a tiny hotel next to the castle, the rain was so torrential that we were unable to get out of our car for some time.
Eventually we made a dash for it and arrived in the hotel reception, drenched.
The hotel manager greeted us: "Welcome to Karak! In fact, you are our only guests this evening so I haven't switched on the heating but I'll put an electric fire in your room." This was not a good sign. Nor was the lack of hot water, nor the thin rags masquerading as towels, nor the pronouncement that there would be no breakfast served the following morning as a meeting was scheduled in the restaurant.
Our guide book had warned that when the wind gets up in Karak, you can hear the wailing of the prisoners hurled from the ramparts by Raynald de Chatillon in the twelfth century. How right it was! We have never heard such shrieking and moaning of gales. The windows of our room rattled as demons seemed to whoop and whirl all night, knocking on the panes as they went past.
We were up and dressed early, having barely slept, hoping to persuade the manager at least to give us a cup of tea. The reception was swathed in brittle light: three inches of snow lay outside and thick flakes were still falling. We got our tea, and dates. However, we couldn't look around the castle as the keeper of the key was snowed in in another village.
The thought of another night there, hoping the snow would subside, was not appealing so we headed off to the sun of the Red Sea. Karak castle will have to wait a few years.

Thursday, January 02, 2014


Our Christmas roses have since been blown away by gales. Belatedly wishing you an excellent 2014!