Friday 30 October 2009

Hallow e'en.

Halloween, the eve of All Hallows.

When I was a kid, we carved lanterns. Not so often from pumpkins, they're an american import. Traditionally, they'd be carved in england from root crops, like turnips. And by strange coincidence, as country-living kids, we'd get turnips. or swedes. And we'd stick a candle inside, and tie a string handle, and go out, fearfully, into the dark. We'd have been primed with stories of witches flying on their broomsticks, with their black-cat familiars, we knew this was the night when the souls of the damned roamed abroad.

You could blacken your face with soot, and go sing at neighbour's doors. For on this night it was unwise to turn a stranger away without a gift to appease what might be an angry spirit. Country people used to make "soul-cake", and kids would get gifts of cake, and a drink.

A soul cake, a soul cake,
Please, good missus, a soul cake,
An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.
A soul cake, a soul cake,
Please, good missus, a soul cake,
One for Peter, two for Paul,
And three for Him that made us all.
God bless the master of this house
And the mistress also,
And all the little children
That round your table grow;
The cattle in your stable,
The dogs at your front door,
And all that dwell within your gates
We’ll wish you ten times more.
A soul cake, a soul cake…
Go down into the cellar
And see what you can find;
If the barrels are not empty
We’ll hope that you’ll be kind;
We’ll hope that you’ll be kind
With your apple and your pear,
And we’ll come no more a-soulin’
Till all-soul's time next year.
A soul cake, a soul cake…
The streets are very dirty,
Me shoes are very thin,
I have a little pocket
To put a penny in;
If you haven’t got a penny
A ha’penny will do;
If you haven’t got a ha’penny
God bless you.
A soul cake, a soul cake…

Tomorrow would be All Saints Day, All Hallows, but this day, All Hallows Eve, was also known as all souls. The restless souls, freed from the dark enclosure of the grave, would roam, seeking home and hearth.

The origin of all this? the pagan festival of Samhain.
The end of warm days and light, the onset of the dark, and the cold claws of winter.
Our ancestors built bonfires this night, sought to appease the spirits, pray for survival through the winter. Burnt offerings. And perhaps the forgiveness of the spirits of slaughtered adversaries. That turnip lantern, that grinning pumpkin, is a nod to the days when the lanterns were skulls.
Hallow e'en lanters were not always friendly cheerful toys, they were once somewhat more sinister.

In America, (originating in central america, not the U.S.), was the pumpkin. Easier to carve, a friendly orange colour, it became the skull of choice, and here in Britain, it's also taken over.
As has commercialisation. We carved our own, and had dripping wax and stubby candles. Now you can get a nice clean plastic pumpkin, with battery operated lighting, and a push-button for a sound-chip to make it cackle or moan.
Our kids get ready-to-wear costumes. All the characters of horror movies from the Mummy to Dracula will be out and about. They're not staring fearfully into the shadows beyond their lantern's light, as we were, no, they're toting their loot-buckets, and effectively, begging, door-to door.
I loathe trick-or-treat. It's a relatively recent import, heavily promoted by retailers.
Kids know nothing of Samhain. They don't think of how pervasive the dark used to be, how can they? Their world has streetlights everywhere.
Nor of the real fears our ancestors had of the spirit world.

Happy Samhain.

All Souls’ Night

William Butler Yeats

Epilogue to “A Vision’

Midnight has come, and the great Christ Church Bell
And may a lesser bell sound through the room;
And it is All Souls’ Night,
And two long glasses brimmed with muscatel
Bubble upon the table. A ghost may come;
For it is a ghost’s right,
His element is so fine
Being sharpened by his death,
To drink from the wine-breath
While our gross palates drink from the whole wine.

I need some mind that, if the cannon sound
From every quarter of the world, can stay
Wound in mind’s pondering
As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound;
Because I have a marvellous thing to say,
A certain marvellous thing
None but the living mock,
Though not for sober ear;
It may be all that hear
Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.

Horton’s the first I call. He loved strange thought
And knew that sweet extremity of pride
That’s called platonic love,
And that to such a pitch of passion wrought
Nothing could bring him, when his lady died,
Anodyne for his love.
Words were but wasted breath;
One dear hope had he:
The inclemency
Of that or the next winter would be death.

Two thoughts were so mixed up I could not tell
Whether of her or God he thought the most,
But think that his mind’s eye,
When upward turned, on one sole image fell;
And that a slight companionable ghost,
Wild with divinity,
Had so lit up the whole
Immense miraculous house
The Bible promised us,
It seemed a gold-fish swimming in a bowl.

On Florence Emery I call the next,
Who finding the first wrinkles on a face
Admired and beautiful,
And knowing that the future would be vexed
With ‘minished beauty, multiplied commonplace,
preferred to teach a school
Away from neighbour or friend,
Among dark skins, and there
permit foul years to wear
Hidden from eyesight to the unnoticed end.

Before that end much had she ravelled out
From a discourse in figurative speech
By some learned Indian
On the soul’s journey. How it is whirled about,
Wherever the orbit of the moon can reach,
Until it plunge into the sun;
And there, free and yet fast,
Being both Chance and Choice,
Forget its broken toys
And sink into its own delight at last.

And I call up MacGregor from the grave,
For in my first hard springtime we were friends.
Although of late estranged.
I thought him half a lunatic, half knave,
And told him so, but friendship never ends;
And what if mind seem changed,
And it seem changed with the mind,
When thoughts rise up unbid
On generous things that he did
And I grow half contented to be blind!

He had much industry at setting out,
Much boisterous courage, before loneliness
Had driven him crazed;
For meditations upon unknown thought
Make human intercourse grow less and less;
They are neither paid nor praised.
but he d object to the host,
The glass because my glass;
A ghost-lover he was
And may have grown more arrogant being a ghost.

But names are nothing. What matter who it be,
So that his elements have grown so fine
The fume of muscatel
Can give his sharpened palate ecstasy
No living man can drink from the whole wine.
I have mummy truths to tell
Whereat the living mock,
Though not for sober ear,
For maybe all that hear
Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.

Such thought—such thought have I that hold it tight
Till meditation master all its parts,
Nothing can stay my glance
Until that glance run in the world’s despite
To where the damned have howled away their hearts,
And where the blessed dance;
Such thought, that in it bound
I need no other thing,
Wound in mind’s wandering
As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound.

Oxford, Autumn 1920

Sunday 25 October 2009

Tin Snail

I found this today, whilst searching for a replacement for my Land-Rover Discovery, which has reached the point of uneconomic repair.

(No, I'm not in the market for a tiny tin box, but the same place had a Discovery listed as "stunning" "meticulously maintained, truly the flagship of the Discovery range, first to see will buy, any inspection invited". First to see did not buy. I crawled under it in the rain and sank my thumb through the crunchy structural body side sill. Then through the rear floor. From underneath, I could see some not very good welding had been done elsewhere. The "immaculate" interior was worn and scruffy. Now, my car has been abused more than most, and had this one been worn by use, I wouldn't have run away. But it was being advertised as something it very definitely wasn't. It was a mess, and showed signs of bodged maintenance. When I can stick my thumb through structural metal, on a vehicle which has allegedly just passed its annual inspection, I walk away.)

This is a Nissan S-Cargo. A pun, for those without any french, on the french word "escargot", "snail". Also on "S" for "small", and Cargo, as it's a van.
They were built in Japan, for the domestic Japanese market, between 1989 and 1994. Only about 12,000 were produced.

I went into my archives, to my London Design Museum pictures, because seeing this funny little van both brought a smile to me, and a vague memory....

I can't remember who designed this, but it was 1930-ish, or before in time. French, I'm pretty sure, no indication of how the mechanical parts were to be laid out, rear engined, it would have to be. But it was never made, just this wooden mock-up.

Or this, the French Citroen 2CV van.

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Drains Revisited, an Ongoing Saga

Digging for Victory-or for the fun of it?

What's down here, then?

Ooh! an old stone-built box-culvert! Underground history!, this'll be early1800s, let's take the top slab off-

The bright green is drain-tracing dye, we'll be looking for it in the drain to which we THINK this might connect...

Oh dear... It's going nowhere, just filling up the trench. More excavations then... better go get a mini-digger.

Ongoing... More digging next week. Lots of meetings, city surveyors, water authority surveyors, legal people, because it's not clear whose responsibility it is to maintain and repair this. The water authority says the culvert is a watercourse, which brings it into "riparian law", and the landowner is responsible for it. That's the city, then. But the city, fearing getting stuck with a rapidly mounting bill for repairs, says it's a private sewer, draining only the mill. That'll be us then... But hold on.. if it joins a drain serving anybody else, they share the costs, that's the city then, but if it's a joint sewer built before 1934, it's the water authority's.....
Let's play "Pass the Buck".
We can, legally, says the water-board man, just leave a hole and let the water spill out over the city's unmaintained land.
And if it floods a house, rented from the city, then there's no claim against us, because it's just surface water, and it was running through this land long before the city built houses on the farmland, and they failed to identify and locate all pre-existing drainage. And they allowed trees to grow over the drains/sewers/culverted water-courses.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining. From old experience I know this makes good earthenware potting clay, maybe I'll get a trailer-load.
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I Thought I Needed a Bigger Camel,-

Until I saw this!

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Saturday 24 October 2009

There's a World Going on Underground

This week, well, the last three weeks, really, have been mostly about rainfall management after the floods. Suction tankers, jetting tankers, underground pipe detection, myth, and legend.Below the industrial site where there has been a problem, there's an overgrown no-mans-land, of bramble and trees, and discarded junk. Somewhere beneath there, there are drains.
And two of them are at least partially blocked. In steady rain, they'll work fine, in heavy rain, well, if it's not too heavy, they'll cope, in a downpour, they'll be unable to carry the load. And then the water starts to rise up in the catch-pits, heading up toward the heavy iron covers. And if the rain is a deluge, they'll just overflow.
So, the first job is to open every chamber on site, and clear it, either by hand, shovelling, or by suction into a big vacuum tanker, or by washing down with a high pressure jetter.

We did all that, and found problems outside the site's boundaries. Some of the city's drainage guys had a look, passed the buck, multiple agencies pointed responsibility at each other, and promised action, but not in this lifetime. We have tenants whose businesses are at risk if there's a repeat of the storm we had two weeks ago, so we decided to find the problems ourselves.
First job was clearing the spiky undergrowth from the edge of the mill.

There are foxholes under all this, the foxes are not happy about our intrusion into this world where humans seldom venture, they retreat, deep underground, or flee in a flash of reddish coat, and white tail-tip.

Then we work off the drainage maps. "Approx line of existing surface water sewers".... Hahaha! a work of fantasy and fiction.

You find a manhole, and stick a camera in the pipes,

The camera is on a four-wheel drive chassis, it clambers along, sending live video back to the van, via the cable it drags behind.

Our regular camera survey man is a virtuoso of camera control, he guides it past roots, over steps, rocks, debris, engages traction-control over the slippy sections.. rotates the camera head to look at pipe junctions, distortions, cracks. We find some evil things. Broken and displaced drains.

from this..
to this!

Sunday 18 October 2009

I Don't Have a Television.

Visitors to this site from outside the U.K. may find it amusing and bizarre that in Britain, we are required to have a licence to watch television. (Not to own one, it's the USE of a television that is licenced, but retailers are REQUIRED BY LAW to inform TV Licensing of all purchases. )
Currently, a colour tv licence costs £142:50, ($233.o45), a black and white TV licence (when did you last see a b&w tv?) costs £48:00 per annum.
Historically, this was born when the British Broadcasting Corporation began broadcasting, as a means of funding it by its users, let's call it a radio tax.
It was called, then, a "Wireless Licence", it permitted the holder to operate "A Wireless Receiving Station", and it cost ten shillings, for a year.
(In 1920, for a skilled craftsman in the building trade, that was about half a day's wage.)
After 1971, the wireless licence was discontinued, and the Television licence took over as the main source of the BBC's income. All the activities of the BBC were so funded, except the BBC World Service, which received separate funding.
The BBC carried no commercial advertising whatsoever, which is often incomprehensible to foreigners, used to a commercial break every few minutes. BBC productions run uninterrupted, a fact of which I greatly approve. However, the beeb does advertise itself, upcoming programming, dvds, radio programs etc.
If I used only a satellite-dish connected TV to watch programs from Outer Mongolia, I would still require a licence.
If I view broadcast television on a computer monitor, laptop, or cellphone, I would require a licence.
It ignores the fact that the BBC is no longer the only game in town, and the requirement to have a TV licence is in no way reduced if you watch only commercial channels.

However, I have no TV, I don't watch any device amounting to a TV at home, I do see it at other people's houses, and at no point do I get any yearning to have one myself. I can go to my mother's house, flick through a huge number of channels and find nothing whatsoever that I want to watch.
I like some of the discovery channel, history channel, I like Top Gear, a quirky motoring show, I like Scrapheap Challenge, I like engineering, and history, and especially both combined.
But I have no interest in soap opera, reality TV contests, people who think they have talent, awards shows, tv sport, Yaaaaaaawn!
So I have no TV.
The TV Licensing Authority, which sounds quite governmental, but in reality is a trademarked name owned and operated by the BBC, cannot comprehend that there are people who choose not to have televisions. I admit, I had one, for years, I unplugged it whilst decorating, and it sat there gathering dust for several years, so I gave it away.

To the TVLA, any address without a TV licence is suspect, and it harasses the occupants with threatening letters, says it's sending enforcement officers, will apply for a warrant to enter and search... It assumes guilt, contrary to the principles of the law of the land. I just received one of their threatening missives, having already told them I do not have a TV, so I went to the BBC's website, found the complaints procedure and sent this:-

*I received, recently, a notice from TV licensing which implied that by not having a TV licence, I was probably guilty of an offence.
I found this notice to be threatening in tone, containing implied threats.

Why am I writing to the BBC? because TV Licensing IS the BBC.

I quote:- "TV Licensing" is a trade mark of the BBC and is used under licence by companies contracted by the BBC to administer the collection of television licence fees and enforcement of the television licensing system. The majority of administration is contracted to Capita Business Services Ltd, with cash related payment schemes contracted to Revenues Management Services Ltd. Over-the-counter services are contracted to PayPoint Plc. Marketing and public relations activities are contracted to the AMV Consortium. This consortium is made up of the following four companies: Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO Ltd, Fishburn Hedges Boys Williams Ltd, PHD Media Ltd and Proximity London Ltd. The BBC is a public authority in respect of its television licensing functions and retains overall responsibility."

I do not have a television, I do not watch or record broadcast TV.
I have told TV licensing this, in the past. However, their assumption appears to be that all homes (and workplaces) must have a licence, as they cannot comprehend that there are sectors of the populace who have no interest in watching TV.
In continuation of this delusion, even after I have told them I do not have a television, nor do I watch or record broadcast TV, they have told me that they may send an enforcement officer to search my home.
This threatening behaviour runs contrary to the principles of United Kingdom law.

I do not have a pilot's licence. At no point has the civil aviation authority contacted me to demand proof that I do not need one, and at no point have they threatened to search my home for a hidden clandestine jumbo-jet.

At this point, I hereby inform the BBC that any implied consent to access by its employees or assignees to visit my home is withdrawn as of the moment of sending this email.
Any further threatening letters will be taken to be harassment.

If you think you have evidence that disproves my statement that I do not watch TV at this address, you are free to lay that evidence before a court.

I suggest you reply to me that you are apologetic for the actions of your (the BBC's) assignees, and will cease, immediately, implying that I am guilty of the offence of watching or receiving broadcast television without a licence.

If at some point in the future, I decide to embrace the cornucopia of riches that is TV, I will purchase a licence, thus informing you of my change of heart.

Until that point, my declaration stands. I do not have a TV licence, because I do not need a TV licence."

Update (not an unexpected sort of response):-

"Dear Mr ******
Thanks for your e-mail regarding the TV Licence.

This department, unfortunately, only can deal with queries and complaints about the Licence Fee when they're related to how we choose to spend it on programmes and services.
To proceed with your complaints you will need to contact TV licensing direct. They can be contacted by writing to:
Customer Relations
TV Licensing
BS98 1TL

You may also find their website of interest.
(The BBC isn't responsible for the content of external websites)
I'd like to take this opportunity however, to assure you that I've recorded your comments onto our audience log. This is an internal daily report of audience feedback which is circulated to many BBC staff including senior management, producers and channel controllers.
Thanks again for taking the time to contact us with your concerns.

**** *******
BBC Complaints".

"Our TV detector vans are equipped with state-of-the-art detection equipment which can tell in just 20 seconds whether you are using TV.

How do the detector vans work?
Our vans feature a range of detection tools. Some aspects of the equipment have been developed in such secrecy that engineers working on specific detection methods work in isolation, so not even they know how the other detection methods work. This gives us the best chance of catching licence evaders.

What if you can't get close enough to detect my TV from your van? -
Our Enforcement Officers may use a hand-held detection device instead. This measures both the direction and the strength of a TV signal, making it easy for us to locate TV receiving equipment in even the hardest to reach places."

This technology is so secret that the BBC refuse to disclose it, and just how many detector vans they actually have. Some people believe it's all a bluff, and the vans are really empty. Nobody seems to be able to find ANY case of anyone being prosecuted using detector van evidence.
The vans seem to get parked in town car parks and supermarkets as a high visibility reminder that big brother is watching us.
It's probable that the real humans just look for the tell-tale blueish flickering light from unlicensed adresses, then march up to the door and say "Gotcha!". In my case, I might be watching a dvd or a youtube. .

Here's a good quote from their own website:-
"An Enforcement Officer knocked on the door of a suspected evader and asked if he had a TV, to which the owner said he did not.
The officer then asked, "Well then, why have you got a satellite dish on the outside of your house?"
The man looked down and said with a grin, "I have two pints of milk on my doorstep, son, but I don't have a cow in the garden!"

Monday 12 October 2009

Wired for Sound.

Yes, I know, I'm just a shill for Sony's advertising campaign.
The town in the video, is Seyðisfjörður, on the western edge of Iceland. I've been there, my bike and some other stuff were sent to me from England, via an Icelandic trawler, it was a lot cheaper than normal freight, but.....
It was supposed to come to Reykjavik, where I was living, in a couple of weeks, but the skipper diverted to the north, found good fishing, landed his catch in Norway, went out toward Jan Mayen to get more. That was five weeks...I got a message to say the nearest he'd be coming to Reykjavik for another month was Seyðisfjörður, to land his catch, and take on more ice.
So I decided to take a few days off work and take the slow bus, and my trusty little tent, around the south of iceland, up the crinkly west coast, and retrieve my bike.
I had to bribe a guy at the fish dock to steam-clean it.
Never ship a bike on a trawler. It will arrive all pearly with fish-scales, and the stink of cod.

Sunday 11 October 2009

An Anglo-Saxon Hoard

Recently found in Britain by a metal detector. The hoard of gold and silver contained about fifteen hundred items, the biggest such find ever in Britain. It was buried in what is now south Staffordshire, archaeologists believe, in the seventh century .
More HERE.

All of the pieces are believed to be from weapons and armour, I'm staggered by the quality of craftsmanship here, from a time we think of as the primitive "Dark Ages". Oh how I wish I could stumble across things like this in the muddy stubble of a field. Yes, it's worth a huge sum, in monetary terms, but I don't care, I'd just love to find something like this, rub the mud away, and keep it as a thing of beauty, and a thing of mystery, I'd muse about the people who made it, those who carried it, chieftains, princes, the king, perhaps of the kingdom of Mercia. Or were these, perhaps trophies of battles against others?

This one in particular... I want it.
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I intended to eat them, but left it a bit late. I love the flowers, they look like a gas flame burning efficiently....
Yes, I'm qualified as a combustion engineer, I like playing with fire, i like the whole business of burning things efficiently, kiln control, thirty feet of flame out of a little stick of wood, a cone of fire out of a kiln chimney, on final reduction, like a jet exhaust.
And I like these beautiful flowers. They're about 3"-4" (75-100mm) across.
I should clarify... these pics were taken in august, not now, the plants are dying back for winter now. For those who don't know them, Artichokes are a bit like giant thistles.

You cook the bud, a thing the size of a large fist. They take twenty or thirty minutes to cook (steamed, grilled, laid in hot coals)....
It's debatable whether it's worth the effort.
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