Monday 18 March 2013

A journey and a small gift

illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith via wikipedia
Like Alice and the White Rabbit I am about to disappear, not down a hole but
over mountains, rivers, forests, and sea
via wikipedia

via wikipedia
Anyone commenting on this post will be entered into Random Org. 
H will click the generate button after Easter. You will be given a number that tallies with your comment i.e first comment No. 1 etc.
My gift is a large canvass tote bag - useful for shopping, crafts/art materials, an extra bag for holidays etc.
Closing date for comments is midnight GMT Easter Sunday the 31st March 2013 so you have plenty of time. 
As I mentioned I am disappearing until after Easter so no more comments or posts from me until then. 
You could be forgiven for thinking that the bag looks rather plain and unexciting. However, when unfolded it features one of the latest linocuts done by youngest son.
"Owl hunting by the light of the moon"
 image courtesy my son
Good Luck

Sunday 17 March 2013


There are three reasons that I like to visit IKEA - in their food store they sell an excellent selection of vacuum packed coffees for filters and cafetières at very reasonable prices - I stock up with several packets to last a few months. I also purchase SÅS - a mustard and dill sauce which is delicious with both smoked and fresh salmon, several jars return home with me. The food shop is always at the exit after you have gone through the final tills. Thirdly get your timing right and you can find some wonderful and unusual plants for both the house and garden at great prices.
Argyranthemum - marguerite daisy
Cytisus with its miniature pea-like flowers
Stephanotis has a heavenly scent and waxy star shaped flowers
IKEA like to take you for a large detour around their huge stores passing things that they hope will tempt you, but you can cut through into what they call their Marketplace which takes you straight to the plants. I can be in and out in about 20 minutes flat - job done.

These three large beautiful plants cost me only £15.
It is St. Patrick's Day today and these colours represent the Irish flag -  green, white and orange. If you celebrate it then do have a happy day. 
via wikipedia

Friday 15 March 2013

Beware Bacteria (partial repost)

via wikipedia
Salmonella typhimurium (red) invading cultured human cells 
This week Dame Sally Davies, the Government's Chief Medical Officer warned that we could slip back 200 years unless the "catastrophic threat" of antibiotic resistance is successfully tackled. She declared that in 20 years' time even minor surgery may lead to death through untreatable infections. Antimicrobial resistance is a ticking time-bomb not only for the UK but also for the world. 
About 18 months ago I wrote about a bacterium experience that H suffered from which I called "Beware Bacteria". It seems an opportune moment to repost some of it here following the warnings from Dame Sally Davies this past week.
To set the scene, H and I have taken hardly any antibiotics during our lifetime, less than the fingers on one hand each, we have been fortunate. We wrongly assumed that this gave us some safe guard, but of course it has nothing whatsoever to do with how much antibiotic you have taken during your lifetime but to do with the fact that the bacterium have mutated and become stronger against the antibiotics themselves.
It is exactly 5 years ago this week that H suddenly became ill. I had never known him to be ill before - he was a strong man, an oarsman who rowed in his youth for his university, climbed mountains and walked for miles.
E. Coli Bacteria via wikipedia
I used to smile at the yogurt adverts talking about good and bad bacteria!!! but it turns out to be true, some are good and some are bad.
Bacterium is generally regarded as one of the first forms of life on our planet, and it is likely that they will be the last.
Suddenly, one evening H said that he was off to bed, it was only 8 pm.  When I went upstairs to see him I discovered that he was roasting hot, and in the morning all of the bed linen was drenched from his fever. Now H does not do illness, so off he went to do his duty at our local Citizens Advice Bureau, where if the truth be known he should not have gone, and he became worse.  Instead of climbing up the long steep hill back to our home, as per normal, someone kindly bought him home in a car.
The following morning I made an appointment with our doctor.  She arranged for blood tests, could find nothing wrong with his heart, blood pressure etc, and said she wanted him to have an x-ray to check whether he had pneumonia.  The x-rays came back clear, but still the fever continued.  He had slight twinges in his back and in the end it seemed to be put down to back trouble. There was obviously something wrong, but what? He continued to get weaker and weaker, but the medics seemed to think that when the sunshine arrived, and if we were to take a holiday, things would improve.  To cut a long story short, the pain in his back became really bad, and losing so many essential minerals from his body every night, as a result of the fever, he became very weak, and started to look many years older than he was.  A different doctor came to the house, and gave him strong pain killers, and said he could send him into hospital, but followed it up by saying, hospitals are not nice places to be, advising that he would be much more comfortable in our home.  That night could stand it no longer. He was exhausted through lack of sleep for so many weeks, and weary.  He came downstairs with his bag packed, and said "take me to hospital".  Once there, the duty doctor could also find nothing wrong as per the other doctors. He said he would admit him, as he was obviously ill, but stated that there were 14 patients waiting ahead of him for a bed, indicating that we should probably go home.  H stood his ground (albeit from a wheel chair) and said he was not going anywhere, and was staying where he was until the cause was found.
The following day he was put in an MRI scan, and they discovered that he had an infection in his spine.  We were so relieved and thought good, some antibiotic and all will be well.  How wrong and innocent could we be.  After 10 days in hospital he did not seem to be making any progress, and my anxiety levels for him started to increase.  Days later his legs gave way and turned to jelly, he became doubly incontinent, and just lay flat on his back.  It took the hospital 4 days before taking any action, and finally he was sent to a hospital specialising in neurosurgery. He was taken in an ambulance with the blue light flashing to a hospital 30 miles away.  I felt so helpless, I had thought he just had an infection, and that it would clear up with the right treatment.  It was at this stage that I finally managed to get hold of someone and ask exactly what was going on.  I was totally shocked and horrified to learn that the E. Coli bacteria had somehow got into his blood stream, where it had travelled in his blood through his bones and had lodged in his vertebrae. It was rotting the bones, and turning them soggy!!!  The collapsing vertebrae were damaging his spinal cord hence he was unable function properly. I just could not believe it, and was so cross that we had been kept in the dark.
A wonderful surgeon operated on him.  Before doing so, he told us that there were 14 Neurosurgeons in the hospital, but they had all refused to operate on him.   He told us that he was the only person in the southwest region who was able to do the surgery.   He removed two soggy vertebrae and managed to scrape and save the third one, which had become infected, whilst he was in the previous hospital.  He put a titanium cage around his spinal cord by the following means. A jack, which is still in situ, was inserted to hold the vertebrae apart; the neighbouring vertebrae were then held in place with rods and spikes. He could offer no guarantee as to the outcome, but we were just so grateful that he was around – he went on holiday the following week.
H was in hospital for 6 weeks, and was ill for 6 weeks before that.  He came home from hospital extremely weak, unable to walk without using a walking frame.  Fortunately the nerve damage which caused his jelly legs and incontinence all repaired themselves, and because of all the hard work and determination H put into his recovery, he is now once again walking the hills and mountains and doing everything he did before. We do realise that he had a very narrow escape and is extremely lucky to still be an able person, and not wheel chair bound.

The technology in H's back showing the titanium cage and jack
This shows how the two rods and spikes held the cage firmly in place when the jack was operated.
This apparently can happen to anyone, young or old.  We do, incidentally, have more bacteria in our bodies than we have cells. It is rare, but thank goodness for technology in the form of the MRI and CAT scanners and his wonderful Surgeon.

Wednesday 13 March 2013

A strange red light

Seeing red
Red for stop
Red for danger
Red for courage
This mysterious red light entered our house yesterday. Where was it coming from?
Red for rubies
The morning sun shone brightly into the garden catching the red brake light on our car sitting in the driveway. It then reflected through the study window and bounced on out into the hall creating this wonderful red, pink and blue glow.
Sky-watchers in Europe could catch a glimpse of a visitor from very deep space this week - the comet PanSTARRS, will be bright and visible until March 18th. A lump of ancient ice, it will not be passing by this way again for 75,000 years. If the skies are clear you will be able to catch it at sunset. 

Monday 11 March 2013

Red Shoes

Like many others, I shall be interested to learn who the wearer of the red shoes will be. At the outset I must declare that I am not a catholic but find the whole historical business of what is happening in Rome to be rather intriguing.
Pope John Paul ll wore red shoes at first but quickly adopted wearing ordinary brown shoes, however, he was buried in the red leather papal shoes. Pope Benedict XVl restored the use of the red leather papal shoes which he wore all of the time. They were made for him by his personal cobbler, Antonio Arellano. Following his resignation he is no longer allowed to wear them but will have to revert back to wearing brown shoes.
The cardinals will be locked away deliberating and praying to select the new pope, but do we really know what goes on, and do you know where the conclave is held?
You may not be interested in who these elderly men select, but the sight of them colourfully kitted out in black gowns with red cummerbunds and red hats, accompanied by choirs singing Veni, Creator Spiritus as they process into the Sistine Chapel does focus the eye. Yes, the Sistine Chapel is where they will remain until the decision is reached.
As the 115 members of the electoral college gather to cast their votes beneath Michelangelo's Last Judgment, the doors will close behind them on 12th March with a cry of "Extra onmes" - everyone out. They will be locked in - literally conclave "with key", the wooden blocks will be put in place so there is no escaping. No electronic devices are allowed in the chapel, it is checked for bugs beforehand and all participants have to undergo security checks. They must swear an oath which invites damnation if they breathe a single detail of what takes place.
To the outside world this is all very peculiar in an age when television, the internet and freedom of information legislation mean that there are hardly any private moments left. However, under the gaze of the media in the centre of a European city, the conclave still manages to go about it business in secrecy.
A handful of non cardinals are invited into the chapel, two sacristans, two masters of ceremonies and some nuns to do the plain but wholesome cooking served in the Sala Borgia. While the chapel may make a wonderful backdrop it lacks adjoining secure overnight accommodation. However, Pope John Paul ll had sleeping quarters built - Domus sactae Marthae - an ecclesiastical travelodge, which will be much more comfortable than the previous put-u-up-beds especially as many of the elderly cardinals have arthritic limbs.
Pope John Paul ll was the first non Italian cardinal to be elected for 455 years. Below are paintings from the past depicting some holders of the office. 
Pope Eugene lV 1431 - 1447 unknown painter - born in Venice to a rich merchant family
Pope Julius ll by Raphael in 1511 - he commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel
Pope Leo X with two Cardinals by Raphael in 1518 - Leo was the 2nd son of Lorenzo de' Medici, the most famous ruler of the Florentine Republic.

Pope Urban Vlll portrait by Pietro da Cortona 1627 - the last pope to expand the papal territory by force of arms, and a prominent patron of the arts.
Pope Innocent X - Velázquez's portrait 1650 - trained as a lawyer and was one of the most politically shrewd pontiffs who much increased the temporal power of the Holy See
The only clues as to the election's progress or lack of it are the puffs of dark smoke that rise four times a day above the Vatican to signal inconclusive ballot papers are being burnt in the Sistine Chapel. Damp straw used to be used to make sure the smoke was grey, but in a rare concession to modernity chemicals are now preferred. Once the winner has emerged, white smoke appears and to avoid any doubt, church bells are also rung.
images via wikipedia and some information courtesy Peter Stanford former editor of the Catholic Herald.

Saturday 9 March 2013

Tracing family history in England before the 16th century

Guest post by H

Part of the Bayeux Tapestry showing William the Conqueror in the centre with his half brothers - Odo on the left and Robert on the right.
Despite the disruption by sectarian strife, civil war and industrialisation of the past five hundred years, people living in rural England were generally rooted in their communities and family records can be traced through many generations. Parish records of baptisms, marriages and deaths commencing around 1530 have greatly facilitated this. The male line of my own family appears in parish registers over this period, although with large families and the not infrequent practice of baptising children with the same first name, it can be difficult to establish a direct line of succession.
The above information about my own ancestors is supplemented through the family having been lords of the manor in Betchworth; the proceedings of manorial courts conducted there being held in Surrey county records. The manor passed from my family in 1646, perhaps as a consequence of the Civil War.
There are other clues in the village of Betchworth providing evidence of the family's presence in earlier times. The family name (preceded by the suffix 'de' appears in a list displayed in the church as Vicar of Betchworth in 1347. Coincidentally the vicar had the same first name as myself.
St. Michael's, Betchworth
Farmers bearing the family name were subsequently prominent across the meadows at Newdigate, and we believe this may be connected with losing the manor. 
St. Peter's Church, Newdigate - the oak timber framed tower, which houses six bells, has been dated by dendrochronology to 1525  
On visiting Newdigate church we discovered that in 1780 a family member was a church warden and Overseer of the Poor - a role linked to the Poor Law. His memory is perpetuated by his name being engraved on a bell installed in the church tower commemorating his time in office. 
King Richard l - the Lion Heart - statue outside the Houses of Parliament, Westminster, London
In 1198 the family was awarded a charter by King Richard l - Richard the Lion Heart - to establish a mill on the river Mole in that village. This was one year before the King's death in 1199. The mill, which continues in operation to this day, still bears the family name as does the manor referred to above.
So there is evidence that the family resided in the village before the year 1200. But what can we surmise about the history of the family in the generations preceding that date?
In endeavouring to assimilate the historical context I have been working my way through a set of volumes published by The Folio Society on The History of England, and am presently reading M.T.Clanchy's "Early Medieval England". The second half of this book is entitled "The written word in the middle ages" in which the author details the growth of written records and literacy in the two hundred years following the Norman invasion in 1066.
An understanding as to the languages in common use in post invasion England is fundamental to consideration of the written word. In the pre-1066 Anglo Saxon period the indigenous population was speaking in Early English with regional dialects in areas subjected to Danish invasion in the 10th century; but little was written down in this language. Literacy was concentrated in the Church as practised by monks, clerics and scribes, in Latin. English monks, such as Bede in Jarrow, Northumbria, had been recording history in Latin since the 7th century.
However, the Norman invaders spoke French which, of course, became the language of the governing class. King William l - William the Conqueror - divided up the land between his knights, most of whom were illiterate. Charters, writs, title deeds, etc. were prepared by scribes in Latin on their behalf. The best known of these is the Domesday Book, a record of the laws and holdings of land, its inhabitants and their livestock throughout England after the invasion. This was the result of the King's wish "to bring the conquered people under written law" i.e. a transition from memory to written records.
Domesday Book
Despite this milestone in record keeping, according to Clanchy the Domesday Book was for two hundred years made little use of. Taxation and expenditure records and other important documents were moved in chests to wherever the royal court was located. Other records were dispersed around the kingdom, mainly in religious foundations such as abbeys and cathedrals. Although many thousands of charters and writs were issued, for nearly one hundred and fifty years after the invasion no central archive and bureaucracy, as we know it, had evolved.
Page from the Domesday Book showing records relating to the county of Warwickshire
My conclusion from this? The "de" affixed to my family name suggests to me, in view of their local prominence in Surrey during the 13th to 16th centuries, that my ancestors might have been a part of the Norman invasion. The slow growth of efficient record keeping until around 1200 renders it impossible to trace family history preceding this date. The granting of a charter to mill on the river Mole in 1198 is therefore likely to be the earliest written evidence of my family's history.
Note: I am indebted to my eldest son for his research into the male line back to the 16th century.
all images via wikipedia except where stated

Monday 4 March 2013

Qingdao to Shanghai in 1985 - third post on China

View first and second posts here 
Initially, we had set out for China 12 months earlier. We had arrived at Heathrow ready to travel to Paris where we would be catching an Air France plane to Beijing, only to find that the French Air Traffic Controllers had gone on a lightning strike. There was nothing for it, but to return home and for the UN to contact China to inform them. Our travel arrangements in China were quite complicated and it took another year to rearrange everything.
A year later as we once again embarked on our Chinese odyssey, 'China' the very first edition of the Lonely Planet guide was published. The book was packed with everything you needed to know when travelling in China. It became compulsive reading, our bible, which we always kept close at hand. 
On our last evening in Qingdao before flying to Shanghai I looked up what the book had to say about CAAC - Civil Aviation Administration of China - these carriers are the only domestic flights available within China. I learnt that CAAC also stands for China Airlines Always Cancels (the biggest excuse being bad weather) but more importantly China Airlines Almost Crashes. This information was the last thing that I needed to know. I said to H "have you read the chapter on CAAC?" his reply "it would have been far better if you had not read that!!!"
The tales surrounding CAAC were legendary, the one that I particularly recall is this one: passengers watched the pilot returning from the toilet to find he was locked out of the cockpit by a jammed door. The co-pilot opened the door from within, then both men fiddled with the catch and succeeded in locking themselves out of the cockpit. As passengers stared in disbelief the pilot and co-pilot attacked the door with a fire axe, pausing for a moment to draw a curtain between themselves and the audience.
This story made me feel even more nervous, but for goodness sake these were just folktales!!! weren't they?
On looking out at the night sky everything appeared to be looking good for the following day.
Evening in Qingdao
In the morning we gazed at a brilliant blue cloudless sky, the air was calm, nothing stirred, and thought the day could not be more perfect for our trip. We came down into the hotel foyer to be greeted by our hosts who informed us that CAAC had cancelled our flight due to bad weather conditions!!! and that they would return for us in the morning - alarm bells began seriously clanging in my head. 
H took advantage of this time to relax a bit and decided to take a swim in the sea. We had been watching people swarming all over the beach every day turning over every stone and boulder in search of anything that moved to put in their baskets for the cooking pot.
I watched H walk back up the beach from his swim when suddenly he became surrounded by young men. They came up to the middle of his chest, all I could see was H in his swimming costume surrounded by a ring of heads. They wanted to know whether there was a 'backdoor' to success in Britain and his views on so many different topics.
The following morning we came downstairs in perfect weather again only to be told the flight was cancelled, but finally on the third morning we were on our way.
We never imagined the airport would be such a long journey away. Our vehicle bounced along deeply rutted mud roads with big old trucks abandoned along it. Some had men crawling all over the bonnet in a vain attempt to get them moving again.
The airport was an eye opener. A vast area of scrubland covered in Russian military MiGs under wraps, but where was the airport? There was only one small building not much bigger than a public convenience and that turned out to be it. It was dark by the time the Shanghai plane arrived, there was no runway, just a rough area  that was lit up by switching on the lights from parked lorries.
Our plane was a vintage Russian turbo-prop. The services - basically there were none. We climbed up a ladder to get in the plane, and to our dismay discovered that all of the passengers luggage was in the cabin with us sitting loosely on the spare seats!!! now I was getting really anxious and wondered whether I would ever see my two beloved sons back home in the UK again.
via wikipedia
The air hostesses handed out little bags of strange White Rabbit creamy sweets - our only form of refreshment. I sucked hard on them as I noticed via the light of the moon string tied around the turbo-prop as if holding it together. 
What a relief to see the bright lights of Shanghai and to land safely.
Having passed through customs our next surprised was to find that the Harbour Master of Shanghai and his retinue had been waiting for us at the airport for the past three days. Nobody had bothered to inform them of our delay, we were upset for them, but it was all out of our hands. They just accepted it in a good natured smiling spirit as if it was normal, and then hastily whisked us away for our first Shanghai banquet.
courtesy wikipedia
Shanghai today, definitely not the Shanghai we saw.
Next post Shanghai to Hangzhou