New Blog

I’ve started to construct a new blog, called “The Static Rambler”, which will mean I will post less often on Life on the Edge of a Soup Plate.

The new blog address is https://wheelsadrables.wordpress.com/

I hope you like it.

Posted in Blogging, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Blue

The Ancient Greeks apparently had no word for blue. Homer didn’t use it, nor the great dramatists of Classical Athens.

This is really strange, when you think about it. In Greece, today as then, the dominant colour is blue. First, the light hits you, bright and luminous, but then the sky above you echoes in its blueness. It can’t be ignored.

Homer was blind, so that might account for him. But Sophocles, though he wrote about Oedipus, a man who blinds himself, could see, as far as we know. He doesn’t talk about blue, either, but no-one can seriously believe he couldn’t see blue.

Blue rolls around the sky in Greece, like thunder. The ancestors must have heard it just as we do. It is like the clapper inside the huge bell of the world.

Stone Villa

Stone Villa

This kind of blue can make your head ring. Presumably, this is why blue and violet are placed in the head by those who believe in chakras. The Kate Archers of this world.

But the old folk had no word for it.

The sea is a vicious blue as well. How did they miss that? They sailed around all over the place, but never felt the need to describe what they were on . . . or in. Even Odysseus, with his appalling navigational skills that resulted in the short hop from Troy to Kefalonia taking years and years, didn’t seem to notice it.

When he got home, he never once told the long-suffering Penelope about the sea. It makes you wonder if he really took years to sail home. Maybe he spent all that time with Calypso, and just made up all the rest as an excuse.

Penelope should have checked his mobile phone.IMG_1102

So, I have always wondered why they had no word for blue. It was not that they could not see it, and even the blind Homer uses colour words, but uses “wine-dark” to describe the sea. He knew it was blue, but had no word for it. To the Greeks, green and blue were shades of the same colour, but, just as we can see the difference between crimson and pillar-box red, so I’m pretty sure Odysseus could tell when he was looking at the field and when he was looking at the sky.

This spring, in Greece, I sat still in the hills above Odysseus’s wine dark sea, and wondered. Everywhere I looked was blue. Blue sea, blue sky. And then I realised that the light itself was blue. All around me was blueness.

Science tells us light is white. Ordinary experience tells us it is colourless.

But, in Greece that day, by the Ionian Sea, the air vibrated with a light that reflected everything as though through a blue filter.IMG_2411

Counter-intuitively, it became obvious why there was no word for blue. It was everywhere, it was everything. There were shades of it, of course, but these were easy to differentiate. Sea colour. Olive colour. Morning sky colour. Night colour. Wine dark is now the beautiful image it always was.

Just as in England we are surrounded by green, yet have the same word for the bright tenderness of a new beech leaf and for the dark shadows of a yew tree, so the Greeks lived in a blue world, but felt no need to label it. Every colour swam in blue light.

Blue is what pulled their world together.

Posted in blindness, Greece, Language | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Cultural History

As everyone knows, the world is going to hell in a handcart. Well, probably not a handcart exactly. Probably more like a container ship or fleet of airliners. Or a fleet of container ships.

Yes, the world is going to hell in a fleet of container ships. It is the metaphorical opposite to the story of Noah’s Ark.

There are signs of this apocalyptic vision everywhere. The world has gone topsy-turvy. Leicester City won the UK Premiership at odds of thousands to one; the British political system is imploding; the best tennis player in the world has been knocked out of Wimbledon in the first round; Iceland beat England in Euro 2016 football.

All right, England being beaten at football isn’t that unusual.

But put all these upsets together and I’m expecting the Four Horsemen to request landing rights at Heathrow in the not-too-distant future.

To show how serious this situation is, just look at the decline in the quality of tee shirts.

It is not normally easy to be aware of the decline in something that most people throw away and change so often.

The tee shirt is the ultimate in clothing ephemera. Underwear is similar, but most people don’t get to see your underwear, and, if they do, they’re probably glad it’s ephemeral.

Tee shirts, however, are proudly public. They announce loudly to the world that we have been to Glastonbury, or Greece, or that we think a certain quotation is somehow the best thing anyone has ever uttered. So good we want to stretch it across our nipples; so good we will want to get another one next week.

And, really . . . as if any of us gives a shit.

So, it is with some humility, and, I hope, some irony, that I am admitting to owning a kind of ‘set’ of tee shirts, bought at times of apoplectic enthusiasm. When I have been to major international athletics events, I have bought souvenir tee shirts.

I have never been in danger of forgetting the fact that I went to see the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. I can also link that event to the Scottish referendum on independence.

But the date is hazy. It has slipped into the gap between a couple of synapses.

IMG_3807

Commonwealth Games, Manchester 2002

But wait! I have a souvenir tee shirt, and it tells me it was in 2014. And yes, I still wear it.

This is not the most shocking revelation of this post. I have a tee shirt from the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. And they were in the palindromic year of 2002. I still wear this one, too.

And this is the point. That tee shirt is still wearable after 14 years. It looks a bit grey, but the shape is still there and the message across it . . . glorious in its simplicity . . . is still almost as visible as on the day we cheered home Paula Radcliffe.

IMG_3808

Olympic Games, London 2012

Good quality cotton, good quality printing.

The same can’t be said for the tacky and rather tired tee shirt from the London Olympics in 2012. It is looking battered and thin. The rather dubious logo of those Games, for which, I can’t help but remember every time I put it on, someone got paid a phenomenal amount of money, is looking washed out and faded.

IMG_3806

Commonwealth Games, Glasgow 2014

But, when we come to the Glasgow tee shirt, I am lost for enough spleen to vent.

The logo is plastic and peeling off like chewing gum. The cotton fibres were swept off the warehouse floor.

So here is a cultural history revealed in a humble tee shirt. Here we see the abandonment of quality for profit (the later the shirt, of course, the more of a rip-off it was). Here we see the growth of the tacky logo that says nothing worth saying . . . at the very least, Olympic tee shirts should have pithy quotations from the Ancients.

But, hey, that 2002 one must be some kind of record!

 

Posted in Exercise, Health, Sport | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Charley Ottey 1897-1916

The rolling pin

The rolling pin

We have a rolling pin with a history. Knowing this history makes a difference.

 It is old. It was owned by my great grandmother, a woman called Lizzie, who had been born in 1862 in Droitwich, Worcestershire, into a large working-class family that was large enough for her to have been the illegitimate daughter of her oldest “sister” and yet for no-one to have noticed.

Like innumerable other daughters of the poor, she went into service, and, while working in Nottingham, married a carpenter. They had several children, one of whom was my grandfather. Another son, and therefore my great uncle, was Charley, a mischievous boy who pushed pebbles into the handle holes of the said rolling pin. The stones were weged in so tightly that they couldn’t be removed, and they are still there today.

Family history does not record his punishment.

He is also well-known in the family for having been born at the wrong time. He was born in 1897.

This made him 17 when war broke out in 1914, and you can’t be more unlucky than that.

Charley probably didn’t think he was unlucky. He was, after all, the kind of boy who pushed stones into his mother’s rolling pin! He wasn’t enlisted. He volunteered in 1914 at the Drill Hall on Derby Road in Nottingham. The unit he joined was the Robin Hood battalion of the Sherwood Foresters, and in late February 1915they landed in France, full of patriotic excitement.

In that October, he saw action at the Hohenzollern Redoubt, and the shine started to wear off the experience of war. The fighting lasted for nine months and the ground was taken and lost many times. Both sides used tunnelling to explode huge mines under their opponents, so the troops became traumatized by the fear of sudden detonations under their feet.#

Then, in May 1916, they were moved up to the line on the Somme.

This morning as I write this post, on 1st July 2016, the church bell in the village is tolling. It has been tolling since 7.30, for that was the time, exactly one hundred years ago, that the whistles were blown in the British trenches to signal the start of the offensive that became known as the Battle of the Somme, and this has made me think of Charley.

The Robin Hoods on the eve of the Somme.

The Robin Hoods on the eve of the Somme.

The 1st of July 1916 dawned beautifully. A bright, warm summer’s day, 72 degrees Fahrenheit, with a clear, blue sky. Visibility was excellent, a fact that would have worried Charley and his comrades

and it would have added to the tension in the trenches. At 7.27 a.m. the Sherwood Foresters began discharging smoke into no-man’s-land to give their advance an element of concealment.

The Robin Hood battalion would attack first, and other Sherwood Forester battalions would support their advance. This part of the battle would come to be known as the assault on the Gononcourt Salient.

Casualties were incurred almost immediately the men rose from the trenches as German machine guns opened up. The gaps in the British barbed wire were insufficiently wide forcing the men to huddle together unnecessarily in certain areas as they funnelled through. Naturally these gaps were quickly under intense enemy machine gun fire.

Charley was hit in the arm and thigh by machine gunfire as he stepped over the bodies of his friends. He was fortunate to be brought back to the British trenches.

Only 5 soldiers in the first wave survived the first attack. Within an hour the attack had ground to a halt, and after two hours the attack was abandoned.

The battalion was withdrawn and rebuilt after this day. It had lost more than half its men and its commanding officer in one day.

The assault on the Gonnecourt salient was a diversionary action, designed to draw German soldiers away from the main battle to the south.

Charley’s wound became gangrenous, so he was brought back to Royd Hall Military Hospital in Longwood, Huddersfield, Yorkshire, where he died of septic TB and pneumonia.

And that is why I love our rolling pin!

 

Posted in Baking, History, Leicestershire, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sober Reflections on the British Democratic Process

People may be aware that we, in the UK, have just recently gone through a referendum, that has resulted in a decision to leave the European Union, a bureaucratic and economic process that will take two years to complete.

Although Britain is known, in Britain at least, as the birthplace of democracy, we don’t do referenda very well. They just don’t sit in our political process.

To the British, referenda have more than a whiff of dictatorship about them. We are deeply suspicious of them, whatever the result.

Our usual political system is that of representative democracy. Because we have a party system, we are always choosing representatives who only more or less reflect our views. For all its apparent two-party, adversarial nature, it is, in fact, a politics of compromise, ambivalence and a vague sense of disappointment, whatever the result. I vote for Party x, because it is generally more acceptable to me than Party y, but if Party x wins the election I will still be dissatisfied because there will be aspects of policy I disagree with. Of course, this is why everybody can moan about the Government, which is the inalienable right of every British man and woman.

After an election, the contract goes something like this. Party A has won and so becomes the Government. They can legitimately try to do anything they said they would. Party B becomes the Opposition, and it is their job to oppose everything that Party A says and does, because they must represent all those people who didn’t vote for Party A.

This sounds weird, but it is very English, a bit like the rules of cricket!

However, a referendum is different. By its nature it is stark and black-and-white. It is either or, rather than our usual position of ‘maybe both, maybe neither’. We are forced to decide between opposing views, when all our British-ness is screaming quietly and politely, “Well, it all depends . . .

So, when we do have a referendum, it is hardly surprising that the nation dissolves into anger and recrimination. It was not our job to decide in the first place, and now we have either won everything or lost everything. It is the politics of dictatorship, or Civil War.

There is no room to fudge the result so as to make everyone a bit happy and no-one total winners.

People are angry and bitter, or triumphant and bitter, in a way that does not happen after a General Election.

If the country were not split approximately 50-50, we would not have had a referendum in the first place, and our elected representatives would not have shirked their responsibility.

Britain is not a Greek City State, and Boris Johnson is not Pericles. It is not possible to run the country through referenda, even if we wanted to. We are just too complicated. It would be like a massive reality television show. The X or Y Factor.

So let’s not have any more, please. By their nature, they are divisive and unpleasant. And they are just not British!

Instead, let’s just say Quits and go back to muddling along with each other in a vague and loose union of countries, tribes and races. We need to just rub along, rounding the corners and chamfering the edges.

If “the people have spoken”, then they have spoken, though we must always remember that the winners were only just in the majority. We need to focus on the future, because we might be able to influence that.

And, next time, “let the representatives represent”.

 

 

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Zoo Time

When I was a child . . . about 10 years old . . . I wanted to grow up to be a zoo keeper. Not a famous naturalist, you understand, or the director of an internationally-acclaimed zoo, but a man in wellington boots, a peaked hat, and brown overalls, who collected dung in buckets and hosed down cages that smelt of fear.

In those days, tigers paced up and down, up and down, and polar bears sweated and begged, on bare concrete.

Zoos were horrible, and I should have been ashamed of myself.

But, they seem to have changed while I was looking the other way, and my relationship with the best of them has got a lot more complicated.

Take Chester Zoo, which we visited a couple of days ago.

The butterfly house

The butterfly house

Clearly, a lot more thought goes into the appropriateness of the environments. There is real nectar to drink, straw to throw around, grass to hide in, trees to climb. Unlike in the past, it is now sometimes difficult to see the animals.

P1000791

It is, of course, still a prison, albeit with burrows. In The Life of Pi, the main character makes the point that it is anthropomorphic nonsence to talk about the freedom of the wild. Most animals are fiercely territorial and live a life of constant stress, fear and hunger. No wild animal dies in its bed.

In a good zoo, however, animals are healthy, well-fed, and relatively chilled out. They don’t even have to work very hard to find a mate. The zoo will fly one in from the other side of the world, if necessary.

P1000812

The zoos seem to have abandoned the exotic spectacle side of their work. They can’t, after all, compete with television. Their main role now seems to be breeding, an activity they spend a fortune on, especially if the animal is rare or endangered.

P1000836

In the cases of endangered species, we have no right to complain about the work of the zoos, for it is us who have destroyed their habitats and us who have screwed up their planet. They don’t have the option to escape to Mars.

 

Posted in Animals, Nature | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Many a Slip Between Gender and Reality!

I heard a rather telling reply to an interview question, on the part of a spokesperson from the food giant, Unilever.

He was responding to a question about the recent decision by Unilever to not use gender stereotypes in their advertising.

He said, “It is not just a moral argument; there is an economic justification.”

Shouldn’t this be the other way round? It is, perhaps, an inadvertent window into the corporate conscience!

 

Posted in Gender, Politics | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment