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Newton’s apple. No, really.


We went to an apple fayre this weekend.

You know you’re in for an authentic British experience when they spell ‘fayre’ with a ‘y’.

Over 200 varieties of apples were there. Which is nothing. There are thousands of cultivated varieties (and many thousands more of not very useful wild apples).

They have sequenced the apple’s genome and found an apple has nearly twice the genes of a human being. That means apples are complicated and don’t breed clones. I saw this program on apple genetics several years ago, so bear with me if my memory is generic.

If you eat an apple and like it, and plant the seed in your garden, you will get a tree that bears a fruit that almost certainly bears no resemblance to that apple you liked so much. Also, it will be tall and awkward, because natural apples are. If you see a grove of natural apple trees in the wild, they will all bear different apples. There might be a hidden star in there with desirable characteristics. On the other hand, you’re more likely to find sour and awful fruits, as the modern apple shares more of its genome with the crabapple than its true wild ancestor.

For commercial apples, they take cuttings from the successful tree and graft them onto other rootstocks with desirable traits — like, usually dwarf rootstocks that make little, pickable trees. All the modern Granny Smiths, for example, come from cuttings from the original Granny. So really, when you think about it, that apple from Newton’s garden really is from Newton’s garden, if probably many intermediate trees removed.

Yes, I bought an Isaac Newton. It’s in a bag with four other ‘heritage’ apples, though, so I don’t know who’s who. This could be a problem because it’s a cooking apple.

October 23, 2017 — 9:18 pm
Comments: 14

Not that, you bastards! Anything but that!


Food is one of the hardest things for an immigrant to cope with. This immigrant, anyhow. It’s one thing to visit a country and immerse yourself in the local cuisine; it’s another when, five years later, not love nor money can buy you a freaking saltine cracker for your freaking soup.

Bacon. Bacon is the cruellest food. British bacon is even weirder than the Canadian stuff. I mean, it’s pretty nice in its own way, but it’s some kind of salty country ham thing. It ain’t bacon. Nome sane?

For years, there was one supermarket (not a chain, a single supermarket) that sold Oscar Mayer bacon. Sure, it was made in Spain, but somebody from OM must have overseen the process, because it was what I call proper bacon.

Then, a couple of years ago, they dropped the “Oscar Mayer” branding and relabeled it “American style” bacon. That’s an actual packet of it in the picture. Well, fair enough – the name was probably costing them a lot of money and didn’t mean diddly to Brits. It was the same true blue American bacon.

And then the quality began to slip. First the packet wouldn’t peel open properly and had to be cut up the side. Then the bacon stuck together and wouldn’t come off in cohesive strips. It was more like baconfloss. That comes from losing the American quality control, I guess.

And today? Gone from the shelf. Nowhere to be found. Not even the thin comfort of bacon strings for weasel.

It’ll have to be pancetta. Dammit.

October 17, 2017 — 7:40 pm
Comments: 41

Apocalypse Soon


I pinched the map from the Daily Mail. The swirly thing just West of Ireland is Hurricane Ophelia. We don’t expect to see much of it here.

What the arrows show is the attending wind currents, which have sucked up huge amounts of sand from the Sahara and smoke from wildfires in Spain and made our skies weird and orange (‘Donald Trump colored’ as someone described it). The sun is (was, it’s gone down now) distinctly red-rubber-ball-ish. Very spooky. Do follow the link above and look at some color pictures.

The chickens were having none of it.

This has happened before. If experience serves, we should wake up tomorrow and find a very fine dusting of desert sand all over everything.

October 16, 2017 — 5:33 pm
Comments: 14

In praise of the messy


I went to a lecture tonight. It revolved around a cache of hundreds of 18th Century personal letters that turned up in the back of a closet.

Think of this, O ye tidy folk — all the history we have comes from someone in the past who couldn’t bear to throw something away. However hard it is for us to believe it, everything you can see in the room where you are sitting will be interesting in a hundred years, fascinating in two hundred and a priceless antique in three.

The picture is from the About page of The Keep — the repository of the East Sussex Record Office where these letters (and thousands of other interesting documents) live. You probably don’t have any specific connection to East Sussex, but you can spend a merry hour or more plugging words into the search box and seeing where it takes you.

As promised, I shall be lame tonight, and even lamer tomorrow night. I’ve got an all-day seminar to go to, far away.

October 12, 2017 — 9:10 pm
Comments: 11

Bye, Roundy


Six days. That’s how far I made it into Inktober. See, there was somewhere we had to be Friday and after that…screw it. Now you know why I’m a shitposter on the internet and not a famous artiste.

So. Anyhoo. They’re comin’ for the pound coin. Well, they’re phasing out the old “round pound” in favor of a new, harder-to-manufacture coin.

The old one was super easy to counterfeit. They think there might have been 30 million fakes in circulation, around 3% of the total.

The new one is twelve-sided, bi-metal and has a ‘hologram’ – faint ridges in the metal that spell out the £ symbol when viewed from a certain angle. They are said to be unfakable.

They, of course, have been faked already. Because, you know, you don’t need to reproduce that super-fancy hologram for a slug to pass painlessly into circulation. Still, it is harder.

In theory, shopkeepers will stop accepting them in a week. In practice, I’m still getting them in my change and lots of people think the deadline will mostly be ignored. Still, if you’ve got some coins lying around from your last trip to Old Blighty, you might want to dash over and spend ’em right quick.

October 9, 2017 — 9:25 pm
Comments: 11

Curious and true


Here’s a sad little story for you. Going to Bateman’s put me in mind of it.

Edward Julius and Charles Maurice Detmold were twin brothers born in Surrey in 1883. Their father was chronically ill, so they grew up in the house of an uncle who, among other things, collected Japanese woodcuts. The brothers became fascinated with drawing in the Japanese style.

It would be fair to call them prodigies: they both had exhibited in watercolor at the Royal Academy by the time they were 13. Mostly animal pictures. Before they were 20, they had several very successful picture books to their credit. Their fortunes really took off that year when they were asked to illustrate Kipling’s Jungle Book.

There’s a little room in Bateman’s that has some — maybe all — of these illustrations and a few more. I assume they’re the originals. Beautiful stuff.

The success of these pictures allowed them to divide their time between London and Ditchling, Sussex — not far from here. Half a year at each. In 1908, when they were 25, they were preparing to go down to Ditchling. Here’s where it gets weird.

Their local doctor gave them some chloroform to kill the housecat. Which Maurice did. Then he took the remainder of the chloroform and killed himself.

That’s it. That’s all the detail I’ve ever been able to glean from any source, and I have so many questions. Was the cat ill? Did people routinely kill their cats rather than bring them on holiday? I know people were shitty to cats back then, but that seems a bit much. Was Maurice depressed? Could it have been an accident? Or did he — this is my favorite theory — kill the cat and then feel so awful about it aferward that he offed himself?

Edward had a long and successful career after, though many reckon his brother had the more talent. In his seventies, Edward’s eyesight began to fail. He killed himself with a shot to the chest in 1957.

Well worth looking up their work. Here is the full image from the header. It’s a lovely thing. Not sure which Detmold did it, perhaps both. Looking at it, I think they used a combination of watered-down and full strength ink. Or perhaps it’s an etching — they did a lot of printmaking.

I know what your monkeybrain is telling you. It’s telling you if you were super careful and made a zillion little descriptive lines, you could maybe do something that looked like that. I’m here to inform you, sadly, from a lifetime of experience, monkeybrain lies.

September 27, 2017 — 8:42 pm
Comments: 13

I saw the Flit!


We went to Bateman’s today, home of Rudyard Kipling and the setting for my favorite Kipling book, Puck of Pook’s Hill (a collection of short stories about Sussex, and I loved it long before I lived here).

We’ve been to Bateman’s many times, you may remember, but this time there promised to be an exhibition of Arthur Rackham‘s illustrations for Puck of Pook’s Hill. Rackham is one of my all time favorite illustrators, this one one of my all time favorite books — perfect, yes?

Meh. They only had three original paintings and a few framed prints. The room was small and dark and the pictures were framed under shiny glass. Hard to see and underwhelming. They didn’t even have any Rackham books or cards in the gift shop.

I did get to see the original of this picture, though. It’s called the Dymchurch Flit, Dymchurch being a coastal town and “the flit” was the fairies leaving England forever. Chapter 22 of the book.

The story goes that the fairies got sick of our shit in the 1530s, during the nastiness of the Reformation. They turned up on Romney Marsh with their bags packed — Romney Marsh being a stick-out bit of coastline that is the furthest southeast you can go on the island without getting your feet wet. There they begged the Widow Whitgift to let her sons sail them away in a boat, and she did.

They came back after three days, but one son was blind and the other mute, so they never told anyone what they saw. You can read the chapter here, with some footnotes and explanation here.

Not my favorite Rackham painting and not viewed under the best conditions, but it’s always a thrill to see the original of a work that you know well from reproduction.

September 26, 2017 — 7:36 pm
Comments: 13

The glowing sheep of old Sussex


I got nothin’ tonight. I’ve been doing housework(!) all evening, so please enjoy this picture Uncle B took earlier this Summer. (Yes, of course you can have it large and in color).

Now is probably the time to give the old mustelid a shout-out. I’ve taken almost none of the photos I’ve posted during this year’s fete season, he has. Uncle B is an enthusiastic photographer with a much better eye than mine.

This pisses me off. I went to art school, you know.

On the other hand, I’m also incredibly lazy and opportunistic, so having his visual record of our adventures has been most helpful.

September 25, 2017 — 8:52 pm
Comments: 7

A farewell to Sissinghurst


We went to Sissinghurst today – one of our favorite National Trust properties. We go three or four times every Summer, though this might be the last time for a while. We’ve decided not to renew our National Trust membership when it’s up in Spring.

See, the NT has gone gay. Like very, very gay. Like intrusively, irritatingly gay.

Like asking their tens of thousands of loyal blue-haired volunteers to fill out a questionnaire on their own sexuality. Or insisting that staff wear gay pride buttons during the six weeks of their Prejudice and Pride Campaign, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the partial legalization of buggery. They had to climb down over that one, but meanwhile:

As part of an event to publicise the project, the charity has commissioned a film narrated by Stephen Fry revealing that Felbrigg’s former owner, Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer, was gay. But his godsons, who left the hall to the Trust on his death in 1969, have objected to him being ‘outed’ to market the hall. The bachelor, who was a magistrate and former High Sheriff of Norfolk, never publicly revealed his sexuality.

Oh, they outted some dead rich guy against his family’s wishes. Nice.

Sadly, we’re a little too far away from Kingston Lacy in Dorset to go see the fifty-one ropes hanging to commemorate the fifty one men who were hanged for sodomy, mostly between 1810 and 1835. They’ve got a recording reading their names over and over and everything!

But not to worry! We got to see Speak Its Name! – an exhibit of pictures from the National Portrait Gallery featuring a bunch of famous old dykes and poofters. A little more justification for this one, as Harold and Vita (Sissinghurst’s most famous owners) were committed and enthusiastic homosexuals (though strangely devoted to each other throughout their marriage).

As you might imagine, LGBTQRST is not the only progressive issue the current lot at the Trust are pursuing aggressively. It’s getting on for £100 a year for the two of us, we’ve been members for 7 years and, frankly, we’ve seen our local properties dozens of times. It’s time.

Oh, we had a lovely day today! The weather was perfect and the holiday crowds have died down. Nice memories. Have a good weekend, fags!

September 22, 2017 — 8:54 pm
Comments: 17



That’s the remains of the bomb that went off in the tube station this morning. It was a dud, though a number of people were superficially hurt. It could have been lethal.

There’s something very effing weird about this one. Initially, they didn’t raise the terror threat level at all. Then suddenly May comes out and cranks it up to the highest. I heard she sounded shook up. Who knows? We’re safe as anywhere, down here in our rural corner of Old Blighty. Nobody bombs sheep.

By the way, that’s a bucket in a ‘forever bag’. Do you have these things? Supermarkets are forbidden to give us free bags now; they’re required to charge 5p (which they pass on to charity, I think). Or, for 10p, most sell a much sturdier ‘forever bag’ that they will replace when it wears out.

This boneheaded move put at least one bag manufacturer out of business, adds a definite level of pain-in-the-assery to our weekly shop as we are forever collecting bags and moving them around, and means we have to buy bags for our small kitchen rubbish bin instead of re-using shopping bags. It’s just so emblematic of what’s wrong with our nannying classes.

A bomb on the tube in a forever bag. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Britain 2017.

Have a good weekend!

September 15, 2017 — 9:01 pm
Comments: 22