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Googly-eyed skellingtons


From one of the churchyards this weekend. It’s hard to make out the inscription for all the lichens on the stone, but I think the date is 1744.

It’s disappointing, though — they don’t have nearly as many boneyards here as in the States, and the burials aren’t nearly as old. That’s because it’s a small, overcrowded island and they developed a tradition of stacking graves or digging people up after a few years.

Hence the “Alas, poor Yorick!” scene.

Our local church hasn’t kept good records of burials. The last time a neighbor died, a man with a pointy stick went out with the widow and they poked the stick in the ground looking for a big enough spot free of other coffins.

I’m not even kidding. shudder

August 31, 2016 — 10:31 pm
Comments: 18

Comes the time of the flower festivals


This weekend: flower festivals! A flower festival can happen any time in the Summer, but they tend to cluster at the end. Probably it’s a good time to harvest flowers. What do I know from flowers?

To recap, a flower festival is a church thing, a way to show off parish churches and raise money toward their upkeep (most churches that have flower festivals are beautiful ancient treasures and enormously expensive to take proper care of).

The church picks a theme, parishioners arrange flowers to suit the theme and set them up in displays all over the church (including sacred spaces like the baptismal font and the high altar). It’s wonderfully weird and I love it.

There’s a program that explains the displays, and tea and cakes. Maybe some bric-a-brac and book stalls outside. A nearby pub may host a barbecue.

At this particular one, little girls in starched pinafores circulated through the crowd with baskets of posies and sachets of lavender, a pound apiece. They and their mothers had sewn the lavender into little calico bags and tied up the posies with ribbons.

I shit you not. I bought one of each. The lavender is incredibly pungent.

Also this weekend, thousands of young lefties and brown people of foreign extraction turned out on the streets of London for the Notting Hill Carnival, a festival of the fine Afro-Caribbean traditions of vandalism and violence. Over 400 were arrested and five were stabbed.

I have chosen my side. I am on Team Flower Festival.

Her Maj turned 90 this year, and the theme of this flower festival was things that are also 90 this year. Can you guess what this flower arrangement represents? There’s a big ol’ hint on the side. Correct answer in the comments.

August 30, 2016 — 9:15 pm
Comments: 7



Watched a movie over the weekend: one of my sheep farming neighbors loaned me The Story of the Weeping Camel, a 2003 docudrama about an extended Mongolian family in the Gobi desert.

I’m not necessarily recommending it. I enjoyed it very much, but I like watching slices of life from strange places. It wasn’t exactly a roller-coaster of adventure.

I’m here to talk about their clothes. They all wore this unisex robe called a deel, and it looked awesome.

It’s cut rather like a 1950s labcoat, buttoned down the right hand side and right shoulder. All kinds of heavy fabrics — brocades, woolens, canvas — in lovely patterns, or solid with embroidered cuffs and collar. They looked sturdy as hell, like the old guys in the film had been wrangling camels in theirs for thirty years non-stop without wearing them out.

Traditionally, they were belted with a swath of silk, but they nowadays use leather belts. The one in the picture above (WANT!) is available from the Mongolian Shop for $359. And then the area above the belt turns into a giant pocket you can carry stuff in.

Everybody looks great in one. Fit young people, lumpy old ladies, skinny old men. Look, I don’t want to be unpatriotic, but how did jeans become the universal uniform of coolness, when we could all be wearing deels and carrying all our junk in a deel pocket?

August 29, 2016 — 7:08 pm
Comments: 12

Not my chook


Stole this chook off’n FaceBook. I tell you, I like FB so much more now that I’ve quietly unfollowed a bunch of people and added chicken, history and beer groups.

Anyway, this girl has just gotten back from the vet, where she was diagnosed as having gone blind. Judging from comments under the picture, this is not hugely unusual, even in otherwise healthy hens.

In any kind of serious poultry setup, such a chicken would be culled. But hobbyists will make accommodations and blind chickens can apparently do well. The important thing is putting their food, water and bedding in exactly the same place.

The most famous blind FaceBook chicken (why yes, there is such a thing) is Mumble. (Her gallery is here, but I think you have to be a FB user to see it). She was hatched entirely without eyes, which doesn’t look horrible. In fact, Mumble is weirdly cute.

Even most hobbyists would cull a seriously deformed hatchling (Mumble’s owner was advised to do so), but she seems a thriving, happy bird. She’s a year old now, I think. In that time the owner has been contacted about eight other chicks hatched in the same condition. Nature is weird.

Honestly, we should use the domestic chicken as an emblem of something. Fortitude. Placidity. Calm in the face of adversity. Just getting the hell on with it.

Anyhoo, this is a long weekend here. It’s not celebrating anything particular, it’s just known as the August Bank Holiday. And, believe it or not, it’s the last public holiday in Britain before Christmas.

These people need Thanksgiving. They could call it Hooray, We Got Rid of all those Wretched God-Botherers Day.

Good weekend!

August 26, 2016 — 9:25 pm
Comments: 13

And then the fat lady sang


Welp, that’s it. We went to the circus tonight. It always turns up for the long weekend and we think of it as the end of Summer.

It’s not. There are plenty of Summery things going on right through September, which is sometimes the nicest month of the warm season. But the circus is the beginning of the end.

This one has been going on for five generations (the two guys in the picture are the World’s Two Unfunniest Clowns, and nephews of the current ringmaster). Used to be more family members in the acts, but they now hire them from circus-y places like Eastern Europe and China

There is a sense of genuine suspense during many performances, because it’s a small troupe and a bit down-at-heel and you get the impression something could go wrong. But it never has and everyone is very cordial. The acts also take tickets and dole out food; it’s that kind of little circus.

So here we go, the slide into Fall…

August 25, 2016 — 9:40 pm
Comments: 6

Mutton racing


Lamb racing: not a serious sport. These beasties were well accustomed to humans and not keen on running anywhere. They had to be chased by hooting farm children, and even then they kept stopping for skritchies and treats from the crowd. I think they did a best 3 out of 4 and no lamb won twice. This was from Sunday again.

On a sinister note, they’ve been pulling bodies out of the sea on a beach up the coast from us today. They’re up to five now, including two found by walkers after dusk, washed up on the beach. And Twitter tells me there’s a helicopter out looking for another.

There were thousands of people on the beaches today and the news is treating these as ordinary swimming accidents, but nobody knows anything. They have no identities, no backstory. They don’t even know if any of these people were together. Five is a real lot for one day around here, with little wind and calm seas.

It seldom gets above 80° here, but I think it was nearer 90° this afternoon. Eh. I’m off to take a cool bath.

August 24, 2016 — 10:13 pm
Comments: 14

Don’t ever take investment advice from me


Pff. Yeah. I’m reblogging shit from FaceBook now. Like if you think I’m an idiot, share if you think I’m a maroon.

I’m sure I’ve told you this story before, but w/e. Berners-Lee’s white paper proposing the WWW was published in 1990. I’d been online some years by then, and I read his paper and I thought it was the stupidest, most unworkable, unlikeliest pie-in-the-sky hippie crap I’d ever heard.

This was a time when a simple word processing program was, like, five hundred bucks and this British ninny thinks major players are going to put premium content online for free and let anybody in the world link to it? Yah, riiiiiiight.

That wasn’t my biggest ever prophecy #FAIL, though. Oh, no.

My second year of art school, they had a recruiter from Hasbro come talk to the class. He was all excited about this new toy they were about to release. Hasbro had done a big survey of little girls and found the number one thing they all wanted was a pony, so they were going to sell these ugly pony sculptures in garish colors.

And I’m thinking, no, you idiot little girls want A PONY. A soft warm hairy beast she can feed apples to and dress up and ride around on, not some lumpy pink four-legged hard plastic booger-goblin.

Yep, that’s right. I predicted the complete failure of My Little Pony.

August 23, 2016 — 5:11 pm
Comments: 22

Alpaca bag


We went to a tractor festival on Sunday. We almost didn’t. I’m going to level with you here: I’m not all that into tractors.

These people, these people are into their tractors. This isn’t even the first tractor fest we’ve been to this Summer (though the other, you’ll recall, was a traction engine thing. This was, like, John Deeres). This was a three ring tractor festival. Glad we went; it was one of the best country fairs we’ve been to.

In addition to my alpaca friends here, there were three-banded armadillos, a skink, a wallaby and A WHOLE TENT OF CHIKKENS! There was a pair of buff Orpingtons there that probably weighed more than my whole flock.

As dog is my witness, I shall take Buff Orpington as a username some day.

The food was exceptionally good for one of these events. Too good, in fact. By the time we decided to eat, our first (and second) choices had sold out. I had a very decent pad Thai and a cider (note to visitors: all cider in Britain is hard).

And thus the Summer fete season marches on. Next weekend is a big one; it’s a long weekend. After that, it all kind of peters out.

Ah, well. Gather ye tractorfests while ye may.

August 22, 2016 — 8:22 pm
Comments: 18

bit o’ fun


This is fun: auto mechanics recreate famous paintings. The last one is my favorite; it’s based on one of my favorite Rembrandts, the Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp.

Rembrandt was my favorite painter when I was a kid. Then I made the mistake of reading a biography of him and decided he was kind of a jerk. And he thought those lumpy potato women he painted were beautiful, because they were based on his wife and mistress. All the other Dutch painters snickered at his bovine nudes.

Never hit the ‘learn more’ button on your heroes. Thanks to can’t hark for the link.

Changing the subject, the South Park guys are coming out with a new game in December: The Fractured but Whole. I guess it’s a riff on the Marvel superhero movies. As part of the schtick, they’re claiming to have developed a peripheral device called the Nosulus Rift that allows you to smell farts as they happen in the game. The Making of videos are pretty fun.

I haven’t quite finished their first game, Stick of Truth. It’s a cross between an RPG and an episode of South Park, but it has wrung a few genuine guffaws out of me.

Finally: rooster in pants! Or cockerel in trousers, for my British readers. For reasons unfathomable, it is seriously funny. He looks like your grandpa.

It came across my FaceBook feed from one of the chikken groups I follow. When I went to YouTube to find a non-FB link, I discovered chickens in pants are a thing. This one has a kind of bigfoot quality. This guy’s laugh is infectious. Wait, is this the same guy, or do all redneck yards look alike? (I love the way that rooster keeps looking down at his pants, like The Hell?). Won’t even start on the chicken diapers.

We’ve got some fun stuff on the calendar for this weekend, but the weather isn’t predicted to cooperate. Cross your fingers. Have a good one!

August 19, 2016 — 6:51 pm
Comments: 5

Chikken science


You know I’ve always told you that a chicken’s position in the flock is signaled by the size of her comb? Well, I found me a gat-dang scholarly article about it.

The question of whether attributes of the combs of laying hens have any consistent relationship with dominance behaviour has yet to be answered unequivocally.

Nonsense! I told you it did, didn’t I?

Pullets (n = 120, Hy-line® Variety Brown) were allocated randomly to eight groups of 15 hens for 32 weeks. Over this period the length and height of each hen’s comb was measured regularly to estimate the total comb area and hens were weighed. In weeks 3–10 the aggressive interactions between hens in each group were observed to calculate a behavioural dominance score (David’s score) for each hen.

David’s score is a measure of the dominance of a single member of any group of animals using the formula DS(interactionmatrix, prop=c(“Pij”, “Dij”)). No, I’m not shitting you. No, I don’t have a clue. Google if you math.

The luminance, purity and dominant wavelength of the colour of each hen’s comb was measured in week 27 using a telespectroradiometer.

What would you give — WHAT WOULD YOU GIVE — to watch an actual scientist apply a telespectroradiometer to a chicken’s floopy red hat?

There was no association between body weight and dominance score but there was a significant inverse relationship between dominance score and the dominant wavelength of the comb (gradient of slope = −0.067 ± 0.023, P < 0.01).

I buy this. My dominant hen is the smallest in the flock. She’s a fearsome little beast. Though I’m not entirely sure about the gradient of the slope of the dominant wavelength of her headgear, TBH.

This indicated that hens with combs perceived by humans as more yellow-red than pure red were generally more successful competitors. Further research is required to ascertain whether or not hens utilise this information on comb size and the underexplored area of comb colour to assess the competitive ability of their opponents.

“Stay away from Edna today, fam — she’s looking a little orange, iykwim.”

The underexplored area of comb colour. Hoo! Why didn’t I go into chikken science for reals? Oh, yeah…I can’t math.

Anyway, there you have Violence the Chicken as a young layer and three years later as Boss Lady.

Two of the three new girls are laying for sure. Possibly all three, but I haven’t caught Colette on the nest yet. When I stuck my head in the coop this morning, Rosie was on the nest and she shrieked at me. It really is like walking in on a teenager in the bathroom.

August 18, 2016 — 8:53 pm
Comments: 7