Creepy-crawly goodness

If you like invertebrates (and who doesn’t?) check out the Circus of the Spineless at Burning Silo.

I take a casual interest in insects and other invertebrates, but one thing you quickly realise is that they’re really hard. I first really appreciated this when, quite pleased with myself for recognising something as a ‘scorpionfly’, I tried to look it up in a book and discovered there are something like 28 species just of scorpionflies in the UK. And that’s relatively modest compared to the beetles and things. So I mainly stick to birds.

Since I’m on natural history, check out the dioramas at Pruned; it’s worth clicking through the links in that post as well.

Rain, rain, go away

We’re currently having a ‘drought‘ in the south-east of England, despite the fact that it’s been raining for the past week. The argument is that a few days of rain don’t compensate for the past year which has been unusually dry, although it seems pretty clear that if the water companies were better at maintaining their infrastructure there wouldn’t be a problem.

Anyway, a meteorologist has taken a close look at the water companies’ statistical claims and shows that they are selective to the point of being misleading. That’s not terribly surprising in itself, but I found the specifics interesting.

It’s nice to see an attempt in the media to actually look at some statistics and explain what’s wrong with them.

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Big Chief Elizabeth

I just read Big Chief Elizabeth – How England’s Adventurers Gambled and Won the New World, by Giles Milton. As the title suggests, it’s an account of the earliest attempts to set up an English settlement in America. As the title also suggests, the general tone of the thing is ‘rollicking yarn’ rather than ‘nuanced and careful investigation into the ethics of colonisation and colonialism’.

That’s fine by me. I refuse to feel any ancestral guilt over anything countrymen of mine did over four centuries ago. Or indeed feel any ancestral outrage over things done to them, since there seems to have been plenty of brutality on all sides.

I was slightly startled to realise how little I knew about the subject. In a curious way it’s become part of American history rather than British. Not that gaps in my historical knowledge are so unusual they need a special explanation.

Odd how hard it is to shift the idea of the Elizabethan period as glamorous. I mean, the clothes were pretty fab, and there was Shakespeare of course, and pirates and gold and stuff, but Elizabeth was just another capricious despot in a string of despots.

Sir Walter Ralegh features heavily, of course. Which seems as good a reason as any to post a favourite poem.

As you came from the holy land
Of Walsinghame,
Met you not with my true love
By the way as you came ?

How shall I know your true love,
That have met many one,
As I went to the holy land,
That have come, that have gone ?

She is neither white nor brown,
But as the heavens fair ;
There is none hath a form so divine
In the earth or the air.

Such a one did I meet, good sir,
Such an angel-like face,
Who like a queen, like a nymph, did appear,
By her gait, by her grace.

She hath left me here all alone,
All alone, as unknown,
Who sometimes did me lead with herself,
And me loved as her own.

What’s the cause that she leaves you alone,
And a new way doth take,
Who loved you once as her own,
And her joy did you make ?

I have loved her all my youth,
But now old, as you see,
Love likes not the falling fruit
From the withered tree.

Know that Love is a careless child,
And forgets promise past ;
He is blind, he is deaf when he list,
And in faith never fast.

His desire is a dureless content,
And a trustless joy ;
He is won with a world of despair,
And is lost with a toy.

Of womankind such indeed is the love,
Or the word love abusèd,
Under which many childish desires
And conceits are excusèd.

But true love is a durable fire,
In the mind ever burning,
Never sick, never old, never dead,
From itself never turning.

Michelangelo drawings at the BM

The British Museum has an exhibition of Michelangelo drawings at the moment. According to them:

Drawing on the outstanding collections of the British Museum, the Ashmolean and the Teyler Museum in Haarlem, Michelangelo Drawings is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to follow the evolution of some of the world’s most celebrated artworks

Which is probably fair. Being Michelangelo, it basically consists of lots and lots of drawings of contorted male nudes. There are occasional other things – a drapery study, a few architectural sketches, even a picture of a woman – but basically it’s figure studies. If he ever filled in a spare minute by sketching the cat, or a bunch of flowers, those pictures didn’t make it into the exhibition.

Apparently he was very reluctant to show people unfinished works and burnt most of his sketches before his death, so conceivably the ones he burnt included lots of pictures of bunnies and trees, but somehow I doubt it.

Despite being a tad repetitive (ooh look, another muscular torso), it’s an enjoyable exhibition. There’s a certain simple thrill in seeing the preliminary drawings for the Sistine Chapel ceiling or the dome of St Peters, and it’s interesting to get a sense of his working methods, but to be honest I have a limited tolerance for the really sketchy drawings. Fortunately there were enough more highly finished things to keep me engaged.

Mind you, drawings are never quite the real thing. The second-hand magic of photos of the Sistine Chapel and the Pietà was almost more powerful than having even the best drawings right in front of you.

One note: it’s very crowded. Despite having to wait nearly two hours to use my timed ticket, I still spent a lot of the time waiting to look at things to looking over people’s shoulders. But the wait did give me an opportunity to go to Bi Won, a Korean restaurant in Coptic Street that I’d recommend for lunch if you go to the BM. The lunch-time sets for about £6.50 are superb value.

Don’t mention the war

Because the World Cup is in Germany, yesterday the Guardian decided to theme a whole section of the newspaper around the subject of “our peculiar relationship with Deutschland”.

It’s certainly true that the British have a generally negative idea of Germany. But these days I don’t think it’s particularly deeply felt or deeply held. And the common suggestion that it’s all about the war is, I think, only marginally true. All those films with humourless Nazi commandants certainly can’t help, but I don’t think many people really equate modern Germany with the Nazis. The humourless stereotype is almost worse for their image than the actual war.

The real problem for Germany’s image in the UK is that there’s nothing positive to balance against the bad stuff. We have plenty of negative stereotypes of the French, but we like their food, fashion, films, and their actresses. We are often anti-American, but we enjoy their music, movies, and novels. Germany has absolutely nothing that has captured the British imagination. You’d think the blondes, beer and fast cars would give the country a certain laddish appeal, but somehow even they don’t manage to make Germany seem any more fun.

I don’t know. Perhaps I’ve got it completely backwards, and the existing prejudice is the reason the British never find anything to like about Germany.

Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture

I was looking for an internet copy of Thomas Chippendale’s The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director (which is a large collection of the most elegant and useful designs of household furniture in the Gothic, Chinese and modern taste) and found the University of Wisconsin’s Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture. Not only does it have complete scans of the Chippendale, it also has Owen Jones’s The Grammar of Ornament, and lots of similar stuff like Temple of Flora, or, Garden of the botanist, poet, painter, and philosopher, The City and Country Builder’s and Workman’s Treasury of Designs, or, The art of drawing and working the ornamental parts of architecture, and A New Treatise on Flower Painting, or, Every lady her own drawing master: containing familiar and easy instructions for acquiring a perfect knowledge of drawing flowers with accuracy and taste: Also complete directions for producing the various tints.

And while I’m posting links to that kind of thing, I can’t resist adding one to Ernst Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur.

Billy Elliot, the Musical

Yesterday I went to Billy Elliot, the musical of the movie.

Billy Elliot

Which I have to say was very enjoyable, in an emotionally manipulative kind of way. The little kid with a poignant letter from his dead mother, who wants to be a ballet dancer despite coming from a northern town in the process of being torn apart by the miners’ strike, the gruff miners with hearts of gold – no heartstring was left untugged. Tunes by Elton John, who’s also not afraid to lay the emotion on with a trowel.

But sometimes that’s quite nice. And it was leavened by lots of high-energy dancing and plenty of good jokes.

I’m obviously just too literal minded for my own good, though, because I never entirely stopped finding it ever so slightly odd that the actor playing Billy was a different race to his parents. He was very good, mind you, particularly at the tap dancing. They actually have five actors playing Billy in rotation to prevent them burning out, one of whom – Matthew Koone – is Asian. It wasn’t enough to spoil my enjoyment of the show or anything, but I was always slightly aware of it somehow.

But then the whole business of ‘believing’ what we see on the stage, and what we mean by that, is peculiar and subtle. It wasn’t like the show was unremittingly realist – we’re talking about chorus lines of picketing miners here – so why one detail niggles and another doesn’t… I think I might be overanalysing at this point.

WordPress 2.0 Theme Competition – winners announced

I’ve got a cold and accidentally took Night Nurse instead of Day Nurse, so apart from the general blearghness of the cold, I’m a bit dopey. If I start rambling incoherently, you know why.

But that isn’t what I was going to say. The winners of the WordPress theme competition I entered have been announced. No prize for me. No surprise there; my theme was probably rather too simple and rather too derivative of Kubrick, quite apart from the fact I only discovered too late that it didn’t display properly on some versions of IE/Windows.

Some comments about the themes that did win, which hopefully don’t come across as sour grapes:

The overall winner was Durable. I’ve mentioned this before when I was talking about Ajax. I think the use of Ajax is indeed very impressive, although the most striking thing – allowing users to change every detail of the colouring – seems like a bit of a gimmick. Aesthetically I think it’s fine but not exceptional. Overall, though, a fair winner.

Runner up was Kurtina. Personally I think this is a near-miss. The visual focus seems wrong to me; the strong blue-green draws the eye to the top of the sidebar and the line under the header, rather than either the title of the blog or the content. Just tweaking the colours would help a lot. I do think the trend to have the first entry in full and the following ones as exceprts is quite a good one though.

2nd runner up was Ambiru. This might be my favourite. Classy, stylish, attractive. Very nice.

Most Creative was Foliage. I thought this could have scored higher as well. It doesn’t seem to work very consistently in the theme browser, but assuming that’s just a problem with the browser, I like this a lot. It looks cool, the way all the sidebar stuff is hidden in a drop-down box at the top of the screen makes a lot of sense, and the focus is firmly on the content. Nice.

Best three-column design went to Tiga which, frankly, is a complete mess. It seems to be heavily customisable (colours, fonts, header size) through the Admin panel, which is nice for users who don’t like mucking around with their CSS, but it shows no sign of actual design at all.

Best two-column design went to Disconnected. I don’t get it. I mean, I don’t see what the theme is trying to do. It has lots of styling but no coherent look, for me. The diagonal stripey bits at the bottom of the sidebar boxes seem particularly pointless.

Best see of coloursDapit Hapon. Here, I have to strongly disagree with the judges. I think this is an example of very bad use of colour. The colours chosen don’t particularly complement each other – although they’re all browns, they’re rather different browns and they don’t work well together. But nor do they provide strong effective contrasts. A very odd choice.

Best Liquid DesignDarkPad. Well, it’s a liquid design. I don’t think it has much else going for it.

With CSS, it makes it very easy to style every element of your design separately – lists, links, columns, posts, comments, etc etc. I think the most common failing of people’s themes is that they actually do that; everything is styled in some way; a little border, a background colour, a graphic. And even if each detail is very subtle and tasteful, the combined effect of every part of the design being styled is usually that it’s a mess.

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‘Modernism: Designing a New World’ at the V&A

I went to see the Modernism: Designing a New World exhibition at the V&A, which was good. It was largely what you’d expect – white houses, angular furniture and posters with large sans serif headers printed at an angle – although there were some treats and surprises, like a Tatra T-87 saloon car.

Looking at the best of the modernist buildings, like the Villa Savoye and thinking of all those lumpen, red-brick, pitched-roofed houses that the British construction industry threw up over the course of the C20th, you can’t help feeling that our suburbs might be less ugly if we’d embraced modernism a bit more. Of course no style or philosophy is a substitute for a good architect. An industry that cares so little about aesthetics and design would only produce equally lumpen, graceless buildings in white-rendered concrete.

Incidentally, note that many of the most successful modernist dwellings seemed to be (like the Villa Savoye), stand-alone houses set in the country, where the trees provide a soft green background to the starkness of the design and the sweeping picture windows can look out over beautiful views. The large scale housing projects – and there were plenty of those in the exhibition as well – struggle to have the same impact. With rows of separate buildings, the effect can be rather a lot of visual clutter; perhaps because Modernism eschews decoration, so the aesthetic effects are achieved with structural elements – i.e. the shapes of the buildings. Or something. I haven’t really thought that through yet.

One of the odd things about the exhibition was that it was a constant stream of utopian, reformist ideals, but in the back of your mind was that the period it dealt with was bookended by the Great War and the Russian Revolution at one end and World War Two at the other, with the Depression and the growth of Fascism in the meantime. And yet somehow, all these idealists who were trying to change the world by giving the working man an efficient living space with Licht, Luft und Sonne seem to fit quite well into that kind of background. The wish to change the world by throwing out everything old and rebuilding it from scratch, to draw a line under ten centuries of European history and say “we can do better than that” has its echoes in the politics. Of course revolutionary Russia was one of the centres of early Modernist design.

And while I’m sure they wanted nothing but to make people’s lives better, the rhetoric – of the house as a ‘machine for living’, of progress, efficiency, mass-production – can be rather dehumanising. It reeks of top-down planning. And then there’s all the stuff about ‘hygienic’ living, with its celebration of cleanliness and the body. There’s a section about it in the exhibition, including some film of the ‘Sokol Slets’ – massed displays of gymnastics in Czechoslovakia which look like something Reni Liefenstahl would have dreamt up after eating too much cheese.

‘Performance of 16 800 women at the 1938 Sokol Slet. Strahov Stadium, Prague.’

Despite all the dubious parallels I’m drawing, it’s worth pointing out that both Hitler and Stalin disliked Modernism. Their idea of a good building was one smothered in heavy-handed political symbolism. And although some of the architects and designers were quite political (mostly leftists of various kinds, but some of the Italian Futurists were Fascist sympathisers, apparently), I’m not suggesting that any of that is terribly relevant to the actual buildings. I’m just drawing connections because I think it’s interesting.

Not exactly a thrashing

It seems only fair to point out that when I said, about the cricket match between England and Sri Lanka, that Sri Lanka were “almost certainly going to get thrashed” – I was wrong. After following on, they made one of the great comebacks in the history of Test cricket to be 537-9 at the end of the game.

And, again in translation for my American readers, we played one game for 5 days and it was a draw. That’s cricket.

Bomb-sniffing flowers

Scientists in Denmark, the US and Canada have all been working on producing a genetically-engineered plant whose flowers will come up red instead of white in the presence of underground explosives. The idea, of course, is that you can use them to to test for the presence of landmines by dropping the seeds from the air and seeing what colour the flowers are when they come up.

Apart from the benefits if the technology works (and the rampant symbolism), this is the kind of project that the genetic engineers needed to come up with at the start of the technology to help sell it to the public. It would take a very hard person, however suspicious they were of science, to oppose a cheap new mine-detection technology.

Instead, of course, despite all the publicity about how GM products were going to end third-world hunger, reinvigorate medicine and who knows what else, the first major products were herbicide-resistent crops, allowing farmers to use even more toxic chemicals in the quest for ever-more intensive crop production. Personally I think that most of the opposition to GM food is incoherent, illogical and based entirely on prejudice, but I still can’t feel very positive about Round-up Ready soybeans.

via Metafilter; photo from and presumably ©

The Plot Against America – Philip Roth

The NY Times ‘sent out a short letter to a couple of hundred prominent writers, critics, editors and other literary sages, asking them to please identify “the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years”‘. You can see the list of works that got more than one vote here. I’ve read embarrassingly few of them; one that I have read is the most recent, Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, which I read in Spain.

Considering the glowing reviews I read, I thought it was completely ordinary. The historical aspect of it – the speculation of how the US could have wandered into fascism under a Lindbergh presidency – was quite interesting and convincingly done. But as a literary work it did nothing for me. It felt like it could have been written by a journalist or a historian to make a historical point. I was reading it directly after some Pynchon, which probably made the style seem a bit flat in comparison, but still, the characterisation and dialogue seemed unremarkable to me. Perhaps I was just in the wrong mood for it, and I’m pretty sure that if it had been set in, say, Surrey instead of Newark it would have been more immediate for me, but I still wonder how it would have been received if it didn’t have Roth’s name attached to it.

The Pynchon, on the other hand (Gravity’s Rainbow), clearly was a remarkable bit of writing, but I’m not sure it was more than the sum of its parts. I think that’s generally a problem, though, with these sprawling, disjointed modernist novels going right back to Joyce and indeed Sterne – can the diversions and oddities justify themselves.

Anyway, I’m now rambling. I think it’s probably a mistake trying to talk coherently about literature and listen to the cricket at the same time. Jayawardene and Maharoof are doing a good job at the moment settling down the Sri Lankans but

And at that moment Hoggard took Maharoof’s wicket, caught and bowled. Leaving Sri Lanka on 129/7 in reply to 551/6 declared, which, in translation for my American readers, means they’re almost certainly going to get thrashed.

And in the beginning was the video

According to TUAW:

This video was ripped from a videotape (which explains the lack of video quality) of the 1984 Apple Shareholders’ meeting, where the original Macintosh was unveiled.

It’s either a very good spoof, or… well, genuine.

’70s Tanzanian music

I know absolutely nothing about ’70s Tanzanian music. But Matsuli Music has three tracks by Mbaraka Mwinshehe. So far I’ve only listened to the first, Expo ’70, but that alone would justify giving the link.

Announcing Macaws 1.0

I probably should have played safe and released it as 0.1, but never mind. Since the WordPress 2.0 Theme Competition is now closed for entries, it seems like a good moment to officially release the theme I entered. It’s already available on the Official WordPress Theme Viewer, but you can also get it from my own specially set up demo blog, Heraclitean Fire Themes. There’s a permanent link in the sidebar.

I’m not planning to release any of the themes I use on this blog. Where’s the fun in designing your own personal website if it’s not unique?

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New theme, again.

I expect you’ve noticed the site looks different. Unless you read it through an RSS reader, of course. Much as I like the scarab design, I think it’s a bad thing that the title is liable to get pushed off the bottom of the window on smaller screens and browsers with too many toolbars. That certainly happened in some of the internet cafes I visited in Spain. And I fancied a change.

As ever, if you prefer the old look, there’s a theme switcher in the sidebar. And I haven’t tested this theme on Windows (or very thoroughly on any browsers other than Safari) so if you think something is displaying wrong, let me know. The photo is by NaNoWriMo-ist, whalewatcher, playwright and candy blogger Cybele May.

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Intellectuals, science, and the English Channel

Something Todd Swift said pointed me to an article in the Guardian about the lack of public intellectuals in Britain, written by Agnès Poirier, a French journalist working in London. It’s worth reading just for the culture-clash exhibited in the comments.

I noticed that the unspoken assumption, from both sides of the argument, was inevitably that an intellectual is a philosopher, a cultural theorist, a littérateur and not, for example, someone like Richard Dawkins.* So I started digging around for this quote from C. P. Snow’s The Two Cultures:

I remember G. H. Hardy once remarking to me in mild puzzlement, some time in the 1930s, “Have you noticed how the word “intellectual” is used nowadays? There seems to be a new definition which certainly doesn’t include Rutherford or Eddington or Dirac or Adrian or me? It does seem rather odd, don’t y’know.”

The point being, of course, that Hardy was a mathematician, Rutherford (no relation), Eddington and Dirac were physicists and Adrian was, Wikipedia informs me, a physiologist. Three of them won Nobel prizes. I remember being very struck by that quote when I first read it, and I still think Snow’s basic point about the wilful scientific ignorance of those in the humanities is a good one, even if some of the other things he says in the essay don’t stand up very well. Indeed Wikipedia led me to an essay by Roger Kimball titled “The two cultures” today, published in 1994 in the New Criterion. Kimball does an excellent and largely deserved demolition job on Snow’s essay, but in the process demonstrates exactly the depressing indifference to science that Snow was complaining about.

Snow’s argument operates by erasing or ignoring certain fundamental distinctions. He goes to a literary party, discovers that no one (except himself) can explain the second law of thermodynamics, and then concludes triumphantly: “yet I was asking something which is about the equivalent of Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?” But, as Leavis notes, “there is no scientific equivalent of that question; equations between orders so disparate are meaningless.” The second law of thermodynamics is a piece of specialized knowledge, useful or irrelevant depending on the job to be done; the works of Shakespeare provide a window into the soul of humanity: to read them is tantamount to acquiring self-knowledge. Snow seems blind to this distinction.

“A piece of specialized knowledge, useful or irrelevant depending on the job to be done”. It just makes me want to cry. An insight into the fundamental workings of the universe reduced to a tool, a mathematical spanner, something of no possible interest to anyone who doesn’t need it to do a job. An indirect and second-hand insight into ‘the soul of humanity’ meanwhile is of such obvious value that it apparently goes without saying.

Such arrogance. Not just the intellectual arrogance that is willing to dismiss physics as just a tool for getting jobs done, but the arrogance to assume that ‘self-knowledge’ is of more value than the attempt to understand everything that exists. This isn’t an argument, it’s just an assertion of self-importance.

And yes, I do know that scientists are sometimes just as arrogantly dismissive of the value of the humanities. For the sake of even-handedness, and because it amuses me, here’s a quote from Dirac: “In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it’s the exact opposite.”

* Just a note to say that when I wrote this, Dawkins hadn’t yet published The God Delusion; he did write articles about atheism but was primarily known as a writer about evolutionary theory.

Adela reaumurella

How did we ever get along without the internet to help us scratch those little itches of curiosity? Admittedly, most of them seem to be along the lines of “What have I seen that bloke in before? Oh, I see, he was in [embarrassingly awful sitcom I couldn’t possibly admit to watching]”, but still.

Anyway, in the woods the other day I saw a curious-looking insect, and I just got round to looking it up. Starting by googling ‘day-flying moths uk’ and going from there I came up with Adela reaumurella:

(photo from the fabulous UKMoths website and © Charles Baker)

Like a lot of insects, no-one has bothered to give it an English name, but apparently there are a couple of families of moths with these characteristic antennae, and they’re generally referred to as ‘longhorn moths’. You can see the peculiar antennae above, but the picture doesn’t give the full effect, because when I saw them they were flying all around each other in a little swarm in the sun above a hornbeam, holding their antennae up in a V shape for maximum visibility.

I’m guessing the lady moths like a male with a long horn; that it was, in fact, a moth lek. A lek is where lots of males congregate to compete for female attention, either directly (i.e. by fighting for the best spot), or indirectly (displaying their plumage) or some combination. Insert your own Essex nightclub joke here.

It’s not quite as exciting as having lekking Black Grouse, Ruff, or even hermits (check out the video!), but I was pleased.

One example of lekking behaviour is actually very familiar, although people don’t generally realise what’s happening. On a summer evening, you’ll frequently encounter a swarm of midges flying round and round above a prominent object like a bush. If you walk past them, they often follow you and swarm above your head instead. They are in fact lekking. The males find a convenient landmark and form a swarm, waiting for the females to find them. I assume that in some situations it’s just more efficient to attract the females to one place and then compete directly with other males than it is to expend the energy finding the females individually. I have no idea how the female midges decide which males are the attractive ones.

#23 – Orphosis


Some body hair and a deeper speaking voice
seem poor reward
for thirteen years of dutiful
eating and shitting.

Boys should pupate,
and claw their way from the chrysalis
transformed into kaleidoscopic manhood.
Or at the least should
slough their skins,
peel off their old selves
and step out sleek and bright.

The ternness of terns

George Szirtes discusses people’s need to identify things – flowers, birds – something he doesn’t share. Indeed he sets up (but slightly backs away from), an opposition between the botanist’s way of looking and the artists’s way. He ends like this:

Yet all the time I am aware that even an urban citoyen of the imagination should be able to tell a kingfisher by its silhouette as it flashes across a narrow stream or be able to name at least a hundred stars. One should be able to do that really, as well as trying to render the flashing sensation in language and learning to define the starness of stars.

I can’t help feeling that those people – the vast majority – who can’t distinguish a gull from a tern, a swallow from a swift, or a bee from a wasp or a hoverfly, are completely failing to appreciate the ternness of terns.

Being able to recognise something and distinguish it from superficially similar things seems absolutely central to any attempt to learn something about its thingness. The ability to attach a name is secondary to the process of coming to know a thing the way you know a familiar place or a friend.

Conversely, any birdwatcher could tell you that gaining some sense of a bird’s thingness, its inscape, is a key part of learning to identify it. Of course, being a prosaic bunch, they don’t call it ‘inscape’, they call it ‘jizz’. But if there’s a distinction between saying ‘I knew it was a tern because of its tern-like jizz’ and ‘I knew it was a tern because it had ternness’, it would take a better philosopher than me to elucidate it.

Menu drollery

An Indian takeaway menu put through my door had this:

This elaborate form of cooking involves baking layers of meat or vegetables such that the flavours and aromas enthuse the rice; enhanced with saffron and spices.

Which reminded me of a couple of phonetic attempts at English from a menu in Spain. Since I can speak, read or write no languages other than my own, I always feel a bit embarrassed finding amusement in other people’s broken English, but these are just fabulous:

Fraid in bredcams praws

Could mits

Brilliant BBC fact-checking

BBC London, reporting on some building developments which are being held up by protests from English Nature, announced that the three key bird species were ‘Dartmouth Warbler’ (actually Dartford Warbler), Woodlark and Nightjar. But the really amusing bit was that the Nightjar was illustrated with film of some Wigeons. It’s always slightly unnerving when journalists report on a subject which you know something about; it makes you realise how much crap they must be talking the rest of the time.