Monthly Archives: September 2016



Pacific campaigns:  one of the big ones.  Since this was written the internet has happened along, giving access to photographs, maps, Pathé snippets, reminiscences, obituaries, and modern documentary films with truly dreadful moronic American chauvinist narrators who make the Pathé commentators look restrained and unsentimental (yes I am thinking of one in particular).  These are all useful supplements, but the value of a systematic and dispassionate account becomes even more obvious as you google.

okinawaThe tone is mostly dry and academic, preoccupied with numbers (which are in themselves shocking) and dates.  The occasional concession to human interest is made, for example restrained thumbnail sketches of the senior commanders:

“Nimitz had had a varied career … bold and skilful … accessibility, regard for his subordinates and his quiet strength of character … ”

“Spruance was an intellectual, retiring man not given to seeking publicity …”

“Fraser, a gunnery specialist … a relaxed and easy-going style … ”

One description breaks the pattern:

“Described as ‘an awkward bastard’, Vian believed people could take him as they found him.”  I did have a little chuckle; having heard Admiral Sir Philip Vian’s character assassinated in highly coloured navyspeak, I’m guessing this thumbnail still counts as academic understatement.

But I’m afraid one detail took my attention above all.  Shangri-La?  An aircraft carrier called Shangri-La??  Sorry, people over the water, a joke is all very well, but how on earth could you do it to her, poor thing?

Down among the periwinkles


I was on my way to buy bread and milk and salad, but then, who cares about milk and bread and salad if the full moon has brought a low tide?  (Click an image for the gallery)

Binge buying


… but fortunately, also, binge reading.  Passing bloggers: you might not want to bother with this post unless you are a binge reader yourself.

1-lettersA Georgian Marriage consists of a selection of family letters stitched together with a brief historical narrative.  These people are not aristocrats, heroes, intellectuals, famous in any way, but people ‘of the middling sort’ – a lawyer, and the wife who was considered to be somewhat beneath him, and their family’s modest successes and average tragedies.  They might have come from any Austen novel, but you hear their own voices telling their own story.

2-ottersDarlington is not writing about natural history, but is on a quest. She is wandering around the UK for a year and everywhere she goes she writes about not finding otters.  She is describing otter poo, mostly, and inditing slightly mauve if not purple prose about the atmospherics of wet places. She is writing in the present tense about a year of her life for THREE HUNDRED AND FORTY PAGES and I can’t tell you how much I wish people would not do that.  Nevertheless it must have something, as I find I am reading it all the way to page 341.

3-shellsMercifully this one does consist mostly of natural history, as Scales is a marine biologist, with a few modest glimpses of the author to be companionable.  It’s full of treasurable stuff I didn’t know:  about sea silk; about why hermit crabs queue up for each others’ shells; about the improbable sea butterfly; about scientists who get crabs to run on treadmills to find out how much energy they expend … and things.

4-informersI read all the Falco novels, enjoying the earlier ones more, but hadn’t clocked that a series with a new twist was underway.  I don’t think this has quite the punch of The Silver Pigs as an introduction to a new protagonist, but it was very readable and I’ll be on the lookout for subsequent volumes.

5-writersNeville Cardus was a distinguished critic, once famous for writing about cricket and classical music, and this autobiography was written when he was in his early fifties. There was a good deal more writing ahead of him, but of course the Second World War was a watershed for him as for many, and perhaps prompted him to consider his story so far.  It’s very much a period piece:  born in late Victorian industrial Manchester, poor, illegitimate, half-abandoned, self-educated (let’s hear it for public libraries, people!), dogged, obsessive, lucky and at last making good.  I knew I was in safe hands on the first page of the first chapter, where Cardus gives us an account of the lumps on his grandfather’s head, and I relaxed thankfully into the stream.

6-italicsIn passing: it was good to read a book printed with proper type – none of this digital stuff.  Look at the lovely italic fount, impressed into the page.  I don’t know which it is, but someone out there please tell me if you do.

7-changesChurch after Christendom is a good deal more interesting than you might think, and quite well-written too (except that Murray did use the word ‘winsome’ at least twice, which was unfortunate). The consideration of what the Church and churches might do over the next few years/decades is informed by the author’s Anabaptist background – the implication being that the Church took a wrong turn with Constantine in AD 300-and-something (and who am I to argue with that?).  It seems a balanced account, though, and the book is now studded with little notes-to-self, which is usually a good sign.

8-poemsCollections of poems are a bit like recipe books:  you will never like all of the individual items, but if you get one good recipe (or poem) from the book, which works for you ever after, it is worth the purchase price.  This moderate selection has passed the test – at least eight ‘stayers’, and a number more which may grow on me when I learn how to make a good reading of them.  Some I suspect will never come to be beloved, but that is only right.

Binge buying?  Well, yes; these cost about £30 in total.  While changing trains yesterday, I noted that in a certain coffee bar this sum would have paid for ten cups of coffee.  So, keep taking a bottle of tap water in the bag; and continue to binge on books.

Ejecting a guest


This morning I found an uninvited guest in the porch; must have been accidentally shut in last night when I closed the outer door.

I tried to shoo him out with a brush, as I didn’t want to be peed on by way of defence mechanism, but he only turned his toes in and his head away, apparently beyond hope or fear.  So up he came in cupped hands, and was too dry, poor little beast, to waste piddle on my second-best trousers.  I released him under a nice damp hedge and wished him well, but will never know if he lived.

guestWhy do we willingly attribute fear to animals, but consider that ascribing hope is mere anthropomorphism?

In a white dress


In a ridiculous September heatwave.  (Click an image for the gallery.)

How to do chain mail armpits


Oh the web is a destroyer and waster of time, I said, clicking through the links, wandering from politics to poetry to the palaeolithic in the heat of an unseasonable night.

Those who actually want to know about the armpits should google Lindybeige.  And YouTube commenters are often dire, but on this occasion I was touched by the long technical discussion of how to use your shield boss to repel boarders.  Also, sorry to whoever* said this, as I couldn’t find my way back to where you made the comment to give you the attribution you deserve, but you have truly given me a new mantra for life:

“Unscrew the flint arrow head and end him rightly.”

An instruction I have taken to heart.

*Postscript: After much hunting: Joshua Lansell-Kenny, whoever and whatever you may be.

On the hydrogen alpha line


Standard warning for non-astronomers:

Never look at the sun with your naked eyes, and especially not through any optical instrument such as binoculars or telescope as this is likely to cause permanent blindness.  The photos were taken through a specialist solar telescope which filters out almost all the sun’s light – never attempt to make a filter yourself.

Today there was enough sky, which was just as well, as I fiddled with the feeble tripod, trying to make minute adjustments with knobs which were only designed for coarse movements.  Even using a 35mm eyepiece the sun soon roamed off and away, and with a short eyepiece I spent more time chasing the image than observing it.  And it was hot.  And things were biting me.

Of course if you could get a straight look, it was wonderful. The hydrogen alpha emission line is in a beautiful red part of the spectrum, and in the eyepiece it shines.  In that moment when the focus was fine tuned, and the tripod stopped wobbling, the tiny image revealed a huge prominence, looking simultaneously as delicate as a veil and as monstrous as an apocalypse, rising and flying above the sun’s disc.  Then the image moved off, and it was back to the twiddling and wobbling again.

And the pictures.  Not astrophotography; that suggests something technical, planned, managed, processed, stacked.  With my basic equipment, it’s a challenge even to get the camera focused and steady. Nor are these snaps.  The images do not look like what I saw in the eyepiece, because the camera can’t render the perfect vermilion the eye translates; and to make any of the detail which the eye saw appear on the photographs, they have been tweaked using the primitive capabilities of iPhoto.  So here they are: pictures, anyway, artificial in any sense of the word.

One tweaked to reveal a hint of the delicate complexity of the largest prominence:


and one fiddled with to show something of the active sunspot areas and even, I am amazed to see, some of the filaments crossing the disc:


If you want to see what the prominence ‘really’ looks like try this link, and then click on the image to see it breathtakingly full size:

But of course it doesn’t ‘really’ look like this.  Even in hydrogen alpha.