Friday, 13 December 2013

111213 and American spelling

A few days ago it was 11 December 2013, which, in sensible parts of the world might be written as 111213 (ddmmyy). It’s a special date and many couples therefore chose to get married on that day. Americans, of course, do many (most?) things in a  somewhat cock-eyed fashion and so, instead of it being 111213, for them it is 121113 (mmddyy), which is totally illogical, Mr Spock. Presumably, American couples were rushing to the hook-up ceremony about a month ago, on 12 November 2013, which in Americanese dating is also 111213.

And just think of all the trouble we went to some forty-and-more years ago to change the date entry in punch-cards (remember them?) to correspond as much as possible to the ISO Recommendation R 2014 of 1971: yymmdd. (Yup, only two positions for the year, in order to save precious space, but would lead to problems in the year 2000, of course.)

Anyway, Americans aren’t just peculiar about their dates, they’ve also created havoc with the English language. They use different words to standard British English and where they do deign to use the same words, they spell them differently, making a complete shambles of computer-based spell-checkers.

Here are just some examples of British English words and their American English equivalents:

Car Automobile
Bonnet Hood
Boot Trunk
Bumper Fender
Lorry Truck
Petrol Gasoline

(It's a wonder they don't call brakes "stoppers”.)

Tap Faucet
Cellar Basement
Garden Yard
Spanner Wrench

Pavement Sidewalk
Motorway Highway
Tarmac Hardtop

Ground floor First floor
First floor Second floor
(and so on; how crazy is that!)

Leave Furlough

Americans can be prudish protestants, of course, so they prefer “cleaned up” versions of some words:

Arse becomes Ass
Cock becomes Rooster

(but their use of “tidbits” actually reflects the original form of what in UK English is known as “titbits”.)

Clearly, then, there is a problem with word-usage, which is admittedly difficult to overcome with computer software. This is somewhat different where the spelling of the same words is different in the US version of English to the correct UK version. Unfortunately, however, most personal computers are sold with operating systems that think in US English and if the user does nothing, the spell-checker fails to correct Americanisms in documents that are produced in the many parts of the world that should use British English. I have even seen texts from the European Union that have included American spellings—a travesty if ever there was one!

If you own a personal computer, be its operating system OS X, Windows, or Linux (or even a tablet running iOS, Android, or whatever), and if you live in the civilised part of the world, then please check your language settings to make sure you are using British English (perhaps referred to as UK English) and not US English (often referred to simply as English in setups, so look further!).

Double-l is almost always reduced to a single, forlorn ”l”, as in:

Jewelry (which sparkles even less because of the dropped “e” in addition to the dropped “l”)

The letter-combination “ou” is likewise abbreviated, this time to just the “o”:

Colour becomes Color
Favour becomes Favor
Flavour becomes Flavor
Neighbour becomes Neighbor
Neighbourhood becomes Neighborhood

And what they do with "through" is nothing short of a massacre, making it "thru".

So, remember, “English” in your computer does not necessarily mean English as it is used in the UK and as it should therefore be used in Europe. The thing is, there is no standard, global English. In Europe, only British English (referred to in some systems as UK English) should be used. Check your systems to ensure that this is the version of English that is being used for your dictionaries, be they application-only or system-wide, and all other system settings. (And if you have an iPad, you can get Siri to speak with a “correct” British accent, too.)

Sunday, 10 November 2013

New palms

We have had two new palms planted.

Our Italian Cypress tree had become too tall and was taking the sun in the winter afternoons, so we unfortunately had to make the decision to remove it. A great pity, as it was a lovely tree.

Phoenix roebelenii
Anyway, that we replaced with a Phoenix roebelenii or pygmy palm. It already looks very smart and in a couple of years the trunk should develop the typical "hard scaled" look of its sort.

The roebelenii has a trunk of about 80 cm and can grow slowly to between 2 and 3 metres. It already has a very good looking canopy of fronds.

The other new palm has been chosen to replace our Phoenix canariensis. The canariensis was also becoming too large for our small garden and was also threatened by the red palm weevil, which is causing havoc in the area in which we live. Indeed, we had found some suspicious-looking holes in the base of the canariensis and also some cocoons, so that really made our minds up to replace the palm with a variety more suited to our garden and resistant to the weevil.

We first did some research, visiting the Huerto del Cura in Elche and a number of local garden sentres before deciding on a Howea forsteriana. Strangely, this palm is incorrectly marked in the Huerto del Cura, as can be seen in this photo (note the missing "r"):

Fosteriana instead of forsteriana

There were several examples of this palm in the Huerto (all incorrectly marked) and we were attracted to the narrow trunk and soft fronds. We bought quite a mature example from a local grower, It's a slow-growing palm, so should be fine where it now stands.

Howea forsteriana

You can see more photos in this album.

Friday, 8 November 2013

39 again

A couple of days ago I had a birthday.

I have one each year.

This was the 27th occasion of my 39th birthday and as this seemed to be the cause of extra celebration, SWMBO decide that we should go to a restaurant to have a celebratory meal. She even decided on the restaurant at which we should dine, her current favourite, the Restaurante El Rebate, near Pilar de la Horadada, some thirty kilometres from where we live.

El Rebate was the name of a small abandoned village that the Van Iseghem family completely restored, eventually creating the restaurant itself, as well as a wedding chapel and a shop selling a wide variety of wines, other groceries, handicrafts and all sorts of other things, whilst avoiding the more tacky tourist fare.

The restaurant occupies a large building that was once several small houses. In addition to the large dining room it has a huge terrace.

As usual, we enjoyed our meal at El Rebate and will no doubt be returning soon.

El Rebate seen from the parking area
Steps up to El Rebate from the parking area
Restaurant area of El Rebate

Main restaurant building
Terrace, which would soon be full
SWMBO contemplates the cold tapas
SWMBO admiring the desserts

A Belgian biscuit, a Spanish restaurant, a Welsh man

Friday, 25 October 2013

A Load of Bull(s)

There seems to be a very strange ambiguous attitude towards bulls here in Spain. People purport to have great respect for the animals and then promptly turn round to organise nonsensically cruel "traditions" such as bullfighting, or chasing the bulls through narrow streets, or making them jump off harbour walls, or running after them with spears on horseback, or tying flaming torches to their horns, or…

Well, you get the picture. For a supposedly civilised country still to allow such cruelty is just crazy. And the excuse that it is all done in the name of tradition is too pathetic to be taken seriously.

Anyway, there are bulls in Spain other than those poor creatures who have to undergo such senseless treatment. Sadly, few people, either in or out of Spain, seem to know about them, so here's a piece to whet your appetite.

We recently travelled to Belgium by car. SWMBO had decided that it would be a good idea to visit Toledo on the way, so we decided to make a trip of it and to also visit Avila and Segovia. Well, on the road between Toledo and Avila I noticed a small sign pointing to the Toros de Guisando. That rang a bell; somehow I knew something about these bulls, but I had no idea from where. Anyway, it was a quick left hand down a bit in order to turn onto the direction indicated. Within a couple of kilometres we arrived at the location of the bulls. In fact, we almost drove past the place, as it is so poorly indicated.

There is just a small parking area at the side of the road with a couple of very small signs, hidden by the branches of some large trees, to point out to the weary traveller that this is the place.

Behind a fairly substantial wall, hidden from view of passing traffic and with just a single small entrance gate, is an open area of ground in which stand four magnificent stone bulls.

The bulls are over two thousand years old and were once spread over the surrounding fields. Nobody knows their purpose: magical, religious, fertility symbols…? Perhaps there were more such bulls in the area, certainly the types of rocks that lie in the fields offer plenty of suitable raw material. In any case, these four were brought to their current location probably in Roman times, in about the third century.

Each sculpture is about two metres long and perhaps one metre-thirty high. The carving is naive, but very beautiful and the bulls present a very strong impression. They each seem to have its own character. They are, of course, well weathered, but remains of exceptional detail can still be seen, most notably in the skin folds on the neck of one of them.

Carving details still visible

Another bull carries a Latin inscription that dates from the time that the Romans moved them.

Latin inscription on side of bull

Although the site of the bulls seems to be little known nowadays, it must have been held in some esteem in times gone by, for it was here that Enrique IV proclaimed his sister, Isabella the Catholic, as his rightful heir to the Kingdom of Castilla in 1468.

A small information panel provides some history

Tuesday, 22 October 2013


 Driving back from our recent trip to Belgium, we had intended to make a detour to revisit the Auberge de La Truffe in Sorges. However, the weather in France was very poor and going over the Massif Central was so disheartening that we decided instead to head straight for the Spanish border.

Looking for a suitable place to stay, we noticed that we would be passing very close to Pézenas and remembered that we had visited the town some 35 years ago, when we had stayed at a hotel that Elise thought had once been Molière's house. We wondered if we could find hat same hotel again and if it would be equally impressive.

Driving into the town of Pézenas we saw a small sign advertising the Hôtel Le Molière, so our hopes were high and soon we drove onto the main square, on the opposite side of which we could see the fine old hotel, which still looked suitably impressive from the outside.

Inside, the hotel still maintains an equally impressive air, as can be seen from the photos.

It seemed smaller than we remembered, especially the gallery that looks up to a glass ceiling. The stained glass of the ceiling was unfortunately hidden behind some drapes, placed there to keep the sun out during the long summer. Looking up through the gallery, you can see the various levels and their walkways which lead to the rooms of the hotel.

Downstairs in the entrance hall, which also serves as the breakfast room, the walls still carry the huge paintings that depict scenes from some of Molière's most famous plays. Other parts of the walls are filled with framed and signed photos of notable names of French stage and screen, as well as numerous sports personalities, all of whom have stayed at the hotel.

Sadly, however, the hotel now seems tired and in need of careful and thorough renovation. It is unfortunate that what could be such a fine hotel is located in Pézenas, a town which really has very little to offer and itself looks tired and in need of some renovation.

According to the hotel's own website, it was "entirely refurbished" in 2003 (it also reveals that it was never Molière's house). Well, it really doesn't show. The rooms are clean, no problem there, but the bathrooms need replacing, the passageways need redecorating, the lift is megalithic, the staircase is in a terrible state… A great shame, for the place has so much character, so much potential elegance, so much history…

I truly hope that the Hôtel Le Molière will not be allowed to fall further into disrepair. It most assuredly deserves a better fate.

And, who knows, perhaps we shall be able to visit it again in another 35 years.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Flex mad

Yes, indeed. At almost 65 years of age I have become a flex maniac.

The thing is, I recently read Richard Feynman's book Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman. I was so fascinated with Feynman that I searched out a biography of the man and found one written by James Gleick, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman.

In this biography, brief mention is made of the discovery of the flexagon by Arthur Stone, a British colleague of Feynman's at Princeton University. Other students at the university became so fascinated with this apparently simple construction, made out of nothing more than a folded strip of paper, that they set up a committee to study the flexagon in its various configurations. One of the members was, needless to say, Richard Feynman.

Research into this interesting but apparently frivolous topic came to a halt with the war effort (Feynman went on to work on the development of the first atomic bomb, for example) and little more was heard of flexagons until Martin Gardner published an article about them in a 1956 edition of Scientific American.

Well, I've always liked paper-folding and have a sort of unfulfilled interest in maths (largely destroyed through conventional teaching methods), so flexagons sounded like something I needed to know more about. And, thanks to the Internet, that's a goal that is easy enough to achieve nowadays.

You might well enjoy making and playing with flexagons yourself, so here are some of the best sites that I have found. They range from simple starter sites to rather more complex ones that go into the theory behind these fascinating objects.

Jill Britton's Let's Make a Flexagon site is a good place to start if you've never made a flexagon before and want an easy introduction to see what it's all about. She shows you how to make a trihexaflexagon (one with six sides and three faces), including a video on how to fold it (folding is called flexing in flexagon-speak), and a full-sized template to print out. (The image accompanying this entry shows one of the faces of this flexagon.)

Aunt Annie's Crafts offers a good page for beginners, too. The first page presents numerous patterns and templates for trihexaflexagons and a sort of hidden link takes you to a second page with patterns and templates for hexahexaflexagons. (And there's another links for tritetraflexagons, those with three faces and four sides).

Keith Enevoldsen's Think Zone includes a page about flexagons that presents a very good looking example of a hexahexaflexagon (six sides and six faces) that Keith designed himself. Full instructions and templates are provided in a linked PDF. Excellent stuff.

Scott Sherman's Flexagon site is about as comprehensive as you'll find, with models ranging from the very simple to the very complex. Video instructions and demonstrations accompany plenty of templates that can be printed out for cutting and folding. Superb. also offers a wide selection of fascination flexagons. The site is perhaps more technical than Scott's and not as pleasant to navigate, but you'll still find plenty of variation and lots of templates.

Gathering for Gardner offers plenty of everything to do with flexagons, including a full collection of Vi Hart videos about the creatures and several excellent templates.

I am sure that there are many, many more resources out there, but I think that's enough to be getting along with. So from now on you have no excuse for being bored or having nothing to do. Get folding and flexing!

Monday, 19 August 2013

A New Arrival!

The first sign that a new arrival was on its way came at about nine o'clock in the morning when the phone rang and we were informed that a delivery was on its way and would be arriving in some fifteen minutes!

About twenty minutes later we were taking care of what was clearly a very precious package.

 A 10 cm dilation revealed the first signs of the precious contents. The excitement was so great that I just had to go to the toilet!

With some gentle persuasion and the odd push or two, the package was guided carefully out of the opening. It was covered with a white shroud.

With the shroud removed, the newborn could be seen, though it was still in the foetal position. Another gentle tug and it was released from its afterbirth and umbilical cord.

Then it opened up to reveal its true glory: an Apple MacBook Air, 13" screen, with 8 GB RAM and a 256 GB SSD.

Vital statistics:

  • Height: from 0,3 to 1,7 cm
  • Width: 32,5 cm
  • Depth: 22,7 cm
  • Weight: 1,35 kg

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Let's Have a Ball

Elise wanted some basil the other day. Not he of Fawlty Towers fame, but the herb: she adds it to tomatoes, pasta, and various other concoctions.

She likes to use fresh basil, so I had to take her to one of the local garden centres, Naturplant, to buy a plant. And a very nice plant it was, too (actually, she bought two).

While we were at the garden centre, we also took a look at the cacti. They usually have a good selection of small cacti and now was no exception. This time, however, they clearly had recently had a delivery of larger cacti. Elise called me over to see on, a beautiful Echinocactus grusonii.

Well, we hadn't intended to buy a cactus, but this was an excellent specimen and the price was also right, so it didn't take us long to decide to purchase it.

The Echinocactus grusonii has a diameter of just about 55 cm. and a circumference of about 170 cm., so it's quite a size. The person who delivered it estimated it to weigh at least 40 Kg. I estimate it to be between thirty and forty years old.

Popular names for Echinocactus grusonii include Golden Barrel Cactus, Golden Ball, or, my favourite, Mother-in-Law's Cushion.

If you'd like to learn more about the care of Echinocactus grusonii, the best site I've found is this one.

A while ago we visited Cactus d'Algar, a wonderful botanical garden at Callosa d'en Sarrià (inland from Benidorm, close to the Fuentes del Algar) devoted to cacti. There we saw this huge field of Echinocactus grusonii:

Elise will have to buy a lot more basil for us to reach that stage!

Now, about the repotting…

Thursday, 4 July 2013

All Quiet on The Belgian Front

We were back in the hospital today to have a chat with the surgeon who performed the operation on Elise last week and then to have the staples removed. All fine; no complaints.

We had a cup of coffee there after having had Elise de-stapled and cleaned up. The packet of sugar came with a good message again: "El que quiere hacer algo encuentra un mediao, el que no, una excusa."

That translates to "He who wishes to achieve something will find a way; he who doesn't will find an excuse."

Makes me think of all the foreigners here who still can't speak Spanish after having been here for several years: they, too, find plenty of excuses. Agreed, it is difficult to learn a foreign language when you are not actually living in a country in which that language is spoken, but when you are surrounded by millions of native speakers…

Anyway, to eliminate all possible excuses, there's a great new free way to learn Spanish, wherever you are in the world. It's called Say Something In Spanish. Of course, it's not a miracle course and some effort will still be required, but it's by far the best way that I know of learning a language without actually immersing yourself in the language.

If you understand Welsh and you'd prefer to learn through a Welsh medium, simply go to Say Something In Spanish Cymraeg and you'll be in your element. (This is also a great way to practise your Welsh, of course!)

Oh, and if you want to learn Welsh, then try Say Something in Welsh. Ardderchog!

Monday, 1 July 2013

Sweet thoughts

We received a call from the hospital last Wednesday to tell us that Elise could go in for her hiatus hernia operation on Thursday, instead of Friday. As a result we were up far too early on Thursday morning in order to be at the hospital by seven-thirty and by eight-thirty Elise was in a bed, being wheeled in the direction of the operating theatre.

All went very well. Amazing, really, just five small cuts, three of about half a centimetre and to of about a centimetre. Elise was walking around on Thursday afternoon and we were back home by Friday evening.

I stayed at the hospital, too, and whilst there I ate at the restaurant. Excellent food and excellent coffee. The sugar that comes with the coffee is provided in paper sachets and each sachet carries a little piece of wisdom. The one shown here reads, "Más vale ser un loco feliz, que ser normal y amargado." This translates to "It is better to be a happy fool than normal and bitter."

Very true.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

46 (más o menos…)

Here's the international version:

Penblwydd hapus i ti
Joyeux anniversaire
Happy birthday, Elise
Cumpleaños feliz

Ah, yes, another year has passed, and so SWMBO celebrates her 46th birthday (with apologies to Eric Morecambe, they are all the right digits, but not necessarily in the right order).

The event was duly noted a few days ago with a trip to El Corte Inglés in Elche, one of Elise's favourite hideaways, where she bought numerous items to soften the blow, including yet another handbag to add to the collection.

To celebrate even further (is there no stopping?), she goes into hospital on Friday for a hiatus hernia operation. Hopefully, she will be back home by Saturday evening and all will once again be well with the inner workings.

Gelukkige verjaardag, Elise!

Thursday, 13 June 2013

A Couple of Shakes

We live in a reasonably active area, at least as far as seismic activity is concerned. And earthquakes have no respect for a good night's rest, so at about twenty past five this morning, we were shaken awake by quite a good rumble. The epicentre of this nocturnal motion (if you'll pardon the expression) was literally just up the road form us, as can be seen in the map to the left (click on it for a larger image), provided by the Instituto Geográfico Nacional. The maximum magnitude was 2.8 and here in El Raso it was probably about 2.7. Not bad for a night's work.

As if that wasn't enough excitement for the day, this afternoon, at about twenty-five past three, there was a nasty little blip, which felt as if it was just below us. This time the epicentre was first reported by the Instituto to have been just off the coast, next to the lake at the bottom of El Raso, but that information was later corrected, to place the epicentre to the north-west of Guardamar, as can be seen in the following map:

This rumble had a magnitude of 3.2.

Who knows? There might be more to come, so batten down the hatches; make everything ship-shape and Bristol-fashion.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

A whopper of a wasp

Megascolia maculata flavifrons (female)
We are fortunate enough to have a rather unusual visitor to our garden, namely a mammoth wasp, or a Megascolia maculata flavifrons. I believe that this is the largest wasp in Europe.

And it really does live up to its "mammoth" name, for it is at least 5cm long. In fact, I have spotted two individuals, the larger one at 5cm or more and a smaller one that is perhaps 4.5cm long. Both of them are impressive creatures.

Both of them are also females. The body of the female mammoth wasp is black with large yellow markings. She has strong wings, tinged with amber, resembling the skin of an onion, showing crimson in the variegated light. Her legs are coarse, with a knotted appearance and are very hairy. She has a huge body and a powerful head, which is well protected by a hard skull. Her flight is quite low and is surprisingly quiet for such a large insect. The male mommoth wasp, which I have not yet seen, is less colourful and of finer frame.

The mammoth wasp does not attack humans (no European wasps do, except out of self-defence, so stop waving your arms about). Instead, it hunts out the larvae of the rhinoceros beetle (Oryctes nasicornis), which it paralyses with its sting in order to lay a single egg in the beetle's body. When it emerges, the larva of Megascolia then devours that of the Oryctes.

Size comparison with ordinary wasp (Vespula vulgaris)

And here's a little video (the quality is far better than the preview image).

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Home from Belgium

We have been away for a few weeks. Because of the health problems last year, we were unable to make our usual late autumn visit back to Belgium, so it really was time to do so. I didn't fancy the queuing up at airports, not to mention the getting up at unearhly hours of the morning in order to catch a plane with a take-off time of 06:30, yes six-thirty in the morning and you're supposed to check in a couple of hours beforehand. Instead, we planned on driving up, but on taking our time in doing so.

And that's just what we did.

The first night, we stopped in Tarragona, after an easy drive of some 500 Km. Then on to Montauban, aother 500 Km or so, an a night at a chambre d'hôtes (not wonderful, given the price). We had hoped to visit a few bastide towns in the area, but the weather was really bad—cold and wet—so we had a hot chocolate in one and drove on to Sorges, supposedly the truffle centre of the world, where we spent two nights in the wonderful Auberge de la Truffe, a place that was right up SWMBO's street. Food, glorious food (says she). An extensive evening meal upon our arrival on Friday evening, a visit on Saturday morning after breakfast to the market of Périgueux, in the company of the chef (not SWMBO, but the actual chef of the Auberge), dinner that same evening, breakfast on Sunday morning, followed by a visit to the truffle museum, and a final two-hour-long lunch to send us on our way.

And our way took us to Senlis, just past Paris, where we stayed the night before proceeding the following morning to our apartment in Belgium.

Surprisingly, the weather in Belgium was much better than we had anticipated from the horror stories we had heard during the months leading up to our departure. Indeed, we had several sunny days, with balmy temperatures, so nothing to complain about, even if the general impression was rather grey.

Anyway, thanks must go to Marleen and Danny, Robert and Godelieve, Jean-Pierre and Rita, Christiane, Frans and Marie-Christine, Jan and Nicole, Luc and Monique, and anyone I might have forgotten, for making us feel welcome once again in Belgium.

Our journey back to Spain followed a similar path (excluding Montauban), though we made a slight detour in order to be able to visit Oradour-sur-Glane, the village destroyed in 1944 by German troops, who also killed 642 civilian inhabitants. The day was dull and miezerig, but that suited the sombreness of the place, where the ruins still stand, many with household effects still in them: almost each house seems to have a sewing-machine. I have made a small website about our visit to Oradour-sur-Glane; you can visit it here.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Good buy?

SWMBO and I took our German neighbours to a few garden centres recently. They were looking for a new palm to replace one lost to the dreaded Red Palm Weevil and an alternative to their straggly bouganvilla.

In one of the centres, I spotted a set of three large cacti. Way out of my price range, I imagined, but I went over to have a closer look and to check the price anyway.  It was marked at just 47 euro, which I thought must be a mistake, but when I asked about it, I was told that as it was marked at that price, I could buy it at that price. So I did. (And then I paid more than that for the pot!)

It was delivered a couple of days ago and I wanted to know just what I had bought. As is the wont here in Spain, most garden centres do not mark cacti and are of little help in identifying them, so I placed a pleading post on the Cactus World Online forum and within less than an hour had the name I was searching for: Pachycereus pringlei.

The tallest of the three parts stand 90cm. with an almost unbelievable maximum circumference of 70cm.

As well as the portrait view, you might enjoy a top view of one of the stems and a closeup of an areole with its spines.

A good buy, I think.

Good bye.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Fruit soup

Over a hundred and fifty years ago, Lewis Carroll provided us with one of the very best tales ever to have been committed to paper, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Like Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Alice is often regarded as no more than a children's book, and contributions by the Disneys of this world have not helped in this respect.

Carroll provided us with mathematical insights, exercises in logic, word play, and many more non-childish aspects in Alice. One of these was parody, though that parody is now largely lost, as we tend to remember more Carroll's parodical versions than the originals and therefore have little basis for comparison.

One such parody that Carroll presented was in the form of Soup Of The Evening, and he based this poem on a popular song of his time called Star Of The Evening by James M. Sayles.

Carroll's amusing version goes thus:

Soup Of The Evening
by Lewis Carroll 
Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Beau—ootiful Soooop!
Beauootiful Soooop!
Soooop of the eeevening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!
Beautiful Soup! Who cares for fish,
Game, or any other dish?
Who would not give all else for two
Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?
Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?
Beauootiful Soooop!
Beauootiful Soooop!
Soooop of the eeevening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!
One would imagine that Carroll held soup in the same high regard as SWMBO.

I do not share their enthusiasm. At least not for the vegetable soups that SWMBO usually prepares in the Soup&Co machine that we purchased recently and which I have already written about. I am even less enthusiastic about fish soups, shellfish soups, or any other form of marine creature soups, and keep well away from cold soups of the gazpacho ilk.

As you can imagine, the Soup&Co has been put to enthusiastic use by SWMBO, so that vegetable-type soups are just about coming out of my ears. Recently, however, I have discovered a far more sensible use for the Soup&Co: it produces extremely fine fruit drinks.

And I make them in it.

The photo shows today's creation, a magnificent concoction consisting of half a mango, about 150 gr of strawberries, a largish banana, the juice of half a lime, a piece of ginger about the size of the top part of a thumb, cut up (the ginger, not the thumb), and freshly pressed orange juice. That was enough for four glasses of the size shown in the pic (roughly 33 cl. each).

These drinks are very easy to make. I started out with a book of recipes for smoothies and other fruit drinks, but once you get the hang of it, such a book becomes just a source of inspiration, not something to be rigidly followed. Basically, you just put the fruits into the machine (larger fruits being first cut into smaller pieces), add a liquid ingredient (and I've used yoghurt, horchata, Casera—a sort of sugarless cream soda—and, of course, orange juice) and mix it all up for about thirty seconds at top speed. Check for taste and consistency, adding some honey, if necessary, or some more liquid, then mix again for a few more seconds.

Tomoroow I shall make something based on papaya.

Lubbly jubbly!

Saturday, 16 March 2013


And we did! (Or we don't, depending on which part of the badge you're looking at…)
Good game, good game.
Who'd have thought it after the disastrous first match against Ireland, all those weeks ago. But the Welsh rugby team pulled their metaphoric socks up and went on to beat the Scots, the Italians, and then, in the deciding match of the Six Nations Rugby tournament, the Old Enemy, the English.
And not only did they beat the English, they beat them admirably and decisively.
The thing is, Wales had to beat the English by at least eight points in order to win the tournament, so the task was quite a bit more onerous than merely having to "beat the English."
And they did it!
And not only did they beat the English by more than eight points, but they beat the English by a lot more. Indeed, they beat the English by 27 points, the final score being Cymru 30, Lloegr 3.
Congratulations also go to the Italians, who have come a long way since they started in the tournament some years ago and beat Ireland in their last match of this year's edition. France also deserves congratulations for coming back from a terrible run of poor play to beat Scotland in the final match of the series: not a wonderful display, but better than much of late.
But the biggest congratulations, of course, must go to Wales, who, in case you haven't heard, beat the English in an exciting match of delightfully fast and hard rugby.
Nothing like it.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Happy birthday, Steve

Steve Jobs, one of the founders of Apple Inc., was born on 24 February 1955. Today would have been his 58th birthday, had he not died on 5 October 2011 of complications related to a pancreas neuroendocrine tumour.

Jobs was a highly charismatic individual. He could be obnoxious, appear aloof, seem impolite… but he was also somehow able to inspire others into producing great examples of both hardware and software, though not always using original ideas (the Macintosh was not originally his idea, for example). He seemed to possess a boyish enthusiasm for all things technological and he used that enthusiasm to present excellent, amusing, and entertaining presentations of Apple products.

Apple has perhaps struggled somewhat since Jobs's passing, but that is hardly surprising, given the enormity of his influence. It should be remembered, of course, that not all of Jobs's ideas were successful; it's just that the magnitude of those that were successes far overshadows the failures.

To celebrate Steve Jobs's 58th birthday, a YouTube Channel has been created, containing about 150 videos featuring the man himself.


Saturday, 23 February 2013

Through a Pee(p)-hole

Up early last Monday to get to the hospital by eight o'clock in order to have a cystoscopy, as part of the check-ups being carried out three months after the operation to remove my left kidney because of an in situ carcinoma.

I had already taken in three urine samples for analysis the week before and now it was time for an internal check.

I was, of course, well sedated during the procedure, so knew nothing about it after I had been taken into the operating theatre until I was awoken by someone cleaning up my nether regions.

After spending some time in the recovery ward, the surgeon came to see me and assured me that no cancerous cells had been found in the urine and that the inside of the bladder looked fine, with the hole where the ureter had entered the bladder nicely closed.

All good news.

The bad news comes when the sedation has worn off and you go to the toilet. Burn, burn, burn. Incredible. I only had two days of it this time, thank goodness, but even with fairly large amounts of pain-killers, it was still unpleasant.

And another cystoscopy is planned in three months time.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Six Nations and Rugby in general

Isn't football a dreadfully boring game? SWMBO quite likes a game of football. Well, she likes watching a game of football, put it like that, so I occasionally make the effort to watch a game with her, but I either fall asleep or give up out of sheer boredom and frustration at he lack of any real activity or excitement. And the players seem to be a bunch of pansies with poor acting abilities, too, rolling around in less than Oscar-winning performances at even a mere touch: it's as if the very grass hurts them, poor dabs. And as for their attitude to the game officials, it was quite, quite disgusting: almost every decision disputed, numerous players talking or shouting at the referee… I'd send the whole lot off.

On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Six Nations Championship, which has just seen its second week of games in this year's edition. Last year, of course, Wales won the Grand Slam, but I mention this merely in passing.

I played rugby during my time at Woolverstone Hall School in the 1960s and I even played one game after having left the school. At Woolverstone we were fortunate to have an excellent sports master, who, rumour had it, had once had a trial for Wales. Glynn "Taffy" Evans was not a big man, but he inspired fear and confidence, standing for no nonsense, but eminently fair and ready with a word of encouragement when needed and one of congratulation when deserved. Passing, backing up, lining up, grubber-kicking, dummying, tackling… we had to get the basics of rugby down pat, or we had Mr Evans to answer to, with extra training his supremely apt solution, irrespective of climatic conditions. Up and down the pitch, repeating the imperfectly executed procedure until it was perfect and little more than second nature.

Watching the professional players in the Six Nations, I often wonder what Mr Evans would have done with them. If he were still around today (sadly, he died some years ago), he would have these giants quaking before his diminutive yet elegant stature, as he mocked their inability to pass, to line up in the three quarters, to tackle correctly, to… well, you get the picture, for professional players who are presumed to spend hours practising, they make far too many basic errors.

Anyway, the rant has nothing to do with this post, which, instead, takes a look at some ways to improve the game in general, rather than the skills of the players.

So here are some suggestions as to how rugby can be made an even better game than it is now (and it is already the very best game in the world, of course).

  1. Calling mark. In the old days, to call a valid mark, the ball-catcher had to be standing still with both feet on the ground. Let's return to that way of doing it and stop the nonsense of marks being called by running, jumping players. Either that, or scrap the mark altogether.
  2. Delaying. The scrum-half can be punished for delaying the put-in at a scrum; the thrower can be punished for delaying the throw-in at a line-out. Let's add to this a punishment for delaying the ball from re-entering full play at rucks and other break-downs.
  3. Off is off. Forget the sin-bin; players are deemed to know the rules. If a player infringes a rule so that he is currently sent to the sin-bin for ten minutes, instead let him be sent off for the duration of the game and let his infringement be judged for possible further banning.
  4. Exuberant celebration. When a score is made, the game must recommence as soon as possible from the mid line. We do not want soccer-like celebratory exuberance and certainly no hugging: the scorer has done no more than his job and it is now time to get on with the game. Any delay caused by such celebration should be punished: how about wiping out the score that led to the celebration?
  5. Binding. There is a correct way to bind in the scrum. All other ways are incorrect and should be treated as an infringement. Scrums should not be allowed to collapse repeatedly as a result of poor binding and because the referee does nothing about it.
  6. Padding. Rugby is not American football, where players dress up in carnival outfits, full of hard padding and even wear, wait for it, crash helmets! Only basic padding (such as a double layer of cloth on shoulders) and a simple scrum cap to protect the ears should be allowed. All the rest is for the nancy-boys of American football.
  7. Crouch, touch, pause, set: load of nonsense. If a pack doesn't scrum down correctly, penalise it, but don't let's go through these synchronised dance movements. The referee is there to make sure that the rules are followed; he is not Victor Silvester directing some strange new dance ("Crouch, touch, pause-pause, set").
  8. Man in front: at kick-offs and drop-out restarts, no player should be in front of the kicker, yet this occurs time and time again. There's a ref and two touch judges (okay, assistant refs); surely someone should be able to see this?
  9. Tattoos. Any player displaying tattoos should not be allowed to play, unless those tattoos are part of his culture (such as Maori players, Western Samoa players, etc.). Leave the tattoos to the soccer players.
  10. There must be a ten, but I can't think of it now.

It's a funny old game, though. During the first week-end of play, Italy showed that it had improved considerably during the years it has been part of the tournament, and beat France fairly and squarely in the process. Their second match was against Scotland and great things were expected of them, but they seemed to lose all of the shine of the week before and failed miserably, with the Scots giving them a fair trouncing.

By the way, did I mention that Wales won the Six Nations Championship last year, performing the Grand Slam in the process? I might have done so earlier on. Sadly, things got off to a bad start last week, when Wales lost to the Irish. At least they pulled their rugby socks up this week-end and beat France in Paris.

Sadly, Ireland then went to lose to the common enemy.

I ask you.

Still, as long as Wales beat England (and that probably won't happen this year, I have to admit), we'll be happy enough.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Little England (Computer says, “No")

I recently decided I wanted to buy an accessory for my digital camera. After some searching on the Web, I decided to get it from Amazon UK. In order to use the accessory, I also needed a far cheaper adaptor, which was also available at Amazon UK.

Into the "shopping basket" went the two items, but at the "checkout" I noticed a warning message that the far cheaper item could not be delivered to my selected delivery address, my address in Spain in other words.

Strange, as the object did not fall under any EU trade restrictions and so could normally be moved freely from one EU member state to another.

I therefore stopped the purchasing procedure and sent off a message to the company that provided the item:

I have tried to purchase a Replacement 40.5mm-52mm Camera Metal Filter Step Up Ring Adapter, sold by your company through, but at the checkout I am told that the item cannot be delivered to the country in which I live, namely Spain (part of the EU).
Is this correct?
Thank you in advance.
David Neale

The following day, I received the following reply:

Thanks for your inquiry. Sorry that our delivery service cannot reach (Spain ) [SIC] yet. Sincerely sorry for any trouble caused. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. Have a great day!Best regards,Emily

We shall ignore the Americanese of the "Have a great day!" salutation (have you ever been to Disneyworld/land/thingy?) and instead consider the problems that the company must face.

Presumably, they have already sent out expeditionary forces, that must have been held back by the great natural might that is the Pyrenees; or perhaps their very own G-G-G-Granville found difficulties, trying to cross the Channel on his delivery bike… Whatever the reason, how pathetic is it, that a company advertising its wares on the World Wide Web, a company based in the European Union, is unable to deliver a small packet to a customer in another state of that same European Union? After all, we are living in the twenty-first century, we have set foot on both the North Pole and the South Pole, we have sent men to the moon, we have sent machines to roam the red plains of Mars, we have sent probes to the farthest edges of the Universe…

But our delivery service cannot reach (Spain) yet. And, oh, the mystery of the bracketed country name, as if dear Emily is not really sure of its existence.

Okay, let's accept that the company might usually make use of its own delivery service. Even so, when a customer asks for an item that can easily fit into a small padded envelope, all that company need do to satisfy the customer is to say:

Thank you for your enquiry. Normally, our delivery service does not extend to Spain, but we can, of course, send the item you require through normal postal channels.

But, no, that was clearly too much of an effort and reeked of customer service, so instead, the company lost the sale and, as a result, Amazon UK also lost the sale of the much more expensive item that I was going to buy.

I found both items at an online store in Germany and that store can deliver to Spain.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

iSoup (mas o menos)

Belgians are famous for the amount of beer they drink.

They should also be famous for the amount of soup they consume.

They'll eat soup until it comes out of their ears. All kinds of soup, on a daily basis. The eating habits of the Belgians seems to be based on the evaluation of something edible as gezond or niet gezond (good for you or not good for you). It's all nonsense, for Belgians also devour huge amounts of red meat in the form of steak, accompanied by piles of chips (they make the best in the world), though they are careful to accompany these elements by lettuce, thereby making the whole gezond (ignoring the mayonnaise, of course).

Anyway SWMBO is Belgian, of course, and subscribes to the theory that there's nothing quite so gezond as a good old bowl of soup. Well, to be more accurate, a good freshly prepared bowl of soup.

None of your tinned or packet soups for Belgians: soup is only soup when it is made with fresh ingredients.

You can imagine SWMBO's excitement, then, when she read about a relatively new piece of kitchen robotery, called Soup&CO (yes, all one word), made by Moulinex (sold in some countries under the Tefal label), and promising to make piping hot, but above all healthy soup in just about half an hour, using fresh ingredients.

Muggins had to do the research, of course, looking for and checking reviews on hte Web, before the inevitable decision was reached that life simply wasn't worth continuing without a Soup&Co.

Well, it's quite an impressive machine, seemingly strongly built, with plenty of brushed stainless steel, interspcaed with white plastic. The goblet to hold the ingredients is large, and can prepare almost 2 litres (1.8 litres, in fact) of soup at a go. The machine can be used for other things other than soup, including almost anything than requires blending, so it is more versatile than might at first seem.

SWMBO's first attempt was a courgette velouté soup, prepared just as described in the handbook and coming out perfectly.

Left-overs of courgette velouté, saved for later

I am not the world's greatest soup-eater, despite my thirty-five years of exposure to that particular activity in Belgium. For me, soup comes in three basic more or less edible flavours, green, red, and brown, and one inedible, fishy. Nevertheless, the velouté was quite impressive, though I dare not say so out loud for fear of having soup served up even more often than it has been up to now…

A Bad Case of Wind

Yes, indeed, a very bad case of wind, and a whole week long, too.

It all started last Saturday. We were visiting a house just outside the urbanisation, when the wind stated blowing ever more strongly, becoming almost frighteningly strong. Then, during perhaps ten minutes, the sky turned a most peculiar shase of grey and we had a heavy downpour of rain. Well "down"pour is hardly an appropriate term, as the wind blew the rain almost horizontally.

That was it as far as rain was concerned, though it did rain a little more a few days later, but we were in Elche at the time, so missed the event.

The wind, on the other hand, remained, and only today has really stopped. During hte whole week it has varied from almost gale force to a strong breeze, sometines with an intense cooling effect, at other times quite bearable.

This contrasts well with most other parts of Spain, where equally strong, if not stronger, winds have caused quite a lot of damage—trees and palms down, walls and other structures collapsed, a few people killed. In those parts, too, there has been flooding, caused by heavy rain- and snowfalls, landslides, huge waves battering the coast. Galicia and the rest of northern Spain has been particularly badly hit, though even down in Andalucía there have been severe conditions.

Today allis calm and we are looking forward to a good week ahead.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Under Pressure

So there. 24 hours with a SpaceLabs Model 90207 Ambulatory Blood Pressure (ABP) Monitor: a glorified blood-pressure metre, in other words, with the pressure being measured every 30 minutes during the day, and every hour during the night.


Especially as the batteries failed after the first two measurements and the error code (EC08) gave a lot of information as to why the machine was beeping, but not pumping. Not even finding a handbook, complete with error codes on the Web was of any help, as no mention at all was made of low batteries. Phoning the hospital didn't help, as the nurse who knows everything was no longer there and the specialist, a pleasant enough chap and undoubtedly an expert in his field, only proved the old story of the blind men and the elephant. Anyway, sorted the problem out and let the machine get on with its measurements. Each time it was about to start a measurememt, it would beep three times, then the pressure cuff would tighten around my upper arm, and after a while the pressure would be released and the machine would then give one long beep to indicate a good reading, or three short beeps to indicate a poor reading, in which case the procedure would be repeated after a few minutes.

Can you imagine that going on each hour during the night? No, I didn't sleep, either.

Well, I went to see the nephrologist with the results yesterday afternoon and he was satisfied that my average blood pressure is at an acceptable, if slightly high level. He also checked the results of the blood and urine analyses he had requested me to have prepared.

No problem with the urine. The blood, on the other hand, might point to a new problem.

The thing is, when the blood was first tested, the bicarbonate level was found to be very high, so high, indeed, that it was thought that an error had been made in the laboratory. I had more blood taken a couple of days before visiting the nephrologist and the results were emailed to me as I was talking to him. I received them on my iPad: the bicarbonate level was even higher! The nephrologist simply refused to believe that I could walk around with such a high level and dismissed the figure as a laboratory error. As a result, I must have more blood taken on Monday for the test to be repeated at a different laboratory.

In the meantime, my arms are beginning to look like those of a drug addict and I am beginning to feel like a close relation to a pin-cushion.