More crosswords

I feel like uttering some cross words… each week I copy the crossword from the Saturday paper so my husband and I can both do it. For the last couple of weeks, it has had some really tricky clues – and even when I get the answers they are words I don’t know. This week he did the crossword first, and when I asked him how he had got on, he replied that it hadn’t been too bad, in fact there were only two words he didn’t know or hadn’t been able to work out…

  • lover or collector of teddy bears (10)
  • the founder of Stoicism (4)

Well, I didn’t know them either … although I knew that once I found the answer to the teddy bear collector I would remember it!

So this morning I had a go at the crossword, and sailed through the top half, across and down… but then I came unstuck. As usual there were clues I knew the answer to but just couldn’t remember, and the letters I had offered no help. I didn’t actually know ‘illegitimate son of  a priest who wrote ‘The Freedom of Will’  but I could work out it was Erasmus – however, can I remember the second largest Caribbean island  (10) or the island with the capital of Palma (7)?

Am I very ignorant not to know:

  • another name for black diamonds (10)
  • an equine artist noted for illustrations in ‘Country Life’, Muriel Wace’s ‘Moorland Mousie’ and Anna Sewell’s ‘Black Beauty’ (7)
  • molluscs in a class/group that includes clams, cockles, mussels and scallops (7)
  • medieval coin minted in silver during the reign of Emperor Henry VI (5)

I have never even heard of Muriel Wace, but I have eaten enough seafood to think I really should know the mollusc!

For those who don’t know, a teddy bear collector, he or she is an arctophile, and the founder of Stoicism is Zeno who I actually have never, ever heard of. As for the Caribbean island, obviously it is Hispaniola, and the capital of Palma – where, in my defence, I have never been – is Majorca.

Muriel Wace it turns out was  born in 1881 and lived to be  eighty-seven; she was an author of children’s stories and in order to keep her privacy, wrote under the name Golden Gorse. She seems to have written mostly stories about horses and horse-riding, including Moorland Mousie which we know from the crossword clue! What I didn’t know was that the famous illustrator E. H. Shepherd of Winnie-the-Pooh fame, illustrated one of her books – but not, confusingly, Moorland Mousie ! he did however illustrate Black Beauty, on which Moorland Mousie was supposedly based… rather a circuitous clue this week!

… oh, and the other clues…Palma

  • black diamonds – carbonados
  • molluscs – oysters
  • medieval coin – soldo



We went away for a few days and stayed in a lovely place – a beautiful room, lovely large en-suite, everything you could possibly want – and more – and best of all, a really comfy bed. each of us had two pillows and for some reason which I can’t remember, I decided to use both mine although normally I only have one or none… Why? Why did I think I would have two pillows? They were lovely pillows in very pretty pillowslips, but unfortunately I now have a bit of a stiff neck.

I got to thinking about pillows… have people always slept with something under their heads? I usually actually have my own arm or hand under my head and would people from earliest times have done this, or used a nicely shaped bit of wood, pile of leaves, animal skin? Do people all across the world use pillows? I actually don’t know!

On investigation, – Wikipedia – it seems that the word originates from pulvinas a Latin term for pillow or cushion. Ancient people from Mesopotamia and from Egypt and had pillows – which helped prevent shoulder and neck pain happening while sleeping – well, yes… but why didn’t earlier people also have things beneath their heads for the same reason –  my nicely shaped bit of wood, pile of leaves, animal skin? Also having your head lifted off the ground stops things getting into you mouth, nose, eyes, ears while you’re asleep.

I can imagine that people would have a favourite thing to act as a pillow, and wrapping a piece of animal skin, or soft tree bark, or big leaf round it would keep it altogether so you would wake up with the same nice thing beneath your bonce as when you went to sleep. Once cloth and fabric was being made it’s only a short step from a bag to a pillow slip. When there is something to contain whatever you’re putting your head on, the option increase – grass, hay, leaves, wool, feathers… These days of course we have all sorts of artificial fibres and foams – and many people have a particular filling they prefer, and a particular density of filling.

When I was very little, I remember my grandmothers having bolsters – these are long double pillows which would stretch across a bed for two people, and then extra pillows would go on top. When I had to share a bed with cousins a bolster was put down the middle to stop us kicking each other… which looking back on it seems a bit strange since I don’t remember fighting or kicking any of them!! However, one thing I don’t remember is pillow-fights… maybe we were good little children!

Bonce… bonce means head but where does that come from? No-one seems to know, just another funny English word!



Afternoon Tea Week

I had no idea when I shared my recipe for treacle scones yesterday that this is Afternoon Tea Week! Perhaps I should pretend I knew all along and I was merely heralding it! From today 14th August to the weekend, it is, apparently the time to celebrate afternoon tea.

Of course afternoon tea is not just a cup of tea and a couple of delicious scones… afternoon tea is delicate sandwiches, beautiful cakes, buns and eclairs! The idea started in the nineteenth century, when for the lah-di-dahs, it seemed a jolly long time between luncheon at midday and dinner at eight, so the idea of having a gentile little affair of posh and tasty niceties began to become fashionable. Ordinary working folk had dinner when they got home from their labours and then probably went to bed, in order to get up at whatever unearthly hour was required to work on someone else’s farm or in someone else’s factory or down someone else’s mine.

Now afternoon tea is a treat everyone can enjoy – at home, or with friends, or out somewhere in one of the many tea rooms which have sprung up. Some places are prohibitively grand, the Ritz in London for example; sandwiches on the Ritz’s £54 per person afternoon tea menu include:

  • ham with grain mustard mayonnaise on white bread
  • cheddar cheese with chutney on onion bread
  • cucumber with cream cheese, dill and chives on caraway seed bread
  • chicken breast with horseradish cream on white bread
  • Scottish smoked salmon with lemon butter on rye bread
  • egg mayonnaise with chopped shallots and watercress on white bread

and in the scone and pastry line…

  • freshly baked raisin and plain scones with Cornish clotted cream and strawberry preserve
  • an assortment of British afternoon tea pastries and cake

As for your nice cuppa… you have a choice at the Ritz:

  • Earl Grey Imperial
  • Chocolate Mint Rooibos
  • Russian Caravan
  • Moroccan Mint
  • Dragon Pearls
  • The Ritz Chai
  • Ritz Royal English
  • Darjeeling First Flush
  • Assam Tippy Orthodox
  • Ceylon Orange Pekoe.
  • Oolong Formosa
  • Rose Congou
  • Lapsang Souchong
  • Chun Mee

Of course, if you want to add a little sparkle to your afternoon, why not have a glass of champagne? It does put the price up a little – £71 – £74… with a celebration cake and the champagne, the whole thing is £84.

I think I might just prefer the estemable Lion Rock Tea Room in Cheddar…

I can’t mention teh Ritz without thinking of this:


Dear Driving Dunderheads

Dear Driving Dunderheads,

I’m guessing you are very kind, considerate people, probably lovely and thoughtful. However, you really need to understand the way mini-roundabouts work on the roads – yes, I know they are a ridiculous way to manage traffic at what had been a T-junction, but the same principles apply to them as apply to big roundabouts. It’s very simple, you give way to traffic from the right and you have precedence over traffic waiting on your left. So if you arrive at a min-roundabout at the same time as a person on your left, then don’t politely wait for them – you will just confuse them because they are waiting for you to properly enter the mini roundabout (‘entering a roundabout‘ is how our satnav Hilda describes it) The rule applies even if you can see the whites of the eyes of the driver on your left… I grant you, a real difficulty arises if three drivers from the three different directions all arrive at the same time – even worse if the junction used to be a crossroads with four drivers all gazing across the mini-roundabout at each other.

A similar difficulty arises, dear dunderheaded courteous driver, at the bottom of hills; as someone going up the hill, you have precedence over someone coming down the hill, so if it narrows for some reason – possibly a carelessly parked car, you can forge straight ahead uphill, and wave at the other polite and correct driver waiting for you at the top.

With both these situations, the mini-roundabout and the narrowed uphill carriageway, the ‘you go first, no, you go first, no I insist you go first’, just causes tailbacks in all directions. However, dear dunderheads, I applaud your courtesy, but just wish you would read the highway code – in both cases it is your right of way and you are not being rude by not taking it!

Thank you.

Dear Crazy Drivers…

Dear Crazy Drivers,

Yes you – you know who I mean, you were tailgating me as we went into Bristol. I was in the correct lane for where I was going and even if I had wanted to pull over into the inside lane to let you past me, I couldn’t safely do so. However, you thought it was safe to swing into that lane, undertake me, and then swing across in front of me. Once in front of me you couldn’t go any faster than I was because of the vehicle in front. A few minutes further on and you swerved back into the inside lane to take the exit… You were driving a van so maybe you were going to work, well, I hope you got there safely, and I hope the other vehicles travelling in the same direction also managed to get there safely with you no doubt tailgating them and bobbing and weaving…

And I’m also talking to you, crazy motorbike rider – you with the under-powered bike. We were travelling out of the city, along a 50 mph road with cross-hatching along the centre between the two opposing carriageways and bollards every couple of hundred yards. The purpose of this was to stop people overtaking on a fast and dangerous stretch of road. Did this not occur to you? I was rattling along at just under the speed limit, some way back from a scaffolding lorry which was belting along nicely at the required 50 mph. You struggled past me on your red bike, managed to get some momentum as we went down a hill, but then, as we went up the other side, approaching a bend in the road round which no-one with normal eyes could see, you decided to overtake the scaffolding lorry. You just didn’t have the power did you? There was on coming traffic but I thought for a moment you were going to go the wrong side round the bollard, but fortunately no, you squeezed in front of the scaffolding lorry and on you went. I hope you reached your destination safely, and didn’t give any other road users near heart-attacks.

Oh and by the way, scaffolding lorry, I hope you got to the place you were going to erect your scaffold without any of your poles coming off the back of the truck – I kept well back from you just in case they did. And I really think you ought to pop into the garage, your lorry sounded as if it was being powered by a metal-cutting saw – I presume it wasn’t.

Thank you for your attention,

yours sincerely

an ordinary road user

PS just in case you don’t know or have forgotten, here is what rule 130 of The Highway Code says:

Rule 130

Areas of white diagonal stripes or chevrons painted on the road. These are to separate traffic lanes or to protect traffic turning right.

  • If the area is bordered by a broken white line, you should not enter the area unless it is necessary and you can see that it is safe to do so.
  • If the area is marked with chevrons and bordered by solid white lines you MUST NOT enter it except in an emergency.

Practical Action

There are so many charities and so much need of charity in the world it is really difficult to know how to help and who to help. One of the charities I do support is called Practical Action, because that’s what it offers – affordable, practical, sustainable technical support to communities which can become self-sufficient. What the charity is fighting for is ‘technology justice’ – which it explains as ‘simple, locally-produced technology that removes the unjust barriers that prevent people from improving their own lives… giving people the appropriate tools, techniques, systems or approaches to meet their basic needs for food, water, health, education and a way of earning a living‘.

The sort of problems other families face which me and my family have never had to contend with, and probably never will, are for example, having safe clean drinking water and a proper sanitation system, being safe from preventable diseases, and having strategies when facing natural disasters.

The fields in which the charity work in Africa, Asia and South America are

  • Energy access
  • Food and agriculture
  • Urban water and waste
  • Disaster risk reduction
  • Climate change
  • Markets
  • Policy and practice

I received a news booklet today, and there were some interesting projects highlighted –

  • fish cages made from bamboo, netting and plastic bottles
  • ploughs made from scrap metal
  • clean water powered by sunlight
  • a safe cooker which needs less fuel
  • early warning systems in flood areas
  • evacuation procedure training for earthquake zones
  • ventilated latrines – for privacy as well as improved sanitation
  • micro-hydro power
  • floating farms made from bamboo and water hyacinth

All these simple, practical ideas for self-sufficiency, not only save lives and keeps people healthy, but also allow people to be able to feed themselves and their families; they become able to sell extra produce, and improving efficiency allows children to go to school rather than having to work,

Here is a link so you can see all the really amazing and amazingly simple things Practical Action has achieved – and is planning to achieve:


He gave a rhaetic cry and tumbled to his doom

As a child I had some odd interests and reading habits. I was given a book token and bought a book about geology – I would have been about eight or nine, I guess. It actually wasn’t very interesting for a child that old, there were photos but all in black and white, and since we lived in Cambridgeshire there wasn’t anything obviously of interest to me, our garden soil was a greyish brown, the fens were black, the local low-lying hills the Gog Magogs were chalky…

My next brush with what’s beneath our feet was when I began teaching at an inner-city secondary school in Manchester. The heads of the geography, history and English departments had devised an integrated humanities scheme which all fists and second year students followed – these were young people aged eleven to thirteen in what is ow called Year 7 and year 8. The students learned (and so did I) all about the formation of the earth and the different sorts of rocks which made up our world..

I learnt the basics of geology, and I hope my students did too… but the next time I had any real dealings with rocks and formations and strata etc, was when we first visited Ireland and stayed for a few weeks each year a couple of miles from the Giant’s Causeway. It was exciting to think of the formation of those mighty basalt columns, and to go further along the coast and see Scotland only ten or so miles away, and the islands famous for whisky production as well as geology!

Going to Iceland five years ago made me feel quite an expert when I saw and recognised basalt columns again. The geology of Iceland is fascinating, I guess because it is so evident… unlike the geology of Cambridge when I was a child! I visited Iceland again three years, and on this trip i was greatly excited to visit Þingvellir (Thingvellir) which is the rift valley which marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge – it’s the boundary between the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian tectonic plate!! I’m not sure anyone else on the tour was as excited as me – and my day was made perfect by ravens circling above!

Now I am learning more about geology, as a friend (and co-editor of my other blog The Moving Dragon Writes – is a keen geologist; because it is someone actually telling me about it and actually explaining, I actually grasp it much better, and when he writes for the blog on geological topics I found them fascinating!

He has lent me a map published by the British Geological Survey of our area showing (I think) ‘solid and drift’. It’s really interesting, but I have been slightly diverted by the ‘index and explanation of geological symbols and colours’ – I love names and unusual words, and it’s an absolute gold mine (well, obviously not literally!!) of onomatopoeic and euphonic vocabulary – and strange names of rocks and features.

Somehow the names of these things sound like characters –

  • Blown Sand – OK, so that’s sand which has blown and drifted, but Blown Sand – sounds like a character who is a wastrel, a dissolute… following in the footsteps of his older brother or father, Older Blown Sand
  • Estuarine Alluvium (spellcheck want to change that to Ernestine Alluvium, spinster of this parish who plays the church organ badly at christenings, weddings and funeral) – but isn’t Estuarine a lovely word? Lucky I didn’t think of it when we were thinking of names for our daughter!
  • Burtle Beds… so many thoughts spring to mind!
  • Inferior Oolite – how sad to be called inferior
  • Rhaetic – that definitely has another meaning (in my imagination) “He gave a rhaetic cry and tumbled to his doom!”
  • Tea Green Marl – obviously should be green marl tea which is served in the poshest cafés – if you are very lucky Keuper Marl, grown high on the terraces of a little known tea plantation in a secret Asian location might also be on the menu
  • Dolomitic Conglomerate – a fleet of powerful warrior starships
  • Black Rock Dolomite – one of the leaders of one of the Conglomerate starships
  • Then there is the family of eighteenth century cave-dwellers, who preyed on unwary travellers and passers-by – the Oolites, old ‘Pappy’ Gully Oolite – he may look decrepid and harmless, but he’s the most dangerous and wily old man you may ever be unlucky enough to meet, his unpredictable son, known as Burry, Burrington Oolite, and the deceptively attractive daughter of Gully, Goblin – to give her her full name, Goblin Combe Oolite
  • Hangman Grits – what the Oolite family subsist on when unwary travellers are in short supply

Here is some real not fanciful writing about geology from my friend and co-editor of our other blog, Richard Kefford:

… and there are more from Richard. here is a link to his published books: