That most paradoxical of things

Another coincidence… 

… they should never happen, but they always do.

The day after I posted a limerick that looked back at a canal cruise last year aboard the narrowboat Rachel, I played late-night-catch-up for a TV programme that I’d recorded but had yet to watch. It was about the building of the Grand Union canal.

And guess what? Of the 38,000 currently licensed narrowboats in the UK, the programme featured the presenter aboard the very same boat that we had hired. It’s a small world.

Our narrowboat “Rachel” moored in the centre of Stratford.


… and on the Lapworth Link, a short branch that connects the Grand Union and South Stratford canals where they ‘kiss’ at Kingswood Junction.


… and now it’s on the tele!


A limerick a week #190

It’s a week past May Day and we’re still in lockdown. The date reminded me of the freedom to roam that we had last year as friends and I cruised the Grand Union and Stratford canals, and when on May Day itself we had been awakened at an ungodly hour by Morris Dancers celebrating dawn in the heart of Stratford-upon-Avon.

Bridge 55, a classic ‘split-bridge’ of the type that are a feature of the South Stratford canal. In the days of horse-powered canal boats, the gap in the centre of the bridge allowed the tow rope to be fed through so that boats could pass without unhitching the horse. (The pic is one of my B&W analogue prints that was exhibited in the Gray’s School of Art exhibition until Covid-19 shut it down).

That sense of freedom resonated further as I walked @calliebordeaux down the old Deeside railway line into Aberdeen’s Duthie Park earlier this week. It was eerily quiet (despite lockdown, there are usually a few people around) and, as I walked through an old railway cutting with birds chirruping away, it reminded me of cruising through similar cuttings on the South Stratford canal. That, in turn, brought back to mind a quote that I have previously posted, by Francesca Morini: “I usually start walking along the canal carrying the weight of my slightly dull existence on my shoulders and end up with a head full of dreams”.

And it’s true, canals can be dreamy places whether you’re walking down the towpath or holding the tiller whilst chugging along on a three-miles-an-hour pub crawl cruise. Once you feel confident at the tiller it’s 99.9% relaxation and only 0.1% blind panic; a reversal of the percentages of when you first started out!

Cruisin’ not boozin’ – two of the ‘three men in a boat’ captured in analogue B&W.

Here’s the limerick:

A narrowboat skipper once said:
“There’s no need for ‘full speed ahead’,
‘Cos, you see, this canal
Is a taproom locale
So we’ll leg it at a snail’s pace instead”.

A limerick a week #189

On yer bike!

I’ve embraced an up-and-down cycling route that is close to home for some exercise during lockdown. There’s a couple of uphill drags on the route and a short ramp into one of the vlillages en route, but, what goes up must come down, so there’s a couple of fast downhill sections too.

It struck me that riding it would provide an interesting contrast between my road bike and my electric bike, a Brompton-with-a-battery. Would the benefit of power assistance on the uphill sections be sufficient to allow a folding commuter bike to beat the time set on a road bike over the entire route? Would the Brompton’s commuting pedigree make for a more comfortable ride? Dare I wear lycra on a Brompton? There was only one way to find out!

It wasn’t obvious to me which would be the fastest over the entire route. In UK law, power assistance on a bicycle is only permitted up to a speed of 15mph; at greater speeds it drops out completely. And the electric Brompton isn’t a road bike. It’s a heavy, folding, commuter bike with platform pedals (no toe clips) and on the flat (or slight incline) it takes a bit more effort to maintain speeds above 15mph than on a road bike.

Power-assist should make the uphill drags a bit easier, but on the fast downhill sections I suspected that the Brompton would be outclassed by the road bike due to the latter’s lower gearing, an inability to adopt an aerodynamic tuck whilst riding it, and my cowardice – beforehand, I wasn’t sure if the Brompton’s handling characteristics and brakes were conducive to a reckless downhill thrash.

(The Brompton’s small wheels make little if any difference to performance, per se, as has been shown by the Moulton stable of road bikes – as Cyclist magazine said in 2017: The Moulton bicycle can lay claim to a number of accolades. Jim Glover set the (still unbroken) conventional riding position, unpaced land-speed record at 82.52kmh aboard a Moulton AM Speed in 1986.)

So, this is the route (the lettering indexes the different sections that I found useful to define – two sections, A→B and C→D are traversed in both directions):

Brodie Wood / Maryculter / Blairs – South Deeside

And this is the elevation:

Route elevation (relative rather than absolute as my Garmin’s altimeter was uncalibrated)

The length and ‘classification’ of each section are given below along with the time taken per section on each bike. NB. The weather was similar for each ride, dry and sunny with a fresh easterly breeze, and if the times look modest then be aware that although I am not quite un citoyen âgé, neither am I un poulet de printemps and I carry ‘excess baggage’!

Positive speed & time difference means ‘electric’ is faster

Well, it turns out that for this route, the uphill power-assist trumped the downhill and on-the-flat speed of the roadbike. I was right about the Brompton’s gearing. I spun out at about 30mph on the fast downhills whereas I could have kept pedalling beyond 40mph on the road bike, but there were too many blind corners on the narrow roads to do so safely.

Nevertheless, I was impressed by the Brompton’s handling and brakes when going fast, which meant that I could be braver on it than I thought, so the downhill advantage of the road bike was not as great as I’d anticipated.

Going uphill with power-assist was still quite hard work ‘cos I was giving it a good shot, but it was nowhere near as hard as using leg power alone and the speed advantage was considerable.

Anyway, the Brompton was, on average, just shy of 2mph faster on this route than the road bike, but did it give a better ride? Well, the Brompton was comfier en bas à l’arrière, but that was only noticeable on the most broken bits of tarmac and what let the Brompton down, comfort-wise, in my quest for speed was its gearing. It has a wide range, but only 6 gears compared to the 22 on my road bike.

That made for an uncomfortable ride because too often it was impossible to ride at my preferred cadence. I would either be spinning too fast or grinding it out at too few revs. That doesn’t matter if you are riding purely for recreation because you can modulate your speed to match the gearing and your favoured cadence instead of trying to go flat out all the time.

You also need to take account of trip duration. Full power-assist on the steeper uphill sections and low-assist on the gentler uphills and flat does, of course, eat your battery. I once pedalled the Brompton up a long drag on the Black Isle sans battery and it was hard, hard work, so it’s a good idea not to run out of juice or, as the Moulton people say: “if you want a folding bike, buy a Brompton. They’re really rather good. But if you want to ride a bike, buy a Moulton!”. Battery life aside, platform pedals and power-assist at junctions and roundabouts makes for an altogether more pleasant experience if you are riding around town.

So, in my little comparison, the Brompton won on speed and the road bike provided the more pleasant ride, but, horses for course, and both are more suited than t’other for doing what they do best. 

Here’s the limerick:

A cyclist went out for a ride
And thought t’would be fun if she tried
To freewheel downhill 
And show off her skill, 
By perfecting a motionless glide

A limerick a week #188

‘Tis the time’s plague, when madmen lead the blind. (King Lear Act 4 scene 1) 

Last November saw the publication of an insider’s view of Donald Trump’s presidency. The Washington Post quoted the author of ‘Anonymous’, describing Trump as being:

like a twelve-year-old in an air traffic control tower, pushing the buttons of government indiscriminately, indifferent to the planes skidding across the runway and the flights frantically diverting away from the airport.


It’s like showing up at the nursing home at daybreak to find your elderly uncle running pantsless across the courtyard and cursing loudly about the cafeteria food, as worried attendants tried to catch him … you’re stunned, amused, and embarrassed all at the same time. Only your uncle probably wouldn’t do it every single day, his words aren’t broadcast to the public, and he doesn’t have to lead the US government once he puts his pants on.

Of course this was before the Coronavirus pandemic. Since when Trump appears to have put his faith in hydroxychloroquine as a cure-all tonic for Covid-19 infections despite the scepticism of, er, actual medically qualified experts.

Since then, the Washington Post has reported that the States’  National Institutes of Health recommend against the hydroxychloroquine/azithromycin combination “because of the potential for toxicities. The NIH offers no recommendation about use of hydroxychloroquine alone”. 

The Post subsequently reported that a “study conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs suggest that those treated with hydroxychloroquine or hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin didn’t see marked improvement from use of the drugs. The rate of death was higher in groups treated with the drugs than among those who didn’t receive the treatment.” Indeed the American Food and Drugs Administration subsequently warned against their use due to “serious heart rhythm problems”.

Any normal person would take these comments and outcomes as notice to leave things to the experts, but not the White House snake-oil merchant. Now we’re told that internally applied doses of UV light and injections of disinfectant will stop the virus in its tracks. Only a moron would propound such beliefs.

It’s not just me that thinks that. The Graun reports that Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, added: “It is incomprehensible to me that a moron like this holds the highest office in the land and that there exist people stupid enough to think this is OK. I can’t believe that in 2020 I have to caution anyone listening to the president that injecting disinfectant could kill you.”

It was  in 1978 that Jilted John sang “Gordon is a moron”. Time for someone to update the lyrics, methinks. Meantime, here’s the limerick…

A moron once had an expectant
Belief that a certain injectant
Would cure all our ills
Without vaccines or pills
So he dosed us with pure disinfectant.

… and courtesy of a friend:

A vicar in the US has died after ingesting disinfectant. It is said Donald Trump has been charged with bleach of the priest

Postscript: Of course it’s not just the USA that has imbecilic morons embedded in its political structures.

My home-town county has one such candidate. The fact that some NHS health workers operating on the Coronavirus frontline without suitable PPE have died as a result of a Covid-19 an infection, contracted most probably at work, is no reason to politicise the issue according to Workington’s M.P., one Mark Jenkinson. This is utterly shameful… 

Gray’s School of Art

Short course exhibition

So, after taking an evening and a morning to hang the B&W analogue prints for the photography part of the Gray’s School of Art short course exhibition, the show opened on a Sunday only to close on the following Tuesday. Not because it was cr@p, but due to new restrictions brought in to ‘manage’ the spread of Covid-19.

The analogue prints were photographed (digitally!) as they were taken down, and have been mastered into a slideshow. It illustrates our efforts, but is second best to seeing the real things.

There has been some loose talk about hiring an art space later in the year to reprise the exhibition, but until then, take a look below

(If you want to know which were mine, then look out for puffins, canal and narrowboat life, a pair of size tens and a sweet chestnut on a fence post. You should find seven in all, eight if you count the one included twice in error!) 


A limerick a week #187

On fisheries technology, herring and Tonka toys

I was sad to hear this week of the death of ‘Dave’, a former colleague. He’d enjoyed a long and productive retirement and had neatly summarised his career through a ‘Food for Thought’ article in a fisheries journal just a couple of years ago when he was in his mid seventies. I first read it shortly after its publication and although it was a very technical paper, it brought to mind some less-than-technical reminiscences. (Just skip to the end if all you want is the limerick!)

One of the more stressful parts of my work as a fisheries scientist at Aberdeen’s Marine Laboratory, was the regular meetings with our fishing industry; stressful because we so often were the harbingers of doom such was the poor state of fish stocks at the time and our prognoses were usually received poorly. Over the years we tried several ways to improve our communication with the industry and one early format was to host a day-long meeting with leaders from both the fish catching sector and the processing sector. We presented a ‘state of the stocks’ summary in the morning and a post-lunch ‘question time’ session with a panel of senior staff to respond. The panel was chaired by our then Director, Alasdair McIntyre. Those of us that were not on the panel sat in the audience to provide any specific comments if required.

As a government department, we could provide only the minimum of lunchtime hospitality and after the first such meeting, the industry decided it would fund the lunches at any future meeting. That included ‘liquid’ provisions that the industry deemed essential given how warm the Marine Lab Lecture Theatre became as the temperature rose both literally and, at times, figuratively. Thus it was after one such lunchtime that the panel was asked about uncertainties in a specific method of fish stock assessment for herring, Clupea harengus; namely, on acoustic surveys undertaken at sea.

No-one on the panel was an acoustic survey specialist, so Alasdair referred the question to Dave, sitting on the back row of the Lecture Theatre. Thus it was that the leaders of various Scottish fish producer organisation, their equivalents in the fish processing sector, and a number of Fish Team scientists, turned towards the rear, only to see Dave dozing quietly with chin on chest – he’d had a ‘good’ lunch. The circumstances were such that would have fazed most people, but after a gentle nudge from a colleague and a hastily whispered exchange, Dave, provided a model answer, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he had slept through the bulk of the Q&A session.

On other occasions he used to go jogging at lunchtimes, not with the rest of us because he was conscious of being a slow and unwieldy runner, so he ran in a direction counter to ours. Being tall and well-built, almost top heavy, he also had a unique running style. He seemed to lean forward until his legs had to move in order to stop him from falling over. To watch him was to fear for him as ran on the cusp of the gravitational constant. Too little a lean forward and gravity would not prevail and there’d be no forward motion. Too great a lean forward and you were looking at a spectacular face-plant from a rolling start. Fortunately, he always got round the course in one piece, but such was his momentum and forward lean that I suspect he only managed to stop by running into a wall! I’m also pretty sure that his background as a physicist would have enabled him to define his running style mathematically. It certainly helped him understand the outcome of a road traffic accident in which he was once involved, as he explained to us that the disproportionate damage caused when going only slightly too fast was due to the dispersal of kinetic energy that increases in proportion to the square of velocity. I don’t know if that knowledge is covered in today’s ‘theory’ part of the UK driving test. If it isn’t it should be.

You may gather, then, that Dave was a big bloke and, like all large masses, when he got going he attained significant momentum. In his case it applied verbally as well as mechanically and in conversation he had a habit of jumping in with a comment (and sometimes a brain-dump!) when you were in mid-sentence. I won’t say that he talked over you, because that has the negative connotation of wanting to impose views and to deprecate any other perspectives – that would be unfair in Dave’s case because his ‘jumping in’ was merely an unconscious by-product of his enthusiasm to engage. Nevertheless, at times, he raised the ire of my then boss.

As I shared a very large room with another junior scientist, we used to host a daily tea-break that comprised the two of us, our boss and a pair of the Fish Team’s ‘good old guys’. At that time Dave was the Marine Lab’s Deputy Director and a regular, if infrequent, attendee at our tea breaks. When he came along it was often to discuss some fisheries matter that had discomforted a Minister, hit the press headlines or required an answer to a Parliamentary Question. On such occasions, Dave would jump in half way through our boss’s explanation of the matter until, one day, he decided he would not stop talking even if Dave interrupted him. And so it transpired. Our boss did not stop talking, but much to his surprise, neither did Dave and the two of them continued to talk in parallel, our boss getting evermore hot under the collar whilst Dave remained cool, calm and, once more, oblivious to what the rest of us were witnessing.

As a consequence of Dave’s relentless and indefatigable forward progress (physical or verbal), I affectionately christened him ‘Tonka’ in homage to the adverts for the Tonka toys of the day, in which nothing seemed capable of halting them in their tracks. For several years I assumed this was a nickname known only to the tea-room cabal (excepting Dave, of course). I found out just how naïve was that assumption when, some years later, my boss came back from a meeting held at the English fisheries lab in Lowestoft and told us that after being greeted by John Pope, one of the UK’s fisheries gurus, John had ask after Dave or, as he apparently put it at the time: “How’s Tonka?”!

Shortly after, and during the early to mid 1990s, the Marine Laboratory held a couple of contracts that linked us to the Instituto Nacional de Pesca in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Towards the end of the second contract, Dave and I travelled to Ecuador each to present a paper at the end-of-contract symposium. Neither of us could speak Spanish and we depended on our local rep, Deidre, to facilitate things for us. Deidre was an Irish woman married to an Ecuadorian and she very ably interpreted for me as I gave my presentation (she had already translated my paper into Spanish so the audience could take away a hard copy in their own language). But that was not Dave’s way of doing things. In his case, Deidre translated his paper into Spanish as she had done for mine, but rather than depend upon her to interpret when he gave his talk, Dave had annoted it phonetically in parts and read it aloud in the most Scottish of Spanish accents and, as with his spoken English, each sentence was punctuated somewhere with a very Scottish “ehh”. His talk went down very well and his approach to giving it was massively appreciated. I could never have done that and I was genuinely in awe of him doing so himself.

So, to return to his height. As a tall man, Dave used always to look down on most of his colleagues; literally, but not figuratively. One could say that at times he ‘loomed’. Now, as someone that is protective of my personal space, I’m not a great fan of being loomed over however much I like the other person. So I generally take a step back if I’m ever in that position, which is why I once sashayed backwards for the entire length of one of Aberdeen’s longest bars. Dave and I had started to chat at a colleague’s retirement do and when we started to speak we were standing at one end of the bar. As we talked, he loomed. As he loomed, I stepped back. As I stepped back, he stepped forward and loomed again. I think it took about ten minutes to traverse the full length of the bar. Dave remained completely unaware of the unfolding pas de deux and that was due entirely to the enthusiasm in which he engaged with you.

Former colleagues with whom I am still in touch have also commented on Dave’s enthusiasm and on his fundamental decency. He was world renowned in his field and attained a senior management position without any resort to guile or artifice and he maintained that position with a genuine interest in his staff and concern for their development and welfare. When obliged some years ago to complete a personal profile on the Marine Scotland intranet, I listed my likes, dislikes and values. For the latter, I stated that I valued decency over achievement (and I still do). Fortunately in life you sometimes come across someone that has bucketfuls of both and Dave was certainly one of them.

Here’s the limerick.

A physicist once took on a notion
To acoustically sound out the ocean,
But to count all the Clupea
It seemed, t’would appear,
To require a lifetime’s devotion.

Quotes that made me laugh #57


A nurse in Clydebank, whose car had been wrecked by a drunk driver in between her 12 hour hospital shifts, was clearly moved by the offers of help that she received. Her comments made me laugh out loud just as I was taking a mouthful of tea. Laugh? I discovered a new word #snaughling

“I’m absolutely stunned, I’ve been greeting trying to wipe my snotters up through a mask from all the support.”

#peoplemakeglasgow #glasgowlife

Postscript: I do know that Clydebank is not in Glasgow! The hashtags are intended as generic for the city and the towns and villages in its wider environs. Please send complaints about their use in this context to AA (An@llyRetentivePedants Anonymous) 

A limerick a week #186

In honour of Honor…

So, Honor Blackman has died at the age of 94 and, predictably, the obituary writers have majored on her rôle as Pussy Galore in in the Bond film franchise production of Goldfinger. Equally predictably so does the limerick that follows, but before that, one or two more substantive things that the obituaries reveal.

Honor Blackman circa 1991 (©Trevor Leighton)

I like that she thought little of Margaret Thatcher: “She was a powerful figure, but she did damn all for empowering women. She didn’t surround herself with any women whatsoever or encourage women to come into politics or do anything in particular.

I like that she felt strongly about tax exiles such as her Bond compadre Sir Sean Connery: “I disapprove of him strongly now. Because I don’t think you should accept a title from a country and then pay absolutely no tax towards it. He wants it both ways. I don’t think his principles are very high.

(That is something of a volte face from her as, earlier, she had lauded him, not even calling him out over his public expression that “I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong with hitting a woman“.)

Post-war pic of Blackman (in sandals!) reliving her biker years as a wartime dispatch rider in London

I also quite respect the fact that she declined a gong as she felt it would have been hypocritical of her to accept one given her strong republican views, although, personally, I see shades of grey in the issue.

Here’s the limerick:

Double-O Seven could never ignore
A Bond girl from out the top drawer, 
But he’ll no longer linger
With the girl from Goldfinger. 
Say ‘adieu’ to Pussy Galore.