March 21, 2009

A little naughty fun

OK, so this is a bit on the naughty side, poking fun at deeply held beliefs. But, as I'm poking fun at my own faith, why not.

Do check this YouTube clip. Its entitled Mrs Beamish C of E.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 16, 2009

Doing my head in ....

I spent a considerable amount of time yesterday experimenting with setting up a new blog site for myself. It is on Blogspot - or Google Blogger to give it its proper name. I did a new template, I transfered a whole load of stuf over and spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to set up the sidebar.

Guess what I forgot to do? Yup, that's right. I forgot to bookmark it all .....

So this morning I can find the new blog. I can't find the way into doing anything on it. Soooooooo, now I have to hack my way around the Blogger site again. looking for the way into my own blog.

Now you may ask why I am even bothering with this, well the answer is rather compicated. You see, I have been blogging on this site, first on Guruinternational and for several years as part of the MuNu set-up, on the back of my former brother in law's blogs in Australia. Ozguru has now abandoned his blog G'Day Mate and gone on to do something else on a new site. He also has his hands full with a son suffering from a syndrome that requires them to home educate him since the State system can't/won't provide the dedicated attention required. That leaves him no time to do the digging around in the background code of the blog and I don't have access to it.

So, for the foreseeable future I plan to run this blog and the new one - at least on the new one, The Gray Monk's Scriptorium, I can get into the sidebars and various other essential areas to do my own adjusting, posting and maintenance. Not that I am anywhere near proficient enough to do any of it properly, but at least I don't have to bother Oz.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:36 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 15, 2009

Dementia testing ....

Yes, its a serious condition, but here's a little fun - One happy dog speaks has a simple test, one that everyone should take annually. Don't worry - the men in white coats will be along shortly.

Now where did I put my keyboard? What was I doing before I took the test ........

While on the subject of remembering things, I recently visited Da Goddess and found the most beautiful photograph of an evening sky. Da Goddess is certainly a talented photographer and some of her work is even for sale. Why not pay her a visit and look at some of the stunning stuff she has on her blog?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:01 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 13, 2009

Spring has not forgotten us!

Spring has come at last! Mausi was afraid the arctic winter of this season would never end. Endless weeks of temperatures below -15 centigrade!

The first COLOURS of the year are out!

But now the first crocuses are out at last and that's a sure sign that spring has arrived. It is this wonderful time when the grass has dried up enough for a cat to take a roll and shake the loose hair out of her coat. Lovely.

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Nothing like a good roll-over to shed the loose fur

In case you are wondering: this is not an UFO that has suddenly landed mysteriously in my garden, I would never allow that. It is an ice block from one of the rain water battles that has been coaxed out of its prison. It's almost unbelievable - for weeks now temperatures have been above zero now and it still hasn't melted!

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No UFO - just water.

Posted by Mausi at 04:47 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 06, 2009

The answer to the reason some of us keep pets?

-----The following was found posted very low on a refrigerator door.

Dear Dogs and Cats: The dishes with the paw prints are yours and contain your food. The other dishes are mine and contain my food. Placing a paw print in the middle of my plate and food does not stake a claim for it becoming your food and dish, nor do I find that aesthetically pleasing in the slightest.

The stairway was not designed by NASCAR and is not a racetrack. Racing me to the bottom is not the object. Tripping me doesn't help because I fall faster than you can run.

I cannot buy anything bigger than a king sized bed. I am very sorry about this. Do not think I will continue sleeping on the couch to ensure your comfort, however. Dogs and cats can actually curl up in a ball when they sleep. It is not necessary to sleep perpendicular to each other, stretched out to the fullest extent possible. I also know that sticking tails straight out and having tongues hanging out on the other end to maximize space is nothing but sarcasm.

For the last time, there is no secret exit from the bathroom! If, by some miracle, I beat you there and manage to get the door shut, it is not necessary to claw, whine, meow, try to turn the knob or get your paw under the edge in an attempt to open the door. I must exit through the same door I entered. Also, I have been using the bathroom for years - canine/feline attendance is not required.

The proper order for kissing is: Kiss me first, then go smell the other dog or cat's butt. I cannot stress this enough.

Finally, in fairness, dear pets, I have posted the following message on the front door:


(1) They live here. You don't. (2) If you don't want their hair on your clothes, stay off the furniture. That's why they call it 'fur'-niture. (3) I like my pets a lot better than I like most people. (4) To you, they are animals. To me, they are adopted sons/daughters who are short, hairy, walk on all fours and don't speak clearly.

Remember, dogs and cats are better than kids because they (1) eat less, (2) don't ask for money all the time, (3) are easier to train, (4) normally come when called, (5) never ask to drive the car, (6) don't hang out with drug-using people; (7) don't smoke or drink, (8) don't want to wear your clothes, (9) don't have to buy the latest fashions, (10) don't need a gazillion dollars for college and (11) if they get pregnant, you can sell their children …..

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:42 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 01, 2009

A fun day out

Yesterday I had the fun of showing a group of my ex-students around the Gloucestershire sights, including Oddington Old Church with its Doom Painting, Bourton o the Water, Chedworth's Roman Villa, Gloucester Cathedral and the docks and finally my own Abbey. They are Shia Muslims and asked questions on everything. They showed more respect for our churches and traditions than I have seen in many local visitors and their questions on matters of faith showed a much deeper desire to understand my faith or than anything I have heard from supposedly Christian visitors.

Some of the issues they raised made me think carefully and there is a lot I will have to think on further as a result.

It was rather like having a bunch of mischievous and overgrown schoolboys with me and it was refreshing even though I ended the day late and very tired. These guys thoroughly enjoyed every new sight and experience and know how to have fun, but more importantly, how to use every opportunity open to them to learn something new. As I said, it was a fun day out.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 24, 2009

Hmmm, what flower?

OK, so I found this on Da Goddess, but it comes from This garden is illegal. Both full of fun.

I am a

What Flower
Are You?

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February 23, 2009

Following in the footsteps ....

"How do you know there's been an elephant in the fridge?" the old joke goes. It sometimes feels a bit like that when you run into signs like the one in the photograph below. Having grown up in Southern Africa where the name I bear is somewhat rare mainly because we were never officially "settlers" - we just went there to build military outposts and roads and railways and harbours and the infrastructure type things - I now find myself tripping over ancestral gravestones (There are five of them in the Abbey!) and finding places where they have left some kind of mark on the landscape.

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I couldn't help wondering if this is the same family surname or a nautical abbreviation of "Coxswain" - whichever, it is amusing to speculate.

The family is still trying to figure out which ancestor founded and named Cox's Bazaar. Go ahead; try a Google Earth - its a small outpost on the border between Burma/Mayanmar and Bangladesh!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:04 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 17, 2009

Stella Awards

The Stella's are amazing, and the legal decisions they go to are worrying to say the least! The world has gone mad…..

Each year I can hardly wait for these "STELLA AWARDS" Knock yourself out.

It's time again for the annual 'Stella Awards'! For those unfamiliar with these awards, they are named after 81-year-old Stella Liebeck who spilled hot coffee on herself and successfully sued the McDonald's in New Mexico where she purchased the coffee. You remember, she took the lid off the coffee and put it between her knees while she was driving. Who would ever think one could get burned doing that, right?

That's right; these are awards for the most outlandish lawsuits and verdicts in the U.S. You know, the kinds of cases that make you scratch your head. So keep your head scratcher handy.

Here are the Stellas for the past year:


Kathleen Robertson of Austin, Texas was awarded $80,000 by a jury of her peers after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running inside a furniture store. The store owners were understandably surprised by the verdict, considering the running toddler was her own son.


Carl Truman, 19, of Los Angeles, California won $74,000 plus medical expenses when his neighbor ran over his hand with a Honda Accord. Truman apparently didn't notice there was someone at the wheel of the car when he was trying to steal his neighbor's hubcaps.

Go ahead, grab your head scratcher.


Terrence Dickson, of Bristol, Pennsylvania, who was leaving a house he had just burglarized by way of the garage. Unfortunately for Dickson, the automatic garage door opener malfunctioned and he could not get the garage door to open. Worse, he couldn't re-enter the house because the door connecting the garage to the house locked when Dickson pulled it shut.

Forced to sit for eight, count 'em, EIGHT, days on a case of Pepsi and a large bag of dry dog food, he sued the homeowner's insurance company claiming undue mental anguish. Amazingly, the jury said the insurance company must pay Dickson $500,000 for his anguish. We should all have this kind of anguish.

Keep scratching. There are more...


Jerry Williams, of Little Rock , Arkansas , garnered 4th Place in the Stella's when he was awarded $14,500 plus medical expenses after being bitten on the butt by his next door neighbor's beagle - even though the beagle was on a chain in its owner's fenced yard. Williams did not get as much as he asked for because the jury believed the beagle might have been provoked at the time of the butt bite because Williams had climbed over the fence into the yard and repeatedly shot the dog with a pellet gun.

Grrrrr. Scratch, scratch.


Amber Carson of Lancaster, Pennsylvania because a jury ordered a Philadelphia restaurant to pay her $113,500 after she slipped on a spilled soft drink and broke her tailbone. The reason the soft drink was on the floor: Ms. Carson had thrown it at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier during an argument. What ever happened to people being responsible for their own actions?

Scratch, scratch, scratch. Hang in there; there are only two more Stellas to go ...


Kara Walton, of Claymont, Delaware sued the owner of a night club in a nearby city because she fell from the bathroom window to the floor, knocking out her two front teeth. Even though Ms. Walton was trying to sneak through the ladies room window to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge, the jury said the night club had to pay her $12,000....oh, yeah, plus dental expenses. Go figure.

1ST PLACE : (May I have a fanfare played on 50 kazoos, please?)

This year's runaway First Place Stella Award winner was Mrs. Merv Grazinski, of Oklahoma City , Oklahoma , who purchased a new 32-foot Winnebago motor home. On her first trip home, from an OU football game, having driven on to the freeway, she set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the driver's seat to go to the back of the Winnebago to make herself a sandwich.

Not surprisingly, the motor home left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Also not surprisingly, Mrs. Grazinski sued Winnebago for not putting in the owner's manual that she couldn't actually leave the driver's seat while the cruise control was set. The Oklahoma jury awarded her, are you sitting down, $1,750,000 PLUS a new motor home. Winnebago actually changed their manuals as a result of this suit, just in case Mrs. Grazinski has any relatives who might also buy a motor home. (My Question: If the Manual says it, is there any gaurantee their customers can actually read?)

Are we, as a society, getting more stupid...? Ya Think??!!

More than a few of our judge's elevators don't go to the top floor either!

I can't think of any more powerful reason for the total abolition of the Jury System than these cases and the thousands like them we never get to read about.


Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:14 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 16, 2009

Peer Review!

I'm always surprised and delighted when a friend reviews my writing, and doubly so when they have enjoyed it. The enemy is within has been given a very good review by VWBug on One happy dog speaks and I am flattered by her comments. Do visit her review.

I hope other blogging friends will try it and enjoy it as much!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:53 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 14, 2009

Thought for the day ....

My Name is Rose

The first day of school our professor introduced himself and challenged us to get to know someone we didn't already know. I stood up to look around when a gentle hand touched my shoulder.

I turned around to find a wrinkled, little old lady beaming up at me with a smile that lit up her entire being.

She said, 'Hi handsome. My name is Rose. I'm eighty-seven years old. Can I give you a hug?'

I laughed and enthusiastically responded, 'Of course you may!' and she gave me a giant squeeze.

'Why are you in college at such a young, innocent age?' I asked.

She jokingly replied, 'I'm here to meet a rich husband, get married, and have a couple of kids...'

'No seriously,' I asked. I was curious what may have motivated her to be taking on this challenge at her age.

'I always dreamed of having a college education and now I'm getting one!' she told me.

After class we walked to the student union building and shared a chocolate milkshake.

We became instant friends. Every day for the next three months we would leave class together and talk nonstop. I was always mesmerized listening to this 'time machine' as she shared her wisdom and experience with me.

Over the course of the year, Rose became a campus icon and she easily made friends wherever she went. She loved to dress up and she reveled in the attention bestowed upon her from the other students. She was living it up.

At the end of the semester we invited Rose to speak at our football banquet. I'll never forget what she taught us. She was introduced and stepped up to the podium. As she began to deliver her prepared speech, she dropped her three by five cards on the floor.

Frustrated and a little embarrassed she leaned into the microphone and simply said, 'I'm sorry I'm so jittery. I gave up beer for Lent and this whiskey is killing me! I'll never get my speech back in order so let me just tell you what I know.'

As we laughed she cleared her throat and began, ' We do not stop playing because we are old; we grow old because we stop playing.

There are only four secrets to staying young, being happy, and achieving success. You have to laugh and find humor every day. You've got to have a dream. When you lose your dreams, you die.

We have so many people walking around who are dead and don't even know it!

There is a huge difference between growing older and growing up.

If you are nineteen years old and lie in bed for one full year and don't do one productive thing, you will turn twenty years old. If I am eighty-seven years old and stay in bed for a year and never do anything I will turn eighty-eight.

Anybody can grow older. That doesn't take any talent or ability. The idea is to grow up by always finding opportunity in change. Have no regrets.

The elderly usually don't have regrets for what we did, but rather for things we did not do. The only people who fear death are those with regrets.'

She concluded her speech by courageously singing 'The Rose.'

She challenged each of us to study the lyrics and live them out in our daily lives. At the year's end Rose finishe d the college degree she had begun all those years ago.

One week after graduation Rose died peacefully in her sleep.

Over two thousand college students attended her funeral in tribute to the wonderful woman who taught by example that it's never too late to be all you can possibly be.

When you finish reading this, please send this peaceful word of advice to your friends and family, they'll really enjoy it!

These words have been passed along in loving memory of ROSE.

REMEMBER, GROWING OLDER IS MANDATORY. GROWING UP IS OPTIONAL. We make a Living by what we get. We make a Life by what we give.

God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage. If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.

'Good friends are like stars.... ....You don't always see them, but you know they are always there.'

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 11, 2009

A very long day ....

Especially when it is spent standing in the cold, watching others work. At times I was convinced I was trying to ride herd on a bunch of cats each trying to go in his own direction, so I am considering getting an NVQ in Cat Herding. I reckon I'd qualify easily.

Anyhoo, I have anotherr long day ahead and Black Ice on the roads just about when I'm trying to get the the College so this could be interesting. At present I am trying to run a course for a group from the Middle East and we have had to contend with heavy snow, ice and today the combination of a third - sunshine. It took me a while to work out what that big bright light in the sky might be and now I have the sun burn to prove it.

Ce la vie - the bed beckons!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 06, 2009

Let it snow?

The scene yesterday morning when I looked out was sort of Christmas Cardy - except its a bit late and classically,"the wrong kind of snow" for the UK. And today was worse - but I only discovered that when I reached the A44 around Chipping Camden. Driving in these conditions is ridiculkous - but once committeed, there's now turning back ....

The view from my bedroom window at 0545 yesterday.

And it kept falling right up to around 1100 this morning. It certainly gave everyone quite a challenge though the Bin Men managed to get here even though their truck did a couple of fancy manoeuvres on the way down the slope.

The view of my tiny garden at 0615 as I was putting out the bins.

Madam did NOT approve of the snow.

What have you done to the garden?

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February 04, 2009

Historic Ships

Mausi loved to stroll around the docks and piers in her spare time in San Francisco. One great attraction was the assembly of historic ships at Hyde Street Pier.

Eppleton Hall: Length Overall - 100 feet, Beam Over Guards - 33 feet, Draft - 7 feet, 4 inches, Gross Tonnage - 166

Tugs like the Eppleton Hall were used in the coal ports of Northern England to tow barges and shipping. Similar paddle tugs were in use in San Francisco during the 1850s and 1850s. The Eppleton Hall was built in 1914 by William Hepple and Company. She is powered by two single cylinder "grashopper" type steam engines. Independent engine control gives the boat enhanced maneuverability. In 1968 the Eppleton Hall was retired from work on the River Wear in England and extensively restored. She steamed to San Francisco under her own power in 1970. Fascinating! Mausi would have dearly loved to see her cross the Atlantic.

Grace Quan: width of nets at mouth - 30-40 ft, depth of waters fished - 5-15 ft, typical day's catch - 1,150 lbs, number of junks fishing 1900 - about 30

Another boat from that period is the Grace Quan, a typical San Francisco Bay Shrimp Junk. As you can see from her build she is well suited for working big nets in shallow water. Using a barrel windlass the fishermen were able to pull large nets with hundreds of pounds of shrimp on board. The San Francisco Bay Junks were modeled after the junks used in the southern Guangdong Province in China and most of them carried a single, fivebatten lugsail. If the wind was calm they could also be rowed by oars from the bow and by a long sculling oar from the stern.

Thayer: Length on deck - 156 feet, Beam - 36 feet, Draft - 11 feet, Gross Tonnage - 453

Mausi quite lost her heart to this beautiful ship called Thayer. She was one of 123 three-masted schooners built on the West Coast for the lumber trade. In 1925 she became a codfisherman, fishing in the Bering Sea. She made her last trip in 1950, which was also the last commercial voyage by a West Coast sailing vessel. What a sight she must have been under full sail!

Posted by Mausi at 07:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 02, 2009

Why is a Ship called 'She'?

I bet that is something you always wanted to know. Mausi's found the answer in a shop window in San Francisco:

A ship is called a 'she' because
there is always a great deal of bustle around her;
there is usually a gang of men about, she has a waist and stays;
it takes a lot of paint to keep her good looking;
it is not the initial expense that breaks you, it is the upkeep;
she can be all decked out;
it takes an experienced man to handle her correctly;
and without a man at the helm, she is absolutely uncontrollable: she shows her topsides, hides her bottom and, when coming into port, always heads for the buoys...

Posted by Mausi at 02:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 31, 2009

A Morning at Sea

Mausi has returned from a splendid conference held in the beautiful city of San Francisco. The best part about San Francisco is of course that it is right next to the sea. Mausi had the Sunday before the conferencde at her own disposal. What better way to start such a beautiful day - 15 deg C in bright sunshine, almost springlike for a European! - than walk down to Pier 39 and say 'Hello' to the colony of sea lions there.

Meet the Sea Lions of San Francisco

They really have a beautiful resting place there and a restaurant right next to them. What more could they ask?

A cosy little restaurant right next to the sea lions' place. Mausi bets they make good use of its vicinity.

After leaving the sea lions Mausi decided that this morning was perfect for a cruise around the bay and went on board. At 10 o'clock in the morning there were only few passengers and Mausi did not have to fight for a place to take good pictures.

The boat went towards Golden Gate Bridge which was stunningly beautiful in the morning sun. Before the days of the bridge the Golden Gate in the bay was guarded by a little fort right next to is entrance. When the first plans for the bridge were drawn it was decided that the fort would have to go and make room for the bridge. Luckily the architect had second thoughts about this and instead of tearing the fort down he changed the plans and gave that fort a little arc of its own to nestle underneath. A perfect solution!

The original layout of the bridge was changed to accomodate the little fort.

The boat went right underneath the bridge and Mausi was able to take some stunning photographs.

Out through the Gate we go!

Then the boat turned and headed back towards the harbour.

A last glance at the Bridge.

A real pity the whole ride only lasted one hour. It was an hour well spent!

Posted by Mausi at 03:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 30, 2009

Hey Baby it's cold outside ....

As the temperatures are set to plummet again this weekend according to the weather forecasters, I thought I'd recommend a visit to the fabulous picture I found at Brookeville Daily Photo. The posts by Abraham Lincoln (I kid you not) are fun and informative - and the pictures stunning.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 27, 2009


Just discovered that I had accidentally reposted the item "Envy" instead of yesterdays post.

Ooooops. Sorry folks!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 25, 2009


Mausi has landed in San Fransisco, and has sent me some pictures which make me green with envy. Of course it doesn't help that I couldn't have gone there anyway as I have other commitments which keep me in the UK. It seems that I'm fated never to get to see the West Coast, everytime I've had something lined up to get "out west" something else has come up to prevent it.

Anyway, I guess I'll have to wait to go through Mausi's pictures and hear her views on San Fransisco, I have a report to finalise which means meetings in London tomorrow - and that means catching a train at 0710 tomorrow morning. Ugh.

More tomorrow perhaps, and possibly even some pictures from Mausi.

OK, OK, so I really am green with envy!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 23, 2009

Busy days ahead ....

Mausi is off tomorrow to a conference in San Fransisco, lucky her, the Monk never gets across the Missisippi on the infrequent occassions that he does get to the US and has long wanted to see at least a fragment of the West Coast. As for the Monk, well, everyone seems to want his services but most take their time paying for them so its a bit of a juggle at present to say the least.

Next week promises to be pretty demanding with a trip to London and two meetings on Monday, a trip to Tenby in Wales for Tuesday and then a meeting in the Cotswolds on Wednesday and probably another day or so between that and Friday at the same venue in preparation for two solid weeks there in February. In these uncertain times every minute of paid work is to be grabbed with both hands - I just hope that the payers will do the honourable and pay promptly!

Funny how everything seems to pile in at once, like Road Tax, MOT, Service for the motor and insurance renewals household insurance and so on all seem to arrive at the same time - fortunately I spolit and spread most of these through the year, but the car's service can't be, so that is a big lump to find reasonably quickly.

Anyhow, I've just got back from Leicestershire - another job with a long delay to paying - and now have to catch up with all the emails and the new questions arising from this visit ....

Ce la vie!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:55 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 22, 2009

Frozen walks

Walking in Bad Schwalbach was fun, its very picturesque and in the cold there are lots of photo opportunities - if you can stop the lens misting over!

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Two swans join a group of ducks and geese on the frozen lake - the swans are very vulnerable in these conditions since they need a long run on water to get airborn.

This group of Mallards had obviously had enough - even the ripples were frozen so what's a duck to do?

It was a fun walk - but the warm soup at the end of it was even better!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:26 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 21, 2009

Ignorance and incompetence lead to reward....

It's widely held that ignorance increases with the distance from the actual work front up to the executive level, with a concurrent rise in pay; but, until now, we've had only anecdotal evidence of such. Well, finally, a formal proof is to be had.

1) Axiom - Knowledge is Power

2) Axiom - Time is Money

3) Power = Work / Time (Classical Physics)

4) Knowledge = Work / Money (substitution)

Therefore, Money = Work / Knowledge.

Thus, for any given amount of Work, Money approaches Infinity as Knowledge approaches Zero!

This is obviously true of the Civil Service in particular where the higher the position held, the greater the lack of knowledge of the function or service actually provided by the person managing the department. This can be proved by reference to any set of meeting minutes produced by any gathering of Civil Servants and which are all remarkable only by their lack of any detail of the actual discussion of any subject and by reference to the paucity of any workable solutions to any of the nation's problems they are tasked with solving or administering. For Civil Servants, knowledge of the function is unimportant, the really important thing to know is who can advance your career and who will scupper it, who your rivals for any post are and what hidden mess your predecessor might have left to explode in your face. That is real knowledge and real power in this day and age. Who needs to know what they are actually doing? Only the grunts that work for you.

In short, the obvious key to success today lies not in what you know but in who. Not in what education you may have, but in where you got it and who you met in getting it. Total Ignorance is obviously a far better rewarded state than any other.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 16, 2009

So want to raise the perfect child?


To those of us who have children in our lives,whether they are our own, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or students...
Its Friday, its been a long week with loads of doom and gloom in the news everywhere, so I thought I'd post something every parent will appreciate. And no, its not the address of a child exterminator.....

Here is something to make you chuckle.

Whenever your children are out of control, you can take comfort from the thought that even God's omnipotence did not extend to His own children.

After creating heaven and earth, God created Adam and Eve.

And the first thing he said was ' DON'T !'

'Don't what ? Adam replied.

'Don't eat the forbidden fruit.' God said.

'Forbidden fruit ? We have forbidden fruit ? Hey Eve..we have forbidden fruit ! '

'No Way ! '

'Yes way ! '

'Do NOT eat the fruit ! ' said God.

‘Why ? '

'Because I am your Father and I said so ! ' God replied, wondering why He hadn't stopped creation after making the elephants

A few minutes later, God saw His children having an apple break and He was ticked !

'Didn't I tell you not to eat the fruit ? ' God asked.

'Uh huh,' Adam replied.

'Then why did you ? ' said the Father.

'I don't know,' said Eve.

'She started it! ' Adam said.

'Did not ! '

'Did too ! '

'DID NOT ! '

Having had it with the two of them, God's punishment was that Adam and Eve should have children of their own. Thus the pattern was set and it has never changed.

If you have persistently and lovingly tried to give children wisdom and they haven't taken it, don't be hard on yourself.

If God had trouble raising children, what makes you think it would be a piece of cake for you ?


1. You spend the first two years of their life teaching them to walk and talk. Then you spend the next sixteen telling them to sit down and shut up.

2. Grandchildren are God's reward for not killing your own children.

3. Mothers of teens now know why some animals eat their young.

4. Children seldom misquote you. In fact, they usually repeat word for word what you shouldn't have said.

5. The main purpose of holding children's parties is to remind yourself that there are children more awful than your own

6. We childproofed our homes, but they are still getting in.


Be nice to your kids. They will choose your nursing home one day!



Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:07 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 15, 2009

A walk in the frost

A walk in the forest again, this time near Bad Schwalbach, gave us some interesting photo opportunities.

A brisk walk up the valley from the town of Bad Schwalbach brings you to this lake. The entire surface was frozen to several inches depth and the disgruntled water fowl, including two swans, were unimpressed by the ice.

The water still flows over the stone weir, but the surface of the lake is a sheet of ice and ice lines the waterfall itself.

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Ice lines the waterfall on this small weir.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:34 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 14, 2009

New EU Directive

EU Directive No. 456179

In order to meet the conditions for joining the Single European currency, all citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland must be made aware that the phrase 'Spending a Penny' is not to be used after 31st December 2009.

From this date, the correct terminology will be: 'Euronating'.

Thank you for your attention.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:52 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 07, 2009

Big freeze ....

Yesterday was pretty cold here in Tewkesbury, but last night was the coldest I've seen for some time - at minus 9*C it was time to get the thermals out! Driving was tricky as several water pipes have burst and my own road is a sheet of ice at present. And now its trying hard to snow again .....

Still, tomorrow will be marginally warmer so the weather men say, a balmy 2*C with a drop to minus 4*C for the night. Trouble is that I have to drive to a place through a route notoriously tricky in snow or extreme weather. Should be interesting at any rate, but perhaps an early start is indicated. At least today has been spent indoors, though wading through trying to get a big report written instead of what I would like to have been doing which is some creative writing or even some painting - something I haven't indulged for a while now!

Sigh, back to the paying work for now ......

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January 04, 2009

The 'English' Church in Wiesbaden

After attending a Lutheran service last Sunday, Mausi decided I should try the "English" Church this time round. Except it is not the Church of England in Germany (Though we do have a Diocese of Europe) but this one is now a Parish in the Episcopalian Church Diocese of Paris. The church itself was built in 1853 as a gift of the local Duke to the many "English" people then residing for various reasons in Wiesbaden and was probably, at that time, a part of the C of E. That seems to have changed after the second World War when this was part of the American Zone - though why the Episcopalian Church decided to duplicate the then existing Diocese of Gibralter I'll have to explore later.

The church building is quite small but rather nicely proportioned and consists of a small nave with a North Aisle attached and a small Sanctuary. The heating system was just right for it as well and the internal temperature was just right. A Gallery at the West End houses a small and rather pleasant organ and the choir. A wooden vaulted ceiling gives a rather "dry" acoustic and the sound system seemed to have a mind of its own at times. The choir, a small one, was augmented today by visitors from the Antipodies and from Texas and sang some rather good music, which the acoustics of the building was just right for.

The service has a form that is familiar to those who use to the Common Worship liturgy, but the words are different enough to trip you up if you stray from the page of the US Prayer Book. We were greeted by having a pair of books offered to us with a service sheet and found ourselves a pew in good Anglican style near the back. The sermon was good, the theme on receiving Christ and revealing Him to the world, well covered, but longer than I am used to in a Eucharist, lasting a little over twenty minutes. No one spoke to us until the Peace, and then only the briefest exchange asking where we were from and in response to my saying "Tewkesbury Abbey" the statement - "Sounds very grand, bet its not as welcoming as we are," followed by a swift retreat! There isn't much you can say after that, so we shared the Peace and stayed where we were while everyone else wandered about and started conversations. Evenetually the Presiding Priest managed to call everyone back to place and began to call for notices, again something I find strange in a Eucharist as we normally give these briefly before the service or make sure longer items are printed and distributed. As it was the "notices" included several people taking time to discuss activities, explain parish finances or thank members for their efforts and took up a further half hour in the middle of the service.

The Offertory seemed to take a longer time than the size of the congregation would have suggested, but then it also gave the choir the opportunity to sing several anthems and the service continued with the Eucharistic Prayers and the Communion. There was a brief confusion when I obviously broke their usual system and indicated that I expected to drink from the chalice and not 'dip the biscuit' and I found myself holding the chalice rather awkwardly and communicating myself! The final prayers and the hymns concluded our worship and once again we found ourselves in a strange limbo as we replaced coats and returned our books, no one acknowledging our being visitors as they all busied themselves chatting with friends - even the priest being busily engaged by a member of the congregation as we were about to say our good byes. So, we let ourselves out into the street quietly and crunched off across the road in search of coffee and "kuchen".

Perhaps the Polish Mass at the Catholic Dom will be our next encounter with a church here - or simply back to the Lutheran. After all, I can struggle along quite happily in German and recognise the bits I need to and can say in English without upsetting anyone.

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January 02, 2009

Touring in the cold

"Das Schnee ist kalt" read the first lesson in how (not) to teach yourself German. I can tell you it doesn't have to be snowing here to be cold. About -4*C and a breeze does it nicely.

Mausi and I haave spent the day in Würzburg, exploring the Baroque riot that is the Furst Bischofs Residence and several of the restored Baroque churches with which this town is endowed. It is now late, I am still thawing and I'm having to correct a typo in every word - so this will have to do until I can download the pictures and type sensibly again.

Good night.....

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January 01, 2009

New Year traditions

I have to confess that I enjoy the new year traditions here in Mausi's home. The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra's New Year concert is always great fun and this years was certainly exception. There is a special supper on New Years Eve, followed by watching the Chancellor's New Year Message while sipping sparkling wine and then the "Silvester" festivities around Germany on the telly until it is finally time to go up into the loft and watch the ring of fireworks from our mountain eyrie as we can see the fireworks fired in Bleibenstadt, Hahn and all the surrounding villages from the loft - not to mention, of couse, those fired by the neighbours as well. Mind you, with the temeratures here hovering around -3*C something warming to follow is a welcome prelude to bed!

New Years day itself is a quieter affair, with one of the best things being the Venna Philharmonic's "Silvester Conzert" broadcast live from the Concert Hall in Vienna on ZDF. Daiel Barenbaum's conducting style is, I think, best described as unique. It makes for fascinating watching as the orchestra strut their stuff with a wide range of Strauss pieces and other works mixed in. There is ballet too, staged in some stunning palace settings and danced to perfection by some really skilled dancers. This year's offering included a short Concerto by Josef Hayden which sees the orchestra grow smaller and smaller during the final movement as players up and walk off. The piece was composed as a protest at the Prince Esterhazy's demands on his musicians - and he apparently took the hint and gave them a little more time off! The concert always finishes with the Radetzky March and audience participation - which Barenbaum played to a "T".

And now for some ski-jumping - on the TV. Eddie the Eagle I ain't!

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December 31, 2008

Technik Museum Speyer

I have discovered the website for the Technik Museum Speyer ( so you can have a look at what it offers directly without waiting on my photos. It includes an Imax theatre and we enjoed a trip to the moon there with the Appollo missions, using digitised footage taken by the astronauts themselves.

Now its Old Years Eve (Silvesternacht here in Germany) so we're getting set to go for a walk in a park near Bad Schwalbach and then have an early dinner so we can watch the fireworks bursting over Bleidenstadt.

Hope you all have a great New Year and that the year ahead is infinitely better than the last.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:16 AM | TrackBack

December 29, 2008

A walk in the Wald ....

Just returned from a couple of hours walking in the forest surrounding us here in the Taunus. Of course you can't walk very far without looking onto a town or village, they are pretty much in every valley and on some of the slopes, and they are picture postcard pretty. The forest itself is a mixture of deciduous and conifer, with beech and birch thriving amongst the conifers.

Its a beautiful sunny day here, though the temperatures are hoverig just below 0*C, it was a bracing -2*C when we set out and has warmed up a little as the day has progressed. With clear skies and frost on the ground though, once the sun is down it will fall swiftly again to the predicted -5*C overnight.

Well, now its time for a nice warm cup of coffee and some Schtollen and other goodies. Then a game of Keltis to keep us all amused until supper. Life doesn't get much better .......

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December 28, 2008

Die Meistersinger

Last night Mausi and I sat through an excellent performance of Die Meistersinger von Nuremberg, one of Wagner's large works. With intervals it lasted from 3 pm until 9.15 pm and we finally left the theatre at around 21.30. It was worth it, the performers were excellent and the orchestra, Darmstadt's Stadtsteatre Orchestra was, despite not being one of the "recognised" orchestras, more than up to the job.

Die Meistersinger is, or was, intended as a"comic" opera, and that is how this one was staged. It was very successfully done by a large caste with some really good voices in the various roles and even in the chorus. There are no spoken lines in the entire opera so the strain on the voices is quite large and the two intevals must be a necessity to give them a chance to get their breath rather than for the comfort of the audience.

The Darmstadt Stadtsteatre is a modern (1960's) building, but it has obviously been designed with some care and forethought because the unprepossessing exterior and rather austere interiors give an excellenet view of the stage and the accoustics are great - there is no need for any form of amplification for the singers and every word can be heard clearly everywhere. The stage layout also gave the opportunity for the audience to be drawn into the action - particularly with some scenes actually having the singers in the audience and singing their hearts out. One memorable scene is the self-important candidate trying to win the heart of the "prize" the Guild Master's daughter and disturbing all the neighbours. The nightshirted and pyjamaed "neighbours, complete with lanterns erupt from within the audience, those in the Stalls area moving onto the stage to attack the disturber of the peace and send him packing.

All things considered a really enjoyable production despite its length. And one of the things you soon notice here in Germany, particularly here in Rhein-Hessen is the number of young people and children at these performances and how much they enjoy the music, the orchestra and the staging.

I guess there's hope for the West yet.

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December 27, 2008

Ambiguous Philosophy






























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December 26, 2008

Holiday time!

Today I'm heading off to the Rheinpfalz for a short break at the home of Mausi. I confess that I am tired and in need of a break. That and I enjoy the German New Year celebrations which make Bonfire Night here look tame. Fireworks? The Germans really go for it. The view from Mausi's home in the Taunus down toward Bleibenstadt suggests that World War 3 has erupted for an hour or more.

And I enjoy the company there. What more is there to say?

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December 24, 2008

Happy Birthday Bro'

Today is my brother's birthday. He's younger than me but wearing out faster, must be something to do with living in Cape Town I guess.

My brother around forty-something years ago! He got the looks and the talent.

Anyway, in case he happens by this blog, Happy Birthday Rob, 58 and still going strong. Hope you have many, many more to come. Your new hip comes with a 10 year guarantee - make sure you use it up and then some!

He tells me there's an advantage to walking with a stick - you can 'accidentally' catch people you don't like across the shins. Hmmm, shin guards anyone?

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December 18, 2008

Book sales

The enemy is within seems to be selling steadily according to the publisher. A steady trickle of orders is coming through for it and I hope this will continue. I get the feeling that the interview on Cool Scfi has helped and certainly the marketing being done by the Hallmark Press team must be having an impact.

Well, it may not be mega-sales or mega-money, but it's certainly worth the effort if people are buying it and enjoying it. Hopefully some of the sales will flow back and pick up Out of Time as well, but we shall have to wait and see - or at least, I will! For a bit of fun too, you can visit Residential Aliens and pick up four short stories all related to the adventures of Harry and Ferghal there - three of them free!

And thanks to all of you who have bought the books.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 15, 2008

Cat in charge

Trying to type a post and be ahead of the game on my MacBook while having my morning coffee ahead of a very full day, I find I am dodging a severe case of "pokey-paw" as Madam Paddy Cat tries to make me put the laptop away and give all my attention to playing with her. It gets quite interesting trying to type with a paw snaking out from behind the screen every few seconds to smack and finger.

I'll give her her due - she may be seventeen this year, but she certainly hasn't slowed down that much and she knows how to get my attention. Now I'd better give her what she wants and I might get permission to use the MacBook again sometime later!

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December 06, 2008

Christmas Fayre

Today we had the Christmas Fayre in the Abbey - and I do mean "in". The nave was cleared of chairs and we had stalls filling the main nave and the North Aisle. We had pie sellers, jewellers, wood carvers, teas, coffees, cakes, face painters and even a Cashmerey carpet seller. In between we had singers, musicians and entertainers and a great time was had by all.

For me the highlights were the two "challenges" the Church Wardens gave the Director of Music - Carleton. He accomplished the first without rehearsal or preparation - a feat in itself - and played Jaques Lemman's "Fanfare" on the Milton Organ to the amazement of the crowd who gathered below the organ loft to watch him play. Later he accepted another challenge from my fellow Church Warden to play "Liberty Bell", the famous Sousa March and Monty Python theme tune on the Grove Organ. Now that was something to be heard - and the crowd that gathered to watch that was something else.

Its been a good day - but a long and tiring one. But "Liberty Bell" and the sound of the Grove thundering its stuff through it will echo in my head all night I'm thinking.

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December 04, 2008

Winter has come

The first real snow has appeared over night on Mausi's mountain. It is always a pleasure to look out early in the morning and see a perfect white blanket cover the ground.


The drawback, of course, is that getting to work is not easy in these conditions. Often trucks are still on their summer tyres and the slightest ascend defeats them. In the hilly country, where Mausi lives, this happens regularly and the trucks invariably block one road or another. Mausi has been lucky so far this week but some of her colleagues have failed to reach the office in time or at all.

Anyway, it's all part of the fun and Mausi can't wait until she gets a chance to build a big snowman...

Posted by Mausi at 08:22 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 02, 2008

December already? Where has the year gone?

I seem to have had a busy year. Trouble is, I seem to have ended the year having done a lot of running around and very little relaxing. Worse, some of the work I have done has yet to be paid for so now, on top of having to do even more "urgent" work, I'm still trying to get my money for some of the work I have delivered. Having almost four months in the middle with little - one month with actually nothing at all - certainly hasn't helped and the reserves are now depleted.

So, all you good folk out there - buy my book for Christmas, buy lots of them for your friends as well!

Just kidding, although I hope that some of you will at least give my wliterary efforts a try. Now I'd better get back to the paid work. A report on a fire that happened four years ago and is now the subject of a major lawsuit. At least it pays the bills, but it really is a case of having to point out the blindingly obvious and defend the indefensible....

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December 01, 2008

Images of Kazakhstan

One of the abiding images I have of the former Eastern Bloc countries I have visited is the hats they wear with uniforms. They're huge and the tops look like something you could launch a Harrier from. And the rake on the top suggests it will shed snow fairly effectively too. Perhaps that's the secret of their sheer size and they certainly lend a presence to the wearer. On the last day of the conference they put on a demonstration for the delegates and for the City Politicians to show the problem for rescue services - their 50 metre (162 feet) ladder and high-rise fire fighting aerial platform could reach the fourteenth floor of this 40 storey building.

The Big Hats have arrived! The Exercise director greets the Colonel, Deputy Chief of the Almaty Emergency Services. Serge, the Colonel here was one of the nicest people I have had the pleasure of meeting.

A 50 metre Bronto Skylift at full stretch - fourteen floors and armoured glass.

I have to admit that this visit will be one of many happy memories for the foreseeable future. It was interesting and I have met some really dedicated people determined to make the service of which they are part a truly efficient and effective service.

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November 27, 2008

Sleepy Times

This is the time of the year when cats start to go into hibernation. Yes, alright, we do need more sleep than the average human throughout the rest of the year but during hibernation we can barely stay awake long enough to gobble up all the food we need.

Me, sitting on the sofa contemplating my next move...

There's nothing outside to capture our interest any longer. The mice are deep down in their comfy burrows and hardly ever venture to the surface for the next three months. And who wants a small bird? All feathers, bones and no meat! And what's more: already this year that white fluffy stuff is covering the ground - makes your feet ice cold and your belly wet. Arrrrrgh!

I like to spend my days indoors on the sofa and the nights on a bed. Then I'll do a quick patrol in the morning - can't have the other cats in the village getting ideas, you know - then come back to a full breakfast and off to sleep again... That's what I call a cat's life!

Only had 22 hours of sleep today, no wonder I am yawning my head off...

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November 26, 2008

Report from Kazakhstan

The Conference has just closed and I am now waiting to be collected and taken for a brief excursion into the mountains to the South. Almaty is a strange city in one sense, situated in an ancient tribal nation, it is a twentieth Century plantation. Growing out of a border post garrison established in the nineteenth century it has become and industrial and commercial centre. During the Soviet years it was the capital and was also used as a place of exile where anyone considered to be not "Politically Correct" as far as the Communists were concerned, was sent to cool their heels far from the media or the risk of being able to 'infect' anyone else with their ideas.

Today the city suffers badly from smog, a combination of industrial discharge and traffic, which, in a climatic area where wind is rare, tends to hang over the lower part of the city in a desne cloud. It is also a seismically active area, so the city suffers regular damage - in 1912 it was flattened entirely - and the buildings ad the roads show some of the marks of this.

Historically it is important in that it occupies a place where the Akim Khans met their tribesmen in regular 'court' to settle ownership of horses and cattle, decide on marriages and hear complaints. In pre-recorded history it was also the spot where successive tribes of the nomadic people who lived here, buried their dead and built burial mounds. It is now a city trying to regenerate itself and high-rise buildings are the order of the day. There are 167 high-rise structures already and construction or planning taking place on another 32. Enormous investment is being made here, but a striking feature is the absence of supermarkets. There are high class shops and hotels, and plenty of flats, hotels and small shops and markets at the other end of the scale - but nothing in the middle.

At a formal dinner last night I was surprised to be presented with a golden statuette of the city's most famous find - the "Golden Man". A 3,000 year old burial find, the Golden Man was a young warrior dressed for burial in a suit of small gold plates all sewn together to make an impressive suit. Interestingly his head dress is identical to that worn until the Soviet era by the Khan and his retinue.

All in all an interesting visit, made a tad amusing by my having been televised during the presentation of my paper - and this morning being interviewed for Kazak and neighbouring Television news through an interpreter - so now I'm infamous here as well.

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November 25, 2008

Advent Calendar

Isn't it surprising how children can't wait to be considered grown up but at the same time cling fiercely to rituals established in their early childhood? Every year during the last week of November Mausi makes this experience with her nieces (13 and almost 15 years old by now).

Almost 15 years ago Mausi embroidered an Advent Calendar for her oldest niece. It's a winter landscape and 24 little rings were sewn into it to which little packages and parcels and be fastened. Mausi thought this calendar would probably keep the children amused until they went to school - but no, every year they are afraid Mausi might forget to send them a parcel with 24 little packages and ask their mother to give Mausi a hint, just in case...

Although Mausi has a lot of experience by now wrapping up the goodies always is a time consuming task

Ah well, isn't it good to know your troubles will be appreciated in the end?

Everything done and ready to go by snail mail tomorrow. Phew!

Posted by Mausi at 07:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 23, 2008

Technical Adviser

It occured to me the other day that Madam Paddy Cat hasn't featured on the blog in a year or more. Now a venerable old lady - she is pushing seventeen - she is getting a little stiff in the joints and a little less inclined to chase around. In fact she has some favourite napping places and changes around between them according to phases of the moon and the position of the sun in Taurus or whatever. And she insists on being wherever I am ....

Madam ready to provide advice on my latest project.

Seventeen is a grand age for a cat - somewhere between 95 and 110 human years in real terms and yet she is still very active, very vocal and touchingly affectionate. Most of the local cats have learned to avoid my door when it is open in case Madam hurtles down the stairs and attacks in defence of her territory.

How many more years I shall have the pleasure of her company is an open question. I shall miss her terribly when the day finally comes even though her trick of cleaning my ears with her tongue and grooming my eyebrows when she can get me lying down can be a little startling and quite ticklish! Long may she continue.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:23 PM | TrackBack

November 19, 2008


If Mausi had had any doubts left that quality management isn't about quality at all they were effectively wiped out this morning when she had to listen to a 4 (!!!) hour presentation about the differences between DIN 17025 and DIN 17020. OK, so the topic is not what Mausi would call "ripping" but it could at least be presented in a more interesting way. Instead the speaker, a quality management expert, seemed to be surprised by the content of at least 90% of his slides, kept jumping back and forth because he had forgotten to tell us something and apart from that the slides contained far too much text instead of focussing on the really important points.

Soon Mausi was bored stiff and allowed her mind to wander thinking how much things have changed ever since she gave her first presentation in the 1980's. Transparencies had just been invented and text and drawings had to be either written on them by hand or copied onto them in black and white. Despite having checked them umpteenth times for spelling mistakes one would spot the first as soon as the first transparency was put onto the overhead projector. And the time it took to put one's presentations together! Mausi's mass spectra would come out of the plotter and coloured ink and couldn't be transferred to the transparencies by a copy machine (only black and white at that time) so Mausi would redraw them in black ink which gave a much better contrast. A good thing Mausi likes drawing things....

Of course Mausi could have photographed them but slides are tricky things too. If one went to an international conference in a foreign country it was a safe bet that one's slides wouldn't fit the magazine of the projector and occasionally get jammed during the presentation. If one forgot to number the slides, the student who operated the projector was certain to drop them shortly before the presentation. How many wrong ways are there to put a slide into the magazine? Yes, SEVEN! It could get very funny at times, at least for the spectators.

Nowadays, one faces other difficulties: the USB stick refuses to talk to the computer, the link in the presentation can't call up the correct video clip, the presentation was generated by a different PowerPoint version and now suddenly the characters and bullet points look very different... And there are a lot more possibilities to make life interesting - or should one say harrassing - for the speaker.

Anyways, some way or other Mausi managed to survive this morning. Now she thinking about suitable entries on the feedback sheet she has been given...

Posted by Mausi at 07:25 PM | TrackBack

November 12, 2008

Plenty of exercise

With Mausi in Bad Somewhere or other on important matters and the Monk in Chester, posting may become a little erratic. The Mon is busy in a major hospital trying to do a survey of their fire safety - a mammoth task given that this hospital sprawls over a large chunk of land. So far the survey has taken over several weeks, though the Monk only came into the task last week.

Its one way of keeping fit he supposes - to walk several miles each day along corridors recording all the equipment and safety features on plans that sometimes don't quite match the actual building. Which means, of course, that he then has to redraw parts of the plan so the changes can be made on new drawings to be produced from his work. Still, no complaints, they feed him well, give him a room to sleep in and he has a good colleague to work with. They should be finished by next week sometime - just in time for the Monk to depart for Almaty - assuming his Visa has arrived while he's been in Chester.....

Ah well, it pays the bills.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 11, 2008

On the road again...

Tonight Mausi's packing her suitcase again to spend the next two days deep down in Thuringia at a small town called Bad Liebenstein. Mausi is going there for a biennial workshop with her colleagues from the German Federal States. It is always a bit like the meeting of the Druids at the forest of Carnute. One meets colleagues one hasn't seen or heard from for some time, despite landlines, emails and other modern form of communication. Some of these colleagues have become good friends over the years and others not, as it is the way of the world. But it is always good fun to discuss with them what's new in science and catch up on a whole raft of other things. Thuringia was chosen as a meeting point because it is roughly in the middle of Germany, so even the colleagues from the far South and the far North can make it there in half a day. Let's hope all goes well and no trains break down or people get caught in traffic jams on the autobahn. We'll see.

The Monk is still very busy up in Cheshire. So blogging might be a bit erratic during the next two days. Mausi will have no access to the internet and the Monk might simply be too busy to find the time. Bear with him.

There's a bit of fun hidden for you in the extended post of today. Enjoy!

Imagine you have several people applying for a job in your organisation. How would you know where to put them? That's dead easy:

1. Put 400 bricks into an empty room.
2. Lead all applicants into this room and close the door.
3. Come back after 6 hours and and assess the situation:

a. If they have counted the bricks -> BOOK KEEPING
b. If they have counted the bricks several times -> REVISION
c. If they have distributed the bricks haphazardly about the whole room -> RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
d. If they have arranged the bricks in an unfathomable way -> PLANNING
e. If they are throwing bricks at each other -> MANAGEMENT
f. If they are asleep -> SECURITY
g. If they have broken up the brick into small pieces ->IT
h. If they are just sitting there -> PERSONNEL
j. If they already have gone home -> MARKETING
k. If they are doing nothing but looking out of the window -> STRATEGIC PLANNING
l. If they are caught up in a heated discussion and not a single brick has been moved -> TOP MANAGEMENT

Posted by Mausi at 07:59 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 08, 2008

Blog Anniversary

It scarcely seems credible, but I have been blogging now - with gaps due to being out of internet access - for five whole years! The very first post on The Gray Monk appeared with the title New Toys on thie 9th November 2003. It has become almost a habit now to put up a daily post, even when I'm pushed for time there is that nagging feeling at the back of the mind that says, "do a post on the blog". Back then most of us were on dial-up or ISDN if you were really lucky, now we have WiFi and Broadband and the machine I use has memory measured in Gigabytes rather than the Megabytes of the first ones I encountered. Even the Processor speeds are now in Gigahertz!

I have to say that in the five years I have met a fascinating group of people - some, sadly, no longer of this world. Heather "Momma" Bare from Rochester, Massachusets blogged on here as "Church Mouse" for a couple of years until cancer took her suddenly. Other bloggers have succumbed to that scourge as well, several of them on my blogroll where I keep them as a sort of memorial to them. Then there is Ozguru who introduced me to blogging. He blogged at "G'day Mate" and has now moved on to blog under a new name at Catholic Down Under and is very involved in both his church life and in home schooling his kids and we are still in touch.

The Postulant blogged for a while here, and sometimes still comments, she is my eldest daughter of course. Then there is Mausi - we met at a conference several years ago in Poland and our friendship has grown out of our shared experiences at fire scenes, conferences and some really fun holidays here and in Germany where she lives.

Other Bloggers too have been fun to "meet" and to exchange ideas, comments and sometimes links. VWBug, of One Happy Dog Speaks in Florida, Da Goddess in San Diego, Andy, The Gorse Fox in Kingston Gorse, Seth of Hard Astarboard sometimes in Chicago but currently mostly globe trotting, and Skipjack at Skipjack DOT info. Cindy at Dusting my Brain, Susi at Practical Penumbra and Kathy at On the third hand (where Momma Bare also blogged.) and Andrew at Dodgeblogium.

These and many more have informed me, intrigued me or simply made me laugh or grin and I would hope that I have done the same for them along the way. One day I may find I no longer have the time or the inclination to do this, but I think its a way off yet! Thanks for all the comments and support - and for stopping by to read my ramblings occassionally!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:15 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 06, 2008

Watching Horses

Mausi has a great view from her home office. Even if the weather is as grey as it is at this time of the year, there are always the horses to watch.

View from Mausi's room

Of course, Mausi wanted a pony for herself when she was a small child, about four years old. At that time she was living with her parents in flat in a multi-storey house. Her parents promised she could have a pony if she found a place to stable it. So Mausi asked the caretaker and he promised that Mausi could keep the pony in the garage. But then her parents said that he surely hadn't understood what Mausi really wanted and that was the end of the pony. Mausi definitely felt let down.

Nowadays Mausi enjoys watching horses. They obviously live in a well ordered society. There are trouble makers and peace keepers and those who just try to stay out of trouble. Most time there's a horse that keeps nagging at another or even harrassing it. The rest of the horses usually watches for some time. But as soon as they see that one horse is in real trouble a couple or more of them will move between the mischief maker and the victim thereby protecting the victim and telling the other one to buzz off. The fascinating thing is that these tactics work most of the time without a serious fight being started among the horses.

Another interesting thing is that you can tell the wind direction from watching the horses. The rear ends will always point straight into the wind.

Watching the horses is good fun...

Posted by Mausi at 02:21 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 04, 2008

Test your knowledge

To pass the time while we are all waiting for the outcome of the Presidential Election in the USA here's a quiz for you. You need to answer four questions correctly in order to pass.

Here are the questions, the answers are given in the hidden post below. Have fun and good luck!

1. How long did the Hundred Years War last?
2. Which country makes Panama hats?
3. From which animal do we get catgut?
4. In which month do Russians celebrate the October Revolution?
5. What is a camel's hair brush made of?
6. The Canary Islands in the Pacific are named after what animal?
7. What was King George VI's first name?
8. What colour is purple finch?
9. Where are Chinese gooseberries from?
10. What is the colour of the black box in a commercial airplane?

1. How long did the Hundred Years War last? 116 years
2. Which country makes Panama hats? Ecuador
3. From which animal do we get catgut? Sheep and Horses
4. In which month do Russians celebrate the October Revolution? November
5. What is a camel's hair brush made of? Squirrel fur
6. The Canary Islands in the Pacific are named after what animal? Dogs
7. What was King George VI's first name? Albert
8. What colour is purple finch? Crimson
9. Where are Chinese gooseberries from? New Zealand
10. What is the colour of the black box in a commercial airplane?Orange

Posted by Mausi at 08:19 PM | TrackBack

October 28, 2008

For the Star Wars fans

This is hilarious - do follow the link to One happy dog speaks and the dance competition of the centuries!

The dance routines of the various aliens is hilarious - and Darth Vader and his storm troopers doing a Michael Jackson number .....

Well, go see for yourselves!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:06 PM | TrackBack

October 23, 2008

Which Planet?

You Are From Venus
You love all forms of beauty. You love dressing up and anything luxurious.
A social butterfly, you're incredibly popular and a great host.
You're known for your fairness and affection. You are a friend to all.
Careful though! You're desire to please may make you too willing to conform.
Be yourself and focus on what matters to you. You'll be all the more popular for it.
What Planet Are You From?

Well, this was a bit of a surprise, especially as the planet is hot, subject to an acid atmosphere and totally unlike any of the "attributes" ascribed to it in the test. Still, an amusing aside.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:41 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 20, 2008

A tragedy?

Found on The Gorse Fox - this very amusing item on the difference between a "Tragedy", an "accident" and a "great loss". I won't spoil it.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 16, 2008

Cover design approved

OK, so here's a preview of the front cover of the next book. It will be available from Amazon and I hope a number of other outlets in early November, and here's a deal for interested bloggers - a free signed copy to anyone willing to put a link and an icon for the book on their blog. Those of you who did this for me for Out of Time have helped enormously with the promotion of that book, I hope you will enjoy this one.

Front Cover Qtr size.jpg
The final cover design for my latest book.

And, of course, I hope that those of you who have visited this Blog and seen this cover will at least do me the honour of looking it up either online or in your local bookseller.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:22 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 13, 2008

Happy Birthday to the Postulant

Today marks the anniversary of the birth of my eldest daughter, known here as "The Postulant". She now rarely has time to post, but frequently comments. I can scarecely believe that she has grown into a beautiful woman, intelligent, strong willed and lively. I wonder who she takes after?

Funny, it seems almost yesterday that I was able to cradle her in my cupped hands and marvel at this tiny fragment of humanity. Now she stands almost as tall as me and is all growed up.

Happy birthday my dear, I look forward to celebrating many more with you.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:53 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 11, 2008

Pwll Deri

Pwll Deri is a place on the west coast of Wales which Mausi visited in 1980 when touring Great Britain by train and bus with a friend. Mausi can't remember if there was a village at all but there was a Youth hostel. Mausi had phoned the night before and obtained the information that if she and her friend got there before 5 p.m. they'll have a place to sleep. Otherwise the beds would be given to someone else.

Alright! Mausi and her friend took the train to Holyhead and planned to walk from there. Asking for directions proved a bit difficult as neither of them could pronounce Pwll Deri correctly. But at last they were on the right track. Helpful people in a shop had told them it would be a walk of about 3.5 miles. Dead easy, even if you converted miles into kilometers! After walking for quite some distance they came to a signpost which said: Holyhead 3.5 miles, Pwll Deri 3.5 miles! Mausi's friend promptly threw her rucksack to the ground and announced she wasn't going any farther. In the end Mausi got her going again, pointing out that they couldn't very well camp on the road in the middle of nowhere and that they were running out of time. They reached the Youth Hostel five minutes to five!

The Welsh Coast

The Youth Hostel was quite an experience. A very small house, very close to the cliff and battered by the winds all night. Mausi and her friend were each given two woolen blankets. The blankets were so full of big holes that you needed the second one to cover the holes in the first one. And it was a cold August night. The howling noises made by the wind made it feel even colder. The next morning the weather was fine, although still windy.

Bit of a breeze blowing in the morning

Mausi and her friend decided to make the most of the day and go for walk to that lighthouse they could see in the distance.

The lighthouse looked like a good place to walk to

It was a perfect day. The only draw back was the lack of provisions. They were left with only one package of crispbread and a little bit of water. Mausi discovered that one can get extremely hungry being out in the open all day and exposed to the fresh and salty air. The walk nevertheless was very pleasant and they spent a couple of hours near the lighthouse, lying in the sun on warm heather, looking down the cliffs and listening to the roaring sea.

There's nothing like watching the sea running against the rocks...

Luckily they were able to buy a hot meal at the Youth Hostel in the eveing. Not many meals in Mausi's life have tasted as good as that one!

Posted by Mausi at 01:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 10, 2008

One of those days...

Mausi's had one of those days. Had to get up at a quarter to five in the morning - which doesn't agree with her bio rythmn in the least - to drive about 200 km south with a colleague and start teaching a group of policemen at eight in the morning! Mausi thought they'd never make it there in time but they did, with 5 minutes to spare. The group was interested and the lectures went rather well. Afterwards the drive back to Wiesbaden with her colleague at the wheel this time - Mausi started to feel slightly sick...

Coming home late in the afternoon her ordeals were not over yet. Mausi plans to compile a photo album as a birthday present for an old friend. So tonight she wanted to scan some old slides taken during a trip to the UK in 1980 and maybe also use some of those for today's post. Only, since she last used that scanner she has bought a new computer and now needs to install the software again. But she somehow managed to mislay those darned CDs... A quick scan through her room has not yielded any positive results. A more thorough search is definitely sheduled for the weekend. Sometimes Mausi wishes she were a bit better organised... Sigh!

The only consolation is that Mausi, The Mighty Cat, obviously spent a very enjoyable afternoon in the warm and golden October sunshine outside in the garden...

Ah.. to be a cat!

Posted by Mausi at 06:38 PM | TrackBack

October 09, 2008

Shoes and ships and sealing wax ....

Going through some old photos I found a whole lot of the tugs I grew up knowing in the small city of East London in South Africa. The harbour is the only "river" port in the country, the only one that managed to survive commercially that is, there are two others but the tides and the river currents, the sea and the weather made them non-viable. As this is an exposed coast, the harbour tugs were large and capable of ocean salvage as well as harbour duty. The last class of these monsters built were all coal fired and built in Scotland, then steamed out to South Africa. The first of this class was built in 1935 and the last in 1952. They had a displacement tonnage of 680 - 720 gross tons and carried 50 tons of coal in their bunkers, buring this a rate of roughly three tons an hour when under full power, all of it shovelled into the four Admiralty pattern boilers by a stoker gang of eight men. Those fed steam to a pair of huge triple expansion engines each developing 35,000 horsepower. There wasn't much they could handle on their own, including the two giant "Queens" on their occassional visits.

Schermbrucker 1.JPG
The F W Schermbrucker had a very interesting career which included being sunk rather spectacularly. Raised and repaired, she steamed on in service for another twenty years.

Sister ship of the Schermbrucker, the R B Waterson was one of the later batch, as evidenced by the 'squared' profile of her funnel.

Happy days and good memories, though, as a young dinghy sailor in these harbours you had to keep an eye open for one of these brutes as you rounded a quay of jetty, since, being steam, they didn't make a lot of noise under way - unless they wanted to get your attention. Their "Whoop, whooooop, whoooop, whoooooop, whooooooooop!" on the steam horn could be heard four miles away - and you couldn't miss it if he was coming at you from a couple of hundred feet away!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 07, 2008

German Pilots

A few days ago The Monk posted a funny one about Quantas maintenance people. Mausi learnt yesterday that German pilots - at least those of Air Berlin - have a very special sense of humour, too. Judge for yourself:

"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Air-Berlin Happy-Hour: two landings for the price of one." (The pilot had needed a second landing approach...)
"We do not know if we'll be able to land because of the fog but just in front of us a Lufthansa plane is trying to. Let's see what the result will be ...."
Air-Berlin flight from Berlin to London-Stansted, very bad weather in England as usual. Announcement of the stewardess prior to landing: "Dear passengers, welcome to London Stansted where the weather is cold, dreadful and unfriendly, just like my ex."
Safety announcements on Air Berlin flights: "In case of a pressure decrease inside the cabin, oxygen masks will be automatically released from the ceiling. Stop shouting, pull on towards you and put it firmly over mouth and nose. If you travel in the company of a small child, put on your own mask first and then help the child. If you are travelling with two children, now is the time to make up your mind which one you love most."
Radio message of a young pilot on his first solo at night approaching the airport: Pilot: "Delta Mike Romeo for Tower Münster Osnabrück: Guess, who is here." The Tower personnel is not amused and turns off the runway lights without further ado... Tower: "Tower Münster Osnabrück for Delta Mike Romeo: guess where we are... "
Tower: "Say fuelstate." Pilot: "Fuelstate." Tower: "Say again." Pilot: "Again." Tower: "Argh, give me your fuel!" Pilot: "Sorry, need it by myself..."

Posted by Mausi at 07:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 04, 2008

Have confidence in your maintenance team ....

OK, so maybe this one has been around for a little while, it is still funny - especially if you regularly fly Qantas!

After every flight, Qantas pilots fill out a form, called a "Gripe Sheet" which tells mechanics about problems with the aircraft. The mechanics correct the problems; document their repairs on the form, and then pilots review the Gripe Sheets before the next flight.

Never let it be said that ground crews lack a sense of humour. Here are some actual maintenance complaints submitted by Qantas' pilots (marked with a P) and the solutions recorded (marked with an S) by maintenance engineers.

By the way, Qantas is the only major airline that has never, ever, had an accident.*

P: Left inside main tire almost needs replacement.
S: Almost replaced left inside main tire.

P: Test flight OK, except auto-land very rough.
S: Auto-land not installed on this aircraft.

P: Something loose in cockpit.
S: Something tightened in cockpit.

P: Dead bugs on windshield.
S: Live bugs on back-order.

P: Autopilot in altitude-hold mode produces a 200 feet per minute descent.
S: Cannot reproduce problem on ground.

P: Evidence of leak on right main landing gear.
S: Evidence removed.

P: DME volume unbelievably loud.
S: DME volume set to more believable level.

P: Friction locks cause throttle levers to stick.
S: That's what friction locks are for.

P: IFF inoperative in OFF mode.
S: IFF always inoperative in OFF mode.

P: Suspected crack in windshield.
S: Suspect you're right.

P: Number 3 engine missing.
S: Engine found on right wing after brief search.

P: Aircraft handles funny........... (I love this one!)
S: Aircraft warned to straighten up, fly right, and be serious.

P: Target radar hums.
S: Reprogrammed target radar with lyrics.

P: Mouse in cockpit.
S: Cat installed.

And the best one for last..................
P: Noise coming from under instrument panel. Sounds like a midget pounding on something with a hammer.
S: Took hammer away from midget.

* Recently one of their 747's lost a large chunk of fuselage and had to do an emergency descent and landing in Manila - a tribute to the pilots skill that it wasn't a major crash. They have also had a couple of near misses, unlike their smaller internal partner airline who have managed to drop a couple into the ground. Still an impressive record though!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:24 AM | TrackBack

October 03, 2008

Just a pretty picture

It is hard to believe that I took the picture below a little over four years ago. It is the view from the front of the home oif a very dear friend in South Africa and looks west towards the Cape St Francis and the famous surfer paradise of Jeffreys Bay which is easily a little over thirty miles in a straight line from here. The house sits on the top of a dune covered rocky coast whose rock formations are matched only on the shores of South America, proof of continental drift and the existence at some distant point in the past of the great super contenent of Gondwanaland.

Schoenies sunset.JPG
Sunset from Seaview. At night the flash of the lighthouse on Seal Point at Cape St Francis can be seen clearly.

The tiny point of light on the water is the tip of the sun. In typical tropical fashion, it is no sooner below the horizon than the light is gone. This coast is extremely exposed to gales from the south and west. When these blow the sea is spectacular as there is little between here and Antarctica to break the force of wind or sea.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:13 AM | TrackBack

October 02, 2008

Happy Birthday!


Happy birthday, dear Monk, and many happy returns of this day for you!

Posted by Mausi at 05:02 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 01, 2008

Fun song from the Flood Appeal

Dear Mr Brown

Dear Mister Brown. Welcome to our town
We're sorry it's not smarter but we're six feet under water!
And we all got very wet, but we ain't stopped smiling yet.
We're so glad you came to see us Mister Brown.

Dear Mister Brown, when the rain came down,
It went on for ages, just like one of your speeches.
Just like the words you said, it went right over my head.
But we're glad you came to see us Mister Brown.

Just one final question, when it comes to compensation.
When you calculate my quota, just remember I'm a floating voter.
Take a quick look then, back you go to Number Ten.
And we're glad you came to see us,
Though you wouldn't want to be us,
We're so glad you came to see us Mister Brown.

The tune is a catchy one accompanied by a banjo and other instruments are added as it develops including a trombone, tuba and a spinkling of other brass. The tuba and particularly the trombone take a big part in the last verse, particularlyt the last line with the classic trombone slide through the notes as he takes the melody over and ends it with a good rich sound.

The words are reproduced here with the permission of the author who also composed the tune and arranged the recording of the entire disc. Jon Benns, whose own shop, The Music Trade, was flooded, and his team wrote, performed and pulled together a wide range of musicians to make the CD "A drop in the ocean" - their effort to raise money for the Flood Relief Fund. Jon's own band, the Happy Accidents are worth a listen as well and a visit to their website allows you to hear two of their numbers.

Funny thought - but with all the economic disaster around us at the moment and Mister Brown's spin doctors rushing about trying to tell us he's the only man that can save us from it - I have this sudden feeling of de ja vu. After all he made some sweeping promises about reviewing plans for flood defences and building in flodd plains last year. The message doesn'tr seem to have reached the Environment Agency or the Whitehall planners .....

Time to drop the dead donkey I think.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 20, 2008

A bad deal for liberals?

According to research I found through An Englishman's Castle those of a "liberal" persuasion may have evolved a lack of response to threat stimuli. It makes interesting reading, but apparently those who react swiftly to sudden loud noises, or to perceived threats are more likely to hold "conservative" views and those who do not are likely to have a "liberal" vision. His post can be found here.

It seems that the response to threat is one of many stimuli that cause our bodies to release certain hormones that help us prepare for the natural responses of "Flight, Fight or Mate", though I rather think that last one may not depend on getting a fright! Apparently those who respond quickly to any perceived threat have responses designed to help us survive in a hostile envoironment, those who do not, tend not to have the stimuli in time to respond appropriately ...... Maybe the bored Guardsman in Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe, who postulates that every little boy and girl is born either a conservative or a liberal, was right on top of the truth without knowing it!

Now comes the crunch, those who do respond rapidly tend to hold "conservative" views on life. Those who do not, tend to be "liberal", which, if evolution does its thing, means that liberalism should die out in a few more centuries.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:08 PM

September 14, 2008

How do you know autumn is right around the corner?

Autumn is right around the corner

  • when you have to get up before the sun in the mornings to be at work in time
  • when after a misty night you suddenly discover that there has been an army of architects at work in the garden
  • 080914_web.jpg
    Spider webs that have been invisible during dry sunny days suddenly reveal their beauty and complexity through small dew drops clinging to them
  • and when rather obscure shrubs suddenly burst into riotous colours
  • 080914_euonymus.jpg
    It's always fascinating to watch this little spindle tree turning from green into flaming red every september
  • and when - best of all - the apples on the small tree Mausi keeps in a big flower pot are ripe at last!
  • 080914_apple.jpg
    Makes your mouth water, doesn't it?

    Posted by Mausi at 11:36 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    September 05, 2008

    Look out for the Idiot gene ....

    A friend sent me this collection of items from the ever shallower pool of intelligence. It seems that there must be a genetic effect at work here because it seems to affect any number of nations and people. I have encountered some of these myself in my travels around the UK, sometimes in the least expected places.

    And the problem is that they do breed and they and their offspring have the vote ......


    We had to have the garage door repaired. The repairman told us that one of our problems was that we did not have a 'large' enough motor on the opener. I thought for a minute, and said that we had the largest one B & D made at that time, a 1/2 horsepower. He shook his head and said, 'Lady, you need a 1/4 horsepower.' I responded that 1/2 was larger than 1/4. He said, 'NO, it's not.' Four is larger than two..'

    We haven't used this repairman since.


    My daughter and I went through the McDonald's drive thru window and I gave the teen a $20 note. Our total was $10.50, so I also handed her fifty cents. She said, 'you gave me too much money.' I said, 'Yes I know, but this way you can just give me ten dollars back.' She sighed and went to get the manager who asked me to repeat my request. I did so, and he handed me back the fifty cents, and said 'We’re sorry but we can't do that kind of thing.' The teen then proceeded to give me back $9.50 in change.

    Do not confuse the teenagers at McD's.


    I live in a semi rural area. We recently had a new neighbor call the local council office to request the removal of the Kangaroo sign on our road. The reason: 'Too many kangaroos are being hit by cars out here! I don't think this is a good place for them to be crossing anymore.'


    I was at the airport, checking in at the gate when an airport employee asked, 'Has anyone put anything in your baggage without your knowledge?' To which I replied, 'If it was without my knowledge, how would I know?' He smiled knowingly and nodded,

    'That's why we ask.'


    The stoplight on the corner buzzes when it's safe to cross the street. I was crossing with an intellectually challenged coworker of mine. She asked if I knew what the buzzer was for. I explained that it signals blind people when the light is red. Appalled, she responded, 'What on earth are blind people doing driving?!'


    At a good-bye luncheon for an old and dear coworker. She was leaving the company due to 'downsizing.' Our manager commented cheerfully, 'This is fun. We should do this more often.' Not another word was spoken. We all just looked at each other with that animal-in-the-headlights stare.


    When my husband and I arrived at a dealership to pick up our car, we were told the keys had been locked in it. We went to the service department and found a mechanic working feverishly to unlock the drivers side door. As I watched from the passenger side, I instinctively tried the door handle and discovered that it was unlocked. 'Hey,' I announced to the technician, 'its open!' His reply, 'I know. I already got that side.'


    They walk among us... And the scary part is that they VOTE and they REPRODUCE

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:49 PM | TrackBack

    September 04, 2008

    Back to school ....

    Da Goddess has a fun post up on her blog about her school memories. It sparked me wondering about the things that stay with me from my school days. So what did I enjoy at school? What did I hate?

    What are your back-to-school memories? Tell us about one. Your memory can be your own, or one from watching your child go to school, or a story inspired by a memory, or anything back-to-school-y. Either way, make us smell the must of the chalk or the acridity of teen spirit.

    The Rules:

    * Try to write your entry in 10 minutes. This encourages top-of-mind, primal thinking before the ego and judgmental brain kick in. Just set a timer, make your kid count to 600 slowly, whatever. It’s an honor system. And I trust you.
    * Aim for 250 words or less.
    * Please have fun. Don’t put pressure on yourself. Together, let’s rediscover the simple joy in the writing process.
    * Post your submission in the comments OR post in your blog and leave a link to your blog in the comments.

    Well here goes mine. It was my first day in the Senior School and I was unsure of where to go or what to expect. I knew it wouldn't be the same as the Primary I had attended for the previous seven years even though it was the same "family" of schools. The Selborne Schools, Primary and College, are famous in South Africa and, in my day, had a reputation for academic excellence and sporting achievement. In South Africa the senior school, Selborne College, is one of the oldest non-private (Or in English terminology "Public") schools and equated roughly to a Grammar School.

    The memories of that first day are mixed. It was a complete sea-change for all of us, but at least I had the company of many of my friends from the Primary. The smell of the classrooms was a mix of chalk dust and books, of half eaten sandwiches and quietly moldering rubbish stuffed into the ancient desks. It took some getting used to changing classrooms every period and some of the teachers seemed quite threatening. Some turned out to be brilliant and some lost us completely. It was at this point that I lost the plot with Mathematics completely, but we had brilliant English and History Masters who brought the subjects to life, the sciences were good as well but Commercial Aritmetic and Bookkeeping were bottom of my list. Our Latin Master was a Rugby player of note (Provincial Cap) and our Headmaster an austere man who was also a Methodist Lay Preacher. His daily assemblies were memorable. He and the Latin Master spoke Latin to each other, something, I realise now, was a bit of snobbery on their part.

    The "Old" School, still in use, but now extended considerably.

    I look back in some surprise at what I did learn from them and what I did not. I learned to avoid certain things and which teachers I could get by with and which ones not to even try to hoodwink. I suffered sports (I'm not the sporting type) and gave them up as soon as I could. My "sports" have always been sailing and rowing and I happily did these on my own. I collected broken ribs and a damaged shoulder from rugby, a smashed knuckle from cricket and knocked myself out landing badly in the gymnasium. But on that first day - all this was in the future. On that first day we found ourselves being introduced to a range of teachers who were legendary characters, "Dronkie" Muller (Mathematics), "Champ" Champion (Biology) (Suffered badly from Shell Shock and "heard" people talking in class), Tony Grogan (Art), Mister Carlson (History and Geography) (Provincial Rugby Cap), Mrs Stonier (English), "Piggy" Parker (Latin)(His nickname arose from his having a small pig farm as a sideline), "Charlie" Corbett (Bookkeeping and Commercial Arithmetic) and Mister Stonier our Chemistry and Physics Master. To my shame I can't recall the name of the Afrikaans teacher we had, but his nickname was "Oupa" - meaning Grandad. I obviously learned something from him since I can still speak it reasonably well!

    On balance I did well, but, as my reports so often said, I could have done much better. I'm glad I had the good fortune to attend such a good school, I just wish my kids could have been so fortunate.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:36 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    September 01, 2008

    Ferry across the Murky - sorry Mersey.

    Last week I spent three days at an exhibition in Murkyside, otherwise known as Merseyside, in the City of Liverpool. The conference centre is a super modern building on the Albert Dock, once the bustling hub of shipping, but now, like so many of the UK's former commercial and industrial sites, a complex of shppoing malls, museums and hotels. The city itself is undergoing a massive programme of rebuilding, evidenced by the number of boarded up structures decaying quietly and the forest of tower cranes on those sites that are being redeveloped.

    Some of the Irish Sea ferries berthed on the Birkenhead side of the river. Birkenhead was always considered "posher" than Liverpool apparently. The ferry made famous by the Beatles berths just upstream of the two ships in the picture.

    The former Cammell Laird Shipyard. Cammell's have long gone, but the site is still used for ship repair and maintenance - as demonstrated by the pair of Her Majesty's Grey Funnell liners from the Royal Fleet Auxilliary undergoing maintenance work.

    Liverpool and Birkenhead (LIverpool was once in Lancashire and Birkenhead in Cheshire - but now they are both part of "Merseyside") used to be thriving commercial and industrial centres. Liverpool particularly for its Transatlantic trade. This was the home of Cunard and White Star lines, the home port of the most famous trans Atlantic liners of all time. Now the port is gone, the victim of a failure by successive governments to modernise the facilities ro to tackle the rampant Socialist Unionism that has destroyed all hope of Britain ever recovering its industrial base on any meaningful scale. Liverpool in particular suffered badly under the Labour Party's caball in the early eighties who imposed a mafia style "Soviet" control over the Merseyside region. What was left of their industry simply went to the wall.

    Cammell Laird has been the victim of Whitehall intransigence as well. Cancellation of orders for the navy, encouragement of foreign military sources for equipment and "trade offs" with Europe to reduce our ship building capacity to the benefit of Spain, The Netherlands and France to name but a few of the beneficiaries.

    I will confess that it is twenty years since my last visit to this city and I found that visit depressing in the extreme. I haven't seen much to encourage me on this visit either. Certainly the bits I visited on this occassion had the feel of a place where the lights were on - but there were few people at home.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:35 AM | TrackBack

    August 23, 2008

    What's that big yellow ball in the sky?

    Having just mowed the wet lawn I'm now recovering from a bout of hayfever! The sun is out and its a beautiful day, no wind, no clouds and warm sunshine. I hope it lasts, we need to dry out a bit again after what seems to be daily doses of rain. Mind you, I'm not complaining, my hayfever is always easier when it rains - the pollen doesn't get to me through the water.

    Mind you, its a Bank Holiday, ergo; it will rain at some point during the weekend, that is what Bank Holidays are about.

    As for me, well I never travel on Bank Holidays if I can avoid it so I'm staying home and catching up on all the things I need to get moved forward, like filling in forms for insurance policy renewal, signing off the accountants statements, finishing the proof reading of "The enemy is within!" and ...... The list seems to be endless. Still, its a beautiful day and I need to go and get some essential supplies from Messrs Marcus et Sparkus' emporium on the High Street. Then I had better get back to the grindstone or it will be midnight oil again - and at the price of oil these days that just eats up any profit in doing the work.

    Perhaps getting up and going to bed with the birds is a good idea.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:03 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    August 17, 2008

    Which Harry Potter character?

    Which Harry Potter Character Are You?

    Created by BuddyTV

    I have to admit that this was a surprise - the very last character I expected to be ...

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:42 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    August 16, 2008


    One of the authors on FanStory a literary site I belong to, has posted an Acrostic verse based on the name PATRICK. It is dedicated to me on the FanStory site so I am very flattered. Here it is

    Persecuted by his enemies he has risen above their immorality,
    Always finding good, praying for each that falls in evil fatality.
    Teaching his family forgiveness and compassion for others,
    Radiantly showing all people love, all are sister and brothers.
    In loving devotion he preaches the Word of the Lord with passion,
    Calmly calling all to give thanks, and to show others compassion.
    Knowing great tiredness, he works on nobley, though wearied and ashen.

    I hasten to add that she has taken the virtues of the saint for whom I am named and not mine into account in writing it!

    The last line is especially poignant for me. As I have researched his life and times, I have been forced to the conclusion that, in his latter years (He died aged 76 by the most reliable accounts) he must have been suffering badly from arthritis. Almost certainly some of the things he was subjected to in his slavery will have left their mark and returned in the form of bad joints, skeletal problems and even digestive complaints. A man of great courage and even greater compassion.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:44 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    August 15, 2008

    The pig in the bath ....

    A story told me many years ago which came back to me this morning as I mowed the hedge and made the most of the early sunshine and lack of rain falling from the sky, is worth sharing again.

    A man is walking home from the pub when he comes across another man, a stranger to him, struggling to get a pig through the door of his house. Now, as you may know, pigs come in three basic sizes. Large, Xtra Xtra Large and XXXX Large! This one was in the last category and is the biggest pig our man has ever seen. So he pauses and asks the obvious.

    "What are you doing with that pig?"

    "I have to get it inside the house quietly. The wife's asleep and I don't want to wake her," the man with the pig replies, "Can you give me a hand?"

    Well our philanthropist has nothing better to do and after three pints is feeling quite benevolent so he agrees.

    Between them they wrestle the porker into the hall, then up the stairs and finally get it into the bathroom. By now our philanthropist's beer levels are falling fast and he is beginning to wonder about why the gentleman wants the pig in the bathroom.

    "Help me put it in the bath," the Pig Owner whispers, "and then I have some good beer downstairs for your pains."

    "That sounds good," replies our philanthropist, and together they get the giant porker into the bath and secure him there. Then they make their way downstairs and the beer is produced and shared. After several pulls on the delicious pint, our philanthropist is overcome by curiosity.

    "Sorry to be nosy, but why exactly do you keep the pig in the bath?"

    "Well it's like this you see," the other man replies, "It's my wife. Everytime I say anything to her, she replies 'Yes, I know that already.'" He takes another pull on his beer and says, "Well she gets up first in the mornings, and tomorrow she'll go to the bathroom and see the pig. And she'll come running into the bedroom screaming "There's a pig in the bath". And for once in my life, I'm going to say, "I know that already!""

    Yeah, I know.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:26 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    August 12, 2008

    Organ recital

    Had to introduce an organ recital today given by Dr Anthony Gritten, a renowned organist. I have met Anthony several times and always enjoy his programmes, but today had to be different. You see he asked me to "turn the pages" for him as he played. Whoa! For a start I am next to musically illiterate! I can read the Bass line - just - a legacy of having played the trombone some forty four years ago at school and sung - badly - in choirs since. But read a score for the organ? You're joking ....

    He wasn't, so for the next fifty minutes I was perched alongside one of the UK's leading organists and desperately trying to follow the pedal line so that I could turn the page at the appropriate moment. Talk about nerves ....

    The first piece was Louis-James-Alfred Lefebure-Wely's Sortie in G Minor. Most people will know his more famous Sortie in B Flat, but this one is, if anything even more fun, especially played by a master on an organ as magnificent as the Milton. And here's another tip - the organ sounds remarkable different when you are perched inside it! I managed to follow that piece reasonably well - though Anthony's nod helped, mainly because the pedal line is fairly distinct. The next item was apiece by Richard Francis who was present for the performance. The Prelude, Aria and Passacaglia was wonderful - and I only had one bad moment when the page refused to fold properly!

    That was followed by eleven short movements by Guy Bovet, the Suite Pour Souvigny. This is the first time I have heard this piece and it was wonderful - but murder to follow correctly as the pedal line is incidental, but very, very distinctive. Fortunately it all worked out, I turned the pages as signalled and even managed to follow what was happening among all those notes. I was very relieved to find I had coped with this little challenge. Maybe I should now learn to read music properly - but on the other hand, I don't think I'll volunteer too often for this task.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    August 09, 2008

    Personality Quiz

    Which Battlestar Galactica Character Are You?

    Created by BuddyTV

    Well, many years ago I was a big fan of Battlestar Galactica, but the new version just hasn't got my attention in the same way. Still, it could be worse I suppose - I could have turned out to be Baltar or a Cylon clone!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:34 PM | TrackBack

    August 07, 2008

    Ramblings among my books ...

    On my recent visit to Tehran I mentioned to my students that I knew some of the Quatrains of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the 11th Century Persian Mathematician, Poet and Philosopher. At the end of their course they flattered me with a presentation of a most beautiful illustrated boxed book of the Rubiayat.

    Now I had better explain. Omar Khayyam's poetry was my father's favourite. He could quote it liberally. But the little copy of the verses that he had didn't have any illustrations. The large book I now possess has the most beautiful illustrations, the work of a Persian artist and each a work of art in itself. The book does not have all the Quatrains Omar wrote but it does have almost half of them and they are reproduced in five languages - Persian and Arabic on the right hand page, English, German and French on the left.

    If you don't know the poems, here is one of his most famous:

    "The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ,
    Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
    Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
    Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it."

    It's worth looking up - this man of antiquity has a lot to say in our own age.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:02 PM | TrackBack

    July 27, 2008

    Some funnies ....

    One Happy Dog Speaks is always good for some funnies - typically on a Wednesday. But this list of matters of ettiquette is priceless.

    My favourite? Try its tacky to take a removal van to a funeral - even if you are in the Will.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:21 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    July 21, 2008

    Over the rainbow

    Yesterday was exhausting for all the Abbey team. It marked the first anniversary of the devastating flood that hit our town an our county last year. This year the rain stayed away, although the north wind was cool and occasional clouds did hide the sun from time to time. Work for this began at the beginning of the week with teams from sound engineers and a fireworks display crew preparing our Abbey to be the centre piece for a party to celebrate our recovery and, perhaps more importantly, our rediscovery of the community spirit necessary to overcome the huge problems the flood brought.

    The service in the Abbey was a thanksgiving and a remembrance - three people died during the floods and many more had businesses and homes destroyed - yet the town has largely bounced back. It has been no small effort to do so and for many it is still traumatic. Yesterday provided an opportunity to celebrate recovery and to give a party for everyone in the town. The Church was packed for the service and the crowd remained afterward to surround the Abbey in a "Hug" to replace the image of the Abbey surrounded by water with one of it surrounded by people. In the grounds many local organisations set up stalls to advertise their activities and a local funfair provider set up some fabulous inflatable and other rides for the kids.

    In the Pageant Meadow to the south of the Abbey a huge enclosure was created and a large covered stage set up. A variety of bands played throughout the day on this, in counterpoint to the Jazz Ensemble playing at the entrance to the Abbey on the north side. The day concluded with a fabulous fireworks display over around and on the Abbey itself, supplemented by a light display and accompanied by music played over the sound system rigged in the tower. Carleton Etherington thundered through the fireworks on the Magnificent Milton to be followed by the Pirates of the Caribbean and several other well known pieces with the Abbey bells bringing the whole to a ringing conclusion.

    What a party, not a single problem or incident of disorderly conduct, a wonderful atmosphere and a really grand day out for the town. Everyone involved deserves congratulations and the town deserves a year ahead in which it recovers those last few homes and lays the last few ghosts.

    Pictures can be found on the BBC Gloucestershire website. I'm afraid I was too busy to get any myself...

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 17, 2008

    Medieval banqueting - 21st Century style

    Last night we held a banquet in the Abbey. That's right, in the Abbey, candlelit and seated at a great U shaped table in the Nave. Our Refectory cooked a truly medieval meal - a sort of chicken stew served on trenchers of bread and washed down with wine or beer. Father Abbot said the Grace (In Latin then repeated in Vernacular English) at the invitation of our Lord of Misrule for the evening, the Editor of our local newspapers. The organiser was none other than the lady wife of our Lord Lieutenant - who turned up in a full medieval costume and looked resplendent as he raised to Loyal Toast. And just for those who don't know, the Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire is one of the four "Marcher Lords" who defend England from the Welsh raiders across the border. The Lord Lieutenant in every county is the Queen's personal representative and, in her absence, is the Sovereign.

    Now, before all the purists, iconoclasts and puritans among you start throwing your toys out of the pram let me point out two important things. When this building was built, this was only one of the uses that the Nave was regularly put too. The Nave of any church at that time served as a public meeting hall, occassional market place and a place where civic banquets could be held. The "Church" part of the Abbey begins at the "step" where the Monks Quire Screen stood and which shut off the Nave from the "Presbytery" - another name for the "Church" or "Sanctuary". I have no doubt at all that many of those who attended the Jerusalem Conference ahead of the Lambeth Conference will condemn this - but the interesting thing is this - if you go back to the origins of the "Church" you discover that this is how they met for their worship and to celebrate the Eucharist - in a meal. And those who feel that this is an inappropriate use should think carefully on this - nearly half those attending were not church goers, yet most said that they were now considering joining since the church wasn't as "stuffy" as they had been brought up to believe.

    Our meal was accompanied by a group of musicians playing medieval instruments, shawms, serpentines and several stringed instruments whose names escape me and they sounded exactly right in this glorious building. The group call themselves Bubonic Wind and they are very good indeed - especially in the magical accoustic of the Abbey. This ancient building has witnessed many things, but hopefully will recall this one with joy and hope.

    Will we be doing it again? You can bet on it!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:40 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    July 16, 2008

    The Physics of Electromagnetic wave transmission

    I have to admit my eldest daughter sent me this link - and it is hilarious. As an explanation of electromagnetic transmission, it may be a little off the wall, but it has got some amusing insertions......

    Physics is, for most of us, a "Dark Art", one we would like to think we understand, but rarely have much more than a 'surface' knowledge. Spend any time in the presence of a Physicist and you suddenly discover that a whoile range of things you thought you had a reasonable grasp of, unravel before your very eyes and you begin to doubt everything you ever learned. Quantum is a good example. To most people "Quantum" means to big to grasp - it actually means very, very small!

    Oh, and don't ask a Physicist how electricity is transmitted through cables.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:56 AM | TrackBack

    July 13, 2008

    Medieval madness?

    My fellow Church Warden and I, in a moment of madness, offered to give tours of the roof spaces of the Abbey. These proved far more popular than we bargained for and I am now exhausted - four trips up the stairs into the roof, round the roof, through the South Transept and down the Night Stairs with parties of between five and ten a time. My fellow CW did as many trips as I.

    I would probably have done five trips, but I was asked to show several people the Clarence Vault - and for a small consideration, I agreed. The problem was I ended up with around thirty people wanting to see this small vault that now houses the small glass box containing the mortal remains of George Duke of Clarence (Poor perjured Clarence in Shakespeare) and Isabella Despenser, his wife. The floor of this vault is covered by medieval acaustic tiles, though they are covered by a fine powdering of sediment as the vault floods every time the rivers rise beyond a certain point. The bones themselves have weathered badly with age and - due to the dampness of the vault - have a light covering of mould. We are considering re-interring them in a small stone coffin made for the purpose which will be left in the vault.

    The roof is another matter, the top of the beautiful lierne vaulting is not half as attractive as the decorated underside, yet the structure is in itself amazing. The vault is in effect created by a convergence of thin arches and the gaps between these is then filled in using 'rag stone' - undressed stones - in a manner similar to that used for drystone walling. When the stones are placed and the 'key' stone is inserted, the forces are transmitted sideways through each stone to the wall and the vault 'locks' in place. The gaps are filled with lime mortar and the inner face plastered with a lime plaster - and then painted and decoration added. But above rubble is simply piled on the increase the weight and this secures it as an immovable mass, Over the vault the huge timber trusses span from wall to wall, each truss created by mortice and tenon joints and these are locked with wedges and trenails - wooden pegs inserted through drilled holes and then driven home with a mallet. The marks of saw, chisel and even the workmans scored lines for his cut and hole boring are still visible on some of these ancient timbers.

    Elsewhere the stones show the signs of workmanship, sometimes revealing that an error has led to a stone being discarded for its original purpose and used elsewhere. Masons marks, graffitti and numerous small 'personalised' details bring the whole thing to life. As one vistor said when faced with beautifully detailed carving on a pillar's concealed face in the clerestory - "Why? Who would know it wasn't carved on this side?"

    The answer is "God and the mason would know" and for that reason alone, no mason would ever leave work unfinished.

    Madness? It probably was madness that inspired us to offer to do this, but it has been a very rewarding experience. One of the re-enactors left a small posy on the Clarence repository, quietly and without saying anything at all about it. Another man, a carpenter, went into raptures about the beauty of a joint in one of the roof trusses while someone else was moved by a piece of unfinished stone carving simply used as a block in the wall in an unseen part of the building. Everyone apparently found something in what they have seen today that set them thinking.

    God does move in some interesting ways to touch peoples hearts and minds.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 12, 2008

    Medieval Tewkesbury

    This weekend we have a medieval camp and fair in Tewkesbury - and a re-enactment of the battle fought here in 1471. I Have to admit that it is a bit weird to walk down High Street and be confronted by Medieval Lords, Ladies, Knights and Peasants all in correct clothing and some even wearing hefty swords. Notably Mister Plod and his consorts don't try to intervene on that aspect - mind you, I wouldn't particularly want to argue with someone carrying a pole axe either!

    The Fair is an experience. There are booths for armourers, fletchers, sword makers, furniture makers and even tent makers. There are New Age crystals, incense and food for vegetarians. There are musicians, stuntmen and "Fools" - and everywhere there are soldiers of the two armies, in their hauberks, armour and accouterments.

    An Armourer with his wares - anything from a full suit of armour to a replacement greave.

    The stall holders make a living from their wares, many coming from very far afield to be here. This year I have encountered people from Germany, from Poland, from Hungary and the US. Though I have to admit that I did blink when confronted by an man in chain mail and the surcoat of the Duke of Gloucester (Later to be Richard III) speaking with a strong Mid-Western accent!

    An armoured knight explains his weapons and his armour to admirers.

    Most of the Re-enactors take their roles seriously and the realism includes "getting into the part" completely. So from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave they try to camp in the same way as their medieval counterparts, they try to cook medieval food and even their tents are wonderful medieval concoctions completely furnished with the sort of camp furniture used in that period - and if you think it was rough and ready, think again. Some of it would do very nicely in a modern house, better designed and better built and looking than much of what you can buy in the furniture stores.

    What is a Fayre without entertainment - this Black Morris were very good indeed. The Black Morris is supposed to be a representation of Moors, but other authorities say it arose after the Black Death.

    Morris Dancing is a very ancient tradition and is really a fertility rite. The Morris has its origins in a rite supposed to be performed at Lughnassad - 1st February - which marked the start of Spring and signalled the lambing season and spring planting. Now it is performed mainly at Fayres and through the summer at numerous country pubs - sorry Village Greens - to amuse and entertain the tourists. But secretly, so the dancers can track down the best ales in the country.

    All in all, the medieval festival is a lot of fun and swells the population of this town by a considerable number. Long may it continue.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:05 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    July 11, 2008

    Let the music speak ....

    Last night the Abbey rang to the music of the Estonian Philharmonia Choir. Unaccompanied, their voices filled the Abbey enthralling the capacity audience and bringing the stone walls to vivid life as the sound made them ring. This is what the building was designed for, the unaccompanied, un-amplified human voice. It is a sound that has to be heard to be understood.

    The varied programme included works from the English canon of early music, modern pieces by Finnish composer Arvo Part and Estonian composers. They gave us an encore as well - a Russian Orthodox piece that I know well - and they outsang the recording I have.

    And tonight we have the Philharmonia Orchestra for a gala concert with the Philharmonia Choir .....

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:59 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    July 10, 2008

    Medieval weekend

    This weekend Tewkesbury slips into a timewarp and a big chunk of it slips back 500 years - to 1471 in fact. Each year we have a huge group descend on our town from all over the world. Most dress in medieval costume, some even bring armour and they re-enact the battle between Queen Margaret and her son Edward of Westminster and Edward IV, his uncle, for the throne of England.

    The actual battle occured on the 4th May 1471, but it is usually far to wet and cold at that season to attract camping or visitors, so they hold the re-enactment now, on the second weekend in July. Naturally the Abbey forms quite a large centre piece to all of this, pertinent too since the battle ended in our nave with the Abbot driving the soldiers out and denying the King entry with the threat of eternal damnation. His only weapon, the Ciborium containing the consecrated Host - the bread of communion. Abbot John Strensham was obviously a man to be reckoned with since he remained Abbot even though he had probably offended Edward IV, a man who did not take challenges to his authority, or slights to his will, lightly.

    The King did get his way in one particular though, he demanded and got, on pain of the sequestration of the Abbey, the surrender of all the Lancastrian nobles who had taken refuge in it. In this he was within his rights, for the Abbey was not a licenced "Sanctuary". The Duke of Somerset and all the Queen's chief supporters were removed and promptly tried and beheaded at the market cross the following day. The Abbey Church itself was closed for almost six months for cleaning, purification and repair, being reconsecrated by the Bishop of Worcester in October 1471.

    But one part of the story remains shrouded in mystery, for a little over a hundred years ago, workmen found toys, household goods and even some childrens shoes and other apparel in the roof of the nave and the two great aisles. These were stuffed into a box and deposited at the County Museum, where a hundred years later they were identified as being from the 1470's. Study of the history of the battle reveals nothing of the townspeople, and the Abbey records, such as still exist, reveal little - except that food consumption seems to have been remarkably high for a few days. It appears that the Abbot had concealed the towns women and children in the roof, giving them refuge while the town and its people lay open and vulnerable to the depredations of two hostile armies. There is certainly room in there for several hundred people, but one can only imagine what it would have been like without light, dependent on others to bring food or water - and no toilets!

    The re-enactment is always fun, though one does get the odd surprise turning a corner or entering Markus et Sparkus' emporium to be confronted by folk in medieval garb. The camp sweels the towns population by about five thousand and the day visitors bump it up even more. We at the Abbey will be joining in the fun, welcoming those exploring this ancient building and even opening up the roof and a few other places not normally seen by visitors for those fit enough and active enough to see them. Our Parish Eucharist will be celebrated on the Bloody Meadow in the midst of the camp, bringing the message of the gospel to all those who are there and remembering those, known and unknown, who died there in 1471.

    Do join us if you can.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:45 AM | TrackBack

    July 07, 2008

    Conferences and narrow boats ...

    Last week the Monk attended a conference in Blackpool for three days at a very posh hotel which apparently does its best to appear not to be in Blackpool even though you can see the famous (or infamous) tower from the car park. I have to say, that the staff both at the hotel I was staying in and the Conference venue were among the nicest and most cheerful young people I have had to deal with in a long time. They were friendly, helpful and polite - and always smiling, no matter what happened.

    One very funny moment occured when a group of us went for a meal in the restuarant adjoining my hotel. We are all long standing friends and colleagues and we "take the mickey" out of each other, tease, and generally give as good as we get. The waitress who came to take our order watched the banter and the arguing over whether or not we would have wine with this, whether it would be red or white, or just stick with various beers in something like amazement. Finally she asked, "Are you guys all family? You sound like one!"

    THat set the tone for the rest of the conference and I suspect for some time to come. You see, we may not be related at all in the sense of "blood" ties - but we are all members of one of the best "famillies" on earth. The Old Style Fire Service.

    Conference over, I took myself home and then on to Saul Junction for a part weekend afloat on a Narrow Boat called "Haere-Mai" at the Saul Junction Festival. I was there to help a friend, the owner of "Haere-Mai", make sure no one burned anything down. It rained, it blew like crazy, but that didn't stop a lot of people having loads of fun in the Folk Festival, on the water or just meeting up with old friends and old boats. There will be some pictures of all this eventually, I just have to find time to download them, down size them and post them. As we did our rounds of our fire points and checked no one was doing anything silly with some of the goods on sale, we found ourselves rubbing shoulders with every branch of British Eccentricity. Morris Men, Morris Women, people in pirate outfits, people in Motley, kids with their faces painted, big beards, big hair and even the odd medievalist.

    Being boring of course, I was more interested in the boats ..... Oh, and the 100 year old steam traction engine hauling a trailer with people up and down ...... And the display team of Barge horses ........

    Pictures, pictures, pictures ......

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:08 AM | TrackBack

    MuNu back to normal ....

    It seems that MuNu has recovered, everything so far seems to be working again. The details of the problem can be found here at Munuviana. It seems that the servers were having a bad day a week or so ago, and decided to share that with everyone using them.

    Hiho - the joys of the electronic age.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    MuNu back to normal ....

    It seems that MuNu has recovered, everything so far seems to be working again. The details of the problem can be found here at Munuviana. It seems that the servers were having a bad day a week or so ago, and decided to share that with everyone using them.

    Hiho - the joys of the electronic age.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 03, 2008

    A Cat's Sufferings

    As if life weren't hard enough for a cat these days - yes, how would you like to have to walk around in a black-and-white furcoat at 30 Centigrad in the shade,pray - one of my human slaves had to make life extra uncomfortable for me last week.

    With all this global warming around all you can do is trying to find a shady place and cool your tummy down...

    So, okay, I had a cyst on my back and it was filling up and discharging all the time, and yes it was get bigger, starting from the size of a pea it had now reached the size of a table tennis ball. And true, there was a little wound on my lower jaw and something was growing out of it - but still, that's no reason to drag a cat to the vet if you ask me. And I absolutely resent the way it was done. I came walking into the house one evening and stayed on for a little nap, which I don't usually do at this time of the year. I prefer to spend the nights outside. My human eventually closed the shutters on the windows and went upstairs to bed. That's not a big deal, I know, I only have to go the bedroom and ask politely to be let out. Which I did, after a couple of hours. No reaction! I went downstairs hopefully but no one followed. So I tried again, sotto voce - no reaction! Next time I entered the bedroom I decided to change tactics - I jumped onto the bed and tried a long PUUURRRRRRRRRR! right into the ear. She didn't even stir!

    At four o'clock in the morning I finally gave up, went downstairs and made myself comfortable on top of a big pile of freshly laundered bedclothes that awaited ironing. Serves her right!

    And guess what - when my slave came downstairs eventually I still didn't get breakfast and she didn't even tell me off for lying on that pile. That was when I started to smell a rat. My suspicions were confirmed when she put me in that wicker basket. She usually takes me to the vet in that one, but it was not the time of the year to have my tetanus shots and the like! I was not in a very good mood when we arrived at the vet. I felt very hungry.

    I didn't know then that I would feel a lot worse when my human picked me up again at lunchtime. Gosh, I felt as weak as a kitten and as sick as a dog. First thing I did when we got home was that I threw up in her front garden. Serves her right! All afternoon I tried to recover from the drowsiness and the loss of balance. Believe it or not - for hours I couldn't walk in a straight line. I felt extremely sorry for myself.

    Poor me!

    By four o'clock that night I had recovered enough to leave the house on my own paws. This time she let me out. But I hadn't forgiven her yet, oh NO. I refused to come inside the house again for two days and insisted on being served my meals outside in the garden.

    After a week now I feel quite well again. I still have that wounds on my chin and back, all stitched up but it doesn't bother me too much. I only hope the fur will grow quickly again. Although it is a relief to have a bit of it off in this weather but in my experience bald patches never show off to your advantage. I have a strong suspicion we'll have to go to the vet again soon and have those stitches out. Well, this time I'll be prepared. Watch out, humans!

    Posted by Mausi at 04:53 AM | TrackBack

    June 30, 2008

    Eishhhhh Wena! Bad language usage can be lethal....

    To read this you need to use a slightly modified version of phonetics ....

    Eishhhhhhh Wena u must not understanding the henglish sandwige

    Two men walk into a pet shop and go over to the bird section. Sonnyboy says to Umfan, "Dat's dem."

    The clerk asks if he can help them.

    "Yebo, we take four of dose beds in dat cage lapa side," says Umfan. "Put beds in a pepa bag pleez, baas!"

    The two guys pay for the birds and leave the shop. They get into Sonnyboy's Hi Ace van and drive until they are high up on the hill and stop at the top of a cliff with a 500-foot drop. Sonnyboy takes the birds out of the bag, places 2 on each of his shoulders and jumps off the cliff.

    Umfan watches as Sonnyboy goes straight down for a few seconds followed by a 'SPLAT'. As Umfan looks over the edge of the cliff he shakes his head and says, "Haibo, dis budgie jumpin' is too dangerous for me."

    A minute later, Philemon arrives. He too has been to the pet shop and carries the familiar 'pepa bag'. He pulls a parrot out of the bag and is carrying a gun in his other hand.

    "Heita, Umfan. Watch dis," Philemon says, and launches himself over the edge of the cliff.

    Umfan watches as half way down, Philemon takes the gun, blows the parrot's head off, and continues to plummet until there is a SPLAT, as he joins Sonnyboy's remains at the bottom.

    Umfan shakes his head and says, "Eish baba, me is never tryin' dat parrotshooting nider."

    After a few minutes, Goodman strolls up. He too has been to the pet shop and is carrying the familiar 'pepa bag'. Instead of a parrot he pulls a chicken out of the bag, and launches himself off the cliff with the same result.

    Once more Umfan shakes his head.

    Hauw! First dere was Sonnyboy wit his budgie-jumping, den Philemon parrotshooting and now Goodman is hen-gliding!"

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:29 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    June 23, 2008

    Down the hole ....

    My friends in South Africa have a big problem. Lack of maintenance on the roads (Alongside lack of expansion of services, lack of investment in infrastructure and a few other "lacks") has made any road journey an adventure. The roads have been damaged by heavy traffic - trucks far heavier than they were designed for - and the absence of any money for repair. So, cracks become holes, holes become dongas and eventually sinkholes. Some roads have become totally unusable I'm told and it is now not uncommon to find barriers set up around a hole with no plans to repair it.

    A pothole victim waits for rescue!

    As ever, the only thing the hapless residents can do is keep laughing about it.

    I don't know who photoshopped this one, but I have to admit it is beautifully done. Thanks Christo!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:06 AM | TrackBack

    June 19, 2008

    A cautionary tale .....

    Found at One Happy Dog Speaks - this cautionary tale (with pictures) of how on should be wary of that Christian urge to help the needy ......

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:54 AM

    June 16, 2008

    A bird in the flue ...

    Got up this morning to hear a strange fluttering in the living room. A quick search revealed nothing in sight - initially a relief, since only a week ago I found a distressed bird in this same room, eagerly watched by one Madam Paddy Cat as it perched on a model ship on top of my bookcase. Relief was shortlived, the fluttering was very definitely coming from behind the gas-fire - in short the idiot avian was inside the flue!

    Now I had several options. First, check whether it is possible for something the size of a bird to get out through the vents at the top of the "fire". Those looked a little too small. So next option, how do I make t bigger. It seemed the only option was to move the entire fire. That meant disconnecting the gas, unbolting the "fire' from the wall and then shifting the whole thing out. That is a job for a gas fitter, not a D-I-Y averse ex-firefighter. So, back to the phonebook. First call to the 24 hour helpline for the RSPCA. Chocolate fire guard springs to mind for all the help I got there. Summed up it was "Phone Transco to turn off your gas supply - then remove the gas fire ....." Next, try to find a gas fitter. Several abortive calls later I stopped to make a cup of coffee and give this some thought.

    Coffee in hand I was about to consider the next move when the phone rang. It took a few minutes to deal with the subject of that and then back to dealing with the bird in the flue .....

    Back in the living room, the flutter of wings, at the door a disinterested cat. Madam glanced at me, flicked a tail at the bird and swished out of the room. Her entire attitude said, "You let the last one go - you catch this one!" I shut the door, removed the curtains and opened the windows as wide as I could. Would the idiot bird leave? Of course not. It perched on the model ship and peered at me.

    Now I'm not a bird watcher and I'm certainly adrift when it comes to UK and European birds. I grew up in Africa and we have different plumage on most of the "similar" birds and there are some here I just don't recognise. This one looked like a starling, except it was brown, a deep chocolate brown with a long sharp black beak. I waved my hands at it and it took off - but not for the window! We chased from perch to perch until the idiot thing collided with the open windows frame - and darted off.

    So now I know how the last visitor got in - down the chimney, which means that the bird guard up there is gone. A legacy of the stormy spring? Or maybe the work that was done up there by the Housing Association's people a few months ago. So how to get it back? Well, the HA (Who own the block in which I own a lease) claim its not their problem - except that my lease says they are responsible for the exterior and its fittings .......

    This may take some time - and in the meantime I can expect more avian visitors I suppose.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:00 PM | TrackBack

    June 12, 2008


    Found this hilarious story at One happy dog speaks. Its so good I have to share it - so follow the link to Humour for the dreaded Wednesday.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:34 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    June 04, 2008

    Buy this CD!

    A friend of mine - Andrew Ian Dodge of Dodgblogium - and his wife have put out a CD. Kim is a comedienne and has appeared in a number of UK and US TV shows. The CD, entitled "The wedding EP" can be found here.

    Andrew and Kim are, for those who don't know them, a fun couple with a good sense of humour. When he is not making music Andrew is writing and his Cthulu tales are pretty damned good. Why not give this latest bit of fun a whirl and try it out. You'll find that it can be downloaded as well - for less than a £1. Bargain! Even the CD at $4 a shot is a bargain .....

    Oh go on - you know you're tempted.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 30, 2008

    One I have to share.....

    The Grizzwells is just to good today not to be shared .....

    And yesterdays sums up our age very well indeed.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 27, 2008

    Home at last ....

    Nice as it is to see new places and visit old friends, its nice to get home again too. Courtesy of Delta we arrived on time and in one piece in Frankfurt am Main this morning. My flight bookings meant a wait of some seven hours in the terminal, but, having booked my luggage into Flybe and got my boarding card sorted - I went home with Mausi, returning to the airport in time for the flight home. Courtesy of Flybe I have arrived home in one piece and with my luggage this evening.

    Madam Paddy Cat is delighted, I'm exhausted and now to bed! Photos of our travels and marvels will follow in due course!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:46 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    May 26, 2008

    Heading homeward

    All good things must end they say, and so our little tour is coming o a close. Today we start north again towards Cincinnatti and the airport. Our flight leaves this evening and arrives in Frankfurt tomorrow. Mausi then returns to her normal domain and her work while the Monk catches another flight to Birmingham and home.

    Ce la vie! It has been good fun, lots of interesting people to meet, much to see and some interesting wines to savor. I bet that not many people outside Kentucky know that its wines are at least as good as its Bourbon. Better, some would argue, but not to loudly.

    Oh well, finish packing, get the car loaded and time to head for Lexington and the Horse Museum on our way to the airport. More, probably with pictures, once we get home.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 25, 2008

    Heading North again

    Sunday in Richmond KY. Today we are spending with good friends and having a BBQ lunch. This is our last full day here, tomorrow we must be at Cincinnatti Airport for our flight home around lunchtime and the plan is to drive North from here in the morning.

    Mausi has been doing all the driving - assisted by the GPS (sometimes) - and generally hindered by the Monk. At least she is used to driving on the wrong side of the road, unlike the Monk whose concept of positioning on the road and in the lanes is quite a bit out of wack here. We have both been struggling with the road markings and signs which are not what we encounter elsewhere, but, by and large, we haven't broken any rules or caused any problems on the road.

    Its been fun, but, as ever, the prospect of going home has its attractions too. Just wish it didn't involve sitting in an aircraft for 9 hours to Frankfurt, four more waiting for the connection and then two more to Birmingham. At least the drive home is quite short - and on the right side of the road!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:44 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    May 23, 2008

    Kentucky rambling

    Well we've fetched up in Berea. We left Louisville this morning and made our way to Elizabethville and then to Hodgenville and the park now occupying the site of the farmstead on which Abraham Lincoln was born. The Sinking Spring Farm is now a National Park, the huge memorial building at its heart above the actual spring encases a log cabin which replicates the one in which, in February 1818 the USA's greatest President was born.

    Abraham Lincoln epitomizes the "American Dream", the idea that a boy or girl from humble and very ordinary beginnings, can rise to the very head of a nation. Thinking about it carefully, I am forced to the conclusion that he is the ONLY man ever to have done so. I cannot think of any other US President whose origins so clearly lie with the working classes. Honest Abe was certainly a remarkable man - all the ore so because so much of his education fell within the definition of "self-study." He rose from the soil of a small and probably hard to work, farmstead, to become a successful lawyer and the nations orator, conscience and leader. He left an astonishing legacy, yet managed to remain incredibly modest abut his achievements.

    Driving through Danville, Springfield and Lancaster we finally found ourselves in Berea - and booked into the Boone House Hotel - also known as the Boone Tavern. Now, having had a superb dinner, it's time for bed.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 22, 2008

    Exploring Kentucky

    The Symposium being over Mausi and I are exploring. Today we travelled from Cincinnati to Louisville, Kentucky. This city stands on the banks of the Ohio River at a point known as the Ohio Falls, a series of rapids which once inhibited navigation. At some point a canal was created bypassing the rapids which are now controlled by a weir across the river, making it safer to navigate this stretch of the river

    Louisville is named after King Louis XVI of France (Yup, the same one that got the chop at the guillotine in 1793) in recognition of the assistance France was giving to the rebellion in the American Colonies. No doubt the French also had an eye to the main chance - taking over these colonies themselves. Unfortunately for their plans, the French Revolution dealt that a fatal blow! Today the city is home to the Kentucky Derby, a range of museums and the last surviving Mississippi steam powered stern wheeler, the preserved "Belle of Louisville". Built in 1914 as a ferry and "packet boat" for service on the Mississippi as the "Idlewild" she still has her original horizontal sliding compound engines which were built in Scotland. She came to Port of Louisville in 1968 in need of major repair and a lot of restoration and, thanks to the dedication of some of Louisville's citizens she is with us still. I will post some pictures and more details when I have a chance to do so.

    The city itself is rather pretty and clean. There is certainly plenty to see and do here and tomorrow's plan is to visit a museum that took my fancy and then head out of town on a round-about- route towards Richmond, hopefully calling in at the town which saw the birth of Abraham Lincoln. Even from the Interstate Highway, the countryside is beautiful, so leaving the Interstate and travelling the back roads should be very interesting.

    Piccies to follow!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:17 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    May 16, 2008

    Cincinnatti in my future

    At least in the immediate future as I travel to join Mausi and we both head for a conference at which we are speakers. We will be at the Conference from Sunday until Thursday morning, then visiting and exploring a bit of the country around there before returning to our respective homes the following Tuesday. As we both have WiFi enabled laptops (Or in my case a sparkly new MacBook!) we should be able to keep the blog up to date with our adventures. We'll be at the Kingsgate Conference Hotel during our stay in Ohio and will find places as we explore once we leave there.

    More worrying is the fact that Mausi's house was struck by lightning yesterday evening. So, at the moment, she has no internet, no phone and a couple of sick appliances - but fortunately no serious damage to deal with. No doubt we will get more on this one later, when she is able to get her fur to lie down again!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 15, 2008

    Converting to a Mac ....

    No I am NOT wearing a kilt, Irish or Scottish even though I am legitimately entitled to wear both. I am converting to an Apple Mac i-Book. My Trusty (mostly) laptop has a serious problem which I am unable to resolve easily and I need a laptop for my trip to Cincinnatti. For some time I have been considering upgrading the laptop anyway - its been around the world with me figuratively speaking in the seven years I have relied on it - but, it was a first generation Windows XP. Recently it suffered an attack by a virus - several in fact - which have managed to infest it, my camera, and my memory sticks and portable drives. Microslosh is just too vulnerable and Norton obviously hadn't got defences against these at the time. Though it is now virus free it isn't functioning properly, loads of things simply don't want to run. In addition, despite all the recommended upgrades, it is now running so S-L-O-W-L-Y that it is almost a case of half an hour to load the start-up, never mind actually do what is required of it!

    Ozguru has many times laughed at me for relying on Microslosh and Windblows, so now I guess he'll be laughing even more - but I have finally taken his advice!

    I have taken delivery of a MacBook - and, because I can't afford to chuck the PC Desktop, or bin all my Microslosh files just yet, I have bought a package of "Wndblows for Mac". Its crazy I suppose to buy a Mac and then install Windblows programmes, but what else could I do - I have almost 15,000 Word Document files I need to be able to keep and access. Already I have found I have a steep learning curve, but, one thing I have discovered - I wish I'd done this years ago.

    Watch this space - the Mac is proving to be a challenge, but it is also much easier to figure out than I had thought it would be. Typing with one hand while reading the manual is a bit of a problem, but I'm getting there .....

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:30 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    May 13, 2008

    Dandelion Time

    It's Dandelion Time in the village where Mausi lives. The colours at this time of the year are always striking because the summer dust has not yet settled on them.

    Dandelions in profusion

    Once the fields start to get green again in early May overnight the dandelions appear and turn the fields into lakes of yellow. Obviously the dandelions grow much faster than the grass which makes them clearly visible at this time of the year. Mausi loves this sight, especially when there's a clear blue sky above. If only the dandelions wouldn't try to invade the lawn in her garden all the time. However much they are discouraged from doing so they always come back. Sigh...

    Even the foals from last year seem to enjoy the yellow stuff

    Posted by Mausi at 07:08 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    May 02, 2008


    What? And yes, there is an "h" in it.

    Yesterday was Ascension Day, a public holiday all over Europe, but not in Socialist "multi-faith/atheist" Britain. We finished the day at the Abbey with a glorious Sung Mass and a congregation of roughly eighty people. Others may have celebrated it in their own way - but perhaps not Labour's foot soldiers who have taken a pounding in the polls.

    The Ascension is a very important event in the Christian understanding of Christ and of how God has worked out our future. And I am not talking about global warming or any material considerations of this earth, but of those which will hit us in the next life. It must have been a fascinating event to witness - a devastating one too for they had only just got used to His being among them again. But it pressages greater things to come for all of us.

    The moment of the Ascension has been depicted in many different ways by different artists over the years but perhaps the most striking I have seen is on the dome of a baroque church in Germany. A pair of bare feet protrude from the base of a cloud at the centre of the dome while onlookers peer upward on either side. Das "Himmefahrt" captured exactly as described in the Acts of the Apostles - but, sadly, my schoolboy humour places a different interpretation on it. It's no good - and there is an "h" in "fahrt". And it means "journey".

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 30, 2008

    Interesting .....

    Found this quiz browsing One Happy Dog Speaks ....

    Your Dominant Intelligence is Linguistic Intelligence
    You are excellent with words and language. You explain yourself well.
    An elegant speaker, you can converse well with anyone on the fly.
    You are also good at remembering information and convincing someone of your point of view.
    A master of creative phrasing and unique words, you enjoy expanding your vocabulary.

    You would make a fantastic poet, journalist, writer, teacher, lawyer, politician, or translator.
    What Kind of Intelligence Do You Have?

    Interestingly it does tie in with my personality profiling ....

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:00 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    April 22, 2008

    Going North

    Mausi is going north to Hamburg on a business trip today. She'll be away until Friday and most likely will not have Internet access at all. So there will be no post tomorrow. But the Monk will return home at last on Thursday and will resume blogging then. So keep watching this place.

    Posted by Mausi at 06:26 PM | TrackBack

    April 21, 2008

    The Monk is still in Teheran...

    Mausi had one of those days in the office which are filled with countless small things that need looking into, keep one busy effectively all the time but by the end of the day one can't help feeling one doesn't have achieved much. In short, one of those days that are best forgotten as soon as possible.

    The bright spot of today, however, was a brief conversation with the Monk. He still finds Teheran a fascinating place but is very much looking forward to returning home on Thursday. The traffic is still scaring the life out of him and he is utterly convinced that an army of guardian angels is working overtime for him and the driver that takes him to the training grounds and back again in the evening. Today he finally managed to have a closer look at the magnificent mosque which is near his flat. He says the architecture is magnificent, even more so when seen from inside. He was able to take some good photographs which will hopefully start appearing on the blog by the end of this week.

    The Monk is very much taken with the Iranian people. He says they are very polite, overwhelmingly hospitable and completely different from the impression that is given of them in the western media. It'll be interesting what he'll have to tell about his personal impressions when he's back.

    Posted by Mausi at 06:32 PM | TrackBack

    April 19, 2008

    Tehran traffic

    As I have previously commented Tehran traffic works - but I'm unsure how. So far I have been involved in a brush with a motor cycle (It came through a gap in the armco on the "expressway" - fortunately just as we started forward again.) and rear end shunt - again no damage - and this morning a race with a juggernaut.

    One of the problems is that there seems to be no concept of "lane keeping". People turn right from the inner lane, swinging across moving traffic by dint of simply turning across someones bow and hoping they will stop and give way. The same applies to turning left - simply cut across from whatever lane you are in. Three lanes? Forget it, theres room for five abreast. Traffic circles are a case of Formula One - whoever gets into the intersection first just keeps going, accelerating if necessary to cut across any traffic approaching from the left. The other problem is the concept of giving way to anyone or anything. Intersections are nightmare country as you simply aim for any gap in the cross traffic and force your way across. Pedestrians have a strong Kamikaze streak and simply wade out into the traffic stream weaving and dodging their way between cars, buses, trucks and juggernauts.

    Watching the flow I am strongly reminded of a column in the Saturday Evening Post of the 1950's entitled "Mein Grossvater's Fabletellen". It contained a couple of "definitions" in Pidgin German which exactly fit the traffic here. One you have seen here already - but it remains appropriate!

    Motorist: Ein Honkentootenscreechenraumfer

    Pedestrian: Ein Honkentootenscreechenraumferleapendodger.

    So far I have managed to modify the passenger footwell only slightly. The impression of my Right foot in the metal of the floor pan will, I think, remain until the car is scrapped.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:43 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    April 18, 2008

    It's been a long, long day ...

    Mausi had the opportunity to talk to the Gray Monk briefly this morning. He's alright and things are going according to plan - more or less - in Teheran. After having had to work non-stop for two weeks he was finally allowed to take a day off today. No sightseeing in store for him, though, he had to do preparations for next week. Mausi was granted half a day off today and left the office at noon. She went to see her mother this afternoon and has just returned home full of good food from a superb Italian restaurant near her mother's place. Now all she wants is her bed and a nice, long sleep.....

    Posted by Mausi at 08:23 PM | TrackBack

    April 17, 2008


    Mausi's had one of those days today. Mausi works for the Civil Service and one of the things that really defeat her is filling in forms. It was bad enough when it had to be done by hand or typewriter but doing it by computer is even worse. Mausi has to go to Hamburg on business next week and she needed a one-way railway ticket for the trip because she will travel on to another destination by car. All she had to do was fill in a form in MS WORD on her computer. Once the form is filled in you can click a "SEND" button and the whole thing is submitted by email to the Travel Management People who will obtain an online-ticket for you.

    Only, when Mausi clicked the "SEND" button WORD flashed a message saying that the form had not been filled in correctly. Of course, Mausi hadn't provided any information for her return back to Wiesbaden and that stupid form was taking exception to it. After a frantic search for a telephone number of the Travel Management people because you never find the really important numbers in the telephone directory easily Mausi had the following conversation:

    Mausi: "Good morning. I want to go to Hamburg next week by train but I only need a one-way ticket to Hamburg."
    TM: "Then simply order a one-way ticket."
    Mausi: (Grrrr!) "I've tried to but the order form doesn't let me do that because I haven't filled in anything for the retun."
    TM: "Try to fill in "none" for the return trip. If that doesn't work either you'll have to contact the respective preople in your own company because we didn't design this order form - they did."

    Mausi felt ripe for murder. She knows exactly who designed that form, he's quite famous for consumer unfriendly designs. Needless to say that filling something like "none" into the empty spaces of the form didn't work either. In the end Mausi just saved the form and attached the file to an ordinary email to the TM people. That finally worked. But the time ones spends with these tools that are supposed to make things easier for you is just unbelievable.

    The rest of the day went well but ended with Mausi having to pay a ransom for her car which had spend two days in the garage for a regular check-up. Sigh....

    Posted by Mausi at 10:09 AM | TrackBack

    April 14, 2008

    Dog and Pigs

    It is sometimes very interesting to see what animals will become friends. Take for example the Terrier mix called Kimba of Mausi's sister. She usually loves to hunt everything that's small and furry but somehow she has learnt that the family's guinea pigs are members of the pack and must be guarded instead of hunted.

    The guinea pigs couldn't wish for a better guardian than Kimba, the dog

    Kimba is very funny with the guinea pigs. She loves to mother them and groom them. Sometimes she gets carried away and a pig will squeal in protest, apparently afraid she will lick off all the fur. But on the whole she is excellent in looking after her little friends.

    Three youngsters, only a few days old - the latest addition to the pack

    Mausi's sister was given her first guinea pig when she was about ten years old. It was quite an old animal given to her by a former neighbour. Sadly, it soon died. Apparently the shock of being transferred to new surroundings and people was too much for it. Then Flocki came into our life. A young guinea pig, three coloured fur, one ear white the other brown and full of mischief. Guinea pigs are very communicative animals and love to live in groups. As Flocki was the only pig in the family he became very close to Mausi's sister and would talk to her for hours on end. It was astonishing how well he could express his feelings. Whenever he was in a miff with us for some reason he would pointedly turn his back to us, refuse to talk to us at all and would move about only in little jumps. On the other hand he would run to us when we whistled for him, like a little dogs.

    But the happiest time for Flocki came when Mausi borrowed Friederike, another guinea pig, from a school mate and Flocki suddenly was a father of three. They were born in summer and used to go for a walk across the terrace in the evenings when it was a bit cooler. First came Friederike, almost twice Flocki's size, then the three kids and last Flocki, proudest of fathers. Pity, the kids grew up quickly, Friederike had to go home again and our parents wouldn't hear of starting breeding guinea pigs ourselves. Parents, you know, real spoilsports, sometimes...

    Posted by Mausi at 06:04 PM | TrackBack

    April 13, 2008

    Cats and Laser Pointers

    They go together well - did you know? Mausi, the Human, discovered this during her recent visit to England when she was invited to a place where the owners kept a small laser pointer in a little bag that was fastened to the armrest of a sofa. As soon as someone accidentally touched that bag the two black cats of the house appeared as quick as lightning apparently from nowhere and sat down expectantly in front of the sofa. And then the fun started - the cats untiringly chased the red dot through the whole room. It's addictive, and not just for the cats!

    The funny thing is that every cat regardless of age and former experience will chase that red dot whereas dogs can only be trained to do that as young pups. Anyways, soon as she was back, Mausi the Human was determined to have a go at Mausi the Cat. And it worked like magic right from the start. Mausi the Cat loves chasing the red dot through the house. It's very funny to watch her. After two days she had figured out that the dot is connected to a small device that lives in the pocket of one of Mausi the Human's cardigans. When Mausi the Human comes home from work and changes into more comfy clothes Mausi the Cat already sits expectantly next to the cardigan patiently waiting for the device to be taken out and the dot to appear. Sometimes she also walks through the house checking all the places where she has seen it appear even looking underneath chairs and furniture. Very funny to watch the frown the on her forehead when she can't spot anything.

    This morning Mausi the Cat chased the red dot onto the bed where she usually goes to sleeps off last night's adventures for the better part of the day. The red dot first vanished underneath her cushion. Mausi patiently turned the cushion over - no dot. There, suddenly it reappeared again and Mausi pounced on it and was sure she had squashed it this time. But when she very carefully lifted her paws and looked underneath it wasn't there. Mausi the Human had turned the laser pointer off again. A bit cheeky, yes, but both Mausis enjoy the laser pointer game twice a day.

    Posted by Mausi at 11:58 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 10, 2008

    Teheran Adventures

    The Monk is certainly having an interesting time in Teheran. Today he was even welcomed by an Imam who assured him that Christians are welcome in Iran. The Monk, however hasn't seen many churches yet. On the other hand he didn't have the time to do much sightseeing either. The Monk and his colleague are staying in a flat in the north of Teheran and have to commute to the south of the city each day to work at the training grounds. The traffic is apparently appalling, lanes are for guidance only, the Monk says, although not as bad as Manila. Well, he's the expert. Living nearer to the training grounds is not an option as the accommodation offered them there is obviously less than basic.

    The weather in Teheran is fine, around 30 Centigrades, clear and sunny, although the mountains north of Teheran wear snow caps. Must be quite a view. The Monk finds the Iranian people are friendly and helpful, proud but fun loving and with a certain sense of humour. And he likes the food. Although, he's not very partial to lamb normally, he likes the way it is cooked and served in Teheran.

    And the course is going well so far. The students are happy at least. There are drawbacks, however. Today, for example, furniture was delivered which will be burnt in a practical exercise for the students. Only, the furniture turned out to be non-combustible... Mausi's sure the Monk will be able to think of a way around this problem ... Eventually ...

    Posted by Mausi at 07:27 PM | TrackBack

    April 08, 2008


    For some time many of us have wondered just who is Jack Schitt? We find ourselves at a loss when someone says, 'You don't know Jack Schitt!' Well, thanks to my genealogy efforts, you can now respond in an intellectual way.

    Jack Schitt is the only son of Awe Schitt.

    Awe Schitt, the fertilizer magnate, married O. Schitt, the owner of Needeep N. Schitt, Inc. They had one son, Jack.

    In turn, Jack Schitt married Noe Schitt. The deeply religious couple produced six children: Holie Schitt, Giva Schitt, Fulla Schitt, Bull Schitt, and the twins Deep Schitt and Dip Schitt.

    Against her parents' objections, Deep Schitt married Dumb Schitt, a high school dropout.

    After being married 15 years, Jack and Noe Schitt divorced. Noe Schitt later married Ted Sherlock, and because her kids were living with them, she wanted to keep her previous name. She was then known as Noe Schitt Sherlock.

    Meanwhile, Dip Schitt married Lodza Schitt, and they produced a son with a rather nervous disposition named Chicken Schitt. Two of the other six children, Fulla Schitt and Giva Schitt, were inseparable throughout childhood and subsequently married the Happens brothers in a dual ceremony. The wedding announcement in the newspaper announced the Schitt-Happens nuptials. The Schitt-Happens children were Dawg, Byrd, and Horse.

    Bull Schitt, the prodigal son, left home to tour the world. He recently returned from Italy with his new Italian bride, Pisa Schitt.

    NOW when someone says, 'You don't know Jack Schitt,' you can correct them.

    Crock O. Schitt

    With thanks to my brother who forwarded this to me - I had often wondered.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:07 AM | TrackBack

    April 07, 2008

    Global warming - my paw!

    The humans around me talk a lot about global warming these days. I don't know why. Take yesterday, for example. It was Sunday, April 6. I mean, one could expect a bit of sunshine in April. After all it wasn't too bad on Saturday. Not brilliant sunshine all the time, but sometimes at least.


    During the last two days the forsythia had burst into blossom and that's always a sign spring is near. But this morning I was suddenly caught in a blizzard while outside for my morning prowl. When the sun was covered in snow and the forsythia didn't look very happy any more.


    Just to humour my humans I let myself be talked into a game of chasing snowballs this afternoon. But not for long! I do hate cold paws and a wet belly - eeeke! Can't wait for spring taking over and myself taking long baths in the sunshine. And The Monk says it's warm and dry in Teheran. Sigh....


    Posted by Mausi at 06:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 06, 2008

    How much accuracy is needed?

    Mausi sometimes wonder how civilisations could survive prior to the invention of pocket calculators and computers. It is amazing how quickly people seem to loose the feeling for figures and numbers once they have enslaved themselves to electronic calculators. All of us are familiar with the blank stare we sometimes get from the cashier in the supermarket when the cash machine fails for some reason and he or she has to calculate the change in her head.

    Mausi is a member of the generation who finished school before pocket calculators were for sale to ordinary people. She and her classmates had to use logarithm tables or slide rules instead. Quite a good exercise because when dealing with very large or very small numbers one usually did a rough calculation first to determine the magnitude of the result. When the exact number was finally calculated one would automatically do a plausibility check against the rough estimate. A few years later this approach had completely gone out of fashion. As a student Mausi used to coach pupils through their school exams in mathematics and noticed that they only knew the order in which to push certain buttons on their calculators. Any feeling for orders of magnitudes or the need to check the result for plausibility, as it is quite easy to get a comma in the wrong place on a pocket calculator, had completely vanished, at least among those who needed extra coaching.

    Today there is rather too much emphasis put on numbers themselves. Very often integers would suffice instead of adding decimals to it. If I knew I had to drive 50 km to some destination that would be an accurate enough number to let one calculate my travel time, one would not have to know that the "exact" distance is 50.367 km. Mausi rather likes the approach the Aztecs took to for example calculate the area of their plots. That employed a few rules of thumb and some other very simple means.

    The Acolhua tribe tried to keep their calculations as simple as possible. They had a basic unit which corresponds to 2.5 m, called "T" by modern scientists. These have also deciphered the signs for 1/2 T, 3/5 T and 1/5 T. Fractions of T had obviously been used when the length of a plot wasn't an exact multiple of T. Astonishingly, however, the plot areas in old documents are given only in integer multiples of T*T. How did the Acolhuas achieve this?

    They started their calculations with integers in the first place. And they used some simple rules. A rectangular plot would be easy: Area = a*b, same as today. If the sides opposite each other weren't of the same length they would multiply mean values: Area = (a+c)/2 * (b+d)/2. Interestingsly, this last rule was also employed by European land surveyors. Plots were sometimes also divided into to triangles whose areas would then be added up: Area = a*b/2 + c*d/2.

    In a geometrical sense the calculations performed by the Acolhuas were not as accurate as we like to do them nowadays. Still, they obviously served the purpose. Mausi wishes, we modern people would again develop our feeling for figures and numbers again and be able to do rought estimates instead of slavishly believing the results of our pocket calculators which can be rather wide off the mark. Mausi also thinks it would make maths at school a lot more fun than it is nowadays.

    Posted by Mausi at 02:51 PM | TrackBack

    April 04, 2008


    For all of you who wonder - the Monk and his colleague have arrived safe and sound in Teheran. Together with their luggage, too! They have been given a flat to stay in the first couple of days. Attempts at falling asleep very early this morning were thwarted by demolition work going on in the house next to it. Let's hope this will change soon and they'll have a chance to catch up on their jet lag.

    Posted by Mausi at 02:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 03, 2008

    Journey to the East

    Today the Monk sets off on a journey to the land of the Magi. The land conquered by Alexander the Great, but not by the waters of Babylon. That's right, I am heading further East, to Teheran, the capital of Iran, once known as Persia and ruled by the Shah an Shah, or King of Kings.

    I am going there to teach fire investigation to the Teheran Fire Service, quite a task I should think, but one which I will share with a colleague. Our flight arrives in Teheran at 03.15 tomorrow morning and we start teaching on Sunday morning at 08.00 by which time I hope we will have caught up on some sleep. Hopefully too, we will find everything we need has been provided as promised - always a bonus, but, being old troopers at this sort of thing, we have a contingency plan if it hasn't.

    While this would probably not be my number one holiday destination, I will confess that I am looking forward to some promised sightseeing. This is, after all, one of the cradles of civilisation and I can honestly say that some of the indigenous architecture is stunning. Teheran itself is a new/old city, but I am told that there is a great deal of interest to see. Watch this space, I shall do my best to avoid the Republican Guard and to return with some pictures to post!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:00 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    April 01, 2008

    April Fool

    The tradition of All Fool's Day is an ancient one. The trick is to catch others before they catch you, but you must do it before Noon. It was once the day on which Jester's and "Fools", the medieval entertainers were allowed to take a few liberties with their Masters and his household, no doubt giving them the opportunity to repay any unkindnesses they had suffered, but equally, this would have to be subtle or it was likely to evince some punishment.

    I am looking forward to the BBC Newsrooms usual spoof joke. It never fails to amaze me how many of the viewing/listening public are taken in year on year by them. As I have a day's work as well, I shall have to wait and see!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:21 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    March 30, 2008

    The joy of motoring ....

    Having taken Mausi to Birmingham airport last night for her flight home to Germany, I hopped back into the trusty car and set off home, expecting the usual fifty minute run. Just passing Junction 5 on the M42 I got a strong sense of deja vu - the information signs were lit up with the message "M42 J3 to J4 closed." Oh joy!

    For those who don't know, the M42 connects the M5 - the route I must take too and from Birmingham - to the M40 and the M6, skirting around the city of Birmingham and its satellites. The M5 Junction is - you guessed it - Junction 1. With the stretch between Junctions 3 and 2 closed, you have several options, none of them particularly good, unless you are a Brummie and know the southern end of the city well. Now, I do use a GPS, but, unfortunately, it has a rooted objection to rerouting itself - especially through a city like Birmingham. The other option is to come off the motorway at Junction 3A for the M40 bound for Warwick and then try to find your way to Henley in Arden in order to find the A435 and then the A422 so you can cut back across to Worcester and pick up the M5 that way. And all the while the GPS is trying to get you to turn around and go back to the closed M42 ......

    I still don't know what the problem was on the M42, it was probably a bad accident since it was raining cats and dogs and the wind was pushing things around as well. I can tell you that the Henley in Arden route was pretty full of people trying to find a way round the blockage as I was. I was struck once more by the thought that there seem to be an awful lot of people who don't seem able to drive safely or comfortably in these weather conditions - but who always seem to find it essential that they do. To frustrate the rest of us no doubt.

    All went well however, and I arrived home safely, a little later than planned. The most noticeable thing is how empty the house feels now that it is just me and Madam Paddy Cat again.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:05 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    March 29, 2008

    End of Holiday

    All good things must come to an end sometime and in this case it's Mausi's holiday. She'll board a plane back to Germany this evening. As always she has deeply enjoyed all the time spent at the Abbey during Holy Week, Easter and on other occasions. Yesterday afternoon, for example, the Abbey had visitors from the Central Memorial High School in Calgary, Canada. Three busloads of young musicians who gave a Luchtime Recital which was a very interesting performance. The first pieces were played by the Symphonic Band, followed by the Concert Choir. The Abbey with its acoustic properties is of course a splendid place for musical presentations.

    After the concert the Monk gave the musicians a short tour of the Abbey. Mausi thinks they were quite impressed. One of the teachers said "We don't have things that old in Canada". We Europeans who are surrounded by relics of history all around often forget what it must be to live in a country where the oldest stone buildings are only between 200 and 300 hundred years old. An Abbey that has stood there for 900 years must have been something special to the young Canadians indeed. They had been on a concert tour through the UK for 14 days. Tewkesbury was their last stop before going home today. They have certainly seen a lot of buildings like the Abbey and Mausi hopes they have enjoyed the tour and come away with a lot of new and different impressions of the "old world".

    Well, Mausi had better get her things sorted out and packed up now. Fortunately, she'll be able to fly from Birmingham and will not have Heathrow T5!

    Posted by Mausi at 12:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 25, 2008

    One of those days ...

    Today has just been one of those days. The Monk and Mausi had a slow start this morning having had to sleep off yesterday's repast. They had been invited to dinner at some of the Monk's friends and it had been an excellent dinner - steak! And done just to Mausi's liking. The meat still red but without blood oozing out of it.

    Having redecorated one of the rooms in the Monk's flat during last week between Holy Week services which involved the hanging of wallpaper and the laying of a laminate floor the Monk and Mausi decided to go to into the next town and look for some new curtains that would match the new wallpaper. They found just the right thing in the second shop, only to discover that they had forgotten to take the exact measurements of the window in question. As these were mandatory for the new curtain to be sewn from the fabric they had selected there was nothing they could do but return, measure the window and come back later.

    So home they went, took the measurements, refreshed themselved with a cup of tea and went back into the curtain store. And had a nasty surprise! Would you believe it - their fabric sample was gone! A lady had borrowed it to take home with her and to see if it matched her room. That shop was full of fabric samples in all colours, couldn't she have chosen another one? If the Monk is lucky she will have returned it by Thursday or the shop will by then have obtained another sample from the manufacturer. So the Monk might still be able to place his order for the curtains before he goes abroad on another business trip for the next three weeks. And they will be ready for him on his return.

    At least the Monk was able to buy a new white net curtain for the window which looks rather nice, Mausi thinks. Mausi could kick herself that she didn't think of measuring the window before they went out for the first time that day. But then - there are days when you just can't win ...

    Posted by Mausi at 07:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 24, 2008

    Who's normal?

    You Are Fairly Normal
    You scored 55% normal on this quiz

    Like most people you are normal in some ways...
    But you aren't a completely normal person. You're a little weird too!

    Why You Are Normal:

    You rather be screwed over than screw someone else over

    You prefer the sun to the moon

    You think glasses can make someone more attractive

    You would rather be an astronaut than a movie star

    You think fishnet stockings are trashy

    Why You Aren't Normal:

    You find the Chicken Dance to be the more embarrassing dance

    You don't keep up with your horoscope

    You know a little about many subjects

    You'd rather have cockroaches than rats in your home

    You prefer non fiction to fiction
    What's Normal About You... And What's Not?

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:43 PM | TrackBack

    March 22, 2008

    Decorating ....

    Mausi and I have been decorating one of the rooms in my domus as I mentioned the other day. After a disaster with one of the wall papers we had selected, we exchanged it for a better one and have now got a beautifully decorated room. Now to lay the laminated flooring. That is today's task. The only problem is that my son arrived late last night and is still asleep in the living room - on the couch and surrounded by the stuff taken out of the spare room. And we still have to get the last three items of furniture out of the room into which the floor must now go....

    At least the wallpapering is done - mostly thanks to Mausi - and is looking good. Mausi is meticulous in these things and the Monk is not. He hates wallpapering and only went with it because to paint these walls would have required considerably more work and preparation. Difficult to believe how many holes it has - or how many have been filled and then remade at some time. Wall paper certainly hides a lot of sins! Once the floor is done and before I put the skirting back, I have some plugs to install a long a tricky task if it is to meet the Quality Control imposed by Mausi!

    And some people do this for fun?

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 14, 2008

    Running late ...

    Sorry folks, had an idea for a post today, but ran out of time to compose it. Just back from London and the frustrating experience of trying to get a visa (I succeeded) to go and earn some money on a job in a country run by Ayatollahs, and now have to head off to Birmingham to fetch Mausi who is due in from Frankfurt for a short break over Easter.

    Oh, and MuNu has been attacked by the Spambots again. I have just cleared over a hundred spam comments. After a rest for the last four months from this plague it is depressing to have them attack again. It might be more interesting if the comment wasn't so damned repeptitive - "Sh**t is happened Forrest Gump" Obviously some damned idiot with nothing better to do with his hands ....

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:30 PM | TrackBack

    March 08, 2008


    Recently I applied, as one can, to the professional Institution of which I have been a corporate member since I passed the Member examination in 1981, to upgrade my membership to the next level. There are two ways you can become a Fellow of the Institution, one is by election and is usually as a result of outstanding achievement or services to the Institution, the other is by application and assessment of your portfolio since attaining the highest examination grade.

    I have now received confirmation that my application has been successful and I am now elected to Fellow of the Institution.

    I am delighted with this outcome since, having been a member of the Institution since I began my fire and rescue service career and have served in a variety of capacities at branch and regional level over the years. It is nice to be recognised in this way even if it is right at the end of my career. At least I won't have the Spell Checker trying to tell me that one of my Post Nominals should be "Mafia" any longer. The new one beginning with "F" should give it a new challenge however!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:59 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    February 26, 2008

    Berlin revisited

    Some days ago Mausi had to go to Berlin again on business. This time it promised to be fun as Mausi was allowed to go by plane instead of the usual tedious journey by train. The only drawback was that Mausi had to get up at 4.30 in the morning to reach the airport in time. 4.30 a.m. is definitely not Mausi's time of the day.

    At the airport Mausi showed a printout of her electronic ticket a member of the Lufthansa personnel and was directed to one of those check-in machines. Mausi doesn't like them much, one never knows what mischief they are up to next. And indeed - Mausi entered her name and booking code and the machine offered to print her boarding card next. Only it didn't, it printed a receipt and the plainly refused to print the boarding card due to technical problems. Mausi was ready to faint. In the end she was saved by a very competent and friendly young Lufthansa lady who effortlessly dealt with the complaints of three passengers at the same time and managed to get Mausi's boarding card out of another machine. Mausi hastened to the gate.

    As soon as boarding was completed the captain welcomed the passengers and concluded his little speech with the words: "As usual we are missing one passenger. For security reasons we have to unload all baggage ...." Great! However, at this time in the morning passengers are mostly business people who don't carry big suitcases with them. So after all the plane left almost on time.

    In Berlin Mausi was met by her boss and his driver. The boss was dropped off at the Ministry of Interior and Mausi was driven to the Bundeskanzleramt, where she was to give a presentation that morning. It is situated in a bend of the river Spree. A very beautiful spot.

    The Bundeskanzleramt, which includes Angela Merkel's offices

    Mausi was lucky to get inside. That morning President Ehud Olmert form Israel was expected and security was already tight. When he finally arrived, the Bundeskanzleramt was sealed off and not even Mausi's boss could get in. He was late for the meeting and not amused. Mausi's presentation went well and early in the afternoon she found herself in a cold and foggy Berlin with a couple of hours to spend as she liked. After a bit of lunch Mausi decided to take the Underground and to go the Sony Centre which she hadn't seen before.

    Roof structure of the Sony Centre

    The Sony Centre is a shopping mall, with the shops built around an atrium. Lots of events are taking place in the atrium space and the roof structure is a real eyecatcher. Mausi did some window shopping and then went outside to find herself standing eye to eye to a Lego giraffe.

    Mausi just wished she had had enough Lego pieces as kid to build something like that

    Slowly the fog was getting through all layers of Mausi's clothing. She warmed herself up with a cup of delicious cappuchino before setting out for the airport again. This time the plane was an hour late. It had been to Paris before flying to Berlin and guess what: the French air traffic controllers had been on strike again causing Mausi's plane to depart late.

    Mausi arrived home again at 21.00 hours. It had been a long day. Berlin is interesting in small doses but much too big for Mausi's liking. One does feel a bit lost there.

    Posted by Mausi at 08:50 PM | TrackBack

    January 30, 2008


    OK, so I still can't resist this sort of geeky test ....

    Your Superpower Should Be Mind Reading
    You are brilliant, insightful, and intuitive.
    You understand people better than they would like to be understood.
    Highly sensitive, you are good at putting together seemingly irrelevant details.
    You figure out what's going on before anyone knows that anything is going on!

    Why you would be a good superhero: You don't care what people think, and you'd do whatever needed to be done

    Your biggest problem as a superhero: Feeling even more isolated than you do now
    What Should Your Superpower Be?

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:06 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    January 24, 2008

    A Hellish question answered ...

    OK, so this isn't original, but it is rather funny - and a wonderful demonstration of an understanding of the Laws of Physics .....

    Bonus Question: Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)?

    Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle's Law (gas cools when it expands and heats when it is compressed) or some variant.

    One student, however, wrote the following:

    First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So we need to know the rate at which souls are moving into Hell and the rate at which they are leaving I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving. As for how many souls are entering Hell, let's look at the different religions that exist in the world today.

    Most of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there is more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all souls go to Hell. With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially. Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand proportionately as souls are added.

    This gives two possibilities:

    1. If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose.

    2. If Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.

    So which is it?

    If we accept the postulate given to me by Teresa during my Freshman year that, 'It will be a cold day in Hell before I sleep with you,' and take into account the fact that I slept with her last night, then number two must be true, and thus I am sure that Hell is exothermic and has already frozen over. The corollary of this theory is that since Hell has frozen over, it follows that it is not accepting any more souls and is therefore, extinct......leaving only Heaven, thereby proving the existence of a divine being which explains why, last night, Teresa kept shouting 'Oh my God.'


    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:38 AM | TrackBack

    January 20, 2008

    Darwin Awards

    The Gorse Fox has beaten me to it. He has posted the Darwin Awards for the year just past - and the winner is an American man who had a passion for alcoholic enemas. Surprisingly the tissues in the rectal area are extremely absorbant - so if you have to apply medication and can't take it orally or intravenously, the back passage is the best alternative. Administering an enema of neat sherry - 3 litres of it - almost guarantees instant oblivion.

    Unsurprisingly he passed out fairly quickly, then, as the alcohol content continued to be absorbed, essentially pickled himself completely. I should think he is now a fairly well preserved corpse. His blood alcohol was, according to the coroner, of an order that was not only lethal, but quite possibly flammable. The Gorse Fox puts it all rather well.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:09 PM | TrackBack

    January 17, 2008

    Jewish wisdom ...

    My brother received this from a friend in Israel. He passed it on and now I'd like to share it with everyone else.

    Found these best wishes for 2008 and wanted to share it with you:

    May your health be obvious (and need no discussion)
    May your family relations be warm
    May your friends be loyal
    May your enemies become your friends (and those who don't, get lost)
    May your spam be filtered
    May your e-mails be answered
    May your wisdom deserve the approval of Confucius,
    and your folly the praise of Erasmus
    May your power get shared,
    your wealth be free from greed
    and your poverty from envy
    May we communicate fruitfully across cultures
    so that our horizons widen
    and reason replaces violence.

    Worth considering - especially the last three lines ...

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:49 PM | TrackBack

    January 12, 2008

    The great journey ....

    Yesterday was a busy day. I had no time to blog before I started out to do a small (As I thought!) job. In the event, it took a lot longer, but at least it was done and done properly. Wet, cold and now a bit pushed, I jumped back into the trusty means of mobiliation over long and sometimes unusual routes - and set off for Swindon.

    An hour driving in appalling rain and wind conditions and I arrived at the door of my next appointment. Thankfully they provided soup and bread for sustenance and a mug of tea! Little did I realise it would be the last food to pass my lips until this morning! Our meeting went well, and we even managed to tie up some loose ends, find some missing information and settle a strategy. Not bad as meetings go.

    Then came the drive home. Now Swindon is an easy run to and from the Monk's Domus. Forty five minutes without breaking any speed limits. Straight up the A419, join the A417 at Cirnecester, down Crickley Hill, onto the M5 and home. Easy. No. Not last night! The A419 wasn't busy and progress was good as far as Cirencester, but aboiut five miles before that important junction (Important because if you are going to try an alternative route - that is the last chance saloon!) it began to snow. Not the light fluffy stuff skiers love, but the heavy wet stuff we normally get. The stuff that clogs everything and turns rapidly to slush - and then ice! My GPS said I was exactly five point six miles from Nettleton Roundabout when I hit a tailback of traffic. At four point eight miles it came to a standstill.

    Now I have to say that the local radio station did its best. Regular traffic bulletins, regular updates on which roads to avoid - but if you were one of those stuck on one of the troubled roads it would have been more useful to be told how to get off it and onto an alternate route that was reasonably passable. Not helpful was the police telling us at ten minute intervals to "stay at home and don't venture out"! Not an option if you are already out!

    I will draw a veil over the next few hours except to say that, with no way to turn back, no way to leave the dual carriageway and no information on what lay ahead, we inched forward. Progress measured not in Miles per Hour, but in Yards. At a place called Duntisborne Abbots an elderly lady suddenly appeared at my window, clearly distressed, her battery had gone flat and she was now blocking one carriageway. I managed to swing my car round hers and used my jumper leads with the help of a passing fire fighter - also stranded - to restart her, and we commenced the inching forward again. At intervals the progress was delayed, or made more hazardous by the abandoned cars of others who had obviously flattened their batteries doing as the old lady had done - switching off and then on again every few minutes to conserve fuel. Good plan, except that it takes a twenty minute run to put back each start into the battery. That four point eight miles took from roughly 18.45 to 01.00. Nor was the agony over yet. Nettleton is an infamous dip in the road and it is single carriageway. It was also a sheet of ice and slush. It took another hour and a half to inch our way down it and then up the otherside. It was at the top of that hill that we again came to a standstill, and the water in my tyre treds froze. When I tried to move again, the wheels just spun idly on the ice and the rear tyres stayed exactly where they were. A bit of violent movement of the steering broke the grip and I was inching forward again.

    I arrived at the top of Crickley Hill at 02.40 and then inched down it again to the wet, but ice free surface of the valley below. From there on it was plain sailing - except for the flooding along parts of the A38 - so I took the Motorway and was home by 03.05. I was hungry and tired, but exhaustion won. Bed!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:50 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    January 04, 2008

    A walk in the Wald ...

    I have just returned from a stimulating walk in the forest above the Hahns. The sun was bright, the snow lying between the trees crisp and covered by a film of ice - as was the path in many places. And guess who didn't have a camera with him as we followed the forest paths through the trees. This part of the Taunus is a patchwork of forest and fields, crisscrossed by bridle paths and footpaths and of course the access roads for the forestry vehicles.

    Footprints, hoof prints and paw prints in the snow crust speak of a wide range of visitors, both human and animal, one set of enormous paw prints standing out as we walked. Closer inspection showed them to be dog and we identified them as a neighbours Pyrenean mountain dog. Sadly there are no bears or wolves in the wild in this part of Germany so we are fairly sure of our ground here. Anyone who has met a Pyrenean Mountain Dog will know that these amiable walking fur carpets are working dogs in their origins, but are now house pets for those who have a large enough home and the budget to feed one! If you haven't seen one, imagine a dog the size of a small Shetland pony ......

    The walk took just over an hour and a half, now it is time to pack the suitcase, have some lunch and find my way back to Frankfurt for the flight back to the UK. All good things come to an end as they say, and no doubt Madam Paddy Cat will be waiting to scold me when I get in later tonight.

    It has been a lovely break, with good friends and good food - and I've gained another kilogram in weight ....

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:15 PM | TrackBack

    January 02, 2008

    Rhine Ramblings

    High above the town of Rüdesheim stands the enormous statue of Germania, guardian of the Rhine. The view across, up and down the river from her vantage point is stunning and I hope I will be able to download and share with you some of the pictures I have from there soon. The statue was erected in 1815 after the defeat of Napoleon and the ejection of the French from the Rhinelands and the Palatinate states between the Rhine and the French borders. It has to be said that we did not linger here today as the wind is from Siberia and the temperature, though a balmy -5 degrees Celsius, is made much sharper by the wind!

    We next moved to the adjoining hillside and the Abbey of St Hildegard. Hildegard of Bingen, the town opposite Rüdesheim on the South bank of the Rhine, was a tenth century Christian noble woman who founded a monastic community on the North Bank of the Rhine in Eibingen. Her monastery, a community of nuns under the Rule of Benedict, did well and survived until the Republican French invasions of the late 18th Century. It was dissolved and destroyed in 1803 under the "secularisation" of church property. Refounded in 1904 it now has a community of eighty nuns who still live according to the rule set by Benedict over fourteen hundred years ago. The ethic of "work and prayer" is very much in evidence with the services of the hours still said daily.

    Moving a little further up the valley and back up onto a hilltop, we came to Schloss Johannisberg, until recently the home of the last Prince von Metternich. He and his wife are buried just outside the attached Basilica of St John the Baptist. The estate was originally built as a summer residence by the Prince Bishop (Fürstbischof) of Fulda and is famous for its wines. It was here, by accident that the now famous and popular "Spätlese" wines were first created. According to the story a rider was sent with a bunch of grapes to the Bishop each year and, if he felt the vines were ready he ordered the harvesting of the grapes to begin. One year the rider was delayed returning with the order and when he arrived, the grapes had become slightly over ripe and a yeast had attacked them. The harvest went ahead and the wine turned into Spätlese!

    The restaurant adjoining the Schloss provided a welcome bowl of soup - essential fare in this weather - and a rather fruity white wine to accompany it. Both delicious and worth a second visit at some time, though preferably on a warmer day when the spectacular views can be enjoyed without getting frost bitten. The Basilica is also well worth the visit, though it had to be restored after being raised in 1942 when bombs intended for Mainz fell on this side of the river instead. It has been lovingly restored and gives a really good example of what a Romanesque church of the tenth century would have been like. A nice touch is the statue of the monk holding open the gospel book for the day.

    A quick walk around the outside was rewarding, again the views are stunning, but by now severe frost bite was beginning to penetrate even the multiple layers we had on - so it was back to the car and home!

    Pictures to follow in due season!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    December 30, 2007

    Opera - ah! Opera!

    Mausi and the Monk attended the Opera in Darmstadt last night. The opera was Der Wildschütz (The Poacher) and the plot has enough twists in it to break a snake's back - but then, that is opera. The production was very good and the stage scenery was stunning. The set designer certainly didn't go with a minimalist approach.

    The voices and characters were well chosen and the music, new to the Monk at least, was very good. Several things struck the Monk as he settled into one of the most comfortable theatre seats he has used in years, one was the audiences gathering around the orchestra pit as the orchestra tuned and warmed up, the other was the number of children and young people attending with obvious enjoyment and pleasure. The story is the usual mangle of human relations, cupidity, class clash and tangled love lives. The poacher is the School Master who has accidentally shot a "bear" on the local Ducal estate and is in danger of losing his job as a result. He is saved by the arrival of the Duke's long lost sister, a love lorn Baron and some devious machinations. And, just for a laugh, right at the end, it turns out he didn't shoot the bear after all. He managed to shoot his own donkey - which survived and is led on right at the end (A live one in this production) adorned by a huge sticking plaster on its rump.

    A good romp and loads of fun very much embellished by some very good music and the company of Mausi.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:40 PM | TrackBack

    December 26, 2007

    Travels again

    After the Christmas workload, the Monk is off this morning to visit Mausi in Germany for a well earned break. He is looking forward to ten days of quiet friendship, visits to some of the fabulous museums and even the theatre. Posting may become a little erratic, but no doubt Mausi will make sure he says something regularly.

    New Year in Germany is a lot of fun, with fireworks and celebrations, which, from where Mausi lives well up a mountain, provides a panorama of bangs, whizzes and flashes for several hours.

    That apart, the Monk always finds he can go home with his batteries fully recharged after a few days spent in the Rhein-Pfalz. Must be the air. Or maybe the wine? No, just the good company.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:53 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    December 24, 2007

    News of the hilarious kind ...

    Someone has put together a range of funny news stories for the year. These include a story about a US Department store whose Deli staff obviously got carried away with the marketing effort and labelled ham " Delicious for Hannukah". I doubt the really strict Orthodox Jewish community saw the funny side, although I am sure their less strict brethren may have. Certainly the red faces at the store must have been a good laugh.

    One that shows the clash of cultures as Europe becomes one big happy family comes from Holland where Dutch anglers objected to Polish immigrants fishing their lakes - apparently the Dutch fishermen release the fish back into the lake. The Poles eat them. Definitely a culture clash there! But I reckon top prize has to be the Belgian entrepeneur who put his entire country up for auction on eBay. I suppose the real joke is that people actually bid for it - and eBay had to halt the auction and withdraw it after the Belgian government complained.

    Running a close second in the "Ooops!" stakes has to be the Chinese story of officials restocking a river with truckloads of live carp - only to have the local populace assemble just downstream to catch the lot within hours. The joys of bureaucratic central planning and solutions ....

    A separate news item drew my attention on the culture clash front. Apparently the Spanish have started a fightback against the invasion of their idea of Christmas by that upstart Santa Claus and his reindeer. It boils down to the fact that the Spanish traditionally give presents to children on Epiphany - not Christmas, but now the commercialisation of Christmas has seen the arrival of Santa and all that goes with that. So now a Spanish advertising agency has produced a probably very PC incorrect and possibly offensive ad showing the Three Kings as rap artists who ask "who the H*** are you?" and machine gun a jolly fat red suited figure in a dark alley. Well, I'm not sure I go along with that level of disapproval, but I think we sometimes lose the message in all the hype.

    My favourite of the whacky news is the 100 year old German lady who finally agreed to move into an old age home. Only to move out again six weeks later saying the other residents were too old and boring. She has gone back to her own home and her cat. Now there's the way to go!

    PARIS (AFP) - A selection of wild and wonderful news items from 2007:

    - The CNN TV network had to apologise to US presidential hopeful Barack Obama after it confused his surname with the first name of the world's best-known terrorism suspect. A sequence on the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden carried the caption "Where's Obama?"

    - An Australian bank was embarrassed when it emerged that it had issued a credit card to a cat. The owner of Messiah, a ginger tom, had put in the spoof application to test the bank's security system.

    - A 100-year-old woman in Germany moved out of her retirement home after six weeks saying she found the other residents not only boring but also "too old". She returned home to her cat.

    - Switzerland's army inadvertently invaded the tiny neighbouring state of Liechtenstein. A unit on manoeuvres got lost at dead of night, officials said.

    - The Norwegian government abolished a regulation that had allowed strip-clubs to claim exemption from sales tax on the grounds that their performances were an art form.

    - A British man claimed the dubious distinction of making the first ever mobile phone call from the summit of Mount Everest. "It's cold" were his first words.

    - Fishery officials in China restocked a river with 13 truckloads of live carp, only to realise that thousands of residents from a nearby city had immediately swarmed to the banks a short way downstream and caught most of them.

    - Transport officials in Australia try to discourage men from driving too fast with a series of TV ads featuring attractive woman suggesting that speeding males were trying to compensate for inadequate virility.

    - A town in South Korea which spent some 140 million dollars to build its own airport was then forced to admit that no airlines actually wanted to fly there.

    - The Chinese capital Beijing began a campaign to improve its signposting in English ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games. Among signs in need of correcting were ones for "Pubic Toilets," and "Deformed Men" -- the latter indicating facilities for the handicapped.

    - A US man who ordered flowers for his mistress sued the florists after they sent a note to his home thanking him for his order -- thereby informing his wife of his infidelity.

    - An African medicine man dived into a river in Tanzania after promising his fellow villagers that he would bring back revelations from ancestral spirits lurking underwater. He drowned.

    - A child maths prodigy who started university in Hong Kong at age nine, said he found the courses too easy, and rather boring.

    - A Belgian prankster reacted to a prolonged political crisis in his native land by putting the entire country up for sale on the Internet auction site eBay. The company halted the bidding.

    - Dutch anglers were up in arms against immigrant workers from Poland, who also enjoy fishing in the many local lakes. The problem being that the Poles actually eat the fish they catch, whereas the Dutch believe in simply putting them back in the water.

    - A posh food store in New York was embarrassed after an employee, who was clearly not Jewish, stuck a "Delicious for Hanukkah" sign on hams. Jews, for whom Hanukkah is a religious holiday, do not eat pork.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:56 PM | TrackBack

    December 22, 2007

    Winter Sunshine

    During the last week The Monk was forever telling Mausi that it was cold and foggy where he lives in England. Not so up here on Mausi's mountain. It's been cold, yes, but it has also been a week of brilliant sunshine.

    Last night's fog frozen on trees and shrubs

    The only thing that is still missing is some snow. There's nothing like a white Christmas, Mausi thinks. Well, the snow still has three days to get here. Meanwhile the frozen fog is quite a good substitute. During the first winter Mausi spent up here it was extremely cold and foggy for about a week and loads of ice were accumulating on the trees. That was a breathtakingly beautiful sight although some trees suffered rather badly.

    Well, Mausi just hopes this kind of weather continues over Christmas and Global Warming doesn't bring a spell of wet and warm air and turn the whole countryside into a muddy brown mess.

    Posted by Mausi at 03:11 PM | TrackBack

    December 10, 2007

    Two cows - as the politicians see them ...

    Sometimes the older jokes are still the best. This one has been around for quite a while, but it still hits the mark ...

    You have 2 cows, and you give one to your neighbour.
    You have 2 cows. The State takes both and gives you some milk.
    You have 2 cows. The State takes both and sells you some milk.
    You have 2 cows. The State takes both and shoots you.
    You have 2 cows. The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and then throws the milk away...
    You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull.
    Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows. You sell them and retire on the income.
    You have two giraffes. The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.
    You have two cows. You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows. Later, you hire a consultant to analyse why the cow has dropped dead.
    You have two cows. You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows. The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company. The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more. Sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States, leaving you with nine cows. No balance sheet provided with the release. The public buys your bull.
    You have two cows. You go on strike, organise a riot, and block the roads, because you want three cows.
    You have two cows. You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk.
    You then create a clever cow cartoon image called 'Cowkimon' and market it worldwide.
    You have two cows. You re-engineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month, and milk themselves.
    You have two cows, but you don't know where they are. You decide to have lunch.
    You have two cows. You count them and learn you have five cows. You count them again and learn you have 42 cows. You count them again and learn you have 2 cows. You stop counting cows because you are sobering up and open another bottle of vodka.
    You have 5,000 cows. None of them belong to you. You charge the owners for storing them.
    You have two cows. You have 300 people milking them. You claim that you have full employment, and high bovine productivity, and arrest the newsman who reported the real situation.
    You have two cows. You worship them.
    You have two cows. Both are mad.
    Everyone thinks you have lots of cows. You tell them that you have none. no-one believes you, so they bomb the **** out of you and invade your country.
    You still have no cows, but at least now you are part of a Democracy....
    AUSTRALIAN CORPORATION: You have two cows. Business seems pretty good. You close the office and go for a few beers.
    WELSH CORPORATION: You have two cows. The one on the left looks very attractive.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:30 PM | TrackBack

    December 08, 2007

    Christmas Time Puzzle

    Once there was a time when children were only given very small presents for Christmas like a handful of nuts, an apple and maybe a wooden toy carved by the father or grandfather. One day a neighbour brought a bag full of nuts to a family with 3 children. He said:

    "Children, I am willing to give you all these nuts if you can tell me how many are in this bag. The eldest of you shall have half of them plus one, the second will get half of the remaining ones plus one and the third again half of the remaining ones plus three."

    Can you help the children calculate the correct numbers of nuts in the bag?

    P.S. This was an exercise presented to fourth graders at primary school.

    Posted by Mausi at 08:00 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    December 05, 2007

    Happy Birthday, Knut!

    A year ago Knut took the headlines in German news media for weeks on end. It is difficult to find anything more cuddly than a new born polar bear who has been rejected by its mother in the Berlin Zoo and has to be hand raised by his keeper. A whole nation breathlessly watched Knut's antics as wriggling in and out of his hammock, trotting after his keeper and chasing his keeper's heels, trying to bite off the nose of the biggest stuffed teddy bear you'd ever seen, learning to swim and so forth. Once Knut was old enough to come out into his open enclosure people were queuing up for hours to get into the zoo.

    Knut became immensely popular. Just after his birth there had been a heated debate among animal lovers if he should be raised by his keeper or if nature should be allowed to take its course and Knut be allowed to die. Had he been born in the Arctic instead of a zoo he wouldn't have survived with his mother rejecting him. But who could keep his hands off a small white fluffy something with big dark round eyes peering inquisitvely into the world around him. Before the argument about his right to live had ended his keeper was feeding him with a bottle and Knut was growing fast.

    Today Knut had a big party. His keepers gave him a big cake made of vegetables, fruits and ice. Although Knut is not a cuddly little thing anymore, weighing now about 115 kg, he is as fascinating to people as ever. Thousands came to see him today and treat him to a "Happy Birthday Knut"-song.

    Trust the politician to try and use the Knut mania for their own devices. Our Minister of the Environment became his "godfather" when Knut was a few days old. Today he gave Knut a special birthday gift, saying that the German Government saved the Artic Ice for the polar bears by deciding to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions by 40% until 2020. It waits to be seen how that will work out.

    In the meantime - Happy Birthday, Knut!

    Posted by Mausi at 06:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    December 04, 2007

    Praise indeed ....

    This morning I opened my copy of Navy News and discovered to my delight that they have reviewed "Out of Time" very favourably. In fact the comments about the people and the Fleet are, from this source, praise indeed. When they say that the - "author's dark blue take on starship fleets of the 23rd Century works well" - I take that to mean that they (professional seamen) found it believable. I think it is very complimentary when they add - "there is more than a hint of the 21st Century Navy present as the crew voyage through a hostile environment in their metal ship, just as 21st Century submariners do in their own HMS Vanguard, to which the starship bears a more than passing resemblance."

    To say that I am delighted is to understate the case - especially as the Editor has this morning asked that they be given a review copy of the sequel as soon as it appears. He tells me that several of their people have read it and want to know when the next book will be out .....

    Now THAT is praise indeed.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:39 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    December 01, 2007

    Back to the grindstone ....

    Just back from Poland and it seems quite strange to suddenly hear English being spoken everywhere. Now eight days worth of catching up to do - and some of it to be done before tomorrow morning. Ah well, I didn't really need to sleep tonight ....

    One ray of sunshine, I have an e-mail from an agent who would like to explore representing me and my books. Only snag, they're based in New York. Still I guess I could splash across the pond to do business if necessary. I will explore and keep you posted.

    Another thought - it's the 1st December and I haven't written a single Christmas card yet. I think some of you may be getting them very late this year ....

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:52 PM | TrackBack

    November 28, 2007

    Wanderings in Poznan....

    Well, we have just returned to the hotel with enough time to change for dinner - a "formal" affair we are told, so that means "black tie" at least, although in Poland it could just mean a suit ...

    The day has been spent visiting the Provincial Fire HQ, having a traditional Polish lunch which included some really excellent vodka (served cold) and then a visit to a brewery which concluded with a sampling of their wares ... Let's just say that Polish hospitality is great, but there is every chance you will end up overindulging on something and vodka chased by strongish lager probably isn't the best way to prepare for a formal dinner.

    That said, the dinner must now be prepared for and I had better go and make up my mind whether to wear the dinner jacket or the suit. Decisions, decisions, and on top of the vodka and lager mix ...

    Tomorrow there will be the conference proceedings to get through, hopefully having slept off the effects of the dinner, and then another "formal" dinner to survive. And I give my paper an hour ahead of Mausi's on Friday morning .....

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:30 PM | TrackBack

    November 26, 2007

    Let it snow?

    Just as well Mausi and I have been busy preparing and fine tuning our presentations for the conference we must attend from Wednesday onwards. This moring we woke up to a world that had turned white overnight - the Taunus mountains where Mausi lives are roughly 465 metres above sea level, almost two hundred higher than the River Rhine, and we have had snow all day. So has quite a bit more of Germany further east and where we will be going tomorrow - Poznan in Poland. I have taken some pictures, but haven't had a chance to downsize them yet so I'm sorry to say, they will have to appear when I get a chance.

    From tomorrow posting may well be impossible as we are not sure of online or wifi connections once we go to Poznan. But, we'll do our best to keep you posted - assuming Frankfurt airport and Poznan are still passable for air traffic.

    The ground outside at the moment has about three inches of snow covering it and the countryside is really beautiful. The forests around us are dark and brooding though and the birds are all taking shelter from the cold where they can get under eaves and into evergreen shrubs and trees. Mausi the Cat has take roost in the book shelves and refuses to budge, so I guess its cold out there!

    On a lighter note, Uberwald has come to the Taunus we think - and we now have to make an expedition to the supermarket for supper. Koom Valley here we come.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:59 PM | TrackBack

    November 24, 2007

    Conference Time

    Posting for the next few days is likely to be erratic as The Monk arrived in Frankfurt am Main this morning to prepare a paper he and Mausi will be sharing in Poznan, Poland, next week. He arrived in brilliant leaving behind a cold and wet Gloucestershire but faces the prospect of snow in Germany and Poland and is very glad he's packed his warm underwear. The Taunus mountains are beautiful as ever, the welcome at Mausi's home was warm and having just come inside from a spot of comet viewing they are warming up again.

    We'll keep everybody updated as opportunity serves and internet connections are available.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:33 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    November 23, 2007

    Extreme sports ...

    One of the manifestations of youth seeking dangerous activities in defiance of attempts to wrap them in cotton wool must be the occassional outbreaks of "train surfing". This has recently been highlighted again in South Africa following a couple of tragic accidents - and it is a few years now since this was last done in the UK, but I'm betting it will happen again soon. After all, it's dangerous, it cocks a snook at authority and - if you get away with it - you're an instant hero.

    One of my favourite cartoons comes from South Africa and Madam and Eve have had a week of cartoons on - you guessed it - Township Train Surfing. The championships, complete with TV coverage and commentators .....

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:35 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    November 10, 2007

    A little help for one's friends ...

    The Gorse Fox has an appeal on his blog for a little assistance for his daughter - who is conducting a survey and needs some respondents across the spectrum. Please pay him (and her) a visit and spend a couple of minutes filling in her questionnaire.

    Every form helps as I know all too well from doing my own Masters Degree.....

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:47 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    November 08, 2007

    Ancient laws

    Yesterday's State Opening of Parliament (The layabouts are back in Westminster so we can expect another avalanche of useless laws and more tax) was, as usual, a grand affair. The ritual that surrounds it is always interesting and actually quite moving, with the assembly of all the Peers in the Ermine and red velvet, the various "Officers" of the Palace of Westminster assembling in their robes and all the preparations for the Queen's own arrival in State. One small item which is probably not well known is that the Imperial State Crown, which Her Majesty wears while reading her speech to the assembled Peers and Commons, is conveyed in a State Coach under the escort of four officers of the Household, from Buckingham Palace to the State Apartments at Westminster exactly two hours before the Queen herself follows in her own State Coach. I wonder how many people seeing that confection of white gold and diamonds - there are three thousand of them - realise that it weighs a whopping three pounds and her majesty must walk and sit throughout the ritual with that load on her head. As she is now over eighty years of age, a remarkable feat in itself.

    But the Opening has, this year, flagged up some of our older laws and I suppose it is inevitable that, in a legal system now well over a thousand years old, that there will be some that are, frankly ridiculous and others that are funny. And I am not talking about the garbage the present shower of incompetents in Westminster and Whitehall have perpetrated in the last fifteen years either.

    One of the funniest has to be the law against dying in Parliament. That's right, you can't die in the Houses of Parliament, to do so is to break the law and you could be arrested and hung for it. It is also illegal to enter the Palace of Westminster wearing armour and if you look at the floor of the Commons you will see a red stripe on the floor in front of the front benches on each side. Any speaker who "crosses the line" during a debate is immediately ejected from the house! The reason? The red lines mark the point which places the debaters outside the reach of each other's swords! Another is that placing a postage stamp bearing the Effigy of the Sovereign upside down on an envelope is an act of treason - a beheading offence for peers and hanging for commoners. A Scotsman carrying a bow and arrows in the City of York may lawfully be killed by any upright citizen and a woman working in a tropical fish store in Liverpool may legally go topless. A dead whale washed up on our shores is divided between the King and the Queen - the head to the King and the tail to the Queen. The law does not specify what happens to the bits between!

    Thanks to that bundle of Christian joy, Oliver Cromwell, it is illegal to eat Mince Pies on Christmas Day.

    The taxman has some ancient teeth as well, among them are that it is illegal not to tell him something that YOU do not want him to know - but perfectly legal not to tell him something you don't mind him knowing. Work that one out.

    Probably the strangest and funniest has to be the law that allows a pregnant woman to urinate anywhere she likes - including into a policeman's helmet. I don't think I want to know the origins of that last bit, frankly the Bind Moggles.

    It is one of the difficulties we face in Britain is that our legal system is so ancient that it is actually run on the principle of defending the citizen from the interference of the State. In contrast, many of the continental systems have become "codified" and the civil law is written and managed differently to ours. It is true to say that, in Britain our law is written liberally and interpretted strictly, while on the Continent it is written strictly and interpretted liberally. The interpretation is made by a court of law in our case and not by the individual or the authors. This is known as the "Common Law" system and stretches back to pre-Conquest (1066 and all that!). Just to further complicate matters, most of the EU Law conains elements which are in conflict with the principles of English Law and this is why there is so much opposition to the EU from the common folk of this island nation.

    Oh yes, and just to make life even more entertaining, Scottish Law is based upon a Roman Law system and that of the Northern Ireland Assembly has elements of the Brehon Law, Roman Law and English Law all mingled.

    No wonder lawyers thrive in the UK!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:11 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    November 03, 2007

    Neologism Contest Winners

    Once again, The Washington Post has published the winning submissions > to its yearly neologism contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words.

    The winners are:

    1. Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.

    2. Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.

    3. Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

    4. Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.

    5. Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.

    6. Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.

    7. Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.

    8. Gargoyle (n.), olive-flavored mouthwash.

    9. Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.

    10. Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.

    11. Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.

    12. Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

    13. Pokemon (n), a Rastafarian proctologist.

    14. Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

    15. Frisbeetarianism (n.), (back by popular demand): The belief that, when you die, your Soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

    16. Circumvent (n.), an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.

    The Washington Post's Style Invitational also asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

    Here are this year's winners:

    1. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

    2. Foreploy (n): Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

    3. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

    4. Giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

    5. Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

    6. Inoculatte (v): To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

    7. Hipatitis (n): Terminal coolness.

    8. Osteopornosis (n): A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

    9. Karmageddon (n): it's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

    10 Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

    11. Glibido (v): All talk and no action.

    12. Dopeler effect (n): The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

    13. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

    14. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

    15. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you're eating.

    And the pick of the literature:

    16. Ignoranus (n): A person who's both stupid and an asshole.

    Posted by Mausi at 08:27 PM | TrackBack

    October 31, 2007

    Monk in a Sandstorm

    The Monk had a bit of fun yesterday. After enjoying the desert during a barbecue on Saturday the desert sent a fully grown sandstorm yesterday. Vast clouds of dust were driving and swirling and blazing hot wind straight out of the Sahara. Temperatures were rather high at about 26 °C. But apparently the Monk weathered the storm unharmed - Mausi bets he was finding grains of sand in the most astonishing places last night....Hrrrmmmmmppfffffffff!

    Posted by Mausi at 09:09 PM | TrackBack

    October 30, 2007

    A quarrel of birds?

    Every evening I walk from the 'Guest House' to the internet cafe and pass under a large Australian Gum tree. The tree is home to a large flock of starlings and an even larger flock of sparrows. The noise can be heard a half block from the tree in any direction, hence my title as 'flock' seems a woefully inadequate description of these denizens of the desert.

    Mind you, spend any time in this society and you soon learn that a 'Quarrel" may be an appropriate description for any gathering here. Nothing is debated quietly, everything has to be discussed with animation. And none of this polite listen to the first speaker and respond - everyone speaks at the same time with much hand waving and gesticulation. Anyone not used to this can easily assume that it is an argument, but generally it is just a discussion of some finer point of something - anything in fact.

    So, as I wander back to the house tonight and pass beneath the tree I shall watch with interest the third colony that live beneath its branches - the many feral cats, feisty, shy and generally scrawny, but I suspect the quarrelling birds provide a regular bounty for their patience.

    Yes, the more I think of it, I see in this tree two quarrels of birds and a patience of cats ....

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:08 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    October 29, 2007

    Desert dessert!

    The Monk's students decided to show him some true Libyan hospitality on Saturday and took him into the desert for a "Libyan BBQ." The site proved to be not far from the compound which is Mersa Brega, the whole town belongs to the Oil Company and everyone in it is employed by them. That said, it was along the coast amid what would be, anywhere else, the dune field on a beach. Here it is some distance from the sea, just visible in the distance. A surprise was the trees, not, as one would expect palms or desert scrub, but Australian Gum Trees! Yup, the shaggy bark variety complete with gum nuts and eucalypt leaves. Apparently they were planted some thirty years ago in an attempt to anchor the dunes and stop them engulfing the town, the refinery and the harbour. I'd say they were partially successful, but even Australia's hardy eucalypts struggle in this place!

    That said, they did provide some wonderful shade and a screen from the sun, where my students set up their BBQ equipment, rolled out a huge carpet and scattered various rugs and mats. The meat was a variety of meats which included goat and sheep chopped up and grilled and salads which included a variety of fresh herbs, green chili, tomatoes and cucumber. The chili should carry a Hazard Warning label. This stuff has a bite that would make the Cobra's eyes water!

    Shortly after arriving the call of the local Muezzin wafted over the dunes from the township about half a mile away - you don't want to be close to the Mosque when he calls the faithful to prayer five times a day .... And the assembled company excused themselves, washed hands, feet and heads and then formed up for prayer. I moved a way a short distance so as to leave them space for this and found myself using the time for my own prayers. I may not share their beliefs, but I do not see that as a barrier to prayer.

    Prayer over the cooking commenced and this is serious business. Working with these guys has taught me that you can never have only one view - there are as many views as there are people and they all have their say, loudly, with much waving of hands and laughter. I can't remember ever seeing so many people having so much fun without alcohol of any sort. Then its time to sit and eat together, each using pieces of bread to acquire a chunk of meat and gravy. Great way to share a meal - and the chatter and jokes were by now flowing freely. Let's just say, that the humour can be very earthy ... but they way they tell jokes is almost as good as the joke itself.

    The afternoon seemed to speed by, with various courses appearing at intervals - and then it was prayer time again. With prayers over it was announced that we would now have "noddles" - translated - macaroni in a spicey sauce, served on a couple of huge platters and the diners, each armed with a spoon, tuck in to the bit nearest them.

    The sun was setting as we headed home again, and I would have to say that it is one of the best BBQ's I have ever attended. And I didn't even get sunburned ...

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:57 PM | TrackBack

    October 27, 2007

    Update on The Monk

    The Monk is still doing well. His students are very interested in the course and teaching them is obviously fun even if they are argumentative at times. Better that than getting no response, Mausi thinks.

    Yesterday was Black Friday in Libya, a day of nationwide mourning. Everything was shut down even telephone and internet access. So the Monk had a quiet day to himself with only Harry and Ferghal, the heroes of the book he is writing at the moment, for company.

    The Monk says he's slowly getting used to being excluded from conversation around him because hardly anybody speaks English and he has no Arabic. Quite a novel experience. Mausi supposes one can easily get used to the rest of the world speaking at least some sort of English. Must be nice to be able to go almost anywhere on business or on holiday and never having to worry about making oneself understood to the natives. During her stays in England Mausi has been accused of giving people funny, i. e. critical looks, when being talked to in German. Mausi didn't intende to do that she was just totally taken aback at being talked to in her mother tongue.

    The Monk has by now served half his time and will hopefully find the remaining days as interesting as the first ones.

    Posted by Mausi at 01:25 PM | TrackBack

    October 26, 2007

    Autumn tristesse

    October is the month of golden colours and it has lived up to its name so far. The days have been filled with sunshine. It's funny, however, how colours change when the sky is overcast as it was today. It suddenly feels very much like winter and the end of the year.

    071026_garten02.JPG   071026_garten01.JPG
    One of the last coloured spots in Mausi's garden

    Mausi had a day off from the office today and decided to have a go at her garden. Almost unnoticed the weeds threatened to take over, particularly one nasty bit of stinging nettle. Alright, Mausi knows it is much favoured by the butterflies. Mausi likes butterflies and has planted all kinds of other plants for them to feed on like buddlejas and a few others. If they want to come to this garden they'll have to make do with what is offered to them.

    071026_garten03   071026_garten04.JPG
    Mausi will be able to go round the gazebo again now. - Another of Mausi's favourite grass plants.

    Mausi worked hard for a couple of hours always under the watchful eye of Mausi, the Cat, who took no chances today and didn't come inside for fear of being taken to the vet again. But her wound is healing nicely so there is no need.

    Posted by Mausi at 04:53 PM | TrackBack

    October 24, 2007

    Poor little Mausi

    Okay, okay, so I have been in a fight a couple of nights ago. Yes, there's a nasty wound on my forehead but you should have seen the other cat! And yes, I didn't feel quite the thing for a day and moved around slightly dazed, but honestly, wouldn't you too in my place? A bit of pus was accumulating under my skin and my face looked kind of lopsided but that's no reason to drag me off to the vet! I am a free and independent cat after all and can look after myself. And I do have nine lives - so what's all the fuss about? And, would you believe it? They keep driving me to the vet each day. For medication, they say. I call it medieval torture. Or would you like to have a syringe big enough for a horse been stuck into your head? And you should taste the tablets I have to take. Today they got the better of me by hiding it in a little ball of minced meat. I am not going to fall for that again tomorrow....


    Me - not quite fully awake after a nap in one of my favourite sleeping places deep down in the book shelved

    Posted by Mausi at 06:23 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    October 23, 2007

    Ah, the joys of travel to the Near East ....

    Libya is a land of contrasts, not least the weather. Day one was hot and sticky, Day two brought warm and then thunder and downpours, yesterday brought a gale and rough seas and today started rather cold with a strong wind from the desert. Mersa Brega is on the coast, tucked into the Gulf of Sirte, East of the city and west and south of Benghazi. It is a huge oil refinery and small port for tankers and gas carriers and the entire "town" - in reality three towns - is owned, and occupied by the Sirte Oil Company and their staff. Amenities are few and so is entertainment. The beach, the executive "Family" Club and the the desert is about it.

    Laundry is a bit of a problem as there is one, but it caters for only a few items and certainly not those things that go under ones outer clothing. As the accommodation is "Guest House" - in other words a house in which visitors share a lounge, kitchen (But noticeably no pots or pans or anything remotely usable for cooking - and NO washing machine!) - it is basic. OK, so one gets taken to a dining room for meals twice a day, and can use a military style canteen, but it certainly isn't five star, four star, or even one star.

    Oh well, the people on the other hand are fun and full of interest, so it sort of balances out. Did I mention that there is a supermarket? Great, ever tried shopping with every label in a totally foreign and alien script? Now there is entertainment for you - I have yet to discover whether or not the container I bought recently is coffee - or something else. I'll save that for Friday - which is a day of national mourning and everything (except the refinery) will be closed down. Including the Internet. I think I'll need something to make me laugh ....

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:02 PM | TrackBack

    October 22, 2007

    Day Two

    The Monk is settling down in his work far out in Libya. Weather is a bit rough and windy but the class is going well. His computer still refuses to play DVDs but has reconsidered talking to the mouse. Some imp inside must have decided to have a bit of fun with the settings - Mausi bets his last name is Microslosh Fortunately, there is another computer available for playing the DVDs. So the Monk can go ahead full steam again and all should run smoothly from now on..

    Posted by Mausi at 05:13 AM | TrackBack

    October 21, 2007

    News update on the Monk

    The Monk reached his final destination in Libya yesterday after spending a night in Tripolis. The place that will be home for the next two weeks is surrounded by the desert but only a few miles away from the sea.

    Work has started to today, yes, on a Sunday. At the moment his biggest problem seems to be communication with the people around him. Apparently it is not a place where English is one of the better known let alone spoken languages.

    Well, sounds like the Monk is in for a lot of interesting experiences and hopefully a bit of fun too during the next couple of weeks.

    Posted by Mausi at 10:20 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    October 19, 2007

    No beach party tonight

    The Monk has safely reached his first destination in Libya. 29 centigrades and a hotel next to the beach with a view! What more could one ask for, especially when we had the first snow in the mountains here in Germany last night? To Mausi's question if he planned to go beach partying tonight he said that the security fence around the hotel was preventing him from even getting near the beach.

    Reminded Mausi a bit of what her parents once told her from a visit to Vienna years ago. Her parents went to one of the many Viennese Cafes where they played live music - Wiener Walzer, of course. Mausi's parents felt an itch in their feet for it was a big establishment and there would have been more than enough room to waltz around, but the conductor nipped any attempts of the guests in the bud saying sternly: "No dancing please!" and pointing to a sign on the wall which said the same.

    You know, ther may be compensations for the Monk tomorrow morning when he will be able to watch a glorious sunrise from the window of his room!

    Posted by Mausi at 04:28 PM | TrackBack

    October 13, 2007

    Congratulations and a Happy Birthday wish are in order ...

    Yesterday got the great news from my son, currently in the US for a further course in flying helicopters, that he has passed his Commercial Pilot Licence for those great big lumps of metal with whirly things on top and at one end. You know the ones I mean - those things that aerodynamically should screw themselves into the ground, but for some inexplicable reason defy the laws of physics and actually become airborn.

    Well done Nic, another ambition achieved, I hope it leads where you want to go.

    And congratulations to my eldest daughter, The Postulant, who marks her birthday today. I won't embarrass her by revealing her age, suffice it to say that I can scarecly believe that I once held her in the palms of my two hands - and now she's a full grown and very striking young woman. I hope the year ahead brings you everything you could wish for my dear.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    October 07, 2007

    Organ Gala

    How does one describe a couple of hours of stunning music performed by top musicians on instruments that are simply awesome? Not easily obviously. Last night we had the pleasure of listening to a programme performed by David Sanger, Carleton Etherington and Benjamin Nicholas on the three Abbey organs.

    The Mighty Milton certainly strutted its stuff with a Bach Sinfonia "Wir danken Dir, Gott", a Wolstenholme "Allegretto", Franck's "Piece Heroique", Lloyd Webber's "Benedictus", Gardonyi's "Mozart Changes, Bingham's "Roulade", Egjebar's "Melody from Jarne in Darlana" and the "Finale" from Sympohonie VI by Widor all played by David Sanger. Carleton put the little Elliot to work and filled the Abbey with its gentler tones and Sweelink's "Ballo del Granduca" and partnered the Milton most effectively in the Concerto Op 4 No 6 by Handel. Anyone who has heard "The cuckoo and the nightingale" will recognise the form and the balance between the two instruments with Ben Nicholas on the Milton and Carleton on the Elliot was absolutely stunning.

    And then there was the Glorious Grove - exuberant, brilliantly toned and magnificently played by Carleton and Ben. The hundred and twenty year old action certainly got a workout as they performed "Fantaisie in E Flat" by Saint-Saens (Ben driving) and "Concert Overture in C Minor" by Hollins with Carleton at the manuals.

    The only problem I have with listening to such talented performers is this - I go green with envy at their ability to make such glorious music, and sick as a dog at the ease with which they apparently do it while I can't even play two notes together properly. Watching them perform is a treat, they play with feeling, yet are technically brilliant and at the same time pour their passion into the sounds they demand from these instruments. Carleton sits upright and focussed, his face immobile - but the passion pours from his fingers and resounds in the music, Ben throws his very being into the instrument and David Sanger plays with passion. What more can one say.

    For those that do not know these instruments (What a treat you have instore when one day you do meet them!) the Milton Organ was first constructed for Magdallen College, Oxford by Robert Dallam in 1631 and most of that original piepwork is still in the instrument. It moved to Hampton Court in 1654 under the Commonwealth and was played there by the poet John MIlton before it moved briefly back to Oxford and then to the Abbey in 1734. Since then it has been rebuilt and enlarged by various famous organ builders including John Holland (1796), "Father" Willis (1848), J W Walker (1948) and finally Kenneth Jones in 1997 to reach its present size, shape and sound.

    The Grove was built as an exhibition instrument for the 1885 Inventions Exhibition and is remarkable for the fact that it remains "as built". It was designed to be taken apart and moved from exhibition to exhibition as an advert for its builders Michell and Thynne. Unfortunately their business didn't succeed and so this unique instrument was sold and donated to the Abbey where it fills the North Transept. It has no "case" and all the action and pipes are on display with the console to one side - and the console is unusual because it employs four different types of "action" - intended to show prospective customers what they could have from the firm. The organists say it is difficult to play - but that is more than compensated for by the brilliance of the sound it produces and, if you want to see them angry, just suggest changing it!

    The "baby" of the trio is the little Elliot. Built in 1813 by Thomas Elliot as a Chamber Organ for a grand house near here it was donated to the Abbey in 1918 and used in the "Mission Hall" until the 1950's. It has only five stops, but has one of the sweetest sounds and is frequently used to accompany small orchestral concerts as the "continuo" - a task it is often more than man enough to provide. On its own it can fill the Abbey with its sound, but it is more frequently used in the Lady Chapel where it can accompany the singing of a smaller congregation beautifully. Fully restored and rebuilt in 200-2001 it is now good for the forseeable future and many more concerts.

    Which leaves only the Grove needing a major overhaul, something it has never had. Conserved in 1981, only some parts were "repaired" and the instrument cleaned. It now needs serious work and we would like to raise it around ten feet so that it stands at the same level as the Milton. The action probably needs to be completely rebuilt to make it playable with less acrobatics on the part of the organist (Some pieces require the organist to have two people to help him drawing "stops" when he needs a change of tone or pace in a hurry!) and the whole needs to have its windchests, pipes and all the many linkages fully restored. How much it will cost is a matter of speculation - probably over a million and that we haven't got at present.

    All of that said - what a concert, what a performance and what talented organists! Heaven came through the music last night, all too briefly.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:36 AM | TrackBack

    October 05, 2007

    New Anthology of Short Stories coming soon ...

    Recently I have contributed several stories to an online e-zine Residential Aliens. Now the Editor of that has put together a number of his favourites and some completely new stories in an anthology which will be published on the 1st November 2007. To my delight (Its good for my ego at the moment!) two of my stories will be in it, one you may already have read, but the second is new, never previously published and one I am reall pleased to see going into print.

    In the meantime you may want to look at the advanced publicity appearing on SF Reader and see what some other people say about the stories going into this collection. Personally, I can't wait to see the collection in print.

    But then I would say that, wouldn't I.

    Update: And I have had another Review posted on Amazon for Out of Time! Very encouraging indeed.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:47 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    October 02, 2007

    What's up today?

    Uuaaaagggggggh!!!! What's up today?

    I have a feeling there's something I should have remembered today....

    Bugger!! Wish I could think of whatever it was and go to sleep again ....

    Hah, now I know!


    Posted by Mausi at 05:19 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    September 27, 2007

    The wanderer returns ...

    Got back very late to the Domus, and then this morning found that MuNu had changed their access .....

    It has been a long and tricky day trying to negotiate my way through a problem that opened up just as I was outward bound - but we have hopefully resolved most of the issues now and can return to more normal posting from tomorrow. Now, back to the post pile and the sorting of the bills, the urgent attentions and the plain old fashioned junk. I can't believe how much has arrived in the last four days ....

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    The wanderer returns ...

    Got back very late to the Domus, and then this morning found that MuNu had changed their access .....

    It has been a long and tricky day trying to negotiate my way through a problem that opened up just as I was outward bound - but we have hopefully resolved most of the issues now and can return to more normal posting from tomorrow. Now, back to the post pile and the sorting of the bills, the urgent attentions and the plain old fashioned junk. I can't believe how much has arrived in the last four days ....

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:48 PM | TrackBack

    September 26, 2007

    Roadsigns that you can't ignore ....

    Sometimes you meet a roadsign that doesn't quite tell you what the problem really is. That is probably the faulkt of trying to condense everything into "standard" signs. The one in the photo below is clear as a bell - but standard it is not!

    OK - so it takes being able to read this. Ignore the warning at your peril!

    Sometimes the only way to get someones attention is to spell something out. This one was spotted in the US - and it certainly grabs your attention.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:54 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    September 24, 2007

    Gone East

    Well, roughly South and East. The Monk has anyway. He has swapped places temporarily (geographically at least!) with The Gray Monk is spending the next three days in Surrey, just south of the dreaded M25. It is work, not pleasure that drags him away from the quiet flood plains of Tewkesbury and the sound of the Abbey's bells, and he may even, if he is good and doesn't upset the students, get a chance to sample some of the fine country around this part of Surrey.

    The camera is at hand, the laptop along with the load ...

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:28 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    September 18, 2007

    Fire Fighters discover anti-gravity generator ...

    Skipjack Well, maybe not quite, but it is all down to the power of water and your pump. My good friend Skipjack sent me a link to a wonderful video clip which demonstrates both the power of water and the ingenuity of the Fire Fighter when not constrained by the "Health and Safety forbids everything" mob. Looking at the outfits and the equipment, this demonstration was filmed in either Germany or Austria. Vorsprung durch Technik - obviously

    You just have to admire the planning and ingenuity that went into setting this demonstration up!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:55 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    September 16, 2007

    I got it from Scott Adams - honest!

    I am a subscriber to the Daily Dilbert. For years I have believed that Mister Adams has had a spy-cam in the management suite of my former employer, some days it was just too close to reality to be otherwise. But for those who have perused my blogroll you may have noticed the link to The Dilbert Blog.

    Well, on a recent visit I found this piece. And it could only be the creator of Dilbert who could come up with the reasons for the man's wife walking out on him.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:34 PM | TrackBack

    September 14, 2007

    Praise indeed

    It is really nice to know that people enjoy my writing, and I have just seen a post on One Happy Dog Speaks that really made me feel good. VWBug enjoyed my book enough to do a whole post on it.

    Thanks for that boost, the sequel is getting there!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:07 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    September 13, 2007

    Of Gorse and Abbeys ....

    Last night the Monk met the Fox. The Gorse Fox actually, and spent a very enjoyable evening over a rather good dish of curry with nan bread and a pint of finest Cobra Lager. Conversation was wide ranging and I am happy to say that, in the course of the evening, several things I learned have resolved some minor problems with the plot of my next story.

    This was the first time we had met, despite having exchanged comments and thoughts electronically for some time. And I will confess that I did wonder whether I would recognise the "Madra rua" on sight. I need not have worried, he had selected the restuarant well - and he has matured well so was recognisable from the youthful image on his blog. The conversation seemed to go across a very broad spectrum of mutual interests and we certainly "put the world to rights" before he departed for his hotel and I made my way home to my abode.

    I did promise to show him the Abbey when next we meet. Something I will definitely look forward to.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:46 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    September 08, 2007

    eBay will never be the same again.

    Thanks again to VW Bug at One happy dog speaks, I found one of the funniest things I have ever seen on eBay. Take a frazzled mother of six (Yes, SIX) kids and send her grocery shopping with all six ....

    The auction item has had over 17,000 hits and the comments are now closed because the site has been swamped with them. I have to say, I like her style!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:13 PM | TrackBack

    September 05, 2007

    Birthday Greetings

    The Monk's son was born this day in 19-- and his youngest daughter was born three years later less one day. They are both now adults and making their own inimitable marks upon the world. To you both many happy returns of the day for your birthdays, may you have many, many more ahead.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:34 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    How will I die?

    This is all VWBug's fault. She put this item up on her blog and I am unable to resist the temptation of finding out what the result is. I suppose I could have died of boredom .....

    How will I die?
    Your Result: You will die while having sex.

    Your last moments in this life will be enjoyable indeed...hopefully. Do not fear sex. Try not to become celibate as a way of escaping death. You cannot run from destiny.

    You will die of boredom.
    You will die in your sleep.
    You will die while saving someone's life.
    You will be murdered.
    You will die from a terminal illness.
    You will die in a nuclear holocaust.
    You will die in a car accident.
    How will I die?
    Create a Quiz

    Interestingly changing three of the parameters in my initial go - the number I chose, the Tarot and the Playing Card resulted in this -

    How will I die?
    Your Result: You will die while saving someone's life.

    The most noble of all deaths. Your rewards will be great in the next life. You are most definitely a humanitarian. If not currently, you will be. To give one's life is a precious moment that will be remembered by friends and family for many decades.

    You will die in your sleep.
    You will die of boredom.
    You will die while having sex.
    You will die in a car accident.
    You will die in a nuclear holocaust.
    You will die from a terminal illness.
    You will be murdered.
    How will I die?
    Create a Quiz

    A bit of fun really - and if I have to go suddenly I would rather it was in the second manner ......

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:24 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    September 03, 2007

    Oh to be a Cat!

    Whenever I have difficulties falling asleep at night I wish I were a cat. Being able to go from full alert into unconsciousness from one moment to the next must be wonderful. I always think no one can sleep as intense as a cat radiating peace and comfort at the same time.

    Mausi having taken over the bed from her humans for the day

    Mausi. the Cat, has quite a number of favourite sleeping places in the house and garden depending on her mood. With increasing age she also like to switch between soft and hard grounds.

    A shadowy place in the garden, perfect for resting and pouncing on careless birds and mice

    Another favourite spot is one of the bookshelves. I have no idea how she can feel comfortable in there. What Mausi likes best, however, is pushing humans out of their chairs in the garden and then take over the pre-warmed spot:

    Ahhh, this is heaven...

    In my next life, I'd like to be a cat, I think. Provided I can find a nice bunch of humans who know how to attend to my every need, of course.

    Posted by Mausi at 02:32 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    September 01, 2007

    Double English? The not so subtle art of the Double-entendre

    I am told that English is almost unique as a language in its propencity for unintentional alternative interpretations of any given statement. The "Double-entendre" is the stock in trade of the "stand up comedian" and has been since Chaucer. Certainly from the little I know of German and Dutch it is almost impossible to say something in a way which can have a funny or rather rude alternative meaning. Probably only in English do we use certain words as euphemisms for something else, usually a part of the anatomy or for some bedroom activity definitely rated "Adult".

    Why raise this issue? Well. just occassionally someone inadvertantly says something on live television or radio in this country - or even on BBC World Service, which gets everyone with a sense of humour splitting their sides to the complete bafflement of non-English speakers - or, perhaps more surprisingly, from the puritanical "censor everything" brigade who, one assumes, should not even begin to understand what has been said. A list of some of the best such bloopers is in the extended post below. I take no credit for them, they are genuine and the list was forwarded to me by SlimJim.

    I shall offer no interpretation - if you need one it isn't going to be amusing.

    Here are 12 of the finest (unintentional) double-entendres ever aired on British TV and radio

    1. Pat Glenn, weightlifting commentator - "And this is Gregoriava from Bulgaria. I saw her snatch this morning and it was amazing!"

    2. New Zealand Rugby Commentator - "Andrew Mehrtens loves it when Daryl Gibson comes inside of him."

    3. Ted Walsh - Horse Racing Commentator - "This is really a lovely horse. I once rode her mother."

    4. Harry Carpenter at the Oxford-Cambridge boat race 1977 - "Ah, isn't that nice. The wife of the Cambridge president is kissing the cox of the Oxford crew."

    5. US PGA Commentator - "One of the reasons Arnie (Arnold Palmer) is playing so well is that, before each tee shot, his wife takes out his balls and kisses them .... Oh my god!! What have I just said??"

    6. Carenza Lewis about finding food in the Middle Ages on 'Time Team Live' said: "You'd eat beaver if you could get it."

    7. A female news anchor who, the day after it was supposed to have snowed and didn't, turned to the weatherman and asked, "So Bob, where's that eight inches you promised me last night?" Not only did HE have to leave the set, but half the crew did too, because they were laughing so hard!

    8. Steve Ryder covering the US Masters: "Ballesteros felt much better today after a 69 yesterday."

    9. Clair Frisby talking about a jumbo hot dog on Look North said: "There's nothing like a big hot sausage inside you on a cold night like this."

    10 Mike Hallett discussing missed snooker shots on Sky Sports: "Stephen Hendry jumps on Steve Davis's misses every chance he gets."

    11. Michael Buerk on watching Phillipa Forrester cuddle up to a male astronomer for warmth during BBC1's UK eclipse coverage remarked: "They seem cold out there, they're rubbing each other and he's only come in his shorts."

    12. Ken Brown commentating on golfer Nick Faldo and his caddie Fanny Sunneson lining-up shots at the Scottish Open: "Some weeks Nick likes to use Fanny, other weeks he prefers to do it by himself.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:47 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    August 27, 2007

    I've been Googled!

    Well, I suppose it could be the start of greater things, I hope so anyway! But I have recently discovered that my book Out of Time is on Google Books. Helpfully you can access sample pages and all the suppliers from there as well.

    Now there's a spur to getting the sequel published!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:39 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    August 26, 2007

    Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

    No its probably my son driving some VIP on some motorway. He is now a qualified high speed pursuit driver and drives for a very special agency. The training is unbelievably thorough and involves a number of manoeuvres that make your hair stand on end, and probably require changes of underwear for the passengers. Mind you, the cars they are driving are far from standard in everything except appearance. But the exterior apart, you probably wouldn't recognise the rest of it even if you drive the supposedly same model.

    The training has been tough, it has been demanding and he has come through with flying colours. As we probably all knew he would - but you never tell your kids something like that now do you?

    To say I am proud of his is probably an understatement.

    Oh, and his other speciality is flying helicopters. That is what he really wants to do, but the car thing is a good substitute and from my perspective doesn't involve hanging several tons of machinery inherently unsuitable for flying off a single bolt ......

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:37 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    August 13, 2007

    Monday ....

    It's nice to start a Monday with something positive I always think, so it was a pleasure to wake to sunlight and a gentle warm breeze. I am also informed that Residential Aliens will be creating a new issue of their online magazone later this week and my story may be published then. All good stuff to look forward to.

    My son has spent the weekend here as well and is, even now, packing to go back to his training course. It starts at 16.00 and will run through the night tonight, then another two weeks of daytime evolutions and classrooms, four weeks in all and he seems to be having a lot of fun on it. He certainly likes his job and enjoys working with the majority of those he deals with - but, like his father, is a cynic to the core and knows just how little those he deals with consider anyone but themselves. And, yes, he does deal with the great and the good, the civil service and the politcians. At least I can say he has a healthy cynicism when it comes to anything they promise, say or do. It has been great fun having him here, but I suspect both of us could have given our beds a little more time, we seemed to have so much to catch up on or discuss.

    Well, it is Monday, time I got off to try and convince the client that I am worth taking on board, if only because it will stop the bank manager needing to ask me to bank with them again and not him banking with me. Can't understand his attitude on that, after all, I pay him far more interest when I am holding and spending his money than when I let him keep mine. There you go, funny old world really - and just think how easily it would all come crashing to the ground now we are so dependent on the technology .....

    Happy Monday!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:25 AM | TrackBack

    August 12, 2007

    So just how committed am I to this blog thing?

    Thanks to VW Bug at One Happy Dog Speaks I now know thw awful truth ....

    62%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

    Mingle2 - Dating Site

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:24 PM | TrackBack

    August 10, 2007

    Church Notices

    Church Notices are a minefield, which is why at the Abbey all our bulletins are checked by two independent people to make sure they all read correctly. Even so, the occassional glitch slips through the net, fortunately, so far, we haven't managed any quite on a par with the list my eldest daughter, The Postulant, has sent me today. Some of them lend credence to HRH the Duke of Edinburgh's assertion that Bipediorthodontology should be recognised as a medical condition.

    Some of the examples collected so assidiously probably said all the right things at the time to the writer, but English does have that wonderful trap for the unwary - the double entendre.

    Subject: Church Bulletins...

    They're back! Church Bulletins: Thank God for the church ladies who type them. These sentences actually appeared in church bulletins or were announced in church services:


    The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.


    The sermon this morning: "Jesus Walks on the Water." The sermon tonight: "Searching for Jesus."


    Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------- ----

    The peacemaking meeting scheduled for today has been canceled due to a conflict.

    --- ------ -------------------------------------------------------------

    Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our community. Smile at someone who is hard to love. Say "Hell" to someone who doesn't care much about


    Don't let worry kill you off - let the Church help.


    Miss Charlene Mason sang "I will not pass this way again," giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.


    For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

    ------------------ ----------------------------------------------------

    Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------ ---

    The Rector will preach his farewell message after which the choir will sing: "Break Forth Into Joy."


    Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.


    At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be "What Is Hell?" Come early and listen to our choir practice.

    ------- -----------------------------------------

    Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.

    --------------------------------- -- ----------------------------------

    Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.

    ------------------------------------------------------------- ------ --

    The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment and gracious hostility.

    ------------------------------------------------- --------------------

    Potluck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM - prayer and medication to follow.


    Ladies Bible Study will be held Thursday morning at 10 AM. All ladies are invited to lunch in the Fellowship Hall after the B. S. is done.

    ---------------------------------------------------- ------------------

    The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday.


    The Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM. Please use the back door.


    The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare's Hamlet in the Church basement Friday at 7 PM. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------- -----

    Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.


    The Associate Minister unveiled the church's new tithing campaign slogan last Sunday: "I Upped My Pledge - Up Yours".

    For those wondering: Bipediorthodontology - The ability to open your mouth and place both feet in it. See also; Opening my mouth only to change feet; Taking the digger into the hole with you; etc....

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:56 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    August 08, 2007

    Tidy up time!

    Buying a new printer has meant having to sort out my "office" corner to free up the space to install the thing. This purchase was necessary because I found myself having to pay a lot to print reports on my inkjet printer which runs out of ink fairly regularly. So, the answer was to buy a laser. Duplex.

    OK, so now I can print large reports quickly and economically. But fitting it into a small working area has been an interesting and entertaining experience. Not.

    The one good thing is that all the sorting and tidying I have been putting off is now done. And I will be late for my dinner appointment if I don't hurry. Trouble is I'm tired enough now to nod of during the soup course.

    I better not snore.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:16 PM | TrackBack

    August 07, 2007

    Random 8 response ...

    Skipjack finally got a chance. His selection makes fun reading ....

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:52 AM | TrackBack

    August 02, 2007

    Random 8 Fun

    Well I tagged VW Bug, The Gorse Fox and Skipjack. They in turn have tagged various friends and some of the results have been hilarious.

    The Gorse Fox was the first to respond and came up with his 8 Random items, but then tagged Boston IT Party .... whose response under "Tagged" has to be read to be appreciated.

    VW Bug at One Happy Dog Speaks came up with her 8 and tagged a friend named Tink at Tink's Tribulations.

    And Skipjack has promised to give it some thought when he finally returns from a month on the move.

    Good fun - and it's amazing what we learn about ourselves in the process.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:44 PM | TrackBack

    July 30, 2007

    Boat trip on the Spree

    Mausi had to go on a business trip to Berlin this week. As business was conducted successfully during the day Mausi felt entitled to a little fun in the evening, hopped onto a public transport and went to see that part of Berlin where the governmental buildings are situated. The last time she went there most of them were still under construction. The finished buildings took Mausi's breath away - they are huge and do look impressive. As intended, no doubt.

    The Reichstag, the building that houses the German Parliament, seen from the river

    Mausi went for an hour's cruise on the river Spree in the warm evening sunshine. A perfect ending of the day. The Spree was the former border between East and West Berlin. The Berlin Wall was about 100 m removed from the river on the East Berlin side. The 100 m strip made it much easier for the border guards to prevent people from trying to rush into the river and try to swim to West Berlin in the unlikely event that they had been able to get over the wall in the first place.

    The Bode Museum on the Museum Island, named after one of its directors

    The Bode Museum is one of the many museums on the so called Museum Island in Berlin. Perhaps the most famous among them is the Pergamon Museum. Bits of it can be seen behind the Bode Museum to the right. Legend says that during the last days of WW II employees of the Pergamon Museum only just prevented soldiers from tearing apart the priceless Pergamon altar and use it to reinforce the barricades. At the moment extensive renovation and restoration is going on on the museum island. Mausi is hoping for a week she can spend there one day and browse around.

    Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of the Cultures of the World)

    This building is the former Congress Centre in Berlin. Originally it was the American contribution the the World Exhibition in Berlin 1957. Due to a design fault the roof caved in in the 1980's. It has been rebuilt, however, and will be housing the cultures of the world in the future. It is one of Berlin's well known sights. Berliners have a special kind of humour and are very adept at naming things. This building they call 'Die schwangere Auster' (The pregnant Oyster).

    The Moltke Bridge

    The so called Moltke Bridge - named after the well known Prussian Field Marshal - is one of the very few bridges in Berlin which were not destroyed during WW II. It was rebuilt a few years ago nonetheless and has now a steel core which is covered with the original sandstone. The bridge looks the way it was originally designed but also is able to withstand the demands of today's traffic. A very good idea, Mausi thinks.

    Posted by Mausi at 07:09 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    July 17, 2007

    Musical interlude

    Just got back from the Abbey and the enjoyment of a very well presented and performed recital. The choir was from a Methodist Church in Fort Worth, Texas and this is their first experience of singing in a building like the Abbey. I would have to say that they managed superbly and I am looking forward to their leading Choral Evensong tomorrow and Thursday. If todays performance was anything to go by, the services they sing will be magnificent.

    This is one of the perks of worshipping in our Abbey Church, the music is always rich and varied and todays renditions were no exception.

    Now, the music over, its back to the grindstone for this Monk.

    Oh, and it's still raining in between the bursts of sunshine. Thanks St Swithin!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:51 PM | TrackBack

    July 15, 2007

    St Swithin, Agincourt - oh, and it's raining ....

    St Swithin's day, according to Shakespeare, the day on which the Battle of Agincourt was fought, something we are supposed to forget these days I think. Far too patriotic or something. But legend says that if it rains today, it will rain for the next forty days. Guess what, I woke up this morning to find it was pouring ....

    Interestingly an e-mail from my brother, resident in Cape Town, complains of the cold there, so I looked up his weather. It is winter there at present. OK, it IS Africa, and it is a lot closer the equator than the UK is, but it just dopesn't seem fair that their overnight temperature is only just lower than mine in wet and soggy Gloucestershire, and his daytime temperature is higher than mine. Still, given that they did have snow within forty miles of Cape Town much ealier this winter - while I was basking in nice warm sunshine, I suppose I should not complain.

    Yes, and Agincourt. I wonder how the archers kept their bowstrings dry? Apparently one of the factors that led to the French defeat was that it had been raining, was raining and would continue to rain. Armoured knights and armoured horses, soggy ground and confinement for a charge don't tend to be a good mix. THose the archers wounded, fell, those behind fell on top of them and others trampled the fallen. And all the time the archers maintained the hail of deadly long bow arrows. The French lost twelve thousand the English six hundred and most of those were the sick and the women and children in the baggage train which the ever so brave Dauphin found and slaughtered in rage.

    Ah well, old history now, and its raining still. I shall have to invest either in webbed feet or waders.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:00 AM | Comments (1)

    July 14, 2007

    The Random 8

    I've been tagged by Cindy of Dusting my brain to reveal eight random things about myself, so, never being able to resist a dare .....

    1. My childhood ambition was to join the navy and become the captain of a warship. Sadly, I never mastered enough maths to achieve this ambition, so now I write books about it instead. My father was brilliant at maths, but never could understand why I couldn't see how easy it was.

    2. Took the tip off my left index finger playing with gun my father was servicing. He refused to do any more work for the person concerned for not checking the gun was safe before delivering it - and gave me a hiding for playing with it. And I spent several hours in A&E having the tip of my finger put back together.

    3. The sea, boats, ships and sailing are my passion - no surprise there for readers of this blog - and I started sailing competitively aged around twelve. Won the juniors trophy aged fourteen. Probably the high point of my sailing career.

    4. I have always had an urge to help others - I find it is usually fun and very fulfilling - so I joined the St John Ambulance and did voluntary ambulance and home nursing work for several years alongside being a Scoutmaster - all while earning a living in a series of unfulfilling jobs.

    5. Having been selected as an Ordination candidate I went to Theological College only to find that my vision of the where's, what's and how' of worship, theology and the work of a priest was no longer the vision of those then running the church and sadly I had to give that up - and went back to unfulfilling jobs .....

    6. I joined the Fire Service looking for thrills, adventure and the opportunity to help people while enjoying the work. It nearly didn't work out, but, thankfully, marriage, three terrific kids, some damned good colleagues and a lot of really interesting work I stuck it out for thirty six years ....

    7. I became a Reader in the Church of the Province of South Africa, Licensed to the Cathedral of St Andrew and St Michael, Bloemfontein in 1982 - a Licence I still hold, although I am now licenced to the Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin, Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire and in the Diocese of Gloucester. (See - God gets you in the end no matter how far you run .... ) and to think I was told when I was asked to accept the training and the Licence that it wouldn't make many demands on my time .... It could be full time if I let it.

    8. My academic high point was being awarded a Master of Arts by Coventry University in 2003. It would have surprised most of my School Masters ....

    OK, those are my Random 8 - now who can I tag ....

    I know, VW Bug at One Happy Dog Speaks; Skipjack at SkipjckDOTinfo and The Gorse Fox. There you go folks, let's see what that produces!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:18 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    July 08, 2007

    Sunday rumbles

    The Battle of Tewkesbury was fought in 1471 in May. One reason for the rout of the House of Lancaster was the fact that their troops became mired in the mud on the Bloody Meadow, then, as now, a place that is marshy and marked by a small stream that disects it. That is why the re-enactment society chose to do their re-enactment in July, when the ground is normally dry and less prone to rusting the armour. Not a bad move, until this year that is. The whole camp has had to be moved, the battle re-enactment has had to move and much fun is being had by all.

    Yesterday my windows rattled repeatedly to the boom of the several "Bombards" that have come to lend authenticity (Tewkesbury was one of the earliest battles in which artillery was deployed in Britain) and the town is full of folk in medieval dress. It can be quite disconcerting - especially first thing in the morning. This year the Battle is being fought on a football pitch above the Bloody Meadow. Still on the field of battle in one sense, just a bit more level and less lumpy.

    Armoured knights and men at arms form up for the Lancastrian Prince of Wales.

    Asked if they were planning to watch the battle, one local remarked, "No, seen it a few times, the same side always wins."

    Compline in the Abbey last night was graced by the "King" and his entourage, "Edward Lancaster" and his attendants (their heads miraculously restored to their bodies after the "beheadings" which take place in the Crescent outside the Abbey Grounds) and about a hundred other visitors. The Parish Eucharist this morning took place on the Battlefield, a small mark of memorial to the seriousness and the sacrifice of so many lives in the quest for power and wealth.

    The re-enactments are fun, but we should never lose sight of the fact that many were injured, killed or stripped of all they owned in these wars. More importantly, we must ensure that we never have to walk this road again.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:23 PM | TrackBack

    July 06, 2007

    Glasgow's response to terror ....

    I think if I were a terrorist, the last people I would want to go up against are the Glaswegians .....

    I once took a bus from Paisley to Anderson Street Station and made the mistake of asking the Conducter if he could tell me if I had to change anywhere as I had been warned I would probably need to do so. I needed an interpreter to explain to me what had been said. If I am honest it was not my first encounter with the Glaswegian dialect, that had come many years before as an ambulanceman, when we picked up two matelots who had been mugged and robbed. The fight when we unloaded them in Casualty (Now called A&E) and inadvertently placed them alongside their original attackers was the stuff of which legends are made. It took the Military Patrol and five Constables to quell the resulting battle. And it is also the first time I have seen someone go from near death (if you believed the list of injuries supposedly suffered) to battle crazed berserker in a split second - and I come from a family of berserkers ..... And the list of injuries suffered by the matelots original assailants post the battle was medical history.They still talk about it at the hospital in hushed tones and it's now more than thirty years ago. Their Commander told us later in cut glass accents that they were from the Gorbels. Those who know Glasgow will understand that reference, the Gorbels was the toughest of the toughest districts in that city. The Military Patrol told us the only way to stop someone from there was to take his head off and then sever all his limbs. He might stop fighting once you'd done that.

    They're hard men up there in Glasgow - and you wouldn't want to be caught by them if you've annoyed them ....

    So the following bit of fun was sent to me by my eldest daughter - and I make no apologies for reproducing it here. While the US is the butt of this passage it could just as easily be anywhere else - but the quotes from the Glaswegian end are typical.

    Differing responses had this happened in a US airport, compared to Glasgow Eyewitness accounts.

    America:"Oh my God! There was a man on fire, he was running about, I just ran for my life. I thought i was gonna die, he got so close to me"

    Glasgow "Bawbag wis running aboot on fire, so a ran up n gave him a good boot, then decked him"

    America:" I just wanna get home, away from here. I just wanna get home, I thought i was gonna die"

    Glasgow:" here shug, am no leaving here till am oan a f*ckin' plane!"

    America:" there was pandemonium, people were running in all directions, we didn't know what was happening thought i was gonna die"

    Glasgow:"F*ck this fir a kerry oan, moan we ll get a pint in"

    America:" We thought he was gonna blow us all up he had a gas canister, and was trying to get into his trunk, I thought we were gonna die, I just ran for my life"

    Glasgow:"a swaggered by the motor that wis on fire, and the dafty couldnae even open his boot, he wis in fire annaw so a ran up n gave him a good boot to the baws"

    America: there was this huge explosion, it sounded like war, I thought I was gonna die"

    Glasgow:" There wis a bang, yi know when yi throw BO basher intae a fire it wis like that"

    America:" I'm too traumatized even to speak, I thought I was gonna die"

    Glasgow "here mate, gies 2 minutes till a phone ma auld dear, if am gonna be oan the telly a want her tae tape it"

    & finally, two quotes from an eye-witness......... John Smeaton (these are real)

    John just surpassed himself on the National ITV news. The interviewer asked "What message do you have for the bombers" - he replied "This is Glasgow we'll just set about you"

    John did an interview on CNN and they asked how he restrained the guy and he said "me and other folk were just tryin to get the boot in and some other guy banjoed him" !

    I didn't originate this and I'm pretty certain that there would be people in the US who would respond differently - I know a few anyway - but I did enjoy the Glaswegian attitude displayed here - and which I have seen on TV coverage of the event.

    For the record:
    Deck = means to punch to the ground.
    Boot = to kick (usually aimed at the head!) It can also mean to trip so as to put victim on the ground and re-apply ...
    BO Basher = Deodorant spray can
    Baws = sensitive part of the male anatomy
    Banjo = Go figure!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:03 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    July 05, 2007

    What's in a name?

    I recently commented that the River Avon which joins the Severn at Tewkesbury is one of four Avons in England. The question is why are there four? After all, it can't be that the "explorers" got confused, they are fairly obviously different rivers!

    The simple answer is that it is all the fault of the Roman invaders. In typical fashion (one that British explorers at the height of Empire emulated) they would march up to a local and demand, probably in Latin, "What do you call this river?" The local, quite possibly deliberately misinterpretting the question would reply - "Its called a River. Don't you have them where you come from?" To really appreciate the joke I suppose you also have to know that the word for "River" in Brythic, the language spoken by the Brits before 43 AD, is "Affon".

    The superior Roman cartographer would then dutifully note that the river he was looking at was the "River Affon" and move on, probably to ask the next local "What do you call that hill?" - only to get a similar reply.

    You don't want to know how many "Hill" Hills there are around here ..........

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:25 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    A coffee spill laugh ...

    Reading The Gorse Fox I came across a priceless story which he has picked up in the Sunday papers. It concerns a broken down car, an RAC repairman, the wife of the car owner who tried to spare his blushes ....

    Oh, just go here and read it yourself. Don't hold any liquids while you do so! You have been warned!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:30 AM | TrackBack

    July 04, 2007

    Independence Day in the US of A

    Happy Birthday to the United States of America.

    Have fun, but we should, I suppose, warn you that making tea with sea water is really not on no matter how big the party. But you probably figured that out already. Oh, and Baseball isn't Cricket, Football isn't really and it isn't Rugby Football either. Still, you're a pretty inventive bunch, so I guess you're entitled to amend the rules for some games from time to time.

    What the heck, enjoy your day.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:17 AM | TrackBack

    June 26, 2007

    Which country are you?

    Found at Dusting my brain ......

    You're Ireland!
    Mystical and rain-soaked, you remain mysterious to many people, and this makes you intriguing.  You also like a good night at the pub, though many are just as worried that you will blow up the pub as drink your beverage of choice.  You're good with words, remarkably lucky, and know and enjoy at least fifteen ways of eating a potato.  You really don't like snakes.
    Take the Country Quiz at the Blue Pyramid

    Amusing at least - the Monk is at least partly Irish and was raised by his Irish Grandfather as some will know!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:21 AM | TrackBack

    June 25, 2007

    Only in Africa

    The South African Police have, according to their spokeswoman, recently arrested a horse for being in possession of a stolen car. That's right. A horse. The "official" News reports says -

    JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - A horse was detained by police on Tuesday during an arrest operation over the theft of a vehicle in South Africa's sprawling Soweto township.

    "We have apprehended a horse and two suspects for being in possession of a suspected stolen vehicle," police spokeswoman, Captain Lindiwe Mbatha told AFP.

    "Cops patrolling the township pulled over a cart carrying a stripped body of a brand new car, a Corolla Conquest, suspected to have been stolen.

    "The cart was drawn by a horse with two suspects on board. They were locked for being in possession of a suspected stolen vehicle and will appear in court within 48 hours," Mbatha said. Mbatha said by law they were not allowed to leave the animal and its "stolen" load in the street while the suspects were taken to holding cells.

    "The animal had to be taken in with its carriage and the suspects. We couldn't leave the horse on the road because it was carrying a suspected stolen car," she added. The horse was later released into the care of animal rights association in Johannesburg, but the two suspects were still behind bars and expected to appear in court shortly

    You simply could not make it up could you.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:11 AM | TrackBack

    June 20, 2007

    More reminiscences

    Sailing is one of my great passions, one I don't get a lot of opportunity for these days. Sorting out these old photos and deciding how best to preserve them has brought back a lot of memories one way and another, and a sense of the freedom I enjoyed as a boy - a freedom denied children today, even though they are nominally "freer" than ever before. The photo below shows the "Sharpie" Panga lifting her hull onto a broad reach (a point of sailing with the wind over the ship's quarter) and with her crew hgaving a reaching spinnaker hoisted. These boats carried at least two spinnakers, the shallow cut "reaching" version seen in the picture and a fuller cut "balloon" for when they wanted to run before the wind.

    Pnaga on a reach.jpg
    Panga lifts to wind and sea as she begins to gather speed on a broad reach in the entrance to East London Harbour.

    Generally I sailed a smaller class, the fourteen foot "Sprog", a slim chine built hull with a large sail area and a lively handling characteristic. The "Sharpie" had a sail area almost three times that of the Sprog and was consequently faster, although a little less nimble. The Sprog class was a two person boat, although I have sailed one single handed (hard work!), and could give a very exciting sail if you were prepared to work the boat to her limits. They were great fun, especially sailing well out to sea from the mouth of a busy harbour.

    The long course on this club's racing schedule involved a triangle out to sea that meant a race was over twenty one miles in straight lines - beating to windward in a series of short tacks meant you could almost double that in some conditions. But it also gave plenty of opportunity for some wonderful sailing and to learn your seamanship the hard way.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:48 AM | TrackBack

    Now here is something for the book!

    A masterpiece of a joke is to be found at One Happy Dog Speaks, the blog of VWBug. Entitled Humor for the dreaded Wednesday, it is priceless. It is definitely something I must remember to use when next I am part of a suffering crowd on an airliner held up by a child throwing a tantrum.

    I always knew there was a perk to wearing all that scrambled egg on your hat!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:22 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    June 19, 2007

    That mouse had better not try anything ....

    Madam Paddy can be very independent, but she can also be very determined to have company. The Monk's desk is always the subject of some debate over where we can and cannot place ourselves on these occassions. And that mouse had better watch its step - if she sees one wrong move ....

    Madam may look relaxed, but that mouse she's heard is up here had better watch out!

    The warm weather has made life a bit uncomforatble for some of us, but with her thick under coat and long overcoat of hair, Madam has, as ever, found she needs to think about cool places she can stretch out or catch the breeze. The Monk's desk is a good place - the surface is cool and there is a breeze when he opens the window which also helps to cool her nicely thank you. At fifteen and a bit, Madam is a venerable lady who sometimes likes to show that she hasn't lost her agility yet. Her chases from room to room are high speed, amusing and very energetic.

    For those who have never had the benefit of living with a long haired cat - this season sees hair shed in quantities you would think would leave her completely bald, but no, there appears to be some quick grow mechanism at work here!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:50 PM | TrackBack

    June 18, 2007

    More blasts from the past ....

    Sorting out a range of things including old photographs can bring back floods of memories, some good some bad. The picture below falls into the first category. It shows a very young Monk about to join one of the crack racing boats as centre hand. The boat is a "Sharpie", a twenty-two foot racing machine built in oak and extremely fast when properly handled. It took a crew of three to manage the sails, the rig she is wearing here is the basic Jib and Mainsail, and she carried tthree different spinnakers for racing and could change the jib for a genoa rig.

    PGC Theun Boot and Panga.JPG
    A very youthful Monk gets some final instructions from the Forehand of the Sharpie "Panga" just prior to a race.

    The big burly chap talking to the Monk was the forward hand, a big jovial Hollander named Theun Boot, and his position on the crew was a vital one since without his weight on the trapeze gear keeping her upright would have been even more of a battle. The crew on these boats were the manpower to handle sails and the moveable ballast to keep the boat as upright as possible and it could be exciting and hard work. The man holding the boat was the owner, a superb seaman and racing skipper with a distinguished wartime record behind him. "Wolfie" Haukohl, was, despite his name in the Royal Navy during WW2.

    The Sharpie Class were expensive boats, but fabulous at sea and in a hard blow. Fast, as only a hull of this type can be, the crew worked hard, but the reward was to go steaming past the rest of the fleet in any race. Even better was the sensation (which the Monk got when quite a bit older and larger!) of lying out over the water ojn the trapeze gear while the boat tore across the seas under full sail and reaching spinnaker. Of course, if it went wrong, it got very exciting, very quickly - as when a stay broke on another boat while the Monk was out on the trapeze. Think sling shot - with the Monk as the shot ..... I was some distance from the boat when I hit the water.

    Safe? Probably not, in those days no one wore a lifejacket to sail, they got in the way. Knowing that, you took care of yourself, but hell, we lived, we survived some spectacular capsizes (The monk managed to do a power dive with his Fireball - aptly named Extravagance) and learned the art of living. I doubt if today we'd be allowed to do a quarter of what we did in these wonderful days "messing about in boats".

    It was men like these that taught the Monk everything he knows about boats, sailing and seamanship, a debt of kindness to a small and probably annoying boy he can never repay.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:05 PM | TrackBack

    June 15, 2007

    OK, so which Harry Potter character are you?

    Found another Quiz to try on One Happy Dog Speaks. Never could resist these - but I was surprised to discover that I am ....

    You scored as Harry Potter, You can be a little reckless and hot-headed at times, but a more brave and courageous friend would be hard to find.

    Harry Potter


    Remus Lupin


    Ron Weasley


    Sirius Black


    Albus Dumbledore


    Hermione Granger


    Ginny Weasley


    Severus Snape


    Draco Malfoy


    Lord Voldemort


    Your Harry Potter Alter Ego Is...?
    created with

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:25 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    June 12, 2007

    Motoring anarchist - the manufacturers nightmare

    Jeremy Clarkson is to the Motor Trade what Attila the Hun was to the spohisticates of Rome in 410AD - anarchy. Here are some of his priceless comments on their best efforts ....

    The wit of Jeremy Clarkson

    1 Maserati Quattroporte

    "In a list of the five most rubbish things in the world, I’d have America ’s foreign policy at five. Aids at four. Iran ’s nuclear programme at three. Gordon Brown at two and Maserati’s gearbox at number one. It is that bad."

    2 BMW 1 Series

    "I’m choosing the words for my conclusion with even more care than usual. So here goes. The 1-series is crap.

    3 Kia Rio

    "You may have seen The Fly II, in which a scientist attempts to teleport a dog. In one of the most gruesome scenes I’ve seen in a film it arrives at its destination completely inside out. Well the Rio is uglier than that. Inside, things get worse.

    "Small wonder Kia’s importer in Britain is sponsoring the Pedestrian Association’s Walking Bus scheme. The idea is that parents take it in turns to walk a group, or "bus", of children to their school in a morning. After three days of being transported in the Rio , my kids thought it was a brilliant idea to walk instead. Even though their school is 18 miles away and it was blowing a gale directly from the Canadian tundra."
    Jeremy Clarkson

    The great man himself - all 6foot 5 inside the smallest car he can find.

    4 Land Rover Defender 90 Td5 Station Wagon

    "Often fourth isn’t enough to get you up a hill, so you drop down to third and it feels as though you’ve been hit in the back with a wrecking ball. All of a sudden you’re doing 35mph but your eight-ton suit of armour, making a noise that sounds like the birth of the universe, has come to an almost dead stop.

    "What’s more, there still isn’t enough room behind the wheel for anyone with shoulders or legs, there are still sharp edges, it’s as bouncy as a small dog at suppertime, and as a result it’s about as much fun to drive as a punctured wheelbarrow. And it’s not like the misery is short-lived, because each trip to the shops can, and does, take two or three weeks."

    5 Perodua Kelisa 1.0 GXi

    "This is without doubt the worst car, not just in its category, but in the world. It has a top speed of 88mph but takes so long to reach it that no one has ever lived long enough to verify the claim, the inside is tackier than Anthea Turner’s wedding and you don’t want to think what would happen if it bumped into a lamppost.

    "Also its name sounds like a disease."

    6 Peugeot 407 Coupé 2.7 V6 HDi SE

    "It has the zip of a chairlift. With plodding performance and steady-as-she-goes handling the only thing this car will make you feel like is a cup of Horlicks with a splash of hemlock. Empty-nesters should buy a PlayStation instead, and spend the afternoon shooting crack whores."

    7 Mitsubishi Warrior

    "’What,’ I exclaimed, ’in the name of all that’s holy, do we want one of those for?’ We’re European. We were sipping tea while the Americans were shooting Indians. We’ve had 2,000 years to get used to civilisation, not 20 minutes. We’re advanced, we’re slim, we’re at the cutting edge of evolution. We think that shooting bears is daft. Budweiser gives us a headache and we think George Bush is an arse.

    "So why in God’s name do we want to drive around in a car made from a hen house and two bits of railway track?"

    8 Cadillac SRX4

    "This is a very ugly car. So ugly in fact that you’ll want to get inside it and shut the door as quickly as possible. But sadly when you are inside it’s even worse.

    "If it were a creature, it wouldn’t be a lion or a praying mantis or even a chimp. No, I think it would be a wasp — useless and hateful in equal measure"

    9 Aston Martin Vanquish S

    "This is the last of the old-school Astons. It was built in the Newport Pagnell factory by men with body odour and hammers, rather than on the computer- controlled production line of the new Gaydon plant. And it shows. The car costs more than any other Aston yet is no quicker; its paddle shift gearbox is hilariously bad and its interior looks glued together from the Ford parts bin. It is the equivalent of opting for a rusty saw and leeches in the age of laser-guided brain surgery. Who is Aston kidding?"

    10 Volkswagen Jetta

    "I’d love to meet the man who styled the exterior, to find out if he’d done it as some sort of a joke. But mostly I’d like to meet the man who simply didn’t bother at all with the interior. Because looking at that dashboard gives you some idea of what it might be like to be dead."

    11 BMW 645Ci

    "If you were to buy a 6-series, I recommend you select reverse when leaving friends’ houses so they don’t see its backside."

    12 Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano

    "There, right in the middle of everything, is a quartic steering wheel. Yup, quartic, as in square, as in Austin Allegro. And worse still, it’s half carbon fibre and half leather, and it’s got all sorts of Formula One-style buttons on the bottom and then, along the top, a series of red lights that come on to tell you when to change gear. Unfortunately they are so bright you think you’ve been caught in the fearsome glare from a Martian spaceship.

    "So you don’t change gear. You crash."

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:45 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    June 08, 2007

    Heard the one about .... ?

    Trekking around the Blogosphere recently I came across this very funny story about a priest, a minister and a rabbi - and a bear. Visit Hard A Starboard to read it for yourselves, just don't have a cup of coffee or anything else liquid in your hand, mouth or anywhere else it could land on the keyboard when you do.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:37 PM | TrackBack

    June 07, 2007

    Bible Quiz

    Still can't resist these quizzes, even when I should be concentrating on something else ...

    You know the Bible 100%!

    Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses - you know it all! You are fantastic!

    Ultimate Bible Quiz
    Create MySpace Quizzes

    Anyway, nice to know I can still get a decent score on something!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:51 AM | TrackBack

    May 26, 2007

    Gazebo Office

    The garden is Mausi's favourite place in summer and the gazebo makes a lovely outdoor office.

    Mausi's summer home office and dining room

    Mausi should have been doing some work in here already yesterday but was very good at finding excuses, like the plants that arrived in big parcel on Thursday had to be looked after first, it was too hot at noon, all Mausi could bring herself to do was reading a few pages then drowsed off in the heat. Finally, in the evening when it cooled down a bit, Mausi got sidetracked by a tricky Sudoku. For those of you who think Sudokus are child's play have a look at the extended post below.

    But today Mausi has run out of excuses. There was a thunderstorm last night with some badly needed rain. It has cooled down the air quite pleasantly and there's a little breeze blowing this morning. So, once this is posted, Mausi will be sitting down to do some real work. Sigh....

    Have fun!


    Posted by Mausi at 09:39 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    May 24, 2007

    So I'm a Social Capitalist?

    You Are 52% Capitalist, 48% Socialist
    While you are definitely sympathetic to a free economy, you also worry about the less fortunate.
    Wealth and business is fine, as long as those who are in need get helped out too.
    You tend to see both the government and corporations as potentially corrupt.
    Are You a Socialist or Capitalist?

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:43 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    May 16, 2007

    Google nonsense?

    I guess that several things I have been sent recently about some wonderful twists in the popular "Google" search engine prove that a computer is only as intelligent as the person programming it. Or, perhaps that it is possessed of a sense of humour - or the programmer is. Its a lot better than listening to a bunch of political commentators wittering on about how Gordon Brown is more popular than David Cameron. Damn it all - anybody could be more popular than David Cameron.

    My daughter recently sent me this gem from the Google debate.

    ARE the folk at search engine Google a bunch of misogynists, or is it just their algorithms? This, believe it or not, is the subject of a debate raging on websites such as Reddit and Digg, after a Google user discovered that a search for the phrase she invented prompted the question from Google: Did you mean: 'he invented'? Suggestions that this was based on the fact that more people search for the latter were met with an argument killer: a search for he gave birth returns 23700 results. Even worse, Google does not suggest the obvious alternative: she gave birth.

    Even better is asking Google Earth for directions if you place the start and destination on different continents.

    Try this little test ....

    Follow these steps:

    1. Go to

    2. Click on maps.

    3. Click on get directions.

    4. Go from " Atlanta " to " Paris , France ".

    5. Scroll down in the directions to number 22.

    6. Laugh and then re-post this ASAP so other people can enjoy... before they change it

    or try this link:

    Or if you don't like to go through the whole process, it simply tells you when you hit the end of the Pier. "Swim across the Atlantic Ocean. - 3,472 miles" and gives the estimated journey time and distance. Any bets that some idiot will try it - and then sue Google after failing to make it?

    Don't you just love our technology?

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:21 PM | TrackBack

    May 15, 2007

    Mayor making

    The things the Abbey gets involved in. Yes, we did host the Mayor Making for the Borough Council, and then a bun fight after in the side aisles. Quite entertaining really when you see the assembled masses of the "Chain Gang" drawn from all the town, Parish and neighbouring Boroughs attending to see the new Mayor installed.

    It is on occassions like these that you realise just how much tradition and ceremonial impacts on our lives. After all, you could probably all go to the council chamber and swap seats at the appropriate moment. Everyone there would know who the Mayor was and no one else needs too. Or do they? The fact is that we do like to be able to pick out the mayor, the PM, or Commandant General or the Sovereign in a crowd. And it is important to know that it is the result of an electoral process, that the new mayor swears an oath of office and that the chain of office links him to all the previous mayors. Where the aldermen wear blue robes with black trimmings and the Sergeants at Arms carry maces in front of the Mayor, they wear black and gold with 18th Century cocked hats - and their maces are the signal, when laid on the tabvle in front of the Mayor that the council is now in session. The Mayor himself (or herself!) is decked out in red and black with the chain and a cocked hat of equally impressive proportions and what I do find amusing is that the left wingers are just as pedantic about being properly tricked out as the right.

    After all, it is important that the voters and tax payers actually recognise you, the councillor, for what you are - their representative.

    Now some may wonder at this all happening in the Abbey itself, well, there is certainly a precedent for it. Tewkesbury got its Town status and charter back in the 1300's - and the North Porch was the first council chamber! Later they used to hold town meetings in the nave. That stopped after the reformnation when the reformers felt that this was improper - and started the separation which afflicts us still with the insistance of separating the church and its building from peoples' daily lives. So it is right and proper that the governors of the Borough should have their installation inside the nave of the Abbey and swear their oath of office and allegiance in these hallowed walls.

    The church is about life and living, it should be "in the community" and for the community, not standing aloof. A point well made to several politicians tonight as they found themselves inside the Abbey for something different to the usual funerals and weddings they attend.

    It was good too, to have several councillors from Germany with us tonight, peoiple from the Rhine Pfalz and from Bavaria who have civic links with Tewkesbury. They found it to be an unusual and most impressive experience and want to come again for a proper visit and to experience the worship here. God does indeed work in strange and wonderful ways.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:12 PM | TrackBack

    May 14, 2007

    When forests walk...

    The Mok's privett hedge has got a bit out of control this year. He put off cutting it a tad too long methinks for now it is thriving with the rain ..... It has increased its overlap of the fence by at least twelve inches in the last couple of weeks. It seems to be a takeover bid, because the street side is pushing people off the pavement.

    Time to get out the hedge trinner and set aside a day to cut, clear and haul to the tip.

    The Monk's privett in need of a trim.

    And I better do it as soon as there is a rain free day - otherwise it will have taken over the garden, the road and who knows what else.

    Machete bwana?

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:56 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    May 11, 2007

    Ah, the good life ....

    I have to thank my brother for this, it had me (and a number of my friends) in paroxysms of laughter! It is one of those gems that is too good not to share.

    Life in the Australian Army...

    Text of a letter from a kid from Eromanga to Mum and Dad. (For Those of you not in the know, Eromanga is a small town, west of Quilpie in the far south west of Queensland )

    Dear Mum & Dad,

    I am well. Hope youse are too. Tell me big brothers Doug and Phil that the Army is better than workin' on the farm - tell them to get in bloody quick smart before the jobs are all gone! I wuz a bit slow in settling down at first, because ya don't hafta get outta bed until 6am . But I like sleeping in now, cuz all ya gotta do before brekky is make ya bed and shine ya boots and clean ya uniform. No bloody cows to milk, no calves to feed, no feed to stack - nothin'!! Ya haz gotta shower though, but its not so bad, coz there's lotsa hot water and even a light to see what ya doing!

    At brekky ya get cereal, fruit and eggs but there's no kangaroo steaks or possum stew like wot Mum makes. You don't get fed again until noon and by that time all the city boys are buggered because we've been on a 'route march' - geez its only just like walking to the windmill in the back paddock!!

    This one will kill me brothers Doug and Phil with laughter. I keep getting medals for shootin' - dunno why. The bullseye is as big as a bloody possum's bum and it don't move and it's not firing back at ya like the Johnsons did when our big scrubber bull got into their prize cows before the Ekka last year! All ya gotta do is make yourself comfortable and hit the target - it's a piece of piss!! You don't even load your own cartridges they comes in little boxes and ya don't have to steady yourself against the rollbar of the roo shooting truck when you reload!

    Sometimes ya gotta wrestle with the city boys and I gotta be real careful coz they break easy - it's not like fighting with Doug and Phil and Jack and Boori and Steve and Muzza all at once like we do at home after the muster. Turns out I'm not a bad boxer either and it looks like I'm the best the platoon's got, and I've only been beaten by this one bloke from the Engineers - he's 6 foot 5 and 15 stone and three pick handles across the shoulders and as ya know I'm only 5 foot 7 and eight stone wringin' wet,but I fought him till the other blokes carried me off to the boozer.

    I can't complain about the Army - tell the boys to get in quick before word gets around how bloody good it is.

    Your loving daughter,


    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:35 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    May 10, 2007

    Rhymed version of Pangur Ban

    I and Pangur Ban my cat,
    'Tis a like task we are at:
    Hunting mice is his delight,
    Hunting words I sit all night.

    Better far than praise of men,
    'Tis to sit with book and pen:
    Pangur bears me no ill-will,
    He too plies his simple skill.

    'Gainst the wall he sets his eye,
    Full and fierce and sharp and sly:
    'Gainst the wall of knowledge I,
    All my little wisdom try.

    Often times a mouse will stray,
    In the hero Pangur's way:
    Often times my keen thought set,
    Takes a meaning in its net.

    Practice every day has made
    Pangur perfect at his trade:
    I get wisdom day and night,
    Turning darkness into light.

    This version is available as a rather fun poster from the Trinity College Library Shop, Dublin and at 3.50 Euros plus postage a real snip.

    For me the most important aspect of the poem is that it puts me in touch with the people of the early church - real people with real humour and real lives, not the cardboard figures so often presented to us in the written histories. One can only guess at the row when the monk who penned the poem had his work discovered - defacing some important treatise on theology. Yet the little poem survives, giving us the name of the cat, but not the author.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:19 PM | TrackBack

    May 09, 2007

    The garden awakes .....

    Well, the climbing rose is climbing, the bulbs have been and gone and now other things, like the late bulbs are starting to surface. Unfortunately, so has the privit hedge - which has decided to go beserk after the local yobs spent most of winter trying to destroy it. It has woken with a plan of vengeance in it's heart. Unfortunately, its me that will have to try and tame it before it closes the sidewalk, the road and probably the rest of my garden!

    In the meantime I can take a little time out to admire this beautiful bloom - which, not being a gardener and not having kept the label, I cannot identify!

    Back to the Scriptorium Brother!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:00 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    May 08, 2007

    Not quite Pangur Ban ....

    She isn't little, and she isn't white. Pangur she may well be, but certainly not "ban". Madam Paddy Cat has emerged from the winter a little older, a little stiffer in her joints and a little more demanding, but still very full of character. Mind you she did give me scare over the weekend when I arrived home to find she had been sick quite liberally everywhere. Then she found a hiding place and curled up - and refused to acknowledge me, respond to anything or even show any interest in food. Of course, the vet wasn't available either ....

    Madam informing me that she is now fit and well and would appreciate some food.

    For the next twenty four hours she remained completely uncommunicative and definitely not interested in food, a little water occassionally thank you, but nothing else. Then, when the vet is finally available, she strolls into the kitchen loudly demanding her breakfast, than you very much.

    I suppose at fifteen years, she is entitled to a little ill-health now and then, but I wish I knew what had brought this on. It is worrying that we still don't know what upset her, but then - we are a cat; it is what we do.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:54 PM | TrackBack

    May 04, 2007

    Spring is sprung ...

    In contrast to the pic I put up yesterday, I have this one from my friend Slimjim who took it in the woods near Evenlode yesterday. The carpets of blue bells in all our woodlands are really something to see this year, a little earlier than usual to be sure, but still beautiful.

    Bluebells 1.JPG
    The blue bells form a magnificent carpet near Evenlode in Gloucestershire.

    The more benign face of nature.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:25 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    May 02, 2007

    They are definitely among us - but where do they work?

    I walked into a shop with a buy-one-get-one-free coupon for a sandwich. I handed it to the girl and she looked over at a little chalkboard that said "buy one-get one free". "They're already buy-one-get-one-free", she said, "so I guess they're both free". She handed me my free sandwiches and I walked out the door.

    They walk among us and many work retail.


    A friend of mine bought a new fridge for his house. To get rid of his old fridge, he put it in his front yard and hung a sign on it saying: "Free to good home. You want it, you take it." For three days the fridge sat there without even one person looking twice at it. My friend decided that people were too untrusting of this deal. It looked too good to be true, so he changed the sign to read: "Fridge for sale 50." The next day someone stole it.

    They walk among us. (Usually for the Treasury!)


    One day I was walking down the beach with some friends when one of them shouted, "Look at that dead bird!" Someone looked up at the sky and said, "Where?"

    They Walk among us! (Mostly working in the Civil Service!)


    While looking at a house, my brother asked the real estate agent which direction was north because, he explained, he didn't want the sun waking him up every morning. She asked, "Does the sun rise in the north?" When my brother explained that the sun rises in the east, and has for sometime, she shook her head and said, "Oh, I don't keep up with that stuff."

    They Walk Among Us!! (Those not in the Estate Agencuies work for the Civil Service!)


    My colleague and I were eating our lunch in our cafeteria, when we overheard one of the administrative assistants talking about the sunburn she got on her weekend drive to the shore. She drove down in a convertible, but "didn't think I'd get sunburned because the car was moving."

    They Walk Among Us! (Definitely working in the Civil Service!)


    My sister has a lifesaving tool in her car designed to cut through a seat belt if she gets trapped. She keeps it in the trunk.

    They Walk Among Us! (Another Civil Servant!)


    I was hanging out with a friend when we saw a woman with a nose ring attached to an earring by a chain. My friend said, "Wouldn't the chain rip out every time she turned her head?" I explained that a person's nose and ear remain the same distance apart no matter which way the head is turned.

    They Walk Among Us! (A Civil Servant definitely!)

    I couldn't find my luggage at the airport baggage area, so I went to the lost luggage office and told the woman there that my bags never showed up. She smiled and told me not to worry because she was a trained professional and I was in good hands. "Now," she asked me, "has your plane arrived yet?"

    They Walk Among Us! (Confirmed as a Civil Servant!)


    While working at a pizza parlor I observed a man ordering a small pizza to go. He appeared to be alone and the cook asked him if he would like it cut into 4 pieces or 6. He thought about it for some time before responding. "Just cut it into 4 pieces; I don't think I'm hungry enough to eat 6 pieces."

    Yep, They Walk Among Us! (Has to be a very senior Civil Servant!)

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:17 PM | TrackBack

    May 01, 2007

    Back to the saltmines ...

    Saturday afternoon Mausi's three weeks holiday came to an end. Mausi's had a great time during these weeks on the British Isles, and - as always - they were gone much too quickly. Mausi likes Birmingham Airport, it's much smaller than Frankfurt in Germany, much less busy, and check-in never is a problem. Except that big backpacks have to be carried around to the oversize luggage counter because the straps get hooked and mess up the automatic luggage transport system - but okay, the airport is not very big so it's no real problem.

    Passing through the hand luggage control was quite entertaining. Having to take out one's laptop of a tightly packed little rucksack and squeeze it in again afterwards is a bit of a nuisance. But it got even better. Mausi had almost to do a complete striptease: coat, jumper, belt, wristwatch, pocket contents, even her shoes had to through onto the conveyor belt. At least she passed the metal detector without problems. Then she had a great time watching fellow travelers passing through the metal detector gate. Some must have been wearing quite an amount of jewellery under their clothes for the gate never stopped beeping.

    The plane back to Frankfurt was only half full and Mausi had a row of three seats all to herself - unexpected luxury! Apart from a few turbulences the flight went well and on schedule. The pilot, however, was one of those no-nonsense persons who believe in coming down straight and swiftly onto the runway and then hitting the brakes full force. While the plane was rattling on to a stop Mausi asked herself if they hadn't missed the runway altogether - it decidedly felt like going cross country.

    Mausi's garden has used her absence to grow into a wilderness.

    The little bear can hardly peer out from under the Bleeding Heart, also known as Dutchman's Trousers

    Suddenly everything seems to have exploded into blossom, except for the rhododendrons. They always take a little longer around here. But the wild lilac and the snowball make more than up for it.

    lilac.JPG   snowball.JPG
    Wild lilac and a snowball called 'Eskimo' in full bloom

    Their scents are overpowering. Thinking of 'Eskimo' will hopefully help Mausi make it through the present heat wave. Temperatures here were between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius during the last weeks - and it is only April. What will summer be like?

    Anyways, Monday it was back to the saltmines and Mausi's stuffy little office. But she can always close her eyes for a moment and recall the incredibly green hills of England to her mind, can't she?

    Posted by Mausi at 02:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 30, 2007


    Having explored some of the East coast of the Emerald Isle, we crossed to the West via Enniskillen and Sligo to reach Croagh Patrick. From there we travelled the "scenic route" following the coast until we were forced to turn South across the peninsula and take the Loo Pass along the shore of Loo Lough. From Leenaun we were able to follow the coast again and cross the Connemara Peninsula. Two things stand out - the peat harvesting and the endless miles of peat covered landscape, and the bleakness of the scenery. In contrast to the rest of Ireland, this area is brown with outcrops of rock to break the peat. The road would break a snakes back in places and the inhabited parts are marked by clusters of small enclosures within dry stone walls. These are not boundaries however, they are the most efficient means of holding the thin soil in place!

    A small "Castle" on the Town Quay at Oranmore, stands sentinel at the head of Galway Bay. It is now a private residence.

    Turning East again we followed the coast to Galway at the head of Galway Bay and then continued to Oranmore were we could find a quiet place to have lunch. Again, the scenery changed and the bleakness of the Connemara is replaced by greenery, trees and rolling countryside. It has been said that Ireland is like a bowl, with all the mountains around the rim and the interior lying low and wet. This may be so, but the West is certainly steep and the valleys and lowlying areas filled with lakes and Loughs.

    Our journey across to Dublin was quick and easy, but we both felt that there was plenty more we would have to return to see again or to sample new.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:26 AM | TrackBack

    April 23, 2007

    Healthy living .....

    In the beginning God covered the earth with broccoli, cauliflower and spinach, with green, yellow and red vegetables of all kinds so Man
    And Woman would live long and healthy lives.

    Then using God's bountiful gifts, Satan created Dairy Ice Cream and Magnums.
    And Satan said "You want hot fudge with that?
    And Man said "Yes!"
    And Woman said "I'll have one too with chocolate chips". And lo they gained 10 pounds.

    And God created the healthy yoghurt that woman might keep the figure that man found so fair.
    And Satan brought forth white flour from the wheat and sugar from the cane and combined them. And Woman went from size 12 to size 14.

    So God said "Try my fresh green salad".
    And Satan presented Blue Cheese dressing and garlic croutons on the side. And Man and Woman unfastened their belts following the repast.

    God then said "I have sent you healthy vegetables and olive oil in which to cook them". And Satan brought forth deep fried coconut king prawns, butter-dipped lobster chunks and chicken fried steak, so big it needed its own platter. And Man's cholesterol went through the roof.

    Then God brought forth the potato, naturally low in fat and brimming with potassium and good nutrition.
    Then Satan peeled off the healthy skin and sliced the starchy centre into chips and deep fried them in animal fats adding copious quantities of salt. And Man put on more pounds.

    God then brought forth running shoes so that his Children might lose those extra pounds.
    And Satan came forth with a cable TV with remote control so Man would not have to toil changing the channels. And Man and Woman laughed and cried before the flickering light and started wearing stretch jogging suits.

    Then God gave lean beef so that Man might consume fewer calories and still satisfy his appetite.
    And Satan created McDonalds and the 99p double cheeseburger. Then
    Satan said "You want fries with that?" and Man replied "Yes, And super size 'em". And Satan said "It is good." And Man and Woman went into cardiac arrest.

    God sighed .......... and created quadruple by-pass surgery.

    And then Satan chuckled and created the National Health Service.

    After an exhaustive review of the research literature, here's the final word on nutrition and health:

    1. Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
    2. Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
    3. Chinese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
    4. Italians drink excessive amounts of red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
    5. Germans drink beer and eat lots of sausages and fats and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.

    Eat and drink what you like. Speaking English is apparently what kills you!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:01 AM | TrackBack

    April 16, 2007

    Monastic cats ....

    Visiting the exhibition on the Book of Kells (which includes the Book of Dunnow, Book of Armagh and several others of very ancient date) one finds oneself confronted by a little piece of whimsy in the midst of all the wonder of the creation of a book on vellum and by hand. It is a poem by an Irish Monk, obviously distracted from his work sufficiently to make a scribble in the margin of the book he was copying .... It is written in the margins of an illuminated manuscript at the Abbey of St. Paul at Reichenau, Corinthia.

    The poem inspired a book telling of the adventures of the cat Pangur Ban who finally ends his travels at Cashel Castle in Eire, keeping it rodent-free and where he was greatly loved.

    Pangur Ban is Gaelic for "white Pangur" or "little white cat."

    Pangur Ban

    I and my white Pangur have each his special art: His mind is set on hunting mice, mine is upon my special craft.

    I love to rest - better than any fame!
    With close study at my little book;
    White Pangur does not envy me:
    He loves his childish play.

    When in our house we two are all alone...
    A tale without tedium.
    We have - sport never-ending!
    Something to exercise our wit.

    At times by feats of derring-do
    a mouse sticks in his net,
    while into my net there drops
    a difficult problem of hard meaning.

    He points his full shining eye
    against the fence of the wall:
    I point my clear though feeble eye
    against the keenness of science.

    He rejoices with quick leaps
    when in his sharp claw sticks a mouse;
    I, too, rejoice when I have grasped
    a problem difficult and dearly loved.

    Though we are thus at all time,
    neither hinders the other,
    each of us pleased with his own art
    amuses himself alone.

    He is master of the work
    which every day he does:
    While I am at my own work
    to bring difficulty to clearness.

    Eighth Century Irish Monk

    Obviously the Latin version has a better rhythmn and rhyme to it's cadences. One can but wonder what Father Prior or Father Abbot thought of the Monk's doodling in one of their precious books!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:57 AM | TrackBack

    April 15, 2007

    Return from Ireland

    The Monk and Mausi got back from their trip to Ireland early this morning. At 0430 to be precise ......

    The trip has been a wonderful experience, with plenty seen, wonderful people met and even a short walk up the Croagh Patrick mountain. To the first saddle on the pilgrim route anyway. One day we will return and make it all the way up the mountain.

    One of the things the Monk hoped to do on this trip was discover more about the REAL St Patrick, not the one of legend, but the real man and his life. He has come back with a huge amount of material to read and a sense of what the man, his mission and his life must have been like. The legends are nothing at all compared to the reality! The Monk has always felt that St Patrick was somehow very much more than the plaster saint and cutout figure the legends give us - and he has discovered not only that he was right, but that the man was even more amazing than he thought.

    Watch this space for more on that score!

    For those who missed us, we're back and our pictures will adorn these pages soon!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:45 AM | TrackBack

    April 09, 2007

    Visiting Ireland

    Mausi and the Monk are visiting Ireland, and hoping to see as much as possible of County Down (The Monk's family connections are with Downpatrick and Newtownards) and possibly Antrim, Sligo and the West. We will be in Dublin on Friday and Saturday of next week and back in the UK on Sunday.

    In between we hope to be able to get on the blog from time to time using Mausi's new laptop which is able to go online without a line, so don't despair if we don't post daily - we'll keep you posted when we can.

    For the Monk at least this is part a pilgrimage and part an exploration. The pilgrimage part is to visit the sites that his name saint is associated with, the exploration is to learn more of the home from which a good half his family have sprung. For Mausi the exploration is a chance to visit a part of the British Isles she has never before seen, and to make her acquaintance with Ireland, the Irish and, of course, Guiness.

    The Monk has high hopes he will also be able to convert her to drinking proper Whiskey!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:27 AM | TrackBack

    April 02, 2007

    Loaded dogs ....

    Recently I was reminded again of one of my favourite pieces of Australian literature - and yes, there is plenty of it - by a passing reference to the work of one Henry Lawson. His descriptive prose is priceless, a master craftsman of the art of building up a story and my favourite among his many works which look at Australian life in the late 19th Century is "The Loaded Dog". Follow the link to find the story.

    As someone who has spent a little time at various times in a misspent career, around explosives and fires, on being introduced to this story for the first time I could see the outcome before the reader had read beyond the first page. By the time they had reached the half way point I had sore sides - and by the end, I was crying with laughter.

    One of Walter Cunningham's fabulous illustrations from the children's version of Henry Lawson's "The Loaded Dog". Note; the Echidna is simply a bystander and plays no part in the story!

    So what does happen when you have a young, playful dog, miners who make their own blasting cartridges, a cooking fire and the inevitable outback tin shack hotel-cum-pub?

    Follow the link and find out!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:36 PM | TrackBack

    March 31, 2007

    Hunting rituals

    Spring has come at last and the mice have obviously thawed and are showing up in the garden. Mausi The Cat has taken to spending the nights outside again, no doubt doing important business with the other cats in the village, like settling on mice quota for each cat. Yesterday saw Mausi on the warpath. Have you ever noticed the hunting ritual between cat and mouse? It always seems to go along the following lines:

    Act One: Let's hear if there is a little bugger about ...

    Act Two: Yep - heard you!

    Act Three: Where are you?

    Act Four: Let's have a closer look.

    Act Five: Now let's have some fun.As you can see, Mausi is doing her 'I am not really interested in you'-trick.

    Act Six: Let's see how plucky you are. Oops, that mouse is fighting back.

    Act Seven: Now the mouse is doing her 'I am dead already' - trick.

    Act Eight: Shit - that blighter has escaped.

    I suppose, Mausi's a bit out of practice. Don't be afraid for her - once she get's tired of tinned mice again she'll concentrate a bit more!

    Posted by Mausi at 03:25 PM | TrackBack

    March 28, 2007

    New Words for the 2007 Vocabulary

    Browsing the Blogosphere (instead of doing something work related - the joys of working from home!), something I have not had much time to do recently, I came across some really funny - and unfortunately all to true! - definitions over at Skipjack's blog. His post New Words for 2007 should be a must read.

    My favourite is definitely this one:

    ADMINISPHERE : The rarefied organizational layers beginning just above the rank and file. Decisions that fall from the adminisphere are often profoundly inappropriate or irrelevant to the problems they were designed to solve.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:55 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    March 24, 2007

    Travelling by train ...

    Mausi has to do quite a bit of travelling at the moment. Tuesday afternoon saw her boarding one of the latest generation of the high-speed ICE trains on her way to a seminar in Essen. Essen is quite a big town in the former coal and steel industry area of Germany. The train was really nice, especially as the journey would take a little over 2 hours Mausi was entitled to travelling first class. It was all leather seats as in an aeroplane with a socket at each seat to plug in your laptop.

    The first leg of the journey took Mausi along the old railway tracks along the western bank of the river Rhine. This bit is one of the most beautiful in Germany because from the train you have a first class view of all vineyards and the castles along the river. About three quarters of an hour later the train reached Koblenz situated where the Mosel flows into the Rhine. Suddenly Mausi heard the following announcement: "Dear passengers, we have to inform you that someone has chained his bike to this ICE train. We shall have to wait for the police to remove him and the bike from this train." Well! The whole procedure cost ten minutes. Mausi was relieved she didn't have to catch any connections that day.

    Entrance to the pedestrian precincts of Essen

    But her troubles were far from over. Once she had reached Essen her next challenge was to find the hotel she had been booked into. It was supposed an eight minutes walk from the central station to this hotel. Mausi had used the map guide programme at her office computer to print out the appropriate section of Essen City. As always the computer had been reluctant to reveal street names and printed useless informational tags about the street names that actually showed up on the map. Still, Mausi felt confident that she could take a shortcut through the pedestrian precinct. Looked like child's play, really. Well, somehow Mausi must have taken a wrong turn somewhere and was utterly lost after walking for half an hour in the fading daylight. In the end she decided to swallow her pride and ask someone for directions. The advice was simple: take the underground back to the central station and start again. So Mausi explored Essen underground and started out from the central station again in search of her hotel. This time she avoided the scenic road and simply kept to the big and busy avenues.

    It worked like magic - after less than 10 minutes Mausi stood in front of her hotel, a very ugly concrete cube that looked more like a multi-storey car park than like a hotel. Certainly a leftover from the 70's of the last century. The entrance looked extremely uninviting and a small sign said: Hotel 7th floor. When Mausi arrived at the 7th floor the interior of the hotel which only occupied that one storey looked much better than anticipated. Mausi's room was ok. But she had to take a shower next morning in an extremely narrow bathtub with the curtain trying to cling to her all the time - arrrgggghhhhhhh! Breakfast was surprisingly good, though, and the view from the 7th storey would have been grand if it hadn't rained cats and dogs all morning.

    'Haus der Technik', where Mausi's seminar took place

    In the evening Mausi arrived at the station again after her seminar in good time to catch her train back home. The train arrived at Essen 5 minutes late - ggrrrr! this time Mausi had to catch a connection at Cologne with only five minutes to change platforms. Changing platforms at Cologne station means you have to rush down a flight of stairs and up another. The first task, however, was to find her seat. As the first class carriages did not stop in the section of the platform they were supposed to stop, Mausi had literally to fight her way through 4 2nd class carriages which were crammed with people and then shoo a young man out of the seat she had a reservation for. Mausi wouldn't have minded him sitting there if there had been any other unoccupied seats but there weren't - so he had to go. Thankfully sinking down into the seat Mausi had almost given up hope of catching the connecting train but surprisingly the train from Essen to Cologne made good speed and gained three minutes back. At Cologne Mausi rushed out of the train and arrived on the other platform at the same time her train did. From that point it was an easy journey back home for her.

    Posted by Mausi at 10:57 PM

    March 14, 2007

    Greening the Monk

    After a little over forty years since he last owned a bicycle, the Monk has acquired a new one. It has twelve gears. It has wide tyres. It has two gear levers. It will shortly acquire "spray shields" (they used to be called "mudguards"!) and a carrier with panniers so he can do his grocery shopping by bicycle instead of getting the car out.

    Actually, it has been a busy day. But I would have to say that the bicycle has already had its first outing so I could run an errand in a short space of time between other calls. Compared to the last bike I owned this is probably the equivalent of changing up from a Morris Minor to a Ford Mondeo, but I have already discovered that the twelve gears make quite a difference - once you figure out how to change them and which direction to change them in!

    And I get to get fit again. Now that is probably an upside - but I will be drawing the line at cycling in the rain and snow! The car will still get used in those conditions - green or not!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 13, 2007

    Heightened Security Alerts

    Coutesy of my daughter. Apologies to the originator, but I felt I had to share it this way!

    The English are feeling the pressure in relation to recent terrorist threats that have raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved". Soon though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross". Londoners have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies all but ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to "A Bloody Nuisance". The last time "A Bloody Nuisance" warning level was during the great fire of 1666.

    Also, the French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide". The only two higher levels in France are "Surrender" and "Collaborate". The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability.

    It's not only the English and French who are on a heightened level of alert. Italy has increased its alert level from "Shout Loudly and Excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing". Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides".

    Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual and the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.

    The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish Navy can get a really good look at the Old Spanish Navy.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 10, 2007

    Strange Titles ...

    So now you know who we really are .....

    My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
    Duke Gray the Villainous of Herring-le-hole
    Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title
    My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
    Duchess Mausi the Fiendish of Bumpstead under Carpet
    Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

    And some of our friends and family are in the extended post ....

    And some of our equally illustrious friends are ....

    My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
    Imperial Majesty Nicolas the Edible of Fiddlehope in the Marsh
    Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title
    My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
    Her Exalted Highness Duchess Allison the Flavoursome of Bismorton Shropcake
    Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title
    My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
    Venerable Lady Valerie the Arboreal of Lesser Wobbleton
    Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title
    My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
    Milady the Most Honourable Bridget the Coherent of Kirkby Overblow
    Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title
    My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
    His Highness Philipp the Calm of Fritterton on the Marshes
    Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:44 PM | TrackBack

    March 08, 2007

    Trying things on again!

    In case you have noticed, the reason I have posted something with a dateline at the end of the month is to get it to stay at the head of the page for a while ....

    I know, thats cheating, but hey, why not?

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 07, 2007

    Menagerie afloat?

    In the course of a conversation with someone who is reading my book at present, it struck me that, unless you are familiar with some of the names, titles and terms of reference in England's famed "Wooden Walls" Navy, it could easily be thought that many ships had a menagerie on board. The most obvious one is the "Powder Monkey", a boy aged between about ten and fifteen years (At fifteen they were old enough to be "Rated" as a "man") who carried the cartridge cases from the magazines to the guns during battle. Each boy carried two cartridge cases, each containing a canvas "cartridge" and containing in each up to eight pounds of gunpowder, the charge required for the 32 pounder guns mounted on the lowest deck of a three decker. As each gun fired at least twice in every minute and a half, the boys had to run back and forth and, as anyone who has visited HMS Victory will know, the magazines are well below deck and would not have been lit during a battle for fear of fire!

    Powder Monkey.jpg
    A Powder Monkey with his cartridge cases from the time of Trafalgar. The artist has depicted a youth in his mid teens and given him a uniform, most were dressed in modified caste-offs from the seamen and would have been a lot younger! Behind him can be seen a "Shot Garland" sitting in a Brass Monkey.

    Another "monkey" to be found on shipboard in those days was the "Brass Monkey" - a brass plate caste or drilled with holes in it to allow the ready use cannon "shot" to be kept on deck next to the guns. The bulk of the iron shot would have been stowed low down next to the magazines and again the boys had to run back and forth to maintain a supply of shot to the guns. The shot kept on deck sat in the circular opening in the brass plate and could be displaced during heavy weather, so it was generally secured in place with a canvas cover. However, in very cold weather the differential rate of expansion and contraction in brass and iron meant the balls could be squeezed out of their openings. Hence the expression "Cold enough to freeze the balls of a brass monkey".

    In a recent short story soon, I hope, to appear on I have made mention of the stench that pervaded these ships when they were in commission. Again, I have been asked to explain, so here it is.

    A 74 gun ship of the line needed a crew of almost 800 men and officers to handle sail and guns. Even so, she could only effectively fight one broadside or the other, not both at the same time, althiough, in extremis it could be done, but at a very reduced rate of fire and very inefficiently. A 32 pounder gun needs sixteen men to serve it, most of them required to "run it up" into a firing position, and the smaller 24 and sixteen pounder guns required proportionately similar numbers. The exception was the huge Carronade, a very short barreled weapon which fired a hollow caste iron ball filled with musket balls and which burst into shrapnel on impact. Victory has two 64 pounders and most 74's carried two or four 32 pounders on the f'o'c'sle. These needed a relatively small crew, but were also very short ranged - althougfh absolutely devastating if they hit. The French referred to them as the "Devil's gun".

    Now, pack 800 men into a ship a little shorter than a modern frigate. Remove all thoughts of modern plumbing. The officers washed in basins of tepid water (assuming they washed!) and used a "Commode" as a toilet. So did the Captain and the Admiral. The crew lived mostly on the lower gun deck, each man assigned to a "Mess", a table slung over one of the lower battery guns and slept in a hammock slung fore and aft above it. Each man was allowed six feet length and 15 - 18 inches width. Washing facilities - none bar the deck wash pump. Toilet facilities - the "Heads" two small enclosed spaces with a crude open seat on the beakhead on either side of the bowsprit. In rough weather, not the place to be, so other places, quite commonly the bilges or the scuppers, could be used to relieve oneself - provided you weren't caught doing it! Now add to the stench of 800 men - largely unwashed (and none of this modern fancy deoderant stuff either thank you!) the smell of cooking salt beef or pork and the galley fires, the animals kept in pens on the upper gundeck (and doing what they do to relieve themselves ....) the occassional slaughtering that had perforce to be done on the same deck, and you have a smell that would probably poison the modern nose out of existence within minutes.

    They bred them tough in those days. The adage that they were iron men in wooden ships probably extended to their stomachs as well. You don't even want to think about what their water or their meat looked like or tasted of!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:06 AM | TrackBack

    March 06, 2007

    Intelligent design - or survival tactics?

    You tell me. My eldest daughter forwarded this to me, and I am cheating I know, but I am also posting it here!

    Not very tasteful, but . . .

    Barbara Walters of Television's 20/20 did a story on gender roles in Kabul, Afghanistan, several years before the Afghan conflict. She noted that women customarily walked 5 paces behind their husbands.

    She recently returned to Kabul and observed that women still walk behind their husbands. From Ms. Walter's vantage point, despite the overthrow of the oppressive Taliban regime, the women now seem to walk even further back behind their husbands and are happy to maintain the old custom.

    Ms. Walters approached one of the Afghani women and asked, "Why do you now seem happy with the old custom that you once tried so desperately to change?"

    The woman looked Ms. Walters straight in the eyes, and without hesitation said, "Land Mines"


    Personally I think that in a few more years the Afghan problem will have resolved itself thanks to a serious overload of maschismo coupled with a suicidal belief in the superiority of the male Afghani!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:26 PM | TrackBack

    March 01, 2007

    Another short story for Amazon

    I have just submitted another short story to the "Shorts" section. In it I have explored the experiences of my two principle characters from the book "Out of TIme" as they join the Royal Navy in 1801.

    The story is set in a few short weeks in late November, early December 1801 as they join the ship and begin the process of learning their new trade. There is a great deal to learn and they soon discover that a ship is a very complex organism, almost with a life of its own. Like my first two stories in this genre it is an exercise in developing the characters and personalities of the people I am writing about and I am finding it both a challenge and great fun. The biggest challenge is trying to write accurately about the handling of the great wooden walls when my only experience of a ship anything like this is on Sydney Harbour in the HMS Bounty replica. Som,e things can be extrapolated from there and from my experience of sailing dinghies and larger craft - but not much!

    The test will come I think when someone who knows a bit more about these ships stumbles across it and reads it. In the meantime I hope that some of you at least will give it a read. When it goes live I will provide a link. At $0.49c what have you got to lose?

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:29 PM | TrackBack

    February 17, 2007

    The Fifth Season

    It's the end of the Carnival Season again which always ends with big parades in the strongholds Mainz, Köln,
    Düsseldorf along the Rhine and countless smaller ones in the towns around. One should not forget Aachen, though, which also indulges in Carnival festivities being a very catholic area. One of the biggest parades will take place in Mainz on Rose Monday, starting at 11.11 a.m. and taking several hours. The first paraders will have finished the course before the last ones have started. It is always great fun to watch as people work all year to make this event work. They build wagons on which themes from politics or local events are on display. Or just costumed people from one of the countless Carnival Clubs of the area. Watching the Guards marching is another highlight of each parade.

    This year spectators and parader are in luck: we now have a spot of warm, springlike weather with a clear blue, sunshine and temperatures well above zero. During the last years they often had to walk through a light snowfall. Which is not much fun and ruins your costumes on top of it.

    Children love these parades because tons of sweets are thrown from the wagons for them to collect. You'd think they never have sweets for the rest of the year - but it is of course much more fun picking them up than just go into a supermarket and buy them.

    In the middle ages Carnival festivities and parades were the opportunity for the simple folk to tell their rulers what they thought of them without being taken up for it. This is still a good tradition. As almost every year Mausi has watched the joint TV programme by the Mainz Carnival Clubs. It is a broadcast from the Big Hall inside the Castle in Mainz with speakers and music and dancers' groups. Tickets are always sold out well in advance. Some of the speakers were really good. But during the last year our politicians provided them with a lot of ammunition: the reform of our National Health System which is not that much of a reform at all, various politicians making fools of themselves and not recognising it and the most hilarious incident of all: Wiesbaden is going to elect a new Mayor in March and the Social Democrats missed the deadline and forgot to register their candidate and having put a lot of effort and money into his campaign. Of course, none of the other parties dropped a hint and now the election will
    take place without a candidate from the Social Democrats. How stupid can you be? With Wiesbaden just on the opposite side of the Rhine from Mainz this was running gag all evening. But I must admit that the said candidate of the Social Democrats is a real plucky man - he was present in the audience and took all jokes at his expense with a smile. And there were many!

    The best thing about it all is that Mausi was given a holiday on Rose Monday by her employer. It sometimes pays iving close to Mainz. People in the protestant parts of Germany are not that lucky.

    Posted by Mausi at 10:08 AM | TrackBack

    February 11, 2007

    Return from the Caribbean

    As you will have gathered, and in the immortal words of the character played by Arnold Schwarzeneger in Terminator - I'm back! The flight was long, tedious because I couldn't sleep, and so I am worn out. At present I have loads of observations to make on what I saw and was shwon in Jamaica, but will wait until I can make more sense of them.

    Suffice it to say at this stage that it has been a very interesting and enlightening experience. I have made some good friends there and not everything is as negative as it appears. The hotel was an experience in itself, but the treatment I got from the staff made the rest insignificant. The staff went out of their way to look after me in every sense of the word. Nothing was too much trouble for them and their friendliness and willingness more than made up for the rest. One important point though is that I got to see real Jamaicans, something I would not have done if I had been staying in a more upmarket ex-pat establishment. That, in itself, was worth the experience.

    One observation I will make here. The Jamaicans believe in sharing - particularly their music. When someone throws a party - you can hear every word from around a mile away. I don't think my ears would survive too many of those encounters, but from the comfort of my bed at 03.00 in the morning it is interesting to be able to hear the DJ extolling the virtues of the artists .....

    And so to bed!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:05 PM | TrackBack

    February 09, 2007

    Cute Assistants

    Have you ever wondered why Microsoft Office products need a cute and cuddly 'Office Assistant'? During the last two weeks Mausi has developed the theory that they were incorporated into the programmes to prevent the user from smashing his/her keyboard into the computer screen!

    At work Mausi needed a new bit of software which wouldn't run under her current operating system Windows NT so the IT people changed it to Windows XP - and that's where all the trouble started. Mausi spend half a day getting used to all the annoying alterations in the system like that you have to set the viewing options like column width for every single folder to make it permanent. And Mausi has loads of folders - it'll take years! Then Mausi discovered she had forgotten to jot down her desktop connections and spend another exhilirating hours putting the important ones back into place.

    Some of her old software that had worked perfectly all right with Windows NT started to behave very strange. Corel Draw suddenly insists that it has an English instead of a German keyboard layout which can be particularly annoying if you need the Umlauts ä, ö and ü! I think I could live with 'z' and 'y' changing positions but the rest is a d****d nuisance. There are of course always ways and means to get around it but it takes time.

    One of the things that are realling getting on Mausi's nerves, however, is the stupid question if she wants to save the style sheet as well every time she saves a WORD document. And lots of other little things that would drive Mausi mad if it weren't for Minki. Minki is her Office assistant, not that stupid paper clip this time, but an entertaining little cat. Okay, Minki's not really much help if you ask her a question but she is still young and she's trying. You should see her carefully writing down your question letter by letter, her tongue sticking out between her teeth. She usually enters the document through a catflap and gives a soft meeow greeting. Whenever she gets bored she either falls asleep, even snoring sometimes, or rises up on her hind paws and hammers blue paw marks on the screen. She accompanies each printing job with stamping paw prints on a pile of paper. And you should see her when you ask her to search for a lost file. She even lifts and carpet and peers underneath it! That never fails to make Mausi grin and relax.

    You see there is a purpose behind these cute little fellows. Otherwise people would probably get angry enough not to use Microsoft anymore. Mausi is quite sick having to pay good money for being allowed to be the beta tester for that company. At home she has joined the Linux community but at work there's not much she can do about it. Mausi is one of the old fashioned computer users who likes to think for herself and not let the computer take over completely and telling her what to do and what is best for her.

    Ah well, if she doesn't have a choice she'd better learn to live with it and allow Minki's antics to make her smile once or twice a day.

    Posted by Mausi at 06:44 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    February 07, 2007

    News from The Monk

    The Monk has survived the Jamaica earthquake early this week thinking it was the wind rattling his window panes! Obviously the quake was less felt on his side of the island. Work is taking place mostly outside this week and he is lamenting the pouring sunshine and high temperatures. It could be a lot worse, I think - it could be sleet instead of sunshine!

    Posted by Mausi at 07:17 PM | TrackBack

    Winter has come at long last ...

    Just when Mausi had almost given up hope - the white fluffy stuff appeared over night as if by magic. Only it's not exactly fluffy this year but contains rather a lot of water. But Mausi doesn't want to split hairs. As every year she just enjoys the beautiful sight. The snow making the whole village appear neat and quiet.

    Mausi's village, looking even better in winter than in summer

    Posted by Mausi at 07:11 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    February 04, 2007

    We are the Champions!

    I don't know if this is of interest to the rest of the world - but Germany has just won the Handball World Championships for the third time after 1938 and 1978! Mausi played a bit herself in her youth and has watched the last three games of the German team. It was a rather young and inexperienced German team that started into the Championships almost three weeks ago but they grew up to their challenges and today was just a demonstration where sheer willpower, determination and a bit of skill, of course, can lead you. Well done!

    Posted by Mausi at 05:07 PM

    February 03, 2007

    What's new today?

    That's a strange question to ask a cat. Nothing much ever happens in the life of a cat. We eat, we sleep sometimes even with our eyes open.

    Mausi in one of her favourite resting places - contemplating the world, no doubt.

    At the moment I don't do much except cursing ourselves for having grown such a thick fur in a tropical winter like this. As if it were not enough that I feel extremely hot in it I get told off by my humans for generously shedding it all over the house. There are days when I almost wish I were a dog - that would at least keep my tongue cool.

    I do a morning patrol however and - if I feel like it - another one in the late afternoon. Not much to do at the moment outside anyway, except for keeping Boris the red-and-white tom clear off my patch. I love that - he's a good one for getting pounced on unawares! There are not as many birds in the garden as there used to be during winter time. They apparently find enough to feed on in the fields and woods around.

    This, however, is what I stumbled over in the morning: the first of the crocus family have made it through the mulch!

    These blue ones are always the first - still wet from the early morning mist.

    Posted by Mausi at 12:22 PM | TrackBack

    January 31, 2007

    Spanish Town and Port Royal

    I will say a great deal more about both these places when I can put up some pictures of them. For the moment let me say that they are both fascinating. Spanish Town is the home of the Cathedral, St Jago's, built in the 1700's and heavily restored in 1901, by which time it was evidently much in need of it. The town itself was the centre of government and at the heart of the town is a square of colonial government buildings and a vast collonade commenorating Admiral Rodney. Unfortunately two of these have been gutted by fire and there is evidently now desire to save or restore them. The remaining buildings are still in use, one as a local government office with the most interesting fire escape I have ever seen.

    Spanish Town is now the home of one of the countries toughest jails, built hard against the Cathedral church yard. It is also home to some of the roughest gangs in the country.

    Port Royal was once the Capital and was, until Independence the Royal Nav base in this part of the Caribbean. The old naval buildings are sadly run down and slowly collapsing, although a portion of the base, centered on Fort Charles (Built 1640-ish), is still in use as the HQ of the Jamaica Navy and Coastguard. It does seem strange to see the White Ensign with the Jamaican flag in its upper quadrant instead of the familiar Union Flag! They have recently acquired three smart new fast patrol boats and a tour of one of them, JS Cornwall, was certainly interesting!

    Port Royal was partially destroyed in an earthquake in 1690, an event which brought to an end the reign of terror in this part of the world of some of the most notorious buccaners of that age. The Royal Navy entered these waters originally to suppress them and their activities, and the restored Port Royal became home to the West Indies Fleet as a result. One sad reminder of the sacrifice of those men was the Old Naval Graveyard, now neglected and sadly overgrown - disgracefully neglected I feel - on the road back to Kingston. I shall have more to say on that score another day.

    For now, I have more preparation to do! More tales from Jamaica and pictures later!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:08 PM | TrackBack

    January 30, 2007

    The Joys of going Broadband

    A couple of weeks ago Mausi was approached by her telephone company offering her to join the broadband community at reasonable conditions. Mausi thought 'Why not?' and tried to phone the service hotline of her company to confirm the offer. On the first two attempts the computer who answered her call gave her a choice of four subjects to choose between, then asked for her telephone number and said it would connect her with a living person from the service desk. Only, the computer must have pushed the wrong button for twice Mausi ended up in silent cyberspace. On her next attempt Mausi took a more devious approach. When the computer asked her again to make her choice between the four subjects Mausi mumbled. After telling her twice that it didn't understand her the computer gave up and directly connected Mausi to a very helpful young lady at the service center.

    Bingo! Mausi placed her order and eagerly awaited the postman next day. He brought her a 'splitter' to be installed into the telephone line to pick up the broadband signal. Child's play, Mausi thought, connected the first telephone socket to the splitter and the splitter to the router. And then waited for the system to sort itself out. Nothing happened - the router didn't pick up the broadband signal. Okay. Mausi thought she'd better ask around her colleagues first next morning. Quite a few had joined the broadband community lately.

    The next day Mausi learnt she had to connect the splitter as close to the point where the telephone cable entered the house as possible, pick up the broadband signal there and then try to coax it from there to a more convenient spot in the house. It turned out to be a most entertaining evening with two people lying flat on their bellies in front of the main telephone cable trying to wedge that d*** splitter into the proper place and an attentive cat that went outside when she couldn't hide her grin anymore. At one point even the telephone wouldn't work anymore, let alone the broadband signal. Several hours later the router was still silent but at least the telephone worked again.

    Always good advice to take one step at a time. Next day Mausi took the router to a neighbour who was already a member of the broadband community and satisfied herself that at least the router worked as it should. So there was nothing for it but to admit temporary defeat and call the support hotline of the telephone company to find out where the broadband signal went. The technician arrived the next morning and proved to be quite helpful. The splitter had to be connected to the red and the blue instead of the red and black cable. As a result the broadband signal was at least picked up by the router. Magic!

    But he also had a bit of bad news for Mausi. The telephone cables installed inside the house are of inferior quality. They are alright for the telephone signal but the broadband signal cannot travel through them. As they have been built fixedly into the walls they cannot be changed now. Bother! So the router has to stay downstairs and Mausi has to set up a Wireless Lan to make the computers work. Yesterday evening Mausi made the WLan work with Windows and now faces the task of doing the same under Linux. The fun will last a few more days, no doubt.

    Posted by Mausi at 09:25 PM | TrackBack

    January 29, 2007

    Touring Jamaica

    Well, I finally managed to find a way to access the Blog! Unfortunately I can't upload any pics from here, so they will have to wait until I get home and can do it properly.

    Delivering a course on one's own is hard going at the best of times, to do it with minimal support in a foreign country and have a full days work followed by the preparations for the next is certainly taking its toll. Still, I have managed to get a bit of sightseeing done, courtesy of my hosts. It has so far been confined to an afternoon and two evenings out, but it has certainly given me a taster of the realities of life in this island. The exchange rate is a bit of a shocker - J$177 to the Pound!

    Well, that said, Friday saw me doing something I haven't done in years - and I soon enough remembered why! Take out for a meal, we ate at a Jamaican restuarant and I enjoyed my first taste of "Jerk" Pork. It was good and I nejoyed it washed down with a couple of bottles of the local Brewer's best - Red Stripe. Then it was upstairs to the Night Club. Right. You could hear the music from the street. Through the doors, through the walls. In fact it was difficult to hear anything else - and that was outside! Inside was something else.

    Aural shutdown occured within seconds. It is not often one experiences the same sensation from the bass woofer on one's body that you would normally get when exposed to the blast wave from an explosion. At least you would not expect to do so several times a milli-second. The inside of the club was wall to wall people, flashing lights and the weird effect of the UV strip lights made all the white clothes on the patrons glow. A couple more Red Stripes magically appeared and by now grinning manicly the Monk downed them. Quite an experience, but it was with relief that I staggered out into the street and got back to the hotel.

    The beat finally left my head about 03.00 in the morning a good four hours after I left the club!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:56 PM | TrackBack

    January 27, 2007

    News from The Monk

    The Monk has apparently survived his first week in the Caribbean. Work goes as well as could be expected and today there's even time to do a bit of sightseeing. Hope he'll share some photos with us soon.

    Posted by Mausi at 05:23 PM | TrackBack

    January 26, 2007


    Mausi had almost given up hope on winter this season. Although she had tried to make any snow flake feel welcome on the hill where she lives temperatures have stubbornly stayed around 15 degrees Celsius during December and January.


    But this week the weather has definitely changed for the better. Temperatures went down to proper -6 during the nights and even the days were quite chilly. Mausi had almost forgotten how cold sub-zero temperatures can feel. Yesterday Herbert's (the gargoyle who is hibernating in the cellar at the moment) bath tub was covered by a thick layer of ice which had to be broken up with a pick axe.


    The day started with a beautiful sunrise, the air was clear and cold and definitely smelled of snow.


    During the last two days it had already been snowing heavily in the South of Germany causing havoc on the motorways and even Mausi's hill got its first 0.5 millimeters in the morning. Don't laugh! There's more snow promised for tonight. Mausi didn't grow a thick winter fur coat for nothing!

    Posted by Mausi at 05:50 PM | TrackBack

    January 24, 2007

    Cathedral approach ...

    Leaving the Römer Square in Frankfurt one enters a short cobbled street which ends in another smaller square bounded by the Art Gallery on one side and shops on the other. Ahead is the cathedral, approached by stairs or a ramp from here. From the square one can look down and see the exposed remains of the first church here, a simple square building, with attached structures which may well have provided living accommodation.

    The Cathedral seen from the Römer in Frankfurt.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:06 PM | TrackBack

    January 23, 2007

    News from The Monk

    On his first working day The Monk experienced the usual problems one encounters when delivering a lecture or giving a presentation abroad: there are always notes that refuse to be printed and DVDs that won't run for no apparent reason at all.

    Posted by Mausi at 05:22 AM | TrackBack

    Restored Römer

    The cobble stone paved square in Frankfurt has seen a lot of history and was probably first created by the Romans, hence its name - the Römer. Restored after WW2, it is the city hall and the place in which the new Kaiser dined with his magnates, having first dined himself, waited on by the Electors.

    The impressive frontage of the restored Römer in Frankfurt am Main.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:01 AM | TrackBack

    January 22, 2007

    News update on The Monk

    The Monk has finally made it to his Kingstown, his destination in Jamaica. The accomodation is not what he expected but - after only changing his room twice - he awoke reasonably well rested yesterday morning. His room still hasn't got a 'view' but is less claustrophobic than the last ones and the pool is quite close by. Work will start today and there are sure to be more surprises in store for him. Frankly, Mausi doesn't know what he is grumbling about - fancy being actually paid to go to far away outlandish places and see the world! Whereas Mausi will be chained to her computer in her stuffy little office again today - sigh....

    Posted by Mausi at 09:46 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    Travelling ...

    Mausi had to go to Hannover on business on Thursday and Friday. Hannover is about 350 km to the northeast of Wiesbaden and much bigger. Quite a nice town with lots of green around and quite a bit of water. It is well known for the big industrial fairs that take place there each year and it has also been hosting the EXPO some years ago.

    The nicest thing about going to Hannover, however, is that Mausi is able to look up her sister and spend some time with her and her family. Which proved to be quite a bit of luck this time. Thursday was the day the storm "Kyrill" went over Germany and left a trail of devastation behind. Mausi was to go by train in the morning and as the storm had been building up all night and was already quite strong in Wiesbaden by then Mausi firmly believed the train wouldn't make it to Hannover that day. But - the ICE train (Inter City Express train) proved to be faster than the wind and Mausi arrived in Hannover on schedule. It had been quite a nice trip really because Mausi was allowed to trave 1st class and her compartment for five had only been occupied by three. Lots of space to make oneself comfy and enjoy a good read. The only drawback was that the rest room was adjoining to Mausi's compartment - perhaps the engineers should rethink the layout of the exhaust ducts ...

    By the time Mausi had finished her presentation in the afternoon the storm had gathered full force and as the rain was driven horizontally past the windows Mausi gratefully accepted a colleague's offer to drive her around to her sister's. Mausi's sister is a teacher who'd spend an interesting couple of hours at noon having to send all children home because of the storm and frantically trying to get hold of parents and friends to alert them to the childrens' coming home early that day. By then no trains were running anywhere in Germany and most of the autobahns were shut down as well. Mausi was glad she had planned to stay in Hannover until Sunday anyway.

    Next morning Mausi got an idea of the damage done by the storm when another colleague picked her up to take her to a meeting about 20 km south of Hannover. The autobahn south was still closed and a large number of trees hadn't been able to withstand the storm. Trains were not running to schedule all Friday and 5000 people had been stranded at Hannover Central Station the night before. Hannover had opened its underground bunker to accomodate them. Must have been quite an adventure.

    Saturday was spend having a late breakfast, a leisurely stroll through the City and in particular some bookshops with Mausi's sister, and a joint effort of all family members to cook dinner - a real success! All too sudden it was Sunday morning and Mausi had to go back again.

    Mausi had to change trains on her way to Wiesbaden in Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe, a station which is also known as 'Palace of the Winds' (if you've ever been blown about on the platform there you know why) and is quite famous because when it was completed sometime at the end of the 90's they discovered that the restrooms had been forgotten in the original design ... After a cold 15 minutes in Kassel Mausi finally entered her train to Frankfurt/Main. Next stop was to be Fulda, a former German/German border town. Well, the train stopped a few minutes before Fulda due to a technical problem. Stops like that are never a good sign. In this case, however, the train was able to resume operation after only 10 minutes but at reduced maximum speed. It can go at almost 300 km/h, now it was reduced to 160 km/h. On the whole Mausi prefers train rides to going by car. Mausi can read in trains, relax and prepare herself for the business ahead. What Mausi hates is going by train and having to catch connections. She still had to from Frankfurt/Main to Wiesbaden and guess where her connections had gone after she arrived 30 minutes late in Frankfurt. Only by jogging along the platform and dashing down the escalator was she able to catch a local train without having to spend another hour in Frankfurt. Bit of luck - the 1st class compartment was almost deserted and clean for a change, while people were piling up like sardines in a tin in the rest of the carriage.

    Looking at the clear blue sky with only a few puffy white clouds and the brilliant sunshine when leaving the station made more than up for all the inconviences during the journey.

    Posted by Mausi at 09:30 PM | TrackBack

    January 21, 2007


    Every country has its character, and Europe as a whole has a variety. Germany changes from State to State and it's quite fascinating looking at the differences. Large parts of Wiesbaden look like any modern city, but then, from the top of a building you suddenly find yourself looking at a skyline that says "Germany".

    The skyline on the older part of Wiesbaden, the towers, and the roof styles all speak of Europe, in particular the area of the Rhine Hesse and Rhine Pfalz.

    I wonder if in future our descendents will be able to say the same?

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:54 PM | TrackBack

    January 19, 2007

    Historical fun .....

    I have ruined German history for Mausi. I think I may have mentioned this before in this blog, but as a school boy, I was one of the class (I wonder how many other kids suffered from the same misunderstanding?) that sat enthralled listening to our teacher talking about the "Diet of Worms" and other wonders of the Reformation. When I explained what we had thought she was talking about to Mausi, it took a while for Mausi to stop laughing and now she cannot pass the City of Worms without seeing a lot of fur clad, medieval clergymen stuffing their faces with worms.

    So Mausi's revenge. Take me to Worms. To the very cathedral in which the Diet met. I'm afraid we spent some of the time there giggling at the images of the schoolroom, but it is another beautiful place, one with a vast history. We got there rather late and in failing evening light. But I was able to get the picture below from the town fountain, the centre piece of which is a statue of Siegfried. Why? Well, for those familiar with the Ring Cycle, they will know that the city of Worms is the place where Siegfried threw the ring into the river ....

    The ancient cathedral of Worms seen from its West end. Note the great circular turret towers.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:35 PM | TrackBack

    January 18, 2007

    Schoolboy howlers

    Sometimes someone sends you something that is uproariously funny and which you just have to share around, but this latest one suggests that there is a lot wrong in the education of our kids, particularly when it comes to real history, rather than the Homer Simpson variety!

    I read through the list my daughter sent me with quite a smile and I share a couple of the best here. For the rest, may I respectfully suggest that you look at the embedded link above! It is worth the effort. Now, some of the best:

    The sun never set on the British Empire because the British Empire is in the East and the sun sets in the West. Queen Victoria was the longest queen. She sat on a thorn for 63 years. Her reclining years and finally the end of her life were exemplary of a great personality. Her death was the final event which ended her reign.

    Well, I always wondered about that! But the musicians will love this one ....

    Bach was the most famous composer in the world, and so was Handel. Handel was half German, half Italian, and half English. He was very large. Bach died from 1750 to the present. Beethoven wrote music even though he was deaf. He was so deaf he wrote loud music. He took long walks in the forest even when everyone was calling for him. Beethoven expired in 1827 and later died for this.

    Poor Beethoven - imagine dying of expiring ..... I wonder what had expired? His Klavier License? And this mangled view of English history contains the suggestion of a little bit more ....

    The government of England was a limited mockery. Henry VIII found walking difficult because he had an abbess on his knee. Queen Elizabeth was the "Virgin Queen." As a queen she was a success. When Elizabeth exposed herself before her troops, they all shouted, "hurrah." Then her navy went out and defeated the Spanish Armadillo.

    Nothing much has changed in government then .... but, I wonder if the RSPCA should be alerted to what Drake, Effingham and others did to the Armadillo, after all if they prosecute people for letting their dogs get too fat ....

    While I can understand American kids having trouble with European history, I found their view of a key part of their own hilarious ....

    Abraham Lincoln became America's greatest president. Lincoln's mother died in infancy, and he was born in a log cabin which he built with his own hands. When Lincoln was President, he wore only a tall silk hat. He said, "In onion there is strength." Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg address while traveling from Washington to Gettysburg on the back of an envelope. He also freed the slaves by signing the Emasculation Proclamation, and the Fourteenth Amendment gave the ex-Negroes citizenship. But the Clue Clux Clan would torcher and lynch the ex-Negroes and other innocent victims. It claimed it represented law and odor. On the night of April 14, 1865, Lincoln went to the theater and got shot in his seat by one of the actors in a moving picture show. The believed assinator was John Wilkes Booth, a supposingly insane actor. This ruined Booth's career.

    The Emasculation Proclamation brings tears to the eyes, never mind the strength in the Onion .....

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:19 PM | TrackBack

    January 11, 2007


    Mausi treated herself to a late Christmas present yesterday - an LCD screen for her computer. The difference to the old CRT one is spectacular. It sent Mausi thinking how much technology has leapt forward during the last twenty years when Mausi encountered her first Personal Computer at University.

    When studying for her doctorate Mausi's supervising professor didn't believe in the necessity of personal computers for his graduate students. He blandly refused to buy them one. So Mausi and five of her colleagues pooled their money and bought one themselves - an Apple IIe! Great machine - you could almost watch it doing calculations but it served its purpose very well. Compared to today the small screen was a nightmare of course - alien green letters on black. Mausi and her colleagues even had a word processor programme for it which was very user unfriendly compared to modern ones but much more convenient than a typewriter when it came to writing publications because you could easily alter passages of text. Embedding photos or graphics into the text was of course an unheard of technology back then.

    At about the same time the nature of and first applications for liquid crystals were researched and examined in another group at the same institute. From what Mausi saw of liquid crystals at that time she would never have dreamt that she would live to see them turned into something as useful as such a state-of-the-art LCD computer screen. Mausi still remembers her father using one of the first laptops with an LCD screen - blue letters on a sand coloured/whitish background. About 10 lines would find room on the entire screen and you could easily type faster than the letters would appear.

    Nothing compared to this one - where even computer games involving the most elaborate 3-D graphic displays work like magic. Mind you, it's not that Mausi and her colleagues didn't have fun with their old Apple during their lunch break or after finishing their experiments when they were too exhausted to think straight but had to wait for the pumps of their experimental set-ups to cool down before going home. Among their favourite games were Taxman (much like Pacman) and Loadrunner. Simple graphics but great fun. Then they had one where the hero would go on a treasure hunt in a pyramid, open chests and things like that and had to fight various monsters at the same time. With computer mice still awaiting invention the controls on the keyboard were rather difficult to work and all but two of Mausi's colleagues would get their fingers hopelessly entangled in the effort.

    Ahh - those were the days! At least you had no difficulties in telling the difference between a computer game and reality.

    Posted by Mausi at 09:16 PM | TrackBack

    January 02, 2007

    Ship's, windows and printing

    Off to Mainz today for a visit to a museum of Antique Ships, the Chagall windows in a restored church and the Gutenberg museum. A cheaters post then this one - but I promise to be good and post some thoughts on the visit over the next few days!

    Hope you are all over the celebrations - the fireworks in the valley below Mausi's home were impressive for their sheer volume! Now I know what the trenches in WW1 must have sounded like.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:35 AM | TrackBack

    January 01, 2007

    Welcome 2007

    For us 2007 started with watching the fire works in the town on the other side of the valley. Living on top of a hill has advantages at this time of the year. The Monk said it rather sounded like WW III but it wasn't as bad as that. Just a very colourful display of rocket explosions of all kinds and sizes.

    Today we've made an attempt at working off last evening's repast by a stroll through the park in the nearby town of Bad Schwalbach. We were hit by gusty winds and heavy rain showers so that trying to prevent the umbrella from getting broken and to avoid getting hit on the head by twigs and branches coming down the tall trees became quite a task. Eventually however, the sky cleared up and we were able to enjoy the fresh air.

    HAPPY NEW YEAR to all of you!

    Posted by Mausi at 05:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    December 30, 2006

    Die Zauberflöte

    And the title is about as far as the Monk dares to go without Mausi's advice on the grammar! Last night we visited the Opera, and, yes, it was the Magic Flute. And yes, it was in German and not English. That said it was a very good production indeed, Papagino and Papagena were top notch and Tamino and Pamina likewise, although Papagino did have the better presence on stage.

    The scenery and setting of the opera was interesting, but the overall impression was terrific. The casting of Zarastra, the King of the Night, and his priests was interesting as were their costumes - white robes rather reminiscent of the robes of the Reformation period Theologians - representing the "Eskimos" around whom the story rotates, and some of the scene shifting was done by young boys and girls who are apparently drawn from theatre school in Wiesbaden and Mainz. Three boys who played an important linking role with the star crossed and bewitched lovers (both pairs!) sang beautifully and did their parts extremely well. They were drawn from the Mainz Dom Cathedral choir - a major change of role from their norm, but one they obviously enjoyed immensely!

    Probably leaving the best to last, the Queen of the Night, a diminutive Asian lady, sang her part fantastically. She was, as you would expect ably supported by the "savage" slaves - well out of place in the Arctic in grass skirts and Tropical style dress - and her Hand Maidens. Again, the costumes were amazingly exotic, yet fitted well with this Baroque romp.

    The Staats Theater, Wiesbaden, is a small and classic opera house, with semi-circular galleries and boxes above the main tiered floor. Internal decoration is best described as a riot of neo-Baroque, the theater having been built under the patronage of Kaiser Wilhelm II in the 1890's. The Grand Foyer boasts the Muses, the Graces, dozens of Cherubs and gilding all drawn together above the grand staircase by the Imperial Eagle.

    All in all, a fun evening, at a fun show and in great company. Who cares I only understood about a third of the dialogue - I have a fair idea of the story and its the music that really counts!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:44 PM | TrackBack

    December 28, 2006

    Absence of entries?

    As we have a long day planned for today - a visit to Frankfurt am Main to explore the Imperial past - there is not time to write anything meaningful for today. My apologies, but I promise to catch up tomorrow.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:21 AM | TrackBack

    December 23, 2006

    Mediæval Bæbes

    On Wednesday evening we had the fun of hearing the Mediæval Bæbes singing in the Abbey. The performance was good, the audience was large - my only complaint was that they used a sound amplification system which, in the Abbeys fantastic acoustic, actually did them no favours at all! The building was designed for the music and the instruments they use - all the amplifier did was fight against it.

    Their programme was good, nicely balanced and varied and they didn't disappoint with their repertoire. Their accompanying musicians were brilliant and the instruments were the ideal accompaniment to the voices. The cadences perfectly matched by the buildings natural resonance. It was a wonderful demonstration of the way in which the Norman builders exploited the vaults and arcading to project sound.

    The good news is that the Bæbes have said they'd like to do it again, and we would like to have them again. The one thing their sound engineer is keen to change though - is the sound system. He said afterwards that he learned a lot on this trip and our building and will change a few things next time.

    I'm looking forward to it already!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:41 PM | TrackBack

    December 17, 2006

    Billy the Blogging Poet

    Billy the Blogging Poet is an interesting chap - a former trucker who now earns a living blogging. It is now four years since he started blogging and in his own words he "found himself a success for the first time in his life". He tells me that he is only one unexpected bill away from having to take up regular work again. He runs two blogs, of which The Poet gets 30,000 hits a month! I should be this lucky! He lives in Greensboro, the Blogging Capital of the USA I am told, and has appeared on the local radio station and Fox Television.

    One reason I have taken a bit of an interest in this is tha\t I learned that they have used their blogs to raise a very large amount of money for people in need and other charitable causes. "Blogsboro" has become a bit of a model for other bloggers with its own networks covering various aspects of life from politics to the arts. These can be found altmedia, greensboro101 and poetry. The City of Greenboro has televised council and county meetings among the politicians is to ask "What will the bloggers say about this". In fact they are such a political force now that the city has on occassion been forced to reverse policy decisions. If only the UK bloggers could gang up in the same way! Even more interesting is that the bloggers span the political spectrum and often fight among themselves (without actually raining blows on each other!) but then get together for a beer or whatever.

    They also hold regular conventions with speakers on topics oif interest to their members - and the politicians take care to visit and be visible!

    Billy uses his site to promote people who write or make music - not the mainstream, but those struggling to get recognised. Those who need a boost to get started. As he says, he thinks Eric Clapton is the best musician around, but he also gets more than enough publicity - so Billy promotes those who don't get the support of the record companies. He does this with books as well - again, if you appreciate that there are 2,000 new books a week launched in the US alone, you also get the drift that many of these will simply submerge without trace, swamped under the sheer volume of new works emerging! I sincerely hope that mine is not one of them and so I appreciate the fact that Billy has listed mine on his Blogshoppe site.

    Will his site make any of the featured authors and artists rich? Probably not, but it does give them an airing and the support they get from no one else.

    Do visit Billy's site. It helps keep him in the "B Listings" and it also helps the charities he is helping suppoprt and promote. A very worthy cause and a very worthy effort on his part.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:39 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    December 14, 2006

    Getting in the Mood for Christmas

    Having lived all her life in the northern hemisphere Mausi always associates the weeks around Christmas with snow, excessive cold and refresing gusts of arctic air. All of which makes her look forward to getting inside, lighting a candle and making herself comfortable on the sofa with a hot drink and a good book. But this year Mausi finds it extremely difficult to get herself into the mood for Christmas which is now less than two weeks away. Temperatures during the day are above 10 Celsius and instead of the refreshing arctic air and a clear blue sky a lot of fog comes up in the mornings and tries to linger all day. Believe it or not - one of Mausi's roses is still in bloom and the birds are singing and making a racket in the morning as if it were spring.

    But yesterday evening Mausi took a first step to adjust herself to the season. She went to a Christmas dinner with 34 of her colleagues at a restaurant which has once been a mill.

    Restaurant 'Wambacher Mühle' with Christmas decorations

    The owner of the restaurant has set up a museum next to his restaurant. The upper storey of the museum is used as an extension of the restaurant and here Mausi and her colleagues sat down to dinner. A beautiful surrounding indeed. The owner has not only collected old mill stones but also work benches and all kinds of tools and things from old crafts. It's been great fun walking around and looking at things from trades and crafts that are almost forgotten nowadays.

    A small selection of a most astonishing collection

    Dining in this room felt like being right at Santa Claus's workshop. A very befitting surrounding for a Christmas dinner. The Christmas tree at the entrance added the finishing touches to the atmosphere. It was decorated the way Mausi likes best - just candles (all right, lights in this case) and red decorations. Beautiful.

    The Christmas tree - beautiful!

    Even better, when Mausi left the place her car was covered by a thin layer of frosted air and temperature was down to -2 Celsius! Well, it's a start after all - Mausi's starting to look forward to Christmas coming up soon.

    Posted by Mausi at 10:04 PM | TrackBack

    December 09, 2006

    And now for a bit of fun ....

    I am flattered to have my book being promoted on a Blog which devotes itself to, as the author describes it, "wagging the long tail of books, literature, poetry and music". Billy the Blogging Poet, aka Billy Jones has put my book into his "stock" on his Blogshoppe and, I suspect, porbably increased my exposure to the wider public enormously.

    Rejection slips continue to arrive from the literary agents, so I soldier on clinging to the thought that IBM once said that there was no future in desktop computers. Interestingly the latest one, the agent has patently not even bothered to do more than take the submission out of my envelope and shove it into the return with a slip. How do I know? The submission was in an opaque wallet with a small seal on the mouth. The seal is unbroken. People telling me I can't have or do something perversely makes me all the more determined to achieve it, so any help from people like Billy is very welcome.

    On another positive note, my short story prequel to the book is now with Amazon and looks set to be offered on their Amazon Shorts page shortly. When it goes live I will publish the links to it from this blog. These short stories are designed to be tasters to authors work and to raise the authors profile so I am eagerly looking forward to getting that it will soon be available. At $0.49c a story there isn't anything really for the author other than the exposure to the market. That I want, and that I plan to keep pushing for.

    Out of TIme by Patrick G Cox is available from W H Smith, Waterstones (Its in stock in their Oxford Street London store now - honest!), Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon (Germany) and Amazon (France)!

    On a more positive note, having now talked directly to Amazon, I mentioned the difficulty in locating my book or my authorship on their site - and behold, it is now fixed. Things can only get better from here!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:48 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    December 07, 2006

    Doing the Christmas Card thing .....

    Every year I decide sometime in October that I am going to get ahead of the Christmas Post. And every December, right about now, I find I am about to hit the postal deadline with no cards yet ready to send out. This year seems to have been, if anything, slightly worse than ever!

    First, I didn't place my usual order for cards from the Mission to Seafarers when I should have. Fortunately, they are on the ball, so when I did, I got the cards pretty promptly. Now all I have to do is write them and make sure they get into the post. Oh, and do some present shopping. Assuming I can find things for the extended family that are (a) things they really need, and (b) I can afford them. And I have several tasks to complete before Christmas which are necessary so that I can continue to pay the mortgage and - on the other side of the coin - sort out the tax issues that go with being self employed!

    Who said retirement was a time to enjoy life? I am rapidly discovering that it is hard work!

    Every year though I try to send out cards to all my friends, the problem is that many of them are scattered across the globe, so it is essential that I get them in the post by Saturday at the latest - or there is less than no chance they will get them by Christmas. So, please excuse the paucity of this post, but I had better start writing cards - or they simply will not get posted.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:51 PM | TrackBack

    November 30, 2006

    It never rains ....

    Well, the Monk retired round six weeks ago and thought he'd have time to catch up on all the tasks he has not had time to do in the last months he was at work. It hasn't quite worked out like that, for one thing there seem to be more demands on his time than ever before. For another, suddenly it seems to be pouring with work offers - only one problem - they all want his services in the same period. January to April.

    So what's the problem? Well. two of the jobs on the table are offering a minimum of nine weeks work - the problem is that they overlap, they are both going to pay well, but they are at opposite sides of the world! One would require the Monk to be in "Forn Parts" for the whole nine weeks - the other would allow him to be at home for most of it, but still working on the primary task. One pays slightly more than the other, but, the lesser pay one also offers the chance of more work in the future, while the foreign one could be a one off, or maybe a twice and then nothing.

    In an ideal world the jobs could be kept apart and handled sequentially. This isn't an ideal world. So, while driving to County Durham tomorrow to attend a meeting and then driving back on Friday, the Monk will be giving this a lot of thought.

    Pray for him!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:55 PM | TrackBack

    November 29, 2006

    You have to love those "dam" bureaucrats ....

    This was forwarded to me by a friend, its probably been around a few times, but - well, I can't resist having another pop at the bureaucratic mindset ...

    This is an actual letter sent to a man named Ryan DeVries by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, State of Michigan. This guy's response is hilarious, but read the State's letter before you get to the response letter. (This is the State's Letter!)

    SUBJECT: DEQ File No.97-59-0023; T11N; R10W, Sec. 20; Montcalm County

    Dear Mr. DeVries:

    It has come to the attention of the Department of Environmental Quality that there has been recent unauthorized activity on the above referenced parcel of property. You have been certified as the legal landowner and/or contractor who did the following unauthorized activity:

    Construction and maintenance of two wood debris dams across the outlet stream of Spring Pond.

    A permit must be issued prior to the start of this type of activity. A review of the department's files shows that no permits have been issued. Therefore, the Department has determined that this activity is in violation of Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act, Act 451 of the Public Acts
    of 1994, being sections 324.30101 to 324.30113 of the Michigan Compiled Laws, annotated.

    The Department has been informed that one or both of the dams partially failed during a recent rain event, causing debris and flooding at downstream locations. We find that dams of this nature are inherently hazardous and cannot be permitted. The Department therefore orders you to cease and desist all activities at this location, and to
    restore the stream to a free-flow condition by removing all wood and brush forming the dams from the stream channel. All restoration work shall be completed no later than January 31, 2005.

    Please notify this office when the restoration has been completed so that a follow-up site inspection may be scheduled by our staff. Failure to comply with this request or any further unauthorized
    activity on the site may result in this case being referred for elevated enforcement action. We anticipate and would appreciate your full cooperation in this matter. Please feel free to contact me at this office if you have any questions.


    David L. Price, District Representative
    Land and Water Management Division

    ** Here is the actual response sent back by Mr. DeVries: **

    Re: DEQ ! File No. 97-59-0023; T11N; R10W, Sec. 20; Montcalm County.

    Dear Mr. Price,

    Your certified letter dated 12/17/02 has been handed to me to respond to. I am the legal landowner but not the Contractor at 2088 Dagget, Pierson, Michigan. A couple of beavers are in the process of constructing and maintaining two wood "debris" dams across the outlet stream of my Spring Pond.

    While I did not pay for, authorize, nor supervise their dam project, I think they would be highly offended that you call their skillful use of natures building materials "debris." I would like to challenge your department to attempt to emulate their dam project any time and/or any place you choose.

    I believe I can safely state there is no way you could ever match their dam skills, their dam resourcefulness, their dam ingenuity, their dam persistence, their dam determination and/or their dam work ethic.

    As to your request, I do not think the beavers are aware that they must first fill out a dam permit prior to the start of this type of dam activity.

    My first dam question to you is: (1) Are you trying to discriminate against my Spring Pond Beavers, or (2) do you require all beavers throughout this state to conform to said dam request? If you are not discriminating against these particular beavers, through the Freedom of Information Act, I request completed copies of all those other applicable beaver dam permits that have been issued. Perhaps we will see if there really is a dam violation of Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act, Act 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, being sections 324.30101to 324.30113 of the Michigan Compiled Laws, annotated.

    I have several concerns. My first concern is; aren't the beavers entitled to legal representation? The Spring Pond Beavers are financially destitute and are unable to pay for said representation so the State will have to provide them with a dam lawyer. The Department's dam concern that either one or both of the dams failed during a recent rain event, causing flooding, is proof that this is a natural occurrence, which the Department is required to protect. In other words, we should leave the Spring Pond Beavers alone rather than harassing them and calling their dam names.

    If you want the stream "restored" to a dam free-flow condition please contact the beavers but if you are going to arrest them, they obviously did not pay any attention to your dam letter, they being unable to read English.

    In my humble opinion, the Spring Pond Beavers have a right to build their unauthorized dams as long as the sky is blue, the grass is green and water flows downstream. They have more dam rights than I do to live and enjoy Spring Pond. If the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection lives up to its name, it should protect the natural resources (Beavers) and the environment (Beavers' Dams).

    So, as far as the beavers and I are concerned, this dam case can be referred for more elevated enforcement action right now. Why wait until 1/31/2005? The Spring Pond Beavers may be under the dam ice then and there will be no way for you or your dam staff to contact/harass them then.

    In conclusion, I would like to bring to your attention to a real environmental quality (health) problem in the area. It is the bears! Bears are actually defecating in our woods. I definitely believe you should be persecuting the defecating bears and leave the beavers alone. If you are going to investigate the beaver dam, watch your step! (The bears are not careful where they dump!) Being unable to comply with your dam request, and being unable to contact you on your dam answering machine, I am sending this response to your dam office.


    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:08 PM | TrackBack

    November 28, 2006

    And a big congratulations to Mausi - give her a big hand folks!

    This morning, while the Monk was fuming at his inability to find the thing he needed, Mausi sent him a Text on his mobile. Now Mausi's text messages are always fun and nice to receive, but this one made the Monk drop his search and reach for the phone!

    A big hand for the new head of a very important section of one of Europe's leading criminal investigation bureau! Mausi is now the head of that organisations fire investigation section, and in charge of a team of dedicated and highly qualified forensic scientists. The Monk stands in awe of their work - some of them are specialists in fields he has to look up in the encyclopedia, and sometimes ask how you spell it first! Mausi is herself highly qualified and, for those of you who haven't already worked this out, has a doctorate in carbon particle formation - see her post on nano-tubes - and wonder no more!

    Congratulations Mausi! Bad guys watch out, the fire investigation section was good before, it is going to get a whole lot better from here on in!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:54 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    November 27, 2006

    Seasonal tides ....

    The long dry summer is obviously at an end. The last several days have seen rain, rain and more rain, heavy "bursts" as the weather office describes them, interspersed with just rain! Tonight will see some more apparently as the next front moves over our island home. This afternoon I walked out during a brief period of beautiful sunshine - at least it was over Tewkesbury, about five miles to the South East it was pouring - to take a series of pictures of the Abbey with the Swilgate sream in flood. The Swilgate is a tributary of the Severne, flowing into it near Lower Lode, although, since around 1350 it has been linked to the Mill Avon just West of the Abbey itself.

    The flooded Vineyards park on the South side of the Abbey, normally the Swilgate is a lazy little trickle through the park. To the left in the picture is the Georgian frontage of the Abbots House, the interiors and North side still very much the 14th and 15th Century structure.

    The Abbey stands on a raised area between the confluence of the Mill Avon (a manmade river from the Old Avon at the King John's Bridge end of town) and the Swilgate. In the days of the Abbey's functioning as a monastic community, the Swilgate provided water for the Fish Ponds and the Lavatorium via a man made diversion which brought water into the Abbey buildings (now demolished) so that the Lavatorium always had running clean water. Another diversion, upstream of the Lavatorium, diverted water into the Fish Ponds where fish were farmed for the Monk's table. Various indications of these features are still traceable, but almost everything recogniseable is now gone. The Mill Avon was cut in the 14th Century to provide water for the Abbey's Mill, recently converted into a number of flats. The barns and stables for the Mill are now all houses at the rear of the Bell Hotel, which was another piece of Abbey property, built to house visitors and pilgrims. When you look at the cut and the embankment the cutting created you are forced to marvel at the effort that must have been expended by simple muscle power.

    The picture was taken from the lower edge of the mound on which there once stood the Holme Castle, a Saxon fortress built for the Earl's of Gloucster and in use, despite several fires and rebuildings until sometime in the 15th Century, after which it was "slighted" and then, probably because it was largely a timber structure with a stone curtain wall, it was quarried and destroyed. Only the mound remains.

    It is good to see our tide returning, last year we had none, so this year seems to have started early. Of interest to those with a geographic bent - the Severn drains the North Wales hills and mountains and heavy rain there sends the water down the river. The rising Severn causes the Avon and the Swilgate to back up and so Tewkesbury gets a flood across our flood plains and low lying areas even if we have not had a lot of rain. This time round, as I have said, we have had the rain too, so the tide is a little higher. Just as well it is not a full moon as well, because then the High Spring Tide in the estuary, causes the flood level to rise and fall with the tide range in the lower estuary.

    Its fun living next to two major rivers!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:13 PM | TrackBack

    November 25, 2006

    This writing bug ....

    This writing bug is fun. At least I find it so, but I do have a serious problem with it. There isn't much point in writing and enjoying writing if you can't get the book published and sold. I recently bought a copy of the Writers and Artists Year Book for 2007 and almost wished I hadn't when I read the Foreward - a forward written by one of our current best selling authors. But, I have to say that what I read there and deeper in the book has made me even more determined to find a way to get into the mainstream. No, I don't want to be on the bestseller list - it would be nice, but I think I would find that a little too demanding at my time of life. All I really want to see is my books on sale in the regular stores where people can see them, feel them and hopefully, because of that, buy them.

    Very few authors make millions from their work, and I don't aspire to do so either, but a steady trickle of royalties would be nice to boost my pension and give me the pocket money to do the things I haven't yet had time to do. So, I am now composing letters to various agents and taking a flyer at a couple of publishers as well. We shall see what happens from there, at least I have the book in print, rather well presented if I say so myself, and I have a sequel to it in a state in which I can show a manuscript to an agent or publisher. My biggest stumbling block is myself! I am one of those irritating people who never likes to launch something important into a mail system - I like to deal with people face to face, but that is not the way the publishing world works.

    It may come as a surprise to learn that there are something like 178,000 new titles published in the US alone every year. On those odds you do have to ask yourself how do any of them actually get noticed? Well, of course, the answer is that many, like my own, don't. It comes down to advertising and budgets, if you have them you get noticed, if you don't .....

    But, there are ways this can be addressed, so I will say to you - watch this space. In the meantime I do have a space on Amazon which is supposed to help me reach a readership. So far its pretty invisible but give it a whirl anyway, see what comes up if you visit Amazon and search for my book and pen name "Patrick G Cox". It will certainly help boost my "hit" rate!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:46 PM | TrackBack

    November 21, 2006

    A fun plug?

    One of the Postulant's friends in the US has bought my book - and evidently feels it's worth plugging it! He has posted the photo below on a Forum he frequents and is working on a review. I like this guy - and his T-Shirt slogan says a great deal.


    The book is available from Amazon UK or Amazon US or Amazon Germany and I dare say many more as well as from W H Smith (On order) and Waterstones (on order).

    The interesting thing about this little exercise has been discovering just how difficult it is to use the book sellers search engines. You would think that "Out of time" is distinct from "Time Out", but evidently not. Even asking for results in alphabetical order produces Time Out (400 plus guides) ahead of everything else. I am told this is because the big publishers pay to have their products come up on any and every combination of search on these sites. The second thing is the revelation of just how difficult it is for the small author making his first entree into the market to get into the system. You are up against the bottomless promotion budgets of the big publishers who think nothing of throwing £100,000 at promoting their latest offering which tends to leave the small man at the bottom of the stack where his or her book is never even going to see the light of a display shelf. Even getting a review published in a magazine, a newspaper or aired on radio or television is down to how much money you or your publisher is prepared to throw at the chosen medium. It seems that the rule is, no money up front, no review.

    So, let me say right now that I appreciate the help and support of every single person who has taken the trouble to buy the book or even to vist any of the sellers sites and search for it. I hope it gives you as much fun and pleasure reading it as I had from writing it. Will I give up after this? Probably not, I am one of those who always swims against the current and tackles the man-eating giant, its what I do, so I will keep pushing at doors until someone notices. Anyone who wants tio help me do the pushing is welcome to join my little tilt at the great big windmills.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:32 PM | TrackBack

    November 18, 2006

    Not for the faint hearted!

    A friend in SA has sent me the hilarious pronouncements in the extended post following this. I have lifted it verbatim from his e-mail as it is one of those cautionary tales that really does need to be considered carefully. I have long had a rule that I do not fly with national airlines that normally fit roof racks for luggage to buses, cars, lorries trains and 747's. I have now added this airline to my list.

    My personal favourite announcement from these cowboys is the smoking notice. It's funny, but I think I'll take another airline until I'm feeling terminally insane!

    Kulula is an Airline with head office situated in Johannesburg.

    Kulula airline attendants make an effort to make the in-flight "safety lecture" and announcements a bit more entertaining. Here are some Real examples that have been heard or reported:

    On a Kulula flight, (there is no assigned seating, you just sit where you want) passengers were apparently having a hard time choosing, when a flight attendant announced, "People, people we're not picking out furniture here, find a seat and get in it!"


    On another flight with a very "senior" flight attendant crew, the pilot said, "Ladies and gentlemen, we've reached cruising altitude and will be turning down the cabin lights. This is for your comfort and to enhance the appearance of your flight attendants."


    On landing, the stewardess said, "Please be sure to take all of your belongings. If you're going to leave anything, please make sure it's something we'd like to have."


    "There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but there are only 4 ways out of this airplane."


    "Thank you for flying Kulula. We hope you enjoyed giving us the business as much as we enjoyed taking you for a ride."


    As the plane landed and was coming to a stop at Durban Airport , a lone voice came over the loudspeaker: "Whoa, big fella. WHOA!"


    After a particularly rough landing during thunderstorms in the Karoo, a flight attendant on a flight announced, "Please take care when opening the overhead compartments because, after a landing like that, sure as hell everything has shifted."


    From a Kulula employee: "Welcome aboard Kulula 245 to Johannesburg. To operate your seat belt, insert the metal tab into the buckle, and pull tight. It works just like every other seat belt; and, if you don't know how to operate one, you probably shouldn't be out in public unsupervised."


    "In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, masks will descend from the ceiling. Stop screaming, grab the mask, and pull it over your face. If you have a small child travelling with you, secure your mask before assisting with theirs. If you are travelling with more than one small child, pick your favourite."


    Weather at our destination is 50 degrees with some broken clouds, but we'll try to have them fixed before we arrive. Thank you, and remember, nobody loves you, or your money, more than Kulula Airlines."


    "Your seats cushions can be used for flotation; and in the event of an emergency water landing, please paddle to shore and take them with our compliments."


    "As you exit the plane, make sure to gather all of your belongings. Anything left behind will be distributed evenly among the flight attendants. Please do not leave children or spouses."


    And from the pilot during his welcome message: "Kulula Airlines is pleased to announce that we have some of the best flight attendants in the industry. Unfortunately, none of them are on this flight!"


    Heard on Kulula 255 just after a very hard landing in Cape Town: The flight attendant came on the intercom and said, "That was quite a bump and I know what y'all are thinking. I'm here to tell you it wasn't the airline's fault, it wasn't the pilot's fault, it wasn't the flight attendant's fault, it was the asphalt."


    Overheard on a Kulula flight into Cape Town , on a particularly windy and bumpy day: During the final approach, the Captain really had to fight it. After an extremely hard landing, the Flight Attendant said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to The Mother City . Please remain in your seats with your seat belts fastened while the Captain taxis what's left of our airplane to the gate!"


    Another flight attendant's comment on a less than perfect landing: "We ask you to please remain seated as Captain Kangaroo bounces us to the terminal."


    An airline pilot wrote that on this particular flight he had hammered his ship into the runway really hard. The airline had a policy which required the first officer to stand at the door while the passengers exited, smile, and give them a "Thanks for flying our airline. He said that, in light of his bad landing, he had a hard time looking the passengers in the eye, thinking that someone would have a smart comment. Finally everyone had gotten off except for a little old lady walking with a cane. She said, "Sir, do you mind if I ask you a question?" "Why, no Ma'am," said the pilot. "What is it?" The little old lady said, "Did we land, or were we shot down?"


    After a real crusher of a landing in Johannesburg, the attendant came on with, "Ladies and Gentlemen, please remain in your seats until Captain Crash and the Crew have brought the aircraft to a screeching halt against the gate. And, once the tire smoke has cleared and the warning bells are silenced, we will open the door and you can pick your way through the wreckage to the terminal."


    Part of a flight attendant's arrival announcement: "We'd like to thank you folks for flying with us today. And, the next time you get the insane urge to go blasting through the skies in a pressurized metal tube, we hope you'll think of Kulula Airways."


    Heard on a Kulula flight. "Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to smoke, the smoking section on this airplane is on the wing. If you can light 'em, you can smoke 'em."


    A plane was taking off from Durban Airport. After it reached a comfortable cruising altitude, the captain made an announcement over the intercom, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Welcome to Flight Number 293, non-stop from Durban to Cape Town, The weather ahead is good and, therefore, we should have a smooth and uneventful flight. Now sit back and relax... OH, MY GOD!" Silence followed, and after a few minutes, the captain came back on the intercom and said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so sorry if I scared you earlier. While I was talking to you, the flight attendant accidentally spilled a cup of hot coffee in my lap. You should see the front of my pants!" A passenger then yelled, "That's buggerall. You should see the back of mine!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:13 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    November 13, 2006

    The Art of being Punctual

    I remember The Monk telling me once with deep conviction 'All your German trains are punctual'. I wondered what had put that idea into his head for my own perception had been quite different. And it is corroborated by an article in the newspaper today: The Deutsche Bahn (German Railway) wants 87% of her long-distance trains to be punctual but only 78,5% are! Interestingly, only 51% of the ICE Sprinter, which should provide the fastest connection between two cities, are punctual on the Frankfurt/Main - Berlin line. 60% are punctual between Hamburg and Cologne and 79% between Hamburg and Frankfurt/Main.

    The reasons are numerous but mostly due to old railroad tracks that are in urgent need of repair and replacement. Quite a number of 'low-speed sections' are found nowadays even on tracks that are used by high-speed trains. Railroad works cannot catch up fast enough.

    Not good enough, if you ask me. What is the justification for demanding an extra charge for the ICE Sprinter if the Deutsche Bahn doesn't get you to your destination on time? And what's even more annoying Deutsche Bahn has creatively redefined 'punctuality'. It means you don't arrive somewhere more than 5 minutes late (at least I think it is 5 minutes, might be 3, but still). That doesn't sound like much but it may easily wreck your schedule if you have to catch a connection.

    I remember a particularly nightmarish journey from Wiesbaden to Zweibrücken in the Southwest of Germnay. I was due to appear in court there at 3 p.m. The first leg of the journey was from Wiesbaden to Mainz by a local train, a very short journey, as Wiesbaden and Mainz are situated opposite each other on the banks of the River Rhine. Believe it or not the train managed to lose 10 minutes during a few kilometers. I would have missed my connection from Mainz to Mannheim but luckily that train was late as well. Bit of luck! And still a few minutes to spare for changing trains in Mannheim. I needed those because I had to go to another platform in Mannheim. Or rather run! Good thing I only had a briefcase to carry! I jumped into the train, the doors closed and we were on our way to Homburg. There I would have to take a bus to Zweibrücken which ran every half hour. I had timed my arrival in Homburg so that I would be able to catch the bus at 2 p.m. which would give me half an hour in Zweibrücken to find the right building. Great plan! For some unknown reason the train stopped only a few hundred meters from Homburg and would only continue in its own good time. Okay. I finally arrived in Zweibrücken at 3 p.m. The bus stop was just outside the court building and I rushed breathlessly into the courtroom. Only to find out that the Court had taken the opportunity to have a coffee break!

    The journey back wasn't much better because I missed a connection in between and had to wait for ages for the next train. Not much fun in winter! Well, I probably shouldn't complain because I got back home before midnight. If you have to travel with Deutsche Bahn you learn quickly to be thankful for little things.

    Posted by Mausi at 06:13 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    November 08, 2006

    Doing my thing ....

    The picture is an old one - but it makes me go off into the realms of memory - happy ones - so I'll share it. It was taken in 1983 and shows the Gray Monk doing what he enjoys most of all, sailing! Extravagance is the only boat he has ever owned and probably will be. She was an Olympic Class Fireball with the pennant number K1013 and was one of the most exciting boats anyone could possibly want to sail.

    Extravagance gathers way on a broad reach. The Monk's crew, believe it or not, in this photo was the Sub Dean of Bloemfontein Cathedral.

    Fireball's are fast and demanding craft to sail, with only the helmsman/skipper and the single crewman. With every sail set it carries a mainsail, jib and a spinnaker and the centre board gives an overall depth of 3 feet and nine inches. On a reach, with the the wind abeam or over the quarter these boats will get up and plane across the water and even when working to windward, Extravagance was inclined to lift her nose and get onto a plane, something which could work against you in some conditions. Our record run with her was an occassion when we overtook a motor boat towing a water skier. The look on the faces of the speed boat skipper and his tow were priceless.

    I have sailed dinghies since I was about fourteen, having started in a Sprog, a boat about 14 feet overall and quite lively and fast. As a Class they are similar to the popular GP14 in the UK, but narrower and faster. They were very popular in South Africa until the advent of the Hobycat which killed off many dinghy clubs because the Hoby's, while faster on the straight runs, invariably cluttered up the marker bouys and got in everyone else's way. Eventually the Hoby's squeezed the dinghies out of the races and finally out of the clubs. A great shame, because, while I will concede that they are fun to sail, they are not good sea keepers. I'll take a dinghy any day.

    Ah, for the pleasure of a boat in my dotage - but probably not another Fireball!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:58 PM | TrackBack

    November 04, 2006

    "The book" is now on Amazon as well!

    In case you've missed it - my book is now available on Amazon, but at a higher price than on Author House, although I note with interest that the Amazon prices vary! Even more intersting is the fact that typing in the title only produces masses of entries for "Time out" in cities everywhere around the world, but not the book! You have to use title and author name in full, Out of Time by Patrick G Cox. So, please feel free to visit Amazon or the US Amazon site and shop around for it - or visit Author House or the US and get it there.

    cover[1] full.jpg

    And if anyone reading this has read the book and would like to venture an opinion, feel free to post your comments and critique on Amazon!

    Even more intriguing is the fact that someone has already read it and is selling it on! Yup, there is a second hand copy already on sale. Not sure if thats a good or a bad sign just yet .....

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:01 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    October 28, 2006

    Places of note

    OK, I know, I can't help being pleased with the idea of my book being in print. The picture below is also described in the book, it is the view from Harry's "home" of Strangford Lough. The soft rolling country around the Lough is fairly typical of the County. The Lough is famous for many things, but probably the most unusual feature is the fact that the entrance to the sea has a "step" in it at certain states of the tide. This can be as much as four feet difference in the water levels on either side as the tide runs in or out. There is a ferry between Portaferry and Strangford villages on opposite sides of the entrance.

    Harrys view.JPG
    Strangford Lough seen from the High Road across Scrabo's Eastern flank.

    County Down is beautiful, green, well watered (it rains a lot!) and very ancient landscape. This is the countryside where Saint Patrick lived and worked as a boy slave and later as the missionary Bishop. He is buried outside the Cathedral of Downpatrick - dedicated, of course, to the saint! It certainly gives me a special feel to walk the roads and paths my grandfather once trod.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    October 27, 2006

    Names and places ...

    I was asked recently where I had got the idea for my book. It's a long story really, but it has been bubbling away for a while in my head. Many of the places I have described (the one's on earth anyway!) actually exist and many have a family connection. The house in the photograph in this post is the one I have described as Harry Heron's home in Ulster, on the shoulder of Scrabo and overlooking Strangford Lough to the South East and Newtownards to the East. In my grandfather's childhood it belonged to his uncle and he helped with the harvest and various other things on the farm - as all children did in the early years of the twentieth century and for time immemorial before that.

    Harrys house.JPG
    The house still sits on the High Road along the eastern flank of Scrabo, having been extended and remodelled a couple of times in its long histoory.

    Among the things which sparked the kernal of the idea for this book was the recent discovery of a great deal more of my grandfather's history. A Sergeant in the Royal Garrison Artillery at 16 and a half - the army records have it as 19 and a half - he had survived by that point the slaughter of the Somme in which his original Regiment ceased to exist and been retrained and reposted to the RGA. Why? Because with half his thigh missing he was no longer fit for the infantry! He and his lifelong friend were both wounded on the first day of the Somme and lay in no man's land for two days before they were found and taken back to a field hospital. It was the maggots in their wounds that saved them from losing limbs and probably their lives.

    He was a remarkable man - born when horses were still the chief mode of transport and of agricultural power, he saw the growth of steam power, its replacement by internal combustion engines, the first flights and men on the moon. He never stopped wondering about life and the wonders of the world around him and he never let his friends down when they needed him. He died almost penniless, but loved by a huge number of people - the church overflowed at his funeral and the rich and famous rubbed shoulders with the many who had nothing at all. He left Ireland in 1921 and never went home, although he never lost his love for the country he was born in and supported his mother and sister until their deaths and finally his.

    Why did I start my story with Harry aged 15? Because Henry Nelson Heron was 15 when he joined the Enniskillen Fusiliers and 16 years 1 month and ten days when he was almost killed on the Somme.

    I hope you'll like the book!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:43 PM | TrackBack

    October 26, 2006

    In print at last!

    My book is now in print and available online! "Out of time" is my fictional story exploring the future and using three young men from 1804 to look at a spacefaring adventure set in 2204. It can be bought at AuthorHouse in the US or at the UK based online shop, depending on whether you want to pay in US Dollars or Pounds Sterling. It is, I think, best described as science fiction, although it crosses some of the boundaries described as science fantasy. If you liked Babylon 5, Star Wars, Star Trek or Battlestar Galatica, I think you might just enjoy Harry and his friends as they find their feet four hundred years out of their own time.


    It has been a long and interesting journey to do this and I ended up with a self publishing house as I got sick of approaching agents who were either "not taking on any more authors at present" - never even read the synopsis - or "are refocussing on other areas of fiction" - in other words "we don't do sci-fantasy even though our ad says we do". Now that it is in print I am hoping it will at least recoup my outlay and provide me with that all important entree to an agent and a mainstream publisher. Why? Because the story of Harry Heron, Ferghal O'Connor and Daniel Gunn is not fully finished and has a lot left to tell.

    Please don't wait for the play or the film - buy the book!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:17 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    October 24, 2006

    Murphy's lesser known laws ....

    I simply had to share this collection of Murphy's Lesser-Known Dictums:

    Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

    He who laughs last, thinks slowest.

    Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't.

    Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.

    The 50-50-90 rule: Anytime you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there's a 90% probability you'll get it wrong.

    The things that come to those who wait will be the things left by those who got there first.

    Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will sit in a boat all day drinking beer.

    The shin bone is a device for finding furniture in a dark room.

    A fine is a tax for doing wrong. A tax is a fine for doing well.

    When you go into court, you are putting yourself In the hands of 12 people who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty.

    But, having spent most of my life in the Emergency Services, I still subscribe to O'Toole's Corollary to Murphy's original law.

    Murphy was an optimist.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:25 PM

    Another little brain teaser ...

    As you have undoubtedly noticed by now Mausi is somewhat fond of numbers and puzzles. She had a great time lately solving the one below.


    As in Sudoku each of the nine squares, each column and each row must contain the numbers 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9. Similar to Kakuro the little numbers give the sums of digits of small squares of the same background colour.

    Have fun everyone!

    Posted by Mausi at 07:50 AM | Comments (1)

    October 19, 2006


    061019_mausi.jpgToday Mausi has been publishing bits on this blog for a whole year! In the beginning it was hard work for words do not come to Mausi as easily as they come to the Gray Monk, especially not in English. But after all that practice it has become real fun. It has also given Mausi a different outlook on life - she frequently catches herself thinking "Well, this is something to tell on the blog and share with others..". Moreover, collecting bits of information and taking pictures to go with it has awakened her sleeping interest in photography again.

    It's also been quite an experience getting responses and comments from all over the world. Most were very nice and complimentary. Positive feedback always makes one feel great. Thank you all! Funnily enough, the posts which had been the most difficult and time consuming to be written almost never evoked a comment but the ones Mausi had to shove in into a hurry stirred up quite a few.

    Before joining the Gray Monk on his blog Mausi hadn't been aware of the large and forever growing community of bloggers out there in cyberspace. What Mausi finds fascinating about blogging is the opportunity to get personal views from ordinary people all over the world. As Mausi has found out views from the outside are often quite different from views from the inside. And often it is quite enlightening to get additional information that has not found its way into the official media and to get more than one opinion of a certain subject.

    Well - Mausi has certainly enjoyed the last year on the blog and is looking forward to the next one.

    Posted by Mausi at 07:52 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    October 13, 2006

    Another birthday ....

    Friday the thirteenth is, for some, a day of disaster. But, what if you were born on that day? Does this mean you draw the short straw in everything? Of course not, especially if you are The Postulant who was born on this day twenty eight years ago. That's right, on Friday the thirteenth.


    The funny thing is this, that I can still remember after all the things that have happened to us both along the way, the very first time I cradled the tiny bundle that she then was in my hands, as a new father almost afraid that I would damage her in the very act of holding her. It was a very, very special moment and the little bundle grew and grew some more. I can say with some authority, and OK, some paternal prejudice! - that she has become a really fine young woman. To The Postulant I say on this day - may you have many, many more years ahead of you!

    Tomorrow I will be heading for London to take my eldest daughter out for a meal. Raise a glass to her if you will, she is a very special person.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:51 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    October 07, 2006

    Ig Nobel Prizes 2006

    At about the same time that the Nobel Prize winners of this year have been announced the 'Ig Nobel Prizes' have been awarded as well to ten achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think". This year's prizes fulfill these criteria easily.

  • The first one goes to scientists from the University of California Los Angeles for explaining why woodpeckers, to be more specific the pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) don't get headaches. I must admit I have often wondered about that myself when sitting in the garden and watching the woodpeckers having a go at the trees for hours on end. This specific woodpecker strikes the surface of a tree at a rate of up to 20 times a second and up to 12 000 times a day. Acceleration forces are as high as 1200 g with each impact. But the bird is well equipped for this work and easily avoids headaches, internal haemorrage or even retinal detachments by the construction of its head. You might like to read up on this yourself.
  • The second award is awarded for a detailed insight into the eating habits of adult dung beetles (Scarabaeus cristatus). The beetles consume te fluid components from dung and bury dung as food deposits for their larvae. They showed a marked preference for the more fluid horse dung compared to sheep and camel dung. Indeed, and who wouldn't prefer the juicier food when having to live in a desert or at least desertlike environment?
  • Now, Peace Ig Nobel Prize is a really interesting one. It is awarded for inventing a teenager repellant - an electromechanical device that makes annoying noises, whose frequencies can only be picked up by the more sensitive teenage ears. Adults are not bothered by them at all. I wonder, when these devices will be commercially available. I would sometimes like to have a go myself when going by public transport. Just think how quickly you would have the bus to yourself and peace restored ....
  • Some specialists in acoustics have found out why people dislike the sound of fingernails scraping on a blackboard. More information about that can be found in Psychoacoustics of a Chilling sound. Aarrgh - gives me the creeps just thinking about it.
  • You can always rely on the mathematicians to come up with something really useful. This year they are awareded an Ig Nobel Prize for calculating the number of photographs you must take to (almost) ensure that nobody in a group photo will have their eyes closed. The article about 'Blink-Free Photos' is well worth reading. Aren't they a bit late, though? In the age of digital photography and useful tools like Photoshop and GIMP?
  • Princeton University takes the prize for literature this year with a paper called 'Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly'. It is about people trying to appear more clever and intelligent in their publications by needlessly using long words and complex expressions in an attempt to make it sound more scientific. I wonder where thy got the idea for this study from? I always had the highest respect for those of my professors who could explain complex things in simple words.
  • The award for Medicine might come in useful, too, one day. Try this if you want to find out more about the 'Termination of Intractable Hiccups with Digital Rectal Massage'.
  • The Physic's award goes to France this years for finding out why dry spaghetties don't simply break in half Mausi has already written upon this highly intriguing phenomenon earlier this year.
  • My favourite award in 2006, however, is the one for chemistry. Scientists from two Spanish Universities have investigated the 'Ultasonic Velocity in Cheddar Cheese as Affected by Temperature'. I wonder, why do they examine British Chesse in Spain? Don't they have cheese of their own? And why would you like to knoe about ultrasonic velocity in cheese anyway? To decide whether it would make an effective earplug at different temperatures (winter, summer, inside, outside)? I think there's still a lot of research left to be done ...
  • Last but not least the Ig Noble Prize for Biology goes to the Netherlands for doing research on the responses of female malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae (Diptera: Culicidae) to Limburger cheese volatiles. Mind you, Limburger cheese has a tendency to turn runny very easily at slightly elevated temperatures. How would you keep it enticing to mosquitos in the warm and humid climate of Malaria countries?
  • Hope, you enjoyed this list as much as I did. I am certainly very much lookin forward to next year's winners. By the way, the presentation of the awards is organised by the 'Annals of Improbable Research' (AIR), a journal well worth reading.

    Posted by Mausi at 01:50 PM | TrackBack

    October 03, 2006

    Irish whimsy......

    Dublin has two Church of Ireland Cathedrals, one is Christ Church Cathedral and the other is Saint Patrick's. Christ Church is located in Dame Street and has a fascinating bridge over the road which separates it from the former Synod Hall which is now the venue for the Dublinia exhibition. The cathedral is also the site of the tomb of the Norman Earl, de Clare, known as Strongbow, who successfully invaded Ireland in 1169 and set in train the "English" occupation.

    A bit of medieval whimsy in the tiled floor of the Cathedral of Christ Church Dublin. A pair of Foxes, dressed as pilgrims from Compostella make their way around the tiles.

    The building was heavily restored during the Victorian period, but a great deal has been preserved in the process and the undercroft and Treasury are definitely worth a visit. So too is the Dublinia experience which allows you to take a walk through the history of this fascinating and ancient city.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:32 PM | TrackBack

    October 02, 2006

    Happy Birthday!

    Mausi, the bilingual cat, falling into a Freudian trap ...

    Posted by Mausi at 04:32 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    September 23, 2006

    Venturing into new waters ....

    With retirement looming large the Monk has been busy looking at alternatives. One venture he began to explore recently is the possibility of publishing a work of fiction .... So, having started this book as a bit of fun it is now with the Publishers, AuthorHouse, and will hopefully hit the sales outlets in time for everyone to buy it for Christmas.

    The cover design for the book reflects the story - three young men snatched from one period of history into the future ....

    It has been great fun writing it and quite a challenge too. Surprising how much one needs to look up in order to write believable Sci-fi, you really cannot just make it all up anymore. Keeping track of characters - and choosing names for those you create is also quite a task. Some of the little devils develop minds of their own and do some things out of the sequence you originally planned and you just have to live with it and check that it hasn't thrown something else in another part of the book.

    The book is titled "Out of time" and will be on sale through Author House and Amazon in time for Christmas. It will also be available in some Waterstones stores and, if I can really push my luck, may even be in jolly old WHSmith as well. If you'd like to see what it is about, I have an extract in the extended post below!

    Starliner Artemis: January 2204

    The Chairman of the Board of Interplanetary Development Consortium was in an ebullient mood as he greeted the assembling chairmen and board members of the various companies in which the Consortium had a stake. IPD existed in two parts, the visible arm being the great freighters that shuttled between the earth and the growing number of colony worlds and the various mining and industrial operations on moons and asteroids dotted about the section of the galaxy the Consortium’s ships could reach. The less visible holding company that actually controlled, through various guises and false front corporations, almost two thirds of the world’s major listed companies. This situation was the result of years of work on the part of several previous chairmen – in fact it was something the present chairman had been involved in from the start of his apprenticeship with the company some forty years earlier. The brainchild of a triumvirate of businessmen who saw in the inexorable rise of the bureaucracies that were slowly strangling the great democracies, an opportunity for the new aristocracy, the leaders of commerce and industry and their selected henchmen in the political classes, to seize control of government and direct the fate of nations for their advantage. The last hundred years had been spent in putting in place the people and the means by which this could be achieved and now they stood on the eve of obtaining that prize.
    There was only one obstacle in the way of this ambition, a Fleet of starships established at almost the same time as the Consortium by visionary politicians who saw a need to have a powerful force of ships and men who could defend the earth and its multi-cultural peoples. A Fleet moreover, independent of political control, dedicated to the service of the ideals of the Alliance that created it. A Fleet composed of ships contributed by the various governments, and nominally manned and supported by them, but falling under the command of its own governing authority. Here the Consortium had not managed to penetrate, as it had hoped to do, into the command structure or the controlling authority. So they had changed their focus and, through the short-sightedness of the bureaucrats, obtained control of the support facilities instead. Thus, the Consortium now controlled the weapons development and repair company WeapTech, the repair docks and the building facilities in space within the solar system. As he rose to open the meeting, Ari Khamanei reflected with satisfaction that this had allowed him to build a fleet of his own at the expense of the Alliance Fleet and the bureaucrats and their political masters had even paid him to do it.
    “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for taking the time to attend our conference, I am sure you will all find it rewarding.” he began, “I have excellent news to report to this assembly, the first we have held since the conference in 2199 in New Babylon. The work our founders began in 2089 is about to come to full fruition. Thanks to the enterprise of our many agents, we now have our people in key positions in all the ministries in the European Confederacy, and in the North American Union. In the Russian Federation we have key ministers as well as their bureaucrats and in the Southern European Union we have complete control of all ministries and the political parties. Only the defence forces controlled by the Fleet Authority remain outside of that control, but we now control their repair facilities, their weapons development and the ship building yards. We have also infiltrated their crews – as yet, not at command level, but our people are excellently placed to ensure that, when the time comes, the Fleet’s ships will not be able to strike against us.” Sure he now had their attention he continued as the huge screen behind him lit up and began to show pictures of huge new ships, bristling with weaponry, “I give you our fleet, ladies and gentlemen, every ship superior to its equivalent class in the Alliance Fleet, and now ready and manned by our own officers and ratings. Every ship that you see here has been built in our own facilities and at the expense of the Alliance, paid for by the gullible bureaucrats as we simply inflated costs once they had given us complete control of their own facilities.” He paused as his audience laughed, and then added, “It was once said by a Russian Premier I believe, that the Communist philosophy would ultimately hang all the Capitalists – after the Capitalists had sold them the rope for the purpose. We, ladies and gentlemen, have turned that statement into a reality!” He smiled as they laughed at this, “I have called this conference to tell you that the time has come to start the hangings.”
    His speech continued for some time as he outlined the work and the achievements of the individuals and the companies under the consortium’s umbrella. Included in this were advances in genetic engineering, xeno-biological advances which allowed them to control access to medicine, colonial development and, to an extent, energy sources and resources for the world’s population. Exuding confidence, he outlined for them the next steps – steps which would take them to their ultimate goal of taking over the government of the Alliance nations, “First the Alliance,” he told them, “then the rest of the world. And we are ready. Those first steps will be taken in a matter of months. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you control of the democratic world and the colonies they govern!”

    Bombay: 1804

    HMS Spartan, seventy-four guns, HMS Rajahstan, forty guns, and HMS Swallow, twenty-two, weighed anchor and slowly made their way out of the roadstead to set a course south eastward towards the Cape of Good Hope, some seven thousand miles away. Homeward bound for the Spartan and her crew, she was turning homeward after a voyage begun in 1801 just after the Treaty of Amiens, and which had taken her to Port Jackson in New South Wales, the South Sea Islands and thence through the Coral Sea and into the Bay of Bengal. From there she had sailed to Trincomalee and onwards round into the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean to Bombay.
    Midshipman Heron stood with the large signal telescope resting in the crook of his elbow as his signal party folded and stowed the flags from the signal just hauled down. He watched as the sloop Swallow, crowded on sail in order to beat her way to the station assigned to her as the eyes of the squadron in the van, ahead of the ponderous seventy-four. Astern, the sleek frigate Rajahstan settled into the larger ship’s wake. Henry Nelson-Heron, or Harry, as his friends called him, had been twelve when he joined this ship after six months in HMS Bellerophon. Now, his fifteenth birthday recently behind him, he was already a seasoned sailor and trusted by his officers as a promising leader. He had enjoyed this voyage and felt very privileged to have been able to see and do so much, but now he was looking forward to seeing his home again, in the soft and cooler climate of County Down.
    With luck, he reflected, they would be home in a little over four months.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:34 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    September 18, 2006

    Bit of Fun ...

    Looking out of my window into a November-grey, misty afternoon in September I thought it would be a good idea to share some fun with you on the blog at least. Here's another one of my beloved brain teasers:

    Four children called Evelin, Claudia, Martin and Karsten are playing outside in the garden. Suddenly Karsten asks: "By the way, how old is each one of you three?"
    Evelin is the first to answer: "In three years Martin will be exactly the age I was when Claudia was as old as Martin will be in seven years."
    And Claudia adds: "A year ago I was exactly twice as old as Martin and Evelin together." (A little hint: as old as Martin and Evelin were together a year ago.)
    How old is each of the three?

    040708_mausi-xs.jpgOnly positive integers count as solution. Have fun! It sounds easy and straightforward, I know, but it kept my humans quite busy for some time. Little puffs of smoke coming out of their ears ... Hrrmmmpfff!

    Posted by Mausi at 12:11 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    September 17, 2006

    Mausi, the Hunter

    You know, sometimes I wonder what is going on inside the head of Mausi, the Cat. One moment she is enjoying the warm September morning sun on the grass ...


    ... and the next moment a sound has been picked up by her radar ears and off she goes, jumping the fence and vanishing into the neighbouring field. A few minutes later she is back bringing in her kill.


    This time it is a vole and she won't even eat it. She rather leaves it lying around for one of us to give a proper burial. Which we did, of course. It is not that she doesn't get stuffed with tinned food in the house. She wouldn't have to hunt for mice. Alright, they probably taste better than the tinned ones, juicy and fresh, I suppose. But then why does she kill even those she has no intention to eat at all?

    Sometimes I think she hunts down everything that is smaller than she is and moves around the garden without her specific permission. A misinterpretation of her duties as a cat? This afternoon she gave a giant dark-blue dragonfly a speculative look. But then decided that it would take too much effort and cunning and went back to sleep. 1:0 for the dragonfly!

    Posted by Mausi at 08:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 12, 2006

    Do not trust your eyes ...

    One of the first things you learn as a forensic scientist is never to trust your eyes too much. Why? Because they can be fooled and misled easily. It's always much better to take measurements to confirm your visual observations. You don't believe me? See for yourself.

    Are those lines straight and parallel or not?

    What I find fascinating about this picture is that the brain has no difficulties to identify the lines as parallels as long as the pattern is regular as on top and bottom. But when it gets sort of irregular in the middle, the it is fooled.

    Circles or spirals?

    And now have a good look at the last one:

    Do you see them moving?

    I assure you after experiences like these you begin to see some eyewitnesses' statements in quite a different light. Although made in good faith they need not necessarily be true. As the circles are not revolving of course although you see them do it.

    Posted by Mausi at 09:02 PM | TrackBack

    September 10, 2006


    Last week Mausi was able to watch a partial lunar eclipse. She rushed downstairs to fetch her camera and tried to shoot this event although her zoom lens is not powerful enough to get a really good picture. When she had a closer look at the pictures on her computer and was able to enlarge the tiny bright dots on the screen she had a bit of a surprise:

    Partial eclipse of the moon - the shadow of the Earth is just visible on the top

    There was an interestingly green round object quite close to the moon! Unknown planet? UFO? Alien space station? No, nothing like that. Just a reflection within the camera lens. Sigh! Bit of a catastrophe if you are a professional photograher, of course, but Mausi still thinks the picture looks rather nice. By the way, the little bright dot at seven o'clock is an aeroplane.

    What Mausi likes to do with pictures likes these is giving The Gimp a go and see what happens...

    060910_moon-lens.jpg   060910_moon-kubism.jpg
    --- when adding a few more reflections for good measure or having a go at cubism!

    Posted by Mausi at 10:12 AM | TrackBack

    September 09, 2006


    With Mausi (not exactly) looking forward to an extremely busy day today and the Monk being away on a (hopefully) pleasurable trip to Ireland this is going to be only a short post. Two memorable things happened yesterday. The first is that Tony Blair has promised to resign within the next 12 months. Congratulations Monk! He must have found this blog and taken your hints at last.

    Yesterday was also the 40 anniversary of the first Star Trek episode. Gosh, is it really that long ago? I practically grew up with them in my teens. My parents were always very wary about what we kids were allowed to watch on TV, especially where American films were involved. But Star Trek or 'Raumschiff Enterprise' as it ws called in German seemed harmless enough. I enjoyed these films although I am not exactly a sci-fi fan. But as the Monk wrote some days ago there was enough in this series apart from the science to make it interesting to watch. My favourite character was Mr Spock It took me months of practice but at last I could draw up one of my eyebrows just the way he could. Nice trick, that comes in handy now and then.

    It was only when I came across the film 'Galaxy Quest' a couple of years ago that I started to see the extremely funny side of Star Trek. It made me suddenly realise the common pattern that's behind all episodes of the first series and which runs much along the same lines the Monk has pointed out in his post:

    Either by enemy attack or some accident the Enterprise is damaged and needs some rare raw material which is conveniently found on a nearby alien planet.
    The moment the search party looking for this material is beamed onto the planet's surface something happens to the Enterprise's beaming apparatus.
    While the Chief Engineer is busy repariring the damage the party on the planet has an encounter with some hostile aliens and at the very last moment (n-1) persons of the party are able to make it back on board again. One, very often valiant Captain Kirk, is left behind and has to fight for himself. He is always rescued of course after half an hour because that's the end of the episode.
    Interestingly when members of the Enterprise crew visit other planets they never need a space suit nor do they have difficulties with for example gravity. Space travel was still in the very beginning at that time.

    In Galaxy Quest the never ending trouble with the beaming device is hilariously illustrated when a monster pig is beamed aboard the space ship as a test of the new digital beaming apparatus. Somethings goes wrong, as could only be expected, and the monster pig arrives inside out and explodes 10 seconds later. Bits of of pig are showered over everyone nearby. Hrrrmmmppfffffff!

    Another series I enjoyed very much is the Flash Gordon version of the 1930's. Obviously electricity was a big issue then. Laboratories of mad scientists are filled with devices that produce arcs in all shapes. The spaceship looks rather like a WW I U-boat from the outside and like a tram car from inside. People keep standing during take-offs and landings, no strapping down with fancy seat belts! Space travel was still a long way off at that time!

    Posted by Mausi at 04:09 PM | TrackBack

    September 08, 2006


    I've just listened to an interview with a magician who also performs hypnosis on stage. He told about his work and the listeners on the radio were encouraged to call the broadcasting station and ask questions. One question was if it were possible to perform hypnosis via TV. Oh yes, said the magician, it had been done a few years ago during a famous TV show in Germany called "Wetten dass?" (Bet you!) A hypnotist told the TV viewers to lock their hands. Which they did. And then thousands of hypnotists had to be send out to the people because a lot of them panicked - not being able to unlock their hands again. Hypnosis via TV obviously isn't a good idea.

    At the end of the interview he described an interesting experiment: stand up and let your right foot do clockwise circles in the air. Then write the number 6 into the air with your right hand - and instantaneously your right foot will change direction, now doing its circles counter clockwise! Have a try yourself but take care not to lose your balance.

    Mausi, the Cat, is a most successful hypnotist and conjurer herself. Every day she comes into the kitchen and hypnotises her empty feeding bowls. And bang - food suddenly appears as if by magic. Never fails. Wish, she would let me know her tricks, would save a lot of time not having to do the cooking....

    Mausi, the Cat - a professional hypnotist at work

    Posted by Mausi at 08:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 06, 2006

    The ultimate guide to Star Trek ....

    Being a Sci-fi and Sci-fantasy fan I do, from time to time, have a laugh at some of the plot lines in some of my favourites. Now, I have to admit, that I am a bit of a "Trekkie" - at least of the "Next Generation" series. The first group was just too transparent and "sixties" for my taste. Still, it made an impact and it also set a genre. Recently I read that a Sci-fi Conference had heard a series of speakers "lamenting that since Star Trek, there was no 'real' science fiction any longer." Well, I would disagree with them, particularly as I feel that much of what they seem to regard as "Sci-fi" is so far fetched as to be not really credible.

    Now perhpas that is the distinction. Star Trek, Babylon 5, Star Wars, the hallmark was that they simply extrapolated existing technology to create a believable "science" in the future. That was Asimov's great strength, also Heinlein and Arthur C Clark. In the case of Clark and Asimov it was also backed by the fact that their "day job" was actually science. It is my belief that this is why Star Trek, Babylon 5 and Star Wars have attracted such huge followings, they were believable (well OK, at least they had some foundation in credible scientific ideas) and they dealt with emotions and problems we see around us all the time. Even the much laughed at Battlestar Galactica series - the original not the almost ludicrous Season 2 or the more recent one which has turned Adama into a power crazed drunk! - dealt with issues most of us have had to face or deal with at some stage in our lives.

    What is sometimes a bit of a problem is the dramatic effect rules followed by TV and film makers everywhere. Thus, every officianado of the Sci-fi multiverse needs the guide I have placed in the extended post ......

    Star Trek: TOS Survival Guide


    So you’ve graduated from Star Fleet Academy, top of your class, and finally have your own ship. She may just be a refuse barge delivering disused prophylactic kits into the searing hot inner corona of the nearest star but she’s a ship nonetheless. But in case of emergency, and there should be about one major one every week, there’s a view rules of thumb, or heuristics, that may come in handy.

    1) If the Captain or any crew member is acting out of character they aren’t upset they are actually an alien in disguise. Alien changelings prefer to assume the role of captain so that they’re presence can be more rapidly detected.

    2) Any primitive society that has any sort of background radiation or irregular energy readings or has a stalled development or worships a physical idol or possesses a fanatic devotion to religion is being secretly ruled by a computer. This computer is usually underground and will most likely be disable-able by “outsmarting” it by presenting it with a logical paradox.

    3) If an alien creature is attacking and killing crewman at random it is most likely made out of pure energy and either “feeds on fear or negative emotions” or is misunderstood somehow and would promptly stop eating people if only you could communicate with it. As with most alien’s that are incapable of verbal communication select your favorite Vulcan to mind-meld with it. If there are no Vulcans aboard your vessel you’re pretty much screwed.

    4) When your chief engineer warns you that something is impossible or incredibly hazardous you can safely ignore them. Apparently engineers in the future are huge pussycats that think the ship is going to fly apart or blow up at the drop of a hat. Also if your engineer says something will take a certain amount of time and it is cutting it close don’t worry it will be finished just in time for you to beam away or fire phasers in a pinch. Likewise with medical science; if you contract a deadly disease you will find a cure shortly before dying.

    5) A sure-fire tactic to win a space battle is to play dead and await your enemy’s gloating demand for surrender and then hose them; apparently enemy races are really just chatterboxes at heart. On the ground always bring security teams comprised of people no one cares about because the enemy will always kill them first. Despite having a non-lethal ranged weapon most fighting will still be hand to hand. Not to worry apparently hitting someone gently on the shoulder knocks them the fuck out in the future, nano-enhanced muscles anyone?

    5b) If this is any newer Star Trek than The Original Series than your solution to almost everything is either a tachyon pulse or recalibrating the phase array or remodulating the shields. Have your resident Android do the heavy lifting number wise and come up with improbable technical solutions to problems. If your ship does not have an android you are probably one of those “other” ships that are sometimes found derelict, crew barely alive with the dying Captain’s last words warning of impending danger right before the ship blows up.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:08 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    September 05, 2006

    Let the rain begin .....

    I cannot resist posting this item sent by an atheist friend. Like me, he shares a deep cynicism when it comes to the current flood of regulations and legislation governing every aspect of our thinking, living and working. Read the following and when you get to the punchline, you might join me in my new religion, the Church of Latter Day Cynics.

    In the year 2006, the Lord came unto Noah, who was now living in England and said, "Once again, the earth has become wicked and over-populated, and I see the end of all flesh before me. Build another Ark and save 2 of every living thing along with a few good humans." He gave Noah the CAD drawings, saying, "You have 6 months to build the Ark before I will start the unending rain for 40 days and 40 nights."

    Six months later, the Lord looked down and saw Noah weeping in his yard - but no Ark. "Noah!" He roared, "I'm about to start the rain! Where is the Ark?"
    "Forgive me, Lord," begged Noah, "but things have changed. I needed Building Regulations Approval. I've been arguing with the Fire Brigade about the need for a sprinkler system. My neighbours claim that I should have obtained planning permission for building the Ark in my garden because it is development of the site even though in my view it is a temporary structure. We had to go to appeal to the Secretary of State for a decision. Then the Department of Transport demanded a bond be posted for the future costs of moving power lines and other overhead obstructions, to clear the passage for the Ark's move to the sea. I told them that the sea would be coming to us, but they would hear nothing of it. Getting the wood was another problem. All the decent trees have Tree Preservation Orders on them and we live in a Site of Special Scientific Interest set up in order to protect the spotted owl. I tried to convince the environmentalists that I needed the wood to save the owls - but no go! When I started gathering the animals, the RSPCA sued me. They insisted that I was confining wild animals against their will. They argued the accommodation was too restrictive, and it was cruel and inhumane to put so many animals in a confined space. Then the County Council, the Environment Agency ruled that I couldn't build the Ark until they'd conducted a Flood Risk Assessment on your proposed flood. I'm still trying to resolve a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission on how many BMEs I'm supposed to hire for my building team. The trades unions say I can't use my sons. They insist I have to hire Only CSCS accredited workers with Ark-building experience. To make matters worse, Customs and Excise seized all my assets, claiming I'm trying to leave the country illegally with endangered species. So, forgive me, Lord, but it would take at least 10 years for me to finish this Ark."

    Suddenly the skies cleared, the sun began to shine, and a rainbow stretched across the sky.

    Noah looked up in wonder and asked, "You mean you're not going to destroy the world?"
    "No," said the Lord. "The government beat me to it."

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:36 AM | TrackBack

    September 04, 2006

    Festival Time

    Yesterday was the day of the biennial Village Festival. It's not a big event - after all the village is very small but everyone in the village contributes something. People bake cakes and make salads and organise amusements for the kids. Then there's always a big barbecue and lots to drink, of course.

    Centre of the village where the festival takes place

    The festival is organised by the Table Tennis Sports Club and the Voluntary Fire Fighters who open their station to the public on this day and allow the salad bar to be set up in their garage and a cafe in their assembly room.

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    Fire station and stage

    A stage is erected next to the fire station and a live band is playing during the day. Its an old tradition for Fire Fighters from neighbouring villages visit the festival during the morning for a 'Frühschoppen' which means to have a beer or even several before noon in good company.

    The weather didn't look promising at all at this morning - leaden grey sky and a slight drizzle but almost 20 C. But the drizzle soon stopped and we had more visitors than we had hoped for. Mausi's job this year was selling vouchers for the barbecue from noon till 3 p.m. She had a very busy time, helping people to decide what to eat, then rapidly doing sums in her head and answering all sorts of questions in between. Now she knows why no one else volunteered for this particular shift! Still, all in all it had been good fun and Mausi really enjoyed herself.

    There's nothing like working together all day in good company and then share a pint in the evening when everything is over. Prost!

    Posted by Mausi at 08:18 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    August 31, 2006

    Why do I never have this sort of luck?

    The Gorse Fox seems to move in entertaining circles, his latest visit to Worcester being a case in point. Now what I need to know is - which Hotel and is this part of their regular room service?

    Why does it never happen for me?

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:13 AM | TrackBack

    August 29, 2006

    Catching up - slowly!

    The last few months have been really hectic, in fact I think that I have done as much work in the last few months as I had managed to get done in the last year or so. It seems my boss and everyone else thinks that the last few weeks before my retirememnt are filled with nothing else but their "must get this done before you finish tasks!" Well, yesterday I managed to get through a lot for my own account for a change and even managed to catch up with my brother in South Africa on the phone and Ozguru in Australia! And I finished my presentation for Belgrade in September - the only problem there is it is in excess of 200MB and so won't go by e-mail - so it goes by courier this morning.

    One thing catching up with friends and family did do, was give me the opportunity to find out what is happening in parts of the blogosphere and Ozguru has some lovely Latin quotes up on his blog at G'day Mate. Well worth visiting for a quick tickle of the funny bone and laughter tank refill. I was sad to discover that another of my favourite reads has dropped out of the blogospher altogether for the moment after an argument with her service provider. Cynical Cyn's pithy comments on a wide range of things will be missed. In fact, I notice that she is not the only one who has vanished, several of the links on my list of MuNuvians don't work anymore and searches don't turn up any alternatives - which suggest that they have moved on to something else entirely.

    Looking around, I notice too that there is an increasing number of blogs which seem to be run by or for journalists and I can only think that they have moved into the arena because they have either not got the editorial freedom in their normal forum to say certain things, or they are trying to counter the blogosphere's reporting of their selectivity and bias by attacking it from within. I will need to think about that one carefully and read quite a few more of those specific blogs carefully before I decide which.

    The other thing which is very apparent is that the blogosphere is being increasingly policed by a number of self appointed 'policemen' for the PC Brigade. The events around the Inigo Wilson saga show just how vicious that lobby are in their pursuit of policing our thoughts and ramblings. Personally I find it disturbing to say the very least, that we are increasingly being policed, bullied and compelled to accept a minority lobbies vision of morality which is entirely based on their own prejudices and not on morality at all. Taken with the fact that Iran is now a maverick state in the hands of a maverick and masochistic government and apparently arming itself, or attempting to acquire the means to do so, with nuclear weapons, our home grown Unilateral Disarmament Lobby are, as usual, weeping in their tea cups over the fact that we are such horrible people that we want to replace our nuclear arsenal. Maybe we shouldn't - then Iran or any other tinpot dictator with nuclear weapons can simply take over the world, and oiur society will be as dead as it would be if the CND lot's worst projections were to come true.

    Well, for those that are interested, perhaps a brief read of this post on the Laughing Wolf will give a much needed and informed view of the realities of this weapon. He has included a number of very useful links to informative sources as well - another worthwhile read!

    Anyway, before I get too depressed about all of this, I will include this link to Dusting my brain (I think I know how that feels at the moment!) and a picture to go with Mausi's picture of the green woodpecker.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:47 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    August 28, 2006

    Little Friends

    One of the nice things about having a garden is being able to share it with others. I draw the line at slugs, of course, and I don't like too many ant hills in my garden either. One or two are fine but when several plants start to look sorry for themselves and the lawn mower bounces over the grass in erratic movements - that's it. The only problem is, how do you 'persuade' the little buggers to leave? On account of Mausi and friends I do not like to use chemicals in the garden if I can help it. In the past I've dug up a few ant colonies and resettled them elsewhere. A tiresome business and there's always the danger of getting bitten as a Thank You!

    But perhaps help is near. A few days ago we were visited by a young Green Woodpecker inspecting the grounds.

    A young Green Woodpecker having a closer look

    060828_gruenspecht-aus.JPGGreen Woodpeckers thrive on ants and some other insects if ants are not available. They will dig holes up to 10 cm into the ground to get at their favourite food. I wouldn't mind the holes in my grass if he took the ants away. And I hope next time he comes he'll bring along friends and family as well. There's enough in this garden to keep all of them busy, happy and well fed!

    Posted by Mausi at 01:17 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    August 25, 2006

    Achtung! Vorsicht, bissiger Denglisch!

    It seems the the media "silly season" knows no national boundaries. The big story in the German press at present is the one raised by the German cultural purists - the German equivalent of the French "Academie Francaise" - are seriously worried by the ongoing rise of the use of Denglisch by German speakers in everyday speech. Denglisch is a hybrid of English and German words and includes things like "brainstorm", "surfen", "chatten" and "shoppen"! It seems that German is absorbing English words and simply "Germanising" them at quite a rate.

    Amusingly, according to Mausi, the purists are proclaiming that "this Anglisisation of German, threatens the language of Goethe." For those of us bored out of our heads by having to read Goethe's Faust (a poem in German) as prose in English, this is amusing - largely because, Goethe never wrote in "Hochdeutsch" or Modern German - he used the dialect of his home State and city - Frankfurt-am-Main! And there are arguments raging over the actual meaning of some of the phrases he used because they could mean different things in Hochdeutsch, the classic example being his last utterance in this life, which, if transfered into modern German can have two entirely different meanings.

    In his own time, Goethe's work would probably have been only partly comprehensible to anyone from a different region, much as Shakespeare's language would have made difficult hearing to the commoner in the North East or some of the other parts of Britain with a strong regional dialect. We tend to forget that our language has evolved dramatically in the last two hundred years or so primarily as a result of greater mobility among the workforce and the opening up of the world to interchange of language and ideas from "foreign" countries. Television and radio have certainly played a huge part in this, as has the cinema. I am still amazed by the command of English held by people I meet in Eastern Europe and more recently in Scandinavia and other "non-English" countries, yet their languages are rarely heard outside of their own nations.

    I must say that reading this took me back to a wonderful spoof column in a monthly magazine my mother used to buy, entitled "Mein Grossvader's Fabletellen". This used a sort of pidgin German to poke fun at everyday occurences and attitudes of the period, thus a motorist was labelled "ein Honkentootenscreechenraumer" and a pedestrian became "ein Honkentootenscreechenraumferleapendodger"! And there were many more such examples. My favourite spoof pidgin notice begins: -

    Achtung! Alles looken peepers! Das maschein ist nicht für gefingerpoken und mitten grabben! Ist easy schnappen das springenwerken mit spitzensparken und poppenkorken!

    I must say that I find the whole rather amusing - although if I were a German I would probably be a little concerned - because, as my German friends have frequently reminded me, English is only really rather badly pronounced and grammatically incorrect German (with a few French, Latin and Dutch words sprinkled in!). But now it seems that German is slowly becoming badly pronounced English - with German grammar! there has to be a joke in there somewhere - it will just be a question as to whether it is a Cornish Jethro and a Bayernische Didi who gets to it first!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:57 AM | TrackBack

    August 19, 2006

    A Beautiful Morning

    During the last two weeks the summer seemed to have left us for good but it was back this morning: 20 degrees Celsius at 9 a.m., blue sky and lovely air. I like this early time of the day.

    After the rain and cold and even fog we have had lately - made you think of November and contemplating if the central heating should be turned on again - this morning was a most welcome surprise. It sometimes takes very little to lift one's spirits.

    If the berries of the Mountain Ash look as juicy as that in summer the winter is going to be a cold one - or so they say..

    Mausi, the Cat, was in a buoyant mood, too. One of her favourite pastimes is worrying a branch of the tamarisk.

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    The tamarisk didn't seem to mind too much and good-naturedly joined in this morning's fun.

    Posted by Mausi at 03:05 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    August 14, 2006

    Where did the summer go ....

    The last week has been an interesting one in this neck of the woods, with high winds most days, some scattered rain and a very distinct coolness to the air. There still hasn't been enough rain to wet the garden properly and I have lost most of the plants I so hopefully transplanted in the spring. Even the hedge has not done its usual thing of trying to become a forest. The ground is iron hard (I'm on clay!) and the little rain there is soon disappears into it leaving no discernable change on the surface.

    Paddy garden ornament.JPG
    Earlier this year Madam Paddycat agreed to pose decoratively against the backdrop of Daffodils.

    One of the problems of living on our side of the Severn valley is that we are in the "rain shadow" of the Welsh hills. This means that we tend to get less rain than those round Bishop's Cleeve or Winchcombe and I have often noticed driving across the county to work, just how clearly defined the rain boundaries can be. It can be pouring in one sport, but a mile or so along and there isn't a drop falling. Not that Paddy minds, she prefers the dry and definitely the breeze is cooling through her fur at this season, but it must be getting cooler again, she now wants to keep close during the night - and sometimes that can mean my not being able to lie where I want too!

    This has been a strange summer, and now Autumn seems to have arrived early. The summer peaked in early July and it has been getting steadily cooler since then. Our night time temperatures are down below ten degrees Celsius and the wind remains obstinately from the North varying, according to the Abbey windvane, between North-North-West and North East. But still we need rain.

    Still, if the Global Warming doom sayers are right, I suppose we can expect a lot more of this!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:50 AM | TrackBack

    August 09, 2006

    World Cats Day

    Yesterday was World Cats Day! You haven't noticed? Well, neither did my people. I thought there'd be a party for me and my friends from the village, but no - nothing! But at least they somehow managed to get the weather right again. After weeks of scorching heat we are back to 20 to 25 Celsius which is a blessing. I mean, people can take their clothes off, I cannot do the same with my fur. I got pretty desperate trying to find a cool place in the house to spend the day.

    Shady place inside the bookcase

    At last I found a place inside the bookcase where I could lie down with my head pressed to the outer wall of the house. But as you can see - having to roll up on those boxes was not the most comfortable position to sleep in.

    Sometimes during those weeks I ventured outside in the garden as there is a slim chance of a light breeze blowing through the gazebo. I do love this gazebo with my green striped cushion waiting for me to sleep on. But it got so hot on that cushion hat I - a comfort loving cat - had to sleep on the bare planks!

    Trying to find relief outside

    If you think that's uncomfortable then you should have a look at those places where some even spend the night. Voluntarily! I found this bumblebee slowing waking up in the early morning sun.


    Bumblebee hugging a bit of knapweed

    I don't think I'd want to go sleep on something as prickly as that. But the bumblebee didn't seem to mind. Hardy little buggers, aren't they?

    Posted by Mausi at 08:55 PM | TrackBack

    August 07, 2006

    Cars ...

    There are days when you simply cannot win. Mausi had one of those last week.She had to go on a business trip to a town about 230 km from where she works. Her employer keeps a pool of cars of different brands and sizes for such purposes.

    So Mausi went to the garage where the cars are kept at 6.30 in the morning and was entrusted with an Audi A6. Great, Mausi thought. That's one of the nice things about this car pool - you get to drive cars you couldn't afford to buy yourself. The only drawback about these cars is - Mausi is convinced they can't wait to play a practical joke on her and whenever she passes through the garage imagines faint sniggering noises of the cars telling each other would a good time they had had with her. But Mausi is not easily defeated and always optimistic that everything will go alright this time.

    She got into the car and tried to locate the navigator imp. She had already used it in BMWs, VWs and FORDs but there was nothing to be seen in the Audi. As Mausi had not been to her destination before she'd be lost without an imp. There was nothing for it but to go back and ask if the Audi had an imp after all. Yes of course, was the reply, look again. Well, the light is not the best inside the garage so Mausi dragged the car outside into the pale morning sunshine. A few minutes later she actually managed to locate the controls, cleverly hidden between the front seats, and even the display: the size of a big stamp between the dashboard displays right behind the wheel.

    Mausi squandered the next 10 minutes trying to tell the imp where she wanted to go. The imp proved to be of the extremely uncooperative kind and refused to accept the street name. Right - as Mausi was by now beginning to run out of time she swallowed her pride and went back again to ask for a five minutes crash course into handling the imp. Sure, no problem, they said, keeping a straight face and send one of the drivers outside. He quickly explained that bit of the system to Mausi which she had already found out herself and then failed to get the street name into the imp as well. Must be a new street, was his explanation, our navigation CDs are not quite up to date. Oh great, that's all Mausi needed on this morning. But the imp graciously offered to take Mausi to the correct autobahn exit. Splendid, Mausi would have found that one without any help from the imp.

    Mausi thanked the driver, rushed back to her office, got her computer to do a route listing, ripped the paper out of the printer and dashed out to the car again. By now she was half an hour behind her shedule but as she always plans ahead for surprises she might still just make it. A glance at the controls told her that the tank was only half full, what the heck, it should still get her to her destination.

    Apart from the fog and a large number of road works the drive was uneventful and Mausi made it to her destination in time. Conducting her business took her about an hour and then she went back to the car and tried to tell the imp to take her back home. Which he refused to do! He didn't even know the street where he lived. He knew surprisingly few streets in his home town, come to think of it. Mausi didn't really need the imp to take her home, just liked someone to talk to her now and then. Right, so she set the imp to the nearest street to her destination he knew and started her journey back.

    Mausi had already noticed that the needle on the petrol control display pointed to reserve and was looking out for the next petrol station anyway. In no way was she prepared for the shrill beep that suddenly filled the car and the yellow petrol pump symbol popping up on the dasboard controls. The symbol alone would have been warning enough without almost giving her a heart attack! At the next station she pulled out and was confronted with the next problem: how do you open the lid on the tank in this car? Mausi is used to her Renault where she just pulls it open which didn't work here. In other cars you often have to pull a small lever inside the car which makes the lid pop open. The only thing Mausi could find to pull opened the hood. Aaargh!

    Good thing Mausi had a mobile with her and could phone the people at the garage at home. The answer to her enquiries was discouraging: Haven't the faintest idea, better ask someone at the petrol station, they should know. By now, Mausi was past caring anyway, went into the little station shop straight to the man at the cash register and asked about the mysteries of an Audi. By the look he gave her he obviously suspected Mausi to be a member of a gang, trying to divert his attention so that the rest could rob the petrol station. In the end he agreed to come out and give Mausi a hand as soon as his colleague returned from the store rooms. And indeed he kept his word. After some more looking for hidden levers and devices it eventually turned out that the lid had to be pushed instead of pulled to come open....

    Back on the road Mausi enjoyed the brief moments when she was not hampered by Dutch tourists determinedly blocking the middle lane or road works and could go at 180 km/h. The funny thing was that the dawdlers suddenly transmogrified into Flying Dutchmen in the road works sections where speed is restricted to 80 km/h and overtook Mausi effortlessly. Mausi hoped that quite a few would get caught by speed cameras!

    Eventually Mausi made it back to base and complained about the imp's performance. Not what one would expect in a high quality car like an Audi A6, is it? The explanation was that owing to the car's age the navigation maps are on two CDs instead of one. If you've loaded the wrong CD (it doesn't show on the display which CD you have loaded and the CD player is hidden somewhere in the boot) the imp only knows the major roads. Obviously the CD for East Germany had been loaded, not the one for West Germany Mausi would have needed. Well, if they had just given Mausi a hint before she went it would have saved Mausi a lot of energy but probably deprived the boys at the garage of a lot of entertainment.

    When Mausi finally left the garage she could hear the cars sniggering again....

    Posted by Mausi at 03:51 PM | TrackBack

    August 06, 2006

    Flying visitors

    Last weekend I tried to shoot butterflies in the garden - only with my camera, of course! This year we have quite a few visiting us and they are always a pleasure to watch. I noted that the number of Hummingbird Hawk-moths (Macroglossum stellatarum) has noticeably increased this year.

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    Hummingbird Hawk-moths feeding on my Teucrium

    They migrate up north each year from the area around the Mediterranean Sea. They are not thought to be able to survive the winter north of the Alps. I always find them most fascinating to watch trying to maneuver their long proboscis into the blossoms. Interesting to see how they keep their balance.

    And I managed to take a photograph of another butterfly who was quite unafraid of my camera lens and let me get really close.

    Unknown butterfly

    The only thing is I cannot find out who he is. I've gone through my butterfly books and I've asked some biologists and all we can say is that he looks very similar to some butterflies in the books but shows some marked differences on closer inspection. He might be a mutation. He's most certainly not the odd one out as he brought two other members of his family with him when visiting us. If any of you have an idea please let me know.

    And here's another little cuddly fellow for you. A bug climbing along the edge of a leave. He can jump and he can fly and you must not provoke him too much because his defense is to give off an evil smell ...

    A green bug lurking in the shadows

    Posted by Mausi at 09:18 AM | TrackBack

    August 02, 2006

    Topping out a tower ....

    Being a Church Warden certainly has its moments, most of them pretty trying, but a few quite good fun. Probably one of the most satisfying is celebrating the completion of a major project and we did that today. Our 904 year old tower has a new roof. To be fair it is the sixth new roof since the tower was originally completed in its present form around 1415 and the new one should last a minimum of a hundred years. The work has seen the replacement of some rotten timber, the reconstruction of the drains and water spouts to take the water clear of the walls and the installation of the new steel gratings to allow people to walk above the drainage gully. And a completely new lead covering to the whole - referred to as "the Pyramid". To celebrate the event we held a short service of blessing on the roof - 145 feet above the town, complete with the Town Mayor, the Town Crier, the Town Band, the Lord Abbot himself, the Church Wardens, the contractor and various members of the committee which has raised the money - roughly £300k.

    The service took the form of a short service of Blessing and ended with the sprinkling of the roof and congregation with holy water and the tying of the rosemary sprig used for this purpose to the flag staff. Then the great Cross of St George was hoisted and the band blew a fanfare (heard in the streets below despite the wind!) and the Town Crier did a "Cry" from the parapet. This too was heard in the streets below - quite a feat for an unamplified voice!

    The text of the "Cry" is as follows ....


    On the occassion of the "Topping Out" service
    to celebrate the completion of the first phase of the
    Restoration Campaign at Tewkesbury Abbey

    We, the Vicar, Clergy, Church Wardens,
    Town Mayor and members of the
    restoration appeal campaign,
    do send most joyous greetings
    to the Queen's most Excellent Majesty.

    Assuring Her Majesty of our continuing
    Love, Loyalty and Prayers.

    Given to my hand in the forennon
    of this First day of August
    In the year of our Lord Two Thousand and Six


    My only regret is that I could not take photographs!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:29 PM | TrackBack

    August 01, 2006

    The Art of Boiling an Egg

    Who would have thought it of the Brits? As I learnt today they have actually doing research on how to boil the perfect breakfast egg. You know the perfect egg is the one where the white is solid and the yolk a thick, creamy fluid. Funded by the organisation 'Egg Lion Quality' British researchers developed a temperature-sensitive ink that is used to stamp a logo on each egg. Invisible at room temperature it suddenly appears when the egg is boiled and has reached perfection.

    Watch out for those eggs. They are supposed to be on sale in supermarkets after the summer holidays! Consumers will have a choice between hard, medium and soft boiled variations. Bon appetite!

    Reading about this reminded me of a famous animated cartoon by the German humourist Loriot. An elderly couple is having an argument about the art of boiling an egg during breakfast. He prefers a soft boiled egg.

    I've tried to do a translation into English for your amusement:

    He:  Berta!
    She: Yes ...
    He:  This is a hard boiled egg!
    She:  (keeps silent)
    He:  This is a hard boiled egg!!!
    She: I've heard you ...
    He:  How long has the egg been boiled?
    She: Too many eggs are bad for your health!
    He:  I mean, how long has this egg been boiled ...?
    She: You always want it boiled for four and a half minutes ...
    He:  I know that ...
    She: Why do you ask then?
    He:  Because this egg cannot have been boiled for four and a half minutes!
    She: But I boil your eggs for four and a half minutes every morning.
    He:  How come it sometimes is too hard and sometimes too soft?
    She: I don't know ... I am no chicken!
    He:  Ach! ... And how do you know, when the egg is done?
    She: I take it out of the water after four and a half minutes for Christ's sake!
    He:  Do you use a stop-watch or something?
    She: Instincts ... a housewife uses her instincts ...
    He:  Instincts? What do you mean ... instincts?
    She: My instincts tell me when the egg is done ...
    He:  But it is hard boiled ... perhaps something is wrong with your instincts ...
    She: Something is wrong with my instincts? I am working in the kitchen all day long, do the washing, keep your things in order, make the flat comfortable, look after the kids and you say, something is wrong with my instincts?
    He:  Alright ... alright ... but if you use your instincts to boil an egg then it boils for four and a half minutes only by chance.
    She: I don't know why you care if the egg boils for four and half minutes by chance or not - as long as it does boil for four and half minutes!
    He:  It is just that I'd love to have a soft egg and not an egg that is soft by chance. I don't care how long it takes to boil!
    She: Aha! You don't care ... you don't care, if I slave away for four and a half minutes in the kitchen!
    He:  No - no ...
    She: But you should care ... the egg has to boil for four and a half minutes ...
    He:  That's exactly what I said ...
    She: But you said a moment ago that you didn't care!
    He:  All I want is a soft boiled egg ...
    She: Heavens, aren't men crude!
    He  (muttering) I shall kill her ... tomorrow I shall kill her!

    Well, with the newfangled eggs described above catastrophes like that will be easily avoided in the future!

    Posted by Mausi at 06:52 PM | TrackBack

    July 30, 2006

    Theatre on the lawn

    Over the last two nights we have enjoyed Oscar Wilde's wonderful bit of fun "The importance of being Earnest" on the lawn at Abbey House. The Vicar kindly opens his garden to those who enjoy a picnic supper and the play, several of us provide a Pimms Bar and refreshment and a group of young actors provide the play.

    Over the last few years we have usually had an offering of Shakespeare, but this year the players decided to do Oscar Wilde's ascerbic comedy - and it has gone extremely well. Not least, I imagine, because of the setting against the Georgian facade of the Abbey House and sprawling across the drive and lawns. The house itself becomes a prop as the actors and actresses enter and exit the stage through its various doors, gates and across the lawn and flower beds themselves. The audience is almost a part of the play and caught up in the action itself.

    What can one say of the play itself? A wonderfully tangled story of two privileged young men in Edwardian society, caught up in a web of their own boredom and deceits - the perfectly respectable Mr Worthing having invented for himself a second persona in order to manage his escapades to escape respectability - are finally found out. Lady Basingstoke, the formidable "Grand Dame" of the piece ploughs across the play like a huge battleship until eventually defeated by the determination of her own daughter and the exposure of "Mr Worthings" true origins. It is hilarious, but it is also a very barbed commentary on the society of the time.

    The young actors who deleivered this piece for us deserve to be recognised and to have brilliant careers ahead - and as soon as I can find the playlist and their names, I will publicise them on this blog.

    The weather on our first evening was kind, warm sunshine, gentle breeze and all the feel of an English summer evening at its best. Last night was cooler, breezier and threatening rain - the problem of having weather instead of a climate - but everyone coped brilliantly and the rain held off until it was over. The setting, the weather and the play could probably only happen in England.

    One line brought the house down on both evenings, so I'll share it. Imagine the setting, Abbey House behind the players, the great Abbey Church itself next door and looming large over the garden to your right. Algernon addresses his new found beloved and says "Where is the church", facing away from it. She, without a word, merely points behind him, and he turns slowly, his eyes travel upwards as he takes in its bulk and says, "Ah!" Exit, stage right.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:32 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 29, 2006

    The Secrets of NIM

    Ever heard of NIM? It is a fascinating game for two players. It can be played anywhere and at any time because it requires very little preparation. All you need is a handful of small things like pennies, pebbles, sea shells, tooth picks - whatever you like. The beauty of the game is that there is a mathematical theory behind it and the player who understands the underlying principles will almost always win.

    Let's choose pebbles to play with. First you arrange your pebbles in any number of piles wiht any number of pebbles in each pile. The the players start the game by alternately drawing any number of pebbles - but at least one - from any, but only one pile. That means, one player may take away a whole pile, a part of or only one pebble from that pile. The player who draws last wins.

    Now, how do you know you are in a 'win' or 'lose' situation? For simplification let there only be one pebble in each pile. Apparently the player who succeeds in leaving an even number of pebbles for his opponent to draw from will win. For example, if 4 piles are left with 1 pebble each, the player who takes the first of the remaining 4 pebbles will lose. If 2 piles with 2 pebbles each are left, again the player who takes the first pebble or pebbles will lose. If he takes 1 pebble the other player will take one pebble from the other pile and win, and if he takes a whole pile his opponent will win even quicker.

    The real game can be slightly more complicated. To find out if you are in a winning or losing position simply write down the number of pebbles in each pile in the binary system. Then add them up in the ordinary decimal way. If all digits of the resulting sum are even it is a winning otherwise a losing position.

    4 pebbles in 2 piles: a winning position

    2  1 0
    2  1 0
        2 0

    6 pebbles in 3 piles: a winning position

    1    1
    2  1 0
    3  1 1
        2 2

    8 pebbles in 3 piles: a losing position

    1        1
    3     1 1
    4  2 0 0
        2 1 2

    Taking away any number of pebbles from one pile will obviously change the parity (oddness or evenness) of at least one column of the sum. Thereby it is possible to change a 'lose' into a 'win' situation. 8 pebbles in 3 piles (1,2,4) is a lose situation but taking away 2 pebbles from pile three will turn it into a win situation (1,3,2). See?

    Have fun trying this out on your unsuspecting opponent....

    Posted by Mausi at 07:27 AM | TrackBack

    July 27, 2006

    Sometimes the truth can be a little too sharp!

    An interesting throw away on Gorse Fox recently caught my eye. He has put up a post on sayings which all too often appear to be true. My favourite is definitelty the following.

    "Light travels faster than sound. That is why some people appear interesting until you hear them speak."

    And I can assure you that the rest are just as sharp.

    On the other hand, humour can sometimes be on the button as well, judging by a recent offering from Ozguru on G'day Mate. Its worth a visit to go through this list of fairly simple statements - my favourite is "You are depriving some poor village of its idiot."

    Well, its a tough job, but someone has to do it.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:53 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    Hitching a ride?

    The Interstate 75 is an interesting highway, running North to South from the Canadian border to Florida, it sees freight, tourists, local and long distance motoring and some interesting vehicles - like the set in the picture below. In a long procession of motorhomes, people towing boats, freightliner trucks and other assorted vehicles and motorcycles, we passed this set of trucks heading south. I should think the truck doing all the work would be the one to avoid buying once they have been built into whatever they will become at their destination - inless you want one that is fully run in and tested.

    Express delivery? Or simply a case of the three hitching a ride and heading for the sun?

    You certainly see some interesting trucks along the I 75!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:42 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    July 24, 2006

    Soccer Probabilities

    Although the USA could be talked into hosting the soccer world championship in 1994 and millions of people went to watch the matches soccer has never really become popular in the US. I still remember comments from American sports reporters stating that the game was simply boring with so few goals scored during the matches. They also proposed enlargening the goal so that more goals would be scored. But would that really make soccer more interesting?

    Mathematicians tell us it would not - because more goals scored during a match would increase the chances of the better team to win even more. Now, how can this be? Consider two teams, A and B, with A being twice as good as B. This will translate into the probability of 2/3 for A and 1/3 for B scoring the next goal. Now let's see what happens if different numbers of goals are scored during a match:

  • 0 goals B gets 1 point!

  • 1 goal
    The probability for A to score this goal is 66% (2/3) and 33% (1/3) for B.

  • 2 goals
    Probability for A to win 2:0 is 44%
    Probability for B to win 2:0 is 11%
    But the probability that the match will end in a draw is also 44%!

  • 3 goals
    Probability for A to win 3:0 is 30%.
    Probability for A to win 2:1 is 44%.
    That leads to an overall probability of A winning the match of 74% as a draw is not possible in this case.

  • 4 goals
    Probability for A to win 4:0 is 20%
    Probability for A to win 3:1 is 40%.
    Overall probability for A to win one way or other: 60%

  • 5 goals
    Probability for A to win 5:0 is 13%
    Probability for A to win 4:1 is 33%
    Probability for A to win 3:2 is 33%
    Overall probability for A to win is 79%

  • 7 goals
    Probability for A to win 7:0 is 6%
    Probability for A to win 6:1 is 20%
    Probability for A to win 5:2 is 31%
    Probability for A to win 4:3 is 31%
    Overall probability for A to win is 88%
  • These examples show that the probability for A to win the match increases with each goal that is scored in a match. What I found most interesting that if only two goals are scored in the match the probability to actually win for A only 44% and equal to the probability of the game ending in a draw, although the team is supposed to be twice as effective at scoring as their opponents.

    Funny how calculations can sometimes prove your intuition wrong.
    I think we should not tamper with the dimensions of the goal. Who would not like to see the underdog win against all odds?

    More details of the calculations are given in the extended post. Have a try yourself!

    As one sports reporter said during the last soccer worldcup: "The match ended in a draw, 1:1, but it could easily have been the other way round!"

    Here's the example for 7 goals, the others work accordingly. A could win with the following results:

    7:0 p=27/37
    6:1 p=(7!/(1!(7-1)!)) x 26/37
    5:2 p=(7!/(2!(7-2)!)) x 25/37
    4:3 p=(7!/(3!(7-3)!)) x 24/37

    The overall probability of A to win is then simply the sum of all.

    Posted by Mausi at 09:20 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    July 20, 2006


    Sitting outside in the garden last evening and enjoying an ever so slight breeze bringing along a whiff of cool air I suddenly heard a hissing sound above. A hot-air balloon had noiselessly approached the village but now had to turn on the burner again to gain some height and clear the houses.

    On an evening like this travelling in a balloon must be an unforgettable experience

    Hot-air balloons are quite common around here at this time of the year and this one was a truly magnificent specimen with its bright colours. Sometimes they don't make it over the hill and you see them go down somewhere in the fields around here. Always good fun to watch!

    I couldn't resist the temptation to use the computer to try out a few GIMP gimmicks on the photo I took of the balloon...

    Inspired by something I've been reading tonight I tried the Supernova first of all.

    This is supposed to be transformation into Polar Coordinates but somehow reminds me of a certain picture by Salvadore Dali..

    Good old Fractals

    Amazing what you can do with a few mouse clicks. This has been a bit of fun - more fun would have been a ride in the balloon itself .... Sigh!

    Posted by Mausi at 09:18 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    July 18, 2006

    Summer evenings

    This is the time of the year when I rejoice in my little garden. However tiring and hot the day at the office may have been the garden welcomes me with a cool breeze and tranquillity. Alright, so I have to share it with this black-and-white tiger who likes to spend days like this sleeping somewhere in the cool shade of the undergrowth but comes out to greet me as soon as I get home.

    Mausi - undisputed Queen of the garden

    Mausi and I like to spend the hours of last daylight in the garden reading, napping, and watching the teeming life around us. There seem to be animals around who do not seem to feel the heat at all like the bumblebees.

    060718_garden-02.jpg  060718_garden-03.jpg
    060718_garden-04.jpg  060718_garden-05.jpg
    Bumblebees collecting goodies from the lavender plants

    Although it doesn't show on these photos the bumblebees in our garden come in all sizes and colours. There are the small brown "furry" ones and then the giants, about 2 cm in size the last segment of their bodies covered with white furry hairs. And there are quite a few others in between, there must be at least five or six different kinds in our garden.

    Sometimes the bags on their hindlegs are so full that you are afraid they will burst any moment. And the bumblebees are covered in yellow dust from head to foot. My favourite time for watching bumblebees, however, is spring when they make a dash for the first crocuses. The tiny crocuses are not capable of carrying the weight of the bigger bumblebees and will sway from side to side. But the bumblebees don't care in the least and just continue walking from crocus to crocus like drunken sailors. Great fun to watch!

    Posted by Mausi at 09:12 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    July 17, 2006

    Irritating "Error" messages

    As one who seems to be able to obtain a 404 Error message for just about anyhting, I thought this one about takes the prize. Try this and see for yourself. My thanks to Ozguru at G'day Mate for the laugh.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:24 PM | TrackBack

    July 12, 2006

    Slug alarm

    Have you ever encountered slugs in your garden? We get them in all sizes around here and at the moment you can watch them grow at least an inch every day. Oh yes, I know they munch up all the nice flowers in the garden SHE is so proud of but that's no reason to expect me to chase them away! Have you ever trodden - accidentally of course - on one of them and felt it squishing through your toes? Yuks! I am not a hedgehog, am I? There's a couple of those spiky ones living in the next garden but the neighbours are feeding them on cat food and some special hedgie food they import from England supposed to be very nutritious (and you should see the bellies those hedgehogs drag through the garden!). Small wonder they turn their noses at the common garden slug.

    You should think that my people have acquired some skills in slug warfare by now. They were really quite green when they moved into this house. During the first summer they detected some slugs and tried to catch them in a beer trap. A beer trap of all things! Hrrmmmppfffffffff! It just resulted in the slugs telling their mates where the pub was and the garden was positively invaded by armies of slugs!

    Next spring they decided to sow some kohlrabis because HE likes them so very much. When the first tender green came out the slugs came as well and did quite an effective mowing job. Still the kohlrabis struggled on, never giving up, but remained rather small in size. No wonder! As they were growing one after another was invaded by a hungry slug until only the biggest was left. That one showed no outward sign of slug attack and was tenderly looked after by them. Then came the day to harvest: on lifting the kohlrabi out of the soil and turning it around it was discovered that it had cunningly been hollowed out by a fat slug that was still sitting inside, munching and grinning at them! All further attempts at growing kohlrabis in this garden were speedily abandoned.

    But gradually THEY learnt from experience. Now only plants are allowed in the garden which are not considered food by slugs. That worked quite well for a couple of years but suddenly the little buggers are back. How much generations of slugs would it take to adapt to a different diet? Not many is my educated guess.

    Well, if THEY want to get rid of them THEY'll have to think up something between themselves. I flatly refuse to have a paw in this. There's only one place for a cat to be in a garden like this ...


    Posted by Mausi at 09:06 PM | TrackBack

    July 07, 2006


    One of those birds that most us have heard about at some time, but have not seen, is the "State" bird of Kentucky, the red Cardinal. Its bright plumage is striking and it is a quick mover. One visited my friends home in Richmond every morning, but I could never catch a shot of him as by the time I had switched on the camera, he had darted away again. I got lucky when we went to see a fascinating garden in a small town called Berea - sitting on the porch, this one came to snack at the bird feeder just as I finished taking another photograph.

    The Red Cardinal considers the salad bar on offer in this garden.

    The garden is home to a wide variety of birds, darting in and out of the foliage and descending squabbling on the bird feeders strategically placed in various beds. It is not a grassed garden, every inch is taken up with shrubs, annuals and perrennials. There are two water features and the fish teem in these. It is a lovely shady place - but I would guess very high maintenance!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:14 PM | TrackBack

    July 05, 2006

    A Dulcimer lay ....

    Visiting the small town of Berea, Kentucky is fascinating, not least for the fact that it was established to help develop peoples skills in trades and art. Sometimes the two combine and you find yourself considering a skilled tradesman making musical instruments which he also plays and teaches.

    Antique Dulcimers on display

    The dulcimer is an instrument which enjoyed popularity among minstrels back as far as the 13th Century, probably having its origins in Italy or France. It is laid flat and played by fingering the strings (four of them) to the fret board while plucking the strings with the other hand. I have seen them played with either hand so it seems to be a matter of choice for the player! The sound is not unlike that of a violin played "pitzicato" or a guitar with a slightly strident voicing. The music is, however, extremely listenable and pleasant.

    A modern dulcimer on sale with the 'teach yourself' playing kit laid out below. The wooden doll on the left shows how the instrument is held to play.

    Those who enjoy "Bluegrass Music" played by bands from this area will have heard the instrument but may not have identified its unusual sound for what it is. An ancient instrument, still making merry music and with a growing band of players among the young.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:03 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    June 23, 2006

    Statistics for beginners

    Although I like mathematics quite well I've never been really fond of statistics. It wasn't until last week when a colleague introduced me to the "Goat Problem" that I realised how much fun it can be.

    The story is about a quiz show where in the last round the candidate is given a choice of three doors. Behind two of them is a goat, behind the last one a luxury car. When the candidate has chosen a door the quiz master says: "I'll to show you something" and opens one of the other two behind which he knows is a goat. "In view of this would you like to stay with your first choice of doors or change to the other one?"

    The question is what is the right strategy to maximise your chances: change or not? Change, of course! Because your chance of choosing a goat door at first and therefore getting the car by changing doors after the quiz master has opened the door with the other goat behind it is twice as high as choosing the car door at the first attempt and consequently loosing when changing doors after the quiz master has opened another door.

    The real fun is when you put this problem to other people and they vehemently deny that your chances increase by changing doors even stating that after one of the doors has been opened by the quiz master you have only a 50 percent chance of getting the car, which is nonsense, of course. You can easily prove your point by offering people a choice of coins or beermats.

    In 1991 one of the readers of the US magazine "Parade" asked Marylin vos Savant who answered readers' questions under "Ask Marylin" about the goat problem. Marylin said that of course he should change doors after the quiz master had opened the one with the goat behind it. That advice caused a flood of letters to the editor. 92 % of the roughly 10,000 writers - among them an astonishing number of mathematicians - contradicted Marylin in often quite rude terms. They called it a "national crisis in mathematical education". One of them even called Marylin the only goat in the whole story. 15 years later I find it hard to believe that people could react like that when a little quiet contemplation would have shown that Marylin was quite right.

    Another amusing little exercise is to calculate the probability that in a group of k people two are born on the same day. For a group of 10 people the probability is 11.7%, for 50 it is 97% and for a group of 100 people the probability is 99.99996% Interestingly you need to meet a much larger group to find someone who is born on the same day you are. If you are part of a group of 500 there's only a 74.6% chance of finding someone who is born on the same day and you need to meet 4999 to raise the probability to 99.9999%! Mind you, that's only theory. At school there were three of us in a class of 24 who were born on the same day ...

    For your amusement the calculations are given below..

    Two persons born on the same day

    For simplicity we disregard February 29. And the problem is easier to solve if we try to find the probability that no two persons are born on the same day. If the first person is born on any of the 365 days of a year, there are only 364 days left for the second persons, only 363 days for the third person et cetera. The probability for these events to occur at the same time are calculated my multiplying the probabilities:

    (364/365) x (363/365) x (362/365) x ... x ((364-k+2)/365)

    If we now want to know the probability of two people being indeed born on the same day we just have to subtract the result from 1.

    Another person born on the same day as you:

    The formula for this is much simpler because the day of birth is fixed in this case:

    1 - (364/365)k

    Posted by Mausi at 06:21 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    June 08, 2006

    The difference

    I've read a very funny story today about the different ways of doing things in Japan and Germany which I'd like to share with you. The story is about cooking a potato in an oven.

    How would Toyota approach this problem? Easy. Take a new oven, heat it up to 200 degrees, wrap up the potato in aluminium foil, put it into the oven and do something productive during the next 45 minutes. Then check if the potato is done, take it out of the oven and serve it. Piece of cake. I like this pragmatic approach.

    You don't think there's an alternative way to do it? There is. Let's see how BMW would do it. First, a team is put together which defines the problem en detail. Then the team searches for a certified potato supplier for six months but cannot find anyone. Therefore a turnip farmer is forced to supply potatoes. Because he doesn't grow potatoes himself he buys them from an uncertified potato farmer and adds 25% to the price for his persoanl profit (you can't blame him, can you?). Then the turnip farmer is asked to heat up the oven to 200 degrees. The BMW people demand that the farmer shows exactly how he has turned the knob on the oven and provide them with a brochure from the oven manufacturer to show that the oven is correctly calibrated. The brochure and certificate are duly examined and the turnip farmer is requested to check the oven temperature with a calibrated thermocouple.

    After that he is allowed to wrap up the potato in aluminium foil and put it into the oven but has to open the oven door again to show that he has placed the potato in the correct spot. BMW now asks for a study showing that 45 minutes is the appropriate cooking time for a potato this size. I suppose by now you can easily imagine the design of this study: after 10 minutes the potato is checked every minute and when BMW gets impatient the one minute intervals are changed to five minute intervals ...

    After 35 minutes it is decided for some reason that the potato is almost done and after having gratulated the turnip farmer on his success the good news are proudly presented to the management: despite an uncooperative supplier an outstanding result has been achieved. After 40 minutes the potato is finally taken out of the oven to minimise costs without reducing the quality of the cooked potato compared to the originally intended cooking time of 45 minutes.

    The potato is served but people wonder how the heck the Japanese could produce such a cheap potato which obviously tastes much better than the German one. This is the hour of management which comes up with the following proposals for improvement:

    One could use potato shaped turnips to reduce costs.
    The missing potato taste should be advertised as a new sign of quality in an image campaign.
    Cooking time should be reduced by 20% by reducing the oven temperature by 20%.
    It is to be examined if despite moving the oven to the Czech Republic it will still be possible to serve potatoes in Germany.

    On second thought I must admit that this is all much too real to really have a good laugh about it. Looking at the state German economy is in at the moment we could probably be a lot more successful if at least sometimes we just DID things.

    Posted by Mausi at 08:25 PM | TrackBack

    June 06, 2006

    Life of a cat ...

    Ahhh ...., this feels like heaven. Mind you, it took me some time of purposefully occupying their pillows to persuade my people to give me a pillow all to myself. Humans can be very dumb at times although mine always say - especially in front of other people - that they understand every single one of my miaows, even the unspoken ones. I call that bragging.

    There's nothing like a warm and cuddly place ...

    Nevermind, I love my pillow, something soft to rest my bones on after a long night out in the garden and surrounding fields. And I still have that black dustcover which I can pull around me if I want a bit more privacy. Perfect!

    The garden's catching up slowly too. We've had a very long and cold winter this year and it's been no fun being outside at night. Can plants go into hibernation? There didn't seem to be any around for months and now suddenly they have exploded straight out of the earth.

    Perfect hunting ground for a cat like me ...

    I like this part of the border planting very much. At last it's grown thick enough to give me perfect cover and what's even better - there are several mouse families living there. So whenever I feel like a snack ... Hey, come on, I am a CAT after all and it's hard enough work catching them in that undergrowth. Well worth the effort, though, they are delicious.

    Posted by Mausi at 05:38 PM | TrackBack

    May 30, 2006

    Musical musings

    It is said that there is very little under the sun that is "new" and some while ago I stumbled across something written by Lynn S who used to write on Reflections in d minor. I would have to say that I am close to agreement with the sentiments she expressed there - now sadly untraceable by me! In a very short post entitled "Artsy Language" Lynn included a link to a site advertsing a band from Estonia which usually performs medieval music and which had experimented with the music of Black Sabbath on medieval instruments and tempos!

    Now I would have to say that Black Sabbath is definitely not on my list of musical appreciation, but this was something else. The band was called Robellus and their latest offering was a CD entitled Sabbatum - which I recently ran across in a well known record emporuium. You got it, the music of Black Sabbath a la medieval. And in Latin. You have to hear this to believe it and excerpts could be downloaded at the website for the band. I did so at the time (2004!) but now can't find the track and the link has ceased to function! Sad, because it was both interesting and good!

    Personally I liked what I heard and cannot help but reflect on the fact that a great deal of the medieval sound is now being revived with the aid of modern technology, albeit somewhat "creatively" as many of the tunes and manuscripts have not been that well preserved. That said, groups like the Medieval Babes have made quite an impact on the music scene and I am listening to one of their CD's as I write. I guess that though we may not understand the Latin, its a bit like the opera, we don't actually need to understand it, the sound of it conveys the meaning and the passion.

    For the music fundi's who stumble across this blog, the sound produced in plainsong chant or this sort of rythmic cadence produced around a simple harmony of voices, is what brings the walls of a place like Tewkesbury Abbey alive. Speak and the voice is lost, chant it at just the right pitch and it carries right around the building. Sir David Wilcox once told a visitor that the "pitch" of the building of King's College Chapel was A Flat. I would suspect that the "pitch" at the Abbey is around "G" below middle "C" as I have noticed that it picks up my voice (and the others who are, like me, Basses) far more readily than those at a higher pitch.

    It is in these conditions that you run into another little medieval trick - tempo! Too fast and you hit the echo returning, too slow and you lose the resonance, so you have to pace yourself and your singing to the "interval" of the building - as much as 8 seconds in some! Great fun, but when you get it right - what a sound!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:41 PM | TrackBack

    May 17, 2006

    A little laughter ....

    Every now and then a little laughter is a must, and browsing Ozguru's blog is usually a good starting point since Peskie and one or two other members of the family started posting jokes there. The most recent one which has some hidden meanings as well - particularly if you actually look up the hymns listed - is his Hymns for all occssions.

    Still on the subject of laughter, Mausi had to go to the Saarland recently and, since she knows I am interested in where things are in relation to other places in Europe, she sent me a map of the route she and her colleagues would be driving. Scrutinising it I noticed that Worms is quite close to the route - in fact it is quite close to several towns I have visited with her and her husband. I have often wondered where it was ever since, as a school boy during a history lesson, the teacher mentioned that one of the major events that shaped the Protestant Reformation was the "Diet of Worms". It was not until the end of the lesson that most of us realised - or she realised and corrected our impression - that she was talking about a sort of conference and not some strange culinary invention to make one holier than thou!

    Mausi now says that she will never be able to think of the picturesque little city of Worms again without the image of a whole bunch of Reformers stuffing wriggly things into their mouths ......

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:04 AM | TrackBack

    May 16, 2006

    Cosmic perspectives ....

    A friend sent me a poem that not only made me smile, it also made me think! In a rather funny way, it does rather sum up the amazing fact that we have life of any sort - and it makes you wonder where we are going. As a chemist friend is fond of saying - being born is probably the single most dangerous thing you can do; and it goes downhill from there! I don't know who the author of this little gem is, but its certainly worth sharing and I hope that they appreciate the publicity it may or may not get from here. If anyone can enlighten me I will gladly add an atribution!

    Galaxy Song

    Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
    And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour,
    That’s orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it’s reckoned,
    A sun that is the source of all our power.

    The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
    Are moving at a million miles a day
    In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour,
    Of the galaxy we call the ‘Milky Way’.

    Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars.
    It’s a hundred thousand light years side to side.
    It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick,
    But out by us, it’s just three thousand light years wide.

    We’re thirty thousand light years from galactic central point.
    We go ’round every two hundred million years,
    And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions
    In this amazing and expanding universe.

    The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
    In all of the directions it can whizz
    As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
    Twelve million miles a minute, and that’s the fastest speed there is.

    So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,
    How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
    And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space,
    ‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth.

    One thing is for sure, when you contemplate the vastness of space and the sheer hostility of most of it towards any form of life at all, the wonder of the creation cannot but strike home. Life is a rare and precious gift, it does sometimes seem a pity to waste it on some human folly. We should celebrate it, and be thankful for it in all seasons and at all times. We are the stuff of the stars, our atoms that make up our molecules, that form our cells, that make our bodies are all the dust from all the stars since the dawn of creation - in short we are all microcosmic universes of swirling atomic particles that, in their present combination, give us shape and form - and that in turn is animated by something we call "life".

    As the Book of Common Prayer reminds us: "Dust you are and to dust you shall return. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes." Perhaps that is why we are so fascinated by the stars and by the cosmos, yet, in galactic terms, our lives are mere nano-seconds in length.

    Certainly food for thought in there ......

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:48 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    May 13, 2006

    Darwin Awards

    OK so I have an off the wall sense of humour when it comes to people doing stupid things and getting their comeuppance - I have a few scars of my own from doing things without considering properly what I'm doing so perhaps I have a right to laugh. The Darwin Awards always provide me with some laughter fodder and there is one in recently for a guy who attempted to emulate Benjamin Franklin's experiment with a kite, a key and loads of safety systems - just in case lightning did turn out to be a form of electricity. It did, but, thanks to Mr Franklin's having been prepared for this, he survived to conduct further studies.

    Not so the latest candidate for a Darwin. An electrician who, according to his father, should have known better, this chap flew a kite in a thunder storm, but, because he didn't have enough string, used copper wire to extend it ....

    He also failed to take Ben Franklin's precautions. The lightning didn't get him, the high tension cables he flew the kite into did. I just hope that the people who have had this guy work on their electrical systems have adequate insurance for electrical faults and failures causing fires. They may need it.

    One more, recently carried in all the UK nationals, is the idiot smoker who was put in hospital to have a serious skin problem sorted out. It involved him being coated from head to foot in a paraffin based ointment, which naturally saturated his pyjamas as well. He was told that he could not, under any circumstances, smoke. But he couldn't live without a fag - so he sneaked out onto the fire escape and lit up. He suffered 70% burns to his body, and did not survive. Hopefully, as one of the criteria for a Darwin is to remove oneself from the genepool completely, he has no offspring. If there is such a thing as a "stupid" gene, let us hope it has bred out of his family - or they could all be at risk of a Darwin.....

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:00 AM | TrackBack

    May 04, 2006

    I came down from the Isle o' Skye ....

    As the song says, "let the wind blow low, let the wind blow high ..." We left Mull with a fairly strong wind kicking up a small "chop" in the Sound of Mull, the channel between Mull and the mainland, on a ferry which runs from Fishnish to Lochaline. Then we took a very scenic route North and West on a single track "A" Road round Loch Sunart and following the A861 up the West coast to Mallaig where another ferry could be taken to Skye.

    The small ferry that runs between the quanitly named Fishnish and the mainland town of Lochaline, seen approaching the Fishnish end of the run.

    By the time we reached Mallaig, the weather had turned quite nasty - the rain driving at you with intent to wet, and the wind aiding and abetting in no uncertain terms. The sea in the Sound of Sleat was decidedly mobile, great lumps of water moving fairly swiftly, a real contrast to all our previous ferry trips and the boat ride to Staffa. That said, the ferry from Mallaig to Armadale is more than capable of dealing with the seas in this Sound and although a little lumpy, the trip was accomplished fairly smoothly.

    Now it must be said that Skye can be one of two sorts of place. Beautifully tranquil and heavenly, or wet and windy as the other place! The drive from Armadale up the again single track A Road to Harrapool and thence to Portree was accomplished in really spectacular rain and wind. The windscreen wipers coped with the rain, the driver was a little less sure about coping with the sheep being blown off the hillsides and across the roads! That said we arrived safely, found, through the Tourist Information Office, a comfortable B&B and then set about exploring for a place to eat.

    Portree was full of film crew on that day, something being made which stars Robert de Niro apparently, and all the hotels were fully booked as were most of the B&B's with a view of the more scenic parts of town, but we did manage to find a restuarant with superb food and a view out over the harbour. We can definitely commend to anyone who is planning to visit Skye a trip down onto the main quay in the tiny harbour, walk down to the end of the quay and just past a pink painted B&B you will find a small restaurant. Staff and food are great!

    Islands can be very interesting from a weather point of view - we went to bed with wind and rain shaking the trees and lashing the streets - and woke to bright sunlight and gentle breeze the next day!

    More tomorrow!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:21 AM | TrackBack

    April 28, 2006

    Getting Catty

    I stumbled across this site this evening and thought I would share some of the entertainment. I think Bravo here would be The Gray Monk's favourite feline, obviously a firefighter doing the short ladder exercise:

    And then there's Clara: http://
    or for the scientists among us, Schroedinger's cat:
    For those who prefer historical reenactments:
    ...wildlife documentaries:
    ...murder mysteries:
    ...and for anyone who receives spam:

    Posted by The Postulant at 08:13 PM | TrackBack

    Art and science

    Received an interesting response to our post with the rainbow in Loch Fyne. It just goes to show how different we all are when it comes to viewing a thing of beauty, no wonder Terry Pratchett can depict his "Auditors" in the "Thief of Time" as dismantling priceless works of art and reducing them to the individual paint atoms in an effort to "appreciate" what makes it "art". Someone that we shared the original photo with - it is, at 4 megapixels far to big to be posted in that form - read the time, date and other "technical" data from the original file (they obviously have a very sophisticated programme for this) and sent us the following comment!

    mit dem Regenbogen kann was nicht stimmen! Nach der Bildinformation wurde er am 18. April um 16.37 Uhr aufgenommen. Aus der Höhe des Regenbogens ergibt sich, dass die Sonne 40° hoch über dem Horizont stand. In Schottland ist dies aber nur bis 14.10 UT = 15.10 Uhr Sommerzeit möglich! Bist Du sicher, dass Ihr Euch nicht verirrt habt und irgendwo im Atlantik unterwegs ward?

    Translation: With the Rainbow, there is a problem. According to the photo information, it was taken on the 18th April at 16.37 hrs. According to the physics of rainbows, this is not possible for the location since the sun must be at an elevation of 40° relative to the horizon for a rainbow of this angle and magnitude. In Scotland this could only occur at 14.10 Universal Time which is 15.10 hrs British Summer Time. Are you sure of your location, as according to calculation you would have to be South of this position or in the Atlantic to obtain this photo?

    Erm, actually, there is a simpler explanation. The camera is set to European Summer Time, one hour ahead of BST!

    While most people went, "Oh, what a beautiful rainbow!" this correspondent actually sat down with pen and paper - or perhaps, knowing the person concerned, ran an analysis programme - and worked out the sun angles, the latitude and longitude and correlated this to the camera data. He is a very dedicated scientist, so I suppose we should expect a scientific analysis from him! Oh and he is a nice guy really - just extremely intelligent and possessed of a sense of humour that it takes a while to understand.

    He's still working on the Terry Pratchett explanation of the "Big Bang" - "In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded!" - insisting that we are explaining the wrong thing with this......

    The really scary thing is that he was absolutely right about the time the photo was taken ..........

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:33 AM | TrackBack

    April 25, 2006

    Guess the subject ....

    For those who have stayed in touch - you will have guessed that Mausi and the Monk have been adventuring in the wilds of the Western Isles, but where did we take this picture - and more important what is it?

    Subject confusion? Is it a bird? Is it a continent seen from space? Is there more to visiting the Western Isles than meets the eye?

    A free post to the person who sends in the correct answer!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:33 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    April 19, 2006

    Visiting UU's library ....

    The slightly less than soft "Ooook!" as I snapped the picture below warned me that I had strayed much too far in L-Space and wandered into a library where the books need physical restraint! Mausi and I had gone to see the famous Mappa Mundi - photographs definitely discouraged - and found ourselves wandering among the shelves of what can only be the model for the UU library.

    A small section of the "Chained Library" at Hereford Cathedral

    The library at Hereford Cathedral contains books dating back to the 1300's and has a number of first editions - possibly the only editions - of works by Erasmus of Rotterdam, Martin Luther and others. This collection has had mixed fortunes down the years, having been variously stored in chests, in musty rooms and then for almost five hundred years in the Lady Chapel in public use. Many of the older books are on scrolls - not in this section of the library - and the oldest accredited is the Hereford Gospel book dating to the 1340's. This is still used during the installation of a new Dean or at the enthronement of a new Bishop.

    Hereford has enjoyed mixed fortunes down the years - originally built by St Aethelbert, a Saxon Bishop, the cathedral was attacked and burned by an outlawed Saxon Earl and a Viking army. All the clergy were killed in the raid and many of the townspeople were also killed or taken as slaves. The present Cathedral was started in 1097 and is still very much a living place of worship within the heart of a very ancient city.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 07, 2006

    Spring is springing out all over ...

    My garden, a tiny patch of rather poor clay dominated soil surrounded by a thirsty hedge, is reawakening. The various bulbs have put out their leaves and sent forth flowers, but the primulas have made the best comeback so far. The daffodils have refused to show so I shall consign these symbols of Wales to the ditch on the other side of Offa's Dyke as a true resident of Gloucestershire!

    A patch of colour among the bare soil of winter's debris, the primula's put on a bold display - despite recent bouts of subzero temperatures overnight!

    One sure sign of spring is the fact that Madam Paddy Cat is shedding her winter coat, so once again everything she touches is given a fur lining. She approves of spring - but still prefers to keep close to a radiator overnight or in the mornings. The door now has to be propped open when I am at home or I get told off because she likes to check the temperature and thee weather in person.

    DSCF0007 (2).JPG
    Madam Paddy Cat giving instructions to the gardener.

    Well, I see the hedge is once more sending out its new buds and shoots so any day now the trimming will have to start! Hey ho, at least its nice to be outdoors without having to dress like the Michelin Man!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 05, 2006

    Spring has sprung, the grass is ...

    Don't worry, it isn't snowing here at the moment, but the weather is, as is usual for Spring, changeable. The weatherforecasters do their best, but sometimes they fail miserably to keep up with it. The old saw goes, "Spring has sprung; the grass is riz - I wonder where the mower is ..." Well, I know where mine is, it's in my shed and I have already used it this Spring - it was that or let the grass get out of control. So why have I posted a photograph of the snow?

    Well two reasons really, the first being that I felt I needed something pretty for a change after several days of not having anything, and the second was because there is a sneaky, cold wind blowing at the moment which cuts right through you. The temperature in my office is also pretty low - I suspect because our heating system is trying to warm up offices at the other end of the building where it had been turned off prematurely.

    The staff car park at my 'Day Job' with a dusting of snow in late January this year.

    One of the really strange things this year is that our Winter has been particularly dry up until now. In the last few weeks we have had a lot of rain and for this we must be thankful. We also had a fair old bit of snow, but at intermittent intervals and it has helped, certainly in the Western parts of the country, to keep our ground reasonably moist. That said, I notice that the Flowering Cherry trees in Tewkesbury are in full bloom, but the ones at work - some 28 miles East and 400 feet higher, have not. The daffodils up here are in full bloom, but my own bulbs at home are struggling and my daffodils have failed utterly to put in an appearance this year. Perhaps they have decamped and gone to live in Wales or somewhere a bit wetter. And perhaps, it just isn't the right kind of year for them - or I'm not the right gardener!

    In reality, we don't get that much snow and it seldom lies around for long, except where there is a long shadow which protects it from the sun. This year we seem to have had a low pressure system to the South which has drawn really cold air off the continent and kept it over us until recently. Still, as long as one can warm up occassionally, even the snow is nice!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:16 PM | TrackBack

    March 24, 2006

    New gender discovered ......

    It has been drawn to the Monk's attention that medical science has identified a new human gender. Apparently medics in the delivery room now look at a new born infant and can identify the child's gender in one of three classifications.

    The now tell the excited parents: "It's not a boy, it's not a girl - it's a civil servant!"

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:15 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    Council vacancy

    A blog called the Watcher of Weasels runs an interesting council - thirteen members in number - who watch other blogs and commentators and comment on the entires on a weekly basis. They have rules of conduct and there are, as you would expect, requirements for the submission of items for their consideration. I do occassionally wander over there to see what has got a mention and once even got a nomination for their roundup.

    They now have a vacancy on Council and are inviting applications. The rules for Council members are fairly strict and I suspect will need a bit more time than I can give. But it would be fun.

    If you have a yen to try for it try the link. Good luck.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:11 PM | TrackBack

    March 22, 2006

    Spring has come - at last

    The sun is out every day now, the air has a new quality, even the crocuses have got the message this time and opened up at last.

    060320_spring11.jpg Poor little things have barely made it out of the earth this year.

    Because I have not been able to guard my garden very well this winter owing to the mountains of snow and the Siberian cold the other cats in the village seem to think they can now come and take a bath in the sunshine on MY patch.

    060320_spring01.jpg Look at that cat - strutting through my garden as bold as brass!
    060320_spring02.jpg Huh - a trespasser sneaking up along the fence!
    060320_spring03.jpg I can wait - surprise is the essence of attack!
    060320_spring06.jpg Here we go - belly down so we can pounce on that cheeky sod. He still hasn't seen me ...
    060320_spring07.jpg Full speed ahead - Aaatacke!
    060320_spring08.jpg And over the fence you go and don't you dare to come back - today!
    060320_spring09.jpg Any traces left? No. Good.
    060320_spring10.jpg Anyone else wants to have a go?

    It's hard a cat's life is!

    Posted by Mausi at 09:57 PM | TrackBack

    March 16, 2006

    Where is spring?

    I tell you I am getting thoroughly fed up with this winter. It is the middle of March and we still have snow up here in the hills. Oh all right, not as much as on the photo below which was taken a couple of weeks ago but still a bit.


    This is I on my personal pathway.

    It helps of course to have a personal slave who clears a path for me in the garden so that I can walk around and reach my favourite places without getting my belly wet. But the ground is still frozen and icy cold. My poor paws! Last year we were all sunbathing at this time of the year at temperatures well over 20 degrees Celsius!

    Another thing is that I am moulting again. I frequently get told off by my people for generously leaving my hairs around the house. As if I did that on purpose. They are very enthusiastic about combing me every day (I am a European Short Hair, by the way, not a Persian) - you'd think they are trying to pluck an angora rabbit! I mean, they are not the ones that have to go outside in this flimsy fur coat!

    The meteorologists tell us it's spring since March 1. Ha - not even the crocuses up here have realised that. Anyway, meteorologists - one day they tell you about global warming, the next they say that that doesn't mean you are not getting real winters anymore. Because this year the clouds gathered up so much humidity over the warm Mediterranean that they shed huge amounts of snow when they met the cold Northern air at the North side of the alps. They also point out that all the water pouring into the Northern seas because of all the ice melting in the arctic is slowing down the Gulf stream that comes down at the English West coast. Watch out there - you might be in for a bit of a cold spell as well. So we have global warming but the winters are getting colder and more severe? I wish the meteorologists could make up their minds. But then I am only a cat, I do not need to understand humans.

    The only good thing about going outside for a few minutes is coming back to a warm and cosy place.


    Aaaaah - this feels good ....

    They tried to tell me that the black thing is a dust cover for a computer screen and not meant for cats. Nice try, folks, but I know it's just the perfect place for a cat to be dormant in ...

    Posted by Mausi at 08:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 02, 2006

    I'm packed and ready to go ......

    This one is the fault of Practical Penumbra .....

    You scored as Babylon 5 (Babylon 5). The universe is erupting into war and your government picks the wrong side. How much worse could things get? It doesnâ??t matter, because no matter what you have your friends and youâ??ll do the right thing. In the end that will be all that matters. Now if only the Psi Cops would leave you alone.

    Deep Space Nine (Star Trek)


    Babylon 5 (Babylon 5)


    Enterprise D (Star Trek)


    Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)


    SG-1 (Stargate)


    Serenity (Firefly)


    Bebop (Cowboy Bebop)


    FBI's X-Files Division (The X-Files)


    Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica)


    Moya (Farscape)


    Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix)


    Andromeda Ascendant (Andromeda)


    Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
    created with

    This is one I really would not mind having to live out .....

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:26 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    February 22, 2006

    Wise deduction?

    A teacher addresses a class with the statement:

    "Now class, George Washington chopped down his father's cherry tree and admitted he'd done it. Any idea why his father didn't punish him?"

    Quick as a flash a boy at the back replies:

    "Because he still had the axe in his hand?"

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:04 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    February 01, 2006

    Which sports car am I?

    Thanks to Dodgeblogium, I have found another of these "Which ---- are you?" quizzes. As ever I cannot resist the temptation to try them, so .....

    I'm a Chevrolet Corvette!

    You're a classic - powerful, athletic, and competitive. You're all about winning the race and getting the job done. While you have a practical everyday side, you get wild when anyone pushes your pedal. You hate to lose, but you hardly ever do.

    Take the Which Sports Car Are You? quiz.

    Well, it's RED, it's hot and it travels fast and dangerously, so it's close to what I have spent a long career ramming through traffic!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:08 PM | TrackBack

    January 30, 2006

    Which Doctor Who am I?

    You scored as The Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann). The
    Eighth Doctor struck a chord with you after only one adventure. Maybe you are a fan of his audio adventures, or you just came to Dr Who quite late. Hope it wasn't just the special effects that impressed you.

    The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker)


    The First Doctor (William Hartnell)


    The Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann)


    The Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton)


    The Fifth Doctor (Peter Davidson)


    The Ninth Doctor (Christoper Eccleston)


    The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy)


    The Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee)


    The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker)


    Which Doctor Who are you?
    created with

    I found this over at the Laughing Wolf and couldn't resist trying it out. OK, so I like the thought of having a Tardis to hop around the universe in. I'll pass on the Darleks though.

    And yes, I did come to Dr Who late!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:35 PM | TrackBack

    January 29, 2006

    Happy Year of the Dog

    Tonight I am off to a party to celebrate the Chinese New Year - the Year of the Dog - with some friends. It will be fun because they are Chinese and plan a real Chinese feast to celebrate. Come to think of it - I was born in the year of the Dog. And no, I am not about to say which one! So really, this is going to be my year for fun.

    So, having been reminded of this, I would like to wish everyone a Happy Chinese New Year for the year ahead. May it bring plenty of good luck, and happiness.

    Every dog has his day they say, this one just got handed a whole year!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:14 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    January 19, 2006

    More painting instead of work ....

    I have long wanted to attempt to do a painting of a photograph of this ship from my collection. The lead ship in the painting is the former HMS Loch Boisedale, renamed on being taken over for the SA Navy as HMSAS Good Hope. Her sister, which I have included in the picture, is the former HMS Loch Ard, renamed HMSAS Transvaal. A third ship, formerly HMS Loch Clee was also acquired and became HMSAS Natal. Three further ships, all ex-W-Class Destroyers were also acquired by the then growing SAN in the immediate Post War period as the SA Navy re-equipped to take on a defence role in the South Atlantic on behalf of, and in support of, the RN.

    These were HMS Whelp (HMSAS Simon van der Stel), HMS Wessex (HMSAS Jan van Riebeeck) and HMS Wrangler, renamed as HMSAS Vrystaat. This last underwent a major refit and rebuild which completely altered her appearance and she spent a considerable part of her subsequent career as a "Training Ship" or as the official "Yacht" for the Governor General and later the State President. HMS Whelp had the distinction of having been the seagoing command of a certain Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, Consort of HM the Queen.

    My rendition of the frigates HMSAS Good Hope and HMSAS Transvaal at sea.

    Post the adoption of the Republican constitution and the countries departure from the Commonwealth, all ships in the SA Navy dropped the "HM" part of their names and became simply "SAS". The SAN acquired the three "Loch Class" escort frigates towards the end of the second World War, and a former "Flower Class" corvette, the former HMS Rockrose. This last became the navy's Hydrographic survey vessel under the name HMSAS Protea.

    Protea was the first to be scrapped, being replaced as survey ship by the Natal, who was herself replaced in the late 60's by a new Protea which is still in service. Gradually the older frigates disappeared, to be followed by the converted destroyers as the Type 12's came into service, their service lives extended slightly by the Wilson government's reneging in the Simonstown agreement when they seized the last of the Type 12's instead of delivering it as promised.

    These old ships underwent considerable modernisation during their service and their final appearance was considerably different to their original looks and armament. The two ex-W's in particular were given a makeover which included a helideck and double hangar aft, an enclosed bridge and completely different mast and radar arrays. They were all good sturdy seakeepers, but the three former "Lochs" in particular were very sound ships and with their enhanced armament which gave them the Bofors and twin forward gun mounts, became quite formidable ships. Like the ex-W's they underwent several modernisations during their service lives which kept them as effective defenders of the Cape waters long after their sisters had vanished from the RN.

    They had many roles, and served in many places, but I like this picture of them best.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:59 PM | TrackBack

    January 06, 2006

    It's a Cat's Life

    Life is not easy for a cat at this time of the year. It starts with growing a thick fur in late autumn which makes you feel uncomfortable inside the house when you come back from a hunting expedition. Sometimes I wish I could hang my coat on a peg just like my people do. Talking about hunting expeditions: there's not much to hunt anyway, with all the mice hiding deep down in their burrows and enjoying the comforts of a geothermal central heating! That leaves only tinned mice for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and the odd snack in between. Aaargh!

    The next drawback about the season is this white fluffy stuff called snow. It easily comes up to my belly where I live which makes me feel rather uncomfortable. And it's far from easy to find a dry place to have a proper look around.


    My observation post in winter

    The worst, however, is that my people flatly refuse to have a cat's toilet inside the house. Have you ever huddled in a snow drift with the wind howling around you and blowing snow into your face? Believe me, you wouldn't want to find out.

    And the tricks they think up to lure me outside! Like an invitation to a game of chasing snowballs. Mind you, I sometimes do it to amuse myself on a particularly dull day. But a few days ago they even left a window open and counted on my curiosity to go outside. I smelled that rat soon enough and came back before they could close it on me altogether!


    Nice try, folks!

    Posted by Mausi at 03:28 PM | TrackBack

    December 30, 2005

    The Cat in Winter

    Madam Paddy Cat is singularly unimpressed by the Winter cold and snow. She has adopted her Winter routine of finding warm, draft free places where she can hibernate between meals. The recent snow has impressed her even less - one disgusted look at the snow, an even more disgusted look at me holdong the door she had just demanded be opened, and a retreat to yet another of her warm and secure places while I got this weather business sorted out.

    Madam occupies my comfortable chair - it's warm, it's safe - and there are no drafts here! Especially there is NO SNOW!

    I have the distinct feeling that I am being held responsible for this unpleasant weather. Definitely not a Winter loving cat!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:42 PM | TrackBack

    Carols with a difference ....

    Ozguru has been running a wonderful series of Australian Christmas Carols on his Blog, G'day Mate. Several times I have thought "must link that" and have just been too busy to get round to it. So now I am.

    Try these .....

    Australians let us barbeque ...

    Jingle bells (Aussie version)

    Six white boomers ...

    Deck the shed with bits of wattle ...

    The twelve days of Christmas (Australianised version!)

    Three drovers

    and finally ...

    The North Wind

    Now, I wonder if I can persuade the Abbot and the Master of Choristers to try one or two of these next Christmas? It will be worth a try and certainly a lot of fun!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:23 AM | TrackBack

    November 25, 2005

    Big City views

    Visiting the Big Apple for the first time - and on one's own - can be a bit daunting, but I still enjoyed the opportunity. These pictures date from my first trip to the Big Apple in August 2003 and as you can see - it rained, frequently in torrents! It is certainly an interesting place, one I would like to explore further if opportunity serves. In the meantime here are some of the sights I did manage to catch in a two day visit.

    Downtown from the ferry!

    Interestingly the hotel I booked online looked absolutely nothing at all like the pictures they displayed on their website! At least I will know better for the future. New York cabbies turned out to be much better than their reputation (thanks, no doubt, to Hollywood!) suggests, but most shop keepers, hotel staff and the odd public official (Fire Fighters and Police apart) were every bit as surly and unhelpful as I had been told.

    A fast RIB fire boat patrol on the East River above Brooklyn Bridge.

    That said, I met some super people - ordinary New Yorkers - who made my stay interesting and showed a side to the city that was positive. It was very soon apparent that, despite TV and film images for the rest of the world, the Big Apple is about as typical of mainstream US as London is of the rest of the UK. Naturally a visitor wants to see as much as possible - I avoided the UN HQ - so I took in St Patrick's Cathedral, the site of the Twin Towers and 9/11, the Jewish Museum, Broadway, 5th Avenue and Times Square. I would have liked to take in a show, but didn't have time, so I did a "Round the Island" trip by boat instead and took in the USS Invincible and her consorts, a floating maritime museum on the piers at West 42nd Street.

    USS Invincible and her preserved consorts, a "Fletcher" Class destroyer and an early missle carrying submarine.

    As I said, too little time and too much to see and do. Another visit is definitely called for!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:06 PM | TrackBack

    November 22, 2005

    Recognition at last?

    The Monk is proud to announce that he has been awarded a Doctorate by the Unseen University and can now add DA after his name! According to the certificate the Hebdomadal Council of the UU, under the Chairmanship of Mustrum Ridcully DThau, etc. Archchancellor, has declared that the said Monk, having satisfied them that he had made the necessary pecuniary emolument and thus proved himself to be "Credulus Maximus", has been awarded the Degree Doctorate Doctorus Adamus cum flabello Dulci.

    This entitles him to a range of entertaining "perks" including being photographed (for a fee) with credulous tourists, wearing fancy robes on occassion and bagging the best table in restuarants (after a suitable gratuity to the head waiter).

    For those unfortunates reading this who haven't a clue what I am on about, I suggest reading "The Last Continent" by Terry Pratchett. Or any of TP's books which feature the Unseen University (Motto "Nunc id vides; Nunc ne vides") or any of the series that deal with the Watch and other denizens of the fabulous city of Ankh-Morpork.

    You too can be a luminary of the famous UU. Try contacting their terrestrial agent at Sator Square.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:41 PM | TrackBack

    November 19, 2005

    Sunny expedition

    Being a cat I seldom fail to be amused by my people. Two years ago they set out on an expedition to the north of the Scottish mainland to watch the annular eclipse in the early hours (4.44 a.m.) of May 31,2003. I should perhaps tell you that He is a hobby astronomer and over the years has become a keen watcher of the sun. He usually prefers a warmer climate for his holidays but the prospect of watching an eclipse easily overcame whatever doubts he had about spending time in Scotland.

    They insisted on a cat sitter for me during their absence and asked a friend of theirs to stay with me. I could have managed very well on my own with a little bit of assistance from our neighbours who are great friends of mine - but who am I to object to a personal slave? And to own the truth, he looked after me very well.

    My people packed up their camping equipment, a few spare clothes and set off in the middle of May. Camping in Scotland in May - they must be mad. They told me afterwards that they were almost washed away by a firs class rain storm when camping at the foot of Ben Nevis during their first week. But the weather gradually improved from then on.

    On May 29 they reached their observation post at the camp site of John o'Groats and secured a place next to the beach with a beautiful view of the sea. Only a few campers were present at the site although the newspapers had said that thousands were to be expected for the event at the Scottish coasts.

    The next morning they decided to take a long walk along the coast. It was a beautiful day, rather sunny with a gentle breeze from the sea. They walked until they reached some steep cliffs around midday where thousands of seabirds were nesting.


    Seabirds certainly have a way of picking a place with a view ...


    ... catproof but rather crowded!

    When they came back in the late afternoon the atmosphere on the camp site had changed completely. Whereas in the morning there had only been a few tents it was now absolutely packed with tents, caravans and people and bustling with activity. The biggest tent belonged to a local TV broadcasting station. The TV people were already interviewing the hobby astronomers about the oncoming event. Whoever was not being interviewed was busy rigging up his telescope to be prepared for next morning.

    Apparently nobody got much sleep that night and He was up and out of the tent at least an hour before the eclipse was about to start. At last the long awaited moment had come: and he saw NOTHING! Absolutely nothing! Of course, whoever knows a bit about the sea knows that there's a good chance of a bit of mist rolling in from the sea at sunrise. Watching a solar eclipse at that time of the day might be difficult! On that day of all days the mist was even thick enough to totally obscure the sun for hours. What a pity.

    As I said before: people are funny. Fancy, going hundreds of kilometers to see nothing. Could as well have stayed at home with me!

    Posted by Mausi at 08:27 AM | TrackBack

    November 17, 2005


    The number Two has always played an important part in man's thinking. We have two feet, two legs, two hands, two eyes, two ears. There are two sexes. Noah took the animals in two's into his ark. Quite early man must have also discovered that each child has two parents, four grandparents, eight grand-grandparents and so forth. Writing this down in the respective numbers 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 ... leads to the simplest of the so-called geometric series.

    In ancient Egypt this concept was already successfully incorporated in doing calculations. The Egyptians were able to do all their multiplications by successive doubling, halving and adding up as is shown in the following example.

    Let's multiply 11 by 19. You would successively double the first factor and halve the second, taking only the integral half of any odd number until you reach 1. Then you would add up only those doubles which correspond to odd halves:

     11   19*
     22    9*
     44    4
     88    2
    176   1*

    That adds up to 11+22+176=209.

    Another approach is writing 19 in a binary way:

    19 = 1*16 + 0*8 + 0*4 + 1*2 + 1*1 => 10011

    Now you can double 11 again and put the binary number of 19 in the second column from bottom to top. You then add up those doubles which correspond to a "1" in the right column:

     11    1
     22    1
     44    0
     88    0
    176   1

    It's quite fascinating, especially if you show the Egyptian Multiplication to other people, physicists and mathematicians excluded, of course. They will instantly try to think up an example to prove you wrong and usually will not give up before the fifth or sixth try.
    Have fun!

    Posted by Mausi at 10:23 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    November 07, 2005

    Any offers?

    My blog is worth $25,968.84.
    How much is your blog worth?

    Not as much as I'd hoped - any better offers?

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:22 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    November 03, 2005

    Flying into the sunset?

    Maybe not - certainly not, if it is one of Albania's now redundant MiG 15, 17 or 19 interceptors. They have all been virtually grounded since the collapse of communism in that country and the countries inability to buy the fuel - they burn around 1,000 litres on a short flight. The General responsible for selling them off, mainly to Western collectors who want to turn them into bars or some other form of decorative exhibit, says that these aircraft served the country very well - some of them actually flew combat missions in Korea!

    The Albanian Airforce's Chief Maintenance Engineer seems to have been less than fond of them - in his words they are dangerous. In fact he says that almost all crashes involving them has been down to failure in the aircraft and not "pilot error", that well known MoD (UK) excuse for any crash. At least someone is certain of where the problems lie! He is even less complimentary about Albania's fleet of (still flying!) ex-Soviet helicopters. He tells Reuters that everytime he hears one of them in the air, he follows it on the ground until it comes down! Such confidence the man has!

    It seems in fact that the Albanian's simply want shot of them any way they can get anyone to take them. I wouldn't recommend flying them anywhere however, the majority have been quietly sinking into the mud on airfield dispersal bays since the Hoxha regime fell in 1991. According to Reuters they are now rusting, showing signs of taking root and some have colonies of vegetation on them.

    Still, for the real collector of Cold War warbirds, I guess there will be something to buy. All I ask is that no one flies one anywhere near me! By all accounts they have less chance of flying safely than the Bumble Bee - and as is well known the Bumble Bee is definitely an aerodynamic impossibility!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:00 PM | TrackBack

    October 25, 2005

    Places I love

    Going through some of my photos I came across this picture, taken on my last trip to Australia (was it really 2002?) and some of those who know me and know this particular place will recognise it. It is taken from a ferry - the "Narrabeen" if memory serves me - on the run from Circular Quay to Manley. Yes, you've guessed it - the Heads, the famous entrance to Sydney Harbour.

    One of my favourite places on earth, the entrance to the huge expanse of water that is Sydney Harbour.

    Sydney is one of the most amazing places I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. One way or another, I am determined to visit it again!

    And the other end of the run - Circular Quay ferry terminal.

    As I said in the title - a place I love.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:17 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    October 19, 2005

    Having fun with one's people

    Here I am, Mausi the black and white moggie, living with quite a nice couple of humans at the foot of the Taunus mountains. I am a good hunter and like to put the food I bring home on display rather than just dump it onto the doormat as you can see on the photo.

    View image
    This is me sitting behind Herbert the gargoyle's tub which makes splendid cover for pouncing on stupid birds or our neighbour's toy poodle.

    Some days, though, I try to have bit of fun ...

    I came home one morning after a night's hunt and She opened the door for me. (They won't let me have a cat flap, can't imagine why.) I had a living shrew in my mouth with the tail dangling down from between my teeth which She didn't notice, sleepy as she was. I put down the shrew on the living room floor and shepherded her gently behind the bookshelves before She could do anything about it. Then I sat down to watch the fun. I was not to be disappointed. Further reinforcements were speedily called to Her assistance. When He entered the living room they started moving the first two smaller bookshelves away from the wall which only prompted the shrew to hide behind the third one, a really big one with hundreds of books in it. There was no way to move that one, they had to take out every single book first. Lovely sight to watch! Piles of books were soon cluttering the floor. When I saw them lying flat on the floor in their pyjamas trying to shoo the shrew into a little cardboard box I couldn't keep a straight face any longer and had to go to the kitchen for a spot of breakfast. From the kitchen door I watched them releasing the shrew into the garden. I couldn't have cared less - can't stomach those silly little buggers anyway!

    Posted by Mausi at 09:16 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    October 16, 2005

    Newcomers to the Monk's blog

    It is always fun to welcome someone new onto one's page and I have two! In the near future you will see entries appearing under the names of The Postulant and Mausi, one based in London and the other in Wiesbaden in Germany.

    The Postulant some of you may have encountered before - she used to have her own blog, but Mausi is new to this game and lives in the foothills of the Taunus mountains. It will be fun to see what we all have to say - especially as we are all from different backgrounds and although we all share a love of Pratchett and a fistful of beliefs, we all have different takes on a number of things and widely different careers.

    Oh, and we all like the Murray Ball cartoons of the "Dog" set in a wonderfully zany world called Footrot Flats! Watch out world, this could get very humourous!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:58 PM | TrackBack

    October 12, 2005

    Points to ponder?

    From my brother in Cape Town comes this list of interesting philosophical items to ponder .....

    Top Ten Thoughts to Ponder:

    Number 10 -
    Life is sexually transmitted.

    Number 9 ­
    Health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.

    Number 8 ­
    Men have two emotions: Hungry and Horny.
    If you see him without an erection, make him a sandwich!

    Number 7 ­
    Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day; teach a person to use the Internet and they won't bother you for weeks.

    Number 6 ­
    Some people are like a Slinky.....
    not really good for anything, but you still can't help but smile when you see one tumble down the stairs.

    Number 5 ­
    Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.

    Number 4 ­
    All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.

    Number 3 ­
    Why does a slight tax increase cost you two hundred Pounds and a substantial tax cut saves you thirty pence?

    Number 2 ­
    In the 60's, people took acid to make the world weird. Now the world is weird and people take Prozac to make it normal.

    We know exactly where one cow with mad-cow-disease is located among the millions and millions of cows in Britain but we haven't got a clue as to where thousands of illegal immigrants and terrorists are located. Maybe we should put the Department of Environment and Rural Affairs in charge of immigration.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:08 PM | TrackBack

    August 29, 2005

    A Dilbertian response

    I have a colleague who is known for his sense of humour and his slightly off-centre view of life in general. He teaches Chemistry, Radiation, and other nasty materials effects on the human frame. Prior to joining us, he worked for the Royal Navy, specifically the branch that deals with matters nuclear. His lectures are, to say the very least, entertaining and unforgettably unpredictable - and very informative. He has placed this response on his e-mail while he is out of the office ...

    Until further notice I'll be carrying out some private HAZMAT research in central France. I intend to focus my attention on the hazardous properties of fermented fruit juice and solidified milk products.

    It goes some way to explaining his lecture style. It may also help explain, in part, his sobriquet - "Huw the Unhinged". Scourge of the forces of management, doyen of the lever applied to the cracks in any organisation. Dilbert to the life!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:55 PM

    August 27, 2005

    Part of the family

    Meet Mausi, undisputed "owner" of my friends in the Rhinelands. Mausi rules the house with a velvet paw and even has her own seat at the breakfast table in the gazebo.

    Mausi making sure all is in order - or in her preferred tongue "Alles in Ordnung!"

    The wildlife in this little corner of the Taunusstien is very much in this young lady's control. She is, as her name suggests, an energetic "mouser" and keen provider of delicacies such as mice, the odd stoat, birds and many other items for the family larder. Like almost every "Moggy" - old English name for a Black and White cat - she is a character with definite ideas of what is due and to whom by whom!

    Exempt from her rule are the local hedgehogs - perhaps from experience of a prickly nature - they go unmolested.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:37 PM

    An honest appraisal?

    Aside from my "day job" I mark project submissions for a workbased degree programme for a university. Mostly these are of a "technical" nature related to my teaching subjects, but I am also a trained, qualified, and experienced "manager" so I also mark some projects which are strictly management. Recently I marked submission from a student which contained the rather telling statement I quote here ...

    "The author is currently a strategic manager, one of six, who compromise the strategic management team, with responsibility for research, development, human resources and operational delivery."

    It may be Fruedian, but it has that certain ring of truth to it ....

    I thought he deserved a "Distinction" for his honesty!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:07 AM

    August 26, 2005

    Medical mangles?

    It's Friday, so I thought I'd celebrate the fact - and that it's a long weekend - with something funny. I got this list of mangled medical recording from my brother in Cape Town. I think I hope that the medical abilities are not accurately reflected by the mangled reports!

    Actual writings in a Mpumalanga Hospital

    1. The patient refused autopsy.

    2. The patient has no previous history of suicides.

    3. Patient has left white blood cells at another hospital.

    4. Patient's medical history has been remarkably insignificant with only a 40 pound weight gain in the past three days.

    5. She has no rigors or shaking chills, but her husband states she was very hot in bed last night.

    6. Patient has chest pain if she lies on her left side for over a year.

    7. On the second day the knee was better, and on the third day it disappeared.

    8. The patient is tearful and crying constantly. She also appears to be depressed.

    9.The patient has been depressed since she began seeing me in 1993.

    10. Discharge status: Alive but without my permission.

    11. Healthy appearing decrepit 69-year old male, mentally alert but forgetful.

    12. Patient had waffles for breakfast and anorexia for lunch.

    13. She is numb from her toes down.

    14. While in ER, she was examined, x-rated and sent home.

    15. The skin was moist and dry.

    16. Occasional, constant infrequent headaches.

    17. Patient was alert and unresponsive.

    18. Rectal examination revealed a normal size thyroid.

    19. She stated that she had been constipated for most of her life, until she got a divorce.

    20. I saw your patient today, who is still under our car for physical therapy.

    21. Both breasts are equal and reactive to light and accommodation.

    22. Examination of genitalia reveals that he is circus sized.

    23. The lab test indicated abnormal lover function.

    24. Skin: somewhat pale but present.

    25. The pelvic exam will be