Thursday, 11 December 2008

A Game of Names

For 2 or more players

Rules: One player says the name of a famous person. The next person has to think of someone whose first name starts with the first letter of the previous person's last name. When both names start with the same letter the order of play is reversed.

Player 1 - "Barack Obama"
Player 2 - "Orson Welles"
Player 3 - "Wayne Rooney"
Player 4 - "Robert Redford"
Player 3 - etc

You could make this harder by specifying a category (film stars, musicians, politicians....).

Anyway, we tried to come up with as many double letter names as possible a few months ago, and then recently I tried to list one name for each letter and came up with the following list, which I hope doesn't say anything too worrying about what goes on in my head. I did try to think of real people for all of them, but failed. Any suggestions for filling the gaps?

Alan Alda
Bill Bailey
Calvin Coolidge
David Davis MP (or, confusingly, David Davies MP)
Dame Edna Everage
Freddie Flintoff (although his real name is Andrew)
Germaine Greer
Harriet Harman
I ?
Jesse Jackson
Kevin Keegan
Laura Linney
Magnus Magnusson
Nyron Nosworthy
Olive Oyl
Peter Purves
Q ?
Robert Redford
Simon Schama
Thomas Truax
U ?
Vince Vaughn
Wincey Willis
X ?
Y ?
Z ?

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

The Mystery of the Secret Coffee Shop

We went to The Island two weekends ago and last weekend we went to The Forest. Possible suggestions for next weekend's expedition so far include:
1. The Mountain
2. The Castle

A good test I think is whether it can be incorporated into an Enid Blyton style title with the addition of an appropriate adjective, as in "Adventures on the [spooky/old/haunted/mysterious/secret/enchanted/strange] Island" or "Four go to the [as above] Forest".

Sussex isn't known for its mountains, though, and although I could go to a castle, spooky, old, haunted, mysterious, secret, enchanted, strange or otherwise, I suspect that this weekend will be slightly less adventurous. "Adventures in the Mysterious Laundrette" and "Two go to the Enchanted Supermarket" are probably more like it.

How is your weekend looking?

Monday, 1 December 2008

Countdown conundrum

It is Advent. Calendars abound, as do perfume adverts, large tins of chocolates, and sparkly lights.

As they say in adverts for financial products, past performance is not a guarantee of future results, which gives me some hope that this will be the year I arrive for Christmas on time, sober and with all my presents selected, bought and wrapped. This would be pleasing. My own countdown to Christmas will most likely be alternately highly organised and entirely shambolic as this list will demonstrate:

1st - 10th (approx) - State of denial, other than admiring sparkly lights
11th - Make lists of a) card recipients, b) present recipients, c) presents I would actually like for Christmas (too late now - in despair everyone has got me vouchers)
12th - Buy cards
13th - Write cards
14th - Send cards. Feel smug
15th - Get over-excited about decorating tree with sparkly lights etc
16th - Go to shops and freak out in crowds - go home for a cup of tea and a sit down
17th - Buy presents online
18th - Dash about trying to see everyone I know
19th - Decide presents bought online won't arrive in time and rush to the shops
20th - Online presents arrive
21st - Solstice! Go to Burning of the Clocks and then pub
22nd - Recovery
23rd - Last minute shopping and more pre-Christmas drinks
24th - Arrive at parents' house hungover, and go straight to the traditional Christmas Eve pub gathering / birthday celebrations
25th - In bosom of family. Eat, drink, relax.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Things I have learned this week

1. It is possible to buy an alarm clock with the voice of Stephen Fry.

2. Thanksgiving is fantastic. Yum.

3. Syd the cat has a good technique (intentional or otherwise) for getting a second breakfast.

4. A lipogram is a piece of writing which avoids using 1 (or more) letter(s).

5. There is one wild boar per square mile of the Forest of Dean.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

The fastest electronic random number indicator equipment in the (North) West

I have some Premium Bonds. I have had them since January 2005. With average luck, I thought as I sent off my £100 cheque, I will eventually* win as much as I'd get with a savings account. Under closer scrutiny, however, this thought looks not so much like justified optimism, as a fundamental misunderstanding of probability, finance, luck and the functioning of government-backed bonds. I have never won.

In a way, though, some of my original reasoning stands. As well as the slightly dubious claim above, I can retrieve my £100 in case of financial crisis, although in practice I have always preferred to test the outer limits of my overdraft rather than give them up because there is part of my brain leaping about shouting "I could win a million pounds! A MILLION! HA!"

At the beginning of every month I get a little inward skip of anticipation, thinking that any day now someone could turn up with The Big Cheque. Whether they actually bring a 6ft cardboard cheque to the door I neither know nor care - in my imagination a man from the 1950s turns up with The Big Cheque and we both awkwardly try to manoeuvre it round the recycling boxes, front door, cat etc while I jump about a bit with an inner feeling of vindication. I'm not even sure it's the money I'm excited about - The Big Cheque has achieved mythic status in my mind which months and (potentially, let's face it) years without winning ANYTHING AT ALL can't dent.

Mr Listingslightly does not think it is healthy to dwell on this. He does not have Premium Bonds. He understands maths. I fear he may be right.

This is kind of cheating, but here's a link to's list about Premium Bonds. I was going to do a "reasons why it's good to hang on to them" type list, but I think it's covered by the leaping-about-million-quid-Big-Cheque thing above. Also, imaginatively anticipating, spending, donating and investing The Big Cheque is a much nicer insomnia diversion than paranoic medical self-diagnosis or thinking about work. I should mention that I have profited indirectly from ERNIE's munificence, as my Grandma has sent me some £ in the post when she has won. So there you are, a happy ending after all.

* If "eventually" means "in an infinite amount of time" then my argument may have been correct, I think. If I had an infinite amount of time I would study statistics, as I fear my knowledge is not what it should be.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Naming and Necessity. And Lobsters.

Back in the days before facebook I didn't know the surnames of most people I knew. To specify a particular person you had their first name and, if there was more than one within your acquaintance, an appropriate modifier - I've known a Blond James, a Sweet James, more than one Tall James and an Irate James over the years - and then a roundabout description, "You know, Kate's friend, the one with the hat. No not Portsmouth Kate, other Kate who went to Spain....." etc. Of course sometimes, though, there are people whose first and last names dance together so happily that they are always referred to in full.

Quite why there is a glut of Jameses, Claires, Sarahs and Stephens in the mid to late 70s remains unclear, but the following sites demonstrate, among other things, 1) that there is, and 2) that there is a fertility trough at about that time. So there aren't many of us late Generation Xers ("the baby bust generation"), and we don't have many names between us. Oddness.

This is an American site, so if it tells you there's one or less people with your name then there probably aren't any at all in the US.

2. The Name Voyager
This is fantastic. Among other things, it tells me that my (male) cat's name is now much more popular for girls than it ever has been for boys. I haven't told him though. I found this through the excellent New York Times Freakanomics blog (written by the authors of the book of the same name).

3. British surnames
This site has a map of Britain which can show the concentration of people with your surname in 1998 and 1881. It also tells you exactly how many people with your surname there were at those times and some other demographic info.

4. Adopt a Lobster
Yes again. Because lobsters are great. Mine is called Alvin and this month he's going to be released into the sea somewhere off the Cornish coast, to bury himself in some sand until he grows into a bigger lobster. You can also see the strange and/or highly predictable names people call their lobster adoptees here.

5. UK Population
Not a pyramid, more a work in progress on a potter's wheel, all bulging and uneven. On the same site there are lists of the top 100 boys' and girls' names for the past five years. One thing's for sure, if you want your son to feel inconspicuous in life (and to always be tagged with a letter, description or surname for ease of reference) you should certainly call him Jack.

6. Pseudonym Generator
For when it all gets too much....

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

More cider and less pine needles

So it’s been a while then eh? And in the meantime I have been (among other things):

1. Turning 30
Interestingly this more or less coincided with some articles comparing the current economic state with that of 1978, famous not only for great music, but also for strikes, unemployment and general economic peskiness. Which is one of the reasons why there are fewer 30 year olds about than you might expect (more on this later). Anyway, being 30 – excellent. Partly because……

2. Getting a job.
Which is very good indeed.

3. Reading ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’
Which was a birthday present. The characters were so great that at first I wondered if the plot was going anywhere and whether it mattered at all, but it was spiralling in to a series of marvellously satisfying conclusions where all the many people and events circled into each other and it all worked beautifully.

4. Going to Middle Farm
They have pigs and rabbits and ferrets and cows and horses and guinea pigs and about 50 types of chicken and some harvest mice, which are wee tiny things. There is also a cider shop in which there is Ashridge sparkling cider, which I have happy memories of drinking lots of and enjoying very much, so it’s good to have found it.

5. Listening to Jeffrey Lewis
Who is just great.

6. Unpacking the Big Duvet for the winter months.
Goose feathers. King size. Warm-coloured covers. Fluffy. Massive. Blissful.

7. Playing Mahjong.
Only once, and it is exceptionally complicated and requires further practice.

So that’s what I did on my holidays. That and a spot of early season hibernation (see 6 above). I think in a former life I was a squirrel, or a moomin, although moomins eat pine needles before settling in for the winter, which is a step too far for me.

Watch this space for bears, cats, winter, trees, resolutions, revolutions, hats, films and Hove. Hopefully.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be Katharine Hepburn in 'Bringing Up Baby'...

I had a conversation with a friend last year about lives as movie genres – he kept imagining himself in a zombie-horror film and once found himself in a late-night garage trying to decide what provisions he would grab in an escape/survival scenario.

For me, it would have to be a screwball comedy – one of those 1930s films with clever, fast-talking women and be-suited men getting into scrapes, improbable coincidences and never knowing where a leopard or Cary Grant will appear from next. (Interesting Cary Grant fact: he allegedly haunts a club in Rottingdean.) Exhausting perhaps, but endlessly exciting and rather glamorous.

So – how about you then? Vote now......

Monday, 15 September 2008

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!” (And fireworks, parsnip soup and knitwear)

Watch this space, for soon there will be bears. First I must find them though, so in the meantime here is my list of things that are good about autumn. You might (and probably will) disagree. You might even disagree that it is autumn at all yet, deluding yourselves that it is “late summer”, but if every season is three months long, then we have to be in autumn (September, October, November) now, so that winter (December, January, February) has Christmas in it. You may yet disagree that seasons have to be regimented into three month blocks, and/or that a season has to start on the first of the month - you may be following the Irish calendar, for example. Still, whenever you think it starts it is (or shortly will be) upon us like a big warm snuggly jumper.
(NB Clearly this only applies to the northern hemisphere, and, given the weather-related assumptions, coldish bits of the northern hemisphere.)

1. Food
This would probably be first on my list of best things about any season, but autumn food is particularly fantastic. This is, after all, a time to prepare for hibernation. It is also a time where you don’t have to worry too much about getting your thighs out in public (see 2 below). I’m thinking tea and cake, soups, stews, pies, roasted things, apples, pumpkins, chickpeas, blackberries, parsnips, beans and lentils. My current favourite cold-weather recipe is this (the chickpea one). Yum.

2. Clothes
Lots of them. Tights and jumpers and scarves and hats and gloves and jeans and shirts and coats and socks and boots and cardigans and pyjamas. I did read somewhere once that black opaque tights were like oysters, in that they shouldn’t be worn in a month without an R, although oysters should never be worn, and I don’t advise eating tights either. This summer, however, black-tight-wearing has been pleasingly acceptable, maybe because the weather has been less than scorching, but mostly I think because of the footless tights thing. Still, enough of the floaty, summery, hotpanty season, hello to knitwear. Which leads me on to…..

3. Knitting
I don’t knit in the summer, not if it’s hot anyway. Last autumn I knitted some of these, having been given some rather excellent wool for my birthday. This autumn I am knitting a long overdue present. And probably some more wrist-warmers.

4. Autumn/Winter pubs
...are Victorian, probably red, wooden, warm, maybe with a fire and sell proper beer. In Brighton and Hove, see the Cricketers, the Great Eastern, the Constant Service or the Greys.

5. Gigs (not festivals)
Indoors, warm, dry, beer, easy access to toilets, going home after – mmmmmm. Having said that I appear to have no gig tickets lined up at all. Tsk. I would like to see Cajun Dance Party but they keep playing when I cannot see them. Any suggestions gratefully received.

6. Fireworks
Although not those set off during daylight hours and selected for their decibels, rather than aesthetic appeal. I absolutely love fireworks though. I used to have a program where you could click on a black screen and randomly coloured and sized fireworks would explode, but now the nearest I can find is this. Still, the real thing is much better, in a duffel coat and with a sneaky hip flask preferably.

7. Trees
Because they look like this.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Leave your comments here (as long as they're nice)

Readers! (Reader?)

This is all new to me and I've been tinkering cautiously with the settings.... I can't find a way to retrospectively allow comments on older posts, but feel free to add your thoughts on pub cricket and rain here. New lists to follow soon.


Tuesday, 9 September 2008

If the universe is expanding and contracting in an infinite cycle, is there a time and place where I’m a particle physicist?

A friend once told me that at every stage of his science education his teachers revealed that what he thought he knew as solid scientific fact was in fact an oversimplified version and that the truth at each new level was more interesting and much more complex. Having given up physics at 14 and chemistry at 16 I’m now horribly aware that I mostly can’t remember what I used to know, and also that it’s probably not entirely accurate anyway. Take atoms for example. I thought I knew this: protons, neutrons and electrons right? Protons are +, electrons are – and whizz around the outside and neutrons have something to do with isotopes. I think. Or rather I thought. I did vaguely know there were quarks and other exotic bits of stuff but just found out there are in fact 16 particles in the standard model, including the excellently-named charm quark. I’ve been looking for a book/website/very patient person to explain all this to me for years and finally, there are all sorts of things out there. This is mostly thanks to the imminent switch-on of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, which is the world’s biggest particle accelerator, built to recreate the conditions in the immediate aftermath of the big bang. This is all exciting stuff and may lead to the identification of the elusive Higgs boson (the “God Particle”), which is a particle that has been predicted, but never actually spotted and which is important for explaining why things have mass. I think.

Anyway, here is a list of websites that explain it better than I can, and for those of us who, in this dimension at least, are not particle physicists….

1. The Guardian’s interactive guide to what it’s all about
Which is excellent, with a snazzy interactive guide and some fantastic pictures.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research. There have been suggestions that smashing up subatomic particles to see what bits emerge isn’t a great idea, as it might cause black holes to be created which could suck the Earth in. This would not be a good thing. In the Guardian’s Big Bang Machine supplement, Chris Morris (of Brass Eye fame) says “There’s a website where some health and safety nut has calculated that Cern could be 18 times more lethal than death.” Still, CERN are pretty confident, a legal challenge against them in the European Court for Human Rights having been dismissed, and they explain why here. They're doing a live webcast from 8.30 on 10th.

3. Prof. Brian Cox explains things
My new favourite TV scientist. This is just great.

4. Large Hadron Rap
And if that’s a bit much, here’s the same thing explained in less than 5 mins in rap form…..

5. New Scientist lists
Lists - ha! New Scientist thinks the world won’t end on 10th September, and proposes the top 5 best and worst things that could actually happen.

6. The Big Bang, Oxford
The Big Bang is also a sausage and mash restaurant in Oxford, who are celebrating the CERN experiments with a special “Swiss-Franco inspired sausage ring served over a simple creamed mash” followed by “a Black Hole chocolate dessert doused in custard”.

Monday, 8 September 2008


Fortunately this isn’t quite as topical a, erm, topic so far this week. Still, it’s only a matter of time I expect so here are some types of rain:

1. Purple rain

Which has to be the best surely…. as endorsed by Prince / The Artist himself. Of course if such a thing really occurred in nature it’d be like living in a Ribena advert, which isn’t what anyone would want, especially since they’ve become less about cute round berries frolicking and going “woo!” and more about the violent ends suffered by the poor wee things en route to the bottling plant.

The lyrics don’t appear to shed much light on this meteorological weirdness, although there is a suggestion that it might be about heaven, as well as a relationship….. Maybe it’s time to revisit the film, which I saw on New Year’s Day once and laughed lots. I suspect it may not be that funny watched alone and sober though.

2. Sideways rain

More musical precipitation, as encountered in “Meet Me At The Pictures”, which is on the forthcoming (completely excellent) Mojo Fins album. To hear this in the meantime, you should see them live. You really should, because they are marvellous.

3. The rain in Spain

Does it fall mainly in the plain? Really? That would be convenient. Although “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the Galician-Portuguese border and parts of Northern Navarra” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it… or the same usefulness for elocution lessons. It would be true though.

4. Torrential rain

This is about as dramatic as rain gets, as reported by the Met Office, and is somewhere above “spits and spots”, “a light sprinkling of showers” and the unimaginatively-named “heavier rain”. Descriptive, but for a more thorough system of classification you should check out this.

5. Dramatic rain
If only this happened more in real life….. When there is thunder lightning and rain of the, for example, 9:8:6 variety to accompany moments of crisis it’s like being in a film. A dramatic film. Perhaps in a big dress with a small waist.

6. Acid rain

Which I’m sure we don’t hear about as much as we used to. Is this because it happens less now? Or just that it happens less in Northern Europe? Or is it that people are more worried about the over-arching issue of climate change? Hmmm…..

I’m pretty sure there’s more to be said about rain. Do send suggestions and I’ll revisit this later. When it’s raining, probably.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Pub cricket

We had a lovely time in Cornwall and played, among other games, a fair amount of pub cricket. There are quite a few variations on this, but the basic idea is that you/your team score points for pub names which have legs (e.g. the Duke of Norfolk) and go out if you pass one with no legs (e.g. the Six Bells). We played it by sides of the road, so you score for pubs on your side, with both sides playing simultaneously therefore. Does that make any sense at all?

Some people play a stricter version where you can only score a maximum of 6 points, as in the real thing, but we had an unlimited possibility of points. I should add that unless otherwise specified a plural counts as only 2 entities - e.g. the Waggon and Horses = 2 horses = 8 points.

According to Wikipedia the best pubs for cricket are the Million Hare and the Twenty Churchwardens. Truly those would be good spots. Sadly, the Million Hare has been renamed, but the Twenty Churchwardens looks like it is real and still there - divert your journeys via Swaffham accordingly. A special mention to the marvellously named Three Ferrets in St Ives, passed on foot so unscored by us.

So, the best-scoring pub cricket pubs in Brighton & Hove are:

1. The Geese Have Gone Over The Water
Possibly....... Of course, if we're talking actual geese here, then this scores 4 (2 geese as there's an unspecified number). However, according to the rather excellent, "The pub's name refers to sixteenth century Irish history when the nobility, artists and poets of Ireland fled to escape English rule. This period is also known as the "Flight of the Earls"." Potentially a lot of legs right there, but still contentious scoring as the numbers aren't really specified. Back to wikipedia, which warns against confusing the flight of the earls with the flight of the geese, which refers to "the departure of an Irish Jacobite army under the command of Patrick Sarsfield from Ireland to France, as agreed in the Treaty of Limerick on October 3, 1691 following the end of the Williamite War in Ireland. More broadly, the term "Wild Geese" is used in Irish history to refer to Irish soldiers who left to serve in continental European armies in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries."
So there you are. Probably you'd be pushing your luck to argue for several thousand points for this one, especially as I think its current name is just "The Geese".

1. (Again) The Lion and Lobster - FOURTEEN POINTS
For a lobster, as we learned at the Lobster Hatchery in Padstow, is a decapod.

2. The Hare and Hounds - 12 points

3. The Waggon and Horses
- 8 points

4. The Horse and Groom - 6 points

5. The Three Jolly Butchers - 6 points

...and as far as I can see that's IT for more than 4 points. Any others??