Saturday, 31 May 2008

PhotoHunter: self

My self, my whole self (well, almost), and nothing but myself.

I tried really hard to capture myself on camera, but somehow kept missing....

So you I'll just have to make do with .......

... odd little portions ....

.... from other photos.

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Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Et voilà

The house across the river, completely surrounded by water.

The field directly across the river from our house.

The same view last July. I was trying to catch the reflections at the time but it does show the difference very well.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Outlook: unsettled

I started this post after taking these photos of ominous looking clouds three days ago.

dark clouds
black stormy clouds

It has been raining almost non-stop ever since. The river is normally very placid but this morning I noticed it becoming very turbulent at the weir. It had already broken its banks at the lowest part.

By earlier this evening the water had risen so much the weir was almost unnoticeable. And just look at the colour of the water.

Last July roughly the same view looked like this:

It's still raining.

Leaving Portsmouth

It's always a great sight leaving Portsmouth Harbour, and for once it wasn't raining, we remembered not to leave the camera in the car, its battery was charged, and its card was in it. Success!

Spinnaker Tower

The famous, or infamous, Spinnaker Tower. It was intended to mark the new millenium, but didn't open until 2005 by which time it had overrun the budget by a massive amount. I rather like it, in spite of its troubles.

HMS Warrior

HMS Warrior, one of the three historic ships kept in Portsmouth. It was the first iron-hulled armoured warship. It was restored to its 1860 state after being used as an oil jetty.

HMS Victory

Probably the most famous of the historic ships, HMS Victory, Nelson's flagship. Both these ships, and the Mary Rose which is kept enclosed, are very well worth visiting if you ever have the chance.

The Round Tower, built in the 15th century, and part of the city defences until 1960.

The Isle of Wight in the background. I visited it recently but by a different route.

Monday, 26 May 2008

A story

A young man, aged 18, decided to take a year off after school and before going on to university. So when his 19th birthday came around, he was travelling in South America.

About half way through that year away, he discovered he had testicular cancer and had to be flown home. In spite of all the medical treatment during the following months, he was determined to go to university as intended. He did, and completed his degree, in spite of the cancer having spread resulting in the loss of both testicles.

He wanted to join the army but the army put up every obstacle they could. He overcame the obstacles as fast as they were put up. He has been serving in the army for the last 3-4 years.

About a year ago he went to Iraq and returned safely about seven months later. He has just been given an award for outstanding courage on active service.

I would say his courage started a long time before that.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Methane and more

Photo from Flickr user oobrien. Creative Commons licence.

Methane levels in the atmosphere rose steeply from the 1970s to the 1990s, but has been stable over the last ten years, until 2007, when it climbed again.

Methane is the second most important gas causing man-made climate change. It causes about 25 times more warming than carbon dioxide, but it survives for a shorter time before it is broken down, and there is less of it in the atmosphere. Overall it has about half the impact of carbon dioxide.

The stabilisation of the increasing levels has probably been the result of

  • industrial reform
  • changes in rice farming methods
  • the capture of methane from landfill sites

One of the stations monitoring methane levels and noticing indications of an increase is Svalbard in Norway. Although this increase could be from several sources,their findings suggest that it is from natural causes:

  • reversion to older rice farming methods
  • drying out of tropical wetlands
  • release of methane from permafrost
  • from hydrate deposits on the ocean floor.

but the most likely is that it is coming from wetlands.

Cattle are often cited as sources of methane, as indeed they are, though far from the worst. There has been recent news that Australian scientists are developing a type of "burpless" grass which produces far less methane one processed by the cow. Whether this will be a successful way of reducing greenhouse emissions remains to be seen. Other scientists suggest this grass could even raise methane production from cattle.

La Fête des Mères 2008

As it's La Fête des Mères here in France, a small tribute to my mother. We did have Mothering Sunday together earlier this year.

As a small child.

As a young woman, with her beloved violin.

Newly married and in her first flat, pictured with a friend. My father was already away in the army in 1942.

On her 88th birthday last year 2007.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

PhotoHunter: shoes

A pedestrian entry :)

Shoes have never been an important part of my life and I tend to pad around at home in bare feet. If it's cold, I wear socks.

I do, though, have pairs to cover most eventualities.

Shoes for going on walks.

Shoes for working in the garden.

Shoes when I want to look half-way decent.

My shoes are just a little bit smaller than some.

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Blue gold

running tap

Photo from Flickr user jenny downing. Creative Commons Licence.

It's raining here in central France, and has been since yesterday afternoon. I'm not too sorry. Barcelona in the Catalan region of Spain is facing its worst drought for many years with water supplies at a fraction of the normal level.

Since mid-May ships from Société du Canal de Provence have been supplying Barcelona with drinking water along with the ships from the Marseilles water company to provide about 6 % of the daily water consumption of the Catalan capital. The contract was signed in April and deliveries are due to continue for six months.

This is of course a very expensive procedure. If water leaving Marseilles is about 1 euro per cubic metre, by the time it reaches Barcelona, its cost will have risen to 8 or 10 euros. Blue gold indeed.

Source Développment durable le journal (in French)

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Hair today ...

I went to the hairdresser two days ago to have my unruly curls cut off before we left for France. It has been a long time and it was well overdue.

I went in like this, and came out without the unruly curls. In fact without any curls at all.

Such a surprise, my hair is as straight as it's ever been. I am amazed and delighted. Every time I see myself in the mirror, I break out in a big smile.

My other half, on the other hand, says he wants his curly wurly back (as he so charmingly calls me!). My guess is, it will be back to normal before very long.

Monday, 19 May 2008

One into ten - ?

Photo from Flickr user jackace. Creative Commons licence.

Volvic, owned by Danone Waters, have launched a campaign to encourage people to buy bottled water. For every litre bought, Volvic will "generate" 10 litres of safe, clean water in Africa.

Yet again big business is "helping" Africa for its own purposes (cf P&G, Unilever).

Bottled water has had extremely bad press recently, with several campaigns pointing out that the water in our taps is as good if not better than bottled water and doesn't use up unnecessary energy. So to make us feel good about it, they have started this marketing campaign in the UK, apparently following successful similar efforts in France, Mexico, Germany and Japan.

They, bizarrely to my mind, compare the carbon emissions from the production of a litre of Evian or Volvic with the production of a kilo of chicken #!@#!! Why are they comparing water with a chicken? So you're better drinking water than eating a kilo (2.2 lbs) of chicken? Why are they not comparing bottled water with tap water I wonder?

My first thoughts are that I would rather donate money directly to a charity, WaterAid for instance, and do without Volvic and their cut altogether.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

PhotoHunter: candy

Those of us who speak British English don't normally use the word candy in the same way as Americans do. Candy is a very particular type of hard sweet made from boiled sugar, and even then it's likely to be called something else.

And we don't eats sweets in this house :(

However all that changed when our son arrived back from Dubai, laden with presents, and one of them I could describe as candied nuts: in this case cashew, sesame and almonds.

In fact it's called sohan asali, a Persian sweet which sounds really easy to make.

fine sugar, 150 grams
thick honey, 3-4 spoonfuls
cooking oil, 100 grams
saffron, one teaspoon
almonds, 150 grams
pistachios, 100 grams


Wash and thinly slice almonds, then allow to dry. Thinly slice pistachios. Mix sugar, honey and oil and cook over high heat stirring occasionally until sugar melts and turns golden.

Add almonds and continue cooking while stirring occasionally until almonds also turn golden. Avoid too much stirring of the mix. Dissolve saffron in a bit of hot water and add to the mix.
Pour some oil on a flat tray and rub over the entire surface. Pour small portions of the mix using a teaspoon on the tray at equal distances so that the portions do not touch. As soon as each portion is poured on the tray, place a few slices of pistachio on top. Allow to cool.

He also brought Turkish Delight which I wouldn't call candy, though I know some people do.

I like it a lot :)

If it hadn't been for those sweet presents, I would have had to tell you all (again) about my husband's unfortunate colour and pattern blindness, which result in these candy striped shirts hiding in the wardrobe.

He still manages to sneak them in when I'm not looking!

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Friday, 16 May 2008

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Rice in crisis

rice grains

Today, 15 May 2008, bloggers unite for human rights.

According to Amnesty International, human rights include the rights to education, adequate housing, food, water.

World stocks of rice have been stable for five years, people have not suddenly started eating more rice, world trade has not collapsed, and yet prices of rice have trebled this year, and with the loss of production in Myanmar, the situation can only get worse.

At the same time however, Japan has a surplus of rice amounting to 1.5 millions tons, which if released on to the market could help prices to fall. However for this to happen, the USA has to lift its objections and Japan has to decide to re-export rice imported from the US, Thailand and Vietnam.

The alternative is that Japan keeps its rice until it deteriorates, while people go hungry.

The full report can be downloaded from the Centre for Global Development

Sadly, I don't think playing the Free Rice vocabulary game will be enough.

Commitment to development

Image in public domain from Wikimedia Commons.

Africa is the poorest continent but how committed are wealthy countries to developing countries in Africa? Foreign aid is often used to compare the help given by the developed world but there are other factors as well as aid to take into consideration:

  • trade
  • investment
  • migration
  • environment
  • security
  • technology

David Roodman of the Centre for Global Development compared 21 wealthy nations on all seven factors and created a chart demonstrating the commitment to development.

Interesting points:

  • Sweden came out on top because of high levels of aid and commitment to security.
  • Ireland came second thanks to high levels of aid and a large peacekeeping force in Liberia.
  • Portugal came sixth because of an openness to Africa migrants.
  • The UK is strong in investment and security.

In spite of these, all countries could do much more to help development in Africa.

The full report can be downloaded from the Centre for Global Development.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Happy Birthday Mont Saint Michel

Photo by Flickr user afloresm. Creative Commons licence.

On 1 May a mass conducted in the abbey by the Archbishop of Paris marked the start of the celebrations of the 1300 year history of Mont Saint Michel. The celebrations will continue until October 2009. Eighteen months - some birthday party!

The site is visited each year by 3 million people, making it one of the most popular in France, after the Eiffel Tower and the Palace of Versailles. It is deservedly a UNESCO World Heritage site. I visited during the late 70s and even then, off season, it was obvious the huge impact of so many tourists on the area.

The island itself is a breathtaking sight and can be spotted from quite a distance, but the whole bay is beautiful. Because of its popularity, a causeway was built about 120 years ago to help access for visitors. It carries a road which, according to the official site, doesn't flood, and car parks which do sometimes flood, in the exceptionally high tides in the area.

The result of this structure has been that the tides can no longer carry away coastal sediments and without any action to prevent it, the island is liable to become land-locked, and the rich environmental habitat of the sea and surrounding marshes damaged.

The proposal is to remove the causeway and the car parks (quite an eyesore in all honesty) and replace it with a one-kilometre pedestrian bridge stretching from the relocated car parks to the island. Alternatively there will be an environmentally friendly shuttle running between the two.

At high tide, visitors will still be able to visit the island, but for a few hours every year, at exceptionally high tides, the island will be cut off.

I had thought that these projects would be finished by 2008, but I believe it will be 2009, perhaps in time for the end of the festivities.

Details of the project can be found at Project Mont Saint Michel, in French.


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