Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Looking forward to 2009

A happy and healthy New Year to all who come by this blog.  2008 was a very mixed year for me, with some low points, but balanced well by some very special times. 

A power cut this evening had me wondering if 2008 would have the last laugh.  But no.

In the candlelight, Bertie showed off the bald patch on his neck, where the vet took a blood sample, but hiding his two bald legs, the results of failed attempts to find a blood vessel.  As he has recovered so well, it seems a positive note on which to start 2009.

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Monday, 29 December 2008


Nothing profound, just the river during a winter's walk.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

PhotoHunt: squeaky

This isn't the picture I was thinking of posting for today. In fact I almost forgot altogether because I had to take this young man to the vet. Many of the noises he made in response to the vet were squeaky. Very.

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Thursday, 25 December 2008

A very merry Christmas

To my very good friends and visitors, each and every one of you, may your Christmas be warm and wonderful, and all you could ever wish. 

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Friday, 19 December 2008

PhotoHunt: wide

People come from far and wide to see Carcassonne in the wide open countryside.

It is in an area of many wide open spaces.

Heading into the wide Mediterranean Sea.

The wide open sky, as the sun goes down.

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I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

By John Masefield (1878-1967).
(English Poet Laureate, 1930-1967.)

I'm away on my travels again! Who's going to be my fellow rover?

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Water is women's work

Photo from Flickr/rowan.simpson

I'm not especially fond of getting up early in the morning, particularly when it's cold and dark.  But women in some parts of the world have to get up at 3 am just to fetch water, before the rest of their day starts.

Some have been doing this from the age of six, going to the water source several times a day.  They may have to queue behind other women if they arrive late.  There is a limit to the amount of water they can carry so they have to do without in other areas - wear dirty clothes, miss out on having a vegetable garden. 

WaterAid, along with a local organisation, is helping to bring water closer to people's homes.  There are several systems but the most common is a pipeline gravity fed from springs and streams into a storage tank, then filtered before use.  Local materials and low tech solutions are used so that they can easily be repaired and maintained.  The local people pay about 25% of the costs.

As a result, there is more water and clean water, while women are freed to to other more productive things.  There is time to work, time to look after their children.  Safe water transforms many aspects of lives.

You can read about another WaterAid project, in Africa, on Yummy Biscuits.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Keepling clean in Mali

Photo from IRIN/Celeste Hicks

There are so many barriers to keeping clean in Mali: availability of water in a semi-arid land,  affordability of soap in an exceptionally poor country, cultural obstacles which are widespread in one of the least developed countries.

WaterAid, which helps some of the world’s poorest people is acting to provide safe water, effective sanitation and hygiene education.

At one school, they have provided a water tank to catch rainfall.  Rainwater is caught in a V-shaped iron gutter hitched to the base of the school’s corrugated roof, channelled into a PVC pipe wrapped in anti-leak rags and then dribbled into the 10 cubic metre tank.  It can then be used for drinking, toilet cleaning and wiping blackboards.  It is part of a pilot scheme to perfect the technology, low tech to be sure, but any system  in rural Mali needs to be.  When there is no rain, water has to be bought from a water seller who arrives on a bicycle carrying water containers.

Hand washing has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to improve health - the benefits can be as good as vaccination.  Unfortunately many, many people find the cost of commercial soaps too much for their budget so WaterAid has developed a scheme to help a group of women set up their own production line.

Saturday morning is soap-making day, a process which takes five hours. The raw ingredients are obtained using micro-credit: butter made from the nuts of the shea tree, caustic soda, starch, washing power and perfume. The end product is shaped by hand, hands covered in plastic bags followed by socks, to prevent any germ transfer, and then sold at an affordable rate, half the price of manufactured soap.

Unfortunately there is more to it than that. There are a number of entrenched ideas such as believing that washing hands after eating a good meal will mean that the good meal won't be eaten again for a long time. And this is where WaterAid's partner Jigi comes in, to provide hygiene education, community health and awareness raising. They explain the importance of hand washing at critical times, for example before preparing food.  They are delighted that there are reports that 99% of people now wash their hands before eating.

So, perhaps some of us who receive exotic and expensive hand-made soaps for Christmas or birthday presents, should spare a thought for the very different hand-made soap in Mali, soap which has a far more important role to play.  That soap may save somebody's life.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

PhotoHunt: favorite

I've spelt favourite the American way in the title, but I won't be able to keep it up!

A few weeks ago, we went to visit one of my favourite parts of the south coast, favourite because my parents and other members of the family lived in the area for many years and it became very familiar to me.

My father worked in the shadow of Dover Castle so that became a favourite sight, and he was given a painting of the view when he retired.

They lived on the cliffs, just out of sight beyond the lighthouse which is just about visible in this shot.  The white cliffs of Dover are a favourite sight for many people.

During our visit I went for a walk in Hythe as the sun was setting.  I took a number of shots, but these two are my favourites.

Ducks making their way down the Royal Military Canal.

And always a favourite for me, the sun setting.

I had a difficult weekend last time, with viruses being only part of it, so I wasn't able to visit all my favourite blogs, but things should be better this week.

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Friday, 12 December 2008

Colours of autumn

It all started here on 7 September when I first noticed the signs of autumn and posted a picture of the trees I could see from our house. Later the occasionally relaxed Max of BritishSpeak nagged suggested it might be an idea to record the progress of autumn. So I did. Max, this is for you.

I know it's late and I'm missing some but as winter sets in, I thought it would be good to look back over what has been a very colourful autumn. The exercise was interesting because it clearly shows how much the light and weather play their part, as well as the progress of the season.

It's my first attempt at anything like this. If it turns out to be horribly slow to load, I'll take it down.
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Wednesday, 10 December 2008

A traditional Christmas

After many years of Christmas having to be somewhere in the UK, this year will be the first in a very long time that we have been able to have a Christmas in France.  We thought we'd have a very quiet and relaxing time, doing nothing.

However the best laid plans of mice and men.....  Our younger son and his wife will be joining us after all.  Our daughter-in-law is French and, I'm told, really looking forward to a traditional Christmas celebration.

A traditional Christmas?  Is there such a thing?  I suspect every family has a slightly different view on the traditions of Christmas.  We have family recipes for Christmas cake and Christmas pudding.  My grandmother did make her own mincemeat but for years I've just added extra brandy to a jar of a good bought variety.  We almost always had turkey with two different stuffings, and bread sauce, but occasionally we've tried goose or joints of beef.  This year it will be beef.

Then there are all sorts of traditions covering when to open the presents, when to eat (finishing in time for the Queen's speech, anyone?).  At least we no longer have the stocking or pillowcase, and where to leave them, dilemma. 

So I'm really hoping that daughter in law's vision of a traditional Christmas, and presumably she will mean a British one, will coincide with my offerings.  I've started the pudding, late as usual, but what else?

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Tuesday, 9 December 2008

A Marie Antoinette Award

Susan Gregg of Toltec Insights has very kindly awarded me the Marie Antoinette award, for a blog she likes to read.  Susan, thank you so much, it is very much appreciated. 

I traced back the line of awarding to try to find out why anyone would have started off the Marie Antoinette award because it seemed to me a little odd to choose Marie Antoinette, possibly best known for her selfishness, greed and excesses (whether true or not) and for being beheaded by guillotine.

It appears the award has gone through a number of mutations and incarnations and has been awarded for:

  • a person who speaks the truth and "gets it"
  • a person who tells it like it is and "gets it"
  • a person who has something to say and tells the truth
  • a real person, a real award
  • a real person and talented artisan.

It doesn't really sound like the Marie Antoinette you usually hear about.  So perhaps I relax.  No guillotine today.


I got it.

Or it seemed as though I had.  In spite of up to date AVG and Malwarebytes, on Saturday night I suddenly had a security alert saying that I had a problem.

It was a fake alert.  It turned out to be relatively easy to get rid of it, but it took more or less a day's effort to find that out.

If you should get it, GeekPolice and GeeksToGo are very helpful.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

PhotoHunt: breakfast

I had something of a problem with this topic. I never do take pictures of food, not successfully anyway. However I thought of these photos I took last summer, of different creatures having their breakfast. I know it was their breakfast because I enquired carefully.

ducks in river

Ducks on the Itchen Canal.

ladybird on flower

A ladybird in the garden.

peacock butterfly

A peacock butterfly on Farley Mount, a favourite area for walking.

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Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Awkward addresses


Do you have a sensible email address?  The one I used to set up this blog in the first place was the result of utter desperation because all reasonable and rational names had been taken, and I didn't want to use a personal address.  I'm not going to tell you what the end result was.  I'd like it to retain its air of mystery, or that's my excuse.

I am a collector of email addresses.  I have a multitude for various purposes, but where once upon a time I could use something that related either to the purpose or to my name, now I find I need to be creative if I need another.  In some cases very creative. 

I ask because the University of Reading is conducting some research into online presence, and one aspect of the research is to determine whether or not all email addresses are considered equal.  Do people demonstrate email address-ism?  Their idea was to create a series of addresses and send applications or CVs to people who are learning about digital identities, to see how they might prioritise them.  The problem was, they couldn't create the fluffybunny {at} whatever {dot} com types of addresses because they were all taken.

I will confess that when I was working with students and they sent me messages from addresses such as Ginge-is-the-man@.., or disco-diva@..., I immediately, rightly or wrongly, formed an opinion of them.  Even the domain name - I prefer gmail to yahoo and both of those above a bizarre "homemade" one.  That is appalling discrimination, is it not?

So, come on all you fluffy bunnies, do you find people discriminate against you?  Tell me your stories.

If you'd like to read about or even join in the research, visit the This Is Me site.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Food for HIV/AIDS - and for thought

Photo from the World Food Programme

This story comes from the World food Programme, the organisation that is behind the Free Rice site.

Three years ago, Ntsonyama Sekoai, who lives in a town to the south of the capital of Lesotho, finally summoned up the courage to take an HIV test. For months he had been feeling sick and losing weight. Too weak to work, all he could do was watch as his family grew ever more impoverished and desperate.

"I guess I knew what the result was going to be because I’d seen the same thing happen to so many people in our community but it still came as a real shock to learn that I was HIV positive," said Ntsonyama. "All I could think of were my four children and how they would grow up without a father," he said.

But the Makhoariane HIV/AIDS support group has given hope to people with HIV/AIDS.

"Now look at me," said Ntsonyama Sekoai. "I’m healthier than ever!"

The group provides counselling and home-based care to the ever-increasing number of people living with HIV/AIDS in Morija. Stigma is no longer an issue in Morija thanks to the work of Makhoariane, which has helped to enhance HIV positive people’s standing in society as well as organising income-generating schemes for their members.

"Without Makhoariane, I would have given up," said 44-year-old Ntsonyama, who has already exceeded the country’s average life expectancy of just 36. "So many people had already died and I thought that my life was over," he said.

But while hope helps in the fight against HIV/AIDS, the most crucial weapons are anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) and food.

"The drugs saved my life but the food also made a huge difference – not just to me but to my whole family," said Ntsonyama. "The family ration means we have enough to eat for a whole month. Most days, we even eat three meals. And now my eldest child has the strength to concentrate in class," he said.

Knowing that his family will have enough to eat has removed a heavy burden from Ntsonyama’s shoulders and given him a real psychological boost. But he has no desire to rely on food assistance for ever. Along with the other members of the Makhoariane support group, Ntsonyama now churns out hundreds of homemade candles a week, providing the electricity-starved community with a cheap source of light and themselves with a small but growing income.

Help end world hunger


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