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Thursday, 31 March 2005
Not quite a sitting duck


When I was a student I lived in a large communal house in Observatory, Cape Town.  The house was on a corner and our kitchen door opened onto a different street to the main door.  From time to time we used to get strangers knocking on the door asking for money.  Often the story would start along the lines

When I left my home in Worcester at six o’clock this morning to come to Groote Schuur Hospital, not knowing if my wife was still sick ...

Left uninterupted such a story could continue for five to ten minutes, without the narrator getting to the point, which was inevitably that he - or she - required some cash to pay for the train/bus/taxi fare to go home.  Most of the time I tried to avoid handing out money on the doorstep, especially to the regulars (who were often drunk), but inevitably I would encounter a story which was genuine.  And the stories that I considered genuine were usually short and to the point, and it was the first and last time you would ever see that particular person. 

I remember one of the regulars well. Once we were sitting talking around our kitchen table when he burst through the (unlocked) kitchen door and started helping himself to food from our shelves.  It was a few seconds before he noticed that we were sitting there, staring at him, (probably with shocked expressions on our faces). He apologised profusely.  Another time I was busy cooking when he knocked on the kitchen door.  When I opened he immediately launched into his tale, with a tell-tale alchoholic breath and a slight slur:

When I left my home in Worcester at six o’clock this morning to come to Groote Schuur Hospital, not knowing if my wife was still sick ...

I interjected that I was sorry that I could not help, and closed the door.  Twenty seconds later the front doorbell rang.  I went to the door and opened it, and to my surprise the same man was standing on the front doorstep.  As I opened the door he started up again:

When I left my home in Worcester at six o’clock this morning to come to Groote Schuur Hospital, not knowing if my wife was still sick ...

He seemed annoyed and confused when I interupted him again and pointed out that I was the same person who had answered the other door.

I thought of all this, twenty years after the fact, when I was reading the Baitbot.  Anyone who spams the webmaster’s email account is invited to a chat with Janne.  Unknown to them, Janne is actually a computer program.  Some of the conversations have the same tone as those I remember from my student doorstep during the 1980s.

Posted by bigblue on 31/03/2005 at 09:58 PM
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Wednesday, 30 March 2005


Spotted on the back of this car in Purley over the weekend:

per pall fesswise gules, sable and azure, a fesswise pall vert fimbriated argent, Or and argent

The flag of South Africa.  The pall word is the technical heralidic term for the Y shape.  As far as I know the flag doesn’t have a name although it has been called the multicoloured Y-fronts.  The pall is apparently the only symbolic feature of the flag (representing unity). The colours of the flag are not officially intended to have any symbolism, representing different things to different people.  So sayeth the South African State Herald and the designer of the flag, Fred Brownell, quoted at

The flag in the photo above is displayed correctly, with the red band on top.  Another way to fly or hang the flag is with the thin edge with the black isosceles triangle on top.

Ten years ago this flag was an interim flag for the period of political transition only.  It was adopted as the permanent flag of South Africa after various other submissions were rejected during a period of national debate.  One of the submissions was by a year 9 pupil, Francisca Lwane, who submitted a sun-flag

because the sun is a sign for brightness and if there is brightness in our country there’ll be no more violence.
Let us love each other like nose and mucus.

according the an [url=]ANC newsbrief dated 7 June 1995. Hold that sneeze!

Posted by bigblue on 30/03/2005 at 11:37 PM
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Tuesday, 29 March 2005
The fog


After a glorious long Easter weekend we seem to have reverted to wintry weather again. This is the view that greeted me through my bedroom skylight when I awoke this morning.

This evening there was a bit of sleet, followed by a lot of rain. According to the five day forecast it will pretty much remain like this until Saturday.

Then again, jeezidunno has demonstrated how the BBC forecast (for London) has a changing nature (see also last week.

Posted by bigblue on 29/03/2005 at 11:16 PM
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Monday, 28 March 2005
The Kugel

According to a kugel is South African slang for

A materialistic, wannabe-sexy Jewish woman who belongs to a specific subculture of wealth and style, with affected mannerisms and a nasal way of talking. The term is used by both Jews and Gentiles in South Africa, and even by kugels themselves.
Hey, doll, if they want to call me a kugel, fine! Most of my gynie’s patients are kugels anyway.

This was the best definition I could find online - most simply said an affluent Jewish woman which is too vague.  No doubt the South African Concise Oxford Dictionary would have a clearer definition and explanation of the origin of the term.

I had also known of a kugel as being some kind of air-filled pastry or dough snack. The item in the above photo introduced to me another sense of the word.  The text of the plaque reads as follows:

The Kugel

The kugel is a one tonne sphere of granite that revolves on a thin film of water. The water is pumped into the granite socket at two different speeds, making the Kugel spin on its own.

Please do not drink the water.
This water is continuously recycled and and treated, so it is advised that neither you nor your dog drink the water.

Please do not splash the water.
You are welcome to help the Kugel rotate, but please do not climb on to it!

Thank you.

The punctuation is rather strange because the word kugel is capitalised three times (including in the title) and in lower case once.  The kugel in question can be found at the Carsington Water visitors centre.

Posted by bigblue on 28/03/2005 at 11:50 PM
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Sunday, 27 March 2005
Warning signs


There are a number of well marked cycle tracks at Carsington Water, and a good route is to go right around the reservoir.  Cycles can be hired from the visitors centre, where car parking is £2.50 for the full day, or £1.00 for an hour.  If you forget to pay you will be reminded by an orange leaflet on your windscreen when you return to your car. By taking the leaflet to reception and paying the standard parking fee you will avoid any fine.

Some of the cycle route around the reservoir passes through farmland, but it is all well laid out and very safe. On Friday I saw many young children and families cycling on the paths. In places where an insecure cyclist may need to dismount there are clear warning signs.  Sometimes you will notice the sign that advises:

! Warning
Steep hill
Sharp bend.
advised to

Or you may even notice that there is a closed gate across the road.

Posted by bigblue on 27/03/2005 at 10:44 PM
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Saturday, 26 March 2005
The Island


This is a closer-up view of the island in the photograph I posted yesterday.  The structure on the island appears to be a perch with more function than its otherwise haphazard construction would suggest.

On the far sides of the lake (from where this photo was taken) are the towns of Carsington and Hopkin.  According to the Derbyshire and Peak District website it is possible that during Roman times Carsington was the town of Lutadarum, the centre of the Roman lead industry. There was lead-mining in the village into the 20th Century, and the pub in the village is called The Miners Arms.  Parish records inform us that one Sarah Tissington was born in the village in 1664 without arms, but despite this severe handicap learned to knit with her feet.  What neither the records nor tourist literature tell us is whether this birth defect could have been caused by lead poisoning.

In Old English and Old Norse, a ton or tun was a farm so we can deduce that Carsington used to be Carssen’s farm.  Many of the places around here have names of Viking origin, having been part of the Danelaw.

The path around the reservoir goes through the towns of Carsington and Hopton, and behind the ridge in the background of the above photograph.

Posted by bigblue on 26/03/2005 at 10:02 PM
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Friday, 25 March 2005
Carsington Water


This is Carsington Water, Derbyshire.  It is a reservoir that was is managed by The Severn Trent Water Company and was opened in 1992.  It is a popular birding spot with a number of different facilities and apparently receives over a million visitors a year. The reservoir was formed by damming the Scow Brook, but in fact most of the water in the reservoir is pumped via a 10 km long aquaduct from the River Derwent, and enters the reservoir by the control tower (in the background of the photo above).

Boots and Paws have posted a number of photographs of the reservoir here.  Cousin Roo accompanied me on the 13,5 km walk around the reservoir, during which we successfully did a bit of Geocaching.  It looks like a good cycling spot - next time I hope to do the route on my bike.

Posted by bigblue on 25/03/2005 at 11:44 AM
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Thursday, 24 March 2005
Where the bus stops


This photograph was taken in Ashby-de-la-Zouch earlier this week.  There are bus services that run between Ashby-de-la-Zouch and Leicester, Burton and Coalville (as well as the surrounding villages).  The sign in the top right of this photograph, advises that there is a bus stop 150 metres up Market Street, and points in the direction of a bus stop which is a mere 30 metres away.  I checked to see if there was another bus stop higher up the road but there is not.

Ashby-de-la-Zouch is full of surprises.

Posted by bigblue on 24/03/2005 at 11:01 PM
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