Do you want adjectives with that?

Do you want adjectives with that?

We pay a lot for our adjectives. I agree that sometimes these “describing words” are quite helpful but increasingly they seem to act more as financial multipliers rather than as any aid to understanding. Well at least in the world of commerce they do. In the real world they are still valuable, I still want to be able to distinguish between the large, angry rabid dog and the small, friendly puppy dog and it is useful to know that the red mushroom is poisonous while the crinkly orange one is edible. However, in the world of commerce the adjective serves a much less reputable function.

This is a more expensive car than it first appears

In many areas of trade there are multiple vendors who are selling essentially the same things. The differences between their products is miniscule and often imperceptible. In the world of car sales there are some adjectives that are helpful – big, four seater, diesel powered, red, etc. However, many of the differences are so slight as to be unnoticeable. Even when differences are real often people aren’t aware of them. People who buy a 12-valve version of the car have paid extra for these ‘extra’ valves, but did they really compare the car to the its poor 8 valve sibling. Probably not. Indeed, this kind of difference is not really perceptible so one ends up spending money on something you (and importantly others) can neither notice nor appreciate. In this case the adjectives can come to the rescue. The vendor will probably affix a badge, with the adjective, saying “12v”, or “twincam” or “turbo” to your new purchase so that you, and others, know that you spent well over the odds for your vehicle

I’m glad my bacon comes from Staffordshire

However, it is in the world of food that these adjectives really prove their worth as earners. The more adjectives that precede the item of food, the more you will be expected to pay for it. Rarely do these adjectives tell you anything of value. If you buy bacon you will probably have to pay double for “Black Country Staffordshire Bacon”. How do I know if Staffordshire is better than Herefordshire or Lincolnshire ? It really means very little. Once you add a few more adjectives ‘Farm fresh’ or ‘hand reared’ we can soon have easily tripled the price. There are few things that can’t be made more expensive by a judicious use of adjectives. Fried bacon is all very well, and cheap, but ‘pan fried’ bacon is obviously a bit more costly. In the world of fried food adjectives can not only increase the price but can also change the health and class status of food. Deep fried vegetables are obviously unhealthy working-class food but a dish with a side of tempura vegetables is clearly healthy and quite suitable for the middle-class palate.

So, I am going to try a new diet and attempt to steer clear of unnecessary adjectives. I’ll have bacon, egg and chips for tea tonight (£3.50) rather than ‘Sweet cured, hand-reared, Black Country Staffordshire bacon, with free range, organic, farm fresh eggs and a side order of hand-cut, chunky, artisanal, triple cooked, Ayrshire potato chips’ (£9.50) . As it seems £6 is a lot to pay for chips that are of uneven lengths and I can use the money for a ‘tempura‘ Mars Bar in lieu of dessert. That will be healthy and help me keep up with the Joneses

A plague o’ both your houses.

Democracy has many problems as the old story of the lamb and two wolves voting on what to have for supper clearly illustrates. However, as Winston Churchill opined ” democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried“. Democratic systems are probably the only way that mankind can live in reasonable harmony and in stable and fair communities. However, for democracy to work a few basic principles need to be observed.

The democratic process needs to be inclusive, so that no-one and their opinion is excluded. It needs to equitable; each person’s vote must carry the same weight are every other persons. There should be a secret ballot so that there is no possibility that others can coerce the voter’s decision, and the democratic unit should be small enough that every vote does count and the system avoids, as far as is possible, the risks of the tyranny of the majority. Finally, the executive of the state must act in accordance of the democratic decisions, it can not pick and chose amongst the outcomes which it agrees with and which it will effect.

Britain’s system had in the main held to these principles and could lay a reasonable claim to the title of “the mother of all parliaments” but over recent times this seems a much less apt description.

I am not simply talking about the reneging on the results of the EU referendum, which three years after the vote has still not been enacted in any form whatsoever, but also of the recent shambles in the house of commons when the constitutional safeguards that we normally relied upon have been sorely, and perhaps fatally, tested.

Firstly we had Boris Johnson attempting to prorogue parliament in such a way as to reduce the amount of time for discussion and scrutiny in the House of Commons. There is also a strong suspicion that he lied when he described the reasons and processes behind this.

Secondly we had John Bercow, the speaker of the house, shamefacedly ignoring the traditions of neutrality of the speaker and being vocally and proudly partial. While this might be seen as useful to some MPs at the moment, as it suits their long-game, we may strongly regret tolerating this precedent in the future when less benign options are being processed.

Thirdly we have our opposition parties trying to avoid an election. Some, like the liberals, have a sizeable component of MP’s who never stood under the banner of the party they now purport to represent. To these parties it is more important to overturn Brexit than it is to even know public opinion, let alone follow it. They clearly think the public has made a mistake and want to correct it but are fearful that the public might not yet have got onboard with the message. Their priority is their agenda, it is not working in agreement with the outcome of a democratic process.

It reminds me of Bertolt Brecht’s poem “Die Lösung (The Solution)

Die Lösung

After the uprising of the 17th of June
The Secretary of the Writers’ Union
Had leaflets distributed on the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could only win it back
By increased work quotas.

Would it not in that case be simpler
for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Bertolt Brecht 1953

Even if the opposition parties do get around to thinking they should put a democratic veneer on this charade we will still have problems. A second referendum violates the basic democratic principle of “one person – one vote” – they are saying “those of you who voted last time don’t count we want the vote of a new populace“, as Brecht suggests.

When we do this once we can do it again, and we are damaging faith in democracy itself. If the state starts to ignore democratic decisions then the whole basis of democracy is undermined. There has been precious little regard for our political leaders over recent years, it seems there soon will be even less. Why vote when your vote may not count or the system is so rigged that change is not forthcoming ? I think none of the main parties can expect to see their popular base growing and I would be very surprised if we didn’t continue to see populist parties, on the left and the right, who listen to the public (or at least pretend to) growing in strength. The blame for this can squarely be placed at the doors of the existing parties. To misquote Shakespeare :-

A plague on all your houses.

Jumping the gun

There what’s seems to be one; someone so eager to get going that they start too early. This time it seems to be our neighbour’s horse chestnut tree. Over the last two weeks, and in the middle of August, it had started to change colour and signalled that it thinks it is autumn.

It is nice to see this flash of auburn and red in a sea of green. It is a pleasant reminder that Autumn is on its way. Though some may disagree, I’d propose that autumn is clearly the best season; a time to enjoy the fruits of the land without the cold of winter or the work of spring and summer. However, there is also some sadness. I think this tree is behaving in this strange way because of changes to the weather, the droughts, and the changed water table in our area. Therefore, while it signals good times ahead it is also an alarm siren that we are damaging our environment

Young People and Sex

I enjoy listening to podcasts. They are a way of making otherwise humdrum routine activities enjoyable. Part of my exercise routine involves a boring bike ride which is only saved by being just the right length for a BBC radio drama. I need about three of these to get me through mucking out the goat shed’s tons of fetid manure.

I also use podcasts to help me with my Welsh language proficiency and am always on the lookout for new podcasts in Cymraeg to broaden my experience. Many of the podcasts I subscribe to have a decidedly agricultural bias to them. This results in vocabulary being skewed to the farmyard and animals; I’m pretty fluent in discussion varieties of diarrhoea in sheep and goats, but less articulate if the subject turns to politics, culture or the economy.

You can therefore imagine my pleasure when I found the podcast “Siarad Secs” (Talking Sex) on the BBC. A new Welsh language podcast on a totally different subject; miles away (hopefully) from sheep and the farmyard. However, I had not considered this fully. While I might enjoy sticking my toes into a new subject I had forgotten one of my pet peeves. I hate listening to young people talking about sex.

It is not that I am prudish. I’ll happily listen to others talking about sex, just not young smug people. People who have just exited puberty and discovered the joys of sex tend to think they have become, in their inept fumblings, masters of the subject overnight. I can appreciate that if you wanted to discuss how strong the sexual drive can be, or how inanely it can make us behave, or even the degree to which it can command our lives, then by all means chat with a young person – the more immature the better.

However, young people tend to be all lust and relatively little experience. We don’t take people just after passing their driving test and ask them to tell us at length about their views on driving. Though I have found that new drivers, like the newly sexually experienced, are overly keen to tell you of their skills and offer you their opinions. But we don’t encourage this or go out of our way to experience it. No-one’s heart jumps for joy when their young surgeon says “This will be the first time I’ve done this op“, we like our authorities to know more than us and to have had a modicum of experience.

It is not simply a matter of numbers; not simply how often, or in what permutations, someone has had sex. It is how experienced they are in the full range of our sexual lives. Those in the first flush of youth can tell us about the drives of the libido but will never understand the changes that happen later in life when libido flags. They will never understand how Sophocles felt he’d escaped a “savage monster” and George Melly felt “unchained from an idiot” when libido thankfully waned.

It also takes time and experience to learn the wisdom of the importance of sex other than as a recreational pursuit. Those searching for partners, or looking to establish families, are likely to offer fewer pearls of wisdom than those who have managed to establish long-term relationships and created stable families where the importance of sex for bonding and reproduction come to the fore. One needs to be older to know, if one is lucky enough, how to sustain a long term sexual relationship once the novelty has faded. Even more importantly, it takes time and consequently age, to know how to sustain love in a relationship when sexual life has changed with age and infirmity.

I’ll grit my teeth and persevere with the podcast . At least I know how to say “Sut i roi condom ar fanana“(*) if I ever need to and it does make a change from all the talk about the weather and mud. But I don’t think I’m ever going to truly enjoy listening to smug folk pat themselves on the back for talking about sex, it may be new and exciting for them but for the rest of us its a case of “been there, done that”.


(*) How to put a condom on a banana

Dwy frân ddu, lwc dda i mi.

Dwy frân ddu, lwc dda i mi.

Dwy frân ddu, lwc dda i mi or Two Black Crows good luck for me was the idiom in the diary this morning. I lead me to think about the diversity of bird imagery in folklore and also how it differs in different national cultures. This latter aspect has become important for me as I now live, rather hesitantly, bilingually and the symbolic significance of birds, or other animals, in one language may be very different in the other. Birds have quite different connotations in English and Welsh.

Crows, with their association with carrion, are often related to death and bad omens in English cultures. Early cultures would have soon learnt that where there is death there are crows. This is also seen in Norse mythology where these birds are seen as a bad omen of death and doom. Although Odin’s ravens were also messengers of information. In Scotland the “Corbie” (the Scots word for the crow derived from the latin corvus) was associated with the hag Cailleach who feasted on dead mens’ bodies. In Irish folklore Morrighan the goddess of war was often present on the battlefield in this bird’s form. The collective nouns, in English also reveal this negative set, being ‘an unkindness of ravens‘ and ‘a murder of crows’.

However, as the motto above suggests, in Welsh the crow and raven have had much better publicists. The early king, Brân the Blessed, was associated with his namesake the crow (Crow is Brân in Welsh) . When he died he ordered that his head be cut off, and kept, so he could continue his gift of prophesy and protect Britain. His head is said it is buried under the Tower ot London and is the reason the ravens are there. The prophesy states, if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London then Brân‘s protection will be lost, and for this reason the ravens wings are clipped – just to be sure.

This complex mythology about the crow is shared with another bird of this genus – the magpie. In both cases to see one is unlucky while seeing a pair is lucky. The ‘rule’ for crows is

Two crows mean good luck ,
Three means health,
Four means wealth,
Five is sickness,
Six mean death.

and this is reminiscent of the old tale for magpies where the earliest version was :-

One for sorrow,
Two for mirth
Three for a funeral,
Four for birth
Five for heaven
Six for hell
Seven for the devil, his own self

The owl likewise if very different. In most English speaking cultures the owl receives a good press. Its wisdom and sagacity are stressed and it is usually a positive figure in any folk tale. Most people think that seeing an owl is associated with good luck. However, in Wales, and in older English stories, the owl has a much darker meaning and an owl passing the window of a sick person was held to presage imminent death.

The owl plays an important part in Welsh mythology particularly in the story of Blodeuwedd in the Mabinogi. In the last book of the Mabinogi the hero, Lleu Llaw Gyffes , was under a spell so that he could never have a human wife. To get around this problem his magicians created a wife for him :-

from..” the flowers of the oak, and the flowers of the broom, and the flowers of the meadowsweet, and from those they conjured up the fairest and most beautiful maiden anyone had ever seen. And they baptized her in the way that they did at that time, and named her Blodeuwedd. “

Unfortunately, despite her beauty, Blodeuwedd behaves very badly cheating on her husband and conspiring to kill him. As punishment she is turned into an owl, the bird that is hated by all other birds :-

‘You will not dare to show your face ever again in the light of day ever again, and that will be because of enmity between you and all other birds. It will be in their nature to harass you and despise you wherever they find you. And you will not lose your name – that will always be “Bloddeuwedd”‘

adding

‘Blodeuwedd” means “owl” in the language of today. And it is because of that there is hostility between birds and owls, and the owl is still known as Blodeuwedd.” ‘

You may not consider these mythological differences important but sometimes they can make a difference. Just as the French may compliment their partner by calling her their ‘petit chou it is unlikely that I will garner the same success by calling my partner a ‘small cabbage’ no matter how fond of cabbage I may be. So while you might feel on safe ground choosing a bird loved the world over, for example the dove, it is not as simple as this. In Welsh an old dove (Hen glomen) is the term for someone who may dress finely outside but keeps a dirty house at home ( Gwraig sy’n ymwisgo’n wych, ond yn slwt yn ei thŷ). It may also be better that I don’t even translate another old bird as it is too rude for WordPress. If I were to venture that somebody was an ‘old pigeon’ I could just have well used the word for a female dog as my description – best avoided.

If you live between two languages it is best not to imagine that you can simply translate your affections from one tongue to the other. This may mean a little more learning but does mean you will have more words of affection (and abuse) at your disposal.

Yellow Jackets

Yellow Jackets

The fight of Les Gilets Jaunes may be starting to settle in France and it seems Macron may have managed to survive their onslaught on his presidency. Unfortunately we have had problems with our own yellow jackets. Over the past weeks we have been plagued by wasps and have encountered quite a number of wasp nests.

Wasps get a much worse press than bees. They are seen as violent aggressive insects who will sting with impunity as, unlike the bee, they do not die after the attack. However, wasps can be social animals like bees and are also useful pollinators. They pollinate a broader range of plants than bees and also eat many insects we consider pests, like aphids. They are also edible and the most common edible insect on sale in rural China.

There are thousands of species of wasp and most have little or no negative interaction with people at all. Most are black, small and would be mistaken for flies. Unfortunately one type, the yellow jacket or Vespula Vulgaris, is the wasp everyone knows and this is the black and yellow pest who will fight you for your picnic food. This one, and the hornet, taints the reputation of all the placid, shy and retiring wasps that we meet day in and day out.

Unfortunately some nests the wasps have made have been in places that has meant I have had to destroy them. One was in the kitchen window of the holiday let and another was face height at the door to the barn. As we keep bees I had the kit to dress up and tackle this fairly safely but I must admit that I always have my heart in my mouth when I have to move the nest. However, I was able to get both without any great drama, and we can move about again without hassle.

The nests are themselves interesting, quite different to the constructions the bees make; smaller and made of paper rather than wax. As you can see in the video below there are larvae at all stages and some still developing. The circular structures are pretty and fascinating to look at – when the adult wasps are not in the vicinity.

Wasp Nest

Discover the lack of diversity.

Discover the lack of diversity.

When I was young I protected the opinions I held like tender plants. I shielded them from harm and fed them well. I read newspapers and articles that confirmed my fledgling biases and listened to authorities in the media who reminded me that my viewpoint was correct. One of the great pleasures of being older is that not I have much more knowledge, experience and better judgement I am free to think as I will. I do not have to follow any particular herd I don’t need to toe any party line. My opinions are no longer those given to me but those I have forged for myself over many years. 

I am also aware that others go though the same process as myself; discarding, forming and reforming their views, and that, as a consequence, good ideas can come from very diverse sources. I am also clear that many things I held as self-evident were in fact wrong, and it is inconceivable that my current views are immutable and cast in stone. Even faith can only survive if it is tested from time to time. 

For the reasons above I like to try and vary my sources of information and try to consider opinions from differing viewpoints. This is why I prefer using Wordpress to other ‘social media’ the range of opinions is broader and the content is less trivial and partisan. The essay/blog format is better suited to discussing ideas than the short sentence format which is better suited to rispostes, oaths and threats. It might also be anticipated that I’d enjoy the “Discover” section on the Wordpress Reader. This is described as “A daily selection of the best content published on WordPress, collected for you by humans who love to read” and sounds like a place to find new ideas and interests. I hate to be churlish but this is anything but.  

Each day the same type of pages are promoted with similar themes and topics. Even when the themes vary, the opinions on culture, politics, religion, society or any subject are the same and predictable. There are no discordant voices and no ‘surprising takes’ on any issue covered. It is rather like a pull-out supplement for the Huffington Post; bland and pappy, afraid to venture where there might be controversy, no voice appears from out of the wilderness to tell us we are wrong or misguided. While the race and gender mix of the authors is probably a good representative spread of our community, the lack of diversity of opinions held in this section is the only ‘discovery’ I have ever made. I am aware that I am not perhaps their target demographic but I can’t imagine everyone wants to read the same, unchallenging pieces day after day.

Heavens, this used to be the prerogative of the elderly. We old folk were meant to be the ones that wanted the same ‘nice’, comforting, ‘everything will work out fine’ stories day after day – indeed we had a magazine dedicated to this “The People’s Friend” (The world’s longest running women’s magazine). It used to be the young who wanted to explore new ideas, to kick over the traces and to shock. But perhaps with the fears of being “triggered” or experiencing “micro-aggressions” (Surely less troublesome than full throated aggression) it is the young now who want to curl up in the evening with a pipe, a good book, and their slippers. (Though the pipe is perhaps a bit dangerous). To be fair, it is likely that WordPress’s curators are too afraid to include anything which might give cause for offence to anyone for fear of being sued. This avoidance of controversy is guaranteed to lead them to curate the bland

A previous blogging platform I used had a useful feature. It had the option to read a random blog piece by just clicking a button. Using this I found many interesting sites (as well as many tedious and shocking ones), some of which I continue to read regularly and are sites I would not have found were it not for this act of chance. Wordpress itself had a “daily word” prompt blog. This allowed bloggers to create content in responce to a single word prompt and gave rise to a site with many varied authors taking very approaches to the subject matter. This also was a good source of discovery of new talent and content. Unfortunately this has now gone and we are left with the anodyne offering of the Discover page. 

I have found one partial remedy. Take a word, at random, from the last paragraph of the blog you are reading. Don’t select, just plump for any one regardless – e.g. ‘partial’ ‘reading’ ‘paragraph” – and type this into the search bar of the reader. Surprises await you. Not always good ones but still often enough to make the endeavour worthwhile. Give it a go, you’ll certainly have more chance of making a discovery than with the official route. 

Post-apocalyptic Lathe Shifting

Post-apocalyptic Lathe Shifting

Yesterday my neighbour had a large lathe, to turn and mill metal, delivered to his door. Four guys pulled the palette off the lorry and drove off leaving it in his drive. It was enormous and heavy, and he was unable to move it. Luckily, shortly after this, a van with some local youths, on their way back from shearing sheep, passed by. They noticed his dilemma, stopped and helped him lift the crate up to his workshop.

After unpacking the lathe and assembling its stand in the workshop another problem became apparent. The machine weighed 300kg it was going to be difficult to lift it up, through the door, and onto its stand. I was passing, walking the dogs, and started to help. We fashioned a moving shelf with a car jack and a metal plate but, even with crowbars, we couldn’t get the machine up onto the shelf.

Luckily another farmer was passing bringing hay back from a field recently cut. We flagged him down and asked if he would help us with the last leg of the lathe’s journey. This was no minor request. This weighed over quarter of a ton, was difficult to handle and could cause serious injury, or death, if it toppled and fell. But none the less we all set to and after an hour of panting, groaning and swearing the job was done. We gossiped for a while about politics and Brexit, then I completed my walk with the dog, the farmer finished his journey with the hay, and my neighbour settled down to read the lathe’s handbook.

What struck me, as I was walking the dog, was how ready people are to help each other. Happy to help for no reward other than to be helpful. It struck me how often I see this. Or local community hall is run and shared by volunteers who maintain the grounds at their own cost and who give hours of time to organize local events. I recalled spending an afternoon with a man I did not know as we cut and cleared a tree which had fallen and blocked the road, and a prior evening when a different stranger had helped me round up someone’s sheep that had got out through a broken fence and were wandering the lanes. I have an evening booked, later this week, to go to the pub with some people in the town who, like me are Community First Responders, and give up some of their free time to help should anyone be in need.

Life would scarcely be liveable were it not for these multiple acts of kindness from strangers. If I drop my wallet, or leave my phone on the table, as I leave a cafe someone will call to alert me or run after me to make sure I don’t lost my property. Anyone with the misfortune to be in an accident will recall the offers of help from bystanders. Anyone lost knows you can ask a passerby for directions. Every day our interactions with others is usually helpful. When we walk on a busy pavement in the city we do not jump and jostle for space but step aside and ensure we can all move as freely as possible. It’s the way we are made, it’s our nature, we are designed to be helpful.

It is for this reason that I get annoyed with post-apocalyptic films and novels which suggest that when the state is destroyed we will all descend into barbarism. The usual scenario is, that after a disaster, man-made or natural, all the authorities have gone and our heroes have to travel across a land populated by villains intent on rape and murder. These dystopias paint a bleak picture of life without the state. The message is clear, without the state to protect us we world all be at risk from the murderous impulses of our neighbours.

This runs counter to our general experience. We rarely call on the state to defend us and every day we experience pleasant or useful communal interactions with our fellows. Our instincts to be sociable and create society are so innate and quotidian that we fail to notice them. Rather, we only notice when people fail to be nice and are, on rare occasions, rude to us.

There is a misconception that the state creates society. It does not, individuals by their nature create society. The state, by contrast, creates power; rather than fostering cooperation it creates compulsion and obligation. Humans do not by instinct kill each other, if you want to see violent and cruel behaviour you need a ruling class to compel it. The mass killings our species has seen (wars, genocide or pogroms) have always been instigated by a state and a call to the authority of a God, King, Nation or ideology. We have to compel people to go to war and sometimes shoot them if they won’t go – to encourage the others. People spontaneously build communities and society not war and oppression, you need a state for that.

Even the benign aspects of the state carry their risks. If, ‘for or own good’, the state looks after our welfare it takes it out of our hands. It means we do not make the choices and priorities, and we do not make the social bonds and links to promote our welfare. Charity, locality planning and fraternal organizations all become weakened when the state steps in. As the sociologist Frank Furedi noted :-

“Indeed, it can be argued that state intervention in everyday life corrodes community life no less, and arguably even more, than market forces. In many societies, people who come to rely on the state depend far less on each other and on their community. When what matters is access to the state then many citizens can become distracted, and stop cooperating and working with fellow members of their community”

In a practical sense, here is some free advice. If you ever find yourself lost in the desert, or jungle, or crossing barren windswept plains after a nuclear holocaust, and you see other people don’t run away from them. They are your best hope, do what all your instincts tell you to do and run towards them shouting for help; they probably will.

If we ever do see the breakdown of the state then I will be even more reliant on my friend and neighbours. We would quickly reorganise our local community again and people might take the opportunity not to return to power structures that we had lost, with all the inequality that accompanied it. The world would go on but sone of those who leeched of our backs would now have to fund a way to be helpful and productive.

The state might tell us whether we can buy a lathe or not, or might put taxes on its purchase to fund its own agenda, and it may punish someone if they steal it from us, but it doesn’t do much else. It didn’t design it, make it, or transport it, individuals working cooperatively did that. The state didn’t help us move the lathe in the past and we will still be able to move it, despite its weight, once the state has gone.

James McCune Smith

I spent many years at Glasgow University; six years as an undergraduate learning medicine and a further decade later on when I worked as a lecturer in the medical faculty. During this time, I learnt about many of the illustrious ex-alumni such as Joseph Lister, Tobias Smollett, William Hunter and A.J. Cronin to name a few. However, to my shame, I did not until recently know the name of perhaps one of its most important sons – James McCune Smith (1813-1865). If the University can be proud of any part of its heritage its role in this gentleman’s education is one it should cherish.

James McCune Smith was born in slavery but was emancipated at the age of 14. Despite this emancipation no University in America would take this intelligent young man as a student because he was black, and his emancipation didn’t mean the end of racial discrimination. Being exceptionally bright the African Free School in New York and Abolitionist societies in Britain arranged to pay for his transport and education in Glasgow University. His promise was confirmed when he graduated at the top of his class and graduated with degrees in 1835, 1836 and 1837.

He was the first African-American to obtain a medical degree. He undertook his internship in Paris before returning to America to set up practice in lower Manhattan and work as the resident physician at the ‘Colored Orphan Asylum‘. He was a prolific writer and active in political circles. Indeed, Frederick Douglass described him as “the single most important influence” on his life and another commentator at the time noted “As the learned physician-scholar of the abolition movement, Smith was instrumental in making the overthrow of slavery credible and successful“. He was the first black man to have an articles published in American medical journals and he established the first black owned and run pharmacy in the United States. Despite all his success no New York Medical association, nor the American Medical Association, would accept him as a member because of his race. Racial discrimination followed him, despite the many successes of the abolitionist and emancipation societies over the years, and he was buried in an unmarked grave by his pale-skinned children to escape racial prejudice.

Glasgow University is to open a new learning hub building and intend to name it in James McCune Smith’s honour. It is about time. Hopefully future doctors in training won’t remain as shamefully ignorant, as I was, about the history of one of our most important colleagues.

Rape and pillage

Rape and pillage

There have been distressing times on the

DSC08335

farm this week. A veritable fortnight of acts of rape and pillage, in which the major culprits have been the ducks.

If your look very carefully at the photograph on the right there are two things to be discerned. One you can see and one you can not. If you look carefully you will see that there is not a single surviving leaf on any of the runner beans. Not a solitary leaf survives, and the culprit? If you continue to look carefully your can see a fat, well fed Muscovey duck wearing a smug grin. She has just gone steadily up the row, truss by truss, and assiduously plucked every leaf for her lunch.

However, it is difficult to be angry with her as her plundering occurred because she is a refugee. She is fleeing the duck yard and trying to find safer pastures. The duck yard at the moment

DSC08338

has fallen under the control of a belligerent and vicious rapist and the females are fleeing his attention. As your will see in the photograph on the left the females have been left almost bald at the back of their necks. This is due to the drake pulling on their neck feathers when he mates with them and pulling them out.

Ducks mating, like most fowl, is never gentle and romantic but rather brutal and violent. I have heard of drakes killing their mates, as they cause then to drown, while they mate with them in the water. Unfortunately I, and the fox, must take my share of the blame for these recent problems.

The fox has taken a number of our ducks and now the drake only has a meager four wives. He really feels this is inadequate. Thus his lusty attentions are only quartered between four ducks rather than decimated between ten as before. I have the incubator running as we speak to try and address this aspect of the problem.

The other part of the problem was my fault. Much as I like Muscovey ducks I wanted a change. The meat on Muscoveys is a good substitute for red meat and it is very low in fat. However, Muscoveys, with their knobbly wattles faces, are not going to win any beauty contests. I fancied changing to something more traditionally duck-like and, if I am honest, prettier.

In my shallowness I went for Aylsbury ducks.

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These looked sweet, they looked like kindly cartoon ducks. These were the kind of ducks I recall from reading story books to my children when they were small. Just look at him, on the right, I thinkl you will agree that he looks as if butter would not melt in his mouth. But this is the villain of the piece; he is the lusty, belligerent, abusive partner to my refugee girls. His cute appearance belies his fierce cunning and his domineering behaviour.

I now have a difficult dilemma : Do I procede with the ugly but healthy Muscoveys or change over to the cute but tasty Aylsburys? If I do the latter will they ask prove to be as difficult as my first? The balance of what hatches next week will help me make the decision.