18 june 2010

Shearwater burrow, Skomer

Perhaps the most poetic, quasi-human, yet other life of all is lived by the Manx Shearwater, which 'comes in to land at breeding places at night, with weird cooing cries and wails, and shuffles to tunnels from which sepulchral voices coo "kuk-kuk-hoo-coo"'. With a little rearrangement this is pure Tennyson:

in breeding haunts at night
And weird in tunnels, cooing cries and wails
Sepulchral husky voices coo 'hoo coo'
Under long glories of the winter moon.

- Paul Jennings, Birds That Never Wert (quoting The Observer's Book of Birds)

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19 june 2010

I've just put this site onto a new server, following a 2 month-ish hiatus involving an argument with a peculiar host ("Script overuse/abuse warning." "I only run Movable Type scripts, and an infrequently-used comments script." "Well it's those other scripts which are abusing system resources." "Please tell me which scripts these are." "We are unable to specify individual scripts." Impasse - migrate to new host), and the initial stats are in. The first ten hits from search engines are typical in their charm and reassurance:

fay godwin
bertie why do you bound
cloud study
giacomo joyce
mc escher depth
mc escher kite
nize baby

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21 june 2010

chant de gaffe

I always enjoy a word with no etymology: picnic/pique-nique for instance has no known origin either in French or English.

Now here's another (from the OED):

Shandy, n. Short for SHANDYGAFF. Also, a mixture of beer and fizzy lemonade.
First recorded usage 1888, The Daily News.

The French call it panaché (a mixture), the Germans radler (a cyclist or cyclist's drink). Mixing beer with soft drinks seems fairly recent, and while some concern has been expressed at mixing the savoury (beer) with the sweet (lemonade) across the Atlantic (shandy is not big in the US), there are some other horrors lurking out there . . . something called diesel, drunk in the Low Countries, which is a mix of lager and cola. Diesel is also sometimes a lager/cider mix best known in the UK as snakebite; some pubs refuse to serve it (on the grounds that it goes too far, provoking riotous behaviour among the clientele) and I've even been denied a black and tan (Guinness and bitter mix) on the grounds that it might have similar properties. Back to shandy:

Shandygaff, n. A drink composed of a mixture of beer and ginger-beer.
First recorded usage 1853.

So we seem to see an evolution from ginger-beer shandy to lemonade shandy: the default now of course is lemonade, perhaps following the change in popular lemonades from the green to the clear (the green is unimaginable mixed with beer).

Given that the adjective shandy (now obs.) meant crazy or muddled (and some cocktails even now are made by muddling) the whole thing may be made clearer, but the OED steadfastly persists with : of unknown origin.

And by the way: Happy Solstice.

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23 june 2010

Earthworms obtain & encrease (sic) in the grass-walks, where in levelling they were dug down more than 18 inches. So that they were either left in the soil, deep as it was removed: or else the eggs or young remained in the turf. Worms seem to eat the earth; also brick-dust lying among the earth, as appears by their casts. They delight in slopes, probably to avoid being flooded, & perhaps supply slopes with mould, as it is washed away by rains. They draw straws, stalks of vine-leaves, &c. into their holes, no doubt for the purpose of food. Without worms perhaps vegetation would go on but lamely, since they perforate, loosen, & meliorate the soil, rendering it pervious to rains, the fibres of plants, &c. Worms come out all the winter in mild seasons.

- Gilbert White, 22nd September 1774

Beautiful observation and interpretation here by White, anticipating Darwin by over a century. So much is so well expressed here in such a short journal entry. White the master of the succinct.

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26 june 2010


Made a wonderful thing last night, a lamb, aubergine and and orzo oven dish redolent of Greek bus-station café cuisine: you could almost smell the exhaust fumes and hear the sounds of Greeks shouting at each other (διαλεκτικος - they invented it). We were out of the ingredients for horiatiki, and short on retsina, but there'll be a next time. Sooner rather than later.

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