Grovelling apology

I’m a bad bad blogger.

I must atone for the absence of guff these last 6 weeks or so. (Good grief, it’s nearer 8 weeks. Whoops.) It’s not as though I’ve been inactive. Far from it. There’s been a lot going on, from my younger daughter’s gradual recovery – still ongoing – from her smashed up leg, to the commencement of a Sisyphean garden renovation project. There always seems to be something to do.

One of the gripping tasks I was engaged in before the twilight descended.

As a result quite a lot of other things have been forced to take a backseat. So it goes. I’m beginning to hack through the day-to-day admin with a little more constructive purpose. May it continue!

I’ll get back to prospecting for work and running through my accounts, but will be looking to pen more entries in the near future.

Now you know why this site is called!

Beer first, or wine? As long as you have a drink in your hand, who cares?

It’s still bad for you, apparently.

Ah, the news outlets in the UK have been chuckling to themselves this morning, thanks to this little gift from the white-coated community. I’m hoping that there might be some defensible rationale behind the research by Cambridge and German academics that yielded this nugget. Hoping, because what’s outlined in The Independent appears to have been – polite mode off now – a waste of time.

Post-doctoral research wasn’t always devoted to settling pub arguments.

The smallish city of Cambridge has honoured us with a stream of outstanding innovation, invention and discovery over the decades centuries, and an armful of Nobel prizes. Along the way,together with other notable centres of academic excellence, it has shaped out understanding of the perils that surround us, from air pollution and food additives to smoking and drinking.

I think the public understanding of science has advanced enough that none of us would seriously dispute the notion that excessive alcohol, whatever the format, can seriously ruin our day. There’s also enough wreckage in society to have hammered home the point that once a big night out becomes every night out, entire lives are derailed by this bacchanalia.

So why on earth were the intellects of a team of highly qualified researchers, and the associated budget, devoted to researching this guff? This is a bar-room talking point at best, and the outcome of the exercise was bleeding obvious before the project even started. In case you’re still in suspense, the conclusion was that, well, alcohol is alcohol is alcohol. If you drink too much it’s bad for you. Who cares what colour or flavour it is?

Alcohol. One of the roots of all evil.
One of the roots of all evil (see also: Money).

Now, I’ll provide a bit of background here and confess that I’m a recovering newsoholic. I absorbed too much of it for a period of 15 years as a journalist staffer with a Major International Broadcaster, and still do enjoy a little news tipple every now and again. I get that it’s a newsroom chuckle. I probably would have felt duty-bound to get it on the shows I put together.

But freed from the staffer’s yoke, I bridle at the churnalistic aspect to this story. ‘Churnalism’, if you’re wondering, was coined (I think) by the rather talented journalist Nick Davies in his book Flat Earth News. Briefly, this is the newsroom practice of swallowing wholesale, and publishing with few changes, the spin pumped out by PR agencies.

Now, newsrooms aren’t the places they once were. The professionals in them are generally expected to do more – often much more – for less, while suffering wave after wave of job cuts and trimmed budgets. In such an environment the cannily scripted news release is often seen as manna from heaven, as quick-turnaround clickbait.

I have to say that there’s a whiff of churnalism to The Independent’s story embedded at the top of this post. Can you smell it? In fairness to the Indy, they aren’t alone: the story has been everywhere in Brit-land today.

As I said, I would likely have fallen in line and covered this myself. The newsroom I worked in was subject to exactly the same privations and pressures I mentioned above. This sort of thing – ready-made fluff landing in your lap – happened 2-3 times every week.

Somewhere in a PR agency a copywriter (possibly a former journalist, now lost to The Dark Side) is laughing at the ease of today’s news coup. Turning academic research into news copy is not always easy. But today was a good day for them. I’m not sure it was so auspicious for the research scientists, who come out of this looking a little frivolous and lightweight. If there ever was a credible driver for the research, it appears to have been jettisoned to ‘sex up’ the press release. And while most people will consume the story without a second thought, I personally feel it’s symptomatic of a broader negative trend in the news industry. Some news outlets will subject this story to more rigorous scrutiny – but most will not.

Newcastle nightlife, where the dress code never varies

Spotted in the Metro newspaper on a random train: comforting proof that while blizzards swirl and the mercury plummets, nightclubbers in Newcastle upon Tyne still adhere to a dress code where avoiding hypothermia is of lesser importance than avoiding a long queue at a cloakroom.

Layer-free revellers in Newcastle.
This is the correct form of dress in Newcastle for a Friday night out, even when it is -4°C.

As Metro says:-

It seems wearing a coat in Newcastle even when it’s freezing is a sign of weakness. Clubbers were out again in force yesterday night despite the cold temperatures and snow…

— Read on at

It’s all true. I have several years’ worth of first-hand experience. Coats are shunned.

The Iceman Cometh

Ice patterns on car bonnet.
Nature’s mathematician is let loose on water frozen to a car bonnet. The world around us throws up countless examples of such beauty daily, if we care to look for it.

To those visiting from another galaxy, it might come as a surprise to learn that on Earth, some days are colder than others. The rest of us have less of an excuse. (That said, the millennial thrill-ride that is climate change has given us a few anomalies in recent years that would make the most jaded pay attention.)

So, I’m not one of those who pays much attention to the weather. It happens. Winter can be cold. Rain is wet. In another era I might have painted myself with woad to greet the sunrise, but these days, not so much. I suspect it might have something to do with age.

I’m straying from the point (there is one). Today the chatter from my two young daughters was whether school would be on or not. It got me to thinking where the line was historically drawn.

My childhood was spent on the icy steppes of The North. Winters tended to deliver several nights of -10° and lower, very dark mornings and afternoons, and generous amounts of snow.

School was rarely closed. Closures, if they happened, were usually forced upon the school once the heating packed up completely. Until that point was reached the snow and low temperature were little more than inconveniences. The drifts could be big enough to hide a family, the ice extensive enough for a curling tournament: it would be business as usual.

The school boilers were housed in a sooty underground bunker next to the kitchens, an area off-limits to us cherubs. A giant pile of coal marked the entrance. In these cellars lurked the stoker, a Geordie Freddy Krueger who was rarely spotted above ground level. Unless the boilers were never extinguished he must have begun getting up steam before dawn, the captain of his landlocked steamboat.

Fast forward to my daughters’ musing, and things have changed. Children now have an operating temperature below which their brains struggle to function. Walk into a classroom blindfolded and you might think you’ve entered an NHS ward. Room too cold for t-shirts? Everybody out.

Outside, there’s more ammunition for the reluctant scholar. There might be a light dusting of snow, or patches of icy ground. That could well be enough to abandon lessons: we’re a more litigious society now, and parents taking a tumble while ferrying their offspring to the classroom door will be queuing up for compo to ease the pain of their contused coccyx.

We’ve had a few chilly days now: time enough for the ice to thicken. Come Monday, and a shortage of salt might be all it takes for my girls to enjoy a 3-day weekend.

Snowdrops, I think.
Snowdrops (I think) photographed during a trip to Wisley, the gardening equivalent of a pilgrimage to Mecca.