Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Observing Spain from on high

Hello again. It's back to aerial spotting today - and an opportunity for me to finish off a little project that I started last year. This is proving to be quite a labour of love, assembling all the data on this page where I want it, and the brain-dead blogger software trying to undo my work at the same time. For example, you won't believe the number of times my picture captions have defaulted to the left hand side of the page each time I add more text at the bottom of the document. Or worse still, they migrate to somewhere far from their respective photographs, ending up buried in text ! Since I have few regulars so far (Sarah, Diane and now, apparently, that smouldering crotchety Anne Gilbert from Salut! ) I crave the indulgence of all three of you, and anyone else I may have overlooked, by putting up what I've done so far, warts an' all, and then returning to tweak it from time to time. I'd being doing this anyway, for two reasons, only one of which I can divulge here, namely that this blog is as much a personal archive as a diary, so is something that one tries progressively to refine, like avoiding split infinitives.

The other reason, the one he doesn't want you to know about, is that each time he returns to D&D's Edit mode, his hit counter (bottom of page) records an extra "visitor" to his blog. Oh, and watch your sentence length. How many more times do you have to be told ?

Get back to your campus, hippo, where you belong ! Look, it's alright for you, cocooned in that womb-like compartment of yours, but some of us have to survive in the real world !

Our flight path across Spain (as deduced from the pictures below)

We were flying from Casablanca to Nice, the second leg of our journey back from Marrakech. I had to make a decision as to which side of the aircraft to sit: I chose the port side which fortunately turned out to be the correct choice (would that it were always so). Once clear of
Casablanca, all I could see for quite a while was the Atlantic Ocean, but elementary geography told me that soon we would meet one of those Costas (Blanca ? Del Sol ? Lotza ? Del Concrete ?). But where, precisely ?
The photograph to the left ( as with all, one can click to enlarge) was that first glimpse. Not knowing mainland Spain south of Barcelona , a
Cadiz (in middle distance)
deficiency I hope to rectify in the not too distant future) I had no idea what I was seeing down there, but was grateful for one thing: it was a distinctive and indented stretch of coastline, with a hint of a big port, so shouldn't be too difficult to identify on the map when I got home, and had a rainy day in which to do the necessary research. In fact it was Cadiz, confirmed by entering "cadiz aerial photo" into a google image search and summoning satellite images that matched.
Good, I thought. That gives me the first land fix; right clicking on the photo, and then onto Properties in the menu, gave me the time the picture was taken. That would be useful very shortly. We then flew over a vast swathe of Spanish mainland - Andalusia etc, passing numerous lakes, reservoirs, mountain ridges. Anything that looked distinctive enough to be later matched up with maps I photographed. Anything else was ignored. The picture on the left shows a kind of three-leafed clover pattern of lakes. Possibly a dam and hydroelectic project. Where was that I wonder. Somewhere to call in when we return by car, and I can think - ah, I've Mystery lakes *
9.58 am
Location identified with certainty - see map at bottom of this post

(ed: crazy software: I highlight a particular section for formatting, eg left justification, and it applies to everything else in the vicinity.)

seen you from 30,000 feet . The next fix, one that would allow permit retrospective identification of all points in between, would ideally be in "Green Spain", somewhere up in the north-east, and hopefully not some non-descript stretch of coastline that defied identification. As it happened Lady Luck was smiling that day
as we passed over the feature in the photograph
at the right - a tongue of land, jutting into the Med, bisected by a river, and almost certainly a river delta - the land being a deposit of silt brought down through the millenia - in short a Nile delta in miniature. I didn't know it at the time, such is (or was) the abysmal state of my knowledge of Iberian geography, but I was looking at the point at which one of Spain's major river's, the Ebro, enters the Med, dumping its cargo of eroded particles from its xxxx mile journey.

Ebro delta, 10.37am

(ed: no sense wasting any more time with positioning of text and photos: blogger software is fighting every change I make ! I leave the present dog's dinner as a snapshot in time of the software designers' limited success to date in achieving user-friendliness)

We next tracked up and along the Med coastline. Have you noticed how air traffic lanes tend to prefer land to sea, where the first is available - presumably to stay close to airports in the event
of emergencies. I took several pix of what clearly were seaside resorts, possibly big name ones that have a page to their own in the travel brochures, but for now they were simply places with distinctive looking harbour walls, breakwaters and the like that would aid identification later. And why is it I can never spell indentify or indentification correctly first time - always putting an "n" before the "d". Do you know why, hippo ?

Well, it's interesting you should ask me that. You
apparently recogize that I'm something of an expert in matters related to the brain and its neural circuitry. It may well be due to the way that your brain is "hard-wired" so to speak.

OK Sounds a bit heavy, maybe we could return to that at a later date. Anyway, to get back to the matter in hand:

10.45 am

Here's my method. I've got fixes and times on two well-separated points, and a few destinations beyond. The first thing to do is to get a suitable map, draw a straight line between the two fixes, and measure off the distance between the points. From the time difference, one then calculates the
average ground speed, ie distance/time. What one does next is note the time on any mystery location, and figure out its distance between the fixed points. That then tells you which part of the map to concentrate on. The last step is to harness the power of the internet, to input the tentative identification into a google or other search engine, especially aerial or satellite photographs, with a view to obtaining a confident identification.

The final picture below needed no mapwork. It was our final approach towards Nice airport, one we've seen many times. The flight passes over the Esterel, a vivid red-bown massif of volcanic rock, over the TV mast at Pic d'Ours (in the picture) with the Cannes airstrip visible, then over glitzy Cannes, the neck of the Cap d'Antibes controversial Marina Baie des Anges, and finally touchdown.
Seaside port - identified as Castellon
using combination of mapwork
and internet image search

Esterel coastline, west of Cannes 11.43 am

And here finally is a picture off the internet of one of the the places that I have identified, taken from a different angle. Its called Castellon, and it's a little way south of the Ebro delta. Not particularly pretty - a container port or terminal by the looks of it, but chosen for its highly angular and distinctive outline that makes it an easy one for matching up one's pix with those on internet.

Off the internet

Mystery lakes located

And finally, here faintly circled in biro at the centre of this map is my tentative, nay 99.9% certain identification of the location of the mystery "clover-leaf lakes, in the picture above. This region of Spain is strewn with lakes (there's at least one, probably two others in the photograph) so how was this area pinned down for close scrutiny in the first place ? Answer, using the camera's internal clock. Here's how it was done.Earlier I said I had fixes on Cadiz and the Ebro delta. The two were taken at 9.48 and 10.45 am respectively, ie 57 minutes apart. The distance between the two on my map of Spain ( 1cm =10km) was 77cm, ie 770 km. An aside, first : those numbers indicate that the aircraft was travelling at a speed of 810 km/hr approx, ie 506mph in britspeak. Now then, the lakes were just 9 mins flying time from Cadiz, which is about 122km, or 12 cm approx on the map. So that tells us which bit of the map to study - the Malaga hinterland. It did not take long to spot our clover-leaf friends, just from their shape alone. In fact this one was too easy. I prefer harder ones, where one has to match up with other features, such as roads, rivers, hills, mountains, settlements etc.

It's 8.30 am. I am going to post "Spain" now, despite needing things done to it here and there.

I have decided, as a matter of policy, to conclude each post with a hint of what's in store for the next 24 or 48 hours.

A quick scan of the headlines shows there's been a breakthrough in the States on the causes of cot-death. There's apparently a genetic link. I'll take a close look at that, and record my first impressions.

And that worthy and lofty science will then be counterbalanced with a little idea I had yesterday for something on the chemisty of , wait for it, loo bowls, occasioned by my peeing into one yesterday into which my wife had left some strong bleach. Urine for a real laugh......

Oh, my God !

Oh yes, and something on the Taj Mahal, mentioned in a recent Telly blog as the world's most beautiful building. I've never been there (yet) but mere mention of the words Taj Mahal provokes some powerful memories from my teaching days.

PS : Message to Blogger software developers (in the hope you have search software that trawls for throwaway comments such as this ). What you need is to provide an option of attaching a caption-entry box to each uploaded graphic. It would be integral with that photo or whatever, such that the two move as a unit, and never get separated, as is clearly happening today in a totally unpredictable and infuriating manner.

At home with hippo

Some of you have been asking about the precise location of hippo in my head. Shame on you for not knowing your human anatomy. He lives in a small apartment on the hippocampus of course !
(Click photo to enlarge)
PS Will that "Anne Gilbert" on Colin Randall's Salut blog still be suggesting a link to this site when she reads this one !


There's been a bit of a glitch today, not made better for having seen it coming. Today's post is on the subject of mortgages, specifically repayment mortgages, and how they are calculated. I started to prepare the post on Sunday, saving to Draft instead of Publish. Trouble is, when I hit the Publish key this morning, it went up, but not where I wanted it, as "today's" post, but lower down under Sunday's. So scroll down, please.

...but only if you're a mathematician, or your mind is in need of a boggle ....

Er, thanks for that, hippo. Does anyone know how one can promote something that's in Draft/Edit mode to the top of the table in Beta Blogger? Suggestions invited !

Monday, October 30, 2006

Old Faithful

I'd like to introduce you to what for me is a kind of good luck charm. No, I'm not overly superstitious, and maybe I should have rephrased that, to stress that the good luck was all in the past. What you see at the left is perhaps better described as a "a feel-good artefact" - a more accurate, if less endearing kind of description. The story of this watch, and how it has come to acquire its talismanic status, will be the subject of today's and tomorrow's posts. It's my Citizen watch, photographed in harsh sunlight on the mezzanine stairs two days ago. But the sunlight was needed to highlight a key feature of this very unusual time-piece. Look carefully at the hands (click on the photo to enlarge if necessary). You will see that they are not continuous. There is a break that corresponds with a faint circle in the background. It's because this is no ordinary watch, with solid metal hands, and thus with moving parts to drive those hands. It's a rare form of digital watch in which the hands are simulated on the LCD display. By photographing in unflattering sunlight, you can see in shadowy form all 60 of the radial stop positions needed for a complete sweep by the second and minute hands.
The sunlight also shows up another feature, a coloured border that starts at green, in dim light, then extends further into a red zone in brighter light, and which in the picture has reached the blue zone, under the small numeric display. The book of words that came with the watch described it as a "light meter", as if it were an essential aid to survival in modern life. I suppose it could be handy for photographers, but is, I suspect, just a gimmicky feature, albeit an attractive one, that adds life and colour to the watch face. In a practical sense it also shows that the clever photocell is working - the one that keeps the battery topped up, extending its lifetime enormously.
There's another mode I hesitate to mention, but it amused the children enormously when they were small. Press a button and the watch emits a clear and quite tuneful continuous note. If one then covers or partially covers the light cell, the pitch of the note changes, depending on the reduced light. With practice, one can get a tune simply by moving one's hand !
I haven't told you how old this watch is yet. You may be surprised. It was bought in 1984, when I was briefly flush with funds, having done a little private tutoring on the side. Yes, it had its 22nd birthday this year. It's been worn almost continuously, except for 6 months with a Accurist watch - a birthday present- that was a pain, needing to be reset each time a 30 day month changed to a 31, or 28, or vice-versa, and then finally gave up the ghost. I couldn't bother putting it in for repair, being more than happy to go back to Old Faithful. The latter has had just 3 replacement batteries in its life. On the second occasion it was sent back to Citizen for a new watch face, following an intense spell of abrasive DIY,and came back with some little faults on the mode shift buttons fixed, without my having requested them, all for a fairly nominal extra charge. But I've been doing some research, and suspect that Old Faithful may have brought tears to the eyes of some old-timers in Citizen's service section. You see, it appears that I own something that now has rarity value, although I have yet to confirm that on eBay. I only discovered this recently when I did the round of the shops, looking for a replacement with a similar simulated hands display. I could not find one. So I went to the Internet, and still could not.
After diligent searching, I finally located a site, URL since mislaid, sad to say, that mentioned my watch, and gave a clue as to why it's no longer available. It's to do with the way that watches are manufactured according to a basic design and then launched in a range of styles - a bit like cars in a way. Apparently the "chassis design" so to speak of the simulated hand watch means they cannot ring the changes where other features are concerned. That would explain why there was just my Old Faithful as the sole representative of its type in the jeweller's shop window all those years ago. But I have an eye for the unusual, so did not mind shelling out the £35
back in the early 80s. What would that be at current prices ? Not a lot, certainly not into the bling category, but neither a "wear for 6 months, then throwaway" item either.
When I look at the watch, I not only see one of the best purchases of my entire life. I think of the young woman whom I tutored successfully for O-Level maths. That allowed her to clear the last obstacle that had been standing in the way of a coveted place at music college, as well as putting a little extra cash in my pocket. I also think of the reasons why I allowed the agency (Personal Tutors) to coerce me into tutoring in something that was not my main subject, but how tutoring was to be a life-saver when the cold winds of Thatcherism began to blow in the late 80s, finally ending my career as a research scientist.
Tomorrow's post will have an intimidating-looking graphic - a mathematical equation, probably one that few people have seen, outside of the mortgage industry. It's a formula I worked out for myself, in 1967, one year out of University, when wondering how they figured out the fixed monthly payment on a repayment mortgage. I did it with nothing more than, guess what, O-Level maths. Oh yes, and SBP (sheer bloody persistence).
Some might call it being "obsessed".
I was wondering when we'd hear from you, hippo.
Maybe, but here's something to think about. Yesterday's Sunday Times got it wrong on carbon monoxide - said it was denser than air, formed a layer at ground level (see my post below). Maybe they will publish a correction next Sunday, or a small letter tucked away in geeks' corner, if someone bothers to put pen to paper. Chances are they won't, and will continue on their way regardless, continuing to litter the world with their careless factual inaccuracies. I'm quite unforgiving where the Sunday's are concerned. They have had days on the Corfu story to check and re-check their facts, especially in something headed "Carbon Monoxide: the Facts".
A scientist could not get away with this kind of sloppiness. Any factual errors in their work would get picked up, sooner or later, and then be passed baton-like from one published paper to the next, which is science's way of ridding itself of unhelpful and misleading contributions. Can you blame scientists for being eagle-eyed, obsessional even, when it comes to the facts ? It's a trait that is essential to their professional survival, and that once acquired, is difficult to shake off. Is this why scientists are given such wide berth in the MSM - becuase we science bods find it hard to conceal our disdain for careless or indifferent reporting of the so-called facts.
pm: sent the following email to The Editor, Sunday Times:

Under "Carbon monoxide: the facts" (ST, October 29, Focus) it is stated that CO is "a heavy gas that builds from the floor up". Not so. CO is slightly less dense than air. Maybe there's been some confusion with carbon dioxide. Precise figures, for those that are interested, can be found on my blog (see post for Oct 29).


Yours faithfully

Colin Berry

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Mortgage repayments solved with just O-Level Maths

I bet this is the first time you've seen a post begin with a mathematical formula. But it was trailed yesterday, so you should have had some idea of what's coming. It's to do with mortgage repayments. Not I know the most elevating of topics, but that's the precise point. There I was , some 40 years ago, straight out of University, despairing of ever being able to buy a house of my own on what Quaker Oats were paying me as a research assistant. And then there was all that interest to pay. But how much, in total ? I hadn't a clue how the system worked, or how the sums were done, and didn't have the inclination to go into a Building Society and ask, given I had no immediate intention of buying a house, far less a deposit to put down. So I was thrown back on my own slender mathematical resources, comprising GCE O-Level, one year of further maths , and a bit of topping up at University.

Well, as the formula above shows, I finally got there. To this day I recall the magic moment when I realized how to convert a page of scribbles into that neat compact formula. OK, I know its not e=mc2, but for a moment or two I felt, if not like Einstein, well, like a million pounds. And it didn't need any post O-Level maths either. Just some background in compound interest calculations, and the ability to spot and deal with a geometrical series.

Allow me first to show you how the formula works, where I input numbers, pulled from the air and I'll then give a clue as to how it was arrived at.

Suppose, for example, one needs to borrow, at today's prices, £200,000 over 25 years . Let's suppose you take a fixed rate, say 6.5 % . Then one substitutes P=200,000, and for the C term one first calculates (1 +6.5/100) ie 1.065. The annual repayment A is then calculated as 200,000 times 1.065 raised to the power of 25 times (1.065 - 1), all divided by (1.065 to the power of 25 , minus 1).

Apologies: the dialogue box has no facility for entering powers, so I have had to resort to words).

You'll need a good calculator, obviously, one that can handle powers ( ie with a key labelled x to the power of y) . Assuming you have not, or possibly have more important things to do with your life (though what those are I truly cannot imagine) , then I'll do the number-crunching for you. The answer works out at :

£16,396 per annum, or £1366.36 per month.

Phew ! And that's not counting what has to be the found by way of a deposit, stamp duty, legal fees, furnishing etc.

But I didn't stop there. I knew, of course, as everyone does, the way a repayment mortgage drags its feet in the early years, ie gets off to a painfully slow start as far as reducing the amount owed is concerned.

The first few annual payments are doing little more than repaying interest, with only a small reduction in the "principal". But that wasn't good enough for me. I wanted to know precisely what I would still owe at 5 years, 10 years etc.

Actually, the difficult bit was already done , so it was fairly simple to arrive at this:

S, with the subscript m, is the amount that is still owed after, say, m years. P and C and n have the same meanings as before. So let's try putting m equal to 5 and 10 years respectively, and see what we get.

After 5 years, having borrowed £200,000, and paying 6.5% interest as before, one still owes: £180,663.

And after 10 years it is : £154,169

Depressing thought , isn't it, that after 10 years, less than a quarter of the loan is repaid. These calculations were enough to dissuade me from rushing into house purchase back in the late 60s. But house price inflation, much above 3 or 4 percent a year, was unknown then, so property purchase was not seen as a way to make quick capital gains. Shame, perhaps, that I didn't put a foot on the ladder then - I'd probably be living on the Cap d'Antibes today, rather than in the Town. But then I tell myself that the shops, restaurants, the life, the buzz are all here right on my doorstep, together with the unmentionables. I use my walks round the Cap where others might pop tranquillisers or anti-depressants. Pity about not having a garden, though. And as for other people's dogs, and what they do outside my door ......

I was also able to derive a formula for working out what each annual payment represents in terms of interest and loan repayment, and how that ratio gradually shifts from being primarily interest to being primarily loan repayment. As is so often the case in maths, the final answer is elegant in its simplicity.

Using this formula, one can show that of each pound paid to the loan-provider in the 5th year, about 72p is interest, and 28 p is loan repayment.

But at 20 years, it's roughly the same, but the other way round : every pound repaid is 27p interest, and 73p loan repayment.

Congratulations all those of you, Sarah, who've made it so far. Time for all/both of us to take a break. I shall add a second instalment this later in the morning, just to round it off a little less abruptly.

PS: On second thoughts, I think it best to leave it as it is - no sense in over-egging the pudding.

I didn't know there was egg in a suet pudding.

I spent this morning making a list of topics for future posts. Given the liberal way in which I am interpreting the D&D theme (through necessity more than by choice) there's plenty to keep this blog going for weeks if not months to come. OK, so it doesn't attract Comments, but too many might distract from the job in hand. Mind you, the odd one or two would be welcome ....don't want to have people saying he's talking to himself, do we hippo ? So at present I'm content just to build up a portfolio of posts on anything that is perhaps a bit off the beaten track, quirky even. But we Brits don't do quirky, do we hippo ?

No, we're all of us paragons of sanity

Anyway, it's back to aerial spotting tomorrow. I'm going to show some pix I took on a flight from Casablanca to Nice last spring, and how I was able to figure out (later) what I was seeing on the ground, using a map, ruler and the internal clock on my digital camera.

Oh my God ......... Head for the hills, everyone.

PPS Re the equations: if you know any mathematicians/ maths teachers etc, do please ask them to check this out. But I'm 100% confident of these self-derived formulae, for the reason stated. They are too simple, too "right-looking" to be wrong. That's what I like about maths. Others have described their passion for the subject as being like a vision of cool, clear, clean mountain air. Sibelius for the numerate !

The Corfu tragedy and the silent killer - carbon monoxide gas

It's my aim, ambitious and possibly unrealistic, to put something up each day, no matter how small. It gives this retiree something to do, a structure to one's day, so to speak, and in the longer term might help to raise the profile of this blog in what is now a densely populated blogosphere. A daily blog means that my D&D raison d'être will not , and cannot, be followed too slavishly. Yes, it would be nice if folk felt they could open up here about the things they are striving to achieve in life, but it may be a while before that happens. Possibly my dream of creating this particular blogging niche is an unrealistic one -but that won't stop me trying. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say. So while I patiently wait for the world to beat a path to my door, in search of that better metaphorical mousetrap, I must draw on all my resources to keep things gently simmering away on this site.

It was tragic event, currently dominating the news, that made me realize there's room here for a particular slot that fits with my interests, background and training. It's the one to do with matters pertaining to human health, backed up, if I might say, with a string of degrees (including a doctorate) in biochemistry.

The event in question was the discovery by a maid at a Corfu bungalow of two dead children and two unconscious adults. The man was the children's natural father, divorced from their mother back in England. He and his new partner had taken the children away for a half-term holiday. To this retired scientist, the initial press reports were baffling. No, we were "reliably" informed , this was not carbon monoxide poisoning : the hotel, in whose grounds the bungalow was situated, did not use gas, since the heating was by electricity. (That, as we now know, was not the whole story, more on that later). It must have been something they had eaten, we were told. Possibly food-poisoning from eating out somewhere, maybe "mushrooms". Mushrooms ? The mind boggles ? Had someone, a local restaurateur perhaps, been harvesting local toadstools, and serving them up as "mushrooms". The needle on hippo's mental CDM (crap-detecting meter) shot off scale on hearing that version of events .

I was sceptical to say the least. Firstly, food poisoning comes on in stages - nausea, vomiting etc. Given there were 4 people affected, at least one of them should have been able to raise the alarm. The fact that not one of them did so pointed strongly to poisoning by that age-old hazard to human existence, namely carbon monoxide gas.

As molecules go, its chemical structure could hardly be simpler (see graphic above ). One carbon atom (shown black) bonded to a single oxygen atom (red), instead of two oxygen atoms as in carbon dioxide. CO, in other words, instead of CO2. Geekish aside: CO is really C1O1, but chemists don't waste time writing 1 if there's only one of a particular atom).

As a young teenager, I was briefy into home chemistry, and quickly tired of the tame offerings of the shop-bought chemistry sets. I gradually won the trust of my local "chemist" (pharmacist) who in those days kept laboratory type chemicals for hobbyists etc, or could order them in.

When I told my school chemistry teacher about the new, and potentially hazardous hobby, he immediately expressed concern as to precisely what I was doing. I recall the occasion when I said I was proposing to make carbon monoxide. "Well, you had better be exceedingly careful " he said, " because before you know what, your knees will just go from under you, and someone, your parents as likely as not, will find you slumped there, unconscious if you're lucky, but more likely dead".

They said some or all the 4 victims in Corfu had been sick, a symptom of CO poisoning, but there was no mention of the classic tell-tale syptom - cherry red lips and fingernail-beds . Maybe the staff missed it. But what about the paramedics and hospital ? Did they miss it too ? Does that mean that the surviving couple weren't immediately administered oxygen, which is the first line of treatment, one that might not only get them quickly conscious again, but also spare them from serious long-term consequences ?

Why then is carbon monoxide gas so deadly? Firstly: it's highly potent. A fraction of 1% in the air you breathe can incapacitate and kill in less than 20 minutes. Secondly, it's ubiquitous. It's formed in the vicinity of any appliance that burns fossil fuel. That could be natural gas (methane), or charcoal (elemental carbon). The main danger comes from poorly ventilated gas burners, or from the foolhardy burning of wood, coal or charcoal indoors without a proper flue or chimney.

Sorry hippo, was there something you wanted to say ?

Yes, just a macabre aside: burning charcoal indoors is now a common way of committing suicide in Japan, especially among cults. Seems that running a car in a closed garage doesn't work reliably anymore, now that cars have catalytic converters as standard.

Stop press: my CDM's just gone off scale again. I've just seen the following in today's Sunday Times, under the heading "Carbon Monoxide:the Facts":

"(CO is) a heavy gas: it builds from the floor up ....."

That too is crap, if you'll pardon my French. There's an awful lot of it in the MSM these days. For the record, CO has a density that is almost identical to that of nitrogen (N2) the major constituent of air (approx 78%). And it is somewhat less dense than oxygen (comprising 21% of air). One can only assume that the ST has its CO confused with its CO2.

Vapour densities of gases can be calculated by working out the molar masses, from the relative atomic masses, and then dividing by two. The figures are: 14, 14, 16 for CO, N2 and O2 respectively. CO2, in contrast, is much higher (22).

Thank you for that hippo. It's good to see you putting that hypercritical tendency of yours to good use once in a while. While on the subject of real science, instead of the dumbed-down, often inaccurate stuff we get from the MSM, let's mention in passing that carbon monoxide is a somewhat reactive molecule, especially in the body, on account of having a so-called lone pair of electrons. They are on the carbon (not oxygen) atom, which is somewhat unusual and what makes CO so dangerous where folk are concerned. . CO , with its deadly lone pair, has a powerful affinity for certain electron-deficient atoms, notably transition metals (iron, copper etc) *(see footnote)

I bet none of your audience have read that before in their newspapers. Have you Sarah ? Have you Diane ? Hope I haven't overlooked anyone important.

A prime target for CO are iron-containing proteins, of which the body has several - haemoglobin in the blood, myoglobin in the muscles, and cytochromes in the tissues.

Now, in a normal healthy individual, the job of haemoglobin is to transport oxygen from lungs to tissues. The oxygen molecule bonds to the iron at the centre of the red haem molecule.

ed : the following sentence was inadvertently omitted from the first posting , the result of relegating detail to a footnote. Apologies to early birds for an apparent non sequitur.

We are accustomed to thinking of CO purely external threat, avoidable in principle, though sadly, and tragically, not always in practice. In fact small amounts of CO are produced naturally in the body . They attach to haemoglobin at the binding sites intended for oxygen, blocking it thereafter from doing its job. As much as 5% of our haemoglobin is rendered hors de combat by our own endogenous CO.

In smokers the percentage of haemoglobin blocked (and therefore useless for carrying oxgen) is even higher -typically up 9%. And it's higher still, up to 50% and higher (!), in cases of acute exposure.

Incidentally, if you'll forgive another digression, I and my family, once had a narrow escape ourselves, way back in the 1950s. We had gas, supplied through a meter, for various purposes: for cooking, for the gas poker (used to get the coal fire going) , and for heating the upstair bedrooms, in those funny little grates with the lacy earthenware elements. And it was not natural gas (methane, CH4) in those days, but coal gas, mainly hydrogen (H2) but with a hefty amount of carbon monoxide.

Sticking one's head in an oven (unlit, I hasten to add) was an all too common means of committing suicide in those days.

Sometimes, if one was using the gas cooker, the flame would go out. Another sixpence was needed in the meter. The danger was when one did not have a coin to hand, and forgot to turn off all taps - on the cooker, or other outlets in the house. That's what must have happened once, and then someone returned late at night, probably my Dad god bless'im, who, on finding there was no gas for making a cuppa, put sixpence in the meter, and then went to bed . The house then gradually filled up with gas from an open tap. I woke next morning, feeling groggy, with a headache, and was violently sick on the bus on the way to school. It wasn't till getting home that night (no mobile phones!) that I found everyone else had suffered one way or another with these classic symptoms of CO poisoning.

To return to Corfu: sadly, there are now two children to be buried. How awful for the natural mother, to have heard the news, and then have to travel to Corfu to identify them. And how awful for the father and partner, both still very ill apparently, who , it is reported, have yet to learn about the children.

The next few days and weeks will be critical for the two survivors. There is a common misconception that once CO levels in the blood have fallen, one must be on the road to recovery. Sadly that is not always the case. Why ? Because contrary to popular belief (including, sad to say, some in the medical profession) CO poisoning is not just about temporary "internal suffocation" from the blood being unable to carry enough oxygen for the brain and other tissues. CO has more subtle and complex longer term action in the body . You can learn more if you go to Wikipedia.

To give just one example: CO can interfere with the way another reactive small molecule, nitric oxide (NO )is handled and metabolised in the body, that can impact on brain and nerve function. That may explain why some victims of CO poisoning suffer long term or permanent neurological impairment. Thus my concern at the apparent delay in identifying CO as the culprit, and with it the delay in administering oxygen. Although the hotel said initially it was not using gas for heating, it was used in, or adjacent to, the bungalows to fire boilers for heating water. Depending on which report you read, there was also apparently another gas water heater inside the bungalow, and, just for good measure, there was air-conditioning plant that might have blown fumes from the adjacent boiler into the bungalow.

An accident waiting to happen, some might say.

And on TV last night they interviewed an English lady who had stayed in the same bungalow a few days back, and returned ill from her holiday. She needed three days in hospital to recover, and described all the classic symptoms of CO - knees giving way etc . What they didn't say was whether her hospital had identified CO poisoning or not. If not, why not ? Surely there have been enough cases of CO poisoning on holidays, foreign or otherwise, to make a a CO test advisory or mandatory even if someone returns complaining of headache, nausea, vomiting , muscle weakness etc?

It's clearly for the courts to determine culpability - but already charges of manslaughter are likely to be brought against the hotel owner, the manager and maintenance staff. Personally I find it incredible that anyone staying in a hotel can be exposed to CO, especially one that is subject to EU safety inspections. Carbon monoxide detectors are relatively cheap these days, and should be installed as standard anywhere within the vicinity of a boiler fired with gas or other carbon-based fossil fuel. Without wishing to start an EU-bashing exercise ( many of its rules in water purity, beach standards etc have forced the UK to clean up its act) I do ask where those rules and regulations are when you most need them. CO is a silent, odourless, insidious killer, as we have seen again. So why are the same mistakes made over and over again ? Two young lives, snuffed out, just like that, and the prospect of lifetime of grief and despair for the families concerned.

Without wishing to sound officious: have you had your gas boiler checked and serviced recently ? Do you know the signs of a poorly-ventilated boiler, that could be letting CO seep into the house? Look for sooty streaks on the surrounding wall. Better still, go out and buy a CO detector.

* Curiously (and not many people know this) one in 20 haem molecules in the blood of even the healthiest people is blocked by CO that is formed NATURALLY in the body. Oddly enough, it's the haem molecules being broken down at the end of their useful lives - finally to bilirubin - that produces natural CO.
I once used to work in the area of bilirubin metabolism, having done 2 years of research in a Philadelphia medical school on phototherapy of neonatal jaundice. While there, and giving reports of my research, I met scientists, doctors, biochemists even, who did not know about natural CO, and must have wondered if I was a naif who had his CO confused with his CO2. But believe me, there is some weird and wonderful chemistry going on inside our bodies, which is what attracted this 'pretty colours, stinks and bangs' home chemist to the subject in the first place.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Hippo's Office Aggronyms

Yes, hippo wants you to see what he's been working on, in that squalid back-office of Colin's limbic cortex..
He's come up with his own invention. They're called aggronyms ( acronyms with the power to aggravate). Isn't that just charming ?

(You would have read them here first, but for MSM lack of interest & internet plagiarism, but that, folks, is another story )

Oh, he's such a STARSKY
Seventies Tearaway, Antiquated Retread, So Kinda Yesterday

A HUTCH by any other name
He Used To Charm. How ?

He's such a NODDY

Never Objects. Dutiful, Dependable Yesman
And he's BIG EARS

Bossy, Irritating, Grumpy. Expects A Reverential Staff
I'm the office MUPPET

My Underfunded Pension Prevents Early Exit

Medical referral ? Sees Purely His Own Celestial Kinsfolk !
He/She's a SIMPSON
Someone Invading My Personal Space - Odour Nauseating

I'd watch out if I were you. He's a DARTH VADER

Desperately Anxious Recruiter To His Vile Activities. Decline Evil Requests!


Bullies Little Underlings Endlessly, Producing (Eventually) Tweeny End Result

Task Explained, Loyalty Expected. Things Unravel - Boss Blames You


Pushy, Over- Promoted. Engineering Your Exit


Rides On Boss - Influence Negligible
(Ed, I'm stumped on that one. Any ideas ?)


Fat, lewd, immoral. Neanderthal tendencies. Source testosterone obviously needs excising !
Feel free, folks, to add some more of your own ! The Comments box awaits you. Just keep them clean, please.

A tip for tipplers

They say wine, especially red wine, is good for you. It's to do with those polyphenols, apparently. They're antioxidants which protect the lining of the arteries, making them less likely to fur up. You are then less likely to have a heart attack.

As for myself, I just like the taste, and the feeling of bonhomie that comes with having a glass or two. I think hippo (my daemon) - see below - enjoys wine too. It quietens him down, and in so doing makes me feel more at peace with the world.

But there's a downside to drinking alcoholic beverages, even in moderation. And it goes without saying that I always drink in moderation.

Liar !

It's to do with those calories. Having once been Head of Nutrition at a Research Association, and
being constantly on call to answer queries, there were certain key numbers that one kept in one's head.

They were: carbohydrate =4; protein =4; fat =9; alcohol =7. Those figures are the energy values expressed in kcals/gram. And as you can see, pure alcohol, gram for gram, is almost as calorific as fat itself. Put more bluntly, alcohol's almost as fattening as fat itself. Not many people know that, as Michael Caine might say.

To really bring it home, I've been doing some back-of-envelope calculations.

Rather than blitz you with a lot of figures, here's something I hope will leave you with a simple take-away message.

Suppose that you and your partner intend to share a bottle of wine tonight. It could be medium dry red, rosé or white .

But suppose your wine rack's empty, and you have to go out to buy it. And let's suppose you walk at a fairly brisk pace to the off-licence, supermarket whatever.

How far away would that outlet have to be from your home, such that you use up the same number of calories in collecting it as you will gain, later this evening when you consume it ? I think you will be surprised at the answer. I know I was.

To be "calorie-neutral" your wine outlet has to be approximately one and a half miles from your home.

Now there's a sobering thought !

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Daemonology for beginners: who's this 'hippo' character, then ?

Hippo acronymus
Apologies dear friends: am having formatting problems. Daemon (or daemons) at work ?
Devotees of this blog from across the world have been clamouring to know more about the hippo character who keeps popping up from time to time with his unhelpful remarks.
"Devotees from across the world", my left foot. You mean that friend of your wife who phoned on Monday evening.
And in case you hadn't noticed, hippo's comments always appear in a delightful er, Malteser shade of brown. In fact I sometimes think his brain has much in common with the interior of said confectionery too. A sort of foam of trapped air bubbles.
But joking aside, as you see, hippo and I have a frank, candid, mutually joshing, on-going, give-and-take kind of relationship........
When I can get a word in edgeways that is. Notice that he's already getting into his windbag mode . When the multiple adjectives start piling up, then you know it's time to take cover.
Anyway, as the graphic indicates, hippo is of course an acronym :
Hypercritical Incubus: Philip Pullman Offshoot
Of course, I'm sure that the cognoscenti among you, well versed in daemonlore, knew that already.
For newcomers to this shadowy genre, here's a brief glossary that may help you better understand the nature of my constant companion hippo.
Overcritical - especially of small faults, inclined to judge too severely, carping, nit-picking, pedantic, faultfinding

1. (Modern meanings):
A nightmare. An oppressive thought like a nightmare, or a situation resembling a terrifying dream. Someone who depresses or worries others .....
2. (Historical meaning) :

A male demon, fiend, or lascivious spirit, believed to lie on sleeping persons and to have sexual intercourse with sleeping women.

Whilst hippo has been known to fantasise about life in bygone days - he's a free spirit moving in both time and space - his current job description refers strictly and exclusively to the modern-day meaning. (I append that comment for the benefit of my wife, who may be reading this site.)
Philip Pullman: Author, best known for "His Dark Materials " trilogy, in which each character has his or her 'daemon' In adults, the daemon is a particular animal - eg; a leopard, monkey. The situation with children ( eg the main character, Lyra) is more complex: their daemons can take different forms, but are still animals).
But I haven't said yet what is meant by the term "daemon". That's a tricky one, but cannot be avoided, given that the blog is called "Dreams and Daemons".
Here's a selection of definitions off the internet:

1. The word daemon is Greek for "spirit or soul."

2. A dæmon in the Philip Pullman trilogy His Dark Materials, is a physical manifestation of the soul of a conscious human.

3. A guardian spirit or guardian angel often associated with the communication of advice and inspiration.
4. Again, a guardian spirit; the inspiring or indwelling spirit of a place or thing; an entity or intelligence of a particular force; an artificial elemental created by a person or group for a specific purpose or force.
5. The words daemon and daimon (also spelled dæmon) are distinctive Greek spellings of demon used purposely today to distinguish the daemons of Greek mythology, good or malevolent "supernatural beings between mortals and gods, such as inferior divinities and ghosts of dead heroes", from the Judeo-Christian usage demon, "a malignant spirit that can possess humans". ...
Jesus, who writes this stuff ?
6. In computing: A daemon is a program that is left running in the background, waiting for a particular set of circumstances (such as a request) to trigger it into action.
Uh uh, the inner geek is back. What possible relevance can computing daemons have in the present context ?
Regrettably, I have to say that no single one of these definitions can be said perfectly to encapsulate the meaning of daemon on this site. Think of it, then, as a composite: a disagreeable inner presence (well, on occasions), an incubus that may haunt its owner, yet is at the same time a guardian spirit (though often not apparent, and slow to adopt that role).
"Perfectly to encapsulate" ? ! Who do you think you are ? Lord William Rees-Mogg ?
Others characteristics, not mentioned here, could emerge from time to time, depending on environmental triggers, provocation etc.
There may be some among you, out there in the blogosphere, who are asking themselves this: am I, the writer, someone of this planet, Man in other words, who needed to think up an animal identity for his daemon, who having hit upon 'hippo' (the big mouth seeming appropriate) then had retrospectively to devise a plausible-sounding acronym that might pass muster in the world of grown-ups ?
Or is he is fact Superman, not of this planet, who did things the other way round ?
The answer to that my friends, is that I really don't know. You see, it's like this: two heads are better than one. But I only know what's in my head. I don't know what's in hippo's, assuming it's more than just Malteser centres..
That's a cop-out, if there ever was. Come on, tell it the way it is. What came first ? Hippo the beast or HIPPO the acronym ? Oh, and one other thing: being your guardian spirit is NOT in my job description.
Apologies once again for the layout and formatting problems

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Round Britain Swizz

Picture deleted to free up space

Britain's varied coastline - but why weren't we allowed a proper look ?

(Click to enlarge)

Those of you who read the Times may have seen the item yesterday on the worst TV shows of all time. Readers online are being invited to nominate their own "stinkers". Here's the URL if you want to send in yours:


Mine was posted this afternoon. Here's what it said.

"Without a doubt, it was "Round Britain Whizz". It was trailered for weeks in advance. An aircraft was to fly round the coast of Britain, filming it in its entirety. The footage was then to be shown somewhat speeded up - an aerial equivalent, if you like, of "London-Brighton in four minutes", the latter as seen from a train-driver's cab. But on the long-awaited day of screening, much of the footage was relegated to a tiny box in the corner of the screen while talking heads (David Bellamy among others) waffled on about Britain's geological history and other such matters that were not what we had tuned in to see. Round Britain swizz! Do it again, and properly next time."

It's funny how some things stick in the memory. That huge letdown of a programme was made 20 years ago, but the memory of it still irks. As indicated, the repeated pre-screen billing built up expectations that were not delivered. They even ran a lengthy feature in one of the TV mags (Radio or TV Times, can't recall which) where they interviewed the RAF pilot, who went into a lot of fascinating technical detail. Like having cameras that pointed backwards from the rear of the aircraft. That way the lenses stayed cleaner. Obviously the film then had to be run in reverse.

Of course, these days we have Google Earth if we want to zoom across the countryside at tree top level, or re-visit our favourite holiday destinations .

I might come back and add a few links later. Why hold up a post for want of a few details ? But then there's always the temptation to do a bit of embellishment here and there, while one's about it . Anyone have any views on the blogging ethics of posting something that is not quite the finished article ? Speaking for myself/ourselves, I sometimes spot things easier when I see it later in its proper context.

As you may have noticed, my ever-present companion hippo is not slow with his comments either, few of which are what one would call constructive. I'll be putting something up tomorrow about hippo, and how he came by that name...... Clue: he's a member of the daemon species Hippo acronymus.

I expect you recognize the bit of coastline in my aerial picture (I've mentioned previously my passion for taking pix when I'm airborne). Clue: it's somewhere Ringo and his lady could take a cottage - if it's not too dear !

Do you always bag the window seat ? What about J, that missus of yours? Does she ever get a look-in ? Or look-out ?

Rainy days, leaking roof and Sudoku

Picture deleted to free up space.

We have the roof repair men in today at long last, having been through the time-consuming business of getting estimates, deciding who's for real and who's not. But it's always an opportunity to meet the locals and practice a bit of my fractured French ! Thank heavens that J (my wife )is fluent

The leak, or on occasions, the flood, occurs only on rare occasions, when there's both torrential rain, and wind from the west. That combination drives the water under the tiles, where it collects as a big puddle. Guess where it then goes from there ? Correct answer. It's especially alarming to be inundated in the middle of the night. No, there's no sheet of waterproof bitumen ("roofing felt") under those tiles. One local builder seemed intrigued when I said it was fitted as standard in Britain. But how do they finish it off at the ridge and eaves, he asked . Which immediately put me in mind of that choice quotation, attributed to a French ambassador I believe, : "That's all very well in practice. But how does it work in theory ?"

With all the to-ing and fro-ing around me at the moment, this will have to be a potboiler.

So what else is ........

I just thought I'd say a few words about one of life's more welcome torments. Sudoku ( or Su Doku as some prefer to spell it). Just when I think I've got it sussed, I start another puzzle, full of confidence, and then hit a brick wall. To begin with, I thought it could always be done by a slow methodical process of elimination. It's a technique that someone called "marking up", ie pencilling into each square what it can't be, and from that gradually whittling down to what it must be. Someone in the Times Games section came dangerously close to suggesting they could all be done that way.

Nonsense. And even if it were true, where's the fun in that ? Over the weeks I've learned some techniques from others, like 'slicing and dicing'. Others I've figured out for myself, like the one I call "Spot the Orphan". Example: if three squares have, say, 3,8...............1,3,8.................3,8 as the only possible solutions, then straightaway you know one of the answers. Recently, I've been working my way through a book of Sudoku puzzles thinking once again I was there. But then I meet one where I get stuck and none of my techniques work. It was then I discovered some websites where you enter your numbers off the grid. On some they just give you the answers, but on others you get an analysis, step-by-step, of how the computer figured it out, using a process of ruthless logic. But here's the downside: the program is spotting something here, somethere there (way, way over there) making one realise that one's been far too focused on one small area, and missing a clue hidden away somewhere in the bigger picture.

Did you read about the amazing Rachel Roth ? She did her first Sudoku just 9 months ago, and has now come top in the Times's championship held at Cheltenham. She's to represent Britain in the World Championship next year. Read her comments on the different male v female approaches to Sudoku . http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-2406480.html

Fascinating (and a bit unflattering towards us fellas if the truth be told). Whether she's right or not, one thing's for sure. At age 32 she's discovered she's a born genius at something. Like those kids years ago who could solve a Rubik's cube in minutes. Maybe we're all geniuses at something or other, without knowing it. The moral would seem to be: try your hand at lots of different things. Seek, and maybe ye shall find.

So what's your special gift, we ask ourselves ? Stating the bleedin' obvious?

PS This is by way of a geekish footnote. I don't know about you, but I always feel a picture adds a little je sais quoi...

I hate to mention it, but the expression is je ne sais quoi !

Well, got you that time, Mr. know-all. See, I'm fully aware of exactly what a picture adds - impact, life, colour, focus, a square-meal for the visual senses. Je sais quoi was a play on words, see, but it obviously went way above your head. The worm has turned !

Anyway, as I was saying before so rudely interrupted, I wanted to add a picture. The roofers kindly agreed to letting me take one of them at work. , having told them what it was for, and assuring them I would blank out enough of their faces to render them anonymous, if they so desired. They weren't bothered when I said it was for my new English-language blog.

But can I upload that picture ? The answer is NO, despite deleting two earlier pix, including that amazing spot we visited in the Azores. I have even tried fiddling around with the picture in an editing program that came with my scanner - cropping, resizing etc and still it refuses to upload. I suspect there's a lag between deleting a picture, and the server being told there is free capacity. This is all most irritating.

ed: finally succeeded Tuesday am after dozens of attempts, ringing loadsa changes on file size, file type etc. Reckon it's those servers again.

I thought there might be light-hearted relief to be had on Colin Randall's blog, but all I find today is suspicion and paranoia. Sad, I so used to enjoy the cut-and-thrust on that site.........

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Off the beaten track (Antibes)

Angela (see link) has posted some splendid pictures of her recent visit to Antibes. Living as I do in Antibes I too shall be posting, from time to time, my own pix, specialising on the parts that visitors occasionally, rarely or never reach. There as so many things of interest, widely scattered, in this ancient, atypical, wizened, glitz-free spot on the Riviera . Antibes has charm in abundance, friendliness, a sense of permanence. It's an enchanting place with its ghosts which invariably works its way into one's affections - usually on the very first visit !

Here are two pix taken today in a break between 4 days of intermittent rain showers. They are in the rustic Safranier commune (a protected heritage area in the Vieille Ville)
Rustic ? Are you sure that was a wise choice of words ? Does someone who's just shelled out half a million euros for a 2 bed property in a terrace want to hear it described as 'rustic' ?
Correction: they are in the, er, characterful Safranier commune (a protected heritage area in the Vieille Ville)

Picture deleted to free up space

Rue Haut Castelet looking towards one of the two 'iconic' Saracen Towers

Picture deleted to free up space

Approach from sea to rue Haut Castelet. The house pictured is owned by the Town Council, and used to accomodate visiting artists

Geekish PS: am feeling quite pleased with myself by finding a way round the default settings on the Blogspot editor, which has allowed the text to precede the pix. I did this by transplanting the relevant bit of html code

There you go, bragging again . Anyone who's reading this site (mainly Sarah) has probably been rearranging html for yonks. It's like telling your grandmother how to suck eggs.

Here he is in close-up - the mouth !

ed. Hippo graphic deleted to free up space.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Quest for the mystery Med fishing village

Cadaques, Costa Brava


I have a motto in life where pictures, ornaments, memorabilia are concerned. If I like something, then, unless it's priced really extortionately, I buy it on the spot, using plastic if necessary, in case it's no longer there next time I'm passing. And so it was that we bought the above picture by one Qu?il?i? on impulse. We've since deciphered the artist's signature. More about that later. Actually, it's just a print from the shop round the corner, which we had framed. The composition and colour balance seemed perfect, maybe too perfect to be a real place, with that superb placement of the arch in the foreground, in relation to the big church (?) in the background,. The church, if indeed that's what it is, boldly asserts its dominance over the anarchic confusion of lesser buildings.


What have I told you about writing in this flowery hifalutin style ? Literary pretensions eh ? Hoping to be snapped up by a publisher, are you ? At your age ?


OK, I'll try and tone it down in future, hippo! Guess I'm a bit tired. Bad night. Affects the judgement. But as I was saying, the picture was lacking one thing. People. Life. And each time my eyes alighted on the picture, it was always the same thought. I wanted to be there at that place, filling that void. Walking among those boats pulled up on that shore .
And who knows, there might be a charming little bar or pavement café, just around the corner, out of the artist's line of sight.

But where is it, assuming it to be real, ? Or is it just Q's idealised generic Mediterranean fishing village?


*Generic ? What's that when it's at home ?


We once had one visitor to the house, an author who was staying nearby. He took one look and said "Greece". Actually, he prefaced that with saying "That's not France !". Delightful fellow though he is (when he's not talking politics) I wondered for one moment if he' d come to inspect on behalf of the Academie Française ( décor interne department) , come to seek out undesirable foreign imports.


You've been wanting to say that for a long time, haven't you ? Feel better now you've got it off your chest ?


I shall ignore that remark, hippo! Certainly there's a hint of Greece, with that startling whiteness. And one of the church (?) towers to the left of the steeple looks a bit kind of prismatic - is that the right word ?


No, it's not. Stop trying to be so clever-clever. Try again


Well it seems to have angled faces. Probably octagonal in cross-section. Difficult to say. But that's a Greek thing, isn't it. Faceted, Greek Orthodox ? But with those orange tiles, I'm not so sure.

Anywhere, for years the picture hung there, forever admired, enigmatic, taunting and not a little haunting.


*Tauntin', hauntin', flauntin' ..... Keep them dogies saunterin', keep them dogies saunterin', Rawhiiiiide ! ..... Don't try to understand him. Just read him, groan an' bin him .......


Well, listen folks, this is all getting a bit wearing, and I'm going to have to stop now, post what I've done, and then finish this later.

We've had rain on and off (mainly ON) the last three days, which has prevented gettting out for exercise, and somewhat dampened the spirits. And we've been bothered at night with very determined mosquitoes. None of this is good for expressing one's thoughts at speed. It's slowed me down a lot, in fact. So this one will come in instalments. But look at the three photos below : they should give a clue as to to how this story unfolds.


That's hardly the way to hold your audience, Colin my friend. To go and desert them half way through your story, just like that.....


Agreed, hippo! But if you knew the hassle I've had, just in the last 24 hours alone, trying to upload graphics, or get them where I want them on (or off ) the page, then you'd maybe understand why I need a bit of a break .


OK. But don't make a habit of it ......


To be continued

Right, it's midmorning Sunday, and I'm back, having just nipped out to get the Sunday Times. It's the only 'deadwood' paper we buy these days, apart from an occasional Nice Matin

It was on a Sunday last January that I was leafing through the ST, and came across a handy guide to Spanish holiday destinations, region by region, each given marks for this or that.

This is the kind of journalism I admire. Someone's had to spend days, weeks possibly, in doing their homework. Imagine then my surprise and delight when my eyes fell on the top-right hand corner, to see, yes you guessed it , the place in our picture, my special place ! Click on the picture below, and you'll see it's called Cadaquès. Heard of it ? I don't think I had before, but for those more knowledgeable than me about art, it's in a remote situation on a stretch of Costa Brava coastline that was a favourite haunt of Salvador Dali.

Just think, if I'd missed that particular edition, I might never have known that my perfect spot was a real place. Twenty minutes on the internet later, I was determined to go there, ASAP. I just needed a pretext. My lovely daughter dutifully obliged. She's one of those overworked hospital junior doctors, who often gets given her leave entitlement at short notice. Would we like to meet up with her somewhere mutually convenient, courtesy of low-cost airlines if poss ? She suggested the Baltic. It being March, I said not bloody likely. After Christmas, I rarely go north of Antibes, until I've seen and heard the first swallows . So I suggested she could get a cheap flight to Gerona from her local airport, and we would drive round the coast from Antibes to meet her, and then whisk her off to a mystery (and hopefully warmer) destination than Riga or Tallin that we were sure she would find relaxing, if nothing else.

Thanks to a technical glitch with the graphics, the Cadaquès I had placed next has vanished off the screen, and .......

Brief interruption in service there. Everything starts to slow down as one approaches one's ration of server time, as it is happening now. And some letters enter, others don't. All very tedious. I will have to break off, and see to deleting one or more earlier pix to free up space. I think it will have to be the Pico volcano. Shame about that. Anyway, please bear with we. We babyboomers (a term I despise) know all about rationing. I can see that tyrannical little book right now.

Yeah, the world and I await your return with bated breath.

Well, despie delein a picue, you can see whas happenin. his sysem is no wha I would call usa friendly.

Sop whingin . Youe edious when you whinge. Come ack lae. Whes my own colour. cap.

Well, here I am again an hour later, and the system is slowly and grudgingly accepting text again, but still not the picture I took in Cadaquès from the same vantage point as the painter.

Incidentally, there seems to be a contradiction between my map of Spain and some internet sites about the direction of the accent on that final "e".

Would this be the special interest feature for anal-retentives then ?

Tell me, hippo. That is your real name is it ? There wouldn't by any chance be a hotel-owner in your family by the name of Basil Fawlty ?

The one below was taken from a splendid balcony on the Cathedral. Yes, it's not just a church.

It's a cathedral, and a very handsome one at that. In such a small place ? Yes, seems odd a first, but Cadaquès is very isolated, requiring a long switchback ride through the well-wooded Cabo de Creus national park - very wild and unspoilt. By the time you get there, and unwound with a sangria or beer, one is more than happy to accept that one is looking at a cathedral.

We and our daughter had a most relaxing few days in Cadaquès and the surrounding region. It was great to see the speed with which she unwound. One of the all-abiding memories was watching the hotel night-porter ask if she'd care to kill time with a few rounds of snooker, and then watching her crush him, game after game. The expression on his face said it all: such a humiliation to be beaten by what he thought was a young slip of a girl. You see, our daughter, although in her mid-20s, looks at least 5 years younger, but is a mean hand with a snooker cue, as I discovered earlier in our warming-up session before the porter arrived..

Picture now deleted to free up space

Cadaquès, seen from the cathedral

That photogenic arch, seen from the cathedral side, turns out to support what looks like nothing more than someone's patio cum roof terrace. A kind of cross between the two. Try getting planning permission for that in England !

So, mission finally accomplished, with rested daughter into the bargain. Dream of 5 years realised. Right then, what's next ? Hey. Let's be hearing about your ambitions, your dreams, dear reader. Feel free to avail yourself of that Comment facility.