Friday, 30 December 2011

Fruit and veg diet

I was bound to blog about this sooner or later. Our diet is as follows:
  • three meals a day
  • no eats between them
  • one of them, every day, to consist entirely of fresh fruit and vegetables
And let me admit that we suspend it under the following circumstances:
  • on Sundays
  • on days of travel (loosely defined as days involving travel of more than an hour in one direction: commuting from Cambridge to London wouldn't count, but a journey from Cambridge to Reading would)
  • when we are hosting, or staying with, family or friends
  • if suspension seems advisable on account of illness
The diet is an adaptation of a Lenten discipline we followed one year. I embarked on the present form, more or less, in February 2001. Clare joined me in using the diet some fifteen months later. We weigh ourselves on Monday mornings.

I am not a dietician, and would have no business making claims for the diet with any appearance of expert knowledge. Its main virtue is simplicity. It doesn't involve a lot of counting or calculation. That offers less to be perverted into fiddling, and might leave mental energy free to keep up the necessary will-power. Moreover, since the diet doesn't exclude any kind of food at all, it has a reduced risk of abstinences becoming hostage to cravings. And it does seem to deliver these benefits:

Moderate weight control. Not spectacular, but real enough when the diet times are compared with the times of suspension. On a recent cycling holiday, my suspension of the diet allowed me to put on 9lb in a week. That added weight disappeared almost entirely during the first week after the return to the diet.

Discipline. OK, this is part of the input to the diet -- you need discipline in order for the diet to work -- but it's also one of the delivered benefits. Following the diet helps to develop discipline. My appetite is huge. Some say that every home needs an Aidan to finish off the leftovers. A train journey long enough to suspend the diet will, for me, be a kind of linear meal, with snacks from the trolley, the buffet car, and connecting stations. That level of hunger deserves to be limited to three bananas and two apples between breakfast and dinner, and on most days the limit is one that I succeed in imposing.

Greater pleasure in food. I started the diet after Clare told me I had reached a stage of eating almost without noticing. That's a waste of food. I can say that food does taste better for the constraint.

Variety. The way Clare and I live our lives -- she has two core part-time jobs and a lot of freelance work -- means that the fruit-&-veg meal does not occur at the same point every day. I am not sold on unpredictability, but this level of it I enjoy. It makes me think of music with shifts of rhythm and tonal centre, perhaps something by Samuel Barber.

Regular opportunities for fruit and veg. This one's perhaps self-evident, but the widespread exhortations to fruit & veg suggest that not everyone gets these in their diet as often as they might.

The main drawbacks consist in the inverse of the above. For instance, if the diet helps to develop discipline, it also feels as though it's making heavy demands on one's discipline. I reach saturation with fruit long before I would reach it with chocolate or pork pies. But, so long as one accepts the view that fruit and veg are a good thing, this diet seems to be as good a way of reaching them as any.

I suppose you're going to tell me that belief in the goodness of fruit and veg is the opposite of what we now know to be true....

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Three queues

Another slightly dated poem, this; the date this time being 1999.

The queues reported in sections (i) and (ii) of the poem were both on 17 November 1998, though on looking again at a contemporary account I see that I may have erred in linking the second queue to the Lolworth fire. The fire broke out at around 11:00, and the report updated 19:00 mentions tailbacks as far as the M11. The tailbacks would have needed to be twice as long, or more, to stretch into Cambridge itself. But the Cambridge gridlock was -- I have just checked my 1998 diary -- definitely on the evening of that same day.

Wikipedia has a page devoted to the "camera somewhere in the Department", which was a famous web landmark in its day.

The poem was published in Perimeter 7, 1999, p. 16, and again in Streetwise 68, Christmas/New Year 2007-2008, p. 19.



The first queue was for new computer passwords,
two, perhaps three, a minute. The queue stretched
from the counter, through the double doors,
past the lift, down three sides of stairwell, out
into the freezing afternoon. In front
of me a girl read a film history –
Birth of a Nation and Intolerance.
A camera somewhere in the Department
networked news worldwide of how coffee stood.

An outsider had hacked the system, for fun,
or to find traces of their own existence,
or out of naked spite, doing less harm
than spite dressed up, but gratified with that.


And the second queue,
evening of that frozen day,
gridlocked the city
road on road. Bikes could not slip
safely round it for the ice.

It was the result
of a crash ten miles away.
A lorry careered
into a petrol station.
Less bad than it might have been:

someone as she fled
remembered to flick a switch,
isolate the tanks.
There was one death, a man locked
in the toilet at the time.


The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam is full.
The stairs lead through the bookcase to the back.
The queue stands long, eerie, improbable.
Hate caused the prison, turned the loving black.

The queue pays its respects, fifty years on,
mixes incomprehension, fear and shame,
where one dead represents six million.
Europe’s other edge smoulders into flame.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Three numbers poems

These three poems are old but published.

The most recent is from 1994: a celebration of the 50th anniversary, as I understood it, of the postcode. The information about that anniversary came from that year's edition of the Writers' & artists' yearbook, but it would appear to have been inaccurate. What triggered the poem was the associations of the number. It's a pity that those associations were called up by a piece of false information.

(they were first used in Germany, August 1944)

another number packed tight:
squares, fighting,
flattened streets, flying
bombs, allies in
Paris, crushed uprising
in Warsaw,
and on the wrong side of the war
a way of writing.

'Postcodes' was published in Streetwise 20, October 1995, p.18.

The second poem was written in 1993, and is likewise based on the associations that I find in certain numbers: the numbers this time being not postcodes but telephone area codes. It was published in Cambridge university libraries information bulletin, 34, Easter 1994, with the title 'Two STD codes'. CULIB is always worth a read, though unfortunately its online version doesn't go back that far.

The codes have changed since those days. In the case of Oxford's area code, the change from 0865 to 01865 made little difference to the sense of the poem. But 081, the 1990s code for large tracts of outer London, became first 0181 and then 0208 -- the last being so far from calling up my number associations that I here give both codes as they were in 1993.



The Mock-Turtle (what he doesn't know
ain't knowledge), devastatingly
rude on a golden afternoon;
Alice, by the river and the lawn,
where a few lilies grow,
is out of the swing of the sea.


The Prince and Princess (average
in their extent of failure); burned
cars, streets laid waste; and the old age
of Queen Victoria returned.

If such subjectivity vexes you, let me link to a Wikipedia article that explores the history of the number changes in nerdish factual detail.

The third poem is from 1986. Like the others, it's dated, but not, I hope, beyond use. Does any of it need explanation? The SDP was the Social Democratic Party -- one of the 1980s predecessors to the LibDems. The poem was published in an edition of the St Matthew's church newsletter some time before I began keeping records in 1994.

(for Susan Bury)

First, Colonel James ("James") Sixty-Biff
a candidate
affirming nine as one plus eight.

Next, Wendy Morris (SDP
Alliance) who
must balance two
positions: nine perhaps is three
times three, but in a sense,
not that she's sitting on the fence,
nine as three squared is also true.

Jan Stott (Lab.) sees it as a run
of one plus one plus one plus one
plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one.

And the Red Daisy Ecological
Collective's spokeswheels would prefer to call
nine by another name -- 'one-two' -- because
they use base seven; constantly expose
its role as root of one-four-four, in that
and other bases; promise when the state
is all red daisies, that a better root --
minus one-two -- will grow to shoot and fruit;
and pass the bucket. Deeply people delve:
collective small change frees the Minus Twelve.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Library presentation on the theme of 'The Gift', 2005

The presentation referred to here was the Haddon Library's contribution to the Cambridge University Alumni Weekend, 2005. The poem was written, around the time of the 2008 Alumni Weekend, for the Sefton poetry competition. The Sefton theme that year, reflecting the status of Sefton's neighbour Liverpool, was 'culture'.


That year, instead of readings, and to match
our theme, I thought we'd stage our own potlatch.

The anthropology curator, knowing
Canada by research and her own growing,
said no: cross-cultural representation
was strung in certain trouble and vexation,
and the destructive potlatch, as a seam
of thoughts I longed to throw at such a theme,
was controversial: far from all would show
that potlatches meant that, or happened so.

Back to the trusted pattern, then, instead.
Mauss on the potlatch was one thing we read;
and Thorstein Veblen's sneers; and Titmuss' blood;
and a Toronto matron's giverhood;
and Malinowski on the kula ring,
and in more recent women's questioning;
and while the readings went on at the front,
a pass-the-parcel game as running stunt,
every stopped sheet unwrapping one more quote --
Oscar Wilde, Monty Python, Henry Root,
and Miss Manners, and, for one lucky player,
museum postcards wrapped in the last layer,
seeing they were a gift whose best use lay
in the receiver's giving them away.

And all the time, throbbing, the things I did
to presents I had had when younger: presents
I had not thanked for, presents I had sold,
presents I had misused, broken, wholly destroyed.
How stage a potlatch? Who does what to whom?
Better the script, the readings, and the wrapping,
the shelter, the diversion, the cooling, the keeping.

On the poem's allusions: a web search will lead you to far more than I can tell you about the potlatch, the kula ring, Marcel Mauss, Thorstein Veblen, Richard Titmuss, and Bronislaw Malinowski. (And, come to that, about Monty Python, Oscar Wilde, Henry Root and Miss Manners.) I first came across the potlatch, many years ago, in a journal article -- possibly this by Lloyd DeMause -- which linked it with the sort of hang-up that makes you distrust your own good fortune, and destroy what is valuable for fear it goes bad. That, as the poem says, is a controversial view of what the potlatch is about, but it was what stayed with me.

Another of my entries in that Sefton competition won a prize. True to form, my prizewinner had been specially written for an earlier competition, and had no success there. The present poem, specially written for Sefton, has now appeared in Sunrise 3, November 2011, p. 5.


Monday, 7 November 2011

Science whimsy

This poem was written in 2005, evidently for a competition, though I can find no details of the competition other than the entry

"Universe, 2.2.2005 No"

in my poetry card index and

"Submitted sci and Strokestown poems"

in my diary for that date. It's more whimsy than science -- not one of those where I attempt to stumble along behind Clare's work in the field with talk of evidence, statistics etc. -- and it found success the following year, when it was highly commended in the Torbay competition. It didn't get published, but some competitions now rule out even the 'placed' poem from eligibility to enter. So I think this one merits the blog treatment.

The prediction in the final lines proved false. The new kettle needed replacement in a very short space of time.


OK – lines on Space, Time and Energy,
viewed through a chronic shortage of all three.

Space is our kitchen, with its working ring
of cupboard, cooking, table, sink, draining
and back to cupboard; Energy down metal
has water throb and pound inside the kettle;
and Time's the tale. Where shall I find the words,
kettle of eighteen years now burning cords?
Oh, since a kettle has no feelings, in
consigning cords and kettle to the bin,
and learning the new kettle, swiftly bought,
is hampered by a cord that is too short.
Not shorted, not short-fused, just short of length
to reach the power-point and draw down strength.
Moving the kettle to another place
would interrupt our working ring of space.
So I have gone and bought a longer cable,
greyed for hi-fi not kettles, this, and able
to blank out interfering signals. Well,
the kettle doesn't notice them, can't tell
the worth of this strong silence, maybe hears
discretion as obtuseness. So, for years,
the flex will serve the kettle watts, and dream
of music, pictures, data in the steam –
but know that as a keyboard's power cord,
mere muscle, it would be no less ignored.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The blurtmeter

When I posted the Blurts poem a couple of months ago, I mentioned another poem that I had posted on Facebook. The Facebook post was to a poetry competition run by the British Science Festival 2011. Not for the first time, I account publication of that sort as excuse enough for inclusion in this blog. Here comes the poem in question.


(first weeks of an experiment)

Motivation. To count the blurts
jabbed by the jangle of bad memories;
to make them less by x percent;
to unstep the cycle of embarrassment.

Method. A stopwatch on one finger,
with lapcount button in stretch of my thumb.
I set it running when I start the day,
thumb it for every blurt, then write the tally;
and the percent reduction that I seek,
twenty, a moving target week on week,
will be rewarded, on the days it's met,
by an entitlement to chocolate.


20 June 2006: 945 blurts in 7 days
Target for 27 June 2006: 756 blurts in 7 days
27 June 2006: 643 blurts in 7 days


I play at science. How define a blurt?
How can my self-reports be verified?
What if repeated thumb-stretch comes to hurt?
What if the madness stacks up more beside?

What are the benefits? I reckon three:
first, something new each time I look. The art is
to wear the stopwatch unobtrusively
(though guaranteed to break the ice at parties).

Second, think fifty blurts for twelve hours eight.
The jabbing jangle of remembered gaffes
is sidelined by the urge to calculate,
its importuning baffled in the maths.

Let's make the third rhyme ho, throw, go, grow, glow:
to have planned anything and found it so.

The poem was written for the Keats-Shelley Association competition in 2006, the theme of which was 'The experiment'. I found myself treating the competition brief as a kind of miniature research project. The experiment described in the poem is one I had long wanted to try. I continued it, with a succession of lap-counters, over three years, and it generated several further poems. But I intend to stick to my rule with these, and not blog them until they have achieved publication elsewhere. Any editors willing to give them a go?

Monday, 31 October 2011

The fight

This poem of mine appears in Cambridge University libraries information bulletin 69, 2011.


Crowded theatre, people burned next --
why, of all books, was this the cause
the question had become so vexed
that they fired off their metaphors?

Self-published, yes, discarded, yes,
elsewhere, but duplicate not shame;
praised by near-experts. Who could guess
this book would be the one to flame?

What could have kept the tinder out?
You'd need more knowledge than you had
if you could smell the spot and doubt.
Asbestos taints. Firewalls go mad.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Wikipedia on the village

This poem was written for a 2008 competition on the theme of crossroads. It has been published in Sunrise , the magazine of the East of England branch of my professional body.

No one's yet taken me up on my offer of chocolate for the name of the archaeologist whose memoirs I commented on in that previous post. I hereby offer chocolate similarly for the name of the village, though I reserve the right to award it only to people who couldn't be expected to know my remembered village from knowing me.


You could see York and Beverley, it stated
(across the Wolds? the Humber?), on clear days.
It said the market cross was desecrated
"some thirty years ago" (how's that for haze?)

-- stones taken to mend roads. (The 1970s?)
It smelt Victorian in every word.
1853, with the history's
claim: "I wikified this till I got bored."

So I have turned the village to my own
site of first wikifying. I stripped out
landmarks that weren't, and bailiffs' names long gone,
all 1853 that was in doubt.

I listed beacon, cross and windmill, showed
where you could find more data with ArchSearch.
Of course I scrapped the tale of cross and road.
I kept the paragraph about the church.

It was my church, when younger. Hence I knew
what you could see and not see from the ridge,
the broken cross, flat northward carrland view
beyond. I grew up in the vicarage.

Dreams that I'm back feel late, disturbed. They are.
By day I run a subject library.
Books, e-books, ArchSearch, Wikipedia
form a crossroads that's work enough for me.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Five legislations

This is another poem of mine from the mid-90s that was published in Verbatim. The reference is Verbatim 25(3), 2000, p. 14.


Thirty days hath September:
strictly, of course, the phases of the moon
do not reflect how many days, or nights;
strictly, indeed, letting the moon dictate
the months would give us thirteen in the year.
Unworkable! Instead, we have twelve months,
more or less equal, and September happens
to have got thirty days. No problem. Oh,
and there was one year when eleven went
to make us equal with the continent.

I before E except after C:
we all agree this shall be true.
The rebel words that do not spell
that way are weird and few.
Oh, and some French-descended words as well --
leisure, seize, and such affairs --
the problem's theirs.

How small, of all that human hearts endure,
That part which kings or laws can cause or cure,
wrote Johnson. That, I think, sums up my feeling
of why there'd be no mileage in repealing
the law that says your age is fixed at birth,
the one that bans cold liquids from congealing,
the one that stipulates the height of ceiling
for footpaths. Would the benefits be worth
all the upheavals that would send us reeling?

The pen is mightier than the sword,
which is why pens cost fifteen hundred pounds
from licensed dealers, lessons in their use
do not come cheap, and ownership is taxed
at eighty pounds a year, while swords are freebies
from charities and banks. Oh, and I worry
when kids leave school functionally unfenced.

Poetry is a verdict, not an occupation,
said Leonard Cohen. Tough, like science:
not the law’s unacknowledged legislation
but its appliance.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Field poems

These three poems were written in 1997 for a competition on the theme of fields.

'The loop' appeared in Streetwise 58, Easter 2005, p. 15. 'Feet and clay' appeared in Streetwise 56, autumn 2004, p. 10. Some readers may know the archaeological memoir to which it refers, and have found themselves, like me, brought up short over the misspelled word. 'Three startles' appeared in Cambridge insider (the predecessor to Local secrets), August 1998.


Vacation work always meant fields: the rows
of beet under the skyline, with the white stick
marking your limit, and the weeds, the fat hen
to hoe or pull, the bales of straw to stack
in eights on sloping ground as the dark lengthened,
potatoes still in earth from the machine
to bag, and strawberries to crouch along,
and always chuntering: some Monty Python,
C.S. Lewis, Pears' Cyclopaedia,
Macaulay latterly, some of my own --
I had aspirations -- the whole loop run
endlessly over those long rows of hoeing,
stacking, bagging, crouching, chuntering.
I noticed very little and remember
the aspirations and the chuntering
with squirms, with squirms. It's half my life ago.
Since then I've had two dozen? lines in print.
Should I go back to fields? I follow paths
through them; still see too little, hear too little.


(an archaeological memoir)

Field-walking, you write,
the next best thing to digging,
yields stones: arrowheads,
broken pebbles polished smooth
that once held ploughs together,

flint barbs from fish-spears,
jadeite pierced beads and pendants
from igneous rocks.
"The quarry is elusive,"
you write. The reader stumbles

there, as at your claim
to "a rather difficult
time at the rather
decayed grammer school." Eyebrows??
sic. We pick up what we can.


The day she said look
in place of luck.

The day she needed a literature
search on the war in Bosnia
and it came out she'd been there
ferrying aid from Manchester
during the summer.

The day she said she'd left the road
for a (she switched) to relieve herself, behind
a tree, and later found
she'd walked mined ground.

Not history themselves, just quirks of tact
where huge historic force-fields interact.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The use of quotes

This poem of mine was written in 2000 and published in Verbatim 26(1), winter 2001, p.23. I have just learned, via a tweet from Verbatim Editor Erin McKean (@emckean), that today is National Punctuation Day, at least in her nation; here comes my offering.


I’ll send them both to jail, blabs ‘leaky’ judge.
The punctuation is correct,
with single quotes to mark what’s just alleged,
though what’s alleged may not be just.

‘Peace’ within quotes: a journalistic thumb
jerks its contempt for such a word.
But in Perhaps the mayor would like to come
(a plea of not-in-my-backyard)

and live with them “urinating in the lounge”
quotes mark unlettered emphasis,
eyes screwed to relieve out-of-focus rage.
Let’s call it a ‘non-standard’ use.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Cam23 2.0, Thing 23: Reflection

Things which made you smile
QR codes have become quite an enthusiasm of mine, and the mismatch between that and the dumbphone I stick with has generated some interesting conversations. I cried up QR codes in the Haddon's presentation to the Alumni Weekend, but didn't have an immediate answer to the alumnus who asked if I could recommend a QR reader app.

I was saddened by the recent Twitter spat

between Charlie Brooker and Phil Bradley. "Leave them to the competent" is no way to address a customer, or even a potential customer. I hope we can account it an appalling lapse on Phil's part, rather than a foretaste of his presidency. It's not the kind of thing I meant to support when I voted for him last year.

Gliffy I see myself using in connection with Haddon projects.

Things which have become a part of the way you live and work

This list has not changed much since 2010, when my list included Doodle, Google Docs, Google Calendar, RSS feeds, Twitter, and Google Reader. The applications I would add for 2011 are the ones named in the previous section. I'm making a bit more use of screenshots now that Lightshot has given me the power of editing them and pasting small, relevant sections of them into documents. And I am glad that the Haddon blog now tweets for itself.

Things which you'll never go near again

Pushnote, probably, for reason stated.

Web 2.0 and social media more generally - what role do they really play within libraries and information services?

I'm afraid I lack the resources to answer this question properly. Short of a proper survey of the library world, I am thrown back on my own observation and experience -- and they may be as unreliable now as in the diary entry of the white ten-year-old, after a car journey across London in August 1967: "I saw several coloured people but no prejudice."

My own experience is that social media in my library setting have been extremely useful to me, but have not wholly persuaded many other people of their effectiveness. It's rare that I get much response when I set up a Doodle poll for a meeting; the Haddon Library's Twitter presence has no more than 36 followers; not all readers possess the kit to use QR codes.

Against that is the fact that all the tricks named in this post were taught me by librarians. Librarians are evidently enthusiasts for these tricks. And the reports in other cam23 blog posts, even allowing for wishful thinking, do seem to indicate that the tricks are proving effective.

As a profession, we like to whinge about how we are perceived by our neighbours, by the media, and by the world in general. Here's a challenge. Let's listen out, instead, for people who mistake us for more able than we are. Let's try and get an idea of what drives any such welcome misperception -- is it linked to our bookish skills? is it linked to our skills with social media? is it linked to something else?

Maybe then we shall have some idea of what role social media are really playing....