Friday 30 April 2021


When I was a kid of double digits but no pubes, I was fascinated by maps . . . and by islands. We must have been taught something about Ordnance Survey mapping symbols and conventions because I used to draw intricate maps of Fantastic Islands: thinking long and hard about whether Littleton-by-the-Sea would be better off with a church-with-tower ■+ or church-with-steeple ●+. Didn't matter in the medium term because me and my pal Gibbo would likely bomb the place to buggery with splats from our fountain pens.

As with pretty much everything, edge cases are the most interesting. The exclaves, enclaves and border-jinks give an insight into where were minds of surveyors and politicians when deciding where their patrimony ended. I have reflected on the narrow point of access to the sea which was conceded to Bosnia through Croatia between Split and Dubrovnik. Contrariwise, victory by Chile in the War of the Pacific (1879-1884) deprived Bolivia of the saltpeter flats which it had previously controlled and left the country land-locked. This has proved an economic mill-stone for Bolivia's export of lithium from its inland brine lakes.

In the Philips Modern School Atlas 96th! edition 2009, there is far more information on Northern Ireland than on North Korea and the triple point where China, Russia and N.Korea meet [see map at top of post] is on such a large scale that it looks like China might have squeezed ocean access similar to Bosnia-Herzogovina. It niggled me for a few days until I wheeled out the internet to see what's really going on. The answer is Tumen River which forms about 500km of the border between PRC and North Korea. You may have heard of the longer Yalu River which a) makes up the other 800km of border b) featured in the Korean War in October 1950 when the Chinese army poured across the river to confront the almost victorious UN forces.

Meanwhile back on the Tumen, a zoom in with Googlemaps shows [L] that the salient of Chinese territory comes to a pointy end among the sandbanks of the river and the last 17km of the river serve as the border between Korea and Russia. The big S bend in the stream just East of Undok indicates how alluvial and meandering the course of the river is as it loops and dawdles to the sea. If you zoom in you can see similar jinks in the border between China and Russia on a smaller scale and downstream. This tells us [check Kentucky Bend] that the river used to follow a different path and has straightened itself out in some more recent flood event. The Chinese have felt obliged to drive a new highway on top of the sandbanks to reach the last exclave of its territory. This has been of interest, not only to me but to BusinessInsider who have had fun looking at the data from the last Google Streetview car in Asia. I'm so glad I sorted that out for myself.

Thursday 29 April 2021

Vaxie's Dargle

Says my aul' wan to your aul' wan
Will ye go to the Waxie's Dargle?
Says your aul' wan to my aul' wan,
I haven't got a farthing. [Pogues]

I R retire; I get the pension; I lack for nothing; Cabbage n Spuds is cheap. Accordingly, I have a farthing or two or three. Indeed, I have the €5.00 which it cost me in petrol to jaunt to the next county for to get vaccinated. As I live a very sheltered life up a lane in the middle of Ballyganáit, the spree passed for a Dargle edutainment, if not exactly excitement: the kind of thing we used to spend €5 for in the cinema. Yes, it is a long time since I was at the movies.

Obedient to the laws, I arrived at the Cillin Covid-19 Centre carpark at 1505 for a 1510 appointment. 

I was asked four (4) times by four (4) separate stewards for the time of my appointment. There was not quite enough room in the short external marquee corridor for everyone with the same appointment time. When I got to the head of that line, I was sent down the hallway to reception desk. 

(5) I confirmed my name to a scribe behind the perspex, and had it highlighted off a printed list: I was expected! He sent me onto a shorter line where

(6) I was handed an information brochure and directed to one of four reception guichets where 

(7) I was again name-checked and asked a catechism of questions all expecting the answer no: had I been recently vaccinated; had I recently copped a 'Rona; had I ever experienced anaphylaxis from any vaccination; had I been through a stroke; are you or have you ever been a member of the anti-vaxx party [kidding].

Then through to a long snaking line [so long and so reminiscent of the Before Times that I started to remove my belt, shoes and change-purse] where I spent 12 minutes in a block of 20 people indoors. That's perilously close to the >15 minutes and <2m which government messaging for the last 15 months means certain death.

8) Eventually I was fetched to one of ten cubicles by John the Doctor who asked me for my mobile# and dob . . . but only to confirm my name. He then asked a subset of the same medical history questions as I'd answered for my earlier catechism. Maybe they are checking for short-term memory loss. After a bit of phatic blather, I exposed my left shoulder [note to 14-week future-self: wear the pink Yes t-shirt rather than your patriarchal 3-piece suit. The prick when it finally came [me looking la la la can't hear you in the opposite direction] was far less intrusive than I've had from my dentist or phlebotomist.

Afterwards I was invited to take a widely spaced chair in the other half of the hangar and told to stay there 15 minutes [honour system] and leave when that was up.

The whole show took 50 minutes - bring a book? You're not allowed to take photos [I guess for GDPR rather than to protect the security] so I had to do the selfie [R] when I got home.

Wednesday 28 April 2021

Shill is for shillings

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca was born in 1490 in Jerez de la Frontera, where the sherry comes from. Jerez is now a suburb of Greater Cadiz and about halfway between Gibraltar and Portugal so de la Frontera may read peculiar to modern travellers, not least because there are dozens of towns and villages with the of the frontier suffix.  Cabeza de Vaca [= cow's head, great name] lived in exciting times. Before he went to school

  • the Reconquista was completed with the capitulation of the Emirate of Grenada [Jan 1492]
  • the Sephardim were expelled from Spain [Jul 1492]
  • Cristóbal Colón sailed the ocean blue: leaving Palos de la Frontera [Aug 1492]

Young Álvar was connected and secured a paid position on a 1526 expedition to explore "La Florida" and points West on the North American mainland. It was pretty much a disaster: storms, disease and confrontation took toll on the band, but Cabeza de Vaca and his diminishing party inched along the coast to Galveston Island where they lost the last of their makeshift vessels. The restless conquistador set off into the interior with three companions; trekked through unexplored regions of Northern Mexico as far as the Pacific and rocked up the Mexico City in 1537. From the 600 who left Spain, only 4 returned which is a 99% attrition rate like that of the Georgia Flu. Cabeza de Vaca wrote it all up in a best-selling Relación. I mention the fictional pandemic because many of the tribes and people described in the Relación had disappeared completely when organised Spain formally conquisadored the region . . . quite possibly decimated by novel viruses caught from the Europeans.

Fast forward four hundred to 1935. In that year the US Mint in Philadelphia struck 10,000 commemorative half-dollars [obverse L]  to recognise the depredations of Cabeza de Vaca. Commemorative coins were effectively a licence to print money on behalf of speculators. This one was designed and distributed by a numismatist from El Paso TX called L.W. Hoffecker. The coins were struck at government expense and sold to appropriate parties at face value for distribution. Hoffecker was determined to get his snout in this pork-barrel, first with a 75th anniversary issue for The Gadsden Purchase in 1929 [passed Congress, vetoed by President Hoover]. He made a trip to Washington in 1935 to shill on behalf of the El Paso Museum Coin Committee for a commemoration of The Old Spanish Trail - a cowboy romantic cattle drovers road of yesteryear. According to his letters, five minutes with President Franklin Roosevelt was key to the success of the venture.

The coins were duly struck, Hoffecker paid $5,000 and took delivery of a sturdy chest full of coins. Half dollars weigh 11.34g so the chest tared in at 1 cwt = 55kg more or less. Hoffecker then proceeded to sell these coins "on behalf of the Museum" at rather more than face value to his numismatic friends; who sold them on to lesser punters everyone taking a small cut. The El Paso Museum were given a pair for their collection. Utterly corrupt wheeling and dealing of this nature was much admired by his fellow coin-dealers and he became President of the ANA American Numismatic Association. The President of the United States of America had been used by private enterprise to further its own interests. What does The Blob know about FDR? 

. . . and the Polio. And a long list of lovers as well as his wife Eleanor: Missy LeHand, Daisy Suckley, Lucy Mercer, at least. Although the cuckold's horns are traditionally given to a man whose wife has been bonked by another . . . the Cabeza de Vaca connexion is too good an opportunity to use them here to recognise another form of shafting.

Tuesday 27 April 2021

Team AZ

As a thrifty sort of chap, I find it hard to resist freebies. It was with some alacrity, therefore, that I immediately signed up for an opportunity to be covaxxed. Because she's a minus one vintage, The Beloved [TB] registered the following day: dob, mobile#, PPS, Eircode.  It is absolutely typical for Darby & Joans born in the 50s to be about the same age with Joan being a year or two younger. That's because [I know this from having a twin sister] for all the years that matter, boys have an emotional and social maturity a tuthree years behind the girls in the same class at school.

One reason for requiring an Eircode is to strip off the first three digits to match vaxxee to the nearest vaxxination centre. Although that could be more accurately achieved by using the GP's practice address - another data-asset required for vax-reg. I am called [Today, at tea-time!] to the Eircode-R95 Cillin Hill Vaccination Centre, a moribund conference centre on the outskirts of Kilkenny in the next county. It is a round trip of 80km. As I explained before, I am being privileged for the jab . . . because Old. We cannot be the only cases where two almost same-old people are living at the same Eircode and could be given adjacent cubicles in the vaxx-centre and save the planet from two 80km round-trips of carbon footprint. Another example Covid-19 monomania - harrrumph!

There has been a lot of loose talk G5 telephony, vaccination, BillGatesChips and electomagnetic radiation. How could we forget "that friend of Richard Branson" who developed a brain-tumour under the ear against which he held his brick-sized 1980s mobile phone. Well let me tell you, I'm not going to let them chip me in the head while they distract me with their vaccination theatre. The tin-foil hat is better than prayer against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  If The Blob goes real quiet about four days from now, you'll know that I've been clotted. If this channel starts to mutter with knowledge and authority about software fixes for trojan vulnerabilities, you'll know I've been GatesChipped.

Notes added in press: last night after office hours, TB got her call to upper left arms . . . exactly 24 hours after mine. Really [the management of] Covid-19 is no respecter of individual convenience.

Monday 26 April 2021

Jump around jump around

I'm an Old. This means that, for a lot of internetty things, I was there at the beginning. I sent my first transatlantic email in 1983 when I came back to Europe after 4 years in Boston. Life was hard: the UK's Joint Academic Network JANET started to put order and consistency on domains and, hence, email addresses the following year. My email was; my pals back in the USA had addresses because they were following the DNS [domain name system] big-endian convention. Eventually the Brits had to curb their empire exceptionalist little-endian tendencies and turn their address convention 180°. Before that, tireless programmers had to write software to read addresses and flip them as needed to that they get to the right destination. The joke / urban legend was that lots of mail destined for computer science [.cs] departments in IK universities was being delivered to Czechoslovakia [also .cs].

In 1995 I was set up one of the earliest WWW servers in Ireland and created web-pages for it in raw HTML: all the tags added by hand. HTML was so clever and efficient, text got wrapped at the end of each physical line; unless you specified a </p> paragraph or </br> a line break. If the text contained the information, then the signal-to-noise ratio was excellent. A document would be only a few % bigger because of the scattering of formatting tags. It would therefore be readable instanter even if the data had to be transmitted over a dial-up copper wire up the Congo. The information is the same whether it's in Helvetica or Georgia. Not good enough any more! Web-design is about the user-experience and seduction to buy; even if the product is only Megacorp's reputation. 

A dozen years ago I wrote a webpage for work which consisted entirely of links to other webpages; initially so that I could efficiently run courses in bioinformatics. Then I was sacked the money ran out and I no longer had sys$admin privileges; and I stopped running courses as well. But the concept was sound and I used one of [sites] the many useful services provided by Google to write a similar page for me that I could use as my HomePage both at home and work and in random internet cafés in airports and resorts. It consists of four HTML tables of links which act as a jump-station for the few dozen URLs I use reg'lar. Bookmarks, if you will, but not locked to particular computers - an early example of synchronized cloud-computing indeed:

  • mail, blackboard, work directory
  • "Hunter-Seeker": Wikipedia, Pubmed, Uniprot, GoldenPath, Ensembl, BBC, RTE
  • Blogosphere: The Blob, MeFi, 3Quarks, Kottke, Tywkiwdbi
  • Travel: AerLingus, Ryanair, WexBus, IrishRail, StenaLines, IrishFerries, JJK, BusEireann
I created a memorable shortcut with and it served me well for a decade. Especially in The Before Times when I was more likely to be on a strange computer. The whole thing was about 500 characters and not more than 1kB of bandwidth. Yes One kilobyte! about 1/1000th the size of that crap photo of your boots which you uploaded to the cloud last weekend. 

But retro is an offense to Tech Bros and since 2017, I think, I've been encouraged to port my page to New Sites . . . just click here. Well, I've tried that a few times over that time and the result is a mangled mess. Now we are being threatened with a Hard Deadline of 1st September to archive any useful information because that's when the plug is going to be pulled.  It turns out the New Sites doesn't support <table>s: no wonder it choke on my page. I could start over, but bugger Google . . . and their New Sites is full of blousy templates, heavy on the graphics, over specifying the layout. The very antithesis of the spare, economical HTML of 1990 Tim Berners-Lee [R].

So I had a very frustrating afternoon and evening last week selling my soul to Wordpress, which does support <table>s. Frustrating because, although they offer free web-hosting, the set-up process is insidiously trying to make punters pay - a little, at first - for the service. Which is fair enough, I guess. But with my roaming days over, the need for a personal jump-station is worth rather less than $3.95/mo. Insidious because the free option is at the bottom of the page in tiny print using the Shame font. 

It is, of course not the only Internet operator which is trying to monetize the clicks, and this exercise has forced me to confront the fact that there are dozens of sites which I used to restlessly surf for Blog-copy in 2014 which I now never visit because of paywalls and other limits. Even if I'm allowed 3 free visits a month, I'm not going there because I instinctively hold those visits in reserve for something that matters . . . and that something never comes. I have optimistically retained all the travel-links on the new, trim,  2021 Jump-station:

Okay then, because yo bin good: Jump around jump around

Sunday 25 April 2021

Red Hat Society Day

The Red Hat Society was founded on 25th April 1998 for women of a certain age; "When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple, with a red hat which doesn't go and doesn't suit me."

Saturday 24 April 2021

Pompeii AD79


I have cultivated a business relationship with a bookseller in the village next door to where Gdau.I and Gdau.II [and their parents] live. So far I have only used it to KrisKingle a present to their mother. But the kids are relentless consumers of information about the things - unicorns owls Greeks hieroglyphs - which interest them. Dinosaurs are not getting much traction. I've now put out a call for anything by Roger Lancelyn Green whose mythologica, especially those booked illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone, entranced me when I was their age. Those creatives are all long dead and their books out of print although they circulate 2nd hand. As a stop gap I've just ordered Escape from Pompeii by Christina Balit.

But having that book delivered to the door [a service offered by Beaufort Books] would be just another parcel in a steady stream which turn up at their house containing food, books, tools, wool, boots. Accordingly I sent them six tetradrachms and said these coins could be exchanged for something at Beaufort Books. The security password was to be [obvs] "Athene noctua" the little owl which is represented on Athenian tetradrachms and the modern Greek €1 coin. Make t'buggers work for their education.

Friday 23 April 2021

Apocalypse Then

 Not Now, not Now! Then, as in the past. There is a reason I tend not to read fiction. Facts, science, non-fiction is about the thinking truth; the rational bit, that can be represented in a graph, which even if fuzzy and uncertain, is trying to explain the external world. There are, of course, shelves, libraries, full of non-fiction that has very little to do with science. Wade Davis's history the British assaults on Everest in the 1920s is largely about interpersonal relationships rather than geology. Fiction otoh conveys a visceral truth: rage, hate, betrayal, terror, surprise . . . none of which I handle well. 

But I can obey orders. When Dau.I the Librarian flags a talky book on Borrowbox and says read this you'll like it, then I do; not least because she may know me better than I know myself ["a low bar" do I hear from the wings?]. Emily St.John Mandel is a Canadian writer, her fourth book Station Eleven ["SXI"] came out in 2014. It's all about the Georgia Flu, a coronavirus of devastating infectivity and deadliness which kills 99% of humanity; and what happens afterwards. It was well received and won prizes and an HBO miniseries based on the book was scheduled to start shooting in . . . January 2020. I guess we're still waiting. But I also guess that the current feeble attempt at a real global apocalypse has seen a boost in sales of the book.

Natural disaster kills all the extras matches the description of The Day of the Triffids, a favorite of my 12 y.o. self. So there is that in SXI's favour. But in the intervening 50+ years my autonomic nervous system is much less finely tuned and I found myself a-flutter with a sense of empathic dread from about half-way through the book. There were bad hats and there was death in Triffids; but back then I was going to live forever and I read on through the horrors to relish the next inventory of stuff to be looted from an abandonned warehouse. Early Wednesday morning, I snagged my smartphone, binoculars and a hat and set off for a long walk up the hill behind out house. I was hoping for buzzards, but also hoping to finish the bloody book and lay the ghosts that had been crabbing at my shoulder since the previous weekend. 

Happily [not much of a spoiler] the worst drivers of my anxiety were resolved about an hour from the end and the author had a chunk left to develop a fundamentally optimistic view for/of The Future. You know that thing where you're in a car and you hear a story or a song which is forever associated with that stretch of the road? I'm afraid that the map of our hill is getting pinned with my emotional overloads. A rushy path SE of St Fursey's Altar is bloody with the obstetric disaster which finished Adam Kay's career as a doctor. The road to the North is now marked [more blood indeed] with a key encounter from Station Eleven.

As well as using the same Armageddon trope as Triffids, Station Eleven has a blurb that reads similar to that of The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy: in both, a generous handful of people are revealed by a series of flash-backs to have surprising connexions. YMMV, but for me van Booy's book was artfully contrived but fatally retrospective and self-indulgent. While Mandel, for all the vivid writing and imaginative vision, is trying to say something about the human condition which has meaning beyond the book. 

  1. we depend on each other and will rub along to form non-genetic families
    • being kind is more fulfilling than being bad
  2. success is about luck 
    • which is both chance and 'the prepared mind'
  3. privilege bleeds down the generations even without money 
Recommended, especially for toxophilists? [deadly]

Thursday 22 April 2021

Clot Flap

On Monday, I made a passing reference to the association between [fatal] blood clotting and some of the Covid vaccines. I have made a plea for clear messaging for public comms on Coronarama: there is a significant [still minority] part of the population who have chugged the conspiracy Koolaid to take up the anti-vaxx flag. It is not an unreasonable stance! Covid-19 is not smallpox or polio or Ebola: it's worse than seasonal 'flu [which no fun] but you can believe that ya ain't gonna die from Covid. But it's not about you, ya dumbass, it's about those older, poorer, blacker people for whom a dose of Covid will be seriously compromising. Not to mention occupying the hospital bed that you will need when you crash your wheels while driving drunk. 

It is entirely right and proper that the FDA, CDC, EMA, WHO [watchdog acronyms all WAA] should take heed of a handful of cases of the same adverse reaction in the days after vaccination for Covid. That's their job: to collate and cross-reference similar events in different hospitals so that the association, if real, achieves statistical significance and something can be done about the issue. It is not okay if there is a pile-on from statistically ignorant, functionally innumerate, journalists with big red headlines implying that we're all gonna die if we get vaccinated [with AZ or J&J]. It was probably inappropriate that several vaccination programmes stopped in a panic - dumping the idea of relative risk. 

Largely because of the insight of Dr Marie Scully [R] UCL Hospital London, it is now clear that there needs to be a minority report for AstraZeneca [and J&J's alternative] vaccination for a really rare interaction between some folks' immune system, the vaccine and a protein called PF4 Platelet Factor 4. Scully is a consultant haematologist and she had seen cases of blood-clotting with low platelet count before. Not often, but in occasional cases after treatment with heparin. Indeed that condition, tho rare, is common enough to have a name: HIT = heparin induced thrombocytopaenia. An itch at the base of Scully's brain called her to test for antibodies against PF4 . . . and bingo! her young just-vaxxed clotee (and then other patients in UK and abroad) tested positive for this antibody. Technical Press Release.

This was really important because until then heparin [a blood thinner] was being used as a therapy for vaccine-associated clotting and the PF4 connexion showed that this was like pouring gasoline on the fire. The PF4-antibody test opens the door to a mechanistic explanation as to why these few handsful of people go down after vaccination. They have a rare genetic background which directs their immune system to work on some aspect of the platelet / clotting cascade as well as delivering a swashing blow to the spike protein of SARS-CoV2.

Should you worry? Not unless you habitually pay idiot tax play the Lotto expecting to win. You are quite likely to get a "normal" blood clot whether of not you get vaccinated and this risk increases steeply with age. It looks like about four PF4 clots will occur for every million people vaccinated - and one of those will die. Normal clots [which are admittedly not as serious as HIT / VIT clots] happen at a rate of about 1/1000. An informative comparison by BBC's More or Less looked at the - clearly acceptable - risk of blood clots associated with the contraceptive pill: 4/10,000 or about 100x worse than the show-stopping clots associated with AZ and J&J vaccines. Getting preg also has a significant risk of adverse clotting events. As I wrote on Monday, this is why they are pushing the AZ vaccines off on Elders because for them the balance of risk clot vs covid leans one way. Prof. Kingston Mills thinks this is emphatically wrong. There is, at the moment, no clotty association with the mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna; so they are better for younger people. Women of child-bearing age find the pill gives them a tangible benefit: not getting a surprise pregnancy. With that same cohort, and their blokey peers, the benefits from a vaccine are fuzzier and more community based. Some people will be involved in a car-crash on their way to get vaccinated the Indian take-away. Many more people don't know feel the difference between a million and a billion.

Wednesday 21 April 2021

Detroit River

I'm guessing that many Europeans could name some of the Great Lakes (of North America) and at a pinch name (most of) them: Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie, Ontario. A lot of the naming rights were taken by Francophone voyageurs and coureurs de bois, who roamed the Great Lakes Region by canoe or on foot making a living by trapping a trading with the First Nations. Sault Ste. Marie names the rapids between Superior and Huron . . . and cities on the Canadian and USian side of the channel . . . and the might Soo locks to raise ships safely to the superior lake. D'etroit is on the narrows between Erie and L. St, Clair which is the smallest of the great lakes; although still 3x bigger than our Lough Neagh.

Lake Ontario is different because it is 100m lower than L.Erie - half of the drop being accounted for by the Niagara Falls. The other lakes are between 173m and 183m above sea-level and Big. L.Superior is about the size of the island of Ireland, while Michgan+Huron+Erie are together a little smaller than England+Wales. 

The Lakes are handy for transporting bulk goods like grain, iron and coal and the ships - lakers - can be huge. They don't travel fast but they can carry as much as 1,000 18-wheeler semis. If your lumpy, goods need transport among Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Duluth, Detroit, Gary, Milwaukee or Toledo and there's no great rush, then lakers are yer only man. I heard about the Detroit River only a tuthree months ago because a couple of lakers were recorded racing for access to the said river in 1992. I assumed that Detroit the city had, for reasons, been built a little way from the shores of Lake Erie and that freighters came up river to unload, like container ships come up the piffling River Liffey to the Dublin Docks. Or indeed the docks of Duluth up the St Louis River.

Wrong! The Detroit River is a mighty thoroughfare 44km long between Lake Erie and Lake St Clair. A similar situation holds from Lake St Clair to Lake Huron by the St Clair River. These three lakes are essentially the same height although the water always flows from Huron to Erie. Windsor, Ont. [W on map L] is in the peculiar geographic position where its citizens have to drive N to visit the USA. Something in excess of 100,000 jobs and $10bn in trade depend ways to cross the Detroit River. The main conduit is the Ambassador Bridge which soars 50m above the level of the water and takes 10,000 commercial vehicles daily M-F. It costs $5 each way for regular cars but . . . the bridge complex also offers duty free gas so drivers can fill up their tanks, saving about 40c/lt compared to Ontario prices. Remarkably for such a crucial infrastructural resource, the bridge is in commercial private ownership.

Nicely the traffic at right-angles underneath the Ambassador Bridge is served by a public utility in the form of the Detroit River mail boat. This is the JW Westcott II, a 14m long motor boat docked on the Detroit side which has an exclusive contract with the USPS to deliver mail to passing freighters on the fly. You can see the Ambassador Bridge in the background. Much joyful honking from both sides after each transaction: ". it was not uncommon for a boat to have 2 or 3 guys aboard that could name the ship by the sound of its horn"  . The same boat collects and delivers river pilots, vid also shows the central part played by the mail bucket. Example address:

M/V Hon. James L. Oberstar
Marine Post Office
Detroit, Michigan
48222 USA

Tuesday 20 April 2021

Frontline decisions

What's the point? We're scheduled on the planet for three-score-and-ten . . . and a good bit more on account of antibiotics and clean water: we have to make the best fist of it that we can. Although the World is technically our Oyster, constraints of birth and early upbringing rein in the realm of the possible. If you're born Catholic you almost invariably are shriven to die Catholic; it's difficult for Patriarchs to be postmen [altho I did briefly achieve this]; not many options for kids born in mining villages in West Virginia or up the Rhondda; navy brats know about Service. And a disconcerting number of doctors have doctoring parents - it all rather shows a want of imagination (and opportunity). David Nott's [prev] father was an Anglo-Burmese doctor, who married a Welsh nurse. An only child of unhappy parents he wanted to please and scraped into Medical School at the second attempt. Remarkably [and hats off] he was able to realise his boyhood ambition of becoming a commercial airline pilot as well

Random inspirational events steered him into general, especially vascular, Surgery. Like Dr Kay, he climbed the ladder while learning his trade: a lot of varicose veins, haemorrhoids, lipomas, hernias and appendectomies with occasional more exciting "clamps!" aortic aneurisms. In 1993, at the age of 37, he signed up for Médecins Sans Frontières for a stint in Sarajevo during the Balkan War. He discovered a couple of things: he got a rush from dodging bullets; he could keep calm and carry on in shocking poor conditions. Keeping calm is at least as important as knowing where to cut. In war zones, patients / casualties come in lumps - all at once and then none at all. Effective triage is often the key to maximising survival; someone has to decide where the surgeons can leverage their skills to best effect. It's like Goldilocks: some casualties are too bad; some are not critical; some get the next slot on the operating table. Some of the last will come back to theatre when things calm down so that the doctors can tidy up the mess.

For the rest of his career as a consultant surgeon he'd see-saw between his lucrative London work and really terrifying, exhausting, thrilling, effective stints in an alphabet of war-zones: Afgho, Bosnia, Chad, Darfur . . . leavened with natural disasters in Haiti and Nepal. I know all this because I've just finished War Doctor, Nott's autobiography, on Borrowbox. It is read by the author, which is usually more convincing. As a fainter, it is probably not the best book to "read" while driving. The line of those whose lives he has undoubtedly saved will stretch down the street and round the block. But triage decisions have consequences too: one young man used up every unit of transfusable blood in Aleppo and died anyway. Those 20 units eked out for several less exciting operations could have saved different lives: trolleyology [multibloboprev] with consequence.

Did I say leverage their skills? I did. At one particularly dodgy third world posting, thinking he might be killed that night, Nott sent a you're cute txt to a younger woman of his passing acquaintance in London. They were married in 2015. Elly Jupp used to work for a think-tank, The Institute of Strategic Studies, so she knows how to get the best bangs for the buck. Apart from two children she has brought The David Nott Foundation into the World.  There are many ways in which you can contribute to the good work. Mr Nott, for all his skills and experience, cannot bilocate like an electron. But he can teach his skills with medics from war-torn, dispossessed countries, so that they can more effectively cope with medical trauma back home. His Surgical Training for Austere Environments (STAE) has upskilled so many doctors that the lines of the saved are starting to fill stadiums.

Monday 19 April 2021


 If you are aged 66 to 69 you can now register to get a COVID-19 vaccine 

I R an Old. Sunday /yesterday afternoon, I fired up the interweb to register for a fr€€ AstraZeneca vaccine. I was invited to do this on Sunday because I was born in 1954. The Beloved couldn't do it until the next day. It seemed to be more complex than it needed to be. Pat the Salt, my aged FiL, was vax-contacted by his GP because The Man knows how old everyone is, and Pat has 30 years on me. My PPS number, a unique, short number equivalent to a US Social Security # should be all that is needed to determine eligibility - but I was asked for my birthday. I was also required to submit an e-mail addr and a cell-phone number, so that The Vax Man could send me an email that needed a reply AND a txt msg containing a verification code. And an Eircode. And ! my mother's maiden name. And the contact details of my GP. To register I had to submit all these data to create an account, with an over-specified password. I will use this account either once or maybe not at all. What this means is that another database has been created with matching PPS, email, mobile, Eircode for, eventually, everyone in the country. Now tell me this will never be hacked!? Similar over-control and complexity over water ID in 2015.

If the state had joined up thinking, the registration cd/shd have been done through the Dept Social Welfare which already has these data. But no! Welfare doesn't do vaccinations, so Health must duplicate the bureaucratic cross-checking. Whatevs! I am now required to wait an indeterminate time for a vaxx date. I do know that I am selected for Team AstraZeneca which was until 4 weeks ago NOT recommended for Olds. Now <clots> the AZ stocks are being dumped on old people.  It is entirely possible that, between my registration and the actual jab, The Man will have another policy change: privileging, say, teachers; because the congeries of quangos [ECDC, HPRA, NVRL, IEMAG, NPHET, NIAC, NIQAB, HSE, HIQA, LAO'N, WHO] which dictate policy are a) math anxious b) risk averse. 

The AZ vaccine development protocol was, with 20/20 hindsight, poorly designed because it included only a few handfuls of Olds in their volunteer test subjects. This meant that there was insufficient evidence for efficacy and insufficient evidence for adverse side-effects IF drug bureaucrats [FDA, ECDC, HPRA] chose to partition the date into aged cohorts. Jobsworths gonna jobsworth so, of course, AZ vaccines, ordered, paid for and delivered to Ireland for crumblies the most vulnerable had to be diverted or cold-stored until the quangistas had calmed their fluttering hearts. Old people caught Covid and died in the interim.

I live a very sheltered life: retired, rural, no-pals. IF I cop a 'Rona, the consequences will likely be more serious for me [I R an Old] than for The Boy, who is 20 years younger. BUT he lives on a crowded street and has two kids in school each sampling the whole local community by sharing spittle in the play-ground. Risk analysis is the product of likelihood x severity. My likelihood approaches zero so the potential severity is irrelevant. Logic dictates that "my" vaccine should be given to a teacher or an asthmatic, or someone with CF. But I belieeeeve <hallelujah> in vaccination and will be getting my jab asap [before my birthday in mid-June] pour encourager les antivaxxers.

Sunday 18 April 2021

St Laserian of Leighlin Sunday

St Laserian, local saint: his feast-day today

Saturday 17 April 2021

Breaking the rules

We are getting to be more active Zoom-rellies with the Grandchilder across the water in England. I learned a good bit of my how to deal with children patter from my father, who was born, an only child, in 1917 and doted on by ranks of Victorian aunts.
"How old are you Aunt Norah?"
"As old as my tongue and a bit older than my teeth"
. . . that sort of thing. Last Saturday I was recording some Nasreddin tales, which are even older than those long-dead Victorian aunts. This on the assumption that, if they have been going for 700 years, they must have timeless appeal to kids. Seemingly so, indeed, as Gdau.II and her sister have actually asked for more. Their auntie Dau.I kited a Limerick at them and this, apparently novel, form of entertainment appealed. Limericks were popularised by the quintessentially Victorian versifier Edward Lear [R] but that form, where the last line reprises the first:

There was a Young Person of Smyrna,
Whose Grandmother threatened to burn her;
But she seized on the cat,
And said, 'Granny, burn that!
You incongruous Old Woman of Smyrna!'

I find ineffably boring and, well, Victorian. My preferred Limericks are those which break the formal rigid rules and I have a small fund of them to perplex kids who are familiar with the trad form. I can't be expected to remember all these clever-cloggsie members of the Limerick Canon, so I tried Google with "transgressive Limericks" but that search only acknowledged that the most popular Limericks almost all are like to bring a blush to the face of any remaining maiden aunts . . . Nantucket etc.  A few years ago there was a piece in the Guardian by Michael Rosen and the comments covered most of the rule-breaking Limericks which I was trying to recall.
There was a young man from Japan
Whose limericks just wouldn't scan
When asked why that was
He said it's because
I always try to get as many words into the last line as I possibly can."
or this
There was an old man of St Bees
Who was horribly stung by a wasp.
When they asked: “Does it hurt?”
He replied: “quite a bit
but I'm jolly glad it wasn’t a hornet!”
Diminishing returns:
There was a young man named Wyatt
Whose voice was incredibly quiet.
And then one day
It faded away

There once was a man of Dundee
Whose limericks stopped at line three.
Though no one knew why

There was an old woman from Crewe
Whose limericks stopped at line two.

There was a young man from Verdun.

This thread will devolve
into endless limericks
or maybe haiku. [source]

((12 + 144 + 20 
+ (3 * 4^(1/2)))
 / 7) 
+ (5 * 11) 
= 9^2 + 0
There is a plan OEDILF where participants are attempting to define all the words in the Oxford English Dictionary in Limerick Form. They have 100,000 entries from Aardvark-Hazard and are soliciting help to fill in the gaps.

My party piece remains:
There was a young woman from Ryde
Who ate some green apples and died
the apples fermented
inside the lamented
and made cider inside her inside

Spoiler for the matherick: “A Dozen, a Gross and a Score / plus three times the square root of four / divided by seven / plus five times eleven / equals nine squared and not a bit more.”

Friday 16 April 2021


 Takotsubo n. lobster trap

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy n. a broken heart; a condition, brought on by stress, disaster or loss of a loved one where the left ventricle develops a characteristic round bottomed shape (apparently similar in shape to a Japanese lobster pot) before finally calling it quits and stopping. Medical details.

If my beater gets the right training and plays its cards correctly in the rush and fuddle of an emergency, I might be able to slip off at home without the excitement of intubation, futile anti-biotic treatments, CPR and . . .  apply defibrillator paddles, "CLEAR" >!beDOOF!< like in Emergency Ward 10. As we get older, many events - a stumble, a burn, a trip, a cough from the postman, a dizzy-spell on the landing - will start the medical intervention steam-roller and we'll be bundled off to hospital where all bets are off and Advanced Healthcare Directives AHD are left behind on the fridge door.

Thoughtful longform piece in the Guardian by Kate Clanchy who lost both parents this past Coronarama Winter. TSIA: Letting go: my battle to help my parents die a good death. Her parents were middle-class lefty intellectuals who devoted quite a bit of attention to End of Life Issues, tricked about with their AHD / Living Wills [L] and of course updated them when the Mayhem in Bologna told them that intubation was a) a thing b) a thing they did not want.

Mrs Clanchy went first, her comorbidities took her away in an ambulance, her carefully crafted AHD was lost by the hospital because they really don't care about such things: they get in the way of autopilot protocols for treating a lot of people in a properly triaged order. Surgeons gonna surgeon. Nurses are dog-tired, over-extended, grossly under-paid. A sheaf of papers on an old ladys chest gets in the way of the stethoscope. And of course she got Covid, because hospital. 

The family being smart, middle-class, assertive, and attentive learned from that experience for Round Two with Mr Clanchy. "And that turned out to be the right thing to say. With that last, desperate, refusal, my father and I pass through the looking-glass into the world of those dying at home. We are amazed and grateful to find that even in January 2021 the GP will come to the house, district nurses will call twice a day and fit him with a driver for morphine and a fantastic new anti-anxiety drug". It took him 10 days to die, of a takotsubo broken heart, with Covid rather than of Covid, in his own home. Those 10 days were time enough for a a rota of friends'n'relations to take shifts sitting with him and to open the door for the district nurse twice a day for palliative. 

OK,” I say, “we won’t have any help. Please will you inform the doctors?

I hope that works as gaeilge.
 How to use a defibrillator: Don't! [not my style, thanks]

Thursday 15 April 2021

Green & Black & White

Dau.I the Librarian Many Talented has been down for essential agri-business on the farrrm: to wit the 2o2i lambing season. We haven't been lambing these last few years because The Farmer has been double-jobbing as The Carer and could no-way guarantee she would be present 24/14 for peak delivery time. That was The Plan this year also; but then several of the ewes entertained a roving ram [or two] and it was clear, from their filling ''elders" that they were expecting. 

Two dropped their lambs [L with quince tree] in the week after Easter; coincident with the arrival <tan-ta-raaa> of the Dau.I sheep cavalry. The Library will have to manage without her for a long week, which will free up The Beloved for her many other duties. Me? my hands are too big. Quite apart from the utility of having an extra pair of [small] hands, it has been wonderful to have a different perspective and a different way of doing things. Not toooo different: she grew up here, after all.

It turned out that she had sent her nieces in England some chocolate Easter eggs, which <Brexit> arrived late. On the family zoom last Sunday she asked if they had finished their scoff and there was a somewhat garbled story that some of the goodies had been consumed by their father to protect their teeth. The Boy, their father, is known to have a bit of a sweet tooth so this grass 'im up tale had the ring of possibility. In 2017, when I went to England for two weeks after my mother had her cataracts scraped. I was only required to administer eye drops 4x a day, so I had time for other things including a deep-clean of the kitchen cupboards. When my nursey duties were over I drove 2 hours N to hang out with The Boy before catching the ferry home. 

I told him that I had brought away some packets of dinky Green&Black chocolate bars [as R] of indeterminate age. We opened the first packet to see if they were edible. All the wee bars had developed a white  bloom  [technical term] where the sugar had dissolved from the choc-emulsion on prolonged contact with moist air. This isn't fungus and the little bars were certainly edible - as we proceeded to prove by eating them. The youngest pack was 2 years beyond its sell-by date. Needless to say we experienced no adverse effect from consuming these pensioned candy-bars. Sell-by is indicative rather than proscriptive.

Wednesday 14 April 2021


My pal P from Boston sent me some wonderful upbeat news about the rise and rise [it's the thermals silly] of bald eagles Haliaeetus leucocephalus in the contiguous 48 states. Seems that there are now more than 300,000 of these distinctive birds; up 4x from 75,000 just ten years ago.  They put it down to gradual draining of DDT from the environment - these apex predators accumulated those organochlorine pesticides and it rotted out the shells of their eggs. Remembering Rachel Carson's Silent Spring! It brought back the 1980 memory of driving from Boston to see The bald eagle at Quabbin Reservoir a 100 straggle of flooded river valley dammed in the 1940s to supply water to Boston and other communities in Massachusetts.  The appearance of that erratic must have been a big deal because it wasn't until 1989 that bald eagles successfully fledged young near Quabbin. Today there are at least 50 eagles making a living on and about Quabbin.

Needless to say, we didn't see the damned eagle, although we did get cold. Nowadays such ventures would be covered by twitter minute information updates and we could have driven to the best spot for sightings. I seem to remember we went into Amherst, one of the homes of U.Mass, for something to eat and warm up. We may have driven past Emily Dickinson's house at 280 Main Street.

I couldn't remember much of this after 40 years and wasn't even sure if Amherst was further West than Springfield MA. The answer is no: they are both in the Connecticut River Valley which runs more or less due South from Canada to Long Island Sound.

Googling "Amherst" got me to the story of its purchase and settlement by Europeans from 1703, two generations after the littoral from Boston to New York and beyond had elbowed the First People aside to build pubs and churches. "John Pynchon of Springfield, down-river a piece, negotiated with three local blokes Umpanchla, Quonquont, and Chickwalopp from Nolwotogg (Norwottuck) upon ye River of Quinecticott (Connecticut)" and bought the Amherst area for "two Hundred fatham of Wampam & Twenty fatham, and one large Coate at Eight fatham wch Chickwollop set of, of trusts, besides severall small giftes".  Wampum consists of beads hand-crafted from the polished white centres of the shells of whelk Busycotypus canaliculatus or B. carica, and black / purple shell beads made from quahog Mercenaria mercenaria clamshells. The beads are small [~8mm x 4mm] and strung on threads for convenience. A fatham is 6ft = 1800mm long. Wampum was originally used to make decorative belts which acted as a certificate of authority. In time, the raw material for constructing these belts /sashes came to be used as currency.

Although these sea-shells were only available on the shores of Long Island sound, they travelled widely through NE North America as a wider circle of people speaking many different languages agreed to accept wampum in exchange for other goods - arrow-heads, beaver skins, one large coate, delft . . . like the basalt axes that travelled far and wide across the Pacific. The burghers of Nieuw Nederland [NY, NY] set the value as so many beads to the stuiver with black worth two white. Like Bitcoiners in the present times, the steel and water-power mentality of Dutch entrepreneurs turned a handicraft industry, largely in the hands of women, into mass-production pipelines which soon enough debased the value in a spiral of inflation. 

Like Chinese characters, wampum could be used to write messages, and record treaties, in a code / convention that transcended the spoken language. 

Tuesday 13 April 2021

Crow[n]ing glory

 As a tree-hugger, one of my besties is the mighty ash Fraxinus excelsior at the bottom of our yard. This tree is directly downslope from our front door and has been occluding the sky and shading the yard, in Summer, since we moved here 25 years ago. It was obviously smaller back then, but it was still a tree [self-seeded and growing from the top of a stone bank] rather than a sapling. But squinting through one eye and marking lines on the kitchen window, I calculate that the tree is 8½ times taller than the shed beside it or about 28m high. I am very glad that ash has but little tendency to uproot itself because 28m is 4m more than the distance from the tree base to the front door.

This Spring, the ash has finally been adorned with a crown of twigs, courtesy of a crows' nest [L with Le Patron pointed out for scale] started by a pair of rooks Corvus frugilegus. The Beloved's theory is that until now the tree hasn't been tall enough for the rooks to feel safe enough to build a nest - it is at least 25m above the ground. I hope it works out for them . . . then again, maybe I don't: crows are big and noisy and they bully the smaller, prettier, quieter birds away from the tray of bread-crumbs which I put out most mornings after breakfast. The Beloved has had to park her car in a different place to stop it getting spackled with bird-shit. But on the silver-lining front, she was able to pick up a large basket of kindling from the ground immediately under the nest. Very rough estimate suggests that only a quarter or a third of the twigs brought to the nest-site actually get incorporated into the structure - and we've really not had any gales since the nest project started.

Monday 12 April 2021


 In the mid-90s of the last century Anu Garg was a MSc computer science student in Ohio. While still student, because he had the technical capacity and the interest, he started to deliver A Word A Day AWAD to interested subscribers. As an early adopter of the WWW and e-mail for communication outside of academia he got there firstest with the mostest and now runs Wordsmith and AWAD full time. There are ~ half a million subscribers to AWAD, including me, and this addition to my inbox has generated a few Blobs. That's a lot of outgoing e-mail traffic and there's a lot of incommming as well: some quite shirty and cross. On dit que Mr Garg is a OneMillionaire and his venture employs 4 people. I wish him well even when he is occasionally wrong . . .

Take AWAD 7th April 2021. Yarborough nIn a card game, a weak hand, especially one in which no card is above a nine . . . the occurrence of such a hand [see R]. The actual odds are 1827 to 1. But those odds, that probability, is only true if a card game is Contract Bridge or Whist where a hand is 13 cards. Which was an opening for Clever Clogs to reply It's clear nobody Chez Garg plays cards [and more power to them all!]. The odds mentioned apply to a 13 card Bridge hand. A Yarborough Poker hand [8%; 12 to 1]  is a regular occurrence ; and a Yarborough Blackjack hand [37%; 2 to 1] happens pretty much every deal. It's unlikely Yarborough played Contract Bridge which didn't become trendy until after his death; more of a whist man.

Someone was clearly burning the midnight oil at AWAD head office in Seattle because ek dum I got back: "For the rest of us, you'll have to include what those percentages mean, what "12 to 1" and "2 to 1" mean, and how many cards each hand has in poker, bridge, etc. Thank you."

So I had to beef and butter up my reply for 500,000 Arts Block logophiles: The odds mentioned apply to a 13 card Bridge hand. In the standard 52 card deck, there are 32 cards with values 2 thru 9. The chance of getting 13 such cards is 32/52 x 31/51 . . . 21/41 x 20/40 = 0.00055 = 5.5 chances in 10,000 or, to use a convention commoner at race-courses and AWAD "1827 to 1".  A Yarborough Poker hand [5 cards; is considerably more likely: 32/52 x 31/51 . . . 29/49 x 28 x48 = 0.077 = 8% or 12 to 1] is a regular occurrence ; and a Yarborough Blackjack hand [2 cards; 32/52 x 31/51 = 0.374 = 37%or  2 to 1] happens pretty much every deal if there are a handful of players
This task was considerably lightened with Excel [L, show your working]. It was the first occasion I've had to use the function 
as a shorthand for
= C1 * C2 *C3 * C4 * C5
so I've learned something from the exercise.
But really, without getting judgmental, are there a lot of people who don't know how many cards in a poker hand? Maybe my expensive education, normalised card-playing in an unhealthy way - although I've never played cards for real money.
Afterword: when the AWAD 980 weekly round-up came in late on Sunday, another comment of mine was published about "Apgar", based on my Women-in-Science Blob

Fundraiser: Anu Garg has offered a Covid-troubles moratorium for these coughing up actual money for a sub to AWAD. Only a subset of people are making money during the pandemic while many, many, more are struggling. He'd love for you to spread the word <hoho, see what I did there?> to all your friends'n'relations thus.

Sunday 11 April 2021

Sounday round-up


Saturday 10 April 2021


Nasir ud din aka Nasreddin aka Nasruddín Hoja was born, a Sunni Muslim, in 1208 [ten years after the Frankish 4th Crusaders sacked Constantinople] somewhere in the Seljuk Empire and died in the fullness of his years in 1285 [just before the Crusader kingdoms in Asia were finally extinguished] more certainly in Akşehir in central Turkey. His life is remembered as a series of quippy anecdotes in which his persona shoulders a number of roles: joker and jokee. teacher and student, wise and foolish; respected and contemptuously dismissed. Many of these tales involve <pfffffft> collapse of stout party as pomposity & pretension are pricked; and injustice is exposed by irony. Nasreddin tales are known across the Arab and Arab-adjacent world. I suspect the parables are popular because they give power to the dispossessed and make subversive fun of The Man. Folklorists reckon that Nasreddin has accreted a number of different prototypical heroes under a single name; which explains some of the inconsistencies in his character.

This week is midterm break for Gdau.I and Gdau.II over in England and their doting Gparents have been chatting to them over Skype while the actual parents are slaving in the kitchen making dinner after work. Nasreddin had recently popped up over my horizon (with an impish smile and arched eyebrow) in a different context, so I shared a couple of food-adjacent Nasreddin tales.

Nasreddin and the banquet.
Nasreddin had to work for a living. Being a Mullah/Hodja didn't put bread on the table. One day after work, he knew that his wife was away, so decided to treat himself to dinner at an inn on his way home. The inn-keeper refused to serve such a scruffy, dusty, poor-looking customer. The Hodja went home, washed, changed into his best mullah-gown, his biggest mullah-turban and his glitteriest sandals and returned to the inn. Much bowing & scraping brings the Hodja to the top table where the knobs are eating. The soup arrives and the Hodja dunks his sleeves in he bowl making sure that the soup runs up his arm to the elbow. When the fish is served, the Hodja pops the best bits into the same capacious sleeves and tucks the lettuce into his hat. The meat course is disposed into his cummerbund. The Turkish Delight ends up in his purse. The inn keeper, the waiters and the other guests are confused and ask him to explain his peculiar behaviour. "Well", said the Hodja, "you refused to serve me when I came straight from work; but were delighted to serve my fancy clothes. It only seems proper therefore that the clothes should eat the food rather than me"

The Beggar and the Soup
A poor man had to beg for his dinner every day. One evening all he had garnered was a dry crust of bread. He went to the inn and asked for a small amount of soup to wet the bread, but the inn-keeper turned him out in the street. The poor man went round the back of the inn and held his crust in the steam of the soup tureen which was boiling near the kitchen's open window. The inn-keeper catches him and charges the poor man 2 piasters for the vapours. The poor man cannot pay, so the rapacious inn-keeper seeks justice from Nasreddin Hodja. Nasreddin takes two coins out of his pocket and asks the inn-keeper to approach. The Hodja rubs the two coins together next to the inn-keeper's ear and says
"There is your payment"
"That's ridiculous, that's just the sound of coins"
"Indeed: an entirely appropriate payment for the smell of soup"

The Wonders of Nature
Nasreddin is enjoying another siesta dozing under a Juglans regia walnut tree. He falls to thinking that Allah has arranged things in a rather foolish way: Such a big tree for such a small nut. If I was running things, I'd get better use out of the infrastructure  and give these tree pumpkin-sized fruit. As he muses, a walnut falls and strikes him painfully in the face. hmmm, the Hodja thinks, in Nasreddin's world I would be dead: perhaps nature knows more about how things should work than any mere mortal.

I bet you're sorry you weren't a fly on the Gdau skype-wall last Monday evening. Other people give Nasreddin their best shot: I -- II 

Friday 9 April 2021


Probiotics? Sooo yesterday! Sometime last year I sourced a 100g block of fresh yeast selling for €0.45 in our nearest Polish deli. That's a bargain: it's good for about 2 weeks of baked goods Chez Bob. It's also a pathetic sale for the hard-work Poles who run the shop, so I always buy something else: rye flour, cherries and kefir are often in the basket when I check out. None of these are normally on shopping list but they get chugged down in some form or another. During the brief time last year when travel was permitted, Dau.II and The Pep, her S.O., came to visit and we picked up yeast and kefir on the way home. Turns out that Pep is partial to a glass of kefir if it's put in front of him, so there was no difficulty in finishing the bottle.

Last week I was talking shite groceries with Dau.II and I reminded her that any  Cork Polski Sklep  would have yeast and kefir. And she made some comment about the kefir having probiotic benefit for her bloke. I demurred: the microbes in kefir [or yoghurt, creme fraiche, koumiss] would be a monoculture which probably wouldn't survive the acid gauntlet of Pep's tum and wouldn't cause a blip on the make-up of his intestinal flora. What we all need, I asserted, was prebiotics: the foods [mostly plants, not too much] which encourage the growth of a diverse, robust and mutually supportive community down there.

It's ridiculous how limited our diet is w.r.t. to incorporated species; people, or at least country people, 100 years ago ate a much more varied diet: I mentioned medlars Mespilus germanica recently as a fruit nobody eats anymore. Service trees Sorbus torminalis, rowan Sorbus aucuparia provide other minority interest fruits which benefit from bletting. If you live near the coast sea beet Beta vulgaris, samphire Salicornia europea [bowlful L] and sea kale Crambe maritima will all help vary the diet. And that's before you even get your feet wet going for dulse Palmaria palmata and other algae. And all that chick-weed Stellaria media, fat-hen Chenopodium album and good king henry Chenopodium bonus-henricus going to waste on a field-margin near you. Go easy on the chick-weed, though: saponin alert.

There are two scientific angles on this.
1) Each species will have its own characteristic, unique community of microbes, some of which will arrive viable in the digestive tract. You want to provide the biggest choice of candidates for a new dimension of microbial biochemical capability to get established inside. Because your flora is different from mine and that of your roomies / bed-fellows; although your floar will be shared with your 'family'. This could be why herbal remedies appear to work for some people some of the time: that plant provides a key to this locked gut.

2) Each plant species has wildly different ability to absorb and concentrate particular minerals: not only lithium, but potassium, calcium, selenium, lead, cadmium. Minerals need to be available in just-so concentrations and dietary intake is one way to keep particular elements above baseline and usable by the complex system of interactions which is human physiology. 

Look after the food and the pro-biotics will look after themselves. And let's not forget the viruses.