Sunday, 27 June 2010



It was a bit of an ignominious end to England's World Cup run today. They've been shaky the whole tournament, and while parts of today's game showed them at their best, it put them up against a much more solid team. That this team was also their arch-enemy Germany gave the whole event a more fateful tinge, but England have more or less been cruising for defeat the whole time. Which, it must be said, was something of a surprise, since their qualification for the 2010 World Cup was done in fairly healthy style. Not outstanding, but much better than what's been on display the past fortnight. Doubtless much national blood-letting will now occupy many acres of newsprint, as the press tries to work out who to blame. Joy.

More over here.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Life in the quad

Not much to report this week in the quad. In terms of ducks, we appear to have lost the final member of the youngest brood together with its mother. Other than that, we still have a full complement of first brood ducklings (7), plus the sole surviving member of the intermediate brood (still sans mother though). The latter duckling is still on the small side, but is doing surprisingly well given that it was abandoned several weeks ago, and still gets picked on by the remaining mother.

The three gull chicks do not appear to have been joined by any others just yet, in spite of there being at least two other mating pairs of seagulls on the spine of the roof opposite. All three chicks are looking pretty healthy, if a little overheated on the mercilessly sunny roof, although shade from one of the building's towers means that they do get a reprieve from the sun for part of the morning.

Anyway, that's all that passes for news from this office.

Update: I take it back, the youngest brood, both mother and duckling, is still in the quad. Must have just been hiding from me the past couple of days. So, vis-à-vis my opening statement above, there really is nothing to report from the quad this week.


Wednesday, 23 June 2010



More over here.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Cat on a bush

It's not especially obvious why, but Pushkin is quite a fan of our backdoor (and formerly well-trimmed) bush ...

In case it's not blindingly obvious, Puskin's bowls are located immediately adjacent to the door on the left of the frame.

Friday, 18 June 2010



More over here.


As well as being good for seagulls and ducks, yesterday also had a great moon at sunset ...



And Pushkin always makes for a fine subject ...


Thursday, 17 June 2010


Further to yesterday's seagull announcement, I remembered to bring in the camera today and now realise that there are actually three chicks in our first seagull family ...


While shooting from my office, I also got pictures of one of the now adult-looking chicks from brood 1 ...


As well as the sole surviving, and now motherless, chick from brood 2 ...


Though lacking any kind of parental role model (since at least last week), this latter chick seems to be surviving alright. Then again, given how rubbish ducks are at successfully raising chicks to adulthood (at least in our quad), perhaps their absence isn't such a handicap?

In other duck news, the most recent brood (number 4 by our count) was down to a single, still-tiny chick as of yesterday. Not so good.

There are a few more pictures over here.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

First seagulls

Just to note that our first seagull chicks of the year have appeared on the roof opposite. There are two of them, and they're looking rather fluffy and unsure of their footing on the sloped roof. I'll try to remember the camera and long lens for tomorrow.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Return of an old favourite

One of the problems with favourite novelists is that they never write books often enough. I've complained here before about Iain Banks, John Varley and Barbara Kingsolver (the latter of whom has only recently produced a novel after a 9 year gap!). But another writer who's been missing-in-action for some time, and who even appeared in my top ten list, is the British novelist William Boyd. To be fair, his last novel, Restless, wasn't anywhere near so dim-and-distant as Kingsolver's, but he could definitely do with putting pen to paper a little more often.

Ordinary Thunderstorms follows Adam Kindred, an ex-patriot climatologist returning to London in search of a job, and licking the self-inflicted wounds that ended his marriage in the US. Enjoying a celebratory meal after a promising interview at Imperial, he meets a fellow scientist, medical researcher Philip Wang. After Wang mistakenly leaves his briefcase in the restaurant, Kindred tries to return it, only to find the other man dying from a mortal stab wound. Panicking, Kindred flees the scene, but not before encountering, and assaulting, the shadowy figure of Wang's murderer. After sleeping rough for a night, Kindred attempts to report the crime to the police, but baulks when he finds that he himself is sought for the murder. Mindful of the incriminating circumstances he finds himself in, and fearful of the hitman sent after Wang, Kindred makes a fateful decision: to disappear into the ranks of London's homeless, and to cut all the ties with his previous life. His journey into the poverty-stricken underbelly of the city brings him into contact with a range of memorable characters and a slice of society he has never experienced before, and his continual shedding of the trappings of his previous existence sees him take on a succession of new identities. But, much as Kindred has suspected, powerful vested interests are still seeking him, and they are not averse at all at using force against the underclass he finds himself adrift among.

An interesting read this one. On one level, Ordinary Thunderstorms is a very successful and readable thriller-cum-social-commentary. Boyd leads the reader on a rich journey through London's overlooked underclass, and does so within the frame of an engagingly twisty plot. But on the other hand, the core decision of Kindred to evade both the police and Wang's murderer is one that's not entirely easy to swallow, but it's crucial to the subsequent twists and pivots of the plot. Boyd tries hard to make it seem a credible choice, but possibly because Kindred is still a "new" character to the reader, it rings a false note. As such, if one finds Kindred's choice completely understandable given the circumstances, then the novel is an entirely enjoyable romp, but if one judges this decision too implausible, and I almost did, the novel may feel a little contrived.

All that said, there's still a lot to like here. As usual, Boyd is great at conjuring up characters, settings and situations, and his prose is as engaging as ever. I particularly liked the attention that he lavished on the character of Ingram, the director of the pharmaceutical company that Wang works for. Though somewhat peripheral to the action of the novel, Boyd invests him with some wry oversights, and gives him a touching relationship with his gay son. Even the hitman character, Jonjo, is fleshed out into a more complete person than his role in the novel might otherwise have received. And Boyd doesn't let the plot follow an entirely predictable course. There are a few unexpected changes in direction along the way, including something of a realistic deflation of the action at the end. Were this a Hollywood production, Kindred would have some sort of climactic confrontation with an evil, moustache-twirling corporate monster, but here the pharmaceutical conspiracy unwinds in a modern fuzz of PR spin.

Since both Kindred and I are scientists, I can't help but comment on one niggling aspect of the plot. In spite of being in possession of Wang's research notes, and realising that Wang's murder may be related to his work, Kindred is extremely slow to go through these notes and piece together a motive for this crime. While this could be put down to Kindred's specialism as a climatologist and his unfamiliarity with medical research, Wang's findings of extra deaths among the test subjects taking the drug that he's working on are hardly esoteric results that only a trained eye could spot. In fact, anyone living in the west at any point in the last 50 years would, faced with the same facts as Kindred, readily join the dots, not least because they would be attuned to the "medical conspiracy" narrative that prevails in popular culture. However, after an initial skim-read that establishes the notes as medical science, Kindred instead takes his time in putting two and two together. If the notes contained opaque findings concerning chemical metabolism then things might be a little more plausible, but I found Kindred's late investigation into Wang's research more in the service of novel length than in the creation of a believable scientist character.

Overall, I must admit to being a little disappointed here. Usually Boyd is an entirely safe pair of hands, readily capable of novels that work in terms of character, plotting and verisimilitude (his Any Human Heart being a particular stand-out work). But here his plotting has slight but significant flaws, with the result that his solid work in character and scene-setting is short-changed. Of course, if Ordinary Thunderstorms were written by a lesser novelist, I might overlook the brief periods where my credulity was overstretched, but I've admired and enjoyed so many of Boyd's past novels that the bar is set pretty high. Still, whether one is a fan of Boyd or not, it still contains sufficient pleasures to justify picking up.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Typhoid Mary

It's been confirmed - I am a carrier of disease. After about a 10 second look at my local surgery, the nurse there diagnosed me as bearing the mark of the plague. Well, warts at any rate. In spite of studiously avoiding exposure to infected children at swimming pools (by completely avoiding swimming pools), I've somehow managed to acquire one wart per foot. So it's a long course of salicylic acid and pumice for me, plus extra infection-avoiding counter-measures for C. Great.

In passing, I find that Wikipedia alarmingly tags warts as "benign epithelial tumors" that are "usually self-limiting"; not exactly the most reassuring of descriptions.

Saturday, 12 June 2010



More over here.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Duck update

It's been a while, but the current state of affairs in the quad are as follows. The original brood is still doing well, and still has 7 ducklings, though these are now well on their way to looking like adult ducks. The second (surviving; actually the third) brood is down to a single duckling, though this is getting bigger. I've actually not seen said lone wanderer today, but I did catch sight yesterday. The main news is that we now have a third brood. It had 5 tiny ducklings when I first saw it yesterday, but I can only see 4 today. And, based on past performance, I'd guess that there were more than 10 to start off with.

In other news, contrary to official decree, I've now seen a member of staff (who will remain nameless) feeding the ducks. And another even asked me to feed them while she was away on business. So the effort by Estates to wean the ducks from their quad seems doomed to failure this year. Especially if the surviving brood makes a successful exit and then returns next year. However, the pitiless operation of Malthusian Law means that we're unlikely to be up to our eyeballs in ducks any time soon.

Update: I've just caught sight of brood two's solo survivor; and brood three does still have 5 chicks after all.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Another weekend, another wedding ...

... Although this one was 4 weeks ago and I've only just sorted through the photographs. Oops. Anyway, this time around it was the turn of Alex and Simon, whose wedding and reception took place onboard HMS Warrior in the historic docks of Southampton's neighbour, Portsmouth. An excellent venue, and another great day out.


There's a more complete set of photographs over here (as with the last Russell wedding, mostly taken by C).