Why the moon rules your life

29 06 2012

I do not believe in astrology, particularly the sort published in newspapers and popular magazines. I do not believe that constellations of burning gases billions of light years away, so far that no human can ever make the journey from earth to these constellations in one lifetime, can possibly rule my life, let alone give me a commonality with 1/12th of the population.

The moon however is a different matter. This hunk of rock is orbiting the earth close enough for its mass and gravitational field to affect the oceans and tides, and, I would argue, us.

I have previously written about the effect of the full moon on human behaviour. Personally I think the tide goes out on our collective brains – some more than others. I accept that scientists have been unable to confirm this, but attest that no scientist ever accompanied me on a full-moon Saturday night shift in the medical emergency service I used to work at. People ran screaming from the building – and that was the staff. The punters ran screaming INTO the building. All in all, a noisy and eventful experience.

My back-up hypothesis is that the additional light from the full moon means people are more likely to be out and about, or at least unsettled. This sounds more plausible, but the tide out in the brain thing is much more interesting.

And while we may not enjoy the effect the moon has on us, I have recently discovered that the moon is also not enjoying our company. Apparently it is fleeing from our orbit at the rate of 2 inches per year. Seriously. Fast enough to make a difference, slow enough for us not to notice unless we are determined to use reflectors and lasers and trigonometry. And most of us aren’t, so you and I will have to take the word of George Darwin (son of Charles) who hypothesised this and the NASA scientists who confirmed it.

Now the effect f the moon on the earth apparently has some interesting effects on the earth. It is quite well-known that the moon influences the tides. This is particularly well-known to people who read the beginning of this posting quite carefully.

But the effect of these frequent tides is to slow the earth’s rotation down. So without the moon, the earth would be spinning a lot faster and hence our “days” would be much shorter – as much as three times shorter. Imagine an 8-hour day instead of 24 hours. You’d barely get anything done when it would be night again.

This of course, would not only be inconvenient, but probably we would all have evolved differently – different sleep patterns, different adaptations. Not just us, but plants and animals as well. And given that life is thought to have originated in the oceans….well, what effect would fewer tides have had on the mixing of the primordial soup?

And then the faster the earth spins, the more winds are generated – producing waves and weather. So if the earth is spinning slower, then weaker waves and weather patterns.

In other words, a different planet entirely.

Fascinating stuff, but one more important fact: You weigh slightly less when the moon is directly overhead. No moon means it is pointless to wait until the middle of the night to weigh yourself for maximum effect.

What – you don’t do that? Just me then.

PS – enjoy the July 4th full moon!

Nursery Rhymes

23 06 2012

Nursery rhymes are a lovely way to teach children to speak, to sing, to rhyme and have rhythm, and to develop memory skills.
You have probably heard that ring-a-ring-a-rosy is a reference to the Black (Bubonic) Plague. Turns out not to be so – the rhyme did not appear until many centuries after Bubonic Plague decimated Europe. Sorry to disillusion you. However many others seem to have dark and morbid antecedents that we would love to believe……

Goosey Goosey Gander where shall I wander,
Upstairs, downstairs and in my lady’s chamber
There I met an old man who wouldn’t say his prayers,
I took him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs.

This refers to the persecution of Catholics in 16th Century England. Priests were often secreted in “priest-holes” secret nooks built into the thick walls of private rooms in wealthy houses – for instance the lady’s chamber (bedroom). The old man who wouldn’t say his prayers probably did – but Catholic prayers in Latin, not protestant prayers in English. Being a Catholic – or ‘left-footer” in the vernacular of the time, he was thrown down the stairs – in all likelihood put to death for his beliefs, as would the family of the house who would have been considered traitors in Tudor England.

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after.
Up got Jack, and home did trot
As fast as he could caper
He went to bed and bound his head
With vinegar and brown paper.

This rather gruesome tale apparently refers to the execution of Jack (King Louis XVI of France) and Jill (Queen Marie-Antoinette). The last section refers to the treatment of the head after beheading, where it was held aloft for the crowd to see then thrown in a bag or basket.

Mary Mary quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.

Mary in this rhyme was Bloody Queen Mary, the daughter of Henry VIII of England and half-sister to the future Queen Elizabeth I. A staunch Catholic, she persecuted Protestants. The gardens were the graveyards of people she had put to death, the silver bells were thumb screws, cockle-shells were another instrument of torture used on genitals, and the maids was a slang terms for the guillotine.

Three blind mice
Three blind mice
See how they run
See how they run
They all ran after the farmer’s wife
who cut off their tails with a carving knife
Did you ever see such a thing in your life
as three blind mice

Again this refers to Bloody Mary (the farmer’s wife) executing three noblemen who had plotted to kill her to end her reign of terror. They weren’t blind, and they were actually burned at the stake rather than beheaded or having their tails cut off!

The grand old Duke of York
He had ten thousand men
He marched them up to the top of the hill
and he marched them down again.

And when they were up, they were up.
And when they were down, they were down.
And when they were only halfway up
they were neither up nor down.

The grand old Duke of York was Richard, Duke of York, who was killed in the War of the Roses in 1455. He built a fortress on earthworks where he marched his army (to the top of the hill), enabling them to have an excellent viewpoint to spot any army approaching army. However, he then marched them down again – leaving the fortress and tackling the opposing army on the plains – and was killed.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King’s horses, And all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again!

Humpty Dumpty was a cannon – a very large heavy cannon that was installed on the walls of St Mary’s Church in Colchester during the English Civil War. A shot from a parliamentary cannon damaged the wall Humpty was sitting on and he did indeed tumble down and break. because of the immense weight of the cannon, all the King’s men and all the King’s horses could not get Humpty back atop the wall (possibly because of damage sustained to the wall as well).

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard
To get her poor doggie a bone,
When she got there
The cupboard was bare
So the poor little doggie had none.

Old Mother Hubbard was Cardinal Wolsey, beloved of Blackadder aficionados, but a real person as well. Cardinal Wolsey was the man that Henry VIII (the doggie) wanted to get him a divorce (a bone) from his longtime (and first) Queen, Katharine of Aragorn. Cardinal Wolsey approached Rome, base for the Catholic Church (the cupboard) and was given the “no” answer. And on this was the basis of the Church of England born.

And you think you have it tough…

23 06 2012

I can’t vouch for the veracity of this information, but here are some interesting theories on the origins of some of the common sayings and traditions. Makes you glad you are alive in this day and age in a western country.


In the 1500s tanneries used urine to tan animal skins. Families used to all wee in a pot, and then once it was full it was taken and sold to the tannery. If you had to do this to survive you were “Piss Poor“.

But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot. They “didn’t have a pot to piss in” and were the lowest of the low.

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and they still smelled pretty good by June. However, since they were starting to smell, Brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odour. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!”

Houses had thatched roofs – thick straw-piled high (see photo above). It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

As there was no inner ceiling underneath the thatch in houses, there was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence. The curtains around the sides were to keep the drafts out.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, “Dirt poor.” The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside.
A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence: a thresh hold.

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme:

Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old”.

Sometimes they could obtain pork. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could “bring home the bacon.” They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and chew the fat.

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle,
and guests got the top, or the upper crust.

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days.
Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of “holding a wake”. (I am assuming you would have to be consuming a lot of lead-laced alcohol for it to have this effect.)

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive.

So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell.

Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift) to listen for the bell. Thus, someone could be,
saved by the bell” or was “considered a dead ringer”.

catacombs underneath Paris were used to store bones that had been exhumed from Graveyards within the city walls of Paris.

Chill Pill

22 12 2011

Need I say more?

Christmas Traditions

7 12 2011

home-made Christmas pine cones

As a former POM raised and living in Australia, I find Christmas a little disconcerting. The family tradition was very much the northern hemisphere “snow, crackling fire and rich comfort food”, but this doesn’t seem to sit well in a hot Australian Christmas.

On the other hand, the traditional Aussie Christmas barbecue or seafood dishes also don’t seem to fit for me. BBQ seems a little too casual, and I am the world’s pickiest seafood eater (there are so many things I don’t eat) so seafood doesn’t seem to work for us either. Cooking seafood also terrifies me – so easy to overcook, it doesn’t go with a cooking style that involves a glass or two of wine being consumed during the process.

My extended family is now scattered across the continent so a large family Christmas is out of the question. But I am keen to develop some traditions for my children, so they can look back on Christmases and remember fondly. So here is my list of the good, the bad and the ugly of Christmas at my house.

The Good

– It’s stone fruit season! Satsuma plums and fresh cherries. YUM! Father Christmas always brought Satsuma plums to put in the stocking when I was young. (We had a plum tree in the backyard, so I suspect he was being very thrifty!)

– Phone calls from relatives across the continent. So much better than the major family arguments in person. Fifteen minutes of being nice to inappropriate uncle Bob (names changed to protect the guilty) is so much better than watching him gradually unwind over the course of a day and a six-pack or two and say things we will all regret. It also solves the faction problems – the aunts who haven’t spoken to each other for near on three decades can be easily dealt with separately.

– I have two special Christmas recipes. They are Christmas recipes because they are so yummy that if I made them during the year I would be the size of a bus. Yoyo biscuits (similar to Melting Moments but I have a particularly good recipe) and Chocolate Fudge. So good I get requests for them from neighbours and family.

– Mince Pies! YUM! We start buying Mince Pies as soon as they arrive in the shops (shortly after Easter, it would seem) and the children take them in their school lunches, we heat them and have them with custard for dessert, or just much them as a portable snack. I used to stock up when they were on sale after Christmas and freeze them, but I think everyone else has got into this act as the supermarkets seem to run out quite quickly. (I would include a photo of some mince pies here but they have been eaten. You will have to imagine them yourselves.)

The Bad

– Christmas lists. Now the children are heading into teenager-hood, the Christmas wish lists are getting longer – and each item seems to be electronic and therefore by definition, expensive. Clearly they have been raised in a consumer culture and have taken to it like ducks to water. The nagging starts – well it would seem the nagging starts about January.

We hope you get lots of pressies

– What to have for Christmas lunch? This is particularly an issue if we are having guests. How can I manage to present something delicious, attractive and appropriate for the season (and the pressure has been ramped up since Master Chef set a higher bar for amateur chefs!) And warm and on-time for whenever we decide to sit down for lunch. And preferably without having to spend the entire morning in the kitchen preparing and cooking. Are they expecting a Turkey? Will a turkey roll suffice or does this look pragmatic and not really entering into the spirit of the season? Do they know I don’t eat ham and therefore won’t be cooking one either? This year our neighbour has kindly invited us for lunch so I can concentrate on hors d’oeuvre, cheeses, dips and crackers, and desserts. These are all my strong suits.

The Ugly

– An increasingly bedraggled Christmas Tree, with tangled tinsel, the occasional ornament lost to the dog (they look like balls being dangled in front of his face – why wouldn’t he bite them and run off with them). The children decorate the tree so there is a glut of decorations in the middle of the tree, the top has a lot of tinsel that has been tossed in the general direction, and the bottom is naked (at least in part to discourage the dog). It is also a tree that you should look at from one side only – decorations are at the front, not around the back or sides.

– The consumeristic Christmas wish list could probably sit here as well as in the “bad” list.

– Family who can’t decide until the last minute whose house the think they might grace for Christmas Day. If you’ve been invited, say yes or no. Don’t hang out to see where you get the best offer, it is insulting to us all.

– Family who insist on inviting the ex-wife to everything. No, I don’t particularly want to spend every Christmas for the rest of my life making small talk with his ex. Move on people, it’s been over two decades.

And yes, I know. First World Problems.

Merry Christmas!

What are your Christmas traditions?

Feeling like you want something more uplifting after my traditional Christmas whinge? Try Mt Barker Christmas Pageant or St Nicholas comes to Hahndorf.

Australian mudmap

12 11 2011

Just got sent this – couldn’t resist, had to share!


is it possible to get PTSD from CSI?

24 10 2011

photo credit Tex Texin

I am a recovering tv-aholic. My poison of choice – until recently – was the crime / science shows. The more science the better, so I was really into the CSI-type of show.

My partner and I would sit and pick apart the science – all the incorrect and improbable things that they would put into these shows. Knife wounds so defined they could be filled with rubber cement and show the outline of the knife – classic! And the episode where the crim breaks a cell-phone type battery and uses – wait for it – the acid (from a lithum ion battery) to burn through cell bars. There are web forums devoted to picking apart this sort of thing if you are interested – they are pretty amusing.

Of course, being the arm-chair experts that we are, we also like to pick apart the basic crime-fighting techniques. They pick evidence up without photographing it in place. They have high-speed chases and break into houses with guns – wait – aren’t they scientists, not cops? And then of course, every horror-movie fan’s favourite – walking into darkened rooms by themselves.

However much we love these sorts of shows – they make us feel intelligent and like we haven’t forgotten everything we learned in science class – I do wonder about the amount of gore we are exposed to.

I can’t watch anything where the victim is a child – it literally turns my stomach and I physically recoil. But likewise, are we becoming insensitised to physical trauma by the exposure we get to decapitated, rotting, murdered corpses on these sorts of shows? And in some of them, we actually get the flash-backs to how the murder was committed. The terror and trauma of the victim. The fragility of human life.

Is it possible to get post-traumatic stress disorder from the graphic representations of murders and murder victims that these shows expose us to?

I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. Cop shows then didn’t have the advantage of the special effects. They focussed on the relationships between the characters, with a bit of sleuthing and a high speed chase thrown in for excitement. The challenge was trying to work out “who dunnit”. Think The Bill, Midsomer Murder or in Australia, Cop Shop. In America, I guess it would have been (God save us) Charlie’s Angels and CHIPS. In the current crop of shows it is perfectly obvious “who dunnit” right from word go – the slightly overly helpful but otherwise distantly connected person who appears too often. The show focuses instead on how the pseudo-science will capture them.

The other side-effect of these shows is that the crooks are getting educated. And the jurors. Apparently the crooks are learning how to hide the evidence – avoid leaving fingerprints, footprints, hairs, shell casings, etc. And jurors are expecting 100% water-tight evidence – preferably DNA evidence – to be presented at every trial.

The omni-presence of this type of entertainment has an effect on the real world around us.

I am over it – give me a comedy any day.