Tuesday, 5 September 2017


William of Ockham (1287-1347) invented the safety razor, often wrongly attributed to King C. Gillette (1855-1932), who of course invented the waistcoat, but (Ed: shome mishtake shurely?)
Ah, yes.  William of Ockham (1287-1347) formulated the principle that became known as Occam’s Razor.  It’s called a razor because it shaves away extraneous matter.  (Why Ockham became Occam is anyone’s guess; did medieval keyboards lack a K and an H?)
Occam’s Razor can be expressed in many ways.  Here are two:
1.     The law of economy of hypothesis (which I might have just made up) states that, of a number of solutions to a given problem, the correct one is that which requires the least number of assumptions.
2.     Z, on having heard me dissert on this, offered the 21st century version acronymised in this post’s title.
Anyway, it sprang uninvited into my mind after an amusing Facebok conversation about the following conundrum:

1 + 4 = 5
2 + 5 = 12
3 + 6 = 21
5 + 8 = ? 

The answer, of course, is 34, but a lot of people opted for 45.  I challenged this, and it was suggested that, given that the = sign in this context obviously doesn’t mean what it usually means, then the operators are up for grabs and the + sign can therefore be fairly interpreted as a * (multiply) sign, in which case you do get 45.
That’s where William nudged me in the ribs.  Oy, he said, one mistake’s enough, why let another one in? 
I thought I’d scored a point, but now I wonder: if + doesn’t mean +, and = doesn’t mean =, who’s to say what 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and the rest mean?  Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Zebra crossing (April 85)

Not long ago, there was a notice at each end of the zebra crossing between London Bridge Walk and the station forecourt, improvised on blackboards, which said “DANGER – CROSSING OUT OF ORDER”.  A friend enlightened me as to how a zebra crossing could be out of order: one of the belisha beacons had been knocked over by an errant vehicle.  Apparently this means that the crossing is a legal nonentity.  Drivers can mow you down on it with at least some impunity.

Incidentally, did you know that the belisha beacon was named after the transport minister who introduced it in 1934?  His name was Leslie Hore-Belisha.  So it could equally have been called the Hore beacon, but I imagine this was rejected on the grounds of ambiguity.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Rough woodland (April 1985)

“A Rothschild once remarked that no garden, however humble, should lack less than 2 ½ acres of rough woodland.”

This is the funniest thing in a stunningly ill-written review of some book or other about gardens.  Its major virtue is that of being the first sentence.

Taking the opposite of ‘no garden’ to be ‘every garden’, and of ‘lack’ to be ‘have’, the corollary of this statement is that every garden should have less than 2 ½ acres of rough woodland.  The reviewer is right in suggesting, later in the review, that some gardens fail this rigorous test; but mine, I am proud to say, is not one of them.  Its acreage of rough woodland is indeed considerably less than this stipulated maximum.

What would be interesting, and therefore not supplied by either A. Rothschild or the reviewer, would be the required ratio between rough woodland and other things, such as smooth woodland.  Imagine, for example, that this might be one unit of rough woodland to five of the other sorts of land, and that your tiny garden measures 10ʹ x 15ʹ.  You are thus allowed 30 square feet, or 6ʹ x 5ʹ, of rough woodland.  Clearly the trees would have to be bonsais; but what would make it rough?  I can only imagine an undergrowth of rather tatty aubrietia.  

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Blogging? Been there, done that.

I have, of course, been blogging since 1963, so far as records show.  We didn't call it that, and the medium was marks on paper rather than binary digits on computers; but I've dug out and skimmed through a few old notebooks, and a few entries might merit transcription. 

You have been warned.

Monday, 14 August 2017


That’s a much better acronym than the worn-out Brexit acrostic, isn’t it?
I have read so much nonsense about ‘Britain Leaving the European Union’ that I thought it was time to put the world’s thoughts in order.  I will confine myself to the classic five-point system.
One.  Nobody knows anything.
Two.  Nothing has happened.
Three.  This is not democracy.
Four.  Loudness is not thought.
Five.  The devil is in the detail. 

To expand:
  1. Nobody knows anything about what is going to happen when, after a protracted process of definition, drafting and deliberation an Act of Parliament representing Britain’s departure from the EU is presented for the Royal Assent.  Not just because whoever turns out to be monarch by then might just say ‘no’, but because nobody has a clue what it will actually say.
  2. Following from that, so far nothing’s actually happened.  The debate, if that’s a word any more, is almost entirely about the story of the last 15-odd months of speculation, reaction and counter-reaction, not to mention global economic and political forces compared to which BLEU is a minor ripple.  All fur coat and no knickers. 
  3. Democracy means ‘rule by the people’.  Referenda are not a sensible means of achieving this where the population exceeds a few hundred.  In the present case, the canard that ‘the people have spoken' needs to be critically analysed and clinically destroyed by facts and logic.  For a start, only 37% of the electorate voted to leave.
  4. I often dip in to internet sites that support BLEU, and I’m dismayed not just by the lack of fact and focus, nor even by the outright blatant lies, but by the overwhelming volume of vitriol and personal abuse.  I counter this whenever it’s directed at me, of course (don’t ever enter into a slanging match with me, anyone, because I will win!).  But I am shocked by the amount of unnecessary sheer nastiness.  I thought this was a nice country.
  5. I’m getting a bit tired now, so I don’t want to go into the details of what this will do to everyone in this country’s personal day-to-day lives.  Two words cover most of it, actually – health, and safety.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Ray's Story

Z had taken the kids to the beach, but I’d opted to stay in the caravan.  After an hour or so, and having exhausted the entertainment potential of the newspaper, I dipped in to the small selection of books, leaflets and so on that reside in my bookrack there.  There’s a first aid manual, several quick’n’easy cookbooks, guides to walks and places to visit, and a few snatches of genuine local Pembrokeshire history.  It was one of those that captured me.

It’s a book of black and white picture postcards of Narberth, from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Old pictures are, of course, always good to look at; but what caught my eye was the foreword, which heaped lavish praise and thanks on Miss Ray Davies, without whom the enterprise would never have happened. 

I knew her quite well, and I just wanted to set down what I can about a rather intriguing character.

Rachel, only ever known as Ray, was born in 1916 and died in 2003.  She never married.  It was rumoured that this was because her heart had been broken, just after the war, by a scoundrel in Belgium, where as a WREN she’d been posted for unknown reasons following service at Bletchley Park on the Enigma code-breaking project. (She was probably one of the Bombe girls, but I haven’t been able to verify that.)  I’ve seen a picture of her, in uniform, from around that time, and can only say that the Belgian heartbreaker must have been crazy.

By the time I met Ray, her focus had both narrowed and broadened.  It had narrowed to a compulsion to sort, identify and catalogue.  The broadening was in the range of material she did this to.  It started, probably, with stamps – she worked for Stanley Gibbons in the thirties – then expanded to archaeological samples, coins, Victorian fans, local history…  After she died we found dozens of exercise books filled with quite indecipherable lists of stuff, which of course we had no choice but to throw away.  Nobody would have cared.  The stamps and fans were sold, not for much.

What started me on this, though, was the local history obsession.  She became, I think, an infuriatingly avid supporter of the Narberth Wilson Museum (which has since closed down and then reopened; it won some ‘best museum’ award a few years ago, and we really should try and visit it next time we’re there.)  She put a few backs up during this late phase of her life, but the important things are that it kept her going, and that her efforts, however misdirected by her oncoming dementia, did get recognised in the foreword to that rather splendid book of old postcards.

Thursday, 3 August 2017


I promised to tell you more about our caravan holiday, but it's too late to start on Ray's story now, so you'll have to wait till tomorrow again for that.
Meanwhile, here are two words I learnt on a wet evening: Scaup; and Mussitation.