Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Meiotic Drive.

In Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene he describes the Meiotic Drive.  This is when a mutant gene - called a segregation distorter - skews the meiosis cell division in its favour so that it is more likely to end up in the egg.  It happens in mice.  If a mouse has a single t gene, 95% of its sperm will contain this mutated gene and so virtually all of its offspring will carry it.  The gene will then spread, Dawkins says, 'like brushfire' through the population.  This has catastrophic results because although mice with a single t gene are fine, those that inevitably inherit two of these genes are not.  They die early and are sterile and so soon the population dies out.

Ever since I read about this t gene a couple of nights ago I keep thinking about the other 't genes': the inaccurate result that seems right; the misinterpreted piece of gossip that no one questions; the witness who sees what appears to be a crime but is really something quite innocent.  The plausible idea that turns out not to be.  All t genes, perhaps.  They are hidden from view.  So the genes spread and spread.  Outside, everything seems fine but it isn't.  And its only when the children start acquiring  both genes that the real story can be heard.  And then it's too late.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Pied Blue Wood Blewitt

Meet a 'Pied Blue Wood Blewitt '- the result of a foraging expedition (in a local shop).  The 'Pied' part being French for foot.

I liked the blue -  the colour of a the sky after sunset and poisonous-looking - but at £44.48 a kg, I decided to buy just one to try.  'Good in omelettes,' the sign in the shop said, or 'in a cream sauce', but I took this single fruiting body and fried it in a little oil.

I was expecting it to taste uninterestingly of mushroom, but it didn't.  It smelt of peaty earth and  tasted something like white meat, and went very well with the small pieces of pate I'd added to our lentil salad.  

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Whiter Shade of White

My new study is now decorated ready for the fitted furniture and flooring.

As you can see, the walls are... 'white'.   Like a 'May' Ball or a Slow 'Worm', 'Joa's White' is somewhat inaccurate.  I like it very much anyway.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Little Education

For no particular reason, except that they looked interesting, I have signed up to three free on-line courses.  One is Rome: A Virtual Tour of the Ancient City with Matthew Nicholls at the University of Reading, another is Literature in the Digital Age: from Close Reading to Distant Reading with Philipp Schweighauser at the University of Basel, and the other is the Genomics Era: The Future of Genetics in Medicine from three doctors at St George's Hospital, London.

The last time I did an on-line course was a PGCE with the Open University.  Hodmandods Senior and Major have both done them with the MIT and say that they have learnt a lot, so now I am going to have a go.  The first two courses start on March 13th and require around four hours a week each, so I hope I can keep up.  The Genetics one starts earlier,  in February, and may well prove beyond me, but I'm going to give it my best shot.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

New Spaces

Now that Hodmandods Major and Minor are both firmly ensconced in other parts of Cheshire, we have decided to renovate and adapt our house for ourselves.  And it turns out we need lots of space.  I, for instance, have claimed Hodmandod Major's bedroom for my study.  So far, the one old-fashioned pendant light - close to the window for modesty's sake - has been replaced by an array of spotlights, the mouldy spot on the wall, where Hodmandod Major's fish tank once stood, has been replastered, the noisy old laminate floor has been ripped up and the floor boards repaired and hammered down, and a long piece of ducting with electrical sockets has been attached to the wall to where my desk is going to be.

At the moment, we are redecorating.  The magnolia paintwork is being replaced with white, the paper has been scraped from the walls, and this weekend we are planning on applying a liberal coating (or three) of  'Joa's White' - a warm neutral colour for this north-facing room.  

I always think there is something satisfying about transforming a room.  The old school
is wiped away and then, eventually, there's a new term with promise.  A clean white page waiting for a pen or brush.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Matchy matchy

Yesterday, on a whim, I bought some nail varnish in the sales. I cannot do a manicure. I think there must be some technique I've never mastered.  I'm careless with the little brush.  There's no neat outline.  When I try to patch up the parts where I've missed I misjudge that too.  But this time I bought another coat with bits of white and pink that when I applied it last night conveniently disguised my ineptitude.  And then, this morning I noticed something else...

I’d inadvertently painted my nails exactly the same colour as my pyjamas.  A happy accident. Throw on an overcoat and I shall be ready for the big shop.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Charge 2

Meet the Nag. Last year's directed birthday gift.

It looks innocent, like a watch waiting to wake, but it's not.
It's that whisper in the ear, that shaking head, that look of puzzled disapproval from someone older or wiser, that feeling of unease, that tutting.
'Get up!'
Only I can feel it vibrating on my arm.
There's just a hint of a buzz.
'Time to step.  Only 249 to go.'
And then, if I'm lucky, by 5pm the tyrant is finished.  '9 out of 9', '10,000 steps'. Electronic fireworks exploding on my arm.
Then I'm allowed to sit on my couch again just moving my toes.
Go me.

Monday, January 09, 2017


The tax form is completed.  Since I invariably end up spending all day completing this, submitting the thing always feels like a huge accomplishment.

Friday, January 06, 2017

A Matter of Quiet.

We had to have new windows fitted to replace the old ones which were difficult to open as well as being so ill-fitting that in a strong wind they would rattle in their housing.  We'd expected a new sort of quiet, but instead we heard a hum as if something far underground was circulating.  Sometimes it was like flowing water, other times it seemed like distant heavy machinery.  It seemed to be always there.  Except, that it, in the early hours of the morning if we happened to wake then.

Eventually, Hodmandod Senior came up with an answer: traffic.  A distant rumble of internal combustion engines.  With the windows open it sounded something like the roar of the sea, but when closed it seemed that the double glazing of the new windows changed the frequency of this sound into something else.  We packed the window with layers of old curtains and hardboard which muffled it, but it was still there.  Still there until today, when our window fitters swapped the double-glazed units of standard glass for acoustic ones.  The glass is thicker, there's a film of plastic and a wider space between the two panes.

When he'd finished, we went up to listen.  The option we had chosen was the cheapest one on offer, although it was still expensive given that we'd only just had the window replaced.  Also,  there was no guarantee that it would work - but it has.  I go into the room and listen.  All is quiet.  I keep waiting for the sound but there seems to be nothing there at all.  Maybe, just maybe, it is a little too quiet.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Thanks Theo!

Today we bought a new Purdy paintbrush. Recorded on the handle is the man who made it: Theo.

I think I remember reading once that the names of the makers of the figures of the terracotta army are also recorded  on their work.  I suspect this is so they could be held to account -  I suspect the First emperor of China did not have a great reputation for leniency in the event of poor workmanship.

Luckily, the workforce of Purdy paintbrushes live in more enlightened times, and anyway the paintbrush looks perfectly fine to me - a link between the craftsman who made the brush and the man about to use it.  In this case Hodmandod Senior.  No excuses.