Ichabod is itchy

January 28, 2007

The doctor’s wife

Filed under: literature — by ichabodisitchy @ 2:15 pm

Mary Elizabeth Braddon, a Victorian novelist, wrote upwards of eighty novels in her time– and made a name for herself in ‘sensational’ fiction. Her most famous work is arguably Lady Audley’s Secret– a fantastic and shocking tale of crime, bigamy and madness.

In the doctor’s wif, Braddon tries to move away from sensation– she was known to have said that it was her attempt at a literary novel. It still has some elements of a sensation novel– secrets and adultery– but these are side-stories. The thrust of the novel is focused on how a foolish little girl full of dreams is forced into womanhood by the circumstances around her.

Braddon has borrowed a lot of the plot from Madame Bovary (although the wife doesn’t actually commit adultery in the strictest sense of the word) and tells the tale of a young girl, Isabel Gilbert, who lives with her nose permanently stuck in a romantic novel and her head in the clouds.  When she first comes across a little romance, she is carried away and ends up marrying a country doctor who, although charmed by her pretty face and peculiar ways, will never understand her.

Although quite enjoyable, the doctor’s wife doesn’t really measure up to Lady Audley’s secret in my opinion. Braddon seems to try and make the book ‘literary’ by inserting endless references to novels, plays, poems and paintings, which just didn’t quite work for me.

The most interesting character I found was a sensation novelist, Sigismund Smyth– one of Isabel’s old friends. Through Smyth, Braddon shows some of the pressures she must have been under as a sensation novelist. Smyth is often depicted scribbling away at his desk, while the publisher’s messanger stands impatiently at the door, waiting to rush the next chapter off to the printers. And when he comments on what the ‘penny public’ want, you can almost hear Braddon sigh with exasperation– “it wants bodies and plenty of them– several murders and/or suicides are essential for the penny dreadful, although one murder usually suffices for a three-decker”.

The doctor’s wife is worth a read just for Sigismund 🙂

January 22, 2007

The end is nigh…

Filed under: science — by ichabodisitchy @ 8:18 pm

Having been away at a conference for most of the latter half of last week, I was catching up on news today when I saw that the keepers of the ‘doomsday clock’ have moved the minute hand 2 minutes closer to midnight to reflect the growing threat of nuclear proliferation and climate change. The clock now stands at 5 minutes to midnight– the closest we have been to the end of the world since the Cold War in the 1980s.

It’s good, I think, to acknowledge that climate change is a cause for real concern. As an environmental scientist, I would never give the so-called climate ‘skeptics’ the time of day and have always thought that anyone who had had a good grounding in science would be able to appreciate climate change. But I was shocked the other day when talking to a friend of ours– not a ‘scientist’ per se, but very well educated nonetheless– who is thoroughly convinced that ‘climate change’ is just a ruse invented by evil politicians to try and stop us from using our cars. I simply didn’t know what to say.

I do not, in this post, mean to start an enormous debate on whether climate change is happening or not– but just want to reflect that I’m glad its effects are being accounted for in the doomsday clock.

January 15, 2007

Moonwalking manakin

Filed under: fauna — by ichabodisitchy @ 7:50 pm

PBS have some wonderful video footage of a manakin–a small black, red and yellow bird that lives in the jungles of Central and South America–doing a courtship dance that looks just like a Michael Jackson moonwalk!

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January 11, 2007

Fancy a cuppa?

Filed under: food — by ichabodisitchy @ 5:52 pm

All this talk about how milk takes out the ‘goodness’ of tea everywhere (see Milk eliminates cardiovascular health benefits of tea at ScienceDaily for an example) has been making me think of how I make and drink tea. Not that I’ll stop drinking milky tea. But have you noticed how there seem to be endless variations on a cup of tea, depending on how you make it. Do you use a pot? If so, do you warm it? Or (sin of all sins) do you ‘re-fill’ it?

Do you put the milk in first? This is what George Orwell has to say on the subject:

“One should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.”

But I disagree. If I put the tea in first, I always over-fill it and end up with not enough room for the amount of milk I want.

Furthermore, when I make tea (for one or two– i.e. no pot) I find that if I pour the water in first, stir it around, take the tea bag out and then put the milk in, I end up with lots of tea ‘scum’ floating on the top of the mug– stuff that looks like flakes of tea and that stick to the side of the mug each time you take a sip so that by the time it’s empty, there is a decided trail of tea scum all around the inside of the mug.

If, however, you put the milk in first (with the teabag, which I know sounds wrong) and then pour the boiling water in, you end up with a perfect, scum-free delicious cuppa. (one caveat- if you pour the water in before it is completely boiled, you end up with scum of a different nature– sort of white froth that looks like it belongs on a cappuccino).

January 8, 2007

Back to the grind

Filed under: life,mexico — by ichabodisitchy @ 8:13 pm

It’s official. Holiday season is over. Christmas tree is down– after much sawing on Saturday, all done in the living room because it was peeing down with rain all day. And back at work.

Amazing how holidays pass by so quickly. We had a wonderful time over x-mas– out in Mexico with all my family– sitting by the pool and soaking up the sunshine…

Got back in time for New Year’s Eve down in Exmouth, Devon, with some old friends of ours. It’s an interesting place to see the new year in in, as the whole town gets geared up in fancy dress and has a huge street party (best costumes of the night were a gaggle of traffic cones (if gaggle is an appropriate collective noun) that seemed to spend most of the night wandering round the streets squatting down to divert police cars).

An interesting thought on fancy dress– we didn’t see a single Father Christmas out in town. You’d think it would be a really easy option– someone must have a costume left over from the week before. Yet it didn’t appear to have occurred to anyone– perhaps because Christmas is most decidedly over as soon as the sun sets on Christmas Day?

Wishing you all the best for a happy 2007… I leave you with a nice sunny pic of the breakfast table in mex…

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December 24, 2006

Tepotzteco

Filed under: mexico — by ichabodisitchy @ 10:53 pm

As planned, we went off to Tepotzlan yesterday, where Lewis & the boys climbed to the top of a big mountain to see an old pyramid, Tepotzteco, whilst my brother and I wandered around the town’s Saturday market sampling local delicacies and looking for last minute christmas presents…

The mountain is covered in small animals that in Brasil we call coatis (not sure what they’re called in English or Spanish):

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 Today we’re immersed in christmas preparations– had much fun trying to ‘infuse’ the ham with honey, which essentially consisted of my mother getting a giant syringe from the local pharmacy, filling it up with honey and injecting this giant ham from every which direction. But every time she stuck the needle in and squirted the honey in, it came shooting out from one of the other holes!

Goodness knows what it’ll taste like 🙂

December 23, 2006

A long break…

Filed under: mexico — by ichabodisitchy @ 1:34 pm

I am ashamed to see that I have been neglecting Ichabod in the run-up to Christmas… This time of year is always so hectic– endless christmas parties, well-wishing, present shopping, present wrapping, present exchanging. Not to mention frantically trying to cram 4 weeks worth of work into just two so that you can take some time off…

It’s all been chaotic. But now finally I have some time to stop and take a breather. We have all come out to Mexico, to spend Christmas with my mum & dad & all my siblings. We arrived yesterday and it’s simply blissful… Not just being with the family, which is always a delight but it’s so nice to have a slower pace of life for a bit.

The sun is shining and I spent the whole first day by the pool soaking up the rays and enjoying a good book (Georges Simenon). 

We’re off to Tepotzlan later this morning to climb a pyramid, wander round the marketplace and eat vast amounts of tacos. hmmmm.

will let you know how it goes later.

November 29, 2006

The old curiosity shop

Filed under: literature — by ichabodisitchy @ 7:28 pm

Have just finished this (rather long) Dickens classic. I dare say that most of you know the basic story, which follows the wanderings of little Nell and her grandfather, after they have been reduced to bankruptcy and chased out of London… But I wanted to say a little something about Mr. Quilp.

Dickens does an absolutely amazing job of creating a visual picutre of the evil dwarf, Quilp.  He is completely grotesque– torments his wife, tortures his servant and is generally horrible to everyone he meets. Near the beginning of the book, Dickens describes Quilp in a passage that made me physically wrinkle up my nose at the dwarf’s evilness. But what’s funny is that the passage isn’t one that narrates one of Quilp’s underhanded actions– it simply tells us how he eats his breakfast:

” [H]e ate hard eggs, shell and all, devoured gigantic prawns with the heads and tails on, chewed tobacco and water-cresses at the same time and with extraordinary greediness, drank boiling tea without winking, bit his fork and spoon till they bent again, and in short performed so many horrifying and uncommon acts that the women were nearly frightened out of their wits, and began to doubt if he were really a human creature.”

It is paragraphs like these– so visually intense and so wonderfully effective– that make me enjoy Dickens’ work so much.

If you haven’t read it before, take the time to do so. It’s  a wonderful (and rather unpredictable) book.

November 19, 2006

Garden update

Filed under: flowers — by ichabodisitchy @ 5:40 pm

A few weeks ago, I planted some winter flowering fenland daybreak… I’ve not got the greenest fingers in the world, so imagine my delight when I went out into the garden this afternoon and found that the plants had actually grown and that some beautiful pink flowers were blooming…

It was such a thrill– can see how people get hooked on gardening

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November 15, 2006

Photo booth

Filed under: toys,webTech — by ichabodisitchy @ 8:39 pm

We’ve got a new mac desktop (early xmas present for Lewis) and have had great fun playing with it. One of the coolest ‘toys’ that it comes with is a program called ‘photo booth’– which uses the in-built camera at the top of the screen to take pictures of you. Not so interesting in itself– but the program lets you add all sorts of distortion affects. A bit like being at a funfair in front of all the crazy mirrors.

Check it out–

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