04 Nov 2017

Now Entering The Dark Zone

this is a good rock that I saw

I have been drawing things a lot. Here is one (actually this is old and coloured in not-even-that-recently, but you will probably get these in chronological order with quite a lot of lag):

teadragon

As I am sure you're aware, the people in charge have messed around with the clocks again and it is dark most of the time which is irritating, but to make myself feel better I looked at the sunset/sunrise times for Tromsø. The sun doesn't rise there for literally the actual whole of December. Anyway, I am mentioning this purely because I haven't posted anything here for over a month and it seemed like a good ice-breaker, talking about the amount of light that happens and the weather and so on. It is evidently an ingrained reflex.

Reading

As of yesterday, this is the current holder of Best Wikipedia Page In My Opinion.

24 Sep 2017

Email Complication No.325

Person hugging a computer trying to transmit hug via email

This is another thing from when I was trying to keep a drawing diary instead of writing lots of words, a few years ago. But! This time it has been souped up on the computer, by way of a very lovely app called Krita, which is the nicest illustration app I've ever used, and thoroughly recommend to anyone who wants to make computery pictures. I think that starting to use it may have even cleared a decade-long drawing-block for me, although it is probably too early to claim that this is definitely a Thing Which Has Happened.

07 Sep 2017

Slightly Odd Tales from the 90s: A Snail Does Something Entirely Sensible

Poppy seed cases and flowering crocosmia

One of the major sources of entertainment and interest for my sister and me when we were children was the flora and fauna of the garden. Our garden didn't have anything particularly out of the ordinary in it, but we were quite easily entertained, and not very fussy, which are useful qualities for a village upbringing.

When I was eight I used to spend days mashing up different plants in jars of water, to see which made the best colours (results: elderberries for purple, and goosegrass for a good bright green, FYI) and I thought the mosquito larvae that turned up in some of my unused jars of water were bloody amazing. The way they breathed air through a tube sticking out of their arse, hanging upside down on the surface to do it until startled, and then swimming off by flicking their whole bodies one way and then the other was like no other animal I had ever seen.

I kept a small menagerie of them at the bottom of the garden, made sure their water was topped up and clean, and sometimes sorted them by size and life-cycle stage into different jars. Before they became adults and flew off (probably to come and bite me in the night), they went through a pupal stage in which they were comma-shaped and had two little horns instead of arse-tubes to breathe through and this was all really really interesting because I got to observe it happening, wondered what the hell was going on and eventually found a book that explained it. Properly retro, or as we didn't call it in those days, The Only Way You Could Actively Find Things Out Without Just Asking An Adult Who Might Not Even Know Anyway But Possibly Wouldn't Admit it and Could Very Well Just Make Something Up.

So far, so kind-of-a-bit-gross. I would like to clarify at this point: I grew out of this. A long time ago. I no longer deliberately cultivate larvae of any kind*. (I did take A-level biology, later, though. We studied really thin slices of beetroot under microscopes for an entire term, and this may have got something out of my system, although I'm not sure what.)

Some years later my sister developed an interest in snails. I have to say she had rather better taste in garden wildlife than me, at the very least because snails don't ultimately turn into winged disease-carrying biting things. As far as we observed, anyway. For a month or so one summer, there was an old fish tank in the garden into which she'd collected loads of snails. We provided them with water, fresh food every day, shelter, whatever else it said in the books about snails that you should include when observing them, the works.

They were eventually all released back to the wild, but while they were with us we got to see something which was not in any of the books. And - not that I've asked everyone I've ever met, because it doesn't come up in conversation that often - nobody else seems to have heard of it happening. I also can't find any reference to it on the internet anywhere. But it wasn't a dream because I have a co-witness, and it happened.

One of the snails my sister found had a small hole in its shell - about 4mm across. We were concerned about this snail, and wondered if we could help it. Books said that snail shells were formed with the aid of calcium, which came from limestone that occurred in the soil. They didn't explain the mechanism by which the snail shells were created from the limestone, so we weren't sure if getting some limestone and putting it near a snail would actually work in this case. But we thought it might be worth a go.

If you went out of our front door, crossed the road and went a little way up the track that went out round the field, on a clear day you could see the Uffington White Horse marked out in chalk on the hill in the distance. Some weekends my family would go up there for a walk. It was the best place for a walk - as well as the hill where the horse itself was, there were tracks around woodlands and across hillsides along the Ridgeway, and even when it was raining it was still brilliant because it had really interesting mud. It was beige, for a start. Beige can no longer be called boring when it's mud that's doing the being-beige**. The texture was like clay: the puddles were like the slip we mixed up for sticking bits of clay pots together in art lessons, and the thick mud at the edges almost like the clay we used. But beige.

The light beige colour, of course, came from all the naturally occurring limestone mixed in with the clay soil -- limestone-filled trenches being what the horse was constructed from on the hillside. Sometimes you could find whole lumps of it lying at edge of the woodland track. And so the weekend after we found the holey snail, we made it our mission to find a good chunk of the stuff, bring it home to the snail, and see if anything happened.

A lump of limestone was duly captured, and when we got back we located the injured snail in the tank, and put it directly onto the limestone. It was inside its shell, but after a minute or so it emerged. And then it started work: we saw a bit of radula action going on as it examined what it was now situated on, and then as we watched we saw it bring its head inside its shell, put its mouth on the edge of the hole, and spit out what was presumably a mix of snail slime and chewed up limestone. Then it stuck its head back out, did some more chomping, then went back in and spat out some more on the edge of the hole. And within an hour, they was a thin membrane covering the entirety of the hole in the snail's shell. It knew exactly what to do, immediately. It was all a lot more straightforward than we were expecting.

It was one of those things that you find out when you're young, and are just like, "Huh, ok, that's how that thing works", and accept it and carry on learning more new stuff -- except that after that I never heard of it or saw it ever again, and realised about 15 years later how cool and weird it was to have seen something like that.

It is possible that that particular snail was just amazingly intelligent and innovative. But I'm not about to go around puncturing any snails in order to replicate the process, because a) it's mean, b) I have more pressing matters to attend to and c) I don't live near a source of limestone anymore. But presumably a normal stick of chalk would also work. So. Just in case anyone reading this needs to know what to do next time they come across a holey snail: let it eat chalk. And this time, given that it's not 1996, if it Does The Thing, make a video of it so we have proof, because there's none of this on YouTube and there's kind of still the possibility that it was a collective hallucination after spending too long hanging around Wayland's Smithy.

* Not even human larvae

** Well, I mean, it can, but I'll just argue that you have no taste in mud and can't appreciate a decent interesting example when you see it

Reading

Quit Social Media. Your Career May Depend on It.

22 Aug 2017

No Waiting

Poppy growing out of concrete I've never used the word "bad-ass" before but I would like my first and potentially only use of it to be applied to this poppy. Because it is growing in, like, nothing

Round the back of Durham railway station in the pick-up area there is a lamp post bearing a large friendly sign that says 'No Waiting'. I'm 99.9% sure it is aimed solely at vehicles. Obviously, as a pedestrian awaiting a lift from the station, it is the irresistable choice of lamp post to lean against nonchalantly for the duration.

I was doing this the other day, and two sixty-something men came past and I could see them looking at me in a slightly amused way, and their mouths twitching a bit as if wanting to say something but not quite being sure whether they should. I am extrapolating that they couldn't determine whether I was doing it on purpose and would be glad they'd got the joke (ooh! and maybe we could've had "banter"), or whether I wasn't aware of it and if they were to jokingly say, "You can't stand there! It says "no waiting" on that one, pet!' I'd think they were serious and get upset or have an argument with them or something.

In the end they didn't say anything, which was at once rather refreshing, because strange-men-not-saying-predictable-unsolicited-things-to-women-in-street = overall setting a good example and it is good and considerate to be cautious in such circumstances, but also a bit disappointing, because I didn't get to say, "Yeah, but I'm a rebel." I actually had some banter prepared. (Obviously there is no pleasing me.) But I did sort of raise an eyebrow ever so slightly and I think they saw, so I'm hoping the joke has been received and understood, but in a subtle and understated way, without requiring any more interaction than small twitches of the face.

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