A wry view of life for the world-weary

Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Meaning Of Life – Part Five of Forty Two

Does the humble carrot make you see better in the dark?

Eat up your carrots” I was told as a child, “they will make you see better in the dark”. It was something I swallowed at the time but now I am older, if not any wiser, I wonder whether it is an old wives’ tale or whether there really is anything to it.

Our pursuit for the truth starts with the dark days of World War II when Britain was under attack from German bombers and when the British government instituted blackouts to make the prospective targets for the night-time raiders more difficult to identify. By 1939 the Royal Air Force were prototyping a radar system known as on-board Air Interception Radar (AI) which enabled them to spot enemy aircraft as they crossed the Channel. In 1940 John Cunningham who was nick-named “Cat’s Eyes” and shot down 19 of his 20 kills at night, shot the first enemy plane down using the AI system.

Radar was to have a transforming effect on the fortunes of war and, naturally, the Brits wanted to keep it under wraps but at the same time wanted to raise home morale. So some genius thought that Cunningham’s success could be ascribed to his consumption of carrots. An advertising campaign was launched, proclaiming in the rather stilted style of the time, “Carrots keep you healthy and help you see in the blackout”. Catchy or what?

This campaign coincided with a glut of carrots at the time and the government were struggling to find ways to encourage the reluctant public to consume indigenous root crops. Colourful characters such as Doctor Carrot and Potato Pete were introduced in 1941 to aid the campaign. Even Walt Disney got into the act, one of their leading cartoonists, Hank Porter, creating a whole family based on the Doctor Carrot idea, consisting of the likes of Carroty George, Pop Carrot and Clara Carrot.

And it worked – the Ministry of Food in February 1941 was able to report, “the consumption of carrots has increased following the Ministry’s publicity campaign”. Whether the Germans were as gullible is another story.

There is, though, a modicum of truth in the story. Carrots have been long known to be beneficial to the overall health of the eye because of its high vitamin A content. Specifically, Vitamin A protects the eyes from night blindness and not having enough o the orange root vegetable can lead to problems such as dry eye and cataracts. So there is at least a case to make that the carrot helps to keep the eyes healthy even if they don’t imbue you with the power to see at night.

And before we go, one additional carrot factoid. Their original colour was purple. It was only in the 17th century that the orange carrot that we are so familiar with started to appear, thanks to the work of Dutch horticulturists, probably in an attempt to get the colouration of the vegetable to match the national flag of the time.

So now we know!



Last Post

This post is to announce that there will be no more posts until the end of the month – holidays call!

Jesus and Mary Chain

Interesting to read that on Tuesday a Harvard professor unveiled a fragment of papyrus written in Coptic script, found in Egypt, which contains the first reference to Jesus’ wife. Assuming its provenance can be established it is tempting, albeit as at the risk of being accused of indulging in a flight of fancy, to imagine it as being a scrap of a gospel which Athanasius, following his triumph over Arianism and other deviations from the doctrine newly accepted after the First Council of Nicea – known as heiresis from which our heresy was derived –  had pulped by his adherents.

If it is genuine – do I run the risk of being the subject of a Christian version of a fatwa here?– death by coffee mornings? – it does pose some deep and potentially troubling theosophical questions. We do know that history is written by the victors who are not necessarily the custodians of the Platonic truth and that Athanasius did establish the canon of twenty seven gospels which became consolidated into the New Testament. The Apocrypha are an uncomfortable appendage from that process. Perhaps, we now have an indication that there was a much wider body of competing literature from which Athanasius made his pick.


Grandson Speaks

TOWT overjoyed last night by the news yesterday that her grandson has uttered his first word. Even for a curmudgeonly old cynic like myself observing the development of a young human life is truly inspiring.

Ten Items Or Fewer

TOWT and I, after 14 years of marriage, have the perfect formula for a happy relationship. I earn, she spends. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have had to do some physical shopping. Other than regular trips to the local petrol station to make my contribution to the melting of the polar ice caps and the newsagent to fix my recreational drug habit, I do most of my shopping on-line.

For reasons too boring to relate, I had to visit my local Waitrose the other evening. What a salutary experience. Trying to balance maintaining revenue streams whilst carrying out major refurbishments, it was like stepping into a war-zone. (My contribution to the ill-fated Waitrose Tweet campaign would have been “I like shopping at Waitrose because I can empathise with the residents of Aleppo”. I particularly liked this contribution  – what were their PR consultants thinking? – at three times the price the food must taste good). I looked in vain for a cash-strapped ITN news crew simulating a report from war-torn Syria. It has to be said you get a better standard of employee at Waitrose. There are fewer greengrocer’s apostrophes sprinkled around and at least the signs for the basket only check-outs (see the tag line) are grammatically correct.

However, you still get the same level of stupidity amongst the shopper. The reason for queuing patiently behind a till personned by a girl filing her nails is not only to have your items scanned and for you to demonstrate your total lack of prehensile dexterity by being unable to open the, fiendish electrostatically charged, wafer-thin plastic bags but to pay for the damned things. I lose count of the times I have queued behind someone to whom it has come as a complete surprise that having successfully packed everything away they are then required to pay for it. Cue fumbling in pockets, extracting wallet or purse, insertion of credit card, scratching of head whilst they try to decide whether their pin number is their birthday, their waist size or any other random combination, and then – hey presto – we are away.

Checkouts should have a time limit – more than two minutes at the till and you are timed out and to the back of the queue. For the occasional shopper like me, the world would be a happier place.

Malthus – Part Two


The prospect of a global food crisis sparking a Malthusian population adjustment (see There Ain’t Half Some Clever Bastards below) came a step closer with news that farmers across the world had begun a mass slaughter of pig and cattle herds because, following the US drought, they can’t afford the cost of feed. Rabobank have reported that the wholesale slaughter of pigs has already led to a 31% increase in the price of pork. Initially, there will be a glut of meat as farmers slaughter their stocks but then there will be insufficient supply to meet demand, stoking up prices. Rabobank are predicting a 14% jump in the price of the average food basket next year.

Pigs are bearing the brunt ahead of cattle because it only takes six months to replenish the stock as opposed to twelve to eighteen months for cattle.

Tofu anyone?

In Graham We Trust – Part Eight


Seven down, thirty nine to go, forty two points to find

TMS 4 Coventry 1

What a difference 4 days make. GT rang the changes – out went Purdie, Hazell, Wright and Bradshaw, in came Jacobson, Hector, Wildig and Gornell. Wasn’t able to go – TMS have won two games this season, both I didn’t attend. Is there a message there? Perhaps my optimal way of supporting them is staying away!

An early goal by Jones was followed by a Parry 25 yarder and then two goals in quick succession around the hour mark – a pen from Richards and a shot from Morgan. The Coventry consolation came via the penalty spot from Fleck. This was the first league meeting between the two clubs since 30th October 1963 when they played out a goalless draw at the Gay Meadow, the Sky Blues having won 8-1 the previous week.

TOWT and I are going on a week’s holiday from Saturday so this will be the last In Graham We Trust before the preview of the away game at Brentford on Oct 2nd. I will be seeing all the games in October so given my form TMS had better fill their boots with points between now and then.

Fact – five of TMS’ seven league games have featured a goal in the first five minutes.

In Praise Of The E-Reader

I noted from my records (I’m a bit anal like that) that last Saturday was the fourth anniversary of my getting an e-reader – an old Sony PRS-505 which kept going until early this year when I replaced it with a PRS – T1, mainly because my newspaper shop had closed down and I wanted to convert to a digital version. I was an early adopter of this particular technology and, I believe, thanks to the initiative and ingenuity of my step-daughter, the recipient of the first Waterstones e-book token issued by their Oxford Street branch.

I am a great fan of the e-reader, particularly as I’m a voracious reader. It is so much more convenient when you are fighting for space on a crowded train or tube and you don’t run the risk of running out od sentient reading material on a long journey or a holiday. The e-reader has encouraged me to explore the out of copyright classics and I have re-acquainted myself with the delights of Trollope, Thackeray, Dickens and Gaskell and empathised with the futile labours of Mr Casaubon in Middlemarch – is this not the best book ever written? – at a time when five years’ worth of my labours had come to naught. Most of the books I buy these days are e-books, partly for convenience, partly to stop TOWT complaining about the space my library takes up – books maketh the man, I retort. But I do buy paper books – principally, reference books or books I know I will want to cherish and revisit.

There is empirical survey evidence that the rise of the e-reader has contributed to a boost in the number of books read. In the US the average reader of e-book reads 24 a year whereas the average number of paper books read by non e-book users is 15. In the UK the value of digital fiction sales in the first half of 2012 was up 188% on the same period in 2011 whereas physical book sales saw a drop in value of 0.4% year on year.

What sticks in my craw about e-books is the price they command when compared with that of physical books. As a published author who would not survive a couple of days on his meagre royalty cheques, I am all for preserving and maximising their revenue flow. But as I know only too well, the author’s royalty is a relatively small fraction of the whole shebang  with printing, distributing, warehousing, PR and financing the champagne lifestyle of the commissioning editor and their team making up the rest. Digital publishing has to make significant in-roads of the fixed costs of publishing houses but this is not been reflected in the measly discount (if any) being offered for the e-version as opposed to the physical copy of a book. The courts and governments need to grasp this particular nettle for the benefit of us consumers.

Dog Shoots Man

It is too late for the traditional newspaper silly season but I get enormous satisfaction from quirky news items I come across from time to time. Intrigued to learn that in the Dordogne on a hunt a dog leapt up affectionately, nudged the gun and inadvertently shot his master in the hand. The things those hunt sabs will get up to!

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter

I am shortly to celebrate another birthday . It was pleasing to read, albeit somewhat late in the day for me to gain too much comfort from it, that, according to a survey of 1,000 respondents, people now believe that middle age begins at 55 and old age at 70. The story did not say whether all the respondents were of an age to want to push the boundaries of middle age out. If middle age is a mathematical function of your life expectancy, then there may be some credibility to these findings rather than being  just a manifestation of desperate wishful thinking. To my mind, who cares? Mark Twain was spot on.