Month: July 2014 (page 2 of 2)

The winner of the common sense award goes to…

This thought is related to my earlier Zumba lament. In fact I’ve had two thoughts today which I’ll combine into one. The first is that there is no point me worrying too much about my lack of skill with Zumba moves because you can’t be good at everything. I can draw (and paint on brick walls) . But I can’t dance. So what?

We're going on a bear hunt...

We’re going on a bear hunt…

I had a conversation with my middle son a few weeks’ ago about this subject. This was during a period when he was doing very well at school. He’d designed a street sign that had been selected for joint first prize. He’d had praise for his poetry and imaginative writing. Things were going well for him at school.

He was very happy with his little lot until he came out of school one day with his bottom lip wobbling. Concerned, I asked him what the matter was. He asked me: ‘Why do I always come one before last in all the practice races for Sports Day?’ I replied: ‘Nobody is good at everything. Perhaps running is not your thing?’

My boy trying his hardest on Sports Day

My boy trying his hardest on Sports Day

My second thought is related to the first thought: there are no prizes for excellence in common sense. It is interesting to me the talents that get noticed, such as art, sport, poetry, acting, singing, dancing or maths and the talents that don’t such as common sense. I don’t have common sense. I wish I did. I could do with some. I have many friends who have this in spades but they rarely get complemented on it (although I complement them because I notice it!). There are no awards given out for excellence in common sense. There isn’t an Nobel Prize in common sense. Yet common sense is a talent as valid as poetry or artistic ability. Something needs to be done about this. A child can be classed as ‘gifted and talented’ for all sorts of things (academic and non-academic) but not common sense.

My son may be able to write poetry but he wouldn’t be able tot run very far if chased by a bear. I may be able to paint but I can’t think on my feet in a crisis. I am sure that in cavemen times poetry and art would not have guaranteed survival, whereas running and using common sense might have helped. Luckily for my son we don’t very often encounter rampant bears on the loose. Fortunately we live in the 21st century. So I guess he’s not likely to be heading for the Olympics any time soon and I’m not about to be entering any dance contests either. We’ll just need to be content with our art and poetry pursuits.


Even after three years, why am I still no good at Zumba?

This is today’s weird thought. This morning, I decided to have a go at Zumba on the wii for the first time in at least 12 months. I was awful at it. Even my four-year-old commented on how my legs weren’t doing the same thing as the person on the TV. The thought I had later while in the usual place was: why am I still so rubbish at Zumba?

That's me on the left

That’s me on the left

Every Monday I go to a Zumba class, and I love it. I’ve been going every Monday for nearly three years now. I have hardly missed a class in all that time, using being over 200 miles away or being too ill to move as the only two excuses not to go. Yet I still can’t get my legs and arms to do the things they are supposed to do. Why is that? Is there a kink in the link between my brain and limbs?

Every week my brain watches Ali at the front and thinks ‘left leg there, right leg up, left arm down, right arm around head’ but my legs and arms just won’t do as they are told. Why do some people find it easy to coordinate all limbs together? I can’t do it. In fact if I try too hard I find I can’t do it even more. I collide with people, I hit people with my flailing arms, and I often find myself so lost in thought that I can’t remember what I’m supposed to be doing so end up jumping up and down in an improvised jig while everyone else carries on in synchronized harmony. Just as I feel as if I’ve nailed it, I get it wrong.

Where my best ideas come from

Where my best ideas come from

I also have problems remembering steps week-by-week. However many times we do a routine, I can’t quite remember it all. There are tracks that we’ve been dancing to for a few weeks at Zumba and I still have to stand in full view of Ali at the front or the  three very good Zumbaites who stand to the right and just in front of me. I admire the skill of these three people. I, on the other hand, resemble a drunken flamingo.

That's me at Zumba

That’s me at Zumba

I know that in reality none of this matters. The main thing is that I am enjoying it and benefiting from it in terms of physical (and mental) health. That I know is true on all counts. I absolutely love it.


How do other people fall asleep?

This wasn’t a ‘on the toilet’ thought as I was lying in bed last night on the edge between wakefulness and sleep when this thought popped into my head (annoyingly, as it woke me up). The thought was: do other people have a physical, and / or mental, routine that they follow when they fall asleep or do they just lie down and shut their eyes?

How do we do this?

Is she counting sheep in her head?

My routine is as follows:

  • Stage 1: I always start on my right-hand side. It is dark so I then close my eyes. I let thoughts flow naturally through my head: memories about my day and conversations, or ideas and plans for the next day or the future. This can last from anything from one minute to twenty minutes.
  • Stage 2: As soon as my thoughts get a bit bizarre (e.g. dancing goats in pink slippers jumping over pineapples) I turn over onto my left-hand side. I know that once my thoughts get bizarre I’m closer to sleep.
  • Stage 3: I’m now on my left-hand side. The act of turning over wakes me slightly so my thoughts tend to return to something a little more normal (the goats have galloped away temporarily) and a couple of new ideas or funny moments from the day might pop into my head. However, I know that very soon the goats will be back (its not always goats, by the way, it could be anything). As the goats and pineapples return I feel my body relax and my brain drift in and out of blackness. Then I know sleep is coming. This stage can last anything from one minute to five minutes.

However, if I am still awake after about ten minutes and the goats haven’t returned then I know that sleep isn’t going to come as easily as I hoped. So I might turn back onto the right-hand side and start doing something really mundane in my head such as counting backwards from 300, imagining that I am on an endless escalator or listening to my husband explaining about how to write code.

This is enough to send you to sleep

This is enough to send you to sleep

Sometimes I might start off Stage 1 by playing a story in my head if my day hasn’t been especially interesting or funny. I won’t reveal in detail what my stories are but I have a bank of them to pull upon when needed. They are not rude by the way, as that would wake me up. They usually involve something nice happening to me. Sometimes I become famous and my name is in lights. However, one of my favourites used to be about me and my boys traipsing about in the woods in our wellies.

Who doesn't want their name in lights, in their dreams anyway?

Who doesn’t want their name in lights, in their dreams anyway?

So, how do other people ‘fall’ into sleep? This is what the scientists say on the matter.

Is there such as thing as a non-drip teapot?

I have to give credit to my husband for this thought. ‘On no’, I hear you cry, ‘not him again’. This thought is about teapots.

Lasts week we were having a coffee / tea break together at a nearby restaurant-coffee shop-nightclub. He ordered tea. I had coffee. I am a bit of a coffee addict. He usually orders coffee so I queried his unusual choice. He said he was thirsty and he hoped that tea was more likely to quench his thirst than coffee. Then, as he started to pour his tea, he turned to me and said with some annoyance ‘why can’t I find a teapot that pours properly!’

Where we had our drinks

Where we had our drinks

I told him that I hadn’t ever found this to be an issue. In fact, I’d had tea with my mum earlier that week and I hadn’t remembered a badly pouring spout then. I thought back and couldn’t remember ever feeling annoyed at teapots.

So I decided to research this issue. The World Wide Web straight away throws up information about a distinguished Stanford University emeritus professor of mathematics who is known for the geometric theory of diffraction and something called the Einstein-Brillouin-Keller method, who is obsessed with badly functioning teapots. The chap is called Joseph Keller, and he is a well-known expert on why teapots drip, he is widely recognised for his thoughts on the matter. He is world famous for his teapot discoveries.

I'm a cool scientist

I’m a cool scientist

The Internet tells me he first felt the pull towards teapots after attending a lecture about the issue in 1956. In the lecture an experiment by Israeli scientist, Markus Reiner, was described. Reiner had asked 100 physicists why teapots drip. They had all concluded that it was due to surface tension. So Reiner then carried out some experiments that proved that dripping couldn’t be caused by surface tension. This drove Keller to write a famous paper called: The Teapot Effect. In this he concluded that the phenomena is in fact the result of fluid and mechanical forces. Rather than surface tension, the effect, he came to believe, is caused by air pressure. In other words, at the pouring lip the pressure in the liquid is lower than the pressure in the surrounding air. So air pressure pushes the tea against the lip and against the outside of the spout. The result? Drips.

This is not the best teapot to own

This is not the best teapot to own

Keller now prides himself on being able to spot a drippy teapot by just looking at it. If the teapot spout goes up and then down at the pouring end,  the tea will flow back into the pot when the pot is turned the right way up again and a drip will then  be almost impossible. Metal teapots with sharp pointy spouts are also good.

But if you don’t have a metal teapot with a sharp spout or a teapot that has a spout that goes up then down then the advice is don’t over fill your teapot. Overfull teapots lead to drips. There is science behind this. Tea from a less full pot will flow with greater speed. The speedier the flow, the less likely it is that the tea will stick to the lip.

I bet this teapot drips

I bet this teapot drips

Recently, in 2009, French scientists added to Keller’s teapot theories when  they discovered that we also should consider the effect of ‘wettability’.

Wettability is a measure of how much a liquid likes being in contact with a surface. For materials such as clean glass, water tends to spread out. For superhydrophobic materials, such as the lotus leaf, water resists spreading.

So thanks to people believing in the teeny tiny possibility that those scientists who for years had thought that surface tension was the answer to the issue were wrong, we may yet get the perfect non-drip teapot.

My husband will no doubt be glad to hear this.


We should all believe in the teeny, tiny possibility theory

This is a thought I’ve had many times, initially inspired by an episode of Friends which I first saw many years ago. This episode was a light bulb moment for me. In this episode Phoebe argues with Ross about the possibility that evolution could be wrong because of the ‘teeny, tiny possibility’ that science hasn’t yet got it right. Phoebe argues that evolution is just ‘one of the possibilities’ and that the scientists need to remember that they might not yet have worked it all out. After all, they used to think the world was flat.

This woman speaks sense

This woman speaks sense

This is the philosophy by which I live my life. We shouldn’t take things at face value, we shouldn’t just assume that the scientists have got it right. Everything is not necessarily as it seems and we should keep an ever open mind.

Just the other day, I argued with my husband (he can be quite argumentative as you see) about the possibility of the existence of lemons with legs. He stated categorically that lemons with legs cannot exist. He scoffed at the idea. He was forgetting that part of the ‘teeny, tiny possibility’ theory that states that just because you haven’t seen a legged lemon doesn’t mean that such a creature doesn’t exist, somewhere.

You see me so I exist!

You see me so I exist!

Of course the ‘teeny, tiny possibility’ theory itself is only ‘one of the possibilities’. It might be completely wrong and perhaps science has nailed it all after all. I ought to stay opened minded about that and consider the ‘teeny, tiny possibility’ that science is right.


I can’t just ‘watch’ a film, even a really good one

…that is, unless I’m strapped down in a chair and / or in complete darkness and / or in a place where it is socially unacceptable to move around and make noise.

I'm quiet in this place

I’m quiet in this place

Is that normal?

Last night I was watching a really good film at home (The Great Gatsby) yet I struggled to sit and watch it. I spent the first 90 minutes of the film talking about the film, fiddling with a random piece of Lego, browsing through various books on the shelf behind me, posting on Facebook, checking Facebook, commenting on Facebook, stroking a random cat or fiddling with my hair.

The Lego I was fiddling with

The Lego I was fiddling with

Why is that? What is wrong with me?

The irresistible bookshelf

The irresistible bookshelf

So when I was on the toilet later in the middle of the night, I wondered whether there were other people similarly affected by this condition and whether if more than one of them lives together whether they actually get to watch anything.

The cat I was stroking rather than focusing on the film

The cat I was stroking rather than focusing on the film

Ironically, however, during the last 15 minutes of the film I fell asleep (even though it was very good) so I must have put the Lego down at some point before then.

Love in the 1920s

Love in the 1920s

I don’t think I will be watching Lord of the Rings anytime soon.

You don’t need to be an expert

This is not an on-the-toilet thought but a walking-to-town thought. Yesterday I was walking to town with my husband and we stumbled across a lady trying to parallel park in a tight spot. She was struggling and an impatient white van man was waiting to get past. Willing to help we both stopped to guide her in. Once she was safely in my husband turned to me and said ‘I don’t know why you are giving advice, you can’t parallel park’.

This is a skill I have yet to master

This is a skill I have yet to master

This resulted in a very heated discussion, not about my parking (as I fully acknowledge that I can’t parallel park), but about whether you need to be an expert in a field, or even good at it at all, to be able to comment and advise someone trying to achieve greatness in that field (such as parallel parking).

I sit on the ‘yes you can’ side of the fence. He was leaning more towards the ‘no you can’t’ side of the fence. He argued that you can recognise something as rubbish (such as a piece of art or writing) but unless you are an expert in the field you can’t suggest ways to improve the piece of artwork (writing, music, furniture etc). I disagreed. I think that, particularly with art in mind, that you can advise someone on how to improve a bad job even if you are unable to implement those improvements yourself.

Sitting on the fence, not either side of it

Sitting on the fence, not either side of it

Consider for a moment, TV programmes such as Britain’s Got Talent, the X Factor and Dancing On Ice. We sit at home watching and we judge. We think we can distinguish the good from the bad. We give advice (albeit falling on deaf ears). We feel able to be constructive in our criticism. But how many of us can ice skate beyond going around in circles? Could we stand on that stage and face Simon Cowell? The same applies to sports. Think about how many people shout advice to footballers at football matches?

Can you judge good singing as well as this man?

Can you judge good singing as well as this man?

Scientists have actually studied this issue and they conclude that non-experts are able to judge creativity (and perhaps other areas such as sport), or at least they can be trained to be good judges of creativity. So perhaps this conclusion, based on science, is in fact a happy medium between what I argued and what my husband argued. You don’t have to be good at the thing you are criticisng but you need to be instructed first in what constitutes the good and the bad before you can comment.

I’ll conclude this ‘thought’ with a comment I saw recently on Facebook directed at Andy Murray after he lost in the quarter finals of Wimbledon: ‘Played like a beginner!’ Indeed he did.

He needs to swing a bit higher to hit that

He needs to swing a bit higher to hit that

Books sound nice, kindles don’t

I own a kindle (given to me by my brother) but I don’t actually use it. I have tried to use it. I think I’ve downloaded two books onto it in the 18 months I’ve had it in my possession. I keep reverting to the quaint style of reading that involves something made from paper and wood. The excuse I’ve always given is that ‘I have loads of books I haven’t read yet so I can’t use the kindle yet’. But I keep buying more books so there must be more to it than that. My lack of willingness to embrace the kindle bothers me. Lots of people have kindles. Most of my family and friends own kindles. I think all of the kindle owners I know love their kindles. As far as I know they all have turned their backs, permanently, on paper-and-wood books. So why have I not joined the kindle generation? I read a lot. I think technology is great stuff. I should be using a kindle. I’m the ideal consumer of a kindle.

All the world's books in one - sounds perfect

All the world’s books in one – sounds perfect

As i see it (when I’m trying to be objective) kindles have many advantages over books:

  • They don’t go brown with age
  • They don’t go wrinkly if you drop them in the bath
  • They are portable
  • Their weight remains the same irrespective of whether you are reading War and Peace or not
  • They don’t take up shelf space
  • They allow you to read rude books on trains without embarrassment
  • They looks nice

Somehow these advantages haven’t won me over. So, in the toilet of course, yesterday I asked myself: why do I still prefer wood-and-paper books? I came up with a number of reasons.

  • They have covers which are nice to look at
  • They feel nice in your hands
  • They can be used for interior decoration (I simply love bookshelves bursting with books)
  • They are solid
  • They have history (I love the smell and feel of second-hand books)
  • If I used a kindle I would find no pleasure in looking in second-hand bookshops
  • You can read them in the bath
  • If you drop a book in the bath, what have you lost? A few pounds at the most
  • Everyone on the train can see what you are reading and therefor they will realise how amazing and intellectual you are
  • I get more pleasure from buying a book than I would from ‘downloading’ a book
  • They smell nice (I like the smell of paper and wood)
  • They sound nice

It is this last advantage that I probably need to explain . I like the sound that books make when you open and close them (this mostly applies to new books). What I am referring to is that creeeek noise that the paper makes upon opening a new book. I love that noise. I also like the hollow clunk sound hardbacks make when you hit them. Oooh I do love that sound. Kindles don’t have that quality. I imagine that they’d sound metallic (if you were to thump one). So to me on the sound stakes alone the kindle cannot compete with the wood-and-paper book.  Please may books never die.

Wood-and-paper books

Wood-and-paper books – just a taste of my book shelves

My preferences for books are very personal and I appreciate that. I’m not a Luddite about the books vs kindle debate. I know that kindles are here to stay. I don’t resist them. I just choose to walk to my bookshelf and pick a nice yellow paperback to open and shut just to listen to the lovely creeky noise. Oohhhh.

You can't do this with a kindle

You can’t do this with a kindle


I need to get pregnant again

This was a thought I had in the bath last night, rather than on the toilet.

As I lay in the bath looking down at my belly (flat as an ironing board of course) I happened to spot some ‘fluff’ poking out from inside my belly button (a few cat hairs, some dust, perhaps the odd cake crumb). Once I’d spotted it I couldn’t stop looking at it. It screamed at me ‘come and get me out!’ I screamed back ‘not on your nelly, belly!’

You can't see it here but my belly button is squeaky clean

You can’t see it here but my belly button is squeaky clean

The problem is that I have a bit of a thing about belly buttons. I can’t touch them. I can’t let anyone near my own. I can’t get anywhere near anyone else’s or my own. I certainly can’t ferret around in them.  I don’t think I have what could be classed as a ‘phobia’ about them (omphalophobia) as seeing belly buttons doesn’t render me anxious and nauseous (balloons have that effect on me) but I really don’t like them at all.

The World Wide Web gives advice on how to clean and care for your belly button. I can’t read this page without feeling just a little bit revolted.

Looking at this picture is the start of my therapy

Looking at this picture is the start of my therapy

My belly button has only been clean and free of fluff three times in my life, once for each of my children as pregnancy causes the belly button to pop out. It is now nearly five years since the last time I had a clean belly button. So since I am too scared to ferret around in there to clean it I need to have another baby. It’s the only way.

You will never hear me say: ‘At the end of the day I need to ping an email.’

The other day I had to participate in a conference call (nothing hugely unusual in that) and during the less-interesting bits I was doing my usual listening in letting the others talk while I browsed on Facebook. Oops, did I say that out loud? I mean, I was doing my usual listening in letting the others talk while answering important emails. Then my ears pricked up when someone said ‘I’ll ping Kate Middleton an email about that’.

My colleague was going to ping an email to this lady

My colleague was going to ping an email to this lady

‘Ping? What is ‘to ping’? Ping an email?’ I silently asked the cat who was sat next to me purring. I’ve never declared an intention to ping an email to anyone. I’ve never heard anyone else declare their intention to ping an email either, up until that conference call. Is ‘to ping’ a new verb meaning ‘to send’? Should I be pinging emails now? The World Wide Web indicates that perhaps I should if I want to get with the pogramme.

Then later on, in the usual place where I get thinking, this got me thinking about how much I have always struggled with business-ese and resisted it. When I worked full time in an office with people also doing the same thing as me there were a number of terms that used to float around meetings and in emails that annoyed me. Here are some for your enjoyment.

  • The bottom line. Our departmental boss was always talking about the bottom line. I really didn’t rate the bottom line too highly.
  • Synergy. I never really understood what this meant. When I was a temp at Blackwell Science my boss there talked a lot about synergy.
  • Moving forward. Often put at the end of emails. ‘Will you do this task moving forward?’ No, I’ll do it moving backwards!
  • Outside the box. I’d rather think in the box, thank you.
  • Touch base. As in, you need to touch base with so-and-so in marketing about that. Can’t I just ask them?
  • In the loop. I am still often told to keep so-and-so in the loop.
  • Heads up. Sounds like you are about to be let in on an exciting secret, but this rarely does mean that.

My least favourite business-ese phrase is one that has since I left full-time employment crept into every day speak: At The End Of The Day. They say this a lot on TV (and I’m not talking intellectual BBC4 arty farty programmes). Premier League footballers use it a lot too. I have a few friends who say it a lot, possibly without realising it. I try not to say it though because I HATE IT! I hate it almost as much as I hate ‘to be fair’ (although read this for an interesting take on these two phrases).

At the end of the day I'm a very handsome chappy

At the end of the day I’m a very handsome chappy

According to the World Wide Web ‘at the end of the day’, as well as being an over-used phrase to mean ‘when all is said and done’ is the subtitle of the film War Games, it is also the title of a TV movie (subtitle The Sue Rodriguez Story) and the name of an album by a Malaysian group called Disagree and one by the Galactic Cowboys. So perhaps I should be a bit more open-minded about it. There are people out there who like it.

But what happens at the end of the day really? Nothing profound happens. You’re another day older, as these guys will sing to you.


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