I feel your pain

Two weird thoughts in one day. What’s wrong with me?

I have spoken here a few times about the fact that I have syneasthesia. I have the sort of syneasthesia which means that numbers, letters, words and concepts have colour. My syneasthesia also gives numbers personalities and I ‘hear’ sounds that don’t exist. Weird? A little.

To feel the touch that isn’t there

Today I made the discovery that my partner in crime and life suffers from a different form if syneasthesia to me. This is one which might sound strange but isn’t as rare as you might think. I’ve suspected that  he’s had this for a while but today was the first time I’d ever voiced it to him out loud.

He has mirror-pain syneasthesia. Thus can be a temporary condition and he tells me he hasn’t always had it. This type of syneasthesia means that at one end of the spectrum you feel touch when you see someone touch something but at the other end you feel actual pain when you see someone suffer an injury. With him, it is most acute when related to anything to do with feet or legs. It has got to the point that if I say the word ‘paddle’ as I have a few times today as we are by the sea, he winces into actual and real pain.

Paddling hurts

It is like he gets an electric shock if I mention certain keywords. He can’t watch me paddle as that is unbearable to him.

Apparently up to 17% of the population suffer or have suffered from this. It’s not so ‘weird’ after all. Even if it is, it’s wonderful to have something that not everyone does. I’m not sure how this could be used as a super power but until we work that out or how to stop it happening I have to paddle alone.

Why I hate coriander

Hello! Remember me? It’s not that I haven’t had a weird thought for a while, I just haven’t had time to post. Life has been horrendously busy, for months and months. But today I realised that I need to make time for my weird thoughts or they will just get lost in my head forever. So, here is today’s weird thought.

This weird thought came about through a chance posting on Facebook about my dislike of coriander. I have known for a long time that I hate coriander. Back in the last 1990s and early 200s when I worked at Oxford University Press I had a daily struggle with coriander. What could she mean? I hear you cry. I will explain. The catering company in charge of feeding the creative minds that worked at OUP at that time thought they were very modern and funky. Their idea of modern and funky seemed to mostly consist of ‘let’s throw coriander on everything’. I hadn’t really come across this fragrant herb before. Suddenly it was being thrust upon me, in bucket loads, in the form of garnish on salads, garnish in stews, garnish in soup, garnish with paninis, garnish with coffee. You name it, they chucked coriander on it.


I hated the stuff. I’d pick it out when I could. But it wasn’t long before the end of my tether had been reached. Eventually, I switched to bringing my own sandwiches. At the time, I put this  violent distaste of this herb down to pregnancy.

However, nearly twenty years later in a random cafe in Aberystwyth (we are here for the weekend) my evil thoughts about coriander raise themselves up again. Picture this. We are in a pub. We order food. My burger comes with a side salad. The side salad looks amazing. I only wish it had tasted amazing. It didn’t. It tasted of… coriander.

So after posting my severe upset at this today on Facebook I am alerted to the fact by a friend that one in five of us have a natural aversion to coriander. To one in five people it tastes like soup. Apparently this is down to the fact that one in five of us is hyper-sensitive to chemicals called aldehydes which are present in soap. Perhaps I have an answer. Perhaps now I have an excuse. At least, I can use this as my excuse. I’m not sure if coriander tastes exactly like soup to me (and, forgive me for this, I actually like the taste of soup and have done ever since I craved it when pregnant with number three son). So I’m not sure I am in that one in five.

I need to find some coriander to check for sure. If only I had some to hand… Anyone got any coriander I can put on my fish and chip supper here on the beach?

Caroline from South Carolina…

…married a dentist called Dennis. They had a daughter. When she grew up she fell in love with the local GP, Dr Payne.

Robert Lawless (he’s a real person, by the way) is the co-author of Necessity and Proportionality in International Peace and Security Law. He’s  an Assistant Professor in the Department of Law at the United States Military Academy.

Stanley Finger is the co-author of The Shocking History of Electric Fishes.

Storm Dunlop edited the Oxford Dictionary of Weather.

My eldest two sons’ geography teacher is called Mr North. He’s a lovely guy. He knows which way he is facing.

An educational consultant friend of mine once met a P.E. teacher called Mr Fit. Was he fit? I need to know.

Another friend tells me that she once lived next door to Mr Crook the copper.

This man, Storm Dunlop, knows a lot about the weather

Coincidence? Or not? I used to think it was just a happy coincidence when I came across an apt named person such as Mr North at parents’ evening but I’ve just been pointed towards, by the friend who once met Mr Fit the P.E. teacher, the idea of nominative determinism. And being the curious mind that I am (or used to be – its been a while since I had a weird thought), I became very interested. My brain cried out: there is a word for it! Or, more accurately, there is a phrase for it! Who knew!

Nominative determinism is the hypothesis that we are naturally attracted to employment or situations that befit our names. The term was first coined in a long-running column in the New Scientist and not in an altogether non-light-hearted way (how many double negatives?). The idea of being attracted to a job that suits your name is part of what researchers call implicit egotism. This is the idea that we’re attracted to things that remind us of ourselves, whether it’s marrying a person with the same birthday, or using a Removals Service to move to a place with a name phonetically similar to your own (the large number of Carolines who live in South Carolina).

In 2002, three scientists, Brett Pelham, Matthew Mirenberg and John Jones looked into the concept of implicit egotism even further and found out that the dentistry industry contains a disproportionate number of Denises and Dennises (surely not a coincidence) and the geosciences contain a disproportionate number of Georges and Geoffreys.

As for Mary Berry? What is she well known for? And the weather girl called Amy Freeze?

She likes her cakes sweet

Psychologists have studied this concept even more since and it is indeed a fascinating topic. Perhaps the best known psychologist (or one of the best known), Sigmund Freud is rather well known for his speciality: the psychology of ‘pleasure’. My question now is, what does ‘Freud’ mean? The answer according to the Internet: Joy.

Case closed.

The Word Virus Is Not In This Post

I haven’t had a weird thought for ages. You may ask why. I can tell you why.

It is partly because since January 2nd, upon returning from a lovely trip to Brighton, I haven’t stopped working. I have been as busy as I have ever been in my life, which is all very good, but it hasn’t left me much opportunity for weird thinking or free time. In truth, I still don’t have any free time but right now I’m forcing myself to put the work down for a few minutes.

It is partly because of the V-word (see, I haven’t used the word but you know what I  mean by the V-word). I have many weird thoughts about that but I am rather reluctant to express them publicly. This is not because my thoughts are not acceptable. It is because the V-word is a very emotive issue and the last thing I want to do is inadvertently upset anyone who has suffered more than I have at the hands of the V-word. So I feel that mostly it is best to keep quiet.

So this post is not about the V-word, it is about a cat. The cat in question is called Sam. I came across this amazing cat by chance recently while being a flâneur on the internet. The professionals from //couponscollector.com, they have a wide range of the latest coupons and offers available online that you can uses to get all what you want.

Sam is no longer with us, sadly, although that fact surprises me now I know a bit about him. Sam had nine lives, at least. Perhaps he finally ran out.

Handsome Sam

Sam was a remarkable cat. He was a sailor. He survived the Second World War. That isn’t why he was remarkable. He was remarkable in that he shouldn’t have survived. He was remarkable because it didn’t matter what ship he sailed on, even when the ship sank, he managed to survive and go on to sail some more.

Sam, as the photo shows, was a black and white cat. I have learnt that he was originally named Oscar and spoke German. It wasn’t until later that he became known as Sam and earned the nickname Unsinkable Sam.

Sam started his life with allegiances to the Nazi regime. He began his sea life with the Kriegsmarine. It isn’t known why he went to war. The first ship he sailed on was the Bismarck.


One of the ships Sam survived the sinking of

Then the Bismark sank, with Sam on board. On that day,  only 118 of the 2,200 men and one cat on board survived. Sam was that cat. It was at this point that he defected. He was rescued by the British who decided to look after him. He then climbed on board the HMS Cossack. Sadly, in 1941 that ship sank. Yet again, Sam didn’t. Sam was picked up by the crew of HMS Ark Royal. Later that year, unfortunately, this ship was also torpedoed and sank. And yet again, Sam didn’t. He was found clinging to a piece of wood. He was rescued once again.

Sam ended his sailing career here. He spent the rest the war on the rock of Gibraltar and then later retired to Belfast.

Is this story true? I’d like to think so. What does it tell us? That Sam was one lucky cat. It also says: don’t give up. Keep yourself afloat even if it feels as if the world is sinking around you. Have hope. It might not feel like much, but hope is very precious. I have hope. I’ve been lucky so far, it is true. But I still cling on to that hope just as Sam clung on to a plank in the sea.

Be more Unsinkable Sam.

How many points for Chris Rea?

The boys and I, as we were driving to education one day last week, decided to listen to Christmas music to get ourselves in the mood for the impending festive season. The first song we listened to was ‘The Power of Love’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. I’m sure it is common knowledge that this song features on most Christmas compendium albums, Now Christmas Hits and the like.  If you are looking for Gaming Keyboard in 25pc.com you can find all the advises that you need to get the right Gaming Keyboard for your needs.

Woodseaves, near Stafford

After a pause, as we turned into Woodseaves, my youngest son piped up with: ‘How come this is a Christmas song?’

The eldest son asked: ‘What do you mean?’

The youngest son replied: ‘There is no mention of Christmas in the song, it isn’t Christmassy’.

Middle son made no comment. I suspect he had his earphones in.

We all thought about youngest son’s question for a while and then decided that he was making a good point. Yes, it was in the charts at Christmas, but it wasn’t very much of a Christmassy song really. Holly Johnson is a bit sad in the song, he’s in love, very much so, but he’s not in the snow, cooking turkey or unwrapping presents. He isn’t lonely this Christmas without her, he isn’t driving home for Christmas and he isn’t wishing it could be Christmas everyday. So, on what planet could it be called a Christmas song, except that it was in the charts in December?

So, from this conversation we came up with a grading system for deciding how Christmassy a Christmas song is. Our fantastic new system awards points for the mention of certain key terms and for emotions generated. We like our system. It is very effective. This system is set out as follows:

Key Terms (points)

Christmas = 5 (it is, after all, a bit of a give away).

Snow= 1

Glitter = 1

Presents = 1

Tree = 1

Father (Christmas) = 1 (6)

Santa Clause = 1

Turkey = 1

Crackers = 1

Tinsel = 1

Singing = 1

Bells = 1

Sleight = 1

Reindeer = 1

Emotional reaction (points)

A sensation of excitement for the impending festive season = 2

A feeling of gushy sentimentality = 2

Both together = 4 (and this is quite an achievement, we decided)

We graded a few of the songs we heard as we travelled on the rest of the journey. Slade’s ‘I Wish it Could be Christmas Everyday’ scored highly with 11 points (Christmas, snow, bells, singing, Santa Clause, feeling of ‘excitement’), Mud ‘Lonely this Christmas’ scored a rather poor 5 (Christmas, no emotional reaction) and Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know is is Christmas?’ scored 11 as well (Christmas, snow, bells, feelings of both ‘excitement’, ‘sentimental’).

A classic

Of course our system might need some more thought before we release it to the general public but it provides a good guide to how Christmassy a song might be. I’m not sure how highly the song that was number 1 during the Christmas of 1971, the day of my birth, would score, which was ‘Ernie the Fastest Milkman in the West’. It might even get a big fat zero. Perhaps just 2 for excitement.

How can we make tights sexy?

As a female grownup (in theory, at least), I wear tights quite frequently. In fact, I wear tights more often than I wear socks. I rarely wear socks (only to go out for a run or to Zumba). And I wear tights a lot more frequently than I wear stockings (I think I have worn them just a handful of times in my life).

I own a lot of pairs of black tights (all from Marks & Spencer). My weird thought of the day is about tights. This morning, as I stood in the kitchen newly built by a Kitchen Installation in London, while putting tights on, I found myself pondering: Why is it that tights are never, ever sexy? Then see Naughty-Nights.co.uk if you are in the UK, it’s a ridiculously easy way of finding local sex so amazing if you want easy sex near you.

Are these sexy?

Why do stockings have almost the opposite effect? Why, when tights are just stockings that go all the way up to the belly, is it that they aren’t even remotely alluring to men or women? What is the difference, in a man’s eyes? I don’t remember reading in any ‘bonkbuster’ of a scene where the man drools as he contemplates ripping the tights off the lady.

Or are these sexy?

Is there anybody out there who finds tights seductive? If so, let me know. Not that I am about to show you my tights but it would be good to know that out there somewhere there is someone who fancies ladies in tights pleasuring themselves with the best bluetooth vibrator and embracing their sexuality.

As for men in tights, that’s a different weird thought.

What if we all have our own versions of heaven and hell?

This is the weird thought I had just now, while eating some orange Viennetta.

This is utterly yummy squared

This, divine chocolate orange delight, would exist in my heaven. This thought made me wonder what else would be in my heaven. I came up with the following list of things:

  • Velvet furnishings
  • Cheese
  • Red wine (Ian Botham red wine or red wine from the Middle East)
  • Chocolate orange (in many incarnations, not just Viennetta)
  • The sea
  • Christmas
  • A hula hoop
  • An endless supply of art materials
  • Books

I decided, at this point, that we all perhaps have our own versions of heaven. My heaven may not be yours. In fact, my heaven could be your hell. My brother, for example, hates velvet. I don’t expect him to visit me in heaven  too often.

So, as easy as it is  to come up with my heaven, it is to conjure my hell. This is what I expect to find, should I be banished down under for that time when I accidentally poked a monkey at Dudley Zoo with a biro:

  • Balloons
  • Fireworks
  • Vomit
  • Cat diarrhoea
  • Naughty boys from Walton High School circa 1983-5
  • Party poppers
  • People who like to pull down the bits of skin below their eyes to show their eyeballs
  • Intolerant people
  • Sprouts


Let’s hope that St Peter lets me go upwards. I have been fairly good, most of my life, except the odd transgression related to West Midlands animal attractions, so here’s hoping.



I have fallen in love with spandrels

One of my paid jobs now is to check Very Short Introductions online. Very Short Introductions, or VSIs for short, are books which do just what it says on the tin: they provide a very short introduction to a subject. Oxford University Press has been publishing these books since when I worked there. In fact, I was a colleague of the very clever editor who first came up with the idea and I remember it well. There are hundreds of these books now, over a decade later, providing very short introductions to subjects ranging from the Avant Garde to Number Theory (and many things between the two).

This afternoon I was checking the forthcoming Very Short Introduction to Philosophy of Biology online (due to publish this autumn). Anything with the word ‘philosophy’ in the title is going to fascinate me and it wasn’t long before I became distracted by the content of this book rather than checking that it looks good online. As I was scrolling through the text I came across an image which caught my eye. It was very similar to the one below.

The grey bits are spandrels

The caption read: ‘A spandrel is the triangular space between a curved arch and a rectangular frame or dome.’ This occurred to me as an odd image to find in a biology book. Surely, I reasoned, this concept, of the spandrel, related to art, architecture and perhaps even mathematics.

I decided to ask more of my friend google. I found out that a spandrel is, originally at least, an architectural term to describe the curved triangular shape between an arch and the outer surface, as indicated in the image in the Philosophy of Biology book. How had I never heard this term before? I asked myself. I delved deeper.

I was right to delve deeper, there is more. A spandrel isn’t just this shape, which is amazing in itself. A spandrel has been adapted to mean something more abstract and more interesting. Those biological philosophers discussed in this book I was checking today also use the term. In their eyes, a spandrel refers to a phenotypic (relating to the observable characteristics of an individual resulting from the interaction of its genotype with the environment) characteristic that is a byproduct of the evolution of some other characteristic, rather than a direct product of adaptive selection. This, as dear reader you can tell, has nothing to do with architecture.

Rather, that is a little sciency. So, basically, in more layman’s terms perhaps, a spandrel is something that has evolved biologically which isn’t directly related to survival, but which ends up being useful for survival. It’s a bit like an afterthought that becomes useful. Just as the triangular shape above an arch is almost the ‘cut out’ from the shape, so the afterthought, as is a biological spandrel an afterthought or ‘cut out’.

An example can be seen with the human brain. Many secondary processes and actions have evolved over time, which come in addition to the main functions of the human brain. These secondary processes and thoughts can eventually turn into an adaptation of some sort, or even provide a fitness advantage to humans. Just because something is a secondary trait or byproduct of an adaptation does not mean it has no use. So we are full of such spandrels! A good example is music. We have learnt to make music. It has no obvious use at first, but it can be used to our advantage: as a language, as a skill and as a form of entertainment or distraction. A better example might be human culture.  We created it to counter-act the anxiety we feel about death. If we feel that we are individuals of importance then we don’t worry so much about death. We have caused ourselves to feel that life has a meaning so therefore preventing ourselves from existing in a constant state of existential crisis (or, perhaps not all of us feel this way).

Again, I feel energised and excited about something I have just learnt at this age I am. How on earth have I managed to avoid spandrels thus far? They are brilliant!

I need to find other examples, perhaps this geeky passion of mine which leads me to investigate something for hours on end is a spandrel. It isn’t obviously necessary for my survival in the big wide world but it is certainly acting as a distraction to life’s anxieties.

I will end here with perhaps my favourite spandrel: a man’s nipples. Why are men’s nipples spandrels? I will leave that to you to work out.

A random man’s hairy nipple – a spandrel

My little number friends

Last night, I started a discussion on Facebook questioning whether the number 1 was a prime number or not and this inspired  the previous blog post which I wrote earlier today. As I was falling asleep last night, I considered numbers further (I have a busy brain). I started to feel sorry for 1 for not being allowed to be a prime number anymore. The number 1 is a pre-teen boy and he wants to be liked. He doesn’t like being alone all the time. He is white (as in colour, not ethnic origin). I then moved on to think about the number 2. She is a slim and elegant young lady, she is bright yellow and always cheerful. I would love to be more like her. She is smooth, symmetrical and even. She is always right.

My little friends

Then I thought to myself: am I bonkers? Do numbers really have personalities? It seems that to me they do. I asked myself: is this normal? I had no idea. So I decided to go through the other numbers and their personalities came readily and vividly to me. Here are the rest:

  • 3 is male, early twenties, ambitious, good-looking and a deep green.
  • 4 is also male, a bit more serious and geeky. He likes maths. He probably works in IT. He’s a lovely deep navy blue.
  • 5 is a middle-aged man, laid back, probably has a manual job and enjoys a pint in the pub with his friends. He’s sky blue.
  • 6 is a curvaceous lady, she is orange, jolly, cheerful. She is homely and motherly.
  • 7 is a lady too, but a bit spiky. She’s in her forties (not me, honest). She’s a deep orange. She probably works in a library.
  • 8 is an older lady, she’s in her sixties, also motherly and homely, like 6. She’s a luscious dark red. She has a bosom you just want to sink into.
  • 9 is a man, he’s very serious and very dark. He has no sense of humour at all. He’s tall and solitary.  His black, of course. He’s very intelligent though. He deserves respect.
  • 10 is a man too, he’s cream coloured with a hint of beige. That’s all I know about him. He’s good with his hands, he likes DIY.

I could go on, but I won’t, not yet. Should I start on the alphabet next?

I’ve just googled this ‘thing’ I have. It seems this is a real ‘thing’. It is called OLP or ordinal-linguistic personification. I have a new ‘thing’ and I’m not crazy (or, perhaps I am a little) after all. Whoopee. I’m quite excited. I want to learn more.

Is Number 1 God, or is it just a lost soul?

Two days ago I discovered, much to my horror, that a few years ago (I’m not sure how many but sometime after the mid-1980s) it was decided, by someone, that the number 1 is not a prime number. I was very shocked at this discovery as I had been taught that it was the first prime number, being divisible by 1 and itself.

The god of all numbers

The argument goes that you cannot divide yourself by yourself twice, you can divide yourself by yourself only once (were you to be the number 1 that is). So, if you are the number 2, you can divide yourself by yourself and you can divide yourself by the number next to you, in other words, 1. And if you are the number 3, then again, you can divide yourself by yourself. If you try to divide yourself by the number next to you, 2, you get a fraction, and then so that leaves 1. Of course the next number, 4, is a lucky so-and-so for he can divide himself by himself, and not by poor old 3, but he can by the lovely 2, and he can by the lucky number 1.

So, I have found out that the ‘one-is-not-a-prime-number’-ers argue that to be a prime number, a number needs to have two separate divisors.  Therefore, the number 2, interesting in itself for being the only even prime number, is the first prime number and number 1 is just, a, erm, lonely old soul that sits sadly without significance.

My counter-argument is (I do love to stick my fingers up to science sometimes despite being an artist) to ask: what if there are two number 1s hanging around? If that is the case, then one of those number 1s is divisible by itself and the other number 1. Who is to say that number 1 is unique? Ha, got you there, you sciencey types. I’m sure they will disagree but there is always that teeny tiny possibility that I might be right.

I’ve been doing a bit of digging on the Internet about this, and I have learnt that apparently, the ancient Greeks, didn’t even consider number 1 as a number, so it was therefore not considered as a prime number. I am starting to feel sorry for number 1. Not only is it quite lonely on its own, but it is being excluded from one of the most beautiful mathematical theories just because it is itself. How would you feel if you were excluded just for being you?

And, I have more to say on the matter, what about minus numbers? Is -2 a prime, is -1 a prime? I’m not enough of a mathematician to work this out and argue the case but I suspect they should be. I love that mathematics, which might by some be considered by many to be a system of logic and common sense, isn’t actually as clear cut as it might first appear.

Whatever the answer to the prime thing is, number 1 is very important and should not be forgotten. After all, none of the other numbers would exist without the number 1 to start them off. Does that make number 1 a god? The god of all numbers?

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