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a photo of myself, Ken Surridge, tutor at KSLearning and chair of Porridge and Rice


I read voraciously, adore playing Bridge, love listening to Radio 4, enjoy music from modern to classical, and keep a range of small animals as pets.

I earn my living by teaching privately, and when not working, I lead a charity called Porridge and Rice with a committee, all of whom are volunteers.

Ken Surridge



KS Learning

KS Learning provides tuition for all ages inluding GCSE and A Level for a wide range of subjects such as Mathematics, Science, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, English, History, French, German, Spanish, and more, in the Boroughs of Richmond-Upon-Thames, Hounslow, Kingston-Upon-Thames, and surrounding areas.

Tuition for A level and GCSE for students at school or home schooled in subjects like maths and english



Porridge and Rice

Porridge and Rice combats poverty in the Nairobi slums, home to some of the poorest people in the world, by enabling pupils at partner schools to obtain a sound education.

Porridge and Rice is fighting poverty through education for the extreme poor of the Nairobi slums




Contact

If you have thoughts that you would like to share with the world, please submit them by email.

Note that the editor will decide whether to publish and/or edit emails before publication. No discussion will be entered into.


KS Learning

KS Learning provides tuition for all ages inluding GCSE and A Level for a wide range of subjects such as Mathematics, Science, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, English, History, French, German, Spanish, and more, in the Boroughs of Richmond-Upon-Thames, Hounslow, Kingston-Upon-Thames, and surrounding areas.

Tuition for A level and GCSE for students at school or home schooled in subjects like maths and english



Porridge and Rice

Porridge and Rice combats poverty in the Nairobi slums, home to some of the poorest people in the world, by enabling pupils at partner schools to obtain a sound education.

Porridge and Rice is fighting poverty through education for the extreme poor of the Nairobi slums




Contact

If you have thoughts that you would like to share with the world, please submit them by email.

Note that the editor will decide whether to publish and/or edit emails before publication. No discussion will be entered into.


Contact

If you have any thoughts that you would like to share, please feel free to email

Interests

News Animals Gardening Plants Charity Kenya Nairobi Conservation Wildlife EU Reading Radio Theatre Politics Literature Pets Africa Bridge Books Music Knowledge


Ken's Many Musings

I write about things that interest or intrigue me. There is no theme or agenda just my thoughts and observations. I write for the simple pleasure of writing. If my writing brings pleasure to others, that is a bonus.

13 Reasons Why

16 September 2019

I watched all 3 series of 13 Reasons Why over a few days. While the twist and turns in the plot kept me watching from the start of series 1 to the end of series 3, I wouldn't recommend it to others.

The idea that a girl leaves elaborate recordings for each of the people that had hurt her before committing suicide, is original and creative, allowing the writers to create intrigue and tension in every episode and to raise some important issues. It is strange though that the central issues of the series, suicide, is not dealt with other than very superficially, until the third series. It is not until the third series that one of the characters, Clay, speaks out accusing Hannah of being selfish enabling viewers to think carefully about the very difficult perspectives that survivors hold, not to mention the wide range of emotions they experience from anger to guilt. The series fails to deal with teenage suicide in any depth instead using it as a plot device.

I found the parents two-dimensional behaving in predictable ways unlike any parent that I know. Where in the western world does a parent ground a teenager for coming home a little drunk - once? In addition, the parents simply cannot conceive that their teenagers might be doing things of which they are unaware. I have no problem believing that some parents are this naive, but a show in which all the parents seem oblivious to reality, possibly deluded, to me is not credible. I found the shock and horror of the parents at their children not being perfect and obedient, both ridiculous and annoying. I got the feeling that the writers treated the parents as props, void of personality and complexity, unless they needed them to develop for the teenage plot to progress. There are a few convincing moments such as when it turns out the Clay's squeaky-clean mother was sharing private information with a former colleague thus hurting Hannah's case after telling Clay she would stand by him and his position, and when Justin's mother chooses her drug dealing boyfriend over her son but these moments are few and far between.


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While I found the characters of the teenagers better developed, I still found them unconvincing. It is true that bullying is real and unacceptable, but to portray individuals as bullies failing to recognise that that bullies are real people working out complex emotions and experiences which they work through with a a mixture of cruelty and kindness depending on time and place, is failing to address the truth of the situation. In addition, I found the teenage delight in old technology - tapes - and the ease of access to tape players, implausible. Furthermore, I simply do not believe that the protagonist Hannah in a distraught and pained state of mind would have the clarity of thought and patience to produce the 13 lengthy and detailed messages she left behind, as well as the forethought to complete the planning required to make the arrangements for the messages to be delivered (on tape) to each of the 13 people in turn. I do not claim to be an expert but the idea that someone who experienced the difficulties Hannah experienced with the resulting emotional and mental, could be as cold and rational as would be required to implement her plan. There were a few bright moments such as when it became clear that bully and Jock Monty was gay, and Justin revealed that he had been abused as a child. Again, just as with the parents, these moments were the exception and not the rule. They were more common, but not enough to build believable characters.

The series does try to tackle some very difficult teenage issues including sexuality, rape, drugs, acceptance, and friendship, and deserves to be for that, in fact, more programmes need to tackle these subjects. However, it seems to me that the series is more interested in the drama and plot twists that these topics will deliver on the TV screen rather than exploring how they are experienced by real teenagers. It worries me that this approach is reckless, as troubled teenagers are bound to be watching and will find little guidance or comfort in the programme. I am not arguing that TV programmes have to be doctors or psychiatrists, but I think that they need to think carefully about the impact of what they show especially on sensitive members of the audience and try to be a force for good. The programme warns audiences about the content and to steer clear if it may have an adverse impact but that can be no more than the classic 'covering one's arse' as this is likely to make the show more appealing rather than warning off vulnerable teenagers.

If you are looking for a plot with many twists and turns that will keep you wanting to see the next episode, you will enjoy the series. If though you are looking for convincing characters, complex, confused, and contradictory like real people, whose activities enlighten or at least challenge thinking around sensitive subjects, you will be disappointed. I definitely was disappointed.


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Bridge Notes

7 September 2019

These notes are based on my knowledge of the Acol Bridge system that I play. The notes include tweaks based on decisions made by my partner and me, tweaks that we have found helpful in our game.

General

  • from lowest to highest rank, clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades, then no trumps
  • spades and hearts are major suits, and diamonds and clubs are minor suits
  • for a contract prefer a major, then no trumps (NT), and as a last resort, a minor suit
  • book means 6 tricks
  • player must make book PLUS the number of the contract

There are 13 tricks in a hand. Game is

  • 3NT
  • 4S or 4H
  • 5C or 5D

Points are a good indicator of the chances of making or exceeding a game contract.

  • 25 pts for 3NT or 4 of a major
  • 28 points minor 5 of a minor
  • 33 pts for a small slam, a contract of 6 - losing only 1 trick
  • 36 pts plus for a grand slam, a bid of 7 - every trick

Opening the bidding

High Card Points (HCPs) are Ace 4, King 3, Queen 2, and Jack 1. The first person to bid (the opener) must have either

  • 12 HCPs, or
  • 10 HCPs with a good 6 card suit.

A Bridge hand can be (1) balanced or (2) distributional. A balanced hand has

A Balanced Hand

There are 4 possible bids

Case 1 12 to 14 points bid 1NT never bid again unless partner requests another bid
Case 2 15 to 19 points bid a suit bid NT after partner's response
Case 3 20 to 22 points bid 2NT never bid again unless partner requests another bid
Case 4 23 or more points bid 2 clubs bid NT after partner's response

  • with 4 hearts, open 1H
  • without 4 hearts,
    • open the longer of the minor suits if there is one, or
    • open the lower ranking minor suit if they are of equal length
  • never open 1S

and if partner responds then opener bids

  • 1NT with 15 to 16 pts
  • 2NT with 17 to 18 pts
  • 3NT with 19 pts
unless partner responds in a major suit for which you have 4 of the suit partner bids.

A Distributional Hand

Always open the longest suit - length before strength.

  • With two 5 or 6 card suits, open the higher ranking EXCEPT with clubs and spades, bid clubs for bidding space.
  • With two 4 card suits, open hearts or without hearts, open a 4 card minor suit, the lower ranking if you have two - NEVER open Spades.

A bid of a different suit by opener promises 5 cards of the first suit bid and and 4 of the next.

Responding to opener

To bid a new suit requires

  • 6 points to bid at the 1 level, or
  • 10 points to bid at the 2 level.

With a fit (8 cards in a suit), add distribution points as void 5pts, singleton 3pts and doubleton 1pt then raise partner's suit as follows

  • 6 to 9 points raise to 2 of partner's suit
  • 10 to 12 points raise to 3 of partner's suit
  • 13 or more points bid 2NT (Jacoby 2NT)
  • 10 or fewer points and exceptional trump support raise to 4 of partner's suit

Finding a fit (8 cards in a suit) is essential in a trump game so

  • if partner bids a suit in which you hold a shortage, this makes your hand worse
  • if partner bids a suit in which you hold 3 or more cards, this makes your hand better


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The Mosquito, the fly that bites

30 August 2019

Mosquitoes transmit human diseases which have killed millions and continue to kill thousands of people every year, diseases including malaria, yellow fever, Chikungunya, West Nile virus, dengue fever, filariasis, and Zika. Only certain species carry diseases and some like malaria, are carried by a single genus. They are important vectors of diseases, in particular the genera of Culex, Aedes, and Anopheles.

Anopheles mosquitoes transmit malaria, filariasis (also called elephantiasis) and encephalitis; Culex mosquitoes carry encephalitis, filariasis, and the West Nile virus; and Aedes mosquitoes, of which the voracious Asian tiger is a member, carry yellow fever, dengue, and encephalitis.

Malaria alone killed about 435,000 people in 2017, according to the World Health Organization. Dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis and yellow fever annually kill tens of thousands more.


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Not every member of a species carries a disease, in fact, a mosquito only becomes a carrier of a disease after biting an infected host and ingesting the pathogen which it then transmits to future hosts. Only the female mosquito bites but it does not bite to feed, in fact, mosquitoes feed on nectar from flowers. Female mosquitoes drink blood to create food for their eggs.

Not all mosquitoes drink blood, and only a small number of mosquitoes choose to feed on human blood and many more prefer other animals including birds, reptiles, amphibians, or other mammals like cows. For West Nile fever, the hosts are usually birds while with malaria, it is people. Females of most species feed primarily on the blood of wild or domestic animals, and only a few are dedicated human-feeders. In some mosquito species, feeding on blood is optional and some species do not feed on blood at all.

Mosquitoes are very important in nature. They are valuable pollinators and a source of food for thousands of animals, including birds, bats, dragonflies, frogs, and fish, some of which like the mosquito fish, have evolved to feed almost exclusively on mosquitoes.


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Mosquitoes are members of the order Diptera, which is an order of winged insects commonly known as flies. Yes, mosquitoes are actually flies, rather small and slender flies, in fact, "mosquito" is Spanish for "little fly". They have long, thin legs and compound eyes that are large in proportion to the size of the head.

Diptera, which are one of the most successful groups of organisms on earth, are very diverse biologically which contains the the biological family Culicidae commonly called mosquitoes. Mosquitoes have a slender segmented body, one pair of wings, three pairs of long hair-like legs, feathery antennae, and elongated mouthparts.

As of February 2019, there are a total of 3,565 recognised species of mosquitoes. This could change either as a result of more detailed studies, unidentified reproductively isolated and niche-specific forms, or ongoing speciation. The taxonomy of mosquitoes based on current knowledge is -
   Kingdom: Animalia (Animals)
   Phylum: Arthropoda (Arthropods)
   Class: Insecta (Insects)
   Order: Diptera (Flies)
   Family: Culicidae (Mosquitoes)
   Genus: around 112 genera inc. Anopheles (+430 species), Aedes (+950 species), & Culex
   Species: currently 3,565 species

Mosquitoes undergo complete metamorphosis with four stages. The female mosquito lays her eggs on the surface of water, or surfaces near water. Larvae hatch and live in the water, most using a siphon to breathe at the surface, and feeding on organic matter in the water, including algae, protozoans, decaying debris, and even other mosquito larvae. Within a week or two, the larvae pupate, and while pupae cannot feed, they are usually very active. Adults emerge, usually in just a few days, and sit on the surface until they are dry and ready to fly. Adult females live two weeks to two months; adult males often only live a week.

The methods used to keep the number of mosquitoes low and disrupt pathogen transmission are diverse. All mosquitoes require water to reproduce so many control measures involve the removal or treatment of standing water sources. Spraying is another popular measure to reduce the adults available to breed. Other methods include drug treatment, habitat modification, bed nets, insecticides, predators and pathogens, sterile release, and genetic manipulation. However, global efforts to stop the spread of mosquitoes seem to be having very little effect, and mosquitoes are actually increasing in number thanks to global warming which will also allow these insects to increase their range.

Climate change is just not helping mosquitoes to extend their range but means a longer season for breeding and biting people. In addition, warmer weather will mature eggs faster reducing the time for the breeding cycle. A billion more people could be at risk of mosquito-borne disease due to climate change as the disease-carrying mosquitoes spread to new countries and increase in number where they currently exist. Many changes in the distribution of mosquitoes have already been observed, For example, the Asian tiger mosquito seems now to be established around Windsor, Ontario in Canada. It is a known vector for chikungunya virus, dengue virus and dirofilariasis.


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Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm'

25 August 2019

Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm' makes an excellent garden plant with its masses of intense yellow flowers with dark prominent conical disk centres from July to October, sometimes even November if the weather stays warm. The plant can make a huge impact planted in bold drifts with other late summer-flowering perennials. At its height, it is a mass of striking yellow, daisy-like flowers that the blue-grey foliage is barely noticeable.


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Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm' is a tough herbaceous perennial forming clumps that grow symmetrically from the centre to 60cm in height, with erect stems bearing narrowly ovate leaves. It can be grown from seed but it is much easier to cultivate from basal cuttings or by simply subdividing existing clumps in spring.

Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm' can be planted at any time of year, although autumn or spring are the best times. It thrives in either full sun or light shade in a fertile soil enriched with lots of organic matter, which holds plenty of moisture in spring and summer without becoming waterlogged.


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Keeping the soil moist, will prolong flowering. Feeding with plant food every couple of weeks in the growing season will encourage more, bigger and better flowers. Plants are compact and bushy and rarely need staking.

In autumn, when the flowers have died and leaves are faded, the plant needs to be cut down to ground level. In addition, plants need to be lifted every 3 to 4 years in spring, as new growth begins, and divided into smaller clumps. Pulling clumps apart in spring ia also a good way to increase the number of plants.


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Mandazi Recipe

18 August 2019

Each time I visit Kenya, one of the treats that I look forward to when I visit the Porridge and Rice partner schools is being served with fresh warm mandazi and a hot cup of milky tea that Kenyans call chai. It is a wonderful way to start the day.

Mandazi are often called African doughnuts, although they are not nearly as sweet as doughnuts sold in the West. They are usually triangular in shape, fluffy in texture, and served without any icing or glazing with cups of hot milky tea locals call chai. They can be eaten warm or left to cool down.

Mandazi are made by briefly cooking the dough in cooking oil, a dough made including water, sugar, flour, yeast, and milk. Coconut milk is also commonly added for sweetness. When coconut milk is added, mandazi are commonly referred to as mahamri or mamri. Sometimes shredded coconut is added too. Other ingredients like ground peanuts and almonds are sometimes added for a different flavor.

They are popular in the countries of the African Great Lakes region. They are commonly made in the early morning or even the night before, then eaten with breakfast, and re-heated in the evening for dinner. They can be eaten as part of a meal or as snacks by themselves. They can also be eaten as a desert served with dips, often fruit flavored or powdered with cinnamon or sugar.

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Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all purpose flour plus more
  • 2-3 Tablespoons grated coconut or coconut flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed cardamom spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg or cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
  • warm water as needed
  • Powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar to sprinkle
  • Vegetable oil for deep-frying

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl combine all the dry ingredients, flour, sugar, baking salt, sugar, cardamom spice and nutmeg. Whisk together.
  2. Gently add all the liquid ingredients, eggs, butter and milk. Combine until mixture comes together and dough is smooth. If it is too sticky add a little bit of flour. If too hard add a little bit of water. Dough should not be too sticky, when touched, err on the side of less flour than more flour.
  3. Roll out dough in to 1 inch thick. Cut intp triangles.
  4. In a large sauce pan pour vegetable oil, until it is at least 3 inches (or about 5 centimeters) high (too little will result in flatter mandazi and place on medium heat until oil is 350 degrees.
  5. Fry until golden brown about 3-5 minutes depending on size. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper napkin.
  6. Serve warm

Chinese Painted Quail

8 July 2019

Chinese Painted Quails are the smallest member of the quail family producing the tiniest little chicks about the size of the bumble bee. As ground dwellers, they are frequently kept on the bottom of outdoor aviaries to pick up seed dropped onto the floor by other birds. They mainly eat seeds but sometimes loves the odd insect. They are easy to keep.

Chinese Painted Quails are very active, running up and down on the bottom of the aviary. Although they are ground dwellers, they fly well and can clear a 2m fence. If they get a fright, they boink which means they fly straight upwards. When they see something new, they will stop and stand on tiptoe until they feel the item is safe, and will then approach.

They are active, entertaining little birds which are a real delight to keep and watch.

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Child Marriage

25 June 2019

Mariama, 13, lives in Niger. Her mother and uncle sold her as a child bride to a local man, accepting £122 from the man for her hand in marriage. Mariama's experience is not unusual, in fact 75 % of girls in Niger are married before they reach 18, and 36 % before they are 15 years old, some as young as 8 years old. http://plan-uk.org/about/our-work/child-marriage/sold-as-a-child-bride

The practice of child marriage is not peculiar to Niger, but widespread around the globe.

  • Every year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18, that is 23 girls every minute or 1 every 2 seconds
  • 1,000 girls are forced into marriage every day, some as young as 8 or 9 years old
  • 1 in 5 girls alive today were married before the age of 18
  • Over 650 million girls alive today were married before the age of 18
  • 70,000 girls die in labour every year because their bodies aren't ready for childbirth

Child marriage denies girls their right to make vital decisions about their sexual health and well-being, forcing them to have children before their bodies are ready. It forces them out of education and usually into a life of poor prospects, ill health, violence, or early death. Under international law, early marriage is a violation of children's human rights but despite being prohibited by international law, it continues to rob millions of girls under 18 around the world of their childhood.

There are many reasons why families marry daughters off early including

  • younger wives are considered to be more obedient
  • girls are seen as an economic burden
  • families believe that early marriage will protect girls from sexual violence
  • family 'honour' and girls' virginity is maintained
  • the older a girl gets, the higher the dowry
  • marriage to a man of influence can be a useful alliance
  • settling a debt or obligation
  • laws protecting girls aren't enforced
  • women and girls occupy a lower status in societies

In countries like Kenya where many husbands demand that their wives are totally obedient to them, a child-bride is highly desirable because being young, she will be easier to discipline and train. By contrast, the older the girl, the more likely she is to have her own opinions and wishes which might lead her to question her husband or to want to explore her own choices in life, completely unacceptable to a traditional husband.

A good wife will have only one desire and that is to please her husband in every way that he wishes, cooking his meals, cleaning his home, being available for sex when he wants, and raising his children. A good wife simply has no wishes, dreams, or desires of her own, other than to serve her husband obediently and without question. It is thus a truly fortunate man who secures himself a very young bride of say 8 years old as he can train her to submit to him completely.

Because young wives are highly desirable, the poor can use their daughters to raise funds, settle debts, or build alliances. May a young child has been 'sold' into married for relatively small amounts of cash or to settle a debt. In the event, that an influential man is interested in a young wife, there can be competition among families for their daughter to be chosen, and the girl's age will not stop parents agreeing the marriage if a valuable alliance can be formed.

Raising a child is expensive, a heavy burden for the poor who often have relatively large families sometimes reaching double figures, and then after years of spending money on her, a daughter will leave her parents to marry and become part of another family; in essence the money spent on raising a daughter will provide no benefit to her parents. By contrast, a boy will live on with his parents when he gets a job thus increasing the family income as well as continuing to provide for his parents until they die. Boys are thus a great investment well worth spending money on.

The poorer the family, the harder it is for parents to pay for basic needs like food and clothing, so the greater the pressure to reduce expenses and focus the small income of the family where it will yield a return such as sending sons to schools. The girl's age will not be allowed to get in the way if a suitable husband is found for a daughter, in fact, quite the opposite because the sooner the child is married off, the sooner the family no longer needs to provide for her. Poverty has driven girls as young as 8 years old to be married off, often to much older men, especially if they have standing in the community. It is thus not unusual for a tribal chief or elder to have multiple wives after adding a young one every few years. Disasters and emergencies make matters worse because it is often the poorest households that bear the brunt of any devastation.

A girl who loses her virginity before marriage brings great shame to the family. It does not matter whether the girl loses it of her own volition or by force, the shame is no different for the family, after all a girl who gets raped must 'have done something to tempt the man'. Both the girl that has been raped and her family will be scorned and mocked, even shunned by the entire community. She has no chance of finding a husband and her parents will have to provide for her for life. Marriage solves the issue for parents because it shifts the responsbility for protecting the girl's sexual honour to the husband and according to many traditional people, marriage reduces the chance of the girl being abused because she will be too busy caring for her husband.

Most countries have laws against child marriage but in some parts of the world they are simply not enforced either because of corruption, a lack of committment, or rejection of 'western ideas imposed by foreign powers'. Corruption is widespread in many third world countries and men wanting a young wife can frequently afford to bribe local officials both within the tribe and in law enforcement if anyone objects to the girl's age. In addition, in these countries, politicians and the authorities consider enforcing the laws against child mariage to be of low priority, laws sometimes introduced only to silence the criticism of first world countries and organisations like UNICEF. In some of these countries, many communities see the prohibition on child marriage as the west forcing its values on traditional societies. For these people, child marriage is a positive rejection of what they perceive to be colonial and imperialist values in favour of their traditional norms. In these communities, men will frequently have multiple wives marrying a new young wife every few years as opportunity and finances allow.

In many countries, girls are simply not recognised as equal to boys. Whether the rational is religious, cultural, or traditional, this belief that girls are inferior to boys is so deeply engrained into every aspect of a society that most girls actually believe that they are worth less than their brothers. It restricts what girls are allowed to do and ensures severe sanctions for girls that push the boundaries imposed on them. As a result, families will do everything they can to keep their sons in school while girls are frequently not educated beyond the primary years when they are then kept at home to take care of the house, cooking and cleaning while boys are allowed to play football with their friends. The men and boys are fed first while the women and girls serve them, and girls are sent out to collect water while boys relax. Among the Massai, men are considered to be warriors whose sole task is to protect the tribe and its wealth in the form of cattle while the women do literally everything else including building houses for the family. Among the Masaai, it is not unusual for for very young girls (4, 5 or 6 years old) to walk miles to fetch water for the family while their brothers relax with the men or take the cattle out to graze.

Child marriage ruins the lives of millions of girls every year and robs society of the contribution they could make towards building a wealthier, fairer, and more just society.

While enforcing laws or stiffer penalties, can play a part, they will not end child marriage on their own. As has been showing many times, education is the only way to stop child marriage - the education of parents, the education of children, the education of the community, and the education of community leaders. Educating girls about their rights, the consequences of being married as a child, and who to contact if they find themselves facing the prospect of being married of as a child, educating parents so they understand the benefits of keeping their daughters in education, the consequences for their daughters if married as a child, and the law on the subject, and educating community leaders from tribal chiefs to teachers as they are able to influence parents and girls to change their beliefs on child marriage. The most effective education stresses the many benefits of according girls the same value as their brothers such as the fact that girls can also be successful, earning good salaries and support their parents as they age. Child marriage can only be ended when societies recognise that values girls and boys equally, will benefit them and the girls.

Porridge and Rice, an education charity in the Nairobi slums takes a firm position on child marriage running sessions for both parents and pupils on the consequences of child marriages compared to the benefit of keeping girls in school allowing them to choose their own futures. The charity looks to the teachers in each of the five partner schools that it supports to be champions for the girls in their communities, persuading parents and guardians to let them shape their own lives.

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Scented Sweet Peas

16 June 2019

I grow sweet peas every year in my garden testing new colours and varieties as they take my fancy. They are without doubt one of my favourite garden flowers.

This year I am growing scented sweet peas. As much as I love the giant blooms of many of the modern hybrids, the powerful scent of sweet peas in the garden of an evening is so enchanting, that I am accepting beautiful although slightly smaller blossoms in preference for that gorgeous evening scent.

I planted many more sweet peas than my garden can accomodate and am selling those I do not need to raise money for Porridge and Rice.

Izzy, a Porridge and Rice Young Volunteer, dries a guinea pig after given it a thorough wash
Izzy rubs a wet guinea pig dry before returning it to its cage for a treat of fresh grass and vegetables
George,a Young Volunteer for Porridge and Rice, handles the young albino African Pygmy Hedgehog
Porridge and Rice Young Volunteers meet each Sunday to work on tasks that support the charity Porridge and Rice

Porridge and Rice Young Volunteers

2 May 2019

Volunteers of all ages make it possible for Porridge and Rice to raise money in the UK to fund its work in Kenya. Volunteers as young as 10 years of age have made and continue to make a valuable contribution to the work of Porridge and Rice.

Young volunteers meet each weekend to undertake a range of tasks from planting tomato seeds to washing guinea pigs, all in order to enable Porridge and Rice to raise money for the charity's work in Kenya. They are special people who willingly give up their free time to work for people living in poverty. They are as important to achieving the goals of the charity as are all its volunteers.

Izzy, George, and Jamie spent Sunday morning 28 April cleaning the guinea pig cages and then grooming the guinea pigs, as well as filling plastic cups to be used for sowing tomato seeds. In between tasks, they handled and petted the baby guinea pigs and the young African Pygmy Hedgehog to get them comfortable with being stroked and held by people as part of the charity petting zoo.

Izzy, a Porridge and Rice Young Volunteer, dries a guinea pig after given it a thorough wash
Izzy rubs a wet guinea pig dry before returning it to its cage for a treat of fresh grass and vegetables
George,a Young Volunteer for Porridge and Rice, handles the young albino African Pygmy Hedgehog
Porridge and Rice Young Volunteers meet each Sunday to work on tasks that support the charity Porridge and Rice
Jamie, a Young Volunteer working for Porridge and Rice, helps to prepare soil for sowing seeds to sell to raise money for Porridge and Rice
George and Izzy cut freash grass for the guinea pigs that are members of the Petting Zoo that raises money for Porridge and Rice
Izzy and George handle baby guinea pigs so that they get used to being petted by people
Baby guinea pigs, only 6 weeks old, are petted by young volunteers Izzy and George to get them used to people

Garden Colour

6 April 2019

Despite the inconsistent weather, my garden has been full of colour for several weeks now, ever since the first snowdrops appeared above the soil.

My daffodils were very disappointing as the slugs and snails got to them before they opened, and then the unexpected hail stripped a lot of the flowers off my magnolia, but other than that, the spring bulbs and flowers have brought life to the garden. The primroses, one of my favourites, have been as wonderful as ever, and my red tulips are just as striking each year.

bright red tulips at the beginning of the year heralding the arrival of spring
the indigenous primrose is covered with delicate yellow flowers in april
bright sun-yellow daffodils are the traditional spring flower bulb
a royal star magnolia tree covered in blossom makes a magnificent show at the beginning of the season
the bold yellow of forsythia can brighten up any spring garden
snowdrops with their delicate white flowers are the first spring bulbs to grace the garden

Petting Day 31 March

2 April 2019

Another very successful petting day took place on Sunday 31 March 2019 with people coming from all around the area.

The frizzles, newly hatched chicks and hedgehogs were popular but without question, the baby guinea pigs got the most attention, with people 'oohing' and 'aahing' while large-eyed guinea pigs fell asleep in their hands. Almost, on cue, two chinese painted quail hatched on the day so guests were able to see them right out the egg.

Most importantly, the event raised money to support the work for Porridge and Rice. All helpers were as usual volunteers, so every penny raised goes to the charity's work in the Nairobi slums.

young man holds a baby guinea pig at the Porridge and Rice petting day in Whitton
Mohit assist a young girl to hold a baby guinea pig at the petting day for Porridge and Rice
Ladies at the Porridge and Rice petting day hold frizzle Bantam Peking Chickens
a young girl enjoys cuddling a young guinea pig on the petting day held to raise money for work in the Nairobi slums
visitors at the petting day held at the farm at 64 to raise funds for the charity Porridge and Rice
a frizzle Pekin Bantam hen falls asleep in the arms of a visitor
knitted and crocheted items for sale to raise money for Porridge and Rice, an education charity working in the Nairobi slums
the chickens enjoy an opportunity to wander around the garden, scratching and pecking, at the Porridge and Rice petting day
a young man holds a young guinea pig at the farm at 64 on the petting day held to raise money for some of the poorest people in the world
Shweta watches the Pekin Bantam chickens in the chicken house where they sleep at night and lay during the day

Jacoby 2NT

18 March 2019

A response of 2NT to an opening bid of 1H or 1S is known as Jacoby 2NT. It promises

  • 13 or more points
  • 4 or more cards in the opener's suit
This means that trumps are decided, game is agreed, and a slam may be possible.

If opener has a minimum hand, he will call game signaling that he cannot go further. Unless responder has an exceptional hand, this is a sign off.

On the other hand, if opener has more than a minimum hand, he should describe it so that his partner can consider whether a slam is possible.

The Jacoby 2NT convention includes a number of bids for describing the opening hand further. Assuming opener bids 1H and responder bids 2NT, the opener has the following bids available -

Bid Explanation
3 singleton or void in clubs
3 singleton or void in diamonds
3 shows 17+ points, interest in slam, asks responder to describe his hand further
3 singleton or void in spades
3NT good 13-15 points, balanced, no singleton/void
4 5+ clubs, good suit with 2 or 3 honours
4 5+ diamonds, good suit with 2 or 3 honours
4 a minimum hand of 11 to 14 points, a sign off bid
4 5+ spades, good suit with 2 or 3 honours


While playing Jacoby 2NT does mean giving up a natural 2NT bid (balanced shape, 10-12 points), the loss is generally considered worthwhile because of the effective way Jacoby 2NT allows pairs to explore slam.

Partner must alert Jacoby 2NT.

Oswald Jacoby, the inventor of the Jacoby 2NT bid in Bridge
Transfers and the 2NT bid were invented by Oswald Jacoby

Volunteering in Kenya

7 March 2019

Every year in the summer, I take groups of volunteers to Kenya for several weeks to work in Porridge and Rice partner schools in the Nairobi slums. The trip benefits both the volunteers and the charity schools.

The volunteers get to know people whose lives are very different to their own, people who are among the poorest of the world. The volunteers are made aware of the huge advantages they have because of where they were born and live and they see first hand that not all people are as fortunate, through no fault of they own. It challenges them to think about those living in poverty and to consider how they can be a part of building a more just world where all people can share in its wealth and resources.

In addition, the volunteers complete tasks that are needed by the schools including painting classrooms, teaching good hygiene habits, and improving the subject knowledge of teachers and pupils. They make a real contribution to achieving the goals of the charity of breaking the cycle of poverty through education. Volunteers are important to Porridge and Rice.

Finally, it is an opportunity to see some of the wonders and attractions of Africa, a vast, beautiful continent, including white-water rafting through woodlands under the gaze of Vervet monkeys on the Tana River, watching herds of elephant crossing the savannah in search of the cool water and mud of the Amboseli marsh, and taste local meats at dinner at the famous Carnivore restaurant.

Anyone interested in volunteering in Kenya can see photos from previous trips and fill in an application form to learn more.

the summer 2018 volunteers pose in front of the swimming at Wildebeest Eco Camp in Nairobi
Izzy, a Porridge and Rice volunteer from Liverpool, helps to paint Excel school in the Nairobi slums
John, a volunteer with Porridge and Rice, helps to serve meals at Lizpal school in Ngando
George, a Porridge and Rice volunteer from London, reminds children to wash their hands before meals
Jai, an A level student and volunteer with Porridge and Rice, teaches a maths class at a Porridge and Rice school in Ngando
Jay, a volunteer with Porridge and Rice during his A level year, works with children to make sure they wash their hands properly

Fox Tossing

19 February 2019

I discovered recently that fox tossing was a popular sport in the 17th and 18th centuries among the members of the wealthy classes and nobility across Europe including in England.

The game was played in an arena with teams of two people each with their own sling. The sling would be laid out on the ground with a member of the team standing at each end holding the sling about 20 feet about.

When the all competing teams were in place, the foxes would be driven into the arena. The animals would rush around the arena and when one crossed a sling, the pairs would fling the fox as high as possible into the air by pulling the sling taught. The hightest recorded height was 7.5 metres.

The foxes were usually seriously injured or killed, and those that did not die when they fell back to the ground, were tortured then clubbed to death after the event. A Swedish herald wrote in March 1672 that he was surprised to see the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I joining the court dwarfs and boys in torturing the animals. He felt that the company Leopold was keeping was demeaning but said nothing about the way the animals were being treated.

People would usually wear elaborate fancy dress for the event - Roman warriors, centaurs, jesters, goddesses, and nymphs were popular outfits - and the animals were sometimes decorated in colourful fabrics and adornments. The event was frequently followed by dinner.

Other animals like badgers, wildcats and hares, were sometimes tossed. In 1919, a book talking about tossing wildcats said that "they do not give a pleasing kind of sport, for if they cannot bury their claws and teeth in the faces or legs of the tossers, they cling to the tossing-slings for dear life, and it is next to impossible to give one of these animals a skilful toss."

Large numbers of animals usually died at each event. For example, Augustus II the Strong, the King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, held an event in Dresden at which 647 foxes, 533 hares, 34 badgers, and 21 wildcats were tossed and killed, all in one day.

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1NT bid with a 5 card major

17 February 2019

An opening bit of 1NT signals a balanced hand of 12 to 14 HCP points. While evaluating the the point count is easy, whether the hand is balanced includes some interesting subtleties.

The traditional definition of a balanced hand is
• no voids or singletons
• no more than one doubleton
• no five card major - it is usual to bid 1NT with a 5 card minor

The traditional thinking is that one should never deny a 5 card major but there are hands where one can reasonably argue that it is better to bid 1NT because the 5 card suit is too poor to rebid and no other option is available.

Hand 1
  A Q 10 3 2
  J 8 3
  Q 4 2
  A 7

Considering hand 1, what would the rebid be after an opening bid of 1S? None of the other suits are long enough to bid (a second suit from opener promises a 4 card suit) and the hand is not strong enough for a NT bid, so the only choice is to rebid the spade. On this occassion. the spade suit looks good enough for a rebid so opening 1S makes perfect sense.

Hand 2
  10 8 7 3 2
  A J 3
  K 4 2
  A J

Hand 2 fits all the criteria for a 1NT opening bid except that it contains a 5 card major suit. So consider what happens if you bid 1S and your partner rebids say 2C.

Bidding hearts, diamonds or clubs promises 4 of the suit, but this hand has no 4 card suit, so it would be misleading partner, even if supporting a suit bid by partner. There are time when opener is forced to support partner with only 3 of a suit, but this should only be after all better options have been explored.

Rebidding spades seems to be an option because there are 5 cards in the suit but it is a really poor suit. It doesn't seem like a good option, unless there are no other options.

What about 1NT?

A 1NT opening bid with this hand has much to commend it- it describes the hand well and does not rule out a major contract. If partner has a 4 card major, then Stayman will test for a fit, and with a 5 card suit, partner can use a transfer to signal the 5 card suit.

The idea is that 1NT should be considered with a poor 5 card suit especially where there is no obvious rebid.

There is of course no hard and fast rule, after all, one of the delights of Bridge is that it is a matter of taste and judgement blended with skill and tactics, which probably is why it attacts so many great minds like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffet play Bridge on a regular basis
Warren Buffet shares his knowledge of the game Bridge with a younger player

White Collar

11 February 2019

One of my students recommended the tv progamme 'White Collar' to me, centred on the white collar crime division of the FBI, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Although, it isn't a recent series having aired from 2009 to 2014, it hasn't aged.

The plots while mild compared to many recent crime series, are highly entertaining. However it isn't the plots that give the show its charm but the main characters. Peter Burke, an FBI agent, who believes in 'the system' and thus finds it hard to bend rules, works alongside and manages convicted conman Neal Caffrey, making for a complex and fragile relationship, where the two men become very close yet are constantly troubled by how much to trust each other with their very different histories. Added to the mix is Mozzie, very close friend to Neal Caffrey, and a highly accomplished conman, like his friend, who is inherently suspicious of anything linked to the government, embracing numerous conspiracy theories.

It is a show that deserves to be recommended which I suspect will continue to be popular for a long time yet.

Neal Caffrey, a convicted conman, works with the FBI under the guidance of agent Peter Burke, to solve crimes
the TV series White Collar has conman Neal Caffrey working with FBI agent Peter Burk form a highly successful team solving difficult crimes

Snowdrops

29 January 2019

The first flowers in my gardens to announce the onset of spring are the snowdrops. I have little clumps around the garden that force their little white heads through the ground to create patches of bright white. I love snow drops more than any of the other spring bulbs from daffodils to tulips. I am not exactly sure why but maybe it is the vibrant patches of snow white that they create, dotted about a dormant garden.

traditional snowdrops with their white bobbing heads are the first to appear after the winter
the first of the spring bulbs to appear is the snowdrop, small but dramatic, filling corners and empty spaces around shrubs
a cluster of nodding white heads announces the arrival of spring as snowdrops burst from the cold winter soil
clumps of snowdrops make a dramatic show of white against the dark soil and brown plants after a cold winter

Extreme Poverty

25 January 2019

In 2015 10% of the world's population lived on £1.45 a day down from nearly 36% in 1990. In terms of people, there were 1.85 billion extreme poor in 1990 reduced to 736 million in 2015.

There has been very real progress in reducing poverty but there is still a lot more to be done. The UN goal is to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030.

In East Asia, the Pacific, Europe, and Central Asia, extreme poverty have been reduced to below 3 percent. Currently, more than half of the extreme poor live in Sub-Saharan Africa where the number of poor has actually increased by 9 million, with 413 million people living on less than US$1.90 a day If the trend continues, by 2030, nearly 9 out of 10 extreme poor will be in Sub-Saharan Africa.

I am proud to be associated with Porridge and Rice, an organisation working to combat extreme poverty in the slums of Nairobi.

Githogoro, a slum in Nairobi home to people known as the extreme poor living on 1.40 british pounds a day
a street in the Nairobi slums of shacks that have no toilets, electricity or running water yet habited by whole families in a single room
a young girl plays with the contents of a drain in the slums, a health hazard containing all sorts of waste including faeces
children in the Nairobi slums wear whatever clothes they can get their hands on as they cannot afford to buy new

Christopher Brookmyre

20 January 2019

There is something about the writing of Christopher Brookmyre that really appeals to me. I have now read four of his books - Quite Ugly One Morning, Country of the Blind, Not the End of the World, and One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night - and I have not been disappointed by any of them.

He has a dry, dark sense of humour that makes me laugh out loud, something few books have ever achieved. It is never clear until the last minute that he is about to be funny. You read a sentence almost to the end and with a flourish of a few words you suddenly realise he is being humorous. The element of surprise enhances the joke.

He places his characters in slightly surreal situations that keep you reading on in anticipation of what might happen, and just close enough to reality to be believeable. I found myself thinking 'really??" quickly followed by 'it could happen' a lot while the plot unfolds.

He is a master story teller. The book and characters of every book have gripped me, and I find myself more and more reluctant to put a book of his down - "just one more chapter" has seen me sitting up late to read more.

Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre, funny and sharp
Country of the Blind by Christopher Brookmyre, dark and humorous
Not the End of the World by Christopher Brookmyre, an entertaining novel
One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night by Christopher Brookmyre, an excellent read

Amboseli

16 January 2019

I am in Kenya two or three times a year because of the charity that I chair, Porridge and Rice and in my off time, visited Amboseli, three times now. It is my favourite park in Kenya.

Amboseli is my famous for its elephant, and quite rightly so. The herds traipsing to and from the marsh, and bathing in the mud, are a magnificent sight. I would be happy to sit for hours just watching these wonderful animals.

Sadly, many people still see them as a source of a saleable product ivory, and there are people in the world still willing to buy this product. Progress has been made to end this awful trade, but there is a lot more to do.

a male elephant with large tusks in Amboseli with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background
a large tusker strolls across the road in front of a safari vehicle in Amboseli National Park
an African elephant herd walking in single file on their way to the water of the marshes
a herd of elephant cross the dry plains of Amboseli in search of food and water
several herds of African elephant walking across the dry soil of Amboseli National Park in Kenya
an elephant mother and her children walk with the herd on the plains of the Kenyan park Amboseli

How to learn

10 January 2019

I am regularly asked how to learn by my students, and the simple fact is that there is no better technique than the traditional read, cover, and repeat (RCR).

Students are looking for some great insight that is easy to implement while yielding outstanding results, so are usually disappointed to be presented with a technique that requires effort and discipline. There is no such technique and it is a waste of time to look for one.

The good news is when you start to use RCR, it becomes a habit that gets easier with time, and more importantly, it produces results.

a child writes on a blackboard, KS Learning uses whiteboards
children and teenagers like those from KS Learning sitting for their exams, GCSE or A level

Excel School

5 January 2019

In late 2014, I travelled to Kenya with a group of my students, to volunteer in Nairobi. It was a seminal moment that lead to the foundation of Porridge and Rice, the charity that I chair.

It was a very moving experience, that made the group want to do something. After research and careful thought, the decision was made to start by supporting Excel school in Ngando, led by two people that had impressed all of us. The idea was to enable them to provide the children of their part of the Nairobi slums with a sound education.

With the support of the charity, the school has gone from strength to strength. It has doubled in size with improved facilities and new services such as clean water and lunch.

Titus, head teacher of Excel school, outside a newly painted school building
Mary, deputy head teacher of Excel school, a Porridge and Rice partner school
volunteers meet the pupils at Excel school in Ngando, an area within the Nairobi slums
a volunteer assist with serving food at Excel school in the Nairbi slums
volunteers from the UK make new blackboards for the classrooms of Excel school in the slums of Nairobi home to some of the poorest people in the world
Porridge and Rice provides clean water and soap for handwashing at all partner schools
teacher Andrew conducts a maths lesson for his class
hot cups of Uji for breakfast at Excel school in the Nairobi slums

Education and Poverty

28 December 2018

According to the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report, 171 million people could be lifted out of extreme poverty if all children left school with basic reading skills. That is equivalent to a 12% drop in the world total of extreme poor.

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the Global Education Monitoring Report, 420 million people could be lifted out of poverty with a secondary education, thus reducing the number of poor worldwide by more than half.

Numerous studies confirm that poverty and education are inextricably linked, and that education is one of the most powerful ways to reduce poverty and improve health, gender equality, peace and stability.

The charity Porridge and Rice is thus committed to enabling the children of the Nairobi slums, home to many of the world's poorest people, to get a sound education, helping to break the cycle of poverty and deprivation.

teacher Grace deputy head of Lizpal school in Ngando in the Nairobi slums
pupils at Lizpal school, a Porridge and Rice partner school
pupils at a Porridge and Rice partner school in the Nairobi slums home to people who are part of the extreme poor
a pupil at Excel and living in the Nairobi slum home some of the world's extreme poor

Jonas Jonasson

19 December 2018

I picked up 'Hitman Anders and the meaning of it all' and was hooked.

It has been a long time since a book has made me laugh out loud, so long that I cannot remember the last time, so it came as a real surprise the first time it happened when reading Jonas Jonasson and an even bigger surprise when it kept happening.

His books are not just comedy and farce, but offer serious comment on current events. He clearly does his homework and has strong opinions on world affairs and events.

the famous swedish author jonas jonasson

I was genuinely impressed by his knowledge of South African politics during the apartheid era and loved his portrayal of Donald Trump. With just a few words and a single event, he is able to demonstrate the buffoonery of the man. He doesn't pull his punches, and reaches far and wide across history and politics in his comment like his single mention of Theresa May who was 'too busy destroying her own country' to be able to help.

I enjoyed the first book so much, that I have worked my way through all five. My only disappointment is that he has written so few.

the hundred year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared by jonas jonasson
the girl who saved the king of sweden by jonas jonasson
hitman anders and the meaning of it all by jonas jonasson
the accidental further adventures of the hundred year old man by jonas jonasson

Verbena Bonariensis

11 December 2018

Verbena bonariensis can be used to create swathes or spots of lavender-purple flowers in summer to autumn. It grows up to 2m in height with numerous branches of clumps of bright, small flowers. It is a beautiful tall perennial that adds colour and interest to the garden with its tall stems and bright flowers.

It's perfect for bringing height to an ornamental border and also works well in planting schemes with ornamental grasses. It's a superb butterfly plant, rivalling even buddlea and goes well with Cosmos 'Purity'

Verbena bonariensis prefers sun and is easy to grow, returning year after year often seeding freely in the garden. Other than needing to be cut back before it starts to regrow in Spring, it requires virtually no attention. A deep, dry mulch in winter can help protect the plant from extreme cold.

Position: full sun
Soil: moist, well-drained soil
Flowering period: June to September

the tall herbaceous perennial verbena bonariensis with purple flowers
verbena bonariensis, ideal for height and shape in the full sun flower bed

Egon Schiele

2 Decemember 2018

Egon Schiele's work is as fresh and vibrant today as it was when he created it. Looking at it, it is hard to believe that he died over 100 years ago. He was a great painter, a revolutionary and a genius.

The bright colours, brazen nudity, and twisted poses make the viewer uncomfortable but unable to look away. They are both beautiful and disturbing in equal measure. They ooze unbridled lust verging on the pornographic.

I am looking forward to visiting the Klimt/Schiele Exhibition at the Royal Academy from 4 November 2018 to 3 February 2019.

reclining woman in green stockings by egon schiele, austrian impressionist painter
nude self portrait by egon schiele, austrian impressionist painter
the artist's wife by egon schiele, austrian impressionist painter
Harbour of Trieste, 1907 by egon schiele, austrian impressionist painter
girl undressing by egon schiele, austrian impressionist painter
Rückenakt mit orangefarbenen Strümpfen by egon schiele, austrian impressionist painter

David Davis - stupid or delusional?

21 November 2018

I read David Davis article on the Conservative website with disbelief and terror. The man was the Brexit secretary for 2 years and should know better. I can only conclude that he is dangerously delusional or incredibly stupid. Jon Worth, visiting professor in EU policy at Bruges College of Europe, tweeted "How the sodding hell has Britain had a Brexit Minister (Davis) who does not even understand the basic scheduling of the process? Or is he so mendacious or lazy he doesn't want to understand?".

The idea that the UK will benefit from a Canada type deal in the same way as Canada has, is the most dishonest claim in the article. Canada negotiated improved trade terms from the default WTO position under its deal with EU. The UK is in effect reducing its trade terms by chosing a Canada type deal. For example, as full EU members, the UK can sell services to all other EU without any barriers, something which has been a great benefit to the financial sector. This will disappear under a Canada type agreement which considers only goods and not services. The financial sector is hugely important to the UK economy meaning that losing what are known as passporting rights, will hurt the UK economy along with jobs and investment. Compared to where the UK is now, a Canada type deal is a set back for UK businesses, not to mention environmental standards, human rights, peace, and more.

His trivialising of the Irish border question is irresponsible, if not downright criminal, not to mention insulting to the people who fought to end the violence, sometimes dying as a result of their efforts. It demonstrates that he has no appreciation of how difficult it was to negotiate an end to the bloodshed and how sensitive the situation is in Northern Ireland. I sincerely hope that it never happens but if republicans feel that their ties to the Republic of Ireland are being undermined, they could very well decide to return to violence.

In addition, his belief that it is possible for the UK to be outside the Customs Union without a border of some sort between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, shows that he has absolutely no idea whatsoever of how Customs works and the importance of the EU to peace in Northern Ireland. The EU will want to know exactly which goods are crossing the Eire-NI border so they can can collect duty on them. How does the man imagine this will happen with some kind of checkpoint or border? The flippant suggest that the problem can be solved with technology has been exposed with experts pointing out that any such solution (assuming it exists) is many years away. Maybe he hopes that smuggling will compensate for lost trade.

Technically, the UK will continue to be a member of the WTO after leaving, however its membership is worthless as the schedules which define trade terms have yet to be agreed. For them to be agreed, all objections have to be approved by members, which is not a trivial task with over 27 countries having lodged objections, "small" countries like China, Russia, the US, and Argentina. Agricultural countries like New Zealand are even suing for compensation because of the added costs them trading with the UK separately from the EU. Schedules will eventually be agreed but they are likely to take a long time and many countries will take this opportunity to extract their pound of flesh from the UK. The cost will be high and the process painful and expensive, and all to achieve a worse position than the UK currently has with world trade.

Other points in his article that demonstrate how incompetent and ignorant the man is, are as follows -

  • In a no deal situation there is simply no transition period. In a no deal situation the UK, all agreements with the EU and bodies like the WTO, will cease doing huge damage to the UK economy and businesses.
  • The record suggests that David Davis spent a total of 4 hours in negotiations, so the idea that he negotiated hard is untrue.
  • The idea that the EU dragged its feet is simply not true. The EU repeatedly had to wait while the UK got its act together, a position that has not changed.
  • David Davis is not alone. Having campaigned to leave the EU, MP Nadine Dorries today bemoaned the fact that under Theresa May's proposed deal the UK has "no voice, no votes, no MEPs, no commissioner". Her ignorance is as hard to believe as it is frightening. One Twitter user summed up the situation perfectly saying "Ladies and gentlemen, this is the quality of our politicians right now. The intellect of a boiled cabbage."

    David Davis, Brexit secretary for 2 years
    Nadine Dorries, MP and lead Brexiteer

    Playing Bridge

    14 November 2018

    According to Warren Buffet, Bridge is "the best exercise there is for the brain". He is probably correct about the benefit to the brain of playing Bridge but but I play for the sheer pleasure of the game, any benefit are unexpected bonuses. Buffett also said when talking about Bridge "You know, if I'm playing bridge and a naked woman walks by, I don't ever see her".

    I play twice a week for two hours each time at Richmond Bridge Club with my partner Heather. Having only been playing seriously for just under two years, I am still a beginner with a lot to learn.

    I read Bridge books like "Winning Ways to Play Your Cards" by Paul Mendelson, and articles to improve my game, and I play on a computer game that I have when I am not at the club. My knowledge is growing steadily but each time I talk to one of the experts, I am reminded how little I actually know and still need to learn.

    winning ways to play your cards by by Paul Mendelson, a book about playing Bridge
    Warren Buffett, the American investor, playing Bridge

    Alchemilla Mollis

    3 November 2018

    Alchemilla mollis, or Lady's Mantle, is overlooked by many gardeners. It is easy to grow returning year after year and forms attractive clumps of beautifully shaped, textured olive-green leaves and yellowish flowers, yet still ignored by many gardeners.

    Alchemilla mollis is a herbaceous perennial so will return year after year only needing old leaves and flowers to be removed each winter. It forms full clumps and self-seeds which is useful if new plants are neededs - plant clumps can be divided in spring or autumn for new planting.

    It produces sprays of yellowish-green flowers from late spring until early summer. The flowers are popular with flower arrangers who use them to blend with more prominent cut flowers. If cut back after flowering, it will grow back quickly.

    It will grow well in both full sun or shade, and can be used as ground cover, borders, or to create interest in its own right. It is a highly versatile, strong, and attractive plant that will grace any garden.

    the leaves of the herbaceous perennial lady's mantle or alchemilla mollis with water droplets
    the flowers of the herbaceous perennial lady's mantle or alchemilla mollis rise above leaves with water droplets
    clumps of green lady's mantle or alchemilla mollis flowers growing along a path
    flowers of the herbaceous perennial lady's mantle or alchemilla mollis rise from the leaves

    Robert Newman

    2 November 2018

    Erudite, eloquent, and funny, Robert Newman continues to provide sharp insight into many current ideas and issues. His current series on Radio 4 takes a look at philosophy and how it often understood or applied in everyday situations from grammar schools to the multiverse hypothesis. Sadly, I only found out after the show had run its course, that he had performed the same material on stage at the Soho Theatre. It takes exceptional skill to be funny about so serious and academic subject.

    British comedian Robert Newman on Radio 4 with his unique take on life
    British comedian Robert Newman on Radio 4 talking philosophy

    Why are pumpkins carved on Halloween?

    25 October 2018

    Every year, hundreds of thousands of pumpkins are carved to make jack-o-lanterns in celebration of Halloween. The tradition seems to have started in the US but is steadily spreading around the world as more and more people in more and more countries celebrate Halloween.

    The tradition of carving pumpkins at Halloween actually has its roots in Ireland not the US! Records from the 1600 show that people carved beets, turnips or potatoes to make laterns in Ireland. Then when the Irish immigrated to the US, they were introduced to the pumpkin, and the modern tradition of carving pumpkins was born.

    Jack-o-lantern, the name of the carved pumpkin, is derived from the Irish story of Stingy Jack. In the story, Stingy Jack invites the devil to have a drink with him, but as his name applies, he didn't want to pay for the drink so persuaded the devil to turn himself into a coin to pay for the drinks. When the devil obliged, Stingy Jack put the coin into his pocket next to a cross, preventing the devil from changing back to himself. Jack only freed the devil when he agreed that he would leave him alone for a year and would not claim his soul, if he died.

    Jack and the devil met up again the next year. This time Jack tricked the devil into climbing a tree to pick fruit. While the devil was in the tree, Jack carved a cross on the trunk so the devil could not climb down from the tree until he promised to leave Jack alone for 10 years, and again not to claim his soul.

    Soon after, Jack died but god would not let him into heaven because of his character. However, he could not go to hell either because of the deal he had done with the devil so he was forced to roam the earth forever. So he could see where he was going, the devil gave Jack a piece of coal that would burn forever, and Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip to make a lantern. Having made his lantern, Jack could be spotted roaming by its glow in the dark or through the fog, so became known as "Jack of the Lantern," which was shortened to "Jack O'Lantern".

    lots of pumpkins carved as Jack-o-Lanterns for Halloween lit on stairs
    a pumpkin being carved as Jack-o-Lantern for Halloween

    Proud to have marched

    21 October 2018

    I am proud to have been one of the people marching to keep the UK in the EU yesterday. The media claim that there were 750,000 people at the march but this does not take into account that many people were marching for others.

    Even though the referendum was nearly two years ago, I am still angry at the lies of the Leave campaign and how nothing has been done about it. The only way to undo the current travesty of democracy is another referendum in which the Leave campaign are held accountable for their claims.

    I am a European and determined to do everything in my power to maintain my EU citizenship.

    my shitty sign is still better than Brexit, a sign at the People's Vote March
    Democracy is knowing what you are voting for, a sign at the People's Vote March
    britain shooting itself in the foot, a sign at the People's Vote March
    Immigrants. Making britain great since 1066, a sign at the People's Vote March

    People's Vote March

    16 October 2018

    I am an ardent Remainer determined to fight Brexit every chance I get. I believe strongly that the UK is better off in the EU and that the world is better with the UK in the EU. I have listened to the arguments of Brexiteers arguing that I should 'respect the referendum' - I don't.

    The Leave campaign told greater lies than I have seen in British politics in my life and a sizeable portion of the electorate where excluded from voting. In addition, the promises and claims of the Leavers have been shown to be false from the claim that the deal with the EU would be the easiest deal to do, to the assertion that the UK population would be no worse off after Brexit.

    The only democratic option is to ask the people whether they have changed their mind with what they have seen over the last two years knowing what they now know. In addition, it seems totally irrational to me when asking a person to make a major decision, that one would not ask if more than once if the person were sure.

    I will be joining the People's Vote March on Saturday 20 October.

    Demand a say on the final deal, the People's Vote March
    large numbers came out onto the streets to demand an end to Brexit and a say on any deal

    Zebras

    10 October 2018

    Herds of zebra grazing on the African veld is one of my favourite sites on safari in Africa. I cannot remember my first safari but am told that I was a small child. Fifty seven years later, I can still stare for hours on safari at zebra dotted across the landscape.

    I now know a lot more like the fact that there are 3 different species of zebra and numerous sub-species, some of which of highly threatened. My favourite is the Grevy's zebra, probably the most threatened species, with is neat thin stripes and large ears. It is just such a handsome animal that it would be tragic for it to disappear from the wild.

    Hopefully, I will see it in the wild someday soon and the humans sharing territory with the magnificent animal will not drive it to extinction.

    the endangered Grevy zebra of Kenya and Ethiopia
    the endangered Grevy zebra of eastern Africa

    Petting Day

    1 October 2018

    Shortly after Porridge and Rice was founded, I was looking for fund raising ideas to enable the work of the charity. Inviting local people to visit to see my pets was just one of many ideas that was tried.

    I expected a few people to vist, and hope to make between £50 and £100 so was really thrilled when the day raised just over £500. The petting days have become a regular event, held two or three times a year, and continue to be well attended raising money for the charity and spreading news of the work it does.

    child holding a Pekin Bantam chicken at a Petting Day for Porridge and Rice
    child holding a guinea pig at a Petting Day for Porridge and Rice

    Sarah Kendall: Australian Trilogy

    19 September 2018

    I had never heard of Sarah Kendall before listening to Sarah kendall: Australian Trilogy. I am now a huge fan.

    She is funny, insightful, and sensitive. She writes brilliantly and is a superb storyteller. She reminds me of David Sedaris, a man whose work I adore. I have listened to all three episodes several times, and will most certainly be listening again.

    I hope that she continues to write and broadcast.

    the australian comedienne Sarah Kendall on Radio 4 talking about family and life
    the australian comedienne Sarah Kendall on Radio 4 making sense of her life

    Primrose time

    23 April 2018

    My primroses never let me down.

    Frankly, I don't like the modern hybrids that seem so widespread, but adore the wild primrose, primula vulgaris.

    I prefer the large clusters of smaller softer flowers that covers the clump as it grows bigger each year. I love the way their bright yellow centres with pastel yellow petals fill corners of the garden like dabs of paint on a dull canvas.

    I find the way they rush onto the garden scene competing with the daffodils to see who can flower first while other plants stagger slowly into spring, quite delightful. They seem to me to have personality, cheeky, lively, and eager.

    Each year, I lift and split them potting up several to sell at fairs to raise money for Porridge and Rice, and each year they come back colourful and bright.

    If you hadn't already guessed, I am a big fan.

    spring primroses with clumps of lemon yellow flowers
    a large clump of primula vulgaris flowering as spring begins

    Under attack

    14 April 2018

    Several years ago, I saw a cute little brown mouse run across the sitting room floor. It was winter and absolutely freezing outdoors, so perfectly understandable that the little fellow had ventured indoors, and I didn't mind letting him escape from the weather. The same thing happened each winter, and me being the mad animal lover, I actually looked forward each winter to seeing the minute little nose twitching nervously as it scampered across the lounge floor with its charming large round eyes.

    This year, everything changed.

    One morning, I took out a new box of tea from the cupboard to see that it had a hole nibbled into the box. On closer inspection, I discovered that half the food in the cupboard had been attacked by mice leaving droppings everywhere in the food cupboards. On a subsequent morning, I saw a mouse run ahead of me into the bathroom and one evening, my son opened his bedroom door and a mouse ran out. One mouse had become many and the house was infested.

    My feelings changed very quickly. I went from seeing cute little rodents taking shelter in the warmth to anger and digust. I declared war with total eradication being the goal.

    At first, I put down poison and even though some of it disappeared, the mice continued to attack food and turn up all around the house so after a few weeks, I decided that I had to up my game and switched to mouse traps with peanut butter as bait with great results. Rather macabrely, I took delight in the steady stream of mouse corpses each morning adding up the numbers with satisfaction. After about a week, the traps failed to fill each night, and I realised that I had won, and we had a mouse free house again.

    Hopefully, news will filter out into the mouse kingdom because any mouse that ventures into my house next winter will encounter the wrath of the peanut butter loaded mouse trap.

    a mouse that commonly ventures into homes to eat food and find warmth
    a mouse, always on the look out for food and danger, considers his next actions

    Spring has sprung

    10 March 2018

    The garden has begun to come to life hearalding the end of winter and the start of spring. The garden will soon be alive with new growth and inquisitive insects. Two that always make me happy each year, are the first rhubarb stems and bright crocus flowers in the lawn.

    rhubarb begins to grow in spring
    crocus blossoms burst from a cold winter soil as the weather warms up

    Chickens

    1 March 2018

    I breed Pekin Bantams, a small chicken breed known for their fluffy tails and feet, and friendly nature.

    My Pekins like nothing better than to be allowed to wander freely around the garden nibbling on leaves, scratching in the flower beds, and chasing flying insects. While having fun they keep garden pests under control making it a win for them and me.

    my flock of Pekin bantams explore the garden to scratch in the soil for seeds and insects
    my flock of Pekin bantams explore the garden to scratch in the soil for seeds and insects