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Posted on December 30, 2009 in Life, the Universe and Everything by Jay36 Comments »

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Well, here we are, the letter everyone loves to hate has arrived again. This week’s ABC Wednesday is brought to you by the letter ‘X‘. And for a change, I actually have something exciting for you! See that fish up there? It’s a swordfish. And you know what? It’s a member of the family Xiphiidae, and goes by the name of Xiphias gladius.

But wait … that fish is not swimming! He’s stuffed, is what he is, and I saw him in a natural history museum in Tring, Hertfordshire, when I visited friends back in May this year.

This gorgeous fellow looks like a close relative, doesn’t he? I mean, you’d think he was a member of the Xiphiidae too, wouldn’t you?

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But no. This is a sailfish, from another family altogether. This natural history is fascinating stuff, no? And of course, my Other Half, Mr Yellow Swordfish, isn’t a fish at all – although if he were, I’m willing to speculate that perhaps his name would be Xiphias xanthus.

The Tring Natural History Museum is absolutely stuffed (if you’ll pardon the pun) with thousands of creatures of all kinds, all preserved by the art of taxidermy, except for the invertebrates which are merely pickled. It looks like a very creepy and unpleasant place to some, I know, because one of the ladies I visited with that day had to go out and sit in the foyer for a while, but in fact it houses a collection of enormous importance to scientists and researchers aiming to preserve and protect those animals we have left in the world. Talking of which …

You know what these birds are, don’t you?

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These are Dodos*! Members of an extinct species, meaning there are no Dodos left anywhere in the world. The poor things are an eX-species. Not known for extreme intelligence, they were hunted by man and beast until they were gone.

Another type of bird in the collection is the kiwi, from New Zealand. These ultra-cute little guys are members of the genus Apterix, which conveniently for me contains a most useful ‘X‘!

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There were so many things there that I didn’t take photos of, sadly. Like the Deathwatch Beetle (Xestobium rufovillosum), and the African Oryx. I thought I had an Oryx, but no, lots of antelope as you see, but no Oryx. Unless that’s the backside of one, here on the left?

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Well. It might be! They have very distinctively marked faces, you see, but their bums could be anybody. Well, almost anybody. They do have that tufted tail …

Oh, one more thing. In the entranceway of the museum stands a dog which in my day as a veterinary nurse we would have written up as a ‘X-breed‘, which was shorthand for cross-breed, or mongrel. His name, as you see, was London Jack.

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And he, along with other dogs scattered all over England, patrolled the station platforms during the late 1800s collecting for the Railwaymen’s charity which helped to support the families of those killed in the course of their work. I’m sure he must have had a nicer expression on his face when he was alive, or he wouldn’t have collected much, would he?

*Don’t get too xcited. Those aren’t real, stuffed dodos, they are re-creations, based on many resources and as close to the real thing as the xperts could get.

Posted on December 28, 2009 in Oddities, The Home Front by Jay26 Comments »

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It’s Macro Monday again, and I have another puzzle for you. Some of you will recognise it instantly, others may not. It’s a very common item in most households, and I only photographed it today because one of my Christmas gifts was a nice new macro lens for my bridge camera, and I wanted to see what it could do.

It’ll take a little getting used to. I need to work out how best to light things, for instance, because I left it far too late today and the light outside was gone, so all I had was ordinary indoor lighting plus the ‘daylight’ flourescent anglepoise which I use for my jewellery making.

This is probably far too easy, but take a guess. What is it?

Check back tomorrow for the answer – I’ll put it in the comments.

Posted on December 27, 2009 in Life, the Universe and Everything, The Home Front by Jay16 Comments »

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When we moved into this house about sixteen years ago, one of the things we liked about it was the open fireplace in the lounge.

We had two working fireplaces in our first house (actually the only form of heating in that one) and in one house we had a combination of central heating and an open fire in the lounge, but mostly we’ve simply had central heating.  Now a centrally heated house is a wonderful thing, but radiators and warm air heating ducts have no soul.  They do not warm the heart as well as the body.  They don’t thumb the nose quite as effectively at the hideous weather outside as do leaping flames and glowing coals and spitting logs.  So even though the leaping flames are followed by cold ashes in the morning which have to be poked and scraped and cleaned before you can repeat the experience, and even though there is nothing more frustrating than painstakingly laying a fire and setting a match to it only to have the damn thing fail to catch, when we saw that fireplace, we wanted it, because a centrally heated house with a working fireplace?  That’s the best of both worlds.

‘Does it work?’ we asked?  ‘Oh yes’, they replied, ‘we often have a fire in the winter’*.  So despite the many and varied faults in the house we signed on the dotted line and that fireplace (along with the incredibly numerous and varied faults) was ours.

So, did it work?

Is the Pope a Bhuddist?

The answer to both questions is no.  The fireplace did not work, it smoked us like kippers in a sealed shed, especially when the wind was in the north or east (which being on the edge of the fens it usually is in the winter) and being asthmatic, I quickly stopped trying to light that fire and turned up the heating instead, and the bags of coal gathered cobwebs in the garage.

Eventually, we recovered sufficiently from the crippling mortgage to start addressing the many and varied problems of the house, and eventually, after we had the structural stuff sorted out, we decided to have our lovely builder raise the chimney to solve our blow-back problems, and that, dear readers, was about three years ago and until a week ago, we had not lit a fire.

Why? Well, we’d got kind of used to not having one, and I was nervous of all that smoke.  I had a few persistent coughs and didn’t want to risk asthma on top of them.  Then the wind was in the wrong direction.  Then during the calm, ‘no cough’ periods, we didn’t have any kindling and forgot to get some.  Or it was too cold to have the windows open to clear the smoke if it did blow back down, or it was too hot to want to try the fire in the first place.  Or it was … oh, there were a hundred different reasons.  But one day in the run up to Christmas (as if we didn’t have enough to do), we decided to give it a try.

And look!  It works beautifully!

And you know how you can see pictures in a living fire?  Well, now that we have it burning like a … well, like a house on fire, I see quite an exciting little scene in this one.

What do you see?

 

*These people, as it turned out, were economical with the truth.

Posted on December 24, 2009 in Hounds, Life, the Universe and Everything by Jay17 Comments »

Merry Christmas to all our readers!

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And may you all have a happy and peaceful 2010.

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