Well, there’s been a lot of bad news of late. I think we are all overdue to have some FUN for a change and right on cue, famous Bollywood actress and celebrity, Shilpa Shetty, has come to our rescue. God bless her.
During an interview, she commented on the decision by Indian authorities to include Harry Potter books as part of the school syllabus. She thought it was a great idea and threw in a suggestion or two of other books that would be a boon to young minds. (see picture below).
Inspired by her views on Little Women and Animal Farm, the internet wags have been a bit merciless in developing the theme of books that should be included in the reading programs of our children. Here are some great suggestions;
Fifty Shades of Grey – an amazing colouring book. Children will love it.
The Life of Pi – should be read by all children as it will enhance their mathematical skills.
Mein Kampf – is a nice guide on camping and other outdoor activities.
The Hobbit – is good. All children should be encouraged to develop good hobbits.
Anyway, this squirrel pondered over the books in his library to see what books I might recommend too. I came up with the following;
Gone with the Wind – learning about the fury of Nature and the power of tornados.
Stephen King’s IT – Never too young to start learning about computers.
The Maze Runner – sharpen your child’s mind with this giant book of crosswords, puzzles and mazes.
The Name of the Rose – introduce your child to the wonders of gardening and horticulture with this guide book to the hundreds of rose species.
V for Vendetta – the classic children’s alphabet book but with an updated and relevant twist. (A is for Apple Inc., B is for Brexit…….. Z is for Zika)
Has it finally happened?!?!?! Has the Lone Grey Squirrel become so grey that he has entered the proverbial second childhood?
For whatever reason, LGS has returned to the childhood activity of trying to colour between the lines. I blame my wife. She started it and I got dragged in.
As you smart and trendy readers would know, there seems to be a surging interest in colouring books for adults. These books are full of line drawings of varying complexity but all uncoloured. All awaiting our inner child to awake and put our imagination and creativity on paper. It is touted as a great way for stress relief and I guess it is more constructive than my old standard of throwing darts at a picture of my boss.
At any rate, the sheer proliferation of such books are a clear reflection of its popularity. And as I always say, “50 million monkeys can’t be wrong”!*
*in case you are wondering, those are lyrics from the song “The Peanut Vendor” by Moises Simons of Cuba; although the English lyrics were by L. Wolfe Gilbert and Marion Sunshine.
Anyway, I present before your cruel, critical eyes,some of my early work in this medium. Please be kind – like to a helpless baby seal. Thank you.
This post isn’t about “the odd book” as in “I have read the odd book or two” but more in the vein of “this book I read is very odd”. Regular readers will know that the Lone Grey Squirrel avidly follows international awards like those for odd and funny scientific research (IgNobel awards) and awards for works of fiction so bad that they are good ( Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest) . I recently discovered a new international award that is equally good at recognising the bad, the ugly and the funny.
It is the “tadaaaaa……” Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year . This annual award goes to the most interesting, weird and unusual book title. Please note that most of these books are serious and well researched literary works but the titles can make our imagination run wild and tickle our funny bones.
This was started during the Frankfurt Book Fair of 1978 and the winner of the inaugural award was “Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice”. As funny and as odd as that might seem, as a scientist, I actually studied nude mice. Before you think that nude mice is part of a study on sexual perversion, let me explain that nude mice are actually specially bred laboratory mice with suppressed immune systems used in medical research. Ya….so now you know…….nude mice……try to get that image out of your mind!
Here are a selection of other past winners that made this squirrel chuckle;
The Madam as Entrepreneur: Career Management in House Prostitution (1979)
The Joy of Chickens (1980)
Natural Bust Enlargement with Total Power: How to Increase the Other 90% of Your Mind to Increase the Size of Your Breasts (1985)
How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art (1989)
Bombproof Your Horse (2004)
How to Poo on a Date (2013)
And finally, this year’s winner, Too Naked For the Nazis
Finally, here are some other fascinating literary oddities that I scraped together for your edification;
Judging from the noticeable lack of comments on my previous post and the content of the few comments that were there, the political situation in the USA remains tense and is a topic that is either offensive or uncomfortable with readers. So I decided that for this post, I should stick with a topic that should be offensive to no one but myself …….. i.e. my recent 50th birthday.
It was actually in September but that was right in the middle of my big house-moving exercise and blog break, so I did not post on it earlier. Of course, I got my expected portion of “50 year old” gag birthday greetings like “You are now officially an Oldie” or “Don’t worry – once you are over the hill, you pick up speed”. Sadly, that was about all I got. Not a single present. Nada. Zero. Zilch.
My wife was trying to plan a surprise party for me with some friends but with all the packing and the rush of moving house, it did not materialize. I don’t usually celebrate my own birthdays so it was not really missed. Some say that turning the BIG 50 is an important milestone that should be celebrated but I think they are just hoping for a party and some cake. Besides, I don’t think of myself as 50 but as 18 with 32 years of experience!
Anyway, to celebrate the additional 32 years of being 18, I tried to trace how my tastes and directions have changed during that time. As you see, I am still a work in progress and still changing……..
I am a big fan of the science fiction genre and it seems I have been breathing sci-fi these last few days. Definitely overdosing on a sci-fi high.
This afternoon, I went to watch the movie “Prometheus”. This was a movie that had me shivering with anticipation. In 1979, Ridley Scott gave us the first Alien movie which was a masterpiece of tension-building and directorial economy. The next movie, “Aliens” was also a masterpiece but a completely different animal – it was more of a war movie. The later movies in the series, all by different directors, were a long fall from the standard established by the first two movies. But how would Ridley Scott revisit this franchise after 33 years and how would he handle this prequel?
Well, he did great. The storyline does develop the overall story-verse further and in a rather imaginative and different way than the earlier movies. He was also able to keep it fresh even though he had to follow some concepts already well known to fans of the series. It did not disappoint although, in my opinion, it still did not come close to the excellence of Alien and Aliens.
Yesterday, I noted that Ray Bradbury passed away at the age of 91. Ray Bradbury was a science fiction, fantasy and horror story writer and it was reading his stories when I was a youth that got me started with my fascination with science fiction. I was particularly enthralled by “The Martian Chronicles” and by the short story “All Summer in a Day“. Reading the many tributes to him in the media, many famous authors also shared that he had been a major influence on their writing. Certainly, his stories will continue to inspire many others.
Finally, the day before, the British magazine SFX published the results of a poll they carried out. More than 10,000 sci-fi fans voted to determine the Top 100 science fiction, fantasy and horror movies of all time. I was pretty pleased that most of my favorite movies of the genre also did well on the poll.
Below are my choice of top 10 movies of the genre. The equivalent ranking in the SFX poll is given in brackets.
Well, at last the Harry Potter franchise of books and movies that seemed to have dominated the lives of so many young people in the last decade has come to an end.
I have always complained that the Harry Potter stories by J.K. Rowling were poorly written, predictable, formulaic, repetitive and full of plot holes. Well, I am a big enough squirrel to admit that 50% of that is what I believe but the other 50% is a case of sour grapes on my part. Why? Cause she became a billionaire from writing this teen fodder. ……….I wish I had done that!
Anyway, I watched the final film installment of the series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part II)”. It was probably one of the best in the series and I have to admit that she managed to tie all the loose ends up rather well, even though the concept of the Hallows themselves seemed a little contrived and if examined under the electron microscope, certain plot flaws may be seen. Anyway, that is my way of grudgingly acknowledging her writing.
Still, one wonders why it was such a mega-hit. What can we learn so that we can churn out the next mega-hit for this decade and become billionaires ourselves. Well, the big mega-hit of my generation was Star Wars (although I lost interest after the fourth movie in the series).
After spending my entire nut reserve on research, I can reveal to you that there is a certain formula followed by both Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker.
Following on from the last post on “possessed foods”, comes more discussion about the strange and wonderful. I have always had an interest in the weird, the odd, the unusual and the paranormal. I was fated to be a fan of the X-files as I was of Kolchak -the Night Stalker, which was its predecessor and according to X-file creator, Chris Carter, an inspiration for the series.
I haven’t abandoned my scientific sensibilities and try to look at each of these reported phenomena objectively. At the same time, I don’t dismiss all paranormal phenomena as bogus hocus pocus and hoaxes, believing instead that where there is smoke, there is fire. I don’t believe in aliens creating crop circles, for example, as it can easily be done by pranksters. However, other phenomena may appear strange but may be scientifically verified and explained when properly scrutinised.
To my great satisfaction, two of my favorite strange phenomena from my youth have now been more or less been properly documented and there are now plausible scientific theories to explain them. These are the phenomena of “spontaneous human combustion” and “ball lightning”.
Spontaneous human combustion refers to cases where humans are believed to burst into flames such that the bodies are discovered burnt to ashes with the exception of parts of the hands or legs. However, there maybe minimal damage to the surroundings such as the bed or chair. An interesting literary side-note is that Charles Dickens killed off one of his characters, Krook, in Bleak House by this means.
The “wick” theory seems to adequately explain all the different aspects of the phenomena and has been successfully demonstrated using pig carcasses. The theory basically says that a low grade fire caused by, for example, a cigarette lighting a blanket, can be fueled by melting body fat. The blanket may take up the oil and the oil may burn but the blanket would only char just as in a lit candle where the wick does not burn. In this way, the body is consumed with little damage to the surrounding and the parts of the body with least fat, i.e. hands and legs, are not consumed.
Then there is ball lightning. Ball lightning have been reported for hundreds of years. They are basically charged luminous spheres which can move around for short periods. In some cases, they appear capable of going through surfaces like walls but in other cases they explode on contact. They can kill people in the same way normal lightning can. One of the earliest well documented case involved a 2.4 m diameter ball of fire that entered a church in Devon, England in 1638 which killed 4 people.
For many centuries, science tended to ignore ball lightning as an unreliably reported phenomena. There was no theory then that could explain electricity or lightning behaving in this strange manner. However, many scientists today accept ball lightning as a rare but naturally occurring phenomena and while it is still unclear what really happens in nature, similar glowing spheres have been successfully created in laboratory experiments.
These luminous spheres can be created by discharging a high voltage capacitor in a tank of water; or by using microwaves on certain compounds and objects; or by the oxidising of silicon vapours. The microwave experiments produce “plasma balls” which adequately demonstrates all the know properties and behavior of ball lightning.
Strangely, one of the things that seems to produce plasma in a microwave is a cut grape (as seen in the video below). I wonder how that was discovered. Probably some bored scientist putting everything he/she could find in the kitchen into the microwave for entertainment. Anyway, don’t try this at home. Apparently the fumes produce are toxic and the gases can get so heated up that it can shatter glass. You have been warned.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
Anyway, this post is meant to whet your appetite for the strange and unusual cause next week I will share with you one strange X-file that this humble squirrel was indirectly involved in. Till then. Too doo, too doo, too doo too doo……. (theme from Twilight Zone).
I know it seems strange but I have actually been asked on two separate occasions as to whether I was Scottish. Now regular readers will know that under all this grey fur hides a slightly paunchy middle-aged Chinese Malaysian. So you might be wondering if these two persons were escapees from the mad house or were inebriated by a few wee drams of Scotland’s best Scotch Whiskey. But no. The reason for their puzzled faces and curious question is that at one time I spoke as if “Ah was born a wee bairn oan th’ windswept scottish highlands“. “Still dornt kin? Ah cannae make it clearer than thes……Ah spick loch scottie th’ wee engineer frae Star Trek”. Okay before I go overboard …… let’s go on with my tale.
There is a reason for this strange phenomena …….. when one enters the “Dark Hole of Bowness-on-Windermere”, one does not come out of it unaffected. But more about this at the end of the post.
I spent 5 years in United Kingdom leading up to my completion of my degree in Biochemistry. Before going there, I was your typical country bumpkin who had never even been out of the country before …… not even to neighboring Singapore. I did get some pre-conceptions about life in UK from reading books and novels. From those readings, the things that stuck in my mind most was the bleak and windswept Yorkshire Moors of Wuthering Heights; the gentle hills and lakes of the Lake District which was home to Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit and the remote Scottish coast near the Isle of Skye which was the location of Camusfearna from the book “Ring of Bright Water“.
So during my second summer there, when looking for some work to help pay the bills, I suddenly had the idea of combining my work quest with my hopes of visiting one of these iconic places. Together with my friend, James, also from Malaysia, we got a job as housekeeping staff at a guest house in the Lake District.
In those days, there were no super highways reaching that part of England and many went there by train, arriving at Windermere station which is still quite a distance from Windermere Lake. The town is actually Bowness-on- Windermere (Windermere is actually the name of the lake). We walked the entire distance down to the lake and then followed the lakeside trail out of town and past the line of cars waiting to catch the small ferry across the lake and a few minutes later, we arrived at a wonderfully quaint guest house which was called Meadowcroft. There is still a guest house in Windermere by that name but I do not believe that it is the same one.
The place was really an old farmer’s home which had been converted into the guest house with about 8 rooms. It was run by a young couple who had a 5 year old son. Apart from ourselves, who were basically the summer reinforcements, the only other person was this middle-aged Scottish woman named Agnes.
Our typical day consisted of waking up at about 6.30 in the morning so that we could assist in getting the breakfast ready as well as packed lunches for guests that had requested it. Breakfast was served between 7.30 and 9.30 am and then we helped clean up in the eating area and also cleaning the common areas. Later in the morning, we would either help clean the rooms and make the beds or do the washing of plates and cutlery. The place was also a working farm although it was small scale and so we would also then help on the farm. If we were lucky, some days, the boss would let us off by about 2.30 pm after lunch and we would not be required back until 5.30 pm and so we would cram in as much hiking and sightseeing that we could. We were also given a day off once a week which was so precious and highly anticipated. Work resumed at night with the evening meal and washing up and then the nightcap of coffee, tea or hot chocolate and then washing up. We’d finally crawl into bed all tired out at about 11pm.
Having to walk everywhere meant that we did not get to go very far from Meadowcroft but we could follow the lakeside to the south, we could climb the Fell immediately behind and to the east, we managed to take the ferry across the lake and tramp around Beatrix Potter’s house in Far Sawrey, we even managed to catch a bus to quaint town of Keswick on Derwentwater Lake. It’s strange that I have few vivid images of all these places in my head but my memory is instead, more of a feeling of general and complete wellness and of being alive.
But, I do have vivid memories of the “Dark Hole of Bowness-on-Windermere”! One of the least popular of all the chores was doing the washing up. The dirty dishes were brought in and the organic wastes had to be separated form the rest (for food for farm animals). Next, they were rinsed and then placed into a large scale dishwasher. We then had to run the dishwasher which sprayed the plates and cutlery with hot soapy water and then rinse it with hot clean water. Both times, steam fills this tiny room and the place gets really uncomfortably hot and incredibly humid. We then had to dry the dishes and cutlery in that hot humid environment. It was inhumane conditions which brought to mind the story of the Dark Hole of Calcutta when in 1756, the Nawab of Bengal had British prisoners (including women and children) placed into a tiny prison with only a couple of small barred windows for ventilation. It is believed that 146 prisoners was placed into a cell intended for just 4-5 people and as a result of the heat, humidity and lack of air, 123 were dead by the next day.
Okay, there were usually only two of us but it was still quite unpleasant. Eventually, James took to dodging dishwashing duty by volunteering to do almost anything else which resulted in myself and Agnes being incarcerated repeatedly in our Bowness torture chamber. Yet, it was in those times of enforced confinement and mutual suffering that Agnes and I had some really wonderful and open conversations about ourselves, our hopes and our beliefs. I don’t remember much of what we shared but I have a strong almost physical memory of the heat, the humidity, the smell of soapy water and a sense of a rare and wonderful connection with a fellow human being.
Now Agnes had a very, very broad and infectious Scottish accent and so with the repeated subjection together to the Dark Hole of Bowness, I finally emerged not only with dishpan hands, a soap induced itch and possibly ringworm but I was speaking Scottish to boot.
“Smilla’s Sense of Snow” is a best selling novel by Danish writer Peter Hoeg which was made into a movie in 1997. Julia Ormond played the lead character, Smilla, who grew up in Greenland. The premise is that Eskimos have about a couple of hundred words to describe the different types of snow and Smilla uses her knowledge of the different types of snow to solve the mystery of the death of a young boy. A couple of hundred words for snow. Probably not true but what an interesting thought nonetheless.
It’s raining here today. A slow but steady drizzle that started the previous night so that we woke up this morning to a wet and overcast world. Typically, this steady and long rainfall always causes the traffic to slow to a crawl and as I waited in the gridlock, my mind drifted towards contemplating the different types of rain that I have experienced in my life.
When the rain falls gently but steadily in a light shower, I like to go out for long walks. I’d put on a raincoat with a hood an just lose myself in the rain. I enjoy the sound of the rain striking the raincoat and watching the water dripping off the edge of the hood. I like the occasional refreshing gentle spray of water on my face or running down my fingers. I do a lot of good thinking in this rain. I often start my walk while in a funk but by the end of the walk my mood would have been lifted as if my worries were washed away. I guess I could call this type of rain, “therapeutic rain”.
There is another sort of liquid precipitation that is common in only certain parts of the world. I refer to “thick pea soup fog”. This is when the temperature is on the cold side but the air is almost fully saturated with moisture. Water hangs in the air in the form of tiny droplets which readily settle on all surfaces. I became very familiar with this type of precipitation when I went to visit a friend in Hastings, England. Hastings has some spectacular cliffs and I made four attempts over a two year period to see these cliffs. However, each time I went along the cliff top, everything was hidden behind this wall of white moisture. I guess for me, it will always be known as the Hastings Horror Rain.
I once did a silly thing when I went fell walking in the English Lake District without first checking out the weather forecast. As a result, I was caught on the exposed hill tops to fiercely icy driving rain which soon penetrated through the layers of my water resistant gear and drenched me and waterlogged my clothes in freezing cold water. So this sort of rain should rightly be called “Fool’s rain” because only fools go walking in this rain and the cold and wet soon made me hypothermic and made me behave even more like a fool. I actually ended up sitting by the side of a lake as a thunder and lightning storm broke above me, smiling and clapping at the light and sound display. Only when my brain warmed up later that I realised how stupid I was to be twiddling my toes in the lake water during a lightning storm.
One of my favorites is the first rains of the monsoon. This seasonal rain of the tropics can be awe inspiring. If you have a good vantage point, you can actually see the dark clouds and the rain advance across the landscape like a heavy curtain; a distinct wall of water falling down on to the earth. You could be standing in sunshine and yet a tremendous wall of water could be just ten meters away and advancing rapidly. You could not outrun this water curtain and once it caught you, there was no way to keep dry. The sheer volume of water coming down, pooling at your feet and splashing back upwards make umbrellas and most measures totally ineffectual. It is the closest to being in water as you can get while walking on land. This “Monsoon Curtain Rain” would soon cause the playing fields to be covered with a layer of water and you would soon hear the sound of laughter as children take the opportunity to play soccer in the water and mud. I have fond memories of Monsoon Curtain Rain.
There is a small, quaint and ancient cathedral hidden in the twisting alleyways of the Spanish town of Valencia. The building itself is a strange oddity reflecting a variety of architectural styles ranging from early Romanesque, subtle Renaissance, heavy Baroque and the more restrained Neoclassical.
The intrepid Carolina Squirrel (Squirreldom’s equivalent of Indiana Jones; a dashingly handsome and rugged archaeologist/adventurer squirrel) followed the clues laid out by an ancient manuscript that he had decoded which is known as “Lonely Planet – Valencia” and found himself outside this unique cathedral.
Upon entering, Carolina Squirrel found a strange religious ceremony taking place in which two people carry out a public sacrifice of their freedom and swinging singlehood in a ritual known as a “marriage”. While, Carolina Squirrel was mildly entertained by the local natives dressed up in their ceremonial robes, he was not deterred from his search. With his squinty eyes, he scanned the dark recesses and elaborate carved decorations of the cathedral. Then suddenly, he saw it!
The Holy Grail! The holy relic said to be a cup used by Christ at the last supper was here. Dan Brown and his Da Vinci Code placed the grail as buried under the small pyramid at the Louvre in Paris. Pffft! He got it wrong!
The grail has been in Valencia since the 11th Century. Tradition holds that Saint Peter brought it to Rome in the first century and then it was brought to Spain by Saint Lawrence in the third century. Archaeologists have determined that the artifact is a Middle Eastern stone vessel which does in fact date back to the first century. It now sits on top of an Medieval era ornate stem and base of alabaster, gold and gemstones. The cup was the official papal chalice of many popes and was most recently used by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.
Having triumphantly solved this mystery, the intrepid Carolina Squirrel is off to find Aladdin’s magic lamp.
*(The grey squirrel is known scientifically as Sciurus carolinensis. Hence the choice of Carolina Squirrel in place of Indiana Jones. “Carolina Squirrel and Aladdin’s Lamp” coming soon to a cinema near you ….as soon as I can get some %@*# backers with vision to fund its filming!)
All pictures by LGS
Viewing the World Through the Observation of Squirrels