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Friday, January 25, 2008

The blood pump icon

At this time of year the shops seem full of greetings cards plastered with stylised blood pump icons. I have even seen chocolate cast in the shape of the blood pump icon, and wrapped in tin foil (invariably red).

Now we know that in higher mammals the heart has no other function whatsoever than to pump blood. Of course it can respond to stimuli received from other sensory receptors, for example, eyes and ears, but it cannot generate them.

Mataphors concerning the heart are manifold: So when we say: "Learned by heart"; "with all my heart"; I know in my heart that..."; "my heartfelt thanks"; "from the bottom of my heart"; "you broke my heart"; and many others, we are using metaphors.

Now, metaphor is a useful device in the English language (and maybe others). It adds colour and variation in the way we express ourselves. I used one in the post below when I said that I "learned something by heart". Of course I really learned it in my brain. But metaphor may be ambiguous, and be interpreted in different ways by different people at different times. For example, try telling a breakfast waiter in Paris: "This morning I feel like an egg".

Here is a sample conversation between two partners. It goes like this:

Partner A: "Darling, when I look at you, my heart beats faster!".

Partner B: "Darling, the same happens to me; the images of each other that we receive on our retinas are translated by our brains as anticipation of sexual activity. The brain sends a biochemical or physiological signal to the heart to increase the blood flow accordingly".

A: But darling, I love you with all my heart, will you marry me?

B: "Darling, you know perfectly well that I have a PhD in anatomy and physiology; I am not prepared to sign a contract of marriage with you based on a metaphor. Now please tell me exactly what you mean, and I'll consider your proposition".

A: Errrrrm....

Your role is to complete the sentence of Partner A without using metaphor (in the comments box). If you are tempted to use the word "heart", try replacing it with "blood pump" to see if you are still conveying your intended meaning.

You never know, I may accept the best proposal...

(Thanks to Halfmom,aka,Susan for the idea.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

The first primrose of spring

Yesterday I saw my first primrose of this spring. By any standards 19th January is early, but as far north as Cumbria, it seems exceptional.

My first primrose of spring invariably makes my heart skip a beat. It reminds me of my all-time favourite novel, Lorna Doone by R. D. Blackmore. There is one particular passage that I know by heart, the occasion when John Ridd first sets eyes on Lorna; my favourite passage in my favourite book. Here it is:

"I had never heard so sweet a sound as came from between her bright red lips, while there she knelt and gazed at me; neither had I ever seen anything so beautiful as the large dark eyes intent upon me, full of pity and wonder.

And then, my nature being slow, and perhaps, for that matter, heavy, I wandered with my hazy eyes down the black shower of her hair, as to my jaded gaze it seemed; and where it fell on the turf, among it (like an early star) was the first primrose of the season.

And since that day I think of her, through all the rough storms of my life, when I see an early primrose."


Monday, January 14, 2008

Margherita di Savóia - Citta' del Sale

Wars have been fought over it. It has been used as a trading currency. The wealth of whole cities have been founded on it. Elephants will wander deep into caves to search for it. Effigies of the pope have been sculptured in it.

The product is, of course, salt.

There are places (for example, Wieliczka in Poland) where salt is still mined deep underground. In other places it may be obtained from sea water by evaporation in artificial basins (lagoons) that can cover hundreds of square miles.

Such extraction of salt from sea water takes place at Margherita di Savóia, situated on the Adriatic coast between Bari and Gargano in the province of Puglia, Italy. The evaporation basins here (some 4,000 hectares in extent) attract thousands of aquatic wading birds, from Greater Flamingoes to Little Stints. In what is otherwise a very developed part of Italy (for example from the plane all I could see from horizon to horizon was continuous polythene sheeting protecting vineyards from the frost) these evaporation lagoons offer a haven for the naturalist abroad.

You can just make out some of the evaporation lagoons from the air (top centre)

Salt crystallises from seawater in the lagoons under the heat from the sun.... be raked into piles by bulldozers....

...and moved by conveyor belt to piles where it is stored for distribution.

The evaporation lagoons are habitat for thousands of flamingos and other aquatic bird species

The other location I found particularly attractive was the Gargano National Park (a round trip of over 200 miles from Bari - a day well spent) which took me through the mountain town of Monte San Angelo where there is a historic castle.
The castle at Monte San Angelo for Merisi who likes castles better than birds and who encouraged me to go here in the first place!

The central attraction of the Gargano National Park is the Foresta Umbra, the only remaining part in Italy of the ancient oak and beech forest that once covered much of Central Europe. This was quite unexpected and a delight to stumble upon and provided several new birds for my list, including Firecrest, Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper and Green Woodpecker. The forest floor has fresh snowdrops in bloom - my first of the year.

A view in the Foresta Umbra

Snowdrops in bloom

My accommodation in Bari was Spartan - not even a toothbrush glass was provided. But the cap from my cylinder of shaving foam provides an adequate receptacle with which to sample the local Puglian wine!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


Happy New Year!
This melon was with the New Year's Eve buffet at the Black Dog in Dalton. Can you read the message carved into it? (Look at the green surface)

Here are a few images of Yultide at Maalie Court

Susie contemplates the Christmas breakfast spread

Susie and Simon partake of a snack

Simon cannot manage without an Australian lager (the Runcible Fellow)

As Christmas morning was bright and sunny, we took a trip into the hills at the head of the Duddon Valley

A Christmassy scene at the head of the Duddon Valley

A gnarled mountain ash tree emerges from the dispersing mist

The wintering thrushes had not discovered this holly tree!

Back in Maalie Court, a brace of pheasants is ready for the oven. Simon commented that the streaky bacon wrapping made them look like Union Jacks!

A Happy New Year to you all and Happy Blogging in 2008!