Saturday, 24 July 2010

Not a blog

This is not a blog, it's just a reply to Alison's kind Comment of 23.7.10.

Its true that one of my ambitions when I wrote the first blog was to cover every computer in the country in masticated cornflakes, as Alison implies. The sad fact is that it didn't happen. Hers is probably the only speckled Mac.

My first blog, dealing as it did with Rude Bits and No God, was very well received, and people continued to tune in for several days, presumably to see whether God would either reply or smite me. When neither event happened, they seemed to lose interest, even though I tempted them with Dead (or at least moribund) Sheep, Flatus and even Dead Sheep and Flatus in the House of Commons. Tells yer sumfink about the blogging public, don't it!

However the real reason I began my short blogging career was to bring my new book entitled 'Why Man Made Gods and Dogs' (ISBN no. 978-0-9565588-0-0) to the attention of a world-wide audience. This was because it has a two important ideas which I think people should know about.

The first is that modern science strongly suggests that there is very unlikely to be a God. Many people know that, but my book explains why, in simple terms, looking at the whole of science from cosmology to neurobiology and evolutionary psychology. The idea is not to denigrate religion, but since religion seems to be a major cause of conflict in the world, young people in particular need to be aware of the history of the innumerable religions and realize that they can't all be right, and probably none of them are.

The second idea (the new bit, which needs publicity) is that religion probably has a survival value for the genome, in the Darwinian evolutionary sense. When early Man became intelligent enough to ask difficult and unanswerable questions about life, death and the Universe, he had to postulate the existence of supernatural forces, a Spirit and an after-life. This naturally led to the concept of gods, worship, sacrifice, prayers and rituals. The formation of tribes and altruistic behaviour has survival value for a species, hence the need for religion becomes hard-wired into the human brain. There has to be something out there, doesn't there? Once spirituality becomes part of the genome, it doesn't easily give up.

OK, you've got the two main ideas now, so you don't need to read the book, though it does have quite a few jokey bits, it only costs £9 (in U.K., including postage) and you can order it from
perrottpress at Oh, and the profits if any, will go to the National Eczema Society.

Alison, I quite enjoy trying to make you laugh, but my wife says there's grouting to be done, and you were the one who told me off for letting her tire herself with laying the paving slabs.

Bye for now.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Career Choices

We scientists are generally thoughtful folk, not known for taking our pleasures in the form of wild drug-fuelled bacchanalian orgies, of the type indulged in by city bankers and pop-stars. We do regularly have Professor Brian Cox on the telly, but Sid Vicious he isn't. He is every Northern granny's pin-up boy, and I doubt whether he was ever the Mick Jagger type, even in his pop-star heyday.

This tendency for scientists to take their quiet pleasures where they may is epitomized by the 'Feedback' column in the weekly magazine 'New Scientist'. It generally confines itself to a type of slightly pedantic humour occasioned by the incapacity of many lesser journalists to distinguish their high-voltage arcs from their El Ninos. What they call 'Fruit-loopery', the crazy pseudo-scientific claims of so many modern advertizers, is another of 'Feedback's regular hobby-horses, and quite right too.

Recently they've been having great fun with acronyms, those words formed from the initial letters of other words, e.g. radar, derived from RAdio Detection And Ranging. They've been delving into the intricacies of 'nested acronyms', where the first letter of an acronym is itself used in another acronym, and you can then form acronyms in acronyms in acronyms, like those little gaily-painted wooden Russian matrushka dolls.

A SNARE, for example is a SNAp REceptor. Maybe you didn't realize that a SNAP, which contributes the SNA part of Snare, is the acronym for Soluble NSF-Attached Proteins. And as we all know, NSF is our old friend N-ethylmaleimide-Sensitive-Fusion protein.

The record so far appears to be a nest of 4 acronyms within acronyms in Appendix 7 of the Report of the 37th Meeting of the Coordination Group for International Satellites held in October 2009. You'd need to read New Scientist, July 10th, page 64 for further details of RARS and how it might affect us all. You may laugh, but the trouble with science is that it might easily affect us all.

Personally I like SECS. It stands for SEMI Equipment Communication Standard. 'And what is SEMI?' I hear you ask breathlessly. It's all to do with semiconductors. Those which have to communicate are labelled SECS I, SECS II etc. but those which do not need to communicate are simply called British, as in the long-running comedy No Sex Please, We're British.

My own research was never complicated enough to have an acronym, so I had to get my kicks in more devious ways. I worked at various times with Dr. Pye, Dr. Black, Dr. White, Dr. Peachey and Dr. Bottoms, all of whom had different areas of scientific expertise. I eventually managed to devise projects in which I was listed as an author with Peachey and Pye, but I never managed to get into juxtaposition with Peachey, Black, Bottoms et al.

Now I write blogs and books about Gods and Dogs.

I think I'd rather have been a pop-star.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Just once!

Judith Woods wrote a short piece for the Telegraph yesterday (21.7.10) entitled 'A night with the nanny, priceless' in which she described how a friend of hers had been baby-sitting in a 5-star hotel and when she emerged from the hotel at 2 am, looking somewhat tired and dishevelled, she was propositioned by two Russian men who thought she was looking for business. They assured her that money was no object. Judith says the woman's boyfriend was livid but, she writes,"The rest of us, truth be told, felt oddly jealous".

We fellows, musing on the mysteries of life, sometimes wonder how common these little female fantasies are?

I asked my friend Richard (Rich for short, but not for long, which explains his fatal attraction) for his opinion, as he is very knowledgeable in these matters, and he told me that once, long, long ago when they had steam trains with individual carriages, he had been lucky enough to be isolated in such a carriage with a most attractive young woman (MAYW), and the following conversation ensued.

Rich, folding up his newspaper, leaning forward and gazing earnestly into her eyes. 'You know, you have the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen' .
MAYW, smiling demurely 'Oh, thank you'.

Rich, 'In fact you're the most attractive woman I have ever seen in my life'
MAYW, blushing slightly 'Oh really? You flatter me'.

Rich, ' Would you sleep with me for £10?'.
MAYW, deeply offended 'Certainly not, I was never so insulted in all my life'

Rich goes back to reading his newspaper for 10 minutes, then leans forward again.
Rich, 'I'm sorry I didn't mean to offend you, but I am in fact a very,very wealthy man and you are absolutely irresistible, and so I wonder whether you'd make me deliriously happy by sleeping with me for just one night for £1 million'.
(I think the later Pretty Woman film pinched his idea actually).
MAYW, sees his Rolex watch and his Gucci shoes. 'Well if it was just the once and we were very discreet, I suppose I, er... Well, yes, I suppose I would'.

Rich says nothing, but goes back to reading his newspaper for 10 minutes, then leans forward again.
Rich, 'I'm still very keen on you, would you sleep with me just once for £20?
MAYW, 'Certainly not, what kind of a girl do you think I am?'

Rich, 'I think we've already established what kind of girl you are, now we're haggling about the price'.

Of course I don't believe a word of it, but I do believe what happened to him last week in his Retirement Home. An elderly lady burst into the recreation room, held her clenched fist in the air and shouted, “Anyone who can guess what’s in my hand can have sex with me to-night!"
Richard, long past it, looks up wearily from his newspaper and says “An elephant?”
The lady thinks a minute...... “Close enough.”

Corn oil

My wife and I spent last weekend at an educational establishment.

It was my daughter's house actually, and for the communal lunch on the Sunday when my son brought his brood too, we had a team of 7 grandchildren, aged from 2 to 10, to entertain.

I think the children learnt a lot.

1. If you want a slightly more expensive bauble from the toy-shop than your spending-money allows, granny's your best bet.

2. When Mummy is mad at Daddy, don't let her brush your hair.

3. If your sister hits you , don't hit her back, they always catch the second one.

4. No matter how hard you run, you'll never catch a pigeon.

5. You can hide unwanted broccoli in a glass of milk.

6. Never break your little brother's favourite toy when he's holding a cricket bat.

What did I learn?

1. Don't give chocolate to a 3 year old when you're wearing smart cream trousers (I think I knew that but my memory is not what it was).

2. Weetabix sticks to the wall if you let it dry (see above re memory).

3. Always consider your wife's hand-writing.

This last one may need some explanation. You see, when there's a lot happening on the lunch-preparing and child-minding front, its sometimes helps if the most expendable and useless member of the family pops down to the supermarket to purchase those provisions which Sainsburys failed to deliver. That elderly man will obviously require a list of what is required and since he is not familiar with the lay-out of the supermarket he will naturally find the prettiest shelf-stacker and, trying to look hunky and helpless at the same time (that's quite difficult), ask if she will help him to find things. Well that was no problem, although I'm afraid the 'hunky' turned into 'pathetic' but we were doing well until we came to the last item, Corn Oil. The girl gave me a peculiar look and asked how much I thought I'd need.
"Oh, a fairly big one I should think", indicating eleven or twelve inches with my two hands. "Could I just borrow the list back, to check what she said?".

And then I noticed that my wife's capital C with its big curly loop, looks just like a capital P.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Adam had it hard.

Alison very reasonably asked (Comment 16.7.2010) how they can do extreme ironing without electricity. It's a very fair question, and I must now confess that I have never actually witnessed an Extreme Ironing competitition; at home we just have the normal 'Who will do the ironing competition'. I do believe however that ironing was done before electricity came out of sockets, because I've seen films like 'Antony and Cleopatra' and Elizabeth Taylor never had a creased toga even after a thorough ravishing. I expect Egyptian cotton was better than linen.

With regard to modern ironing and the household chores and things, we New Men sometimes think we are hard done by, but I suspect 'twas ever thus. It can't have been easy being a New Man when you were literally a New Man, i. e. Adam in the Garden of Eden.

There was so much to learn, and so little to guide you, particularly in the Battle of the Sexes Dept.

It seems likely that God was a male, if we're to believe the Christian theologians, although I believe the feminist fundamentalists have cast doubt on this and I don't think a proper endocrine/genotype work-up has ever been done.

Anyway being famous for His Goodness and Mercy He would doubtless have helped Adam as much as He could in those little problems which are likely to afflict any young man.

You could imagine the little conversations they would have had in the very early days.

God "Adam, I want you to do something for me"
Adam "Gladly Lord, what wouldst thou have me do?" (I'm sure Adam would have used this Northern Anglo-Saxon version of the 2nd person singular, as in "Tha's done nowt but grizzle ever since tha' coom", since Yorkshire is widely recognized to be the nearest thing to Paradise on Earth).

God "Go down into the valley"
Adam "What's a valley?" God would explain that a valley is the gap between two hills.

God "Then cross the river"
Adam "What's a river?" God explains that a river is long and wet, like a weekend in Rochdale.

God "In the hillside beyond the river you will find a cave"
Adam "What's a cave?" God explains it's a hole in a hill.

God "In the cave you'll find a woman"
Adam "What's a woman?" God explains, trying not to use his hands.

God "I want you to have sex with her".
Adam " What's sex?" God explains the clinical details, though with some hesitancy because He's obviously gone straight from the drawing board to the launch with this one, and He's not entirely confident of the plumbing details Himself (see my first blog dated June 27th) since there is, so far as we know, no Mrs. God, hence there has been no road test of the somewhat complex systems involved.

Anyway Adam gets the gist of what he is supposed to do, and off he trundles, down the valley, across the river, up the hill and into the cave.
An hour late, he's back, hot, flustered and clearly fed up.
Adam "What's a headache?"

Baby Track-record?

People are beginning to wonder what lasting benefit the Olympics will bring to London in 2012, looking to South Africa after the World Cup as a possible predictive model.

On this basis, our lasting legacy will be a lot of babies with odd first names, since it is a South African tradition to name babies after some significant event at the time of their birth. Ladies with a somewhat turbulent love-life might have baby Quarrel or baby Heartache for example. South African newspapers have recently drawn attention to a wave of new 'football' names such as baby Vuvuzela, baby Striker, baby Offside and even baby Substitute, which is every new mother's fear as they dish out the babies from the trolley in the Maternity Hospital.

I can vouch for this naming tradition, having spent some time in South Africa. The most colourful name I came across belonged to an otherwise undistinguished man called Vermin. Not a bad choice when you think about it. Vernon is an acceptable name in UK, but the suffix 'non' is very negative, as in anonymous nondescript nonentities, whereas Vermin is closer to men and manly.

The English are not above making similar bloomers. Candida is a perfectly acceptable rather upper-class name, with connotations of a Goddess and virginal purity, even though Candida is a yeast-like organism which causes an offensive white vaginal discharge. In the same vein I think Syphilis (a character in a Latin poem) and Hepatitis are quite pretty names. Melanie was a popular name at one time and I did consider Melaena for our first-born, but my wife demurred as she knew that melaena is a sticky black diarrhoea due to intestinal bleeding. My own mother chose John, an American toilet, and loads of attractive women (my age,you see) are called Pat, as in Cow-pat.

Such difficulties can arise in any society, as in the case of the Essex girl who had to have an interview for her Social Security benefit-

Social worker: Are you married?
Essex girl: Aw my Gawd no!

Social worker: Any children?
Essex girl: (counting on her fingers) ...Er, ten, far

Social worker: Can you give me their names?
Essex girl: Well, the eldest is Wayne, the next is Wayne, and so on, and when the new baby comes next month he'll also be Wayne.

Social worker: So they are all called Wayne, are they?
Essex girl: 'At's right

Socail Worker: So how do you address them?
Essex Girl: Well I just go to the door and I either shart 'Wayne stop that!' or 'Wayne come in fer yer tea'.

Social worker (S.W.): But supposing you want to address them individually?
Essex girl (E.G.): Well I just shart their surnames, doan'I.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Extreme Ironing

Two days ago on the main BBC 1 News channel we were blessed with the appearance of St. David Beckham, who had attended the football World Cup in S.A. to advise our players on strategy, based on his unrivalled experience and his analytical skills. He explained with a perfectly straight (admittedly handsome ) face that England lost because the players did not play well enough.

And there was me thinking it had all been due to the snow or the wrong sort of leaves on the pitch.

I can't live in that sort of intellectual cauldron.

My favourite sport at present is Extreme Ironing. This is a sort of cross between Extreme Frisbee and Figure Skating, except you use an ironing-board instead of ice-skates. Marks are awarded for style, athleticism, difficulty of the executed programe etc. I believe it was invented in the Peak District when a young man on a glorious sunny afternoon was hoping to go rock-climbing on the Sheffield grit-stone edges with his mates. His girl-friend, however, thought he should spend the afternoon doing the ironing. Being a New Man, he decided to take the washing and the ironing-board with him, and did the odd climb between ironing the smalls. His mates then decided that they could all do a bit of ironing halfway up a rock-climb and thus a sport was born. It's now also been done while parachuting, skiing, deep-water diving, skating, hang-gliding or whatever.

International competitions are being held and though the English team did very well at first, other nations have now learnt how to iron 'in extremis' and we've slipped down the table. Some pundits believe our ironing-season is too long, and others put it all down to these foreigners coming to England to wash their dirty linen in public so our English ironers don't get the experience of top-level competition. Alan Hansen thinks its because the managers don't release their ironers to attend board-bonding sessions, Adrian Chiles thinks its these new Jabulani irons, and Beckham thinks our guys just aren't ironing well enough.

Although I am now an extreme-ironing enthusiast, and I am happy to watch other people ironing, my own ironing skills are relatively limited because I resisted being a New Man when I was a young man, and I only became a slightly New Man out of the goodness of my heart when I was already a fairly Old Man. Seeing my wife was exhausted by laying concrete slabs in the patio one day I offered to iron a couple of handkerchieves for her and that was my fatal mistake. She praised my ironing skills to the skies, told all her friends what a wonderful ironer I was, and now I'm stuck with my reputation. Crafty things, women.

I haven't tried any overly ambitious or intricate ironing manoeuvres yet, as you have such a long wait in Casualty departments these days, though I did once manage a pair of knickers while answering the telephone, but then I caught my foot in the flex. I was however greatly heartened to read in the newspaper yesterday about a 75 year old man who attempted a swallow-dive from a 40 foot cliff into the sea in Dorset. It turned into a belly-flop and he had to be pulled from the sea by his sons. "My face, chest, arms and legs took a battering" he said "and my bits hurt a bit." If only he'd jumped with his ironing board he'd have been in with an excellent chance in the veterans class.

I'm off to London today to count the grandchildren, so my next blog will be on Monday.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Stepping in it.

I stepped right in it a few days ago.

You'll recall that I had heroically rescued a sheep in our paddock from certain death by tipping it back on its feet.

While I was in the paddock I'd noticed that some of the lambs had scabby bits on their foreheads. When I rang my friend the shepherd to tell him of my good deed I asked him about the scabby bits and he said it was orf. Now he is Somerset born and bred, so he doesn't say orf as they do in Mayfair, e.g. "Ay'm fratefully afraid the prawns hev gorn orf". When he said it was orf, he meant it was a viral disease of sheep which can affect humans.

Now as a doctor I had occasionally seen patients with orf. In lambs it causes small blisters and ulcers around the mouth, which interferes with their suckling, and when farmers or their wives bottle-feed these ailing lambs, they sometimes get blistered lesions on their fingers from contact with the lamb's muzzle. I'd never seen it cause scabby lesions on the forehead though, in either sheep or humans.

So I thought I might learn something from the shepherd, and when I next saw him in the paddock I went to join him. There were two men with him whom I'd never seen before, knowledgable-looking countrymen in tweeds and flat caps, obviously vets. I was even more likely to learn something.

I approached them with a cheery smile, and said "Hello Jim, I hope you don't mind but I'd like to listen in with the consultation, because I've been a bit worried about that sheep that nearly died yesterday and then there's one with a very bad limp and there's all this scabby stuff which you said was orf, but I'm not sure, so I'd be interested to hear what the vets say."

There was a long pause, accompanied by a long hard stare. "Well actually John, they're not vets, these gentlemen are judges from the Melplash Agricultural Show and they've come to judge the quality of my herd".


Well, they would have noticed, wouldn't they? They are judges after all. Nothing that a large bunch of home-grown sweet peas and a bag of plums won't put right.

I hope.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Never under-estimate old ladies

Speaking of eternal life (July 12th) reminds me that little old grey-haired ladies don't actually live for ever, they just seem to. That may seem sexist, or ageist or sizeist and even hair-colourist, but the fact is that most women are smaller than most men, they tend to live longer, and as women reach old age they often become stooped and stop dyeing and dying. Hence the term 'little old grey-haired ladies' (LOGHL). There's a lot of 'em about.

These LOGHL must never be under-estimated. I realized this many years ago when I attended a night-school class to try to learn German. There was a LOGHL attending who seemed a bit on the slow side, although it gradually became apparent that she spoke quite good German, which wasn't surprising as she'd lived in Germany as a child, and had come to England when Hitler started being beastly to the Jews. She was a shy person, and I thought perhaps slightly retarded mentally, so I tried to chat to her, to give her confidence.
It seemed she had in fact worked as a laboratory techician at Bristol University, where she had met her husband who became a Professor of Physics.
She had in fact worked in his Department and helped in his experiments.
Actually they had between them discovered the pi-meson, for which her husband was awarded the Nobel Prize.

Not all LOGHL are shy, either.

I heard recently about a legal case in a small town in Mississippi where the first witness was a LOGHL. The prosecuting lawyer, wanting to ingratiate himself, asked her "Mrs. Jones, I think you know me, don't you?"
"Oh yes" she said, "I was a friend of your mother's and I've known you since you were a boy and frankly you've been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs, and you cheat on your wife. Yes, I know you".
The lawyer was stunned, but being quick on his feet (as they are), he pointed across the court-room and said "Mrs. Jones , do you know the defence attorney?"
"Oh yes" she said, "I've know him since he was a youngster too. He's lazy, bigoted and he has a drink problem and he also sleeps around, including with your wife. Yes I know him".
At this the judge felt he had to intervene. He beckoned both attorneys to his bench and in a very low voice, said to them "If either of you asks her if she knows me, I'll send you both to the electric chair".

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Living to be 1000.

I had a little rant the other day (July 2nd.) about journalists who hype scientific results to raise unrealistic hopes, and I cited the Indepenent's reporting of some gene research which allegedly allows us to predict who will live to be centenarians.
I was astonished to learn from Wikipedia recently that there is at least one expert in the biology of ageing, Aubrey de Grey, who believes that many children already born will live to be 1000 years old.

Put very simply, his reasoning is as follows.
The average life expectancy has increased dramatically in the civilized world in the last 2000 years or so. In the Middle Ages it was probably around 35 to 40 years, in Victorian times it was 55 to 60 years, and by the mid-20th century it was around 70 years. Moreover the rate of increase has accelerated as scientific knowledge has increased, so the curve is becoming asymptotic. Also we now seem to be on the verge of discovering biological strategies which will counteract the normal ageing processes. It is therefore quite likely that some of these advances which will slow down or even reverse the ageing processes will become practical possibilities within the next 20 years, so that a baby born today with a life expectancy of say 85 years, will in 20 years time be expected to live to 110 years. And 50 years after that, when the same person is 70, the life expectancy will have advanced to 200 years. By the time that same person is 200, we shall know how to live to be 1000.

I should point out that not all scientists agree with Dr. de Grey, though he did graduate from Cambridge with a BA in Computer Science in 1985, and in 2000 he was awarded a Cambridge Ph. D. for his work on 'The mitochondrial free radical theory of ageing'. In 2007 he wrote a book,with Michael Rae, entitled "Ending Aging" which provides a detailed account of the social problems which will arise when many people live forever.

What a scary thought!

Personally I can't think much past the anticipated problems of a 90 year old. I like the story of the two old men sitting on a bench in the sunshine in a park, watching all the girls go by. One turned to the other and said
'George, d'ye remember those tablets they used to give us when we were soldiers in 1941, so we shouldn't want to go with women?'
'Aye, what about 'em?'
'Well I think they're starting to take effect'.

The problem of the changing requirements of men at different ages is also neatly illustrated by their choice of restaurants.
A group of middle-aged men decided to meet for a School-Reunion Lunch. After some discussion they decided on the Ocean View restaurant because the waitresses were all chosen for their friendliness and their curvaceousness and they wore low-cut dresses.
Ten years later, now aged 50 they again chose the Ocean View, because the food was great and the views of the ocean were good.
Ten years on, now 60, they chose the Ocean View, because there were no stairs and it was quiet, so you could hear what people were saying.
Ten years later, they chose the Ocean View, because it had wheel chair access and the hospital was only half a mile away.
Ten year on, now 80, they chose the Ocean View, because they'd never been before.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

The Old Testament worries me.

It seems that I am not the only person who has been troubled by Leviticus. A certain Dr. Laura Schlesinger said in her radio show in USA that homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22 and cannot be condoned under any circumstances. This apparently prompted somebody to post an open letter to her on the Internet. According to Yurica it was originally attributed to a J.M Kauffman, apparently in error, so they apologized and the true author remains unknown.
It reads as follows:

Dear Dr. Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual life-style, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination....End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighbouring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans but not to Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?
2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman during her period of menstrual uncleanliness, Leviticus 15:19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking but most women take offence.
4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it causes a pleasing odour for the Lord (Leviticus 1:9). The problem is my neighbours. They claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
5. I have a neighbour who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states that he should be put to death. Am I morally obliged to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?
6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Leviticus 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there degrees of abomination?
7. Leviticus 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20 or is there some wiggle-room here?
8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Leviticus 19:27. How should they die?
9. I know from Leviticus 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play footaball if I wear gloves?
10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Leviticus 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary to go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them (Leviticus 24:10-16)? Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws (Leviticus 20:14).

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I'm confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan,


P.S. It would be a damn shame if we couldn't own a Canadian

Fundamentalists-are they fun or mental?

I took my latest book 'Why Man Made Gods and Dogs' into the local bookshop last week to ask the proprietor if he'd be willing to stock it. He was a pleasant -looking middle-aged man with a ready smile.
'What's it about?' he asked, very reasonably.
'It's an overview of modern science as it relates to religion' I explained. 'It ranges from astrophysics and cosmology, Parallel Universes, Black Holes and so on, through Creation of Life in a test-tube and the future of humanity, paranormal phenomena, altered consciousness, the evolution of altruism in animals, scientific evidence for the power of prayer, questions for atheists to answer etc. Its a serious book but written for the general reader in a light-hearted, even irreverent, style'.
'I see' he said thoughtfully 'but what's your conclusion?'
'Well I've provided the facts in a simple format and I hope people will think for themselves, and then draw their own conclusions when they're better informed about modern science. My personal view is that as humans evolved from apes they probably began to ask intelligent questions about the Universe which they could not answer and so they postulated a supernatural agency to account for the natural world they saw about them'.
His brow wrinkled. 'You're not trying to say there's no God are you?'
'In my judgement, looking at all the evidence, there's probably not' I said.
He held my book at arm-length, and handed it back to me disdainfully. 'I couldn't possibly handle a book like that. Everything that science knows was already written and predicted in the Old Testament' he said.
Deepest Somerset is not without its fundamentalists.

I'd also sent a copy to the Archbishop of York, because in the book I'd questioned whether his habit of praying for victory for his local football team in York was really something of which God would approve. It seemed a bit unfair to the other team I thought. His put-down was much more sophisticated. He replied politely that he looked forward to reading my book "when time permits". I'm afraid this may be some time ahead, judging by the current fracas in the Church of England over homosexual and female bishops.

I recounted these two stories to one of my devout Jewish friends who lectures to school-children on Judaism. I asked him whether he really accepts that adulterers should be put to death, as recommended in Leviticus, and how many British Jewish adulterers have been executed in the last 100 years or so. He gave me a knowing smile. 'Ah, its all a matter of interpretation, John, you see according to our version, the Talmud, the act must be witnessed by two neutral observers before it would incur the death penalty'.

So its OK if you draw the curtains then. Not so good if you've sold tickets.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Dermatology and Lowry

I was in Manchester this week to attend the annual conference of the British Association of Dermatologists.
Whenever women of a certain age realize I'm a retired dermatologist they usually take me to one side to ask me whether Anne French's Deep Cleansing Milk is really worth the extra money compared to Oil of Tiddlypush. How would I know? Dermatology in Britain is not cosmetology, and dermatologists are not beauticians.

The titles of the papers at the conference would tell you that this is not about beauty products. Two consecutive papers on the Tuesday for example were entitled 'Multicentric epithelioid haemangioendothelioma of the penis' (don't worry lads, you'd know if you'd got it, even if your G.P. couldn't put a name to it) and 'Painful mutilating ulceration of the dorsolateral foot in diplegics with acroangiodermatitis of Mali' (no need for you girls to snigger, this could happen to you). Then on Wednesday we had 'Efficacy of mycophenolate mofetil in severe mucocutaneous lichen planus' (very painful, mouth and vulva too) and 'The Imre and perialar crescentic advancemant flaps for the reconstruction of upper cheek defects' for the would-be surgeons with a penchant for taking faces to pieces.
And if you knew all that, there were hundreds more titles to choose from.

Personally I didn't know any of that, but since I now only go for the craic with my doddery old mates (except I'm never quite sure how to spell it), I decided that at my age I'd benefit more from seeing the Lowry Centre in Salford.

What a transmogrification! You get there quickly, pleasantly and cheaply in a modern tram and the Harbour Quay area which I remember as being a dingy, smelly offshoot of the river Irwell is now a series of open water-basins with beautiful tower-blocks and avant-garde glass mini-sky-scrapers. Its much more reminiscent of Amsterdam than the Hades it used to be.

And it has the Lowry Museum! I know Lowry is not considered to be a great artist by some of the elitist London critics, but boy, did he evoke the atmosphere and life-style of Pendlebury and district. Maybe you had to live it to understand his genius, but his simple, even naive style of painting conveys more messages and sheer nostalgia for a Lancashire now departed than a thousand sharks or unmade beds.

Part of the afore-mentioned craic included a few football jokes, topical even though depressing.
It seems that the 3 Lions, emblem of English football pride, are to be replaced with the 3 Tampons... worst period we've ever had.

That joke probably reflects the fact that over 50% of dermatologists now are female. One of them told me that when she has a bad hair day she feels she must curl up and dye.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Manchester - still wet

My recent trip to Manchester was great. I lived there for 6 years as a medical student about 50 years ago, and although being a medical student is great fun wherever you are, Manchester itself, as a city, in the 1950s and 60s was less than wonderful.

It had been wonderful in its Victorian heyday of course. The memory lingered on in some of the magnificent monolithic buildings such as the Town Hall, the Refuge Assurance building, the LNER Railway station and the John Rylands Library, and there was still considerable civic pride. After all everybody knew, did they not, that "what Manchester does today, London will do tomorrow". This was where John Dalton, the father of modern chemistry had discovered the atom, and Manchester University had at one time been the world-centre for atomic physics research. The industrialists with their steam engines and Spinning Jennies and coal and cotton and drive and energy had led the world into the 20th century, and some of them were among the richest men in the world. And everybody knew that the 'Manchester Guardian' was the world's best newspaper which shaped London's, and therefore the civilized world's, opinions.

But by the 1950s the memory was fading. Britain had been hammered in the Second World War, the cotton trade had declined, and austerity was the rule for individuals and cities. It had been true for Manchester and the whole of the North that 'Where there's muck there's brass' but when I first went there in 1958 the muck had lasted but the brass had dwindled. There was no Clean Air Act, and the huge factories of the Stockport to Salford conurbation and thousands of rows a small terrraced houses belched out clouds of black smoke by day and night.

My memory of Manchester was of a dark grey city, cold in the Winter and chilly in the Summer, with incessant drizzle interspersed with regular choking fogs. One woke to the sound of sparrows coughing. Sometimes it was even foggy in the lecture theatres. Coming out of a lecture at 4pm in November there would be impenetrable black fog (called 'smog') and the only way to get home would be to memorize and follow the edges of the pavement. Visibility was down to about 2 yards, and the few buses that were still running had a conductor walking just in front of them waving his lamp backwards to guide the driver who was following him. On one famous occasion the bus to Didsbury followed the conductor up the drive of a large house and ended up in the rhododendron bushes, where the passengers had to disembark and grope their way back to the road as best they could. The hospital wards in the Winter were full of people with chronic bronchitis and pneumonia, who died in their hundreds.

It was said in those days that the quickest way out of Manchester was a bottle of gin. Les Dawson, our very politically incorrect Manchester comedian knew little of Moslem religious factions at that time, but if he had he would have said, in short, that there were only two types of weather in Manchester, it was rarely Sunni, but it was often Shi'ite.

I once asked a student friend of mine, who was Chinese, with an imperfect grasp of English, how he liked Manchester. To my surprise he said it was velly, velly good. Why is that? "Because wherever I go next (pause and smile) it will be better".

Well I am pleased to report that Manchester is now very, very much better. And did it rain? Of course it bloody did!

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Cold callers

I empathized with Alison's lovely blog of July 2nd, concerning the sense of humour failure of the secretary checking her into a course at Summer School. She made a quip over the telephone, and there was, she said , "Silence. The tumbleweed rolled past me into the humour desert. Sigh - it could be a LONG 5 days". Hestia's Larder blog of July 2.

The odd thing is that everybody thinks they have a Good Sense of Humour. Almost every punter in the Dating columns of newspapers claims to have GSOH, but how often do they admit to NSOH, though its pretty important when you're looking for emotional harmony. People who never stop trying to be funny can be extremely irritating, can't I.

The thing is though, Alison, that you can have a lot of fun in the humour-free desert with unknown people, provided its on the telephone where they can't see you and they can't hit you.

I get most satisfaction from the 'Cold Callers', those who ring up just as you're about to serve dinner and who try not to let you know at first that they want to sell you something. There are several techniques, depending on how much time I have:-

1. If I'm in a hurry I let them off gently.
Cold caller- "Good evening John, and how are you today".
Me - "Absolutely dreadful, I've just been told I have cancer of the pancreas and I have only 2 weeks to live, do you give credit ?".
C.C.- " No problem".
Me - "Self-fornicate elsewhere". (Phone down).

2. With a little more time to spare we do my 'How dangerous is he?' routine.
We go through the preliminaries ... we're in your area... we've chosen your postal code for a free security check of your property.........we'll fit everything at your convenience with a 75% reduction...etc.
With this technique I try to be affable and cooperative, but a little bit, shall we say offbeat, slightly zany, he's an odd sort of fellow, isn't he? Not willing to give his exact address, wonder why not. Then when they've almost clinched the deal I say "Obviously I'll have to confirm this with my wife". "Certainly Sir I'll just hold on while you speak to her". "Oh, I wouldn't wait that long if I were you, she's in the attic and I only take her food in once a week".

Silence... nervous laughter, "Ha ha, well perhaps you could call her down and I'll speak to her myself".

"Oh, she can't come out, because of all the locks and chains... the security you know all about that, don' t you?" Prolonged silence, perhaps with muttering in the background.

"Listen John, how long has she been in the attic?". "Oh, it must be about 3 years, since the last one had her little accident" (Phone down).

3. If I have plenty of time and I'm just waiting until the potatoes are boiled, I use my third technique,where the permutations are endless.
I try to have a gin and tonic to hand and I get settled into an easy chair. We go through the usual preliminaries and this time I'm really enthusiastic and keen to buy whatever it is. It might be 'Magic-Weather-Guard' silicone-paint treatment of all my outer walls, just as an example. I spin it out and whet their appetite as much as possible...."it's a huge house,.....Oh, I guess there's about 19 bedrooms,....... about 90 metres long and 3 stories high........but we have 3 guest cottages too..... we had it in our last house and it was wonderful,..... well worth the money, .....I persuaded all our neighbours to have it and they were thrilled..." and so on.

When I can hear the saliva dripping onto their order-book I gradually begin to introduce the hurdles they must overcome......"what colours do you have nowadays? ..... you don't still do that candy-stripe effect, do you?.....couldn't you get some made up specially? ...... what's your best deal on credit arrangements,..... I'd need a 20 year warranty, .....of course you can come and inspect the property, how about 6 am next Sunday?....what do you mean you can't make it that early, I have to work too, you, do you want the business or not?....well go and ask your manager week did you say? I can't manage anything until after Christmas....what do you mean you can't book that far ahead, you're not one of these fly-by-night businesses that folds up after 6 weeks are you? .....well obviously its in next year's diary I'm not stupid......well fetch it then.... can I speak to your manager again please... "

And so it goes on until the potatoes are cooked and its time to administer the coup de grace. "Can I just check that this Magic-Weather-Guard paint of yours is compatible with my walls, the last stuff didn't seem to go on at all smoothly....... what are the walls made of? ....feathers, of course!" (Phone down).

Mmmm, that is sooo satisfying.

This will be my last Post for a few days as I'm popping up to Manchester for a Dermatology Conference. If you miss me, why not buy my book ('Why Man Made Gods and Dogs' by John Burton, any profits go to the National Eczema Society) which will tell you all about Big Bangs, Parallel Universes, String Theory, Sex, Gods, Spirituality, where its all leading to, and when...... and there's even a serious bit about dogs.

A Parliamentary Bestiary

Speaking of journalists and political insults involving dead sheep, as we were on July 1st and 2nd, prompts me to mention an article by Max Davidson, in yesterday's Telegraph, in which he discussed the standard of personal insults expressed by various Members of Parliament.

The rudest and crudest, as you might expect was an Aussie, Paul Keating, a former Prime Minister of Australia from 1991 to 1996, who tended to describe his opponents as 'mangy maggots', 'intellectual rust buckets', 'gutless spivs', 'foul-mouthed grubs' or 'little desiccated coconuts'.

They had more style in the old days, especially in the Mother of Parliaments. Benjamin Disraeli for example said the Earl of Aberdeen had 'the crabbed malice of a maundering witch'. Maundering? I didn't know either, but apparently it means dreamy or rambling, as in opium addict (as it was in those days, though I believe there are now more modern substances).

Our recent chaps have kept their end up though. Michael Foot compared Norman Tebbitt to 'a semi-house-trained polecat' and Tony Banks said that Terry Dicks was 'living proof that a pig's bladder on a stick can be elected to Parliament'. Banks also boggled my mind by claiming that Mrs. Thatcher had 'all the sensitivity of a sex-starved boa constrictor'. I was left wondering how exactly he knew about the boa constrictor's sensitivity and which bits he tested, but nothing M.P.s do in their spare time would surprise me.
The winner for my money though was Vince Cable, when he hastened Gordon Brown's departure by pointing out that he had been transmogrified by recent events from Stalin into Mr. Bean.
Max Davidson's article was of course prompted by Simon Burns' recent description of the revered Speaker of the House of Commons as a 'stupid, sanctimonious, dwarf '. How rude! In my opinion that robbed Mr Speaker of his dignity just as if he'd picked his pocket. How could he stoop so low?
I like dwarf jokes though, especially when they're made by dwarves. Ronnie Corbett highlighted his frustration that he is not tall enough to play James Bond, but he's too big to be adopted by Madonna.
One can only speculate as to why Bernie Ecclestone married such a tall girl. Did one of his friend put him up to it I wonder?

Friday, 2 July 2010

How to be 100.

I generally ignore the front page of newspapers, on the grounds that no matter what they're getting excited about, its unlikely to affect me personally. At one end of the spectrum they're getting into a lather about whether Jordan has decided to have them enhanced, diminished or moved to a different venue altogether, and at the other, more serious, end we are likely to have more detail than I really require on the need for fiscal restraint, which is an impossibly hard notion to get over to my wife, even in the simplest terms ("I said NO!, the bank has got a headache, take them back to the shop"). And after years of the Brown Bear's glare, do we in this neck of rural Lib.Dem/Con.-land really give a stuff about who might lead the Labour Party into their glorious future.
Yesterday was different. As I passed the newsagent I looked on the rack and there, occupying the entire front page of the Independent, displayed for all to see, was a picture of me, naked. I looked again and saw that it was actually 7 pictures of me at different ages, striding in single file across the page, with a baby boy at one end, several assorted handsome hunks in the middle, and on the far right was a bent, wrinkled, grey-haired old geezer. Poor old thing...not taken from my best angle.

The banner headline was "Have you got longevity genes? Scientists discover what makes us live longer", then the usual guff about "new tests", "life expectancy of 100", "ethical implications" etc. This was clearly going to change my life. After a whole page 2 of exciting stuff from a philosopher and a Science Editor, tucked away on page 3 was a more sober assessment of this much-trumpeted research. Professor Tom Kirkwood, an acknowledged expert on ageing, said that he is unconvinced by the claims, as the sample size was too small to justify any confidence, and the statement that the new test could predict longevity, let alone increase it, was open to serious misunderstanding.
Why can't journalists agree to be boring and truthful about science, instead of hypeing it up every time?
The Telegraph's approach suits me better, when they're not droning on about MPs expenses for duck-houses, because they don't seem to be as worried about political correctness as the more liberal papers. Admittedly they do tend to worry excessively about whether Andy Murray should bow to the Queen, but they had quite a good summary of the Englishman's attitude to Murray recently, pointing out that
when he's brutish and brattish he's Scottish but when he wins and he's skittish he's British.
Now we've had the Nadal match its fairly clear that I shan't live to be 100, but with another 5 years of reading about another unsuccessful dour Scot it will probably feel like it.

Dead Sheep and Green Energy

I was rather surprised to find that my encounter with the dying sheep (June 29th) seemed more popular with my regular readers (both of them) than my much livelier Sex-organs (June 27th). Obviously that needs rephrasing, but you know what I mean. Could this perhaps have been due to an occult residual fondness for the English football team, who recently played like dead sheep in the World Cup, or is it that in Guardian-reading bloggers, there is a collective folk-memory, a lingering longing in the deep subconscious for the politician Geoffrey Howe who was said by Denis Healey to behave at the Despatch Box of the House with all the savagery of a dead sheep, but nevertheless with his last gasp he managed to dispatch Margaret Thatcher in fine style.
An example of this fascination with dying sheep and their effluent came from my friend Richard, who suggested that instead of Brussels paying farmers a subsidy for set-aside land, they should pay them to keep Texel sheep, then turn them on their backs occasionally and use the resulting effluent gases as a source of renewable energy. He cited the little known fact that near the Savoy Hotel in London is a street called Carting Lane, known to the locals as Farting Lane. In that street there was once a Webber gas lamp, which was powered by the methane gas from the sewers which carried the ordure from the guests of the Savoy Hotel. One day a motorist reversed his car into the illuminating lamppost and the pedestrian population, overcome by the offensive whiffs of the toffs, demanded that the lamp be powered thenceforth by natural gas, which it was, to the detriment of our planet.
I thought that would be a very interesting idea for the Green Party to consider, when next they debate what to do with their ordure. And ordure (shit) is itself an interesting word (Latin ord - foul). Have you noticed that when the Speaker of the House of Commons intervenes in a spirited debate he shouts “Ordure, Ordure”. And he’s generally right, it is.
My friend Richard is keen to publish a book of such stories about London and I told him that if he produced 100 such stories, I’d publish it for him.
He then sent me a charming little poem about a Flatulent Nun from Hawaii, with an execrable rhyme in the second line (she allegedly supped on papaya), but in the 3rd line 'Passover' certainly rhymes well with the 4th line ('ass over'), and I have no quarrel whatever with 'papaya' and the resulting 'Handel’s Messiah' which was probably a delightful musical experience.
“Ooh, Richard, you are awful, …but I do like you!” (Kenny Everett).
Richard tells me I bring out the worst in people, which may be true. Boring old farts that we are.
Anyway I explained to him that I only publish books in the best possible taste, suitable perhaps for people with an Oxbridge education. I was thinking of people such as Dr. Spooner, whose half-formed wishes often turned into half-warmed fishes. It was even more embarrassing for the good Dr. when he once described the unwise amatory adventures of one of his fellow dons as ‘one of Cupid’s stunts’. I wonder how he would have responded to Richard’s shafts of wit?