2008 — 5 December: Friday

Tonight's picture is a bit of a puzzle for me, given that Christa's no longer around for me to ask her about it! I know the young lady on the right (whose name was something like "Romina") is from a family that lived on Malta, and that she was a school pupil boarding at some fancy young ladies' college east of London in the mid 1970s. The "Christa connection" is that before she married, Christa's mum worked as a governess and language tutor1 for this girl's grandparents back in the late 1930s, on Malta, and the two families had kept in touch. So, off we toddled for a visit and a cuppa one weekend:

Mid 1970s

I remember it was a little unnerving being the only chap around at such a college for a self-conscious shy type such as me. The Stephen Fry "podgram" (on Oscar Wilde) is, indeed, well worth the wait, and he tells a lovely Wilde story (joke, in fact) that was new to me. But I won't spoil it for you. G'night.

Brightly dawns...

... etc etc. The walk is "on", so the crockpot needs to go "off" (check) and breakfast and a packed lunch need to be prepared (check) and ingested (part check). And tea drunk, of course. And I need to get dressed. And the (Linux) soundcard experiments will have to wait (thanks for the tips, Brian). It's 09:16 and I'm trying to work out who the guest is on "Desert Island discs" without cheating.

It's the "Glastonbury" festival chap, Michael Eavis. I'm also now having a problem with the USB soundcard on one of my Windows systems. That, too, will have to wait a bit.

Complex culinary cooling is now ongoing, so I can pop the potted crock stuff into the fridge before I set off. That's to say, the main dish, a separate portion that will be tonight's main meal, and the separate "overflow" bowl of the rest of the "juice". These probably all have technical terms! Packed lunch will only take about five minutes, but I haven't yet found a way to accelerate the cooling process. I basically put a pot of "the stuff" into a basin full of cold water and leave the rest of the work to Maxwell's Demon. Same, on a smaller scale, for the other two containers. All I need now are the sound effects from The man in the white suit and a Jacob's ladder flickering in the background.

Dimly dusks...

... the twilight, as I recover — with the aid of a cuppa, of course — from the recent loss of my car puncture2 virginity. I have nothing but bad things to say about Toyota's primitive jack, starting with, but not limited to, getting it out of its nest3 and moving on to the primitive way it's operated. I phoned Mike (I was on the way home after a lovely walk earlier) and he very kindly drove out to offer his support and advice — invaluable. Then it was hot-foot, albeit at not more than 50mph on the limited speed spare, to Kwik-Fit as they are conveniently on the way home. Quarter of an hour later I am kissing goodbye to the bulk of the ERNIE I learned about yesterday, but at least I have a brand new tyre to whizz home on.

And how did all this happen? Well, I was adjusting the demister controls (subject of another design diatribe, believe me) and cunningly clipped the kerb with my left front wheel, neatly slicing a gap in the rubbery stuff through which a lot of air made its bid for freedom, in strict obedience (I suspect) to Boyle's Law, and quite quickly. I was avoiding the over-busy motorway but, of course, there are no kerbs to clip on motorways. Swings and roundabouts, indeed.

The Janka scale?

As I've mentioned, (more than once!) I find irregular but vital inspiration from Herbert Klein's magisterial historical survey The science of measurement,4 as did Christa with her varied patent translations. But today, he's failed me — I was browsing a nice New Yorker piece on the rise of extreme beer, by Burkhard Bilger (here) and learned therein some of the properties of a South American wood called Bulnesia sarmientoi: "[it] is a weedy, willowy tree, sometimes called ironwood. It's difficult to get large boards out of it, and even small ones can dull a saw blade. Wood experts rate a species' hardness on the Janka scale — a measure of how many pounds of force it takes to drive a half-inch steel ball halfway into a board."

That was a new one on me, and the nearest Mr Klein gets is the "jansky" — left as an exercise for the reader!



1  I assume Christa inherited her language skills from her multi-lingual mother since my father-in-law was resolutely monoglot, much like his English son-in-law, alas!
2  I can recall three previous punctures, in two cases en route to or from dear Mama: one each in the white Honda, the Mercedes, and the Mini Cooper S. I did the changing in the first case, and we had bulky chaps turn up in repair vans to do the other two, so my last practical experience was about 12 years ago.
3  At least I remembered, from a year ago, where they hide it.
4  Offering such gems as this way (by Sheldon Novick) of visualising "one part per million", namely one ounce of vermouth in 7,350 gallons of gin!