More news from Britain. And elsewhere

In case you think no one ever learns, allow me to prove you wrong: The U.K. Seti Research Network is conducting a public survey about contacting alien species and they’re not throwing it wide open by asking what we should say if we get a chance to talk with alien life forms. They’re channeling the responses by asking whether people think it’s a good idea that we broadcast signals into space, what source they’d believe if it told them that humans had made contact with another species, and that sort of thing. Controllable questions, in other words. Except for that box where it says, “Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?” Yes, it’s going to get strange inside that box, but they can throw out any answers that say, “I was kidnapped by supermarket oranges in space-going juice squeezers.” The public never has to know about them. 

Why does that mean humans are capable of learning? Polls consulting the British public on important questions have, at best, an uneven track record. Oddly enough, I’m not talking about Brexit, I’m talking about the Boaty McBoatface poll.


Irrelevant photo: poppies growing with corn marigolds.

Archeologists working in Leicestershire found a 2,500-year-old  bark shield. Or maybe it was only 2,300 years old. The sell-by date was illegible, so accounts differ. Either way, it was made during the Iron Age and had been preserved in waterlogged soil. It’s the first of its kind found in Europe, although the Aboriginal people of Australia made bark shields up until the nineteenth century.

Is a bark shield any more useful than (to use a Britishism) a chocolate teapot? The team that found it fooled around until it re-created one, using alder and willow, and it turned out to be plenty tough but incredibly light. Highly recommended for your next sword battle.

Please note: I don’t get any money for recommending bark shields, but even so you only want to trust me just so far on this. I’m taking someone else’s word on their effectiveness instead of testing one in battle myself.

Sorry. The village has been quiet since we stopped trying to put together a Neighborhood Development Plan. If we’d kept on, I could’ve tested that shield.


More archeology: Back in 2003, archeologists in Essex were surveying a site where a road was going to be widened and found a burial chamber from what historians no longer call the Dark Ages. 

We’ll come back to the burial chamber, but first, why don’t they call it the Dark Ages? Because the sun came up every damn morning, and even back then it was bright. Also because humans had known about fire for eons. They’d been lighting fires, cooking food with fires, keeping themselves warm with fires, and setting their roofs on fire with fires. So no, calling it the Dark Ages doesn’t really make a lot of sense.

Unfortunately, I’m attached to the label because when I first read about the period in my junior high school textbook I asked my teacher what happened back then, since the textbook said something along the lines of, “And then the Dark Ages happened. Now we’ll move on.”

“Nothing,” she said.

It’s not that I didn’t believe her, but I spent a lot of time wondering how nothing could happen and what that would’ve been like. I’ve wanted to know about it ever since. I wonder if telling kids there’s nothing to know wouldn’t create a generation of self-motivated learners. 

If you’ve read my tale of junior high and the Dark Ages before, apologies. I do repeat myself. Not everyone’s been around as long as you have, the lucky souls. 

So this burial chamber was from the period formerly known as the Dark Ages, but before we get to that, let’s take another detour, because this is Britain, where roads and detours are inextricably linked. 

Archeology and construction are also closely linked, because anywhere you put a shovel in British ground, you stand a good chance of unearthing some bit of history, and that means assorted laws and regulations protect–or try to protect–Britain’s archeological heritage from destruction. It makes archeology and the construction industry uneasy partners, but it means that amazing stuff is found by accident. Before the bulldozers level everything, archeologists get a chance to look and, if necessary, sift. Let’s not go into how the decisions get made about where they turn up and where they don’t. The world should have some mysteries left. They turned up on this road-widening project and found wonders.

The Prittlewell burial chamber really was a chamber–a square room that was originally furnished with a folding stool, cups, a lyre, a sword, a candelabrum, a gaming board, a gigantic cauldron, a silver spoon, a gold-foil cross, and a painted box. Oh, and a coffin. Personally, I prefer a couch, but then I’m not dead yet. When I am, I promise not to object if I’m not buried with a couch.

The room also had hooks so that a good part of this lovely stuff could hang on the walls and no one would trip on it, even though the room’s only occupant was well past tripping on things.

The chamber was clearly built for someone both rich and important, and the mix of the cross and the grave goods indicates a person (or a community) with one foot in each of two religions–Christianity, judging by the cross, and pre-Christian, judging by the grave goods. Either he or they were hedging their bets.

You can read more about it here.


A pair of storks have built a nest in an oak tree and become the first wild pair breeding in England in 600 years. The last breeding pair are believed to have nested on St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh in 1416. Unless, as it’s also claimed, storks were run out of England during the Reformation. The idea of running storks out of a country on, I assume, religious grounds is bizarre, since last I heard storks don’t have any religion–or at least no human religion–so I asked Lord Google for further information. He claimed to know nothing on the subject. If anyone can fill me in, I’ll not only be grateful, you’ll get bragging rights for being a step ahead of Lord G.

How wild is this wild pair? Quite. They were lured in by storks with clipped wings who’d been brought over from European sanctuaries. The hand-reared ones will be released over the next few years to create a colony large enough to sustain itself. 

One stork from the colony, however, released itself, despite its clipped wings, and went wherever it wanted. Not on foot, I assume.

As of late May, the wild pair were brooding three eggs. So far, there are no reports of the storks having delivered human babies but stay tuned.


It turns out that those gizmos that track your sleep so you can live a well-rested, perfectly balanced, digitally documented life are giving people insomnia. They’re not giving it to every user but to enough that it’s worth a mention. 

The news traces back to Guy Leschziner, a sleep disorders specialist at Guy’s Hospital in London. And no, despite the name overlap, it’s not his hospital. It’s just a guy thing.

It’s hard to talk patients into deleting their sleep apps, he said, probably because his approach to figuring out if you’re getting enough sleep is deeply stone age: “If you wake up feeling tired . . . then you know you’ve got a problem. If you wake up . . . and feel refreshed . . . then you’re probably getting enough sleep.”

Well, who in their right mind wants to listen to that? 


On a personal note, since we’re talking about insomnia, Fast Eddie came in at four the other night, carrying something that squeaked. 

I should probably say, in case it’s not clear, that Fast Eddie is the cat. 

The squeaking activated the dog, Moose. So now we have four (or three, since the moose is–well, I guess you’d say virtual) animals bumping around in the bedroom. Plus me, a squeamish vegetarian in a nightshirt, trying to pretend I’m Switzerland, a neutral country, while hiding in my mountainous bed and feeling guilty about choosing that role instead of trying to rescue the (presumed) mouse. My partner, who’s not a vegetarian and is only squeamish about the things I’m not squeamish about, can sleep through village sword battles and the excavation of massive damn burial chambers. She got a full and unfair night’s sleep. Switzerland didn’t wake her up, and neither did I. 

Eventually everyone settled down and the cat jumped on the bed. I turned on the light and searched him for mice but didn’t find any. I’ve been suspicious of him ever since the time he upchucked a second-hand mouse all over the quilt.  

He went to sleep. I strapped my sleep-tracking gizmo to his wrist and when I checked it the next morning it said that, with a brief interruption around 4, I got as good a night’s sleep as any creature with no conscience can. For some reason, though, I felt tired.

I’m not sure what happened to the mouse.


Last year, Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump planted an oak to symbolize–oh, I don’t know. How much the two countries love each other. How well their leaders get along. How much hope there is for the world, in spite of everything we know. 

In June, the tree died.

If you follow the link just above, you can wince at a photo of the two presidents playing at tree planting while wearing expensive suits and wielding gold-colored shovels. I don’t know about you, but that’s what I wear when I’m working in the garden.

But before I go on any more about the photo, let’s talk about the tree planting ceremony. As soon as it was over and the photographers had packed up their cameras and left, the real tree people came along and uprooted the sucker. Why? Because it came from France and had to be quarantined. They promised to re-plant it as soon as it was declared disease free and had learned enough English to pass the citizenship exam.

It never made it out of quarantine. 

Can we have a moment of regret, please?

Thanks. Now let’s go back to the photo. You can, if you like, wince a bit more at the wives of the presidents looking even more absurd than their husbands as they waft around the lawn, keeping discreetly to the background while wearing high heels and stockings.

Have you ever tried walking on grass in high heels? If you haven’t, do try it once, especially if you’re male. You’ll understand sexual (or gender, or whatever the hell) politics better afterwards. I don’t have much experience with heels, but I did mix them with turf once. In my defense, I was young and those were very different times. We kind of had to wear them sometimes back then, or we thought we did. The heels punched into the earth and when I shifted my weight forward, which is what you do when you walk, they didn’t come with me. I caught my balance just before I brought  a friend’s wedding to a screaming, swearing halt. 


A–I guess you’d have to call it a biblical theme park in Kentucky is suing its insurer for not covering the full cost of damages caused by a heavy rainstorm that didn’t exactly wreck the ark but did wreck the access road leading tourists to it. 

The ark, theme park spokesfolks say, was built to the specifications in the bible. Which is important. The road (they didn’t say) wasn’t, since the bible’s silent on the subject of access roads, so their dimensions and materials are either guesswork or blasphemy. It’s also silent on admission charges, so those weren’t set at biblical levels either, and maybe that was the problem. 

Anyway, the road needed a lot of repair, apparently, and the insurers weren’t interested in most of them or impressed by biblical arguments. 


While researching a biography of Maria Branwell, the mother of the Brontë sisters, Sharon Wright discovered that Maria’s father, and therefore the Brontës’ grandfather, wasn’t the gentlemanly merchant we all thought he was–those of us, that is, who thought about him at all, that is. (I confess: I never did.) He did business with smugglers–as many a Cornish businessman did in those days–and in 1788 was indicted for “obstructing the Customs Officers in searching his dwelling.”

It was his tainted money that made it possible for the sisters to first publish their work. And there’s a moral in there, although I’m not sure what it is. Choose your grandparents wisely, maybe.

96 thoughts on “More news from Britain. And elsewhere

  1. I was taught that the reason why what we must now call the Early Middle Ages was known as the Dark Ages was because few written records have come down to us, so they’re dark from our point of view. That’s why we can still believe that King Arthur was a real person.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. This is a great post, which had me laughing outloud.

    On the subject of aliens, I don’t think its a clever idea to broadcast our presence. We humans are not noted for always behaving with humanity towards one another, so why, on the law of averages should we assume that aliens would be any different? It is, in any case perfectly possible that there is no intelligent life out there (or at least within communication distance).

    On the sleep thing, I was awoken at just before 6 am by my guide dog. He doesn’t usually wake me, and wishing to avoid a mess in my home I took him out to the nearby woods/park where he presented me with a present which was far from being pleasant! Anyway I am pleased to report that I feel bright eyed and bushy tailed at the moment and I don’t use a sleep app (neither, incidentally does my four-legged friend Trigger)!

    I sympathise with you as regards the mouse. I usually detect when my lab/retriever has picked up something nasty and get him to drop it (that is if he hasn’t swallowed it first)! However I have, on occasions failed to notice when he’s brought something unpleasant home with him, only to tread on it later . . .

    On the tree planting. Are you sure that the 2 world leaders where not also wearing high heels?

    Best wishes – Kevin

    Liked by 4 people

    • No, the photo’s quite clear about the shoes. If they wear high heels, they do it in private. (J.Edgar Hoover, of U.S. red-scare fame, who wasn’t above considering gayness a security risk, was known for enjoying dresses–and men. But that’s another story, and he kept it behind closed doors as well. I don’t think it leaked out until after his death.)

      Where were we? Yesterday I was presented with a shrew. They do smell, but since I assumed it was something rotting under the bed it was only dumb luck that kept me from stepping on it. I’m impressed that you can get Trigger to drop a present he’s brought you. Nothing in our house–including me and my partner–is that well trained.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I would not dare use a sleep ap or any device – I don’t need to be told – woke up read Kindle, got up to look out window to see if murder taking place or just foxes – read Kindle – dropped off to sleep 6.45am.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I wrote a piece about the Dark Ages not being as Dark as American teachers believe, apropos of someone questioning the facts in my book about Strongbow and the gang of Norman’s he brought over to Ireland in 1170 or thereabouts. I won’t spam you with a link but if you can be bothered to look me up on Medium you’ll find it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Maybe you guys should have let the tree sit in the sun and get watered and quarantined our president. Just a thought, maybe next time.

    While I stop short of calling this definitive proof, The Cameron Bespolka Trust (in a rather lengthy article about storks) says: “The white stork (Ciconia ciconia) is now extinct from Britain due to persecution (as a symbol of Christianity), habitat loss and hunting, although about 20 individuals are spotted annually across the UK.” Apparently it’s a blog post, but who’s to say those aren’t official (look how much history I learn here) and the name includes the word ‘Polka’.

    I don’t know about Wild Thing, but when I hear one of the cats hacking up something in the middle of the night, I pretend to be in the deepest sleep possible in the hope that my wife will deal with whatever was expelled. I don’t have an app, because it would say: “Don’t let him fool you, he was wide awake when MuMu puked.”


    • I need that app! This incident was particularly bad because it managed to involve both of the things we’re squeamish about: small dead creatures (me) and puke (Wild Thing). Eddie has no problem with either but he has never, in all his stripey life, cleaned up anything except his own fur.

      Now, about storks. It’s interesting that they were seen as a symbol of Christianity. It doesn’t fit with the possibility that they were run out of the country during the Reformation, which was a new flavor of Christian. I’ll check out the link (although if it’s too too long I make no promises). Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Why have the storks returned? Easy. It’s either global warming or a cleaner environment. Everything that happens is because of one of them, from eagles returning to my area to why my potato chips (crisps) get stale quicker. It doesn’t matter which reason you choose, just feel confident that whichever one it is you will be right.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I hope the mouse is OK. Also, my hubby sleeps through just about anything like your partner. He’s also one of those people who can fall asleep in seconds, which is incredibly annoying on nights when I can’t. Speaking of which: I don’t need an app to tell me I don’t get the kind of sleep I should a lot of the time. I can tell that by the constantly being woken by one thing or another, and taking ages to go back to sleep, which is my normal nightly routine.

    I prefer “Dark Ages” too. Sounds so much more mysterious.

    As regards the aliens: I think it’s a bit late to be worrying about broadcasting. Personally, I think they know we’re here, and are avoiding us. Can’t say I blame them. I’d pretend I didn’t exist in their position too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m with you. Smart aliens. This planet’s not looking like a good gamble just now.

      I’m not sure what happened to that particular mouse. I thought I’d found it–actually, smelled it–yesterday but it turned out to be a dead shrew Eddie had left for me. This is the part of having a cat that I really don’t like. Finding him asleep in the potted blueberry bush, under the bird netting and looking absurdly cute? Now that I like. You get one, you get the other, I guess.


  8. Oh, wow. Where to start. First you actually made me lol at the death of the Macron/Trump tree. Hilarious.
    I’m sure if you wrote that tree story in the Colonies you’d have to put an addendum that the death of the tree was Macron’s fault and must not have been a “very great tree” anyway. Jesus Christ.
    Secondly, I also lol at the image of the sleep interruption v. no sleep interruption in your home. Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle (or mouse in this case); and the cow (or dog in this case) jumped over the moon (or in this case Switzerland).
    I’m exhuasted. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What? King Arthur may not be real? So why are they making movies about him?

    As for the survey, I was thinking, “Seriously? they put out an online survey about aliens in country that came up with ‘Boatie, McBoatface?” Then I saw where you referenced Boatie and figured, “Gosh, maybe that is why they did it.”

    Can’t wait for the results.

    Hey, I wish we had elected someone as outrageous as Boris Johnson. Oooops.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gee, I’m glad you withdrew that wish in time.


      King Arthur, though: If he was real, he’s dead, so we can’t elect him anyway. Not that he’d have been likely to run. Kings, as a rule, aren’t into all that election and campaign stuff.


  10. You have a truly wicked sense of humour, Ellen!

    I would never have thought that bark shields would be efficient at all. That’s… pretty amazing. And something I will remember (I collect odd bits of knowledge like that ;) ).

    So… the tree died? They plant a tree as a symbol of friendship – and it dies? Wow! :D
    (and I would have sworn the “quarantine” part was a joke on your part… until I read the link!)

    I am pretty sure it is *not* be a good idea to announce ourselves to any alien race at all. Meaning – either they are too backwards to notice, or they are advanced to the point where they will treat us like backwards aboriginals… which, judging from human history, is not very pleasant at all. The chance of meeting a civilization which we could deal with as equals is… astronomically remote.

    I read the excerpt from your book. It is very good – love your humour! :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the compliments. They mean a lot. And yes, it’s harder all the time to figure out what’s a joke and what’s the flat-out truth.

      Steven Hawking didn’t think broadcasting to alien races was a good idea either. I guess the best we can hope for is that they’re a less messed up species than we’ve turned out to be.

      When I was younger, I never expected to be this discouraged about humans.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. That single line about the death of the tree made me laugh out loud. It shouldn’t be funny because the world needs as many trees as possible but the symbolism of it just amused me.

    I had not idea that the term Dark Ages had been outlawed. I was always taught that the Dark Ages was the period the followed the Fall of the Roman Empire because its collapse led to a massive loss of knowledge and technological advancement and it took until the Renaissance for the recovery to occur. It always struck me that this was a very Eurocentric view of world history because, of course, other societies were still progressing as before, unencumbered by the implosion of those pesky Romans.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Because I’m some uncounted number of decades older than you (I’m not coy about my age, just not sure how old you are), when I was in school we didn’t really know that other parts of the world had a history. I exaggerate only slightly. I suppose if someone had asked, we (or some of us anyway) would have said sure, they’d have to, but no one asked and it never occurred to us. Or at least to me. And I came from a family with, for the time, a surprisingly wide view of the world, so you might have expected better. But my god were out textbooks and our teachers Eurocentric.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I am 43 and definitely of the era when history books were very Euro-centred. However, my Granddad got me interested in the history of other cultures and civilizations and encouraged me to read more. I think it was that that made me realise the Dark Ages was a particularly European phenomenon and everyone else was just fine, thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Same here. ;)
        There are still fairly large gaps in my knowledge of history – ask me about India before 1900, and I am fairly blank. Most of indigenous Africa likewise. And I really have no idea about South-East Asia, apart from Thailand, China, Japan, and Australia.
        Google helps a lot though ;)

        There are several reason’s why our view of history tends towards Eurocentricity (is that an actual word?). I still think the best one is closely associated with the old adage, “history is written by the winners”. Which in this case means: “history is written from the point of view of the writer…”
        I notice that I am writing this comment in English; to the extend that I am reading history written in English, there is a fairly large chance that the point of view of the writer is going to be Eurocentric.
        Another angle is, that Europe (and later on its subsidiary, the US) pretty much covered the entire globe with one empire after the other…

        I would expend an Arabic or Hindi historical treatise to be markedly different.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I expect it would, and since I moved to Britain I’ve become much more conscious of British history. (You mean King George did other things than go mad and be the boogeyman of the American Revolution?) But even if it’s a fairly natural things for a country / region to focus most on its own history, it does feed into an arrogance about other countries and cultures–a feeling that they have no history worth talking about and nothing to teach us. And as interconnected as we all are, it matters.

          Sorry to get all serious on you.

          Liked by 1 person

  12. That burial chamber sounds wonderful. Quite zen really. And practical. Especially for sweeping, what with most stuff hanging on hooks. You’ve inspired my decorating plans… but yes, a couch. A couch and a cauldron (and a lyre, and a broom) go perfectly together, IMHO.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Sad that the English Oak died. We need more of them over here. They can survive english ivy. Our native trees cannot. Someday we will be mostly english Ivy except for any European trees here and there.

    I would not encourage aliens to come here. Or do anything to attract their attention. Cannot see that anything good would come of that.

    The wives seemed to be walking well on the grass. Maybe there is an art that has to be learned to walk on grass. Or maybe the high heels were not as sharply pointed.

    I was hoping for an update in the Boris Johnson thingie. What will be the legacy and follow up here with Brexit. Not a lot of coverage here. Between he and Trump bad blond haircuts seem to be in season.

    Keep us informed. Musing in useless information I find very refreshing and relaxing. We all need more of that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Boris. Oy vey. Nothing good’s going to come of this, and the damned Parliament’s gone on vacation. You’d think maybe they’d want to stay in session during a crisis.

      I didn’t know that about the ivy. Transplanting plants and animals from one continent to another does cause problems. Over here, one of the plants someone so cheerily brought in has been known to break through the foundations of houses. I’m struggling to remember its name, but as soon as I hit send I’m sure it’ll come to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Such a great read! My favorite part was about the 2300 year old shield! I find artifacts so interesting. Thanks for sharing this post and linking up at the #GatheringofFriendsLinkParty 3

    Liked by 1 person

  15. When I was in college ( just after the Civil War Centennial) I made the Dean’s List a couple of times. This meant we were all invited to the University President’s home for a Dean’s List Tea. Dress was formal – which in those days meant – if you were female – you wore three inch spike heels; We were told not to walk on the asphalt driveway, as the heels punched dents in it. We were welcome to mingle on the lawn. Which. as Ellen points out, requires a certain talent – and sense of balance, especially with a teacup and saucer. But the President got his lawn aerated free, without having to bother a Lawn Service.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Hello Ellen, Ive not commented for so long, but rest assured I read EVERY blog you put together. This one has to rank amongst your greatest…I thoroughly enjoyed smiling and chuckling all the way through it … as well as learning something too. Keep it up, you’re an inspiration. Vlogging has taken over from my blogging these last few years, but your posts keep me hanging in with WordPress. Thank you for your writing. xx

    Liked by 1 person

Talk to me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.