Neurophysiology, Thoughtful

The Man in the Alley — Seeing Red

They’d been to Ronnie Scots to listen to jazz that was so weird and avant guard that  they wanted to giggle so they left early and got the bus home but something caught her eye — from the top of the bus — in an alley — the shape of someone, slumped.


Thanks to Yuichi from Morioka, Japan [CC-BY-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to Yuichi from Morioka, Japan [CC-BY-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

They got off the bus at the next stop — I know her, she would have to do that…  And they walked back and found the alley and the man.  He was lying with his shoulders against a bin, in a puddle, the weather was dry — she thought he had wet himself.

The conversation was stereotyped, ‘Are you okay?’

‘Fuck off!’ he just wanted to be left alone, he was probably drunk — they left.

As the young couple walked home the doubts began to hatch.  Was he just drunk?  Was he ill, a diabetic having a hypo, perhaps?  Had he been mugged, stabbed?  Was it blood on the ground, hidden in the shadow and the distorting spectra of the street light?

They phoned the police, who must have been grateful.

Then she phoned a friend who was me and set me thinking about all the puddles of blood and abusive men (and women) that I have tried to help — the insulin enhanced right-hooks I have dodged, ducking and diving to avoid the punches and projectile vomits that pursued me in my previous life.

A friend of ours found a man, collapsed and cold, on the moor — he was barely conscious and could well have said, ‘Fuck-off!’ but the friend for some reason that he will never understand  (he had no particular medical knowledge) asked the man if he was diabetic.  ‘Yes,’  he said and passed out.

That knowledge and hot sweet tea saved his life.

People with diabetes get ill and confused with high blood sugars, they don’t smell of alcohol but do smell of acetone (like alcoholics the morning after) which can be misleading.  Untreated diabetes does not give you hypos, but the treatments can and the hypoglycaemia can make you seem drunk, can come on very suddenly and make you violent, confused and incontinent.  It can rapidly lead to brain damage and death. If in doubt you can always give them sugar — if they are suffering from a high sugar you won’t make it much worse but if they have a low sugar you may well save their life.

As for the blood — blood is one thing in a hospital ward, in a labour room or the back of an ambulance but it is quite another as you follow the drops up a half lit staircase or out of a back door into the dusk.  Then it explodes onto your retina, impacting on your senses like nothing else.  A tiny drop of fresh blood will grab your attention and lead you to the next and the next.

In half-light blood assaults the senses

In half-light blood assaults the senses

We have evolved to follow injured prey, to find a wounded comrade, to see red and know the danger.  This phenomenon always amazes me — makes me remember that I am an animal — reminds me to wear something red to a concert if I want my friend, on the stage, to spot me — explains why I cannot read the cooking instructions, written in white on the scarlet pizza box — the red, you see, just fills up my senses.

Wear something red to be noticed

Wear something red to be noticed

If the man in the alley were lying in a pool of blood, you would have known,  and believe me, you would have smelled the blood!

Look into the half-light and you will see blood.

Look into the half-light and you will see blood.


Humour, lifestyle

The Journey (not the Destination).


P1040399 (2)

The Pikey van has come out of retirement — an updated version of the genuine Gipsy caravan, rescued from our barn, emptied of animal feed sacks and given a cursory vacuum clean.  We’ve been busy for the last ten years and, as the only completely rat-proof container, it’s been busy too — minding sheep-nuts and sheltering privileged spiders.  Now it’s time for a re-birth, an adventure, a pilgrimage, a journey!

Inspecting the Sea Wall at Burnham on Sea

Inspecting the Sea Wall at Burnham on Sea while the kettle boils

Noisier than we remember, it discourages unnecessary conversation — we nod at Glastonbury Tor as we chug past (it is promised to friend-Silvia for her bucket-list trip to the festival, but we have enough mud in our every day and spend our time trying to avoid crowds).  It hasn’t lost its charisma — land owners pale at our approach.

The Pikey van is explicit, a statement of a philosophy and a tester of prejudice — it is a reminder.  Driving it is chastening, like going round a supermarket in a wheel chair…  ‘Ah… Bless!’ as  the cashier said to me as I tried to pay for my shopping. It is not just our spiders that are normally privileged.  When we drive it, gates close, barriers come down — appeased only by the roundness of our vowels and the friendliness of our dog.



To us, it is cost-effective.  It is a warm and comfortable bed in a light and airy ex-commercial, VW high-top Transporter — old, high mileage– empathic,  no fancy electronics to go wrong and no frilly curtains but it is insulated, ventilated, has running water (usually), a fridge, a cooker and a loo.  It smells of oily rags and dog, but they are our oily rags and our dog.

When parked over night in a municipal car-park it is just another white van and no-one notices it.  Best of all — no one cuts you up on roundabouts — you look as if you mean business — even if it is the scrap-business!  There is no fuss — you don’t have to be endlessly polite or worry about the dog barking if anyone uses the bathroom.  A huge man does not stands over you while you force down the largest full-English breakfast in Cornwall telling you about his most recent coronary.  No one sniffs under the door to see if you are smoking or charges you £15 extra for the dog who is on a diet and doesn’t want the sausages either.

Burnham on Sea -- expecting high tides

En Route — expecting high tides in the Bristol Channel

When you get tired, you can just stop and have a sleep — it is perfect.   You can drive to the beach in your pyjamas and walk the dog while your spouse snores on.


Hill Farming, Humour

Real Sheep with testicles, tails and bloody noses


It’s October — you knew that – I know it. The sheep know it – the ewes nag me every day about moving them to the flushing meadow, to the best new grass which will remind their ovaries of their perennial duty. They look pitifully at their empty mineral pot and then fix me with dark quizzical eyes that ask, ‘When will the ram arrive?’

‘I know, I know, it’s not forgotten – he’s booked for the ninth of November –as soon as the ram-lambs have gone to market you’ll go to the good grass.’

Everything is late this year, it was such a lovely summer, autumn just crept up un-noticed. The oak trees have only just started to lose their colour and we’ve been so busy with all the soft fruit, cutting timber and wasting hours trying to catch this year’s remarkable ram-lambs (not to mention wrestling with a new computer, new printer, doing the tax returns, the books, the VAT, and sorting out the new solar panels and the old camper van in time to miss the very best summer in living memory!

‘They’ve gone a bit over,’ says the white haired farmer to his grandson, looking at our crop of male lambs gathered in the far corner of their little enclosure at Aberystwyth Livestock Market.   We look at the competition – pen after pen of matched, clean, docile store lambs, tails neatly docked, testicles removed at birth.

‘None to compare with our tykes,’ says Alan, – these farmers are bound to recognise real sheep – they’ve got to feel nostalgic when they see these magnificent little chaps – look at them,’ band of desperados, decidedly not castrated – broken horns, two with bloody noses from fighting – not so small either!.

Ram-lamb 2014

Ram-lamb 2014

They started the day clean and tidy but as all the other sheep in the market were trooping up and down the ramps into and out of their pristine trailers our 18 were making a stand.

We had spent most of the previous day trying to catch them and had retired defeated and were having a glass of wine and preparing ourselves for the ultimate humiliation — calling in the cavalry ( neighbours with dogs and long memories) to help us next morning. I had another glass of wine, ‘I think I’ll have one last try.’



‘One more last time,’ said Alan — his mantra with the children.

It was after ten, I ventured out alone with the lambing torch – they had never seen the light before. I jiggled the powerful beam on the grass in front of them, they turned and ran. I jiggled the light in front of the galloping posse, it stopped and turned. I stood in the black night – no light pollution where we live – and directed them with my magic jiggly beam, back and forth, slowly, little by little – down to the corner of the field and the entrance to the run that leads to the pressing pen, full of shadow and protection from the light of god. Bingo! The whole lot caught in one go – I closed and tied the gate. It was nearly midnight.

Next morning at first light we constructed an impenetrable funnel between the pressing pen and the borrowed trailer, made of metal hurdles and gates, tied together with baler twine and weighted down with garden furniture – we were transferring Hannibal Lector.

We closed the gate of our newly constructed (not yet patented) sheep-machine onto the ram lambs and we pushed. They compacted a little. They did not advance smoothly up the ramp. They stood – their four wheel drive engaged – they were making a stand – Rourke’s Drift. We pushed harder – nothing happened. The dog whimpered – he has no confidence in us.

Red faced and panting – long past shouting at each other – I climbed in with them, I embraced one, I pulled it up the ramp and went for the next — the first was back down before me. We both tried this — Alan fell over backwards, muddied and split his trousers and broke his wrist – probably only a little bone – he didn’t make a fuss.

Fortunately the trailer had a full height gate half way down – a bulwark (always useful when transferring psychopaths). Eventually we used, I used, a hurdle to separate one individual from the stand and force him up the ramp then, wedging the hurdle behind me, I man-, woman-handled, him through the gate into the front of the trailer. Each time, the moment the gate opened just enough for him to see the sheep already in there he would cease his struggling and go peacefully. The gate only opened inwards – very well designed.

One by one we loaded them, some resisting more heroically than others. That’s why we were late to market ‘You should get up earlier!’ – that’s  why we were not going to take them home – why my husband was raggy-arsed – why I had punk hair and khaki camouflage on my face (no one thought to tell me until evening), why the ram-lambs had the look of Just William and why farmers, who are more experienced than we are, castrate their ram-lambs at birth! .


‘Will you take £50.50?’ the auctioneer asked.

‘We’d hoped for a little more’, I replied to the sea of un-muddied faces — we’d studied protocol.

‘I’ll offer £50.80 said the handsome young dealer.


‘£51.50!’ the auctioneer looked for the nod which we gave and he struck the top rail of the pen with his knobbed stick.

Another year over.

‘Diana… Did you count these sheep?’ asked Alan, ‘You see… I only make it 17!’



Ecology, Humour, Thoughtful

Frazzled? You’ve got Red Queen Syndrome

The Red Queen by Bill Brooks Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Red Queen by Bill Brooks Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Red Queen Syndrome is running (or riding a turtle) to stand still — the first documented sufferer was the Red Queen in 1871, in  Through the Looking Glass and what Alice found there (I played the White Queen once — it was my finest hour, but a long time ago).  The phenomenon was recognised in 1993 by Matt Ridley — The Red Queen, Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature explored our origins and the need for constant evolution to keep one jump ahead of our competitors, our predators and, particularly, our diseases.  As the Red Queen said,’Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.  If you want to get somewhere else you must run at least twice as fast as that!’

John Tenniel's illustration -- 1897 edition of Through the Looking Glass and what Alice found there.

John Tenniel’s illustration — 1897 edition of Through the Looking Glass and what Alice found there.

It’s a long time since I read Ridley’s book and at this distance I can only remember the messages that I took away from it — woven into my own narrative of life — the need for  the greatest genetic variation in a population so that the maximum options are available in case of emergencies (don’t forget Darwin) — those threats which will  inevitably emerge to confound us, due to the constant pursuit of organisms whose job it is to harm or out- perform us.    Oh, and the need for sexual reproduction and our sexual fascination with those most different from ourselves —  Jack Spratt Syndrome! It is the quest for new and useful genes — affording us the greatest possibilities to adapt or die.

This holds for almost everything — from our adaption, through natural selection, to emerging diseases and changes in our environment to our behaviours, technologies, economies, emotions and societies.  Everything is evolving all the time so we have to run to keep up.

As I slow down it seems to be getting faster.

My husband and I watch the prices of oil and electricity increase so we invest in solar panels. We’ll be able to heat our water for free!  But the immersion heater, which we have never used, is not responding — out with the electrical screw-driver — running to stand still — developing new skills.  Bang!

My computer is poorly, a problem in its power pick-up, it cannot be repaired because things have moved on in the 4  years since I bought it — no parts available, not made any more.  I have to buy a new computer — full of innovation — I have to run to stand still, change my behaviour, find all the secret clicks, do everything differently — where’s my e-dictionary — won’t open — connection broken — run troubleshooter — OMG.  Passwords won’t work — ‘Have you forgotten your password?’  No I bloody haven’t.  I will adapt and soon this new computer will seem second nature — I’ll probably even dream within its constraining matrix , but it will go on evolving and eventually (probably quite soon) it, or its successor, will out-run me.

People don’t get too old to do their job — the job evolves so that they no-longer recognise it.  The job out-runs them!

Now I’m going to try to download a picture of the Red Queen which may well take some time.

4228642691_539a578681_o Helena Bonham-Carter as the Red Queen from the film Alice in Wonderland, 2010, by Tim Burton. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)