Cack-handed Kate

left-handed views on the world

#FF It’s Follow Friday on Twitter

Many people I follow on Twitter take part in Follow Friday.  This is a quick way of recommending people we follow ourselves, indicated by the tag #FF.  Some produce simple lists of people’s Twitter names, others give little explanations of why.  One (SmallCasserole) links to a blog post which he updates as and when.  As Friday is often my busiest day of all and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I am going to do something similar but make a grid.  I’ve tried to work out categories which are not so much why I follow them but why you might like to.  Some people come into more than one category, of course.  I haven’t included people who haven’t tweeted for a while and this is definitely a work in progress.  I’d be pleased to get feedback: if you feel you’re in the wrong category, or missing from one, or want to suggest someone.

Most people here have blogs and/or Facebook profiles as well, but if they’re on Twitter I’ve only shown that.  If you like them you can find out more there.  @name indicates Twitter, name alone is Facebook.  Blogs are already in my blogroll.

25/8 is drawn from 24/7.  These are people who seem to pack more into one day than I can ever imagine myself managing, and they do it every day and report on it!  They’re people who achieve a lot and have very full lives.  But many of them have suffered the premature loss of a partner or close relative and/or recovered from serious illness themselves – perhaps the two are not unconnected.

Skepticism Engineering/Computing/Astronomy/Physics Biological Sciences


























25/8 Photographers/Authors Actors/Singers/Musicians



Marie Pugh

Dennis Williard










@oubliette AH

Linda Large

Monica Dolan

Animal Rescue/Carers Food/Gardening/Lighter side Wider issues/Legal/Environment




Louise Hastie














@oubliette AH

Dennis Williard







31/07/2010 Posted by | Environment and the natural world, humanism and belief systems, opinion and politics (small p) | Leave a comment

Triple birthday celebrations

Three people from different backgrounds, different ages, working in different departments, living in different places.  What we have in common is we go to lunch together and we all have ‘milestone’ birthdays this year.  Two end with a zero, one is 65 (not mine!).  So Bob suggested he and Mary host a common celebration as they live closer to work than any of us and often throw wonderful parties.  So we decided on a date that’s in the middle of the all our birthdays, asked people who knew us but didn’t all know each other, told them to bring food and/or drink, fired up the BBQ and off we went!  Thank you, Bob and Mary and everyone who made it a perfect day.

Whoops, sorry A-M, blown your cover ‘cos you’re wearing your birthday badge!

And to round it off, we even had our very own minstrel:  Thank you Claire!

09/07/2010 Posted by | Party! | Leave a comment

Email, the MP’s wife and me …

I am quite political so think it is important our representatives know their constituents’ views on single issues.  If there’s a cause dear to my heart I sign petitions to Number 10 or send emails to my MP or MEP as appropriate.  These are usually pro-formas from whichever campaign it is, because the issues are set out clearly, but I add a paragraph at the beginning and try to make it as relevant as possible.  I don’t expect a reply and don’t usually get one, I just hope there are enough others to alert, say, the MP to the fact he has constituents who care about the issue.

My last email to my local MP was about the Simon Singh libel case.   Here is the timeline:

1/4/2010, 17.41:  email from me to MP re EDM 423 (Libel Law Reform) “…I am sure you will recognise what follows as a ‘standard letter’ but I would add that as an academic who  might say and write criticisms of how engineering business is sometimes conducted this is of direct and immediate concern to myself….”

6/4/2010 11.43 email from MP re the election just called … “P.S. I don’t make any assumptions, but since lots of people have asked how to get involved, please do head to if you’d like to join the hundreds of local people already signed up to help my campaign in many different ways.”

7/4/2010 15.37: email from MP himself: “Dear Kate, Many thanks for your email. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve received it and will get back to you with a more detailed response shortly. Grant”

7/4/2010, 16.10: email from researcher (?): lengthy, including “… Grant believes that the burden of proof should remain on individuals who make defamatory claims about other people to justify their assertions about others. For this reason, he does not feel that he can sign EDM 423. …”

9/4/2010 about 1900: Tory canvasser at the door.  Still amazed at the brass neck of the first response to an email from me being an invitation to volunteer to help re-elect the MP, I decided to raise it.  I said I felt it was cynical to only respond to an email after the election was called, having not replied to any before.  The canvasser was obviously experienced: knew to step back, let me have my say and then move on – or away.  But then along came … Mrs MP.  Talk about a tiger defending her own!  “I can assure you he is not like that!  He replies to every email he gets, sometimes late into the night!!  I am sorry you haven’t had a reply but I promise you he will reply to you in the very near future …”  I just stood there gasping out half-sentences: “that isn’t my point … what I’m trying to say …”  In the end I gave her my email address and away they went.  Actually, I quite admired her.  At least she had some fire about her.

13/4/2010 18.15: email from MP: Subject “This election is about the QE2″ [local hospital].  And a PS asking again for volunteers.

20/4/2010 23.32: email from MP: copying a letter he had sent to the local paper.  About the hospital.

23/4/2010 08.45 email from MP: …”As you’ll see from my email below of the 7th April, I did in fact personally acknowledge your original email and promised to get back to you with more information. … The fly in the ointment turned out to be that the Early Day Motion that you were asking me to sign no longer exists because they are all nullified when Parliament closes for the election … I take a particularly keen interest in whatever my constituents write to me about and, notwithstanding the fact that Parliament has broken up and so we’re all acting as volunteers, I wouldn’t want you to think the slow response was anything other than resources. …  If I’m re-elected I’ll be happy to meet and discuss it too if that’s helpful.”

26/4/2010 14.25: email from a worker in the MP’s office: “I hear your recently let (sic) Mrs Shapps out canvassing, and you were disappointed you had yet to receive a response to your original email on Libel Reform. I can only say that we received your email just as the House was moving into Dissolution, and it must therefore have been an oversight on our part, for which I am sincerely apologetic.  … [Lengthy discussion re solicitors’ fees, there had been a review, there would be a review]… Given that we have clearly outlined our plans for reforming libel law, Grant did not feel that it was necessary to sign EDM 423 before the house went into Prorogation.”

3/5/2010 10.28: email from MP himself: about the local hospital.  Says residents of the village asked him about it.  What pretty much everyone says they actually told the canvassers was about our opposition to a new building out of character and proportion with the area.

6/5/2010 00.43 email from me to MP: “…I hope I have clarified that my original comment was simply about the cynicism I perceive here, a view which has rather been reinforced by the three versions of why you didn’t sign EDM 423. …”

And don’t you just love: “Parliament has broken up and so we’re all acting as volunteers”?

05/05/2010 Posted by | opinion and politics (small p) | Leave a comment

To all news organisations: people not being able to go on holiday is not news, no matter what the reason

In all the terrible consequences of the volcano in Iceland, not least the impact upon Iceland itself, various TV companies have parked reporters at airports where they report on air about some poor family or the other which couldn’t go on holiday – and it is always their ‘holiday of a lifetime’. NO sorry, don’t care. Do. not. give. a. damn. Everyone has a holiday nightmare to relate, having to go home and re-plan for next year rates at about 1.5 on the Shitometer.

People who can’t get home from their holiday; that is a different story. Now we are into 5.0 territory or possibly more. One of my colleagues is in Hong Kong and in transit at that, so won’t even know good places to start looking for accommodation. We’ll have students stuck all over the world so need to think how to support them given we have exams in four weeks. Meanwhile a friend of a friend is also trying to get from Hong Kong to the UK – for her grandfather’s funeral.

But right up there at 9.0 must be the person I know who can’t get to her recently orphaned, young, stepchildren.

I am reminded of being stuck in an Australian airport, stranded because the airline had gone bankrupt. I came back from negotiations to find my mother and her friend, both in their 70s, were cheerfully ‘holding court’. An Aussie said to a member of the TV crew: “why you only filming the Brits, mate?” Answer: ” ‘cos they’re the ones who are stranded mate, you just being inconvenienced isn’t a story.”

The film crews camped out at the airports would do well to take that message on board. If the background to the story is of the nature of: “People turn up at airport expecting problems to be miraculously over” it’s just lazy reporting to use that one and your audience will know it.

18/04/2010 Posted by | opinion and politics (small p), Uncategorized | 1 Comment

(wouldn’t it be nice if we could say to him) Happy Birthday, Carl Sagan

Sadly, Carl Sagan died in 1996, at only 62. The Skeptics Society has brought together extracts from his writings which together form a lovely commentary on the human condition. I’ll say no more since I couldn’t say it as well as he.

09/11/2009 Posted by | Environment and the natural world, humanism and belief systems, opinion and politics (small p) | Leave a comment

A Grand Day Out

Yes, the title is a deliberate reference to Wallace and Gromit.  It is amazing what can be done with models a few inches high plus a mountain of imagination, and Will and I went to see a fine example yesterday.  We took a short trip around the A414 to visit the first annual exhibition by the Hemel Hempstead Model Railway Society.

We found people of all ages carefully watching complex layouts and pressing switches.  They were concentrating on train movements, but I confess I was more interested by the amount of work that had gone into creating the scenery.  On the way back we were marvelling at the amount of time people spend on such intricate work.  However, Will then spent hours on Photoshop trying to get my photos fit for publication: and they looked so good in the camera.  So I suppose each to his own does apply.

The copyright in these photos is ceded to Hemel Hempstead Model Railway Society.

01/11/2009 Posted by | Art and crafts | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

At last, we have daylight in the mornings!

Why oh why do we wait so long to put the clocks back?  I get S.A.D. and need daylight as early as possible in the day to be able to get started quickly.  I have been increasingly aware that the time is out of sync for at least a fortnight.

Old Indian

Thanks to Harry for finding this

I found myself in a waiting room yesterday, reading a disembowelled copy of The Times.  There was the kind of article one always finds in the papers at this time of year, rehashing the tired old polemic from writers in the southeast of the UK, about keeping the clocks forward.  I object really very strongly indeed to attempts to draw me into their corner, as someone with S.A.D.  Go away, don’t make claims on my behalf without asking me.  And I’m not a SAD sufferer either, thank you very much.  I have it, that’s not the same as being a sufferer, which is a secondary condition one chooses only as an adjunct to having a condition.

But this particular writer introduced a new argument, which I found both lame-brained and mean-spirited.  This was that if Scotland didn’t want British Stupid Time they could pass legislation to keep real time!  Yeah, great, different parts of the UK in different time zones for half the year, just what we need.

Several things to note about these articles.  Firstly, they always appear at this time of year.  They don’t come out on December 20th or thereabouts.  Oh no, by then the journalists are on another hobby horse.  But that’s when it bites.  That’s when you have to think to yourself: “If we were on BST it would still be pitchblack not murky grey.  The roads would be icier and the air temperature lower.  Would I really want to have been doing this an hour ago?”

There’s the obvious point that these writers are predominantly – not always, but usually – from the south-east and urban areas at that.  They seem to recognise that the day length is shorter in winter the further north one goes, but they rarely acknowledge that the British Isles are not aligned north-south, no matter what it looks like on the map.  As one goes north one also goes west, so Edinburgh is half a degree further west than Bristol (good one to remember for pub quizzes, that).  That means it gets lighter a lot later in Scotland than in southeast England.

Less obvious, but a lot more significant, is the apologists for the BST cause inevitably have some degree of control over their own working hours.  Nevertheless, they seek to impose their indulgence on those who do not have that luxury.  There is absolutely no reason whatsoever why a city boss or a newspaper editor or senior civil servants should not decide their normal hours will be 8 am to 4.30 pm in the winter.  That would be good for everyone because it would spread peak travel better, too.  But ooh, that would mean getting to work at 8 am, and the English middle classes don’t go to work at 8 am, that’s for the plebs.  Doesn’t matter that with British Stupid Time they would be getting to work at 8 am British Real Time, the clock would say 9 am.  And even if the bosses themselves choose to start early, well that’s still alright, they are so important they have to be in early, all is still well in their world.  Tough on the poor cleaner who now has to be in at 5 am GMT.

These writers inevitably make claims about the benefits of BST in winter without drilling down to explain exactly how they think these benefits would be achieved.  Saving energy – er, how exactly?  You mean saving energy in your offices!  BST would just push the energy demand into the domestic market, but it is much easier, nationally, to achieve energy savings in commercial and industrial premises than in homes.  The darkest hour might or might not be just before dawn, but the coldest hour certainly is.  Domestic central heating would be coming on an hour earlier across the country and many people would probably be running it for longer and their lights would need to be on.  Domestic lighting is usually less efficient than in commercial premises, especially given that many have been stockpiling the old lightbulbs – not out of spite but because of their light fittings.  Then there’s the extra fuel needed to start cars when it’s colder.

Some of these writers claim there would be fewer road accidents – hard to see why.  Instead of daylight in the morning (at least in the southeast) and dark in the evening, it would be twilight at both ends of the day: so more dangerous for driving.  Yeah, I could look up the figures to show this, but the writers of such articles didn’t bother and they got paid.

Another claim is that France is an hour ahead of GMT throughout the year.  Leaving aside any residual French grudge against Greenwich rather than Paris being taken as the prime meridian, they actually have more daylight to play with in the winter than we do.  The argument for having the same time zone across Europe would only hold if we all also shared the same culture with regard to working hours.  But we don’t.  I have spend short periods working in various European countries.  Germany is only an hour ahead on the clock, but the Hochschule started lectures at 8 am, by which time industry was in full swing.  But they all went home at 2 pm!  Greece, on the other hand, is 2 hours ahead but there was no need to think about what would be happening at home before making a call because things were happening at the same time.  Dinner at 10 pm or later was normal, so was starting work after 10 am.

Why do we need to worry about our clocks being in sync with the rest of Europe anyway?  That’s inward-looking, but we are part of a global economy.  We have to have regard to the time in New York, Tokyo and Beijing, not just Berlin.  Our history means we are always slightly out of sync with much of the rest of Europe anyway – negatively at the moment, but usually it’s a plus (which is why we should have gone into the Euro when the pound was strong, Gordon!).

On another page of the same paper there was a picture of the lovely 24-hour analogue clock at Greenwich, with information that when the clock faces due South the hour hand follows the sun exactly.  So do our body clocks, at least when there isn’t much daylight to go round.

So please stop the lazy assertions and give evidence for why we should wrench ourselves out of bed in the middle of the night in December so you don’t have to start work before what the clock says is 9 am.  Otherwise I shall continue to regard you as smug, priggish, self-satisfied and condescending snobs.  And yes, I know that’s tautologous – just like the same old arguments you wheel out year after year.

25/10/2009 Posted by | opinion and politics (small p) | , , , | 3 Comments

Starting a blog

Well, here we are, I have finally got a blog underway.  If I can go scuba-diving for the first time ever at the age of 50, on the Great Barrier Reef, I can manage this.

First choose your host.  From the tiny sample of blogs I read regularly I got the impression that Blogger is favoured by people who write entertainingly about animal antics and such like: comments aren’t especially prominent and don’t need to be.  Wordpress, it seemed to me, offered better opportunities for dialogue but, but, the discussions did seem a bit weighty.  I want to chat as well as debate.  However Zygoma assured me that the really heavy debates take place in another forum.  No thanks, when I have heavy discussions I like them upfront and personal!  Whether it’s lunch with the Applied Scientists from work or a debate at the Royal Academy of Engineering, I prefer face-to-face.  So much discussion on blogs seems to be polemics rather than argument but I like nuanced discussion and the development of understanding.  But my writing skills are not up to the level I see on Blogger.  So WordPress it is and if you find me lightweight that’s fine.

Then, the name.  I was way too late to get a nickname I had at school all those decades ago, when I was already a sceptic, so “Skeptikat” was out.  I have a habit of tweaking one eyebrow, so I thought of “wrybrow” and bullied prevailed upon long-suffering husband to take a picture of my brow.  Several pictures later and clearly there was no chance of the skin in the photo being youthfully dewy and unlined, so matching the image in my head, but one was OK.  Then I googled “wrybrow” and discovered it is actually a real surname.  I had a chat with Zygoma, who sighed and said no, he hadn’t chosen his name because it was almost at the end of the dictionary but because it’s the scientific name for the cheekbone and he intended his blog to be a bit cheeky.  His core audience will get it, of course.

Still trying to find something that implied my somewhat skewed view of the world, I tried “wrybrowser”.  I got a lot of links to pornographic sites so obviously it means something I do not wish to imply.  OK, so revert to the pathetic positional strategy, and try something right at the end of the alphabet.  “Zyme”: to do with fermenting.  Yes that will do nicely: thank you.  But of course there are already Zymes on Google, probably involved with brewing so with the moral high ground in terms of relevance as well as precedence.

OK, right back into the depths of childhood, try the obvious, is it possible no-one has yet nabbed Cack-handed Kate?  They have now and there is no argument.  This is definitely me.

My avatar is a photo of a brooch I was given for my birthday last month.  I love it – and note the left front paw!  Thank you Angela.

25/10/2009 Posted by | Wordcraft | Leave a comment

On the origins of my egg candles

I promised I would say more about the origins of my hollow candles.  Well I shall, but not just yet.  This is just a place holder as I haven’t yet worked out how to group discussions by topic rather than in chronological order.

25/10/2009 Posted by | Art and crafts | Leave a comment

On making creams

Also copied across from my Facebook notes, originally written on 28/7/09:

As well as making candles, I also make creams. They are not so very different as creams need melted wax. However, the creams are made very carefully, with full records in my logbook.

The reason I make creams is I had an accident when I was a teenager which damaged the skin of my face. Commercial cleansers and moisterisers tend to make my skin very dry and flaky so I have always used the simplest things I can. Then I bought a copy of Culpeper’s Herbal and got interested in the properties of herbs, which led into aromatherapy… Eventually I tried making up my own creams and found I have the knack.

For a long time the biggest problem was what to put the creams in. For years I paid a ridiculous amount for jam because I bought the little guest jars which were just the right size. But now, thanks to the internet, I have found somewhere I can buy proper glass jars and lots of nice ingredients too.

I stress that the reason I give away creams is that I make them for myself but the smallest amount that can be made results in more than I could use. I won’t accept any money for them and advise a patch test first. A friend who is a microbiologist is going to find out about the necessary tests so I could sell them but what is really intriguing him is that I found a 5 year old jar at the back of a cupboard and there was no black growth on it, i.e. no visible bacteria. A lot of essential oils do have some antibacterial properties but that is amazing!

I did make some creams a few weeks ago but people who had had them before heard and suddenly I had none left. I am still learning, and I am upset that I have wasted some wonderful ingredients. I bought some carnauba wax to try and the books say it is an excellent emulsifier so I decided to use it instead of beeswax in my rose face cream. Then I decided to make twice as much as usual because it is a lovely cream. But it was a disaster! The result is very heavy and waxy, not feather-light like the batch I made last month. However, water bounces off it so it should make an excellent handcream: a very luxurious handcream given it is made with organic safflower oil, organic rosewater and real rose absolute.

I have several aromatherapy books and one on the properties of all sorts of plant-based ingredients. It is quite scary how many list uses in soaps, perfumes, cleansers, etc etc and then, against aromatherapy, say “do not use”. My most-thumbed book is almost ten years old, from when my son went into Culpepers, looked at the book they were using for reference and bought a copy for my birthday, along with lots of goodies like mixing bottles that I still use for oils.

I have despatched one each of the creams with the candles to Victor and Lesley. I also sent two pots of the rose handcream to Aina for her birthday and as a thank you for the wonderful blog her cat TamTam writes. I have promised two other people creams. It is always worth asking if you want a particular cream as I make these quite often.

This time I made:

Juniper and Rosemary: juniper, rosemary and lavender essential oils in a cream made of geranium water; cold-pressed rapeseed oil; avocado oil and carnauba wax. This is for my cronky knee and Will uses it on various joints. This was made on 7th June.

Rich Rose Skin Cream: rose absolute and carrotseed essential oil in organic safflower oil; organic Rose Otto water and carnauba wax. See above for discussion. Made on 22nd July.

One I wasn’t sure what to call and decided on its name because the ingredients are antiseptic, antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral! Not at all glamorous, but sometimes it looks like athelete’s foot might be lurking after a swim (changing rooms, ugh) and this knocks it out straightaway. So “Fighting Fit”: lavender, myrrh and tea-tree essential oils in geranium water; olive oil; avocado oil and beeswax. Made on 22nd July.

Soothing skin cream: lavender, neroli and sandalwood essential oils in geranium water; grapeseed oil; organic jojoba oil; avocado oil and beeswax. Very low dosage of essential oils because for use on the face and neck: Will’s aftershave cream and I use it on my neck. As well as being soothing for the skin the ingredients are also supposed to be good for dry coughs and sore throats, so smoothing some onto the neck could have double benefits! Made on 23rd July.

24/10/2009 Posted by | Art and crafts | , , | 6 Comments