Great American Institutions

The tower of Big Ben, London.What constitutes a “great institution?” I guess the best definition of a great institution is something that is a “characteristic and persistent feature in social or national life or habits.” Back home I’d think the pub could be considered a great British institution, steak and kidney pudding, fish and chips, Big Ben, the Tower of London, Marks and Spencer, etc, etc …

Part of the joy of coming to live in a different country is discovering those things that represent the character, social history and traditional habits of a place. Something, that when you see it or hear of it you instantly recognise it, understand its significance and its place in the foundation of the culture in which it exists. If I said Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, Buckingham Palace … these are all icons of national identity and as such you’d immediately have a sense of the history and social significance that each of these hold in the national identity of each country. They feature large in the collective consciousness. But there are other things, smaller things but no less significant or prominent in the collective consciousness and therefore worthy of inclusion in the category of ‘national institution’. Continue reading


Why Did The Snake Cross The Road?

Rat Snake

Rat Snake

I don’t know the answer to that question and I really wish that it hadn’t. This poor creature appears to have been side-swiped by a passing car as it tried to cross the road, managed to slither to the verge and then died. It’s a great pity because these snakes are handy to have around. It’s a rat snake, which is a fairly common variety around North Carolina, and is a constrictor. It mainly hunts and feeds on rodents, small birds and birds eggs and, from what I’ve been told, it also keeps the poisonous snake population down as well. We found this one the morning after a heavy rain storm so I can only assume it was out foraging and fell foul of traffic as it attempted to cross the road in the dark of the night. Here’s a picture of a healthy, live one.

A B\black rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta)...

A B\black rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta). The keeled scales, white chin and lighter ventral scales are keys to identifying it. Notice the opaque (blue) eyes which mean the snake is in “molt” and will shed its skin in a week or so. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s Life Jim, But Not As We Knew It.

The Stately Pile

Our Stately Pile

I can hardly believe that it’s been a year since I left the chilly shores of Dear Old Blighty behind me for the sunnier climes of the Southern United States. For the first time in a very long time I experienced a winter without any snow! I can’t tell you how good that feels; no scraping ice off the windscreen, no shovelling snow, no slipping and sliding on glassy pavements, no woolly gloves and scarves, no thermal hats or linings to ones shoes, no heavy moleskin trousers or innumerable layers of clothing, no cars being snowed in or stuck because the roads are covered in ice, no weeks and weeks of slush everywhere and salt on ones shoes, no heavy overcast skies for day after day, no biting cold wind whistling round your trossocks, Continue reading

‘Tis The Season …

Since coming to America I’ve discovered a health issue that I’ve previously been immune to. Allergies.

When I’d heard people talk about ‘allergies’ in the past it always reminded me of Jack Lemon as Felix Ungar in The Odd Couple. All my life I’ve been able to romp about in the hay bales, stroll through fields chest high with rape plants, inhale deeply the fragrances of flower gardens, watch fluffy clouds traverse across the sky whilst lying on my back in a summer meadow, etc, etc …… you get the picture.

Now, I have to take an antihistamine tablet everyday unless I want to spend the day sneezing my head off! The reason? This stuff: Continue reading

I Wish I Knew ….

It’s happened to me plenty of times and to you too, I’m sure, when an an exasperated parent, spouse, lover, relative or whoever, has said to you  – usually after you’ve managed to annoy them in some fashion – through gritted teeth, and often accompanied by some heavy huffing and puffing, stamping of feet and shaking of the head, “I wish I knew what’s going on inside that head of yours.”

If I was a neurologist or neurosurgeon I’m sure that I could come up with a dead-pan matter-of-fact response that outlined exactly how neurons transmit electrochemicals, how the brain stem controls reflexes, automatic functions and limb movements, how the cerebellum coordinates limb movements, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland deal with body temperature and behavioral responses, and the cerebrum initiates motor functions, controls emotions and holds memory. But that would only make matters worse, I’m sure.

They say a picture paints a thousand words and I’m not a neuroscientist so how about a photograph instead? In the best tradition of children’s TV here’s one I made earlier.Internal view of my brain activity.

That’s me and through the magic of photo manipulation that is an actual snapshot of my brain activity. Not much going on as you can see.

Of course, not everyone has a picture from a brain scan readily to hand in their wallet ready to whip it out whenever the occasion demands, and I only happen to have one because I did have an MRI recently and it seemed a pity not to make use of all those lovely pictures. But, if you do happen to have one, then consider keeping it about your person if only for the satisfaction of seeing that priceless “WTF …?” look on the other person’s face as you calmly direct them to look at your brain pic with a, “There you go, see what you make of that.”