We are losing a treasure

From quite a young age, I was often left alone. My mother was suddenly widowed and left with a young child to bring up. Money was scarce and it was hard to make ends meet. As soon as she possibly could, my mother went back to work to support us both and I became what is today called “a latchkey kid”. In those days, I often suffered from bronchitis and was then kept home from school and not allowed out to play with the other kids. All in all, I spent a lot of time on my own.

There are two words to describe the state of being alone: loneliness and solitude. In my case, being alone was always solitude, never loneliness. I never minded being on my own and always found plenty to occupy me. We didn’t have a TV and we turned on the radio only in the evenings. My solitude was therefore a quiet world, one that was filled and peopled by my imagination.

A quiet place: Golders Green Crematorium
A quiet place: Golders Green Crematorium

Some people, when they are alone, like to create the semblance of company by turning on the radio or the TV or by playing music. I never do. I find that a background noise either disappears from consciousness (in which case, why bother with it in the first place?) or becomes irritating. That is not to say that I do not enjoy certain sounds, such as good music or conversation. But if I play music, then it is to listen to it, not to run it as a background noise. To me, one of the most agreeable sounds is complete silence or, at least, that almost-silence in which the occasional sound stands out in a meaningful way, like birdsong in a quiet woodland.

Nature has conspired to help me in this. Over the last few years, I have suffered a loss of hearing. At first the diminution was mild but it gradually increased to the point where conversation was becoming difficult and I was persuaded to seek assistance in the form of digital hearing aids, those devices that I often refer to in my blog as my “dolbies”.

When I first wore my hearing aids outside, I was horrified by the volume of sound hitting my ears. Was this really what the world sounds like? I still don’t know the answer to that because there is no way of letting someone else know what you are hearing so that you can make a comparison. All I can say is that, in the absence of an ‘off’ button, I often switch my hearing aids to the Bluetooth setting, which has the same effect.

Being sensitive about noise and my hearing has made me aware of other things. For example, compared with the world of my childhood, today’s world is almost insanely noisy. I am sure people living under the Heathrow flight path will agree with me. This fact – the noisiness of the world – is often remarked upon, of course, as are the deleterious effects that it has on our health and emotional stability. Less often mentioned is the effect it has on behaviour. I read somewhere that the calls of birds living in cities are louder and more piercing that those of the same species living in the countryside. In the same way, people in cities, in seems to me, no longer talk normally but at an increased volume, almost (and sometimes actually) shouting.

When the Walkman first appeared, it was hailed as a novelty and anyone wearing earphones in the street was noticed and pointed out. No longer. As I go about in the streets, the buses and tubes, the shops and cafes, it seems to me that every other person is wearing earphones, and not small ones, either, but often gigantic ones that look as if they belong in a recording studio.

Why people have to blot out the audible world with a barrier of sound is an interesting question, but what concerns me here is that people today seem to have developed a need for noise that is so imperious that they have to carry noise-making equipment with them wherever they go. I find this worrying, not merely because they are damaging their hearing and making it difficult to talk to them, but because it implies that the already frighteningly high level of noise has come to be accepted as normal. We are in serious danger of losing an irreplaceable treasure, the treasure of silence.

I dutifully wear my “dolbies” when out and about in order not to have to ask people to repeat themselves too often and in the hope of having some idea of what is going on around me, but not when I am at home alone. There I can relax with my natural hearing. It is also a pleasure to take them off at night before going to bed when the world becomes a more peaceful place.

If things continue to evolve as at present, we will soon all be wearing headphones, not hi-fi devices for listening to music, but noise-cancelling headphones of the sort worn in factories and helicopters. Perhaps these will incorporate Bluetooth so that we can also wear microphones and speak directly into one another’s ears in order to by­pass the ear-killing din around us. We will then move about in an artificially silenced world, insulated and isolated like astronauts or deep-sea divers, from an environment that threatens to shatter our all-too-delicate sense of hearing altogether.

In the meantime, those of us who speak out against the drowning of meaningful sound in an endless storm of noise do so in vain as our words dissolve into silence against the hard plastic of earphones throbbing to the beat of rock music.

Copyright © 2010 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Opinion | Tagged , | 12 Comments

A courier run and a folk museum

This was to be another courier run when the document would be available only at the last minute. The plan was to have it brought to us by motorcycle at the station just prior to our departure. As the deadline for delivery is midday, it is important to avoid slip-ups.

We reached King’s Cross at about 8:10. A telephone call to base revealed that the package was ready and would now be sent to us. We were to wait on the corner of York Way, in front of McDonald’s.

Early sunshine in Pentonville Road
Early sunshine in Pentonville Road

I bought porridge from the small Camden Food Co shop and ate mine sitting on a bench. Tigger, busy watching for the motorcycle, preferred to keep hers until she was safely aboard her train with the package.

We knew the bike would come via Gray’s Inn Road so we watched the traffic coming across the junction from there, cars, vans, lorries, bicycles, motorcycles. You fix on a likely candidate and watch as it roars up the road, disappearing from sight…

Mossy roof on Audley Cottages
Mossy roof on Audley Cottages

Eventually, I spotted a scruffy, bearded individual on a motorcycle with his visor raised. He was waiting at the lights. When they changed and he came across, I saw he had a large bag slung across his shoulders. He stopped on the other side of the road and looked about blankly. I pointed him out to Tigger who recognized him as one of couriers used by the firm. He still didn’t see us, despite our waving and shouting. We ran across York Way, dodging the traffic.

It was now 8:50 and Tigger made a dash for the 8:52 train. I went with her although I was not travelling until 9:45. That was for the usual reason: I have to pay for my ticket and fares are much cheaper after 9:30.

Garde ta Foy: motto of Magdalene College, re-founded by Thomas, Lord Audley in 1542
Garde ta Foy: motto of Magdalene College,
re-founded by Thomas, Lord Audley in 1542

Having seen Tigger off, I had 50 minutes to wait for my train. I could stand around in the cold, go for a walk, sit in somewhere such as a cafe, or… I jumped in a 73 bus and went home. I had time to say hello to Freya, catch up with messages from Tigger and then leave again. Even so that was preferable to waiting around in the cold.

When I reached King’s Cross, my train was already waiting and I could go aboard and sit in the warm.

St Giles Church
St Giles Church

As I write, we are speeding along the track to today’s destination, the ancient and prestigious university town of Cambridge. We have a good day for the trip: even though it is cold, the conditions are dry and bright, despite a cloudy sky. The colours of the countryside are muted but autumn colours add variety to the scene.  There is even a hint of blue sky in places.

Cambridge Folk Museum
Cambridge Folk Museum

I could of course have stayed at home in the warm, read an interesting book and made coffee. With Freya for company, that would have been snug and pleasant, but as the sun breaks through the clouds to gild the countryside with delicate golden light, this seems definitely the place to be.

My train was faster than Tigger’s and she just made it back to the station from the delivery address as I arrived. We straightaway boarded bus number 1 and got off in Chesterton Road, where the above photos were taken. Our intention was to visit the Cambridge County and Folk Museum.

Beautifully painted dial of a grandfather clock
Beautifully painted dial of a
grandfather clock

The Folk Museum occupies what was once the White Horse pub which also served as the house of the publican and his family. The museum is therefore arranged as a set of rooms, starting with the Bar and continuing with the domestic parts, such as the kitchen and parlour.

Smokers' requisites through the ages
Smokers’ requisites through the ages
(note paucity of labelling)

On the credit side, firstly, admission is inexpensive and I would say that a visit is well worth the small fee; secondly, photography is allowed without formality. Credit should also be given to the richness of the collection of objects.

A beautiful piece of stained glass
A beautiful piece of stained glass

The failing, we found, was in the relative paucity of labelling and other information. There is a leaflet that provides an overall guide to the museum and some of the exhibits are labelled and explained but many are not, including what look to be some of the most interesting. More work on this is needed.

Parlour: small but no doubt snug
Parlour: small but no doubt snug

The building has three floors and it is fun exploring them all, though you have to take care on the steep staircase.

Steep staircase
Steep staircase

The children’s domain was right at the top of the house and it is here that we find a collection of toys…

Toys from the 20s and 40s
Toys from the 20s and 40s

… and a dolls’ house. Unlike some museums, where the toys are “mint and boxed”, those here have a used and played-with appearance which, to me at least, makes them more appealing.

Dolls' house
Dolls’ house

A little more grown-up, perhaps, is this Victorian sampler dated 1854.

Sampler, 1854
Sampler, 1854

It’s worth having a look at the courtyard too because, apart from its pleasant feel, it also contains some interesting objects, such as this pump

Old pump
Old pump

and these architectural components that look as if they come from a church of monastery. (In both cases, labelling would help.)

Ecclesiastical architectural components
Ecclesiastical architectural components

From the museum, walked back into town, and crossed the river Cam. A popular pastime here in fine weather is sailing in punts – flat-bottomed boats propelled with poles. Punts can be hired and there are also guided tours, for example along the Cambridge Backs, a section of the river where the land along the banks is entirely owned by several famous colleges which turn their backs to the water.

Punts and the Cambridge Backs
Punts and the Cambridge Backs

Cambridge is famous for its many historic and often very beautiful buildings.

Round Church Street
The appropriately named Round Church Street

Many of the most ancient, most striking and most beautifully designed buildings are those belonging to the various colleges that together form the University of Cambridge. The typical pattern is a gatehouse giving entrance to an open court or quadrangle, around which rooms are arranged. An example is King’s College, founded in 1441 by Henry VI. The gatehouse dates from 1824-8. It also possesses a world-famous chapel.

Kings College, showing a glimpse of the quadrangle
King’s College, showing a glimpse of the quadrangle

We passed by the open-air market, which is located on Market Hill and is overlooked by the bunker-like Guildhall. At this point we realized it was getting late and was time for lunch.

The market on Market Hill
The market on Market Hill

If you have read about our other trips to Cambridge, you will not be surprised to know that we were intending to lunch in the Rainbow vegetarian cafe.

Arriving at the Rainbow
Arriving at the Rainbow

The Rainbow occupies a basement and is reached via this picturesque alley. Its food is purely vegetarian and it is known for the fascinating variety of often exotic-sounding dishes on its menu. It is apt to be busy and sometimes you have to queue to get in. Luckily, we were early and found a table straightaway.

We found a table straightaway
We found a table straightaway

For once, I was disappointed with my lunch. The soup was fine but the Kerala Curry, though well cooked and accompanied by a crisp, fresh salad, was bland, not an adjective you would normally apply to curry. Tigger was happy with her food, however, and we will return next time we go to Cambridge.

We explored the market
We explored the market

After lunch, we went back and explored the market and then went around the shops. That may not sound a very exciting activity but on a cold day, and especially when the shops are making an effort for Christmas, it’s probably the sensible thing to do.

Winged beings in Lion Yard
Winged beings in Lion Yard

The Lion Yard shopping centre was decorated with a cohort of winged beings, presumably angels. I found these rather sinister because of their strangely elongated limbs.

After this, we decided we had done enough for the day and returned to the station. The train was late and stopped, so it seemed, at every station between Cambridge and Liverpool Street, so that the journey began to feel interminable. I dozed off at one point and this helped!

This benign-looking manikin observes the market from above the West Cornwall Pasty Co outlet
This benign-looking manikin observes the market from above the
West Cornwall Pasty Co outlet

Cambridge is a beautiful and interesting city. Summer is a good time to visit but I think it holds delights for the visitor at any time of year. With another courier run successfully completed, we had every reason to feel content with our day.

Copyright © 2010 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Travel | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Punts and students

We’re off on a courier run tomorrow. Where are we going? The title gives a pretty good clue.

It will not be a long journey, compared with some we have to undertake and will therefore be a somewhat leisurely trip if all goes according to plan. But will it? Courier runs sometimes go smoothly and sometimes throw up quite unexpected problems.

A potential problem with this one is that we don’t yet have the document. It will be delivered to us at the station tomorrow prior to our departure. Meeting a courier at a busy mainline station poses problems of its own, though things have always gone surprisingly well up to now.

Here’s just another clue. We have been to this city many times before and it’s a good place to get a vegetarian lunch. I hope tomorrow proves no exception.

I will be sure to let you know.

Copyright © 2010 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Travel | Tagged | 4 Comments

Who visits your blog?

Some blogs attract large numbers of visitors and become well known even outside blogging circles. Admirable as they may be, however, they constitute only a tiny minority of the total blog population. Most blogs operate at a far quieter level. My remarks concern the average public personal blogs which I think make up the majority.

Many such bloggers will tell you that they write for themselves and don’t care how many visits they receive, even if this number is zero. If that were true, though, why are they writing a public blog at all? Why not make the blog private or simply keep a diary offline? The answer, surely, is obvious: We write public blogs because we hope that others will read them and find them interesting.

This being so, we are also interested in who visits our blog, how many they are and why they come to our blogs.

The how many is answered by the blog platform’s statistical function or by the data provided by whatever hit counter you use. To a greater or lesser degree, this also tackles the who question because some services offer a detailed analysis of visits including their geographical distribution. Answering the why, on the other hand, is a lot more difficult.

The blogger may consider him- or herself fortunate to have attracted a core of regular visitors who read all – or at least, most – of the posts and express their interest by leaving relevant comments. That, to my mind, is the most enjoyable aspect of blogging, apart from writing the blog in the first place. If you reply to the comments, this adds to the pleasure and helps create a feeling of community.

However, even if you are indeed fortunate enough to attract a group of blog friends, you will most likely receive far more visits to your blog than theirs. You will probably find, too, that some of your posts are more popular than others, as indicated by the number of hits they receive. For example, a post of mine about tattoos, a light-hearted article on a topic not particularly close to my heart, became, much to my surprise, my all-time most visited post. Another one, on Chichester, is visited regularly, and appears in the statistics on most days. At first sight this is puzzling but I think there is an obvious explanation for this (see below).

We can say, then, that a personal blog is likely to have a core of regular visitors and what might be termed a “cloud” of sporadic visitors, by which I mean visitors who appear once and never return. The interesting question is why these “sporadics” come to the blog in the first place. I think they come from three sources.

The first source consists of the small number of people who actively surf blog-space, looking for interesting blogs to read and perhaps add to their blogrolls. I think we all do this from time to time. All being well, they will happen upon your blog and perhaps the odd one will tarry a while and even become a core follower.

The second source concerns subject-matter: these are people who are looking for blogs on specific topics, either because they are researching the topic or because they write about it themselves and are looking for other like-minded bloggers. This is where “tags” and “categories”, or whatever your platform calls them, are important. For example, write a blog about cats and apply the tag “cats” and cat-lovers will find and read your post.

The third source is one that I think is often overlooked. In fact, I overlooked it myself until I suddenly realized where the bulk of my visitors where coming from and why certain posts were achieving a high level of hits. What is it? Why, search engines, of course.

Type a word or phrase into Google or Yahoo! and what happens? You receive literally thousands of “results”, as Google calls them. This harvest will contain all sorts of references from “sponsored” links, through dictionary and encyclopaedia entries, to every sort of Web site and… blogs.

Type in “millennium bridge”, for example, or “Chelsea Football Club”, and among all the obvious references you will also see blogs which mention these subjects. The evidence convinces me that the majority of the hits I receive on my blog come from search engines, that is, from people who are not looking for my blog, are not particularly interested in my blog, do not stay long once they arrive and are there only because the search engine brought them there.

This explains why some posts receive many more hits than others: they refer to topics that are popular ones on search engines.

There is another interesting aspect to this that may also be missed. Search engines work by finding all sites that include the words in the search string. It is logical, therefore, to suppose that the bigger a site, and the more words and phrases it contains, the more likely it is to be caught in a search. Now consider your blog: assuming you are an active blogger, your blog grows over time; it gets bigger and bigger and, therefore, contains more and more words and phrases as time passes. Conclusion? The conclusion is that the older your blog, the more likely it is to score hits in search engines and therefore, the higher the number of daily visits that you experience.

Oh dear, have I spoilt your illusion that your blog was becoming more and more popular with passing time? That may well be true and I hope it is, but it may also be the case that it is simply scoring more and more hits on search engines as its store of words and phrases increases. The popularity of my posts on tattoos and Chichester is not owing to their excellence, but to the fact that people are interested in these topics and are looking them up on Google!

You will see this if you subscribe to one of those blog statistics sites that shows how much time visitors spend looking at individual pages on your blog. How long does it take to read a post? Even if it is only a short one, an attentive reader will take at least several minutes to read and think about it. If your statistics show that visits last 1 or 2 seconds, that means the visitor clicked, wasn’t interested and moved on.

As a tailpiece, let me add that there is one kind of visitor that unwittingly gives an indication of the popularity of your blog. I refer to those people who contact you through your email address, if you give one, or through comments, and propose some sort of deal. Typically this will be a request to accept advertising banners or links whether for money (though this is rare) or in return for offers such as vouchers, reciprocal links or some free service, perhaps providing you with “professionally written” blog posts “specially tailored to your blog and your readers’ needs”.

Let’s face it, these folk are cheapskates who think they can con bloggers into advertising their business for nothing or next to nothing. They also hope that the links will help enhance their rating on search engines. They are really only one step up from spammers and scrapers. However, they do also suggest that your blog is attracting notice, some small compensation for the irritation they cause.

People blog for many reasons. In fact, one might almost say that each blogger has a unique set of motives for pursuing this form of self-expression. Personally, I find that creating a post is a satisfying activity to which the possibility that it will be read (one hopes with pleasure) by others, adds an extra buzz. Frequent visitors and their comments are the cream on top of the cake.

However, it is all too easy to become obsessed with visitor statistics and to under- or overestimate the blog’s standing in Blogworld. There is a parallel between this and estimating one’s own importance in the world. If you look at it that way, it becomes obvious that blog rankings, however accurate and professional the ranking or­ga­ni­za­tions claim to be, is far from being an exact science. In fact, it is little more than smoke and mirrors and should not be taken too seriously.

The best way to proceed, I think, is to enjoy one’s blogging and to regard comments and other contacts as a bonus. That is not to say that checking one’s statistics is not fun, for it is – but just as long as one does not become obsessive about it.

Copyright © 2010 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Blogging | Tagged | 6 Comments

Around St Pancras

This afternoon’s walk was around – and later inside – St Pancras International station.

Entrance to Camley Street Natural Park
Entrance to Camley Street Natural Park

We came here, to the Camley Street Natural Park. This is a lovely place to explore. Once a coal yard, it has been reclaimed and turned into a area where wild plants and creatures can thrive in mini-habitats designed just for them.

Organized according to nature
Organized according to nature

It may seem untidy and a tangle to us, used to tidy parks and gardens, but that is because it is organized according to nature.

Path for human feet
Path for human feet

While the wild creatures pass easily through the tangled undergrowth, human feet need a pathway if they are not to damage the fragile environment.

A moorhen dabbles happily among the reeds
A moorhen dabbles happily among the reeds

As well as trees and undergrowth, there is a pond or small lake frequented by moorhens and coots.

Flowers among the green
Flowers among the green

Even at this time of year there are some flowers, showing brightly among the green foliage…

Red berries
Red berries

and red berries lurking in the thickets. Special care is taken to provide for the smallest inhabitants, whether they walk or fly. There is an area for “minibeasts”, closed to visitors at this time of year, and “hotels” here and there.

flighthotel groundhotel
“Hotels” for flying creatures (left) and crawlers (right)

The park is limited on one side by the road and on the other by the canal which is also picturesque in its own way.

Regent's Canal
Regent’s Canal

Looking out from one end of park we see towards St Pancras and King’s Cross. The city then seems to crowd in on the park which somehow manages to maintain its tranquility within.

Looking out towards St Pancras and King's Cross
Looking out towards St Pancras and King’s Cross

In the picture we see a road-widening scheme in progress, the famous King’s Cross gasometer (there are several, but only one currently standing) which is a listed building, and on the right, St Pancras station, with its familiar pointed clock tower.

The wonderful St Pancras station
The wonderful St Pancras station

We went to St Pancras station to get warm and have a coffee. This is, I think, our most beautiful station. For once, refurbishment has been carried out with minute attention to detail and everything is of fine quality. It is quite unique.

Sir John Betjeman
Sir John Betjeman, 1906-84

This is John Betjeman, much loved Poet Laureate, as unique a human being as St Pancras is unique as a building. His name will always be associated with St Pancras against whose destruction he stoutly – and successfully – campaigned. The sculpture nicely captures something of his unconventional – and slightly unkempt – appearance.

Frieze around Paul Day's Meeting Place (detail)
Frieze around Paul Day’s Meeting Place (detail)

We decided to go for a late lunch to Carluccio’s restaurant in the station. Near it is the well known sculpture by Paul Day of embracing lovers, called the Meeting Place. The frieze around the pediment is, in my opinion, the best part of the work and is superb.

One of the gargoyles decorating the station
One of the gargoyles decorating the station

I wonder why the gargoyle reminds me of Freya… :)

By the time we had enjoyed our meal at Carluccio’s, darkness had fallen and King’s Cross was wearing its night-time attire of lights.

King's Cross
King’s Cross

Behind us the clock tower of St Pancras stood tall against the dark sky. John Betjeman’s ghost has reason to be proud.

St Pancras clock tower
St Pancras clock tower

Copyright © 2010 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Out and About | Tagged , | 4 Comments


After a busy day…

Sleepy cat

Freya dozes off, comfortably lodged against my feet.

I felt sleepy too, just from watching her… :)

Copyright © 2010 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Animals | Tagged , | 3 Comments

More books in French – Encore des livres en français

I recently mentioned two online sources of books in French that could be interesting for readers living in the UK (or even elsewhere), namely the French Institute in London‘s Culturethèque and Bibliovox, a service run by Cyberlibris.

Reading the second site more carefully, I discovered two more. These new sites are still being developed but their libraries are already well stocked and the titles are often available in several formats.

The first site is eBooks Libres & Gratuits and the second, a partner of the first, the Bibliothèque électronique du Québec.

The available titles are of course copyright-free.

Book lovers more and more like to read “on the road” using their laptops or even their mobiles. For these reading enthusiasts, the site Ibis Reader could be of interest. You access it with your usual browser and the site, so they say, works as well on a mobile  as on a computer.

It must be said, however, that Ibis Reader is a site in English but that its library contains books in French. Its advantage is that if you register for the service, le site remembers the page where you stopped reading so that you can easily pick up again next time.

J’ai mentionné récemment deux sources en ligne de livres en français qui pourraient intéresser des lecteurs domiciliés en Grade Bretagne (ou même ailleurs), c’est à dire, la Culturethèque de l’Institut français du Royaume-Uni et Bibliovox, un service de Cyberlibris.

En lisant plus attentivement ce dernier site, j’en ai découvert encore deux. Ces nouveaux sites sont en cours de développement mais leur bibliothèque est déjà bien fournie et les titres s’y offrent souvent en plusieurs formats.

Le premier site est eBooks Libres & Gratuits et le deuxième, partenaire de celui-ci, la Bibliothèque électronique du Québec.

Les titres disponibles sont bien sûr des textes libres de droit.

De plus en plus les bibliophiles aiment lire “sur la route” en utilisant leur ordinateur portable ou même leur mobile. Pour ces amis de la lecture, le site Ibis Reader pourrait être intéressant. On y accède par son navigateur habituel et le site, disent-ils, marche tout aussi bien sur le mobile que sur l’ordinateur.

Il faut noter, néanmoins, que l’Ibis Reader est un site en anglais mais que la bibliothèque contient des livres en français. Son avantage c’est que si vous vous inscrivez au service, le site retient la page où vous avez arrêté votre lecture de sorte que vous pouvez facilement la reprendre la prochaine fois.

Copyright © 2010 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Culture | Tagged , | 2 Comments