We’re spending a week around Christmas in a cottage in the Lake District.
It’s very wet, very windy, and as beautiful as ever.
One Friday night, in the dark, towards the end of November, I set off from home in the direction of the Derbyshire Peak District. Three hours later, I parked my campervan in the car-park of a friendly pub, and settled down for a night of testing its heating system against the outside temperatures, which had dropped well below zero!
But the following morning dawned bright and clear, and I could see the edge of Ladybower Reservoir.
With the sun still only on the hilltops, I headed up the frosty path behind the pub, looking forward to emerging into the brightness above.
Before too long, I was looking down at sunlit fields of happy sheep…
and the reservoir I had left behind.
Once up on the top of Derwent Edge, the path was easy and, though the air temperature was low, there was almost no wind, which made for delightful walking conditions. I met many other travellers who were enjoying it as much as I was.
Places that might have been very muddy were now frozen, and the places that might have been untraversable bog…
were crossed by well-maintained paths, winding into the distance.
It really is a very pretty area…
…with lots of fun and varied rock formations en route.
But it’s not without its perils. Many an unwary traveller has become prey to the giant prehistoric lizard who hides behind one of the ridges and creeps up on them from behind after they have passed by.
Despite this, I was having such a good time that I got a bit carried away, and what had been intended as a short morning stroll got extended for mile after mile after mile.
Though the weather was lovely, the areas in shadow were still frozen, and I was impressed at the dedication of the couple who had given up this quantity of their bodily warmth, long before I appeared on the scene, to record their affection on a thick slab of stone!
By this point I had done about eight miles and was starting to be more aware of the fact that I had set off without even a biscuit (since I had expected to be back for lunch!)
So I was glad when I reached the path theat would take me back to the reservoirs below: a gully cutting down through the Howden Moors.
The sun was getting lower, and much of this area was in shadow. Icicles dripped beside me…
…and in places I was rather conscious of the perilous drops to my right, as I, a tired, lone traveller, contemplating the likely time of sunset and remembering the temperatures of the night before, negotiated a path that I think was primarily used by the local sheep. The slimmer individuals amongst the local sheep, too…
So it was with some relief that I made it down to more sheltered, level ground again in the last vestiges of the sunshine.
However… it was still 3 or 4 miles back to the van, so I set off in the gathering gloom along the side of the reservoir, passing the impressive Derwent Dam where the Dambuster squadron used to practice.
Just beyond the dam, I joined a lovely woodland path, broad and well-maintained, which was good because by that point I was dependent entirely on moonlight to avoid any obstructions! The trees were just slightly darker patches of black to my left and right. But I managed to avoid walking into them, or tripping over their roots, and so it was that I arrived, footsore but happy, back at the van, whence I had set off for a short morning walk after a small bowl of cereal 15.3 miles earlier!
A lovely area for walking and highly recommended, though I do suggest you also take a biscuit or two!
More information about the rest of the trip should be coming before too long on the campervan section of my YouTube channel.
On Wednesday I was part of a group that visited Thalia Waste Management, a substantial local domestic-waste-processing and recycling facility, and it was most interesting.
Quite apart from seeing some of the machinery and getting a feel for what actually happens to the stuff in those bins you leave on the kerb, we heard some humorous stories. They told us, for example, about how the machinery which processes food and garden waste from our green bins is sometime brought to a grinding halt because somebody has used them to dispose of old garden tools and machinery. It’s garden waste, after all…!
I wrote last year about ‘The Recycler’s Confession‘:
We have left unrecycled those things
which we ought to have recycled;
and we have recycled those things
which we ought not to have recycled.
and wondered which was the greater sin.
Well it turns out that the residents of most of Cambridgeshire can recycle much more than I realised.
In the past, we couldn’t recycle black plastic containers, for example (because the optical systems used to distinguish plastic types couldn’t cope with it), but that’s less of an issue now, mostly because there’s a lot less black plastic used in packaging (for this reason). Also, in the past we were told not to recycle cellophane film, so for 20 years or so I have been carefully tearing it off the front of my Parma Ham packaging. This, I discover, is no longer needed.
But in the UK the rules do vary widely from place to place. This is partly because of the different recycling facilities available now, and partly because of the availability of, or economic viability of, those facilities available when the contracts were signed with the local authorities. In my local area, the rules for Cambridge city and South Cambridgeshire are different from East Cambridgeshire, even though the waste is processed in the same location. Peterborough is different again.
So the chap who was showing us around recommended RecycleNow, a handy site which lets you type in your postcode and search for exactly what can and can’t be recycled in your area. Most useful.
Overall, the visit was an encouraging experience, but I was considering the waste which still goes to landfill, despite the impressive efforts of Thalia and others. I wondered whether perhaps, one day, it will be economic to go back process some of the materials that aren’t economic now, in the same way that the slag heaps from mines can yield up new treasures today when we discover that demand for some element suddenly makes them worth re-processing.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that, one day, someone will invent a car battery for which polystyrene is a vital component!
Google has just announced the launch of the Bard chatbot, its competitor to ChatGPT, and I, no doubt like many others, immediately went to compare their performance when asked some of the key questions of our age:
OK, well, let’s try…
Bard gets my vote.
Now, having done that important test, I can return to my career as a filmmaker who has been exploring the nature of reality, consciousness, and the meaning of life.
‘Gift’ is generally a noun. ‘Give’ is a verb.
When did we start using ‘gifted’ to mean ‘gave’? As in, “A friend gifted me this radio.” I seem to hear it all the time now, and not just from Americans, though I think it was a transatlantic trend initially. Perhaps people feel the need to have a different word for ‘gave without expecting payment’… but surely, if you expected payment, the word would in any case be ‘sold’?
So I turned to my OED, and it does allow ‘gift’ as a transitive verb, but meaning ‘to endow with gifts’. So you could say, “I gifted the Sultan”, meaning that you showered him with presents. If you want to be more specific, it insists, you need to use ‘with’. I gifted the Sultan with roses of every hue. Poetic, but perhaps too poetic for the situation where my pal gave me his old USB drive. I suspect it’s more appropriate when saying that The Almighty had gifted the Sultan with great wisdom.
I know they say that in American English there is no noun that cannot be verbed, but I would strongly lobby for sticking to the concise and precise ‘gave’, and reserving ‘gifted’ for its correct use as an adjective, to describe, perhaps, one who writes erudite blog posts.
Looking yesterday at some student application forms, we were bemused by the phraseology and grammatical constructions of one or two of the ‘personal statements’. These were from candidates who were (supposedly) native English speakers, applying for a subject at a top university in which clear and effective use of English will be a key skill.
For a moment, I wondered whether they had got ChatGPT or some other system to write it for them. And then I realised…
No, it couldn’t be from ChatGPT, because ChatGPT would have done a much better job.
I think this is significant.
It’s like the time several years ago when I realised I had just bought a second, electronic, copy of a big, bulky paper book that I already owned, because the Kindle reading experience would be vastly superior to the paper one: something I never would have imagined a few years before.
It’s a tipping point…
I’ve been doing an experiment which I fear will end up costing me money. And this is in response to the observation that so much of the online world we see is filtered through Google. I have nothing against Google, but this means that the starting point for most online exploration is filtered through Google’s business model.
Suppose I viewed the world through somebody else’s business model instead?
Building a search engine is hard. Building one that can come close to competing with Google is really hard.
For a while, on some of my machines, I’ve been using the popular DuckDuckGo, and it’s been pretty good. (The only way to try these things properly, I think, is to set them as your default search engine and then see how often you find them falling short.) The name was a mystery to me, never having heard of the children’s game ‘Duck, duck, goose’ before, but the business model and the appeal is simple: they do run ads, but not as many; they do much less tracking, the ads aren’t targeted, and they help block other companies from tracking you as well. It has many devotees.
But this weekend, I came across something better: Kagi. No ads. No tracking. Nice and fast. Elegant layout, and lots of customisation options. And, having used it as the default on my desktop, laptop and iPad for a few days, very good results! But of course, there’s no such thing as a free search, so the catch here is that you have to pay. For most people, the $5/month plan, which gets you 300 searches per month, will be sufficient, but there are lots of variations. I think the Duo family plan, which gives two people unlimited searches for (effectively) £10/month, sounds appealing.
So, would I pay £120/year (or £42/year, for the individual basic plan purchased annually) for something which I could get for free? Well, their free trial, which got me 100 free searches, has made me think that I probably would. Search is such a key part of day-to-day life, that this seems a modest premium to get a better version where you don’t have to start by scrolling past the sponsored links.
Here’s a short video showing a few of the extra bits you get for your money:
I won’t try to summarise it here, or even discuss the topics he raises, because you should cetainly go and read the article. But I did like the aside where he questions his own use of the word “literally”:
Do I mean “literally”? My friends complain that I take everything literally, but I’m not a kleptomaniac.
Rose and I have long enjoyed playing Wordle – we do it each evening after dinner, taking alternate lines, and then move on to do the same with Quordle. (Quordle needs a bit more screen real-estate, so I recommend a decent-size iPad at least.)
Anyway, I was pondering the idea of more literary variations. Suppose you had a Wordle where the only words allowed, both as guesses and answers, were in the Complete Works of Shakespeare? Even if you’re well-educated, you would probably need a few more lines to solve it, but it might be fun!
I’ve done a quick analysis, and there are just under 3000 different 5-letter words in the Gutenberg plain text file of the Complete Works. That’s more than there are in the normal Wordle game, though I haven’t stripped out proper nouns, so it’s probably a comparable vocabulary.
Glancing through them, though, I think there might be challenges.
When Henry VI says,
Her sight did ravish, but her grace in speech,
Her words yclad with wisdom’s majesty,
Makes me from wondering fall to weeping joys,
Such is the fulness of my heart’s content.
Lords, with one cheerful voice welcome my love.
for example, we know what the bard means, but he never uses the word ‘yclad’ anywhere else — I expect, frankly, he just invented it to maintain the pentameter — and I can’t guarantee that I would have guessed it before line six in the Wordle grid. I just don’t use ‘yclad’ often enough in day-to-day conversation.
So perhaps it’s a foolish idea.
Instead, while we’re on the subject of words beginning with the letter ‘y’. I shall content myself with pointing out an interesting fact about the title of this post, which is probably blatantly obvious to any linguistic scholars amongst my readership but, for the rest of us, might just help impress friends at the pub.
When you see signs like ‘Ye Olde Tea Shoppe’… have you ever wondered why it’s always ‘Ye’? Where does the ‘Ye’ come from?
Well, in fact, it never really was ‘Ye’. It was ‘The’, but ‘TH’ was often written using the ‘thorn’ character originating in Old English, Old Norse and languages of similar vintage, now almost obsolete unless, I gather, you are writing in Icelandic. A capital thorn normally looks like this: Þ, and a lower-case one like this: þ, but there are lots of variations, and in some scripts if looks more like a ‘Y’.
A Wikipedia page gives these pleasing examples of Middle English abbreviations (and apologies, especially to those receiving this by email, if these don’t format well for you!):
With the advent of the printing press, a thorn character often wasn’t readily available and so a ‘y’ was substituted, as in this Blackletter example of an abbreviated ‘the’:
And from there, it was but a short step to seeing signs wishing to convey a feeling of antiquity being written as ‘Ye olde…’.
I think this would be a fun student project. I would certainly have enjoyed it.
Here’s a year’s worth of my solar-generation data. My roof is oriented approximately 5 degrees west of south.
Feel free to make suggestions in the comments about fun additions.
“We are experiencing an unusually large volume of calls at the moment. We apologise for the delay. Please stay on the line and your call will be answered in turn.”
My friend Andy Stanford-Clark was complaining about this on Twitter,
“No, there are an unexpectedly low number of people answering the phones at the moment. Don’t blame your customers for your organisational inefficiency. Thank you.”
I’ve talked about this before: some organisations seem to have this as a standard disclaimer on the beginning of every call you make to them, which means it is blatantly untrue: how ‘unexpected’ or ‘unusual’ can the volume of calls really be?
No, what this really means is, “We consider our time to be more valuable than yours.” Even though your call is really important to us.
(Sometimes, though, these automated messages can be helpful. When they say, “This call may be recorded for monitoring and training purposes”, I say, “Thank you!”, and click the record button.)
Now I’m considering, when they do finally connect, playing a recorded message that says, “I’m experiencing an unexpected number of answers at this time. My call is important to you, so please hold, and a valued customer will be with you shortly.” Repeated a few times, of course, but interspersed with some upbeat yet calming music.
© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser