Saturday, 2 January 2021


Though never crossing over to the American television market as perhaps ahead of its time with its franker portrayal of the consequences of crime and its toll on law enforcement in police procedurals, Z Cars—premiering on BBC1 on this day in 1962—ran for an impressive twelve seasons, clocking just over eight hundred episodes (though sadly fewer than half are believed to have been preserved) and launched a few spin-offs.
Inspired by a childhood convalescence imposed on the script-writer spent monitoring the radio bandwidth reserved for patrols (hence the title) and set in a badly ageing seaport, fictionalised but based on any number of real places in the North, one of the first series with a regional flavour, it starred Stratford Johns as chief inspector with deputies Frank Windsor, Brian Blessed and James Ellis with numerous guest stars joining the cast and notable cameo-appearances. The theme music heard in the opening below is inspired from the traditional Liverpudlian folk song called “Johnny Todd” and was arranged by Bridget Fry and then-husband Fritz Spiegl.

Friday, 11 December 2020


repetition: an exploration of built-environments as an audio-visual landscape of infinite regression  

a pigment of our imagination: the illusory nature of colour  

nationally determined contributions: European Union agrees to more than halve its carbon emissions by 2030—via Slashdot 

awesome sauce: a safari-pak of canned-meats from 1967 

road gritters: track Scotland’s fleet of snow-plows in real time by name  

training a generation of future karens: this scholastic kids books series are clearly coding adults as happy and confident with their life choices as monsters and misfits—via Super Punch 

a universe of imagination: revisiting a classic and inspiring documentary (previously) on cosmology on its sixtieth anniversary

Sunday, 6 December 2020

a dictionary of arts and sciences, compiled upon a new plan

Under the management and editorship of its founders, Archibald Constable, Andrew Bell and Colin Macfarquhar, the first edition of volume of one of three of the Encyclopรฆdia Britannica was published on this day in Edinburgh in 1768. While not the first general knowledge reference book in English, it has been the longest-lived—though digital only since the fifteenth edition was printed in 2010, ending its rather novel, assailable layout for fact-checking and more in depth, authoritative research by breaking-out the tomes into a pro-, micro- and macropรฆdia with a compendious indices two volumes in length. The Propรฆdia is an “outline of knowledge” that shows the framework and decision-tree that the editorial board uses for inclusion and scope of coverage, and usefully gave some insight into what otherwise might just be dismissed as academic bias or Western hegemony in topic and distribution.

Monday, 30 November 2020

this article contains weasel words

Having been informed that the proper collective noun for a pack of ferrets (Mustela putorius furo, whose common name is from the Latin for furuttus, “a little thief whose males are called hobs and jills—with neutered and spayed equivalents jib, or hoblet, and sprite) is a “busyness” (see also), we are more delighted with an bonus lesson on ghost words and transmission errors. From the very real and well-documented examples of Merriam-Webster’s dord—given the definition with the utmost earnestness of density whereas it was D or d, the typesetter’s note abbreviation for the measure of said term and the spurious testentry said to rhyme ironically with pedantry and the more speculative examples of o.k. or the etymology of pumpernickel with Napoleon proclaiming a loaf as fit only for his favourite horse “C’est pain pour Nicole,” the venery term for the name of a group of ferrets devolved from busyness to fesynes to feamyng. Presented first in a public form during a presentation to the Philological Society of London, Professor Watler William Skeat coined the phrase ghost word and elucidated the audience with an example line from Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Monastery: “…dost thou so soon morse thoughts of slaughter?” A typographical, transcription error made the question more poetic than the author intended and this happy misprint of the intended word nurse prompting quite a bit of scholarship, variously explaining the use as an occurrence of verbification, anthimeria or that it was a case of a New Latin false friend, namely—mordere to bite—that is to indulge and placate those thoughts by gnawing at what’s gnawing at the character.

Sunday, 15 November 2020


ginger-reveal party: photographer Kieran Dodds has spent years capturing images from red heads all over the world  

nacelle: a handy camper turned a surplus jet engine into a deluxe caravan trailer 

thursday afternoon: the video paintings of Brian Eno—see previously 

lawn and order: perhaps Spain ought to get out of the art restoration business and other items of note from Hyperallergic’s weekly digest 

we’ll let the supreme courtyard marriot decide the outcome of the vote: apropos the entry above, more roundups and rundowns from the week from Super Punch  

julia’s name is going to be julia gulia: a team of volunteer correspondents answer missives left to Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers  

matita: a treasury of vintage Italian pencils 

macroscopic: a pairing of recent posts from the always excellent Nag on the Lake celebrate capturing images of the tiny at extremely close range

Friday, 13 November 2020

animal magnetism

Intending to attend the demonstration at the Manchester Athenรฆum by the mesmerism (after Herr Doktor Franz Mesmer’s invisible, natural binding force he called Lebensmagnetismus) itinerant Charles Lafontaine as a sceptic, the gentleman scientist and surgeon James Braid (*1795 – †1860) who developed life-changing interventions to help those suffering from clubfoot, bandy legs and scoliosis was rather captivated by the performance he witnessed on this day in 1841. Rather than audience to the act of a fraudster, the demonstration seemed credible and genuine and bore further investigation in Braid’s mind—neither seeking to discredit the practitioner nor seeking confirmation for a preconceived pursuit of interest, and would devote the balance of his professional career, research and writing to the development of what Braid dubbed as hypnotism and hypnotherapy, documenting the corrective value of heightened states of suggestibility in rehabilitating nervous disorders—though not yet ready to entertain the possibility of the psychosomatic.

Thursday, 15 October 2020

the age of consent

Released on this day by London Records in 1984, the synth-pop trio Bronski Beat’s above titled debut album was in reference to legal and social reforms in much of continental Europe that decriminalised homosexuality and harmonised the age of consent with that for heterosexual relationship, legislation which the United Kingdom did not ascribe to at the time. All members of the band were openly gay and their music contained commentary on politics and gay-related issues. Their one charting song “Smalltown Boy” is featured on the record, an eventual anthem addressing hardships of coming-out and experiencing homophobia, released also as a single earlier in the year.

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

1q or the feast of the archangels

Venerating Saint Michael and companions, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel in honour of their victory of Lucifer and the rebel angels in the angelomachy, Michaelmas (previously) is observed on the penultimate day of September—in some traditions, the feast extending into the next day—and has also come to one of the four quarter dates of the financial year, kept since at least medieval times to mark when school and court terms were to commence and the accounting was due to ensure that debts and unresolved cases didn’t linger (see also) into the next season.

Though the customary hiring fairs and local elections do not necessarily adhere (the tradition is retained for the election of London’s lord mayor, just as peasants during the Middle Ages would appoint a reeve from among their peers to represent their interests to the manor) to the same calendars, this time of year—still referred to as the Michaelmas term for matriculating students in England, Scotland and Ireland and for the US Supreme Court’s and the English bar’s Inns of the Court’s fall sessions and of course it marks the end and beginning of the fiscal year for budget purposes. Asters or the Michaelmas daisy are one of the few flowering plants left at the beginning of autumn, and thus inspiring the rhyme and invocation: “Michaelmas daisies among dead weeds, bloom for Saint Michael’s valorous deeds.”

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

popish plot

Promoted and promulgated by English priest Titus Oates, born on this day in 1649 ( †1705), the ungrounded conspiracy theory gripped England and Scotland with an anti-Catholic hysteria from its 1678 circulation and was not easily dispelled despite, Oates’ eventual arrest and conviction of perjury for giving false testimony that led to the execution of twenty-two individuals. Capitalising on fear and suspicions—and guilt by affiliation, real or attributed—of the foiled Gunpowder Plot of 1605 and fuelled by the Thirty Years’ War, framed as a Hapsburg effort to stamp out German and British Protestantism, Oates’ sermons accused one hundred Jesuits and their supporters of plotting an assassination attempt against Charles II. Owing to the recent restoration of the monarchy, the government took any accusation with gravity and led to legislation excluding Catholics from the throne with the Act of Settlement of 1701, further giving rise to two political party factions, the Tories who were opposed and the Whigs in favour of prohibiting Catholics from rule.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

did ye ken...

This is probably old news for most but I was somewhat taken aback to learn that for over six years the Scots language Wikipedia has been moderated and edited by a Wikipedian who isn’t of Scottish heritage nor speaks Scots and has contributed over twenty-thousand articles to the domain that are largely accurate though not written in Scots but rather with the approximation of a Scots accent.
I feel torn because I understand the upset that this revelation causes—though arguably not malicious cultural vandalism—it does have an outsized influence on the minority language and probably represents the largest lexicon of Scots presently—with all the errata that non-native speakers would take as genuine. What do you think? Despite earnest efforts, one probably ought not to assay something this potentially influential given Scots’ status as something once the object of derision and suppressed, but there is also the fact that this was an undertaking that the administrator took on aged twelve and it presumably grew into an obsession and mission, and I think there’s something relatable in that. Again, a people and a language is not fandom but this episode recalls the spurious volume two of the Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Alonso Fernรกndez de Avellaneda of Tordesillas—which Cervantes denounces and is probably the first occurance of metafiction in literature.

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

number 10

Via the always excellent Nag on the Lake, we discover a splendid backdrop for a selfie lies just around the corner from the actual residence of the Lord High Treasurer, by convention also the prime minister (the exchequer fulfils the role of what’s regarded as the treasury in modern parlance). 
For safety and security reasons the authentic and metonymical mansion is off-limits to posing in front of with a nearly identical stoop and door at Adam House, on the eponymous neighbouring street named for its Scottish architect, of both properties, and statesman Robert Adam, one-third of the neoclassical Adamesque style of architecture of the Brothers Adam known as Federalist in the US. Whilst the Adam Street address is likely to impress in passing, but there are significant differences in the door fronts: the slightly off-kilter zero cipher, the brass knocker and the conspicuous absence of a lock, since its always opened from the inside.

Saturday, 1 August 2020


From the Anglo-Saxon for “loaf mass,” Lammas Day is celebrated in some parts of the northern hemisphere on the first of August, Lammastide falling halfway between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox, by bringing bread to the church made of the first fruits of the season to be used for communion. Traditionally, members of the clergy reciprocally made a procession to local bakeries to bless them as a profession (it is a good reason to bring out ye old breadmaker) and is a syncretism, substitution for the Gaelic festival to herald the beginning of harvest time called Lughnasadh (Lรบnasa, Lรนnastal, Luanistyn) readopted by practitioners of Celtic neopaganism.

Sunday, 7 June 2020


From a concerned citizen, we learn a new bit of slang with the intensifier derived ultimately from the Latin mancus, which also lends us maimed, mutilated and mangled that signals something unpleasant, dirty or disgusting.
The bigger story of course behind this errant graffiti tag in a park in Edinburgh besides the etymology is that the swan is somehow taking it as a personal affront and wants to shield his cygnets (the article goes on to identify the father, a cob—the name of an adult male from the Middle English word cobbe for group leader, whereas an adult female is called a pen, as their plumage made the best quills and hence the writing implement) from such language. Across the Atlantic, the similar-sounding janky refers to poor quality or unreliable objects and has an unknown origin—perhaps from junky.

Monday, 25 May 2020


With the act of union adopted by the recalled Rump Parliament on this day in 1659 following the resignation Richard Cromwell after the chaotic death of his father Oliver Cromwell, England and Wales were declared a republican Commonwealth, a maneuverer that set in motion the restoration of the monarchy from exile in 1660 with the proclamation one year to the day later that heir Charles II had been the lawful regent since the death of his predecessor, constitutionally the undoing of all that had transpired in the preceding nineteen years.
In May of 1649, the original Rump Parliament (also called the Long Parliament) took power after the trial and execution of Charles I and this sitting legislature was dissolved in 1653 with executive powers vested in the Army Council, which then elevated Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector of a united British isle—Scots and Irish resistance finally suppressed at the time during what was referred to as the third civil war that ushered in this second, brief republic—Cromwell’s government itself became untenable after a term of five years, punctuated by rampant purges, Irish genocide, cronyism (with political succession an afterthought and apparently a dynastic one was acceptable), harmonisation with religious authorities and the shuttering of the theatres.

Friday, 15 May 2020

it happened on the way to baker street

Though he’s not quite yet there and it’s all I can do to not play the song back to him and encourage him in the right direction, our neighbour’s rooster wails throughout the day with a crow that close awfully close to the timeless opening saxophone riff from Gerry Rafferty’s 1977 recording which anyone in the horn section should cut their chops on. I’ll update you if his pitch and timing improve or at least manage to capture a recording of this very audible but demurring bird.

Sunday, 19 April 2020


Putting a spotlight on another overlooked contribution to medical science, we appreciated learning about the life and career of Scottish virologist June Dalziel Almeida (*1930 – †2007) whose pioneering achievements in virus imaging not only led to improvements in faster identification and diagnosis but also put electron microscopy into the quivers of medical researchers and investigators. Her insights advanced later immunotherapies to combat hepatitis, HIV and rubella—as well as other viral diseases and in 1966, Almeida isolated and identified a previously unknown category that came to be known as the coronavirus.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

fra banc to banc, fra wod to wod

Scotland’s new twenty pound note, printed on durable paper-like polymer continues the series the Fabric of Nature and as a security feature, the frolicking red squirrels’ fur glows under an ultra-violet lamp and showcases an excerpt from the sixteenth century Sonnet of Venus and Cupid by native poet Mark Alexander Boyd (*1562 – †1601), which Ezra Pound declared the most beautiful in the language:

Fra banc to banc, fra wod to wod, I rin

Ourhailit with my feble fantasie,

Lyk til a leif that fallis from a trie

Or til a reid ourblawin with the wind.

Twa gods gyds me: the ane of tham is blind,

Ye, and a bairn brocht up in vanitie;

The nixt a wyf ingenrit of the se,

And lichter nor a dauphin with hir fin.

Unhappie is the man for evirmair

That teils the sand and sawis in the aire;

 Bot twyse unhappier is he, I lairn,

That feidis in his hairt a mad desyre,

And follows on a woman throw the fyre,

Led be a blind and teichit be a bairn.

Thursday, 5 March 2020


Launched in the United Kingdom on this day in 1981, Sinclair Research’s innovative, intuitive and inexpensive (kits for self-assembly consisting of a slim and compact keyboard and an external cassette recorder for memory retailed for a mere £49,95) micro-computer was one of the first to be successfully mass-marketed and introduced the public to the idea of having a home computer, outside the bailiwick of business executives and hobbyists. Aside from the tape player, there were no moving parts and plugged into a television set as a display.
Despite perceived technical shortcomings—like the impractically low amount of memory, the unit truly prized open a path to better computer literacy, coding (see previously) and importantly the measure of confidence to see broader applications. Clones and variants soon proliferated—I remember using a Radio Shack derivative in a beige casing and flipping the VHF/UHF switch and felt I was entering programming mode, and the community of enthusiasts the ZX81 fostered was self-perpetuating, the early-adopters creating, sourcing software and hardware compatible with the computer. Founder and business executive Clive Marles Sinclair (*1940) amassed a fortune with this pioneering success and was given a knighthood for it in 1983. Later projects launched by Sinclair have focused on personal transportation and solving the last-mile problem with inventions like his folding bicycle that commuters can easily take on trains, the A-Bike debuting in 2006.

Monday, 2 March 2020


A Edinburgh firm called Kenoteq in collaboration with the city’s university is taking on the dirty business of construction by reclaiming materials that would otherwise end up in landfills and reconstituting the building blocks (see previously) without firing them in a kiln—making the process even more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Moreover the basic units can be created in situ from the salvaged material—saving on pollution caused by transportation.


Tuesday, 11 February 2020

minecraft or tunnel and winze

Operating on the same principle as the Sisyphus Train though perhaps with more physical obstacles to contend with, the always interesting BLDG Blog reports that a firm in Scotland is exploring the feasibility of turning the region’s exhausted and disused deep shaft mines into storehouses of potential energy.
When production of renewable energy exceeds demand, surplus electricity would be diverted to raising an enormous weight from the depths of the collieries up to the surface then reclaiming the energy once it is needed by lowering the counterbalance. I wonder what other superannuated technology and infrastructure might also be repurposed in an act that virtually entails reinterning and secreting away the polluting first drivers of industry.  Much more to explore at the link above.