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Tuesday 28 January 2020

What Is Wrong In These Pictures? (13-15)

Not sure how good an idea it was to post five of these in a week but with some relief we’re on to the last set of three pictures from my dad’s 1927 edition of the wonderful Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia. Each contains an error to identify. My answers and the answers are below.

I’ve not posted so frequently before and wonder at the energy of bloggers who post every day. There are more picture puzzles in the ten-volume encyclopedia but I need at least six months rest before looking at any more, and maybe then only one set of three pictures a month. What do people think?

My overall score so far is 6/12. Got them all wrong last time. Hoping for better this time.

Back to pictures 10-12
Back to beginning


13. Easy. Everybody knows spiders have eight legs. 7/13.

14. The flower looks like a concoction of all kinds of things, but I don’t know exactly. Evidently it is a passion flower and should therefore have five petals and sepals rather than six. Did the gardeners get that one? I didn’t. 7/14.

15. Once a train spotter always a train spotter. Got it right. The flanges should be inside the tracks on the inside edges of the wheels, not the outside edges. As drawn it would only work after a complete redesign of the track and points. 8/15. (And incidentally, there may be a second error which is that by 1927 British Railways had no such three-headlamp code. Apart from the Royal Train they used a maximum of two headlamps to identify the type of train. They were placed in different arrangements on the funnel and across the buffer bar, but only two were used. Furthermore, what is called a railway carriage in the answers is actually a locomotive. Do I get a bonus point?) 

So, overall, with a little generosity, eight out of fifteen = 53%  Much better than with the room and the steamer puzzles linked to the first set of three. That would have been a 2:2 in my university days. Not acceptable. I’ll have to find another set and try harder.

Back to normal posts next time. 

Here is the whole page followed by the answers .

Monday 27 January 2020

What Is Wrong In These Pictures? (10-12)

This is turning into a marathon but I’ll see it through to all fifteen. Almost there.

Here is the penultimate set of three pictures from the puzzles in my dad’s 1927 edition of Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia. Each contains an error to identify. Most people found the last three the easiest so far. My overall average went up to 67% - six out of nine. Can I maintain it? My answers and the answers are below.

Back to pictures 7-9
Forward to pictures 13-15


10. This stumps me. The shadows all seem correct except, on consulting the answers, it says they are drawn in perspective rather than parallel. That’s not very obvious in the drawing. Unfair. 6/10.

11. What shield is this? I’ve no idea. It says it’s the arms of the City of London and that the dagger should be the other way up. 6/11.

12. I’m going to say that ostriches don’t live where there are palm trees. Wrong again. They should have only two toes visible on each foot. 6/12.

None at all right for me today. A disaster. Back to 50%. The final set of three next time.

Saturday 25 January 2020

What Is Wrong In These Pictures? (7-9)

Yet another three pictures from my dad’s 1927 edition of Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia. Each contains an error to identify. I’ve managed to get three out of six right so far, which could be worse, but could be better. One follower has got them all! My answers and the answers are underneath.

Back to pictures 4-6
Forward to pictures 10-12 


7. We’re on a winner. Surely the Pole Star should be over the North Pole. Hooray! 4/7.

8. The smoke is blowing one way but the yacht’s sails and flag are blowing the other. 5/8. We’re on a roll.

9. What’s wrong with the penny? This is really esoteric. I’m certain that Britannia is facing the right way so I suspect it is may be to do with the ship and lighthouse. I bet that they don’t accord with the date. It’s a guess but I’m right. Evidently the ship and lighthouse were omitted after 1896. Well, shiver my timbers! Should I get that? I think so. 6/9.

So with a bit of leniency I’m up to 67% right, a good 2:1 in university scoring. But these are probably easier than the first six so best not get carried away. More next time.

Thursday 23 January 2020

What Is Wrong In These Pictures? (4-6)

Another three pictures from my dad’s 1927 edition of Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia. Each contains an error to identify. I’m not doing very well so far having got only one right out of three. Hope it goes better today. My answers and the answers are underneath.

Back to Pictures 1-3
Forward to Pictures 7-9 


4. Are they cherries? But cherry leaves are single. These look more like horse chestnut leaves although they’re not because the sections are insufficiently separate. Let’s just go with a mismatch between fruit and leaves. Answer: it’s cherries on a vine. I’m giving myself a generous 2/4.

5. What could be wrong with the sun dial? I thought at first the Roman Numerals were wrongly put together, but they should of course be read looking from the outside towards the centre, e.g. the 12 correctly reads XII not IIX. Could they be in the wrong positions, particularly in the lower half where some numbers are repeated. But no, that’s not the answer either because six in the morning would cast a different shadow from six at night, so they should be repeated. The answer: how many people know that gnomons should point north not south? I suppose that casts the best shadow. I’ve never had to think about gnomon design before. 2/5. This is depressing.

6. It must be the reflection. At first I thought it was that there are not enough windows in the spire reflection, but I’m being more careful now. Maybe you can’t see it all – you can only see the top half of the other part of the church. I’ve got it. The spire in the reflection looks twisted: you should not be able to see the right hand side. Yes! Fanfare please! 3/6.

More to follow.

Wednesday 22 January 2020

What Is Wrong In These Pictures? (1-3)

Towards the end of 2017 I posted two picture puzzles from my dad’s 1927 copy of Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia: What Is Wrong In This Room? and What Is Wrong With This Steamer?

Both showed scenes containing errors to identify. I failed miserably: 2 out of 17 in the room and 4 out of 11 in the steamer. Nineteen-twenties children were either much cleverer than us or our world has changed more than we imagine. 

I refuse to accept defeat so here are some more, this time a set of fifteen pictures with something wrong in each one. Here are the first three. My answers and the answers are underneath.

It “will help you cultivate your power of observation” it says, “– the power of seeing with your mind and of understanding what you see.” I could definitely do with some of that, so here goes.

Forward to Pictures 4-6


The first one looks dead easy: just a case of adding up the weights on each side. Everyone over sixty remembers there were sixteen ounces in a pound. So the left adds up to 8 + 4 + 3 + 1 = 16 ounces which makes one pound, and the right adds up to, oh shit, one pound. So it should balance. There seems to be nothing wrong with the instrument either. It means an immediate sneak a look at the answers. Arthur Mee catches me out straight away.  How could anyone be expected to know that troy weight has only twelve ounces to the pound? Half a pound of gold and half a pound of silver add up to 12 ounces.  0/1.

OK. We’re going to have to think things through more carefully. Number 2 must be the iceberg. Shouldn’t four-fifths be underwater? The answer says seven parts below to one part above but I’m having that one. I got the correct principle. 1/2.

Number 3. The Royal Flag. What could it be? I bet the sections are in the wrong places. No. Wrong again. Evidently the Scottish Lion does not turn his back on the others. I’m not doing very well am I? 1/3.

Sunday 19 January 2020

Biology Made Simple

(This is not a review. I wouldn’t want to say whether the book is any good or not. I simply picked it off the shelf where it has lodged unopened for half a century.)

A book to take you back to the third form (if only), year 9 as now known, two years before ‘O’ Level, the year you were 14. There you are again, head down, sketching and labelling diagrams of amoeba and the human heart, drawing flow charts of the carbon cycle and learning the names of digestive enzymes.

I loved it. I had the kind of dysfunctional, over-active memory that absorbed the names of anatomical structures and physiological processes like protozoan pseudopodia engulfing scraps of food. Two of us were way better than everyone else. There was, let’s called her Hermione, always first in class tests, and me, always one or two marks behind.

But I had a secret weapon. I must have been the only pupil with a tape recorder at home, or at least the only one devious enough to ask my mother to record a radio programme we were to hear in class in preparation for an essay. Mine was bloody brilliant – better than Hermione’s.

Then it became ‘Biology Made Difficult’. That year, Biology in the first term was not examined until the end of the third (terms 2 and 3 were Physics and Chemistry). That’s a long time to have to remember it. You know what happens. Too much messing about, thinking about the wrong things, lack of planning, lack of attention and in my case, well, let’s say poor mental health, meant I didn’t revise for the exam. My end of year report completes the tale. Biology: position in class 2nd; position in exam 25th; teacher’s comment “a disappointing exam result”. For the next two years, the ‘O’ Level years, I found myself in second-stream Biology where messing about and thinking about the wrong things were a way of life, especially if you wanted people to like you. Low grades for all of us. Idiot!

Still, I took Biology at ‘A’ Level and failed, and when I later chucked accountancy to train as a teacher, Biology was my main subject. That’s when I bought the book: a note inside records it was the 3rd July, 1973, about three months before starting at what was then called City of Leeds and Carnegie College, and six months before dropping out. It’s hard to believe you could once be accepted to train as a specialist Biology teacher without having passed it at ‘A’ Level; it was enough merely to have studied it.

No one has looked at the book since. It has been an absolute joy paying it the attention I should have paid then. Goodness, the things it tells you. It’s a bit like a Bill Bryson book without the exaggeration and contrived jokes. It doesn’t need them. It has its own miracles and wonder. Such as that we create and destroy an incredible 10 million* red blood cells every second. Ten million! Every second! That’s 864,000 million per day. Even at that rate it takes over 100 days to replace them all. And then there’s the horror. Such as hookworm. You really wouldn’t want to pick that up, the way it gets into the blood and burrows from the lungs to the windpipe to be coughed up and swallowed to grow in your gut.

And in Chapter 5: ‘Cycles of Life’, pp57-58, there is this. I am guilty of barefaced breach of copyright here, but Extinction Rebellion says it’s all right to break the law to draw attention to environmental issues.

That is what we knew then. In fact, there is a whole chapter expanding upon the preventative and curative measures listed. It was originally published in 1956 and revised in 1967. Despite not mentioning plastic or climate change or unlimited population growth, it lists so many other ways we upset the balance of nature through our “ignorance, carelessness or ruthlessness … in a given area”. Was it too much of a mental leap to understand that “given area” could mean the whole planet? We should all have been paying more attention.

So, an interesting trip down memory lane. It may be “biology made simple”, there were some things I wanted to read more about, it isn’t modern biology with all that nasty cell chemistry, but I enjoyed it. Best of all, I don’t have to learn it now.

*A bit of Googling suggests this may be an overestimate, the correct figure being a still very impressive 2.4 million red blood cells per second, about a quarter of the number given in the book.

Thursday 9 January 2020

Review - Barry Hines: A Kestrel For A Knave

Barry Hines: A Kestrel For A Knave. Penguin Decades edition.
Barry Hines
A Kestrel For A Knave (5***)

I have seen so many clips from Ken Loach’s film Kes, I felt I knew this book well. I didn’t.

I knew the outline well enough: “grubby little lad in Yorkshire … finds and trains a kestrel … bringing hope and meaning to a drab life crushed by bullying schoolmasters and a downbeat home life,” to quote the Daily Mirror (20th March, 1970). I even once co-wrote a parody called ‘Budge’, poking fun at a friend who kept animals, about a boy who found an escaped budgerigar in his coalhouse and trained it to sing rude songs in a Yorkshire accent. 

This entirely misses the poetry of the book: the vivid and lyrical descriptions of the streets and countryside around the coal mining community where it is set. It is an astonishing piece of writing. The story absorbs you completely. Every page shines with brilliance. The language mirrors the shifting emotions: the joy of escape from the dirt and poverty of the town into the natural beauty of the hills, woods and fields; the elation on seeing the kestrel wild and free in flight; the constricting terror in hiding from an inescapable beating; the dread when the bird is missing.

I can only give examples. The first has often been quoted before: 
A cushion of mist lay over the fields. Dew drenched the grass, and the occasional sparkling of individual drops made Billy glance down as he passed. One tuft was silver fire … and when it caught the sun it exploded, throwing out silver needles and crystal splinters. (p19)

There is despair at the end as Billy wanders the streets bereft through a scene familiar to anyone who has walked alone through an empty northern town at night:
A shadow rippling across a drawn curtain. A light going on. A light going off. A laugh. A shout. A name. A television on too loud, throwing the dialogue out into the garden. A record, a radio playing; occasional sounds on quiet streets.  (p157)

There is the language, the Barnsley dialect, such as in Billy’s words as he comes alive in describing the bird’s first free flight to his class during an English lesson: 
‘Come on, Kes! Come on then! Nowt happened at first, then, just when I wa’ going’ to walk back to her, she came. You ought to have seen her. Straight as a die, about a yard off t’floor. An’ t’speed!  … like lightnin’, head dead still, an’ her wings never made a sound, then wham! Straight up on t’glove, claws out grabbin’ for t’meat,’  (p66)
(clip of this scene from the film)

The accent would in truth be much stronger than rendered in the book (as in the film clip linked above). After the film was premiered at the Doncaster Odeon in March, 1970, some thought it would need sub-titles for audiences south of Sheffield. Like my mother-in-law, whose recurring nightmare, each time she heard the local accents when she travelled up on the train to see us and passed through Barnsley, was that her grandchildren might grow up to speak like that. (They did and they didn’t. Other kids at school said they talked posh but when they went out into the wider world their Yorkshire accents were obvious.)

The book took me back to my own Yorkshire town: the streets of terraced housing, the industrial grime, the local accent, but none of it quite as grim and hopeless as here.

The Barry Hines Memorial Statue
Barry Hines grew up near Barnsley at Hoyland Common. He wrote other novels and also scripts for radio, film and television. Before becoming a full-time writer he was an inspirational teacher. He was enormously influential. He died in 2016 and funds are being raised for a bronze statue to be erected in Barnsley in his honour, showing young Billy Casper with his kestrel. The bronze has now been cast but funds are still needed for the plinth.

The film Kes remains legendary in the area and many of those who were extras as children are still around. A fundraising screening at the Penistone Paramount a couple of years ago was a sell out. The folk ensemble I play in put on a fundraising ceilidh (barn dance) in Barnsley last year.

As Ian McMillan says in the introduction to the Penguin Decades edition I have, “Going back to the book with the film in my head is a revelation.” Indeed it is. I should have read it a long time ago. I’ll definitely read it again.

Key to star ratings: 5*** wonderful and hope to read again, 5* wonderful, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.

Previous book reviews 

Saturday 4 January 2020

Review - Margaret Forster: Georgy Girl

Margaret Forster
Georgy Girl (3*)

Another nineteen-sixties novel I didn’t read when I should have done, supposedly set in ‘swinging’ London, although the sense of time and place arises mainly out of the social context rather than anything tangible. Such as there being nothing remarkable about cohabiting, the choices available to women and the reactionary views of Georgy’s parents. The story is also framed in sixties popular culture by the Seekers’ hit song (like it or loathe it) and the 1966 ‘X’ certificate film with Lynn Redgrave in the title roll. Other than that, the plot might be from almost any time or place.

Georgy is exuberant and outgoing but thinks of herself as ungainly and unattractive. She shares her London flat with the promiscuous, callous and selfish Meredith who, it is revealed in a masterclass of writing from multiple points of view to show not tell, treats Georgy like a skivvy. Meredith becomes pregnant and exercises her choice by seeing it through, so that her boyfriend, Jos, feels he should move in. He then falls for Georgy and while Meredith is in hospital having the baby (no quick in-and-out stays in those days) they become a couple. Not that Meredith is bothered. She has already exercised her choice again by abandoning the baby for adoption. But Georgy has other ideas and sees herself caring for the child with Jos. However, the baby quickly becomes the main focus of Georgy’s affections, and Jos leaves.

Meanwhile, there is a backstory. Georgy’s parents are employed as live-in servants to the wealthy James who, childless, has funded Georgy’s privileged upbringing and education. She doesn’t seem to need to work much. James has also been trying to persuade Georgy to become his mistress and after his wife dies he proposes marriage. Georgy accepts in order to be able to adopt and bring up the baby. 

A readable fast-paced novel, not as soap-opera-ish as it sounds, which fired up Margaret Forster’s reputation as a respected writer. Great characters, not particularly likeable. It may have seemed progressive and even scandalous at the time, but gives little sense that this is what life was really like in the sixties, if it ever did or was.

Key to star ratings: 5*** wonderful and hope to read again, 5* wonderful, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.

Previous book reviews 

Wednesday 1 January 2020

New Month Old Post: Donkey Stone

I seem to have gained quite a few new readers during the past year since starting to comment more on other blogs and discovering a lovely, friendly and supportive blogging community out there. I have therefore been thinking of instigating a regular feature “New Month Old Post” to revisit and perhaps improve earlier posts they won’t have seen, posted during the previous five years I spent blogging sometimes only to myself. Here, almost at random, is the first selection.

This has nothing at all to do with a recent accusation that I don’t post enough (YP Blog Awards Committee 2019). If anything, it’s a duplicitous way of being able to post less.

Donkey Stone

(first posted 27th May, 2016)

Advertisement for Donkey Stone

We were discussing door steps last week – I can’t remember why – and a very early memory came back.

“Did your mother ever colour your front door step with a block like a piece of house soap?”

My wife’s expression indicated she thought I was talking gibberish. It is a look I get quite a lot these days – the same expression she used for her mother before she went into a care home.

“I’m sure my mum used to rub our front door step with something called a dolly stone or something like that, which coloured it red,” I persisted. 

“What a stupid idea. It would get paddled all over the carpets on people’s shoes.”

“I think she did the window sills and round the boot scraper as well.”

My wife, who is from the South of England, still thinks some of our Northern ways are peculiar, even after twenty-five years in Yorkshire. She is particularly contemptuous of memories of the small West Riding town I grew up in. I tried to explain that the boot scraper was where you left the empty milk bottles, but it seemed inadvisable to go further and argue that, no, the colour would not have got paddled all over the carpets because we didn’t have any – we had lino and clip rugs – and the topic moved on.  

Dan Cruickshank using Donkey Stone

But there, last night on television, as clear as anything, was Dan Cruickshank in At Home with the British, scouring the door step of a Liverpool terraced house with a DONKEY stone. They were made from pulverised stone, cement and bleach, and originally used in textile mills to make greasy steps non-slip. Subsequently, house-proud housewives in terraced houses used them to clean their stone door steps and window sills. Like clean net curtains, it was a way of fooling the neighbours into thinking the rest of your house was just as spotless, even though it might have been a filthy pigsty inside. The practice died out in the nineteen-fifties and -sixties, especially after in some houses the worn soft Yorkshire stone steps were replaced by coarse concrete.

First home with boot scraper beside front door
So I wasn’t talking gibberish. We left that house when I was six, but I have a clear memory of my mum, down on her hands and knees on the pavement one sunny summer’s day, dipping a rectangular block into a bucket of water, rubbing it into a paste all over the front door step and telling me to “keep off it while it dries” (as we would have said then). One of the most common colours was yellow-brown sandstone which I would see as red (explained in Colours I See With).

The only surprise is that I had forgotten about the donkey.

The Donkey Stone advertisement is from an out-of-print 1930s directory. Inclusion of the single frame from “At Home with the British” is believed to be fair use. The last picture is of the house where I first lived. Its doors and windows have changed (excluding the attic) but it still has the boot scraper recess beside the front door.