Archive for December, 2010


Posted in Bute Park, Uncategorized with tags , , on December 31, 2010 by telescoper

My next-door neighbours were having one of their Wagnerian rows so I decided to take a walk in the park rather than listen to any more hysterical screaming and smashing crockery. Actually I’m glad I got off my backside anyway because it’s actually rather warm outside, at least in comparison to the last few weeks. It feels more like autumn today rather than the depth of winter.

Although the thaw has cleared almost all the snow from Bute Park, it has thus revealed quite a few signs of damage. Here and there branches have been sheared off by the weight of accumulated snow and ice. In this example two bits have fallen off, but the damage to the tree doesn’t look serious.

Occasionally, though, something much more spectacular has obviously happened. Take a look at this tree, near the riding school, which has been completely destroyed.

The trunk of this one seems to have been cleaved apart by forces pulling in two directions. Half the tree has fallen over the fence to the right and the other half behind the fence to the left. I’m glad nobody was nearby when this happened, but I bet it would have been quite a sight to see a big tree fall apart like this!

New Year’s Greetings

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2010 by telescoper

Since it’s New Year’s Eve I thought I would take the opportunity to wish you all the best for 2011.

Having recently read the STFC Delivery Plan it seemed appropriate to use the same style for my New Year’s greeting, but then I found Laurie Taylor in the Times Higher had beaten me to the idea and has given me the chance to indulge in a spot of shameless plagiarism:

Time has come to turn our faces towards the future that is to come. Time to evalulate our personal strategic objectives and  intended goal outcomes. Time to contemplate our game plan, examine core competencies, reinforce best practices, break out of our silos, exert maximum leverage, evolve new synergies, and maximise our skill set.

I wish you all a very happy New Year going forward!

Scientific Method in Decline? (via The Finch and Pea)

Posted in Uncategorized on December 30, 2010 by telescoper

OK, so the piece that prompted it was a bit silly, but this is an excellent riposte.

Scientific Method in Decline? Jonah Leher in The New Yorker about the slipperiness of the scientific method: "The Truth Wears Off: Is There Something Wrong With The Scientific Method?" The test of replicability, as it’s known, is the foundation of modern research. Replicability is how the community enforces itself. It’s a safeguard for the creep of subjectivity. Most of the time, scientists know what results they want, and that can influence the results they get. The premise … Read More

via The Finch and Pea


Posted in Poetry with tags , on December 30, 2010 by telescoper

I should really have posted this before the snow vanished, but I forgot about it..

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes–
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of your hands–
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.


by Louis MacNeice (1907-1963).


The Human Seasons

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on December 30, 2010 by telescoper

Four Seasons fill the measure of the year;
There are four seasons in the mind of man:
He has his lusty Spring, when fancy clear
Takes in all beauty with an easy span:
He has his Summer, when luxuriously
Spring’s honied cud of youthful thought he loves
To ruminate, and by such dreaming high
Is nearest unto heaven: quiet coves
His soul has in its Autumn, when his wings
He furleth close; contented so to look
On mists in idleness–to let fair things
Pass by unheeded as a threshold brook.
He has his Winter too of pale misfeature,
Or else he would forego his mortal nature.

by John Keats (1795-1821)


The Ashes Retained

Posted in Cricket, Poetry with tags , , , , , , on December 29, 2010 by telescoper

I couldn’t resist a short post to mark the success of England’s cricketers down under in successfully retaining The Ashes. After getting themselves comprehensively thrashed in the Third Test of the Ashes series in Perth, to tie the level the series 1-1 (with one match drawn), the pressure was on when the Fourth Test started on Boxing Day in Melbourne. However, it all seemed to get to the Australians more than the English: Australia were dismissed for a paltry 98 after being put into bat by England captain Andrew Strauss who won the toss. England finished the day on 157 without loss, with defeat for Australia already probable at stumps on the opening day. England batted all the second day and a bit of the third, amassing 513 all out, and then had Australia 169 for 6 at the end of Day Three. Although the last few Australian batsmen showed a bit of spirit on Day Four, they were eventually all out for 258, leaving England the victors by an innings and 157 runs, their second innings victory of the series.

Now they are 2-1 up in the series with one Test to play (at Sydney), which means they can’t lose the series and therefore keep the Ashes, which they won in England last year (2009). I hope England keep their focus and go on to win at Sydney too. I’d like to see them win the series outright. Incidentally, if I’ve done my sums right, Australia have now won 123 Ashes tests since the first in 1882, to England’s 99, so if England can win in Sydney it will be their 100th.

My Australian friends and colleagues will be wincing at this outcome, but although England have proved worthy winners this time I’m sure Australia will be back to winning ways before too long. As an English cricket fan, I’ve endured enough disappointments to make this victory especially sweet. I dare say when the Australians do reclaim the Ashes at some point in the future their supporters will feel the same. As it is in life, so it is in cricket – the good times make the bad times worth enduring.

I thought I’d mark this very special occasion with a poem called Brahma by Andrew Lang. It’s a clever parody of a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the reference to Hinduism seems to fit with the theme of a cyclic universe of sporting success and failure.

If the wild bowler thinks he bowls,
Or if the batsman thinks he’s bowled,
They know not, poor misguided souls,
They too shall perish unconsoled.

I am the batsman and the bat,
I am the bowler and the ball,
The umpire, the pavilion cat,
The roller, pitch, and stumps, and all.



Posted in Biographical, Poetry with tags , , on December 28, 2010 by telescoper

Back from the Frozen North, after a very enjoyable but over-indulgent Christmas, I just thought I’d pop on line to say hello to the blogosphere again.

I flew up to Newcastle in the late afternoon on Christmas Eve from Cardiff airport via an airline called Eastern Airways which operates the only direct flight on that route. I booked the flight some time ago, as I was a bit nervous it might fill up given the annual chaos on the railways over the holiday. As it turned out, the outbound flight on Christmas Eve had only five passengers on it; the return, yesterday, just six. Obviously they’re not making a lot of money on this route!

The plane was a small propeller-driven affair which can seat a maximum of 29 passengers. I thought I’d get a nice picture of the sunset at Cardiff as we took off, but unfortunately the vibration of the engines made that quite difficult, as you can see from the blurry effort shown above. Despite the inclement weather and the snow and ice at both airports, outward and return flights kept immaculately to schedule.

Newcastle was cold and snowbound so me and my folks stayed in, ate and drank a lot, lounged around watching a bit of telly here and there, warmed by news of the cricket from Melbourne (of which more, hopefully, tomorrow!) and were otherwise entertained by their cats Tilly, Daisy and Lucy. It was very pleasant but the combination of eating and drinking too much and not taking much exercise has no doubt left me quite a few pounds heavier. I haven’t plucked up courage to weigh myself yet.

Anyway, I got back safely yesterday evening and said hello to Columbo (who, incidentally, is doing fine). Pretty much as soon as I got into the house it started raining, which it did most of the night. The thaw is definitely in full swing, and soon quite a few of my neighbours will no doubt be out doing repairs. Several lengths of guttering have fallen off various houses on my street, pulled down by the weight of accumulated snow and ice. There’s now also much less danger of me falling over on the slippery pavements like I did just before Christmas. Why can’t that happen when there’s nobody watching? It’s so embarrassing…

I’m not so foolish as to think that the melting of this lot of snow means that winter is over, but the thaw did remind me of this nice little poem by Edward Thomas, yet another Welsh poet and yet another killed during the First World War, in his case in 1917 at the Battle of Arras.

OVER the land half freckled with snow half-thawed
The speculating rooks at their nests cawed,
And saw from elm-tops, delicate as a flower of grass,
What we below could not see, Winter pass.


Wooden Underwear, Theoretical Giraffes, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on December 23, 2010 by telescoper

Assuming all goes well – which may not be a wise assumption given the weather – I’ll be off tomorrow for the Christmas break, so I’ll be closing down for a while. Unless I don’t make it up North, in which case I might be doing the odd Yule Blog after all.

I wish you all the complements of the season, and leave you with this little clip featuring the late great Peter Cook. It’s from a series of short programmes made for BBC2 and shown at Christmas in 1990. They pretty much sank without trace, but I think they’re brilliant. Anyway, I hope this brings a few minutes of seasonal cheer!


Wales set for university mergers

Posted in Education, Finance with tags , , , , , , on December 22, 2010 by telescoper

Just another quick post to pass on the news just out that the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) has announced that the number of universities in Wales must reduce by a half over the next two years.

I’ve argued already on this blog that there are too many small separate higher education institutions in Wales and that’s a view which is probably held by many across the sector. Mergers and/or closures have seemed to me to be inevitable for some time given the general climate of austerity and the consequent chill winds blowing through the groves of academe. According to HEFCW, the plan is that by 2013 no “region” of Wales will have any more than two universities although I’m not sure what counts as a region.

Until recently there were four different “universities” with campuses in Cardiff: Cardiff University (where I work); the University of Glamorgan (which has a presence in Cardiff, but which has its main campus in Pontypridd); the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD); and the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC).

In fact RWCMD was absorbed by the University of Glamorgan a short time ago, but still uses its old name as part of the merged institution.
Apparently one more merger will be necessary to satisfy HEFCW’s requirement, which I guess will involve UWIC also being absorbed by the University of Glamorgan. If that does happen, I hope HEFCW will keep a close eye on matters of governance. The UoG doesn’t seem to me to have a very strong track-record with respect to resafeguarding standards of academic practice.

Depending on how “region” is interpreted, there might even be pressure to include the University of Wales, Newport in an even bigger new South East Wales institution presumably headed by the University of Glamorgan.

Elsewhere in Wales the merger process is already underway. Last week, Swansea Metropolitan and the University of Wales Trinity St David announced plans to create a united institution. Going back one stage, the University of Wales Trinity St David was itself formed through the merger earlier this year of Wales’ oldest education institutions, Trinity University College, Carmarthen and the University of Wales Lampeter. Although these have merged it appears they will carry on using their existing names, which may cause some confusion but we’ll have to see how it goes.

It’s important to note that universities are officially independent bodies, so HEFCW (through which public funding is channeled to them) can’t really just tell them to merge. However, many of the smaller institutions are so dependent on state funding that they basically have to do what HEFCW tells them or face financial oblivion. Of course it will require Vice-chancellors to agree, and since presumably half of them will cease to be VCs, there will be some reluctance. Turkeys tend not to vote for Christmas. However, HEFCW has promised that “core funding will be deployed in ways which lend force to the achievement of that target”. In other words, they’ll be calling on the odd VC to make them an offer they can’t refuse…


Shine on me

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on December 22, 2010 by telescoper

Pianist Jaki Byard was one of the most consistently original musicians of his jazz generation, but he was also consistently underrated. His eclectic style embraced the avant garde free jazz of the 60s and 70s as well as traditional gospel and folk music. Whatever he played, though, it definitely sounded exactly like Jaki Byard. Anyway, in 1968 he teamed up with the extraordinarily talented multi-instrumentalist Roland Kirk to record a typically varied selection of music, including this one which has been a favourite of mine since I first heard it on the radio about 30 years ago. It’s one of the most played tracks on my iPod, and it never fails to bring a smile to my face even when I’m stuck on stationary train feeling miserable.

Shine on me is attributed to that most prolific of all composers, Trad. It’s a theme that turns up in a few very early jazz recordings, but I think it began life as a gospel song way back in the mists of time. In this version, though, it’s given a foot-tapping beat which is just so very nineteen-sixties. Roland Kirk’s decision to start the piece on clarinet was truly inspired, and you can tell that all four musicians had a blast playing this. I suppose it’s a sort of parody, but it’s an affectionate one.

Finally, let me mention the drummer Alan Dawson, whose playing is based around a sort of half-funk half-boogie, but with all kinds of polyrythmic stuff on on top; he drives this along like the clappers and makes it such a joy to listen to.