Tuesday 17 March 2015


I love maps! Maps in all shapes and forms; maps of real places and fantasy realms alike.

This map combines realism with a fantastical interpretation...

...and comes to wish you a very–––


Sunday 15 March 2015


It's Mother's Day, or as my Mum and David's Mum always insisted on calling it...


Unlike Father's Day, Mothering Sunday is a very old custom preceding - by many centuries - the current annual bonanza for choc-makers and florists.

In fact, a religious event celebrating motherhood has existed in Europe since around 250 BCE, when the Romans had a mid-March festival in honour of Cybele (right), the Magna Mater, or mother of the gods.

As the Roman Empire and Europe converted to Christianity, Mothering Sunday celebrations became part of the church's calendar with the fourth Sunday in Lent being set aside to the honouring of the Virgin Mary and 'mother church'. On this day, during the sixteenth century, people used to attend a service in the church where they were baptized and folks who did this were commonly said to have gone 'a-mothering'.

Other names given to this festival include Refreshment Sunday (because, being half way through the 40 days of Lent, the fast was relaxed for a day) and Simnel Sunday, from the custom of baking Simnel cakes.

Simnel cake (the name probably comes from simila, the Latin word for fine, wheaten flour) is a fruit cake, not unlike a Christmas cake, covered in marzipan and, sometimes, with another layer of marzipan or almond paste baked into the middle of the cake. Yummy!

Around the top of the cake are eleven marzipan balls representing the true disciples of Jesus (Judas being excluded) and, in some cases, with single, larger, ball of marzipan placed in the centre of the cake to represent Christ. Today, they will probably also feature a few fluffy chicks and be dotted with mini-chocolate eggs, but there are all kinds of variations on the Simnel cake tradition.

In the 18th and 19th Centuries, Mothering Sunday was the one day in the year when domestic servants were given a day off in order to visit their mothers and families, often taking with them a home-made Simnel cake, baked in their employers' kitchens.

If Valentine's Day is one of the least popular dates in the calendar for the unattached, then, I guess, Mother's Day is the equivalent for the motherless son or daughter.

It's almost fifteen years since the death of my Mum, Doris.

She was great worrier, my mother - a trait she passed on to me in spades (thanks, Mum!) - so there are some things that I'm glad she didn't survive long enough to worry about, such as seeing me walking with a stick and affected by a similar arthritic disease to the one that so painfully crippled the last years of her life.

But there are many other things that I really wish she had lived to see - like David and I getting legally hitched, because she and my Dad (along with David's parents) not only accepted, but lovingly embraced, our relationship.

And I'm so thankful that she saw me achieve some of my best work and justify the support and encouragement that she and my Dad gave me when I embarked on the career of a freelance.

But -- and, oh, it is such a big 'but' -- even after so many years, I still miss my mother (irritating and frustrating through she could sometimes be - unlike me, of course!), and I'd give anything to be able to pick up the phone to her today and have a chat...

And because my Mum loved elephants, I thought I'd mark today with this evergreen (if sentimental) moment from Disney's Dumbo...

Saturday 14 March 2015


Today is Pi Day!

The day on which the date is 3/14/15 (at least for those in the US and elsewhere that use this weird way of writing write dates!) matches with the first five digits of pi – 3.1415 – the ratio of every circle's circumference to its diameter.

There's more... I am posting this at 9:00 am and in precisely 25 minutes and 53 seconds it will be 9:26:53 am and that will be a Pi Second when the date and time match up with the first 10 digits of pi: 3.141592653.

Not only that... As University of Toronto statistician Jeffrey S Rosenthal has pointed out, at an infinitesimally brief moment just after 9:26:53.58979 am but slightly before 9:26:53.5898 am, we'll have Pi Instant!!
Drawing by Sandra Boynton

Friday 13 March 2015


“Where did you say your business was?” said Lezek.
“Is it far?”

No further than the thickness of a shadow, said Death. Where the first primal cell was, there was I also. 
Where man is, there am I.
When the last life crawls under freezing stars, there will I be.

Farewell, Terry Pratchett!

You had a rare genius for storytelling and myth-making that had its roots deep in the centuries-long history of fantasy and legend but which produced exotic flowers blooming in a riot of contemporary satire...

The Discworld is flat and rides on the back of four giant elephants
who stand on the shell of the enormous star turtle...
and is bounded by a waterfall that cascades endlessly into space.
Scientists have calculated that the chance of anything

so patently absurd actually existing are millions to one.
But magicians have calculated that million-to-one chances
crop up nine times out of ten.

You could be prickly and curmudgeonly and woe-betide the idiot who tested your endurance of folly...

They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing,
but it is not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance

You battled the demon dementia with courage and humour and gave the bastard a run for its money...

The pen is mightier than the sword... 
if the sword is very short, and the pen is very sharp

We had several memorable encounters including these two conversations for the BBC World Service...

"There are times when you realise that events are so far out of your control that it is a relief to just sit back and see what happens next – that lovely sense of crystalline relief that there is nothing you can do about it. So, if Death walked in now and put his bony fingers on my arm, I think a sense of hopeful expectation would be about the most I could muster; but there's no point in saying 'Excuse me, there's something I want to finish'! One should take life as it comes ––– that's what Death always does."

"The only reason for walking into the jaws of Death
is so's you can steal his gold teeth."

Terry Pratchett