Monday, June 29, 2009


A contemporary take on Andrew Marvell's definitive "To His Coy Mistress" (1681).


I see your hair strewn awkwardly across your face.
Your eyes flick faintly underneath their sleepy lids.
Your breath comes gently through your parted lips.

I see your breasts uncovered by their wrapping cloth
Soft targets of my tongue and teeth in days now old.
Your browned midriff lies bare, and silently rehearsed,
my two hands seem to span and touch and hold.

Your skirt is short, draped artlessly across your naked thighs.
Memories of possession come to me. So many times!
For two weeks now you have repulsed my every move.
If this had been our first shared time,
You would be written off by now.
A pathway growing cold.

I wallow in frustration, thoughts askew.
Compulsive need a force I can’t subdue.
I want you now with lust and love but can’t have you.

In truth my passions are all meaningless,
A primal lust, intruding into consciousness.
Abandon this, perhaps seek someone new?
Feed desire with desperate girls to woo?
Empty pleasures, wasted time and money too.

The answer to this crisis? End it here.
My pattern turned to drifting dust without a care.
But such an act must not imply intent
It must be made to look like accident ...


I see you, hovering there, just out my sight.
You really are a very simple soul
When you at planet Earth alight.

Feed you, clothe you, house you, stroke you, sleep with you.
You’re happy then to live inside your brain.
I see you now, great puppy, wanting sex.
And if I gave it, you’d be quite content again.

And why should I? It is my holiday too.
And I have better things to do
Than cope with absent baths and other people’s sheets.

No dear. Hold to your needs, we’ll be home soon.
One night and all this angst you’ll soon forget.
And I can live off these few happy weeks
For quite a few months yet.

© Nigel Seel, 2009.


Back to "Stories".

Monday, June 15, 2009

Camping List

Built over the years, here is our generic list of things to take when camping. Just as the books a person has stashed on their shelves can tell you quite a bit about them, so no doubt here.

Passport Tickets/Ferry printout Money (Euros).
Receipts for camping booking.

Tent + anti-moisture spray.
Torch/battery light and car charger.
Inflatable bed + electric pump for bed + charger

* Red warning triangle + hi-visibility emergency jacket packed.

Duvet & cover + 2 sheets/blankets
2 foldaway seats (comfortable)
Sunshade umbrella & pole
Foldable table
Tools (axe + hammer + screwdrivers + pliers + stanley knife)

Clothes + towels (small, not bath) + hat + walking shoes + socks
Dressing gown
+ toothbrush/floss + toothpaste + mouthwash
+ electric razor (fully charged)
+ hair shampoo + soap + deodorant -- shower gel/shampoo
+ comb + nail-clippers
+ pocket-knife + scissors
+ wet-wipes

First-aid kit
+ suntan lotion
+ antiseptic cream (wasps)
Squishy water container
Gas cooker
+ gas cartridges
+ matches (several packs)/lighter
Saucepans + frying pan + kettle + chopping board
Plastic plates + cereal bowls + cutlery (plastic/real)
Wooden spoons
Breadknife + mugs + thermos flask
Sweeping brush
Coolbox/coolbag + frozen water + water + blue frozen things.

Food: UHT milk + cereal + tea.
Kitchen Roll - lots of packs - at least three.
Toilet paper + Can Opener + Waste-bags (roll)
Lots of plastic bags (for rubbish) + small plastic bin.

+ pegs
+ washing powder
+ washing-up liquid + bowl + sponges.

Books to read.
OU Stuff.
French dictionary/phrase-book + maps + camping sites.
Reading glasses
+ sunglasses
+ Binoculars.
Camera (mobile phone) + Alarm clock (mobile phone).
Headphones/earpieces for listening to music (mobile phone).
Mobile phone and charger + in-car-charger.
Plug adaptor.

* Check EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) packed.
* Upgrade driving insurance.
* Upgrade breakdown cover (AA/RAC).
* Book Travel Insurance.

New Zealand

Adrian should be just landing at Singapore as I write this, en-route to New Zealand where he's to take up a job as ski instructor. He arrives in Christchurch at 9.30 a.m. local time tomorrow morning, just as Newsnight is starting up here this evening.

Temperature in the south Island: high 6°, low 0°.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mottisfont Abbey and Estate

As the weather had marginally improved, we ventured out this afternoon to the National Trust's Mottisfont Abbey. The grounds of the abbey house a particularly attractive walled garden. Here are the pix.

Nigel in front of the Abbey

The Walled Garden

Clare in the Walled Garden

Another view of the Walled Garden

The ancient pool where the original Saxons met

A footpath on the Estate


Yesterday Clare, Adrian and myself ventured down to Bristol to visit my mother. We had lunch at the @Bristol centre by the old docks and took the pictures below.

William Tyndall and Clare

Adrian, William Tyndall and Clare

Cary Grant and 'friend'

And who was this guy (centre)?

A reflection ...

... in the Planetarium

When we got back to Andover we grabbed dinner at what we now have to report is the former "best fish 'n' chips shop in the South", aka the Zenith Fish Bar on Shakespeare Road. I don't know if it's under new management but the cod was bony and undercooked, the chips alternately soggy and hard, and I had a slight upset stomach this morning. A. A. Gill restaurant reviewing this is not, but Zenith has gone from hero to zero in no time at all. Never again.

"The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky"

"Stalin's Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky" by Bertrand M. Patenaude .

Bertrand Patenaude is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a lecturer in history and international relations at Stanford University. He has ransacked the Trotsky archives to compile this detailed account of Trotsky’s last days in Mexico City. Trotsky is a virtual prisoner, surrounded by armed guards, besieged by Stalinist hit squads and subjected to the corrosive vitriol of the Soviet regime, ably echoed by the Stalinist left in Mexico. Most people know that the Russian secret police, the GPU, inserted a covert assassin into Trotsky’s household – Ramon Mercader – who finally and ineptly dealt the fatal blow on August 20th 1940 with an ice pick. Trotsky survived just a few more days.

This book offers many insights. Trotsky is supported both financially and with ‘muscle’ by the American Socialist Workers Party. The proletarian ‘toughs’ (Hansen, Cannon) back Trotsky’s views all the way while barely understanding them, while the intellectuals (Shachtman, Burnham) have increasing difficulties with Trotsky’s defence of the Stalinist regime against the capitalist powers and eventually split the SWP.

Trotsky’s personality is also scrutinised. He comes across as incredibly smart, arrogant and brusque: like Marx, a man of cruel humour incapable of long-term human relationships. In fact his only sustained friendship seems to have been his wife Natalia Sedova, and even here he was not adverse to having an affair with his protector Diego Rivera’s wife, the artist Frida Kahlo.

The author takes Trotsky to task for his apparently obsessional defence of dialectical materialism in the vicious faction fight within the SWP which led to the split. He takes this to be typical of Trotsky’s arrogance and incompetent managerial skills. As a member of the Fourth International in the early seventies I must defend the ‘Old Man’ here: American pragmatism and the resulting inability to understand how mutable human activities underlie and ‘implement’ all ‘social structures’ have been the bane of Marxist thought in that country. Trotsky was right to try to educate the comrades, although sadly with little success.

Was Trotsky a world-historic figure or merely a man of extreme intellectual talents who ended up espousing a failed ideology? Both can be true. Perhaps humanity needed to try Marxism in its most conceptually-sophisticated form in order to understand the true nature of its failure as a political strategy of liberation. Its Achilles’ heel is not dialectics but its 19th century utopian view of human nature.

Patenaude has done a great service to the truth in this book, but has also constructed a thrilling historical account of a great but flawed man brought down by a truly evil empire. Poignant and gripping throughout.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

'Turbulence' by Giles Foden

Lewis Fry Richardson was a scientist of the first half of the twentieth century. A founding father of meteorology, he developed the concepts for numerical weather forecasting fifty years before the computing technologies became available to make this method practically useful. Richardson's number, the ratio of potential to kinetic energy in the atmosphere, is used today in a variety of fields.

Yet Richardson was also a Quaker and pacifist. A member of the Friends Ambulance Unit in the first war, and thereafter barred from subsequent academic positions, he destroyed his own work when he discovered it was being applied in chemical warfare labs. He later developed some of the first mathematical conflict models.

In Turbulence, Giles Foden has lightly fictionalised Richardson as "Wallace Ryman". Set in the months preceeding D-Day, the protagonist, Cambridge maths graduate Henry Meadows, is sent up to Scotland where Ryman is pursuing his pacifist modelling. In the infancy of scientific forecasting, Meadow's mission is to understand Ryman's meteorological theories to help produce a forecast adequate for D-Day.

Foden captures time and place well. The war has transformed everything: Scotland, near Holy Loch, is full of warships, submarines and American servicemen; down in the south of England, you cannot move for soldiers and supplies whirling in a logistical maelstrom.

We forget how critical the weather forecast was. A weather window of a few days was essential to land the troops by sea and air. Every allied country's weather forecasters were brought into the loop to politically share the fruits of success, or the blame for failure. Naturally they could never agree on a forecast.

Foden skillfully moves the plot along. Ryman is suspicious and uncooperative, Meadows is a brash young man at the mercy of his superiors' caprice, the randomness of events and the tantalising lack of cooperation from the girls he meets. And he has a back story, based (like the author) on a childhood set in Africa.

Will Meadows save the day? And how does it all turn out afterwards? These are the issues which drive the novel forwards.

Turbulence is the title of the book, and also the bane of forward prediction. Foden uses it as a metaphor for life itself, and its deployment does not always avoid a certain clunkiness. This is an arts person imagining how someone trained in science might use concepts from fluid dynamics to weave the kind of descriptive writing which literary fiction loves. But a lot of this book is first-person science-obsessed Meadows and he doesn't come across as the type. Nevertheless there is a lot to like about this book, not least that it introduces Lewis Fry Richardson to a wider audience.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Mating Mind by Geoffrey Miller

Book Review of "The Mating Mind" by Geoffrey Miller.

In Geoff Miller's terminology, there are two Darwinian processes. Natural selection determines whether you live or die; sexual selection determines whether you can impress a mate sufficiently to produce offspring. Both tests need passing to leave descendants.

A female will have most descendants if she mates with a male with a good genetic set of cards (and conversely of course). In humans, it's normally the case that males present themselves to a female and then she gets to decide.

The decision process works better if there are fitness indicators: traits of appearance and/or behaviour which are reliably correlated with an underlying good-quality set of genes. As there are a number of different ways to excel in human societies, fitness indicators could include athletic prowess, firm leadership, intellectual sparkle, superior moral character and so on.

Miller believes that many aspects of the human mind, including intelligence, language and pleasant personality are best understood as proxies for underlying genetic fitness (and thereby sexually-selected), rather than survivalist adaptations. The book has had a big impact.
Sexual selection, once it's understood in its full beauty, is a new paradigm for thinking about human behaviour in all fields of life. Many sections of the book explore the implications for literature, visual arts, politics and even the practice of science itself. I think it is fair to say that the practitioners of all these arts - mostly men - do not see themselves as primarily advertising their biological fitness to women. However once you open your eye in the status-hoarding, inter-personal viciousness and aphrodisiac consequences of success in any of these fields, the reality is pretty obvious.

My reservations are as follows.

1. Reading this large book is like eating high-quality muesli. There are a few drab and repetitive parts but on a regular basis one come across delicious nuggets of genuine insight and depth. The problem is the lack of an overarching structure, so at the end one finds oneself asking - what exactly does this all amount to?

2. As we're talking about humans here, we have to note that many psychological traits differ quite markedly between different human races, based on their adaptations to significantly different ecologies over the last 40,000 years. Talking about women being able to raise children without the active involvement of men thereby freeing the men up for elective sexual displays of hunting prowess, for example, works for equatorial latitudes where women may gather fruits and berries all the year round. But hunting is not so elective in highly-seasonal environments where little can be gathered in the snowy winter. I know Miller doesn't want to go there, but the result is sloppy reasoning.

3. Many sciences are somewhat reflexive: physicists and chemists are constructed from the same quantum and chemical processes that they describe; economists propose macroeconomic policies whose success depends upon people behaving as modelled, not trying in an informed way to game the policies. However, in evolutionary psychology one can directly predict just why people will be so hostile to the underlying results which the science unfortunately keeps unearthing. Evolutionary psychology, done honestly, just keeps turning up non-PC results.

Miller discusses this quite openly on pages 420 ff. "Creative Ideologies vs. Reliable Knowledge". There seems little biological payoff for generating theories which seem to violate most people's value systems (to give a crass example, many people still feel uncomfortable with the statement that not everyone is of the same intelligence). I think this is a real problem for evolutionary psychology as history tells us that, in practice, scientists are under enormous, career-terminating pressure not to violate conventional mores in their research, even when those mores state that the psychological earth is in fact flat.

Miller has continued his research on sexual selection (there's a recent book Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior and another in the works for 2011). The ideas feel right and one can only hope we don't have to wait another century for evolutionary psychologists to turn these compelling intuitions and speculations into testable mathematical theories.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Schedule of tax payments including 'on account'

The way the Inland Revenue handles payments on account and closing tax payments once books are closed on the tax year continues to puzzle me. This is my current understanding.

Take the reference date to be today, June 1st 2009.

In the tax year 07/08 I earned £X with tax T(X).

In the tax year 08/09 I earned £Y with tax T(Y).

In January 09 I paid my first 'on-account' amount of T(X)/2 forward projected from 07/08 into 08/09 as the IR's best estimate of the tax I would pay in 08/09.

In January 09 I also paid the balance of my o7/08 tax, i.e. T(X) minus whatever I had paid previously on account in January and July 2008 (further explanation below).

In July I have to pay the second "on account" amount T(X)/2. *

In January 2010 I have to pay the balance of my tax for 08/09 = T(Y) - T(X)

--- [T(X) = the two 'on-account' payments].

In January 2010 I also have to pay my first 'on-account' payment for 09/10 which is computed by the IR as T(Y)/2. The second equal installment will be paid in July 2010.

There. Clear now?

* But last year the Inland Revenue increased the amount I had to pay 'on account' in July 08 based on the return which I completed in May 08 for tax-year 07/08. The IR concluded that they had under-estimated in 06/07 how much I would make in 07/08 and they clawed back the excess immediately, rather than waiting until January 31st 2009.

I have no idea what their criteria are for doing this, but I know you are obligated to tell the IR ASAP after the end of the tax year if the sum of the two on-account payments for that tax year are less than the tax you actually owe (once you've worked it out).