A Victorian Computer Revolution

I thought you might enjoy this fascinating article about computing machines in the 1800s  (from PC Pro Magazine Issue 237 July 2014).
Robo Rabbit passed it to me a little while ago, knowing my interest in the Victorian Mathematician and Engineer, Charles Babbage.

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And I’m back in the room!

Hello Everyone.

I’m sorry that I’ve neglected you all so appallingly but I do have my reasons which I will explain in an article in due course.  Suffice to say that I am back on track and firing on all cylinders… and any other cliches you can think of!

You will have noticed that the website header has changed but you will still be able to find me through the Wartime Housewife as usual.  My proposition has broadened somewhat (as have I !) and The Wartime Housewife is a brand within the Biff Raven-Hill Empire.  Oh yes, I said Empire, but it will be benign and without the oppression.

Thank you for sticking with me xxx

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Sunday Poem 217

On the Lancashire Coast – by Norman Nicholson (1914-1987)

The rocks crawl down the beach,
Taking a thousand years to move a yard:
The sea-weed clogs their flippers; each
(Blind, dumb and yet gregarious) lifts an ear,
Like a bat’s ear that measures space by echoes,
To catch the effervescence of the sea
Against a neighbour’s ribs and shoulders.
Beside such boulders human life
Seems shorter than the suds of foam
Burst by blowing sand:
And yet these fingers (five
New to the touch of five) that bend
One to another like a lip
To speak a kiss, these hands
Shaping the deaf-mute language of the heart,
These wrists that time will strip
Quicker than it smooths the wrinkles on the stones,
Live with a vertical bright permanence
That cuts through death like a knife.

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Back to school

Last night was a restless night and, knowing that I had to be up early this morning, I went to bed early, had a hot drink, read quietly and had my light out before midnight (early for me).  I then proceeded to toss and turn, waking up every couple of hours, thirsty, restless needing the loo etc etc.

This morning both my boys were starting at their, same, new school; Boy the Younger in Year 7 and Boy the Elder in the 6th Form.  Boy the Younger has been excited for about a week and has all his uniform laid out in piles i n the sitting room awaiting his first day at secondary.  He went on the school bus on his own and I waved him off discreetly from along the road, trying really hard not to fret.

I had to take Boy the Elder in until we’ve got his bike fixed and I drove him to the school gates and watched him lope off up the drive.  This is BTE’s fifth school and the fifth time he’s had to walk into a school full of people he doesn’t know.  His last few years at private school have boosted his confidence no end but it is still incredibly daunting for a teenager to go into a roomful of other teenagers, many of whom have known each other since primary, and hope against hope that you’re not going to be seen as a prat.

This is why I didn’t sleep.  I wasn’t like this when they started in Primary; then, I marched to the gate, hugged them fondly and walked out, knowing they’d enjoy school and relishing my free time.  Although BTY is a very different character to BTE, he is deep thinker and doesn’t always  express his fears or worries and will often manifest anxiety with bad behaviour.  I also still have the memory of the bullying that BTE suffered at secondary which is why I sent him to private school.  BTE is still self-conscious among his peers and can become despondent quite quickly and if he hated his new school, I really don’t know what the next step would be.

As a parent, there is only so much we can do.  We give them all the information they need to deal with new challenges and then have to sit back and let them run with it.  We have to release them into the wild and make their own way, on their own terms and keep well out of it until we’re needed.

I waited with baited breath to find out how they’d got on.  To my relief and joy they had both had a brilliant day and had been made to feel welcome and at ease.  And neither of them had felt like a prat. Now breathe out……

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Summer ends and the Autumn term begins: Part 2

In the late afternoon of the Butterfly Farm visit, the storm broke and storms are good when you live on the side of Glastonbury Tor.  The dark clouds began to gather over St Michael’s Tower and the air became thick with heat and static.  And then the waters came, heavier and heavier, lashing the patio, hailstones ricocheting against the windows like shot from an ill-disciplined pheasant shoot.

We sat inside, warm, dry, being fed sausage and mash by our gracious hosts, Lord and Lady Somerset, and feeling pathetically relieved not to be cooking corned beef hash over an inadequate gas stove in a musty tent.  After supper, we snuggled down to watch a feel-good film, after which we bade goodnight and ran across the garden to the tent.

Which was full of water.  The boys’ inflatable mattress was actually floating in their sleeping pod, their pillows were sodden and their fluffy onesies merely dripping furballs.  No sealed seam in the world would have withstood the biblical downpour that Somerset had thrown at us.   By this time our hosts would have gone to bed and locked up, their Great Danes would be settled and as Lady Somerset has to be up at 5am there was no way we were going to risk waking them all up by going back to the house.  Boy the Younger came in with me, and Boy the Elder floated serenely on his rubber mattress, wrapped in towels and wearing two sets of clothes.    In the morning we fell to our knees and pleaded for the use of the  spare room where we topped and tailed in a most Victorian manner.

The morning after the deluge, we took a trip to Cheddar Gorge.  We have been there before but it’s so wonderful it justifies many visits.  Boy the Elder went on his first caving trip whilst Boy the Younger and I sipped hot chocolate and enjoyed the towering majesty of the cliffs.  It really is a superb day out.  The caves are spectacular, the Museum of Prehistory is thought provoking and the bus trip up the gorge was breathtaking and entertaining.

One of the highlights is climbing the steps up the cliff which is known as Jacob’s Ladder.  There are 274 steps with platforms (or resuscitation stations as I prefer to call them) explain the progression of life on earth from primordial soup up to the modern era.  At the top, they tell you to lay a sheet of paper on the top step which will represent the amount of time that humans have been on the earth relative to the steps.  Blimey.

We also visited the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Shop where they make the most delicious range of cheeses imaginable.  We took home straightforward cave matured cheddar (which you can see stacked up in the caves as you go round) and a scrumptious natural blue which were both heavenly and then promptly ate the lot after supper – shared with The Somersets of course!

Before returning to Desborough, we managed to pack in a trip to a model engineering show in Bristol, a return visit to the Aged Parent and supper with Sister the Second and, although I was glad to get home, I had rather got used to swanning around in the fresh air, looking at interesting things.  I had also got completely used to being cooked for every night and I shall redouble my efforts to win a major literary prize, make my fortune and have staff.  Lots and lots of staff.

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Summer ends and the Autumn Term begins – Part 1

Could someone please explain to me where the summer went?  One minute we were all going mental with thirty end of term events per minute and the next thing I know, it’s September. We even had an extra week of holiday because Boy the Younger changed counties and Leicestershire and Northamptonshire broke up at different times, but it still wasn’t quite long enough.

As usual, the time just vanished; we packed a lot in to those precious weeks though.  English Heritage’s History Live! was the first fixture of the summer and we spent two blissful days wandering through two thousand years of history, seeing Celts and Gladiators, Knights and Roundheads, Tommies and Jerries.  We were entertained by a medaeival jester made to swoon over dashing Punjabi Lancers.

In the second week of August we headed down to London for a couple of days with the Aged Parent and then spent the Sunday with Sister the First at the Science Museum.  It must be twenty years since I’ve been there and a day simply isn’t enough – one almost needs a day per floor.  It’s a wonderful way to introduce children to the wonders of science and technology that is worlds away from the dryness of the classroom.  Our highlights were probably the section on Human Psychology and a display on 3d printing that is so far beyond my understanding it left me dazed.

And thence to Glastonbury to camp in Lady Somerset’s garden.  As I may have mentioned before, I hate camping with a passion, but the boys love it and we do at least have a tent that even the six foot three inch Boy the Elder can stand up in.  This year though, I had privately asked Lady S if, if the weather turned, we could sneak into her spare room and abandon tent.  Oh how I prayed for the storm that came later in the week!

I decided to take the boys to Lyme Regis for the day, obviously for the seaside but also for a blast of palaeontology and a bit of Jane Austen.  The weather was on our side and we had a glorious day walking along The Cobb, squealing as the waves crashed against the wall, pottering around the Fossil Museum oohing and aahing over skeleton Plesiosaurs.  Then we headed for the beach.  Northamptonshire is lovely and pastoral, but there is something wonderful and alluring about the sea and, if I am near it, I have to go in.  We splashed about for hours, alternately freezing and boiling as we ran in and out on the stones.  We picnicked, we snorkelled (hopelessly) we had ice cream and shellfish in little polystyrene tubs.  All was right with the world.

The next day we went to the North Somerset Butterfly House.  This is effectively a large tropical greenhouse full of glorious plants and swarming with about thirty species of butterfly, mainly from Asia, Africa and South America.  It was wonderful to see these glorious, delicate creatures zipping about among the trees, their colours flashing in the steamy light.  There was also a pond with turtles and terrapins who swam through the water with their heads held high like old ladies at the municipal baths.

The heat was very dehydrating though and a large amount of tea and cake was required at the adjacent garden centre before we were quite ready to head home.  Garden centres are so pleasant these days.  This one was like a small village and was a very useful shelter for when the storm broke.  And boy did it break.  Of which more tomorrow…

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Holiday

The Wartime Housewife is now on holiday until Monday 18th August.  Please try to amuse yourselves as best you can!

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Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire

The Important History Bit:

Kenilworth Castle was built on land granted by Henry I to royal chamberlain Geoffrey de Clinton in around 1120, in order to keep the Earl of Warwick in check. Clinton then sold off a great swathe of his lands but kept the southern part to create the wonderful castle and park. Henry II then pinched it, King John enlarged it, after which Henry III gave it to his sister who happened to be married to Simon de Montfort.  Bad idea. De Montfort promptly challenged Henry, unsuccessfully as it turned out, and the castle was given to Henry’s son.

The castle walls

The castle walls

There then followed a lot of royal shenanigins culminating in Elizabeth I giving the castle as a gift to her childhood friend Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester in 1563.  Rumours abound about the relationship between Elizabeth and Dudley, but it is safe to say that during her early reign, he was as close to a royal consort as it was possible to be.

Dudley went all out to impress his queen.  He carried out a major refurbishment of the castle, created landscaped parkland, and, most importantly for us, created the wonderful garden that has so recently been restored.

 

The reconstructed gardens

The reconstructed gardens

The Garden:  For more than 400 years, the magnificent garden was lost to the world until a letter was discovered, written in 1575 by a servant, Robert Langham, which described in astonishing detail, the layout and minutiae of the garden.  Magnificent carved arbours; a bejewelled aviary; planting abundant in colour, perfume and fruits and an 18-foot-high fountain carved from dazzling Carrara marble are just some of the glories that make Kenilworth Castle’s latest addition the most complete picture of an Elizabethan garden anywhere in the world.

The re-creation of the garden in 2009 marked the end of a £3 million investment project by English Heritage including the refurbishment of Leicester’s gatehouse and stables.

Marble fountainA visit to Kenilworth is a terrific day out because there is genuinely something for everyone.  The gardens are breathtaking and an inspiration for even the most humble gardener.  The castle itself is crying out to be explored and clambered over, with staircases leading to the top of the towers for gorgeous views over the Warwickshire countryside.  There are plenty of places to picnic, but happily there is an excellent tea room serving teas and lunches and a large gift shop supplying everything from heritage gift items to battle armour for your budding warriors.  I have been four times and I plan to go again. Soon.

Opening times:  1st April to 30th September 10.00 – 18.00

Location:  Castle Green, Off Castle Road, Kenilworth, Warwickshire – CV8 1NE

Kenilworth Castle

Kenilworth Castle

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Sunday Poem 216

You can keep the storm – by Ellen Butterworth (b.1965)

I was dying for the storm.
The heat, the pressure, the cloying treacle air.
I love big storms; the crash, the crackle, the ripping sky.
But at four o’clock with restless legs
Ice cold to touch, blood like treacle,
Skin fit to burst, body like lead,
I’m tearful with a desperate need for sleep.
You can keep the storm.

I’m not bothered by a storm.
Only the loudest crashes drag me from unconsciousness
Only the most searing flashes stir my Stygian sleep
For I am blessed with the sleep of the dead …
Until tonight, until this morning,
This suffocating morning in my room.
Where air and rest frustratingly elude me.
You can keep the storm.

Oh sod this bloody storm.
Down the steep and narrow stairs I stagger,
Hand on rail to stop me falling to the bottom,
Each foot thumping unevenly
On the stringy landlord carpet.
Lights, tea, pain killers, the click of switches,
An empty fridge, an empty gut;
You can keep the storm.

Please stop this storm.
I curse my Victorian terrace with its lab rat gardens;
Ragged, damp grass, damp air, grey fizzy air
Where I long to walk about naked and unseen
So that ragged damp can cool my bones
And still my treacle blood and soothe my legs;
A sub-urban step too far, I fear.
You can keep the storm.

You can keep the storm.
Back in my room, I glimpse through orange voiles
A half glimpsed figure, stalking through
The backdrop of the battered,
Sodden washing on the line
A naked, heavy-legged, dawn-dwelling apparition
Furtively drinking in the damp, the chill, the still.
You can keep the storm.

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Restless Legs or Ekbom Syndrome

Restless legsDo you ever sit down at night, looking forward to a nice rest, only to find that your legs or feet feel jumpy and restless?  It doesn’t matter how hard you try to keep still, you just can’t.  The same thing can happen in bed and it’s bloody annoying.  For some people it’s more than annoying as it affects their sleep patterns so badly that it impacts on their ability to function and concentrate.

It affects more women than men, it can occur at any age, including children, and probably afflicts 15 in 100 people.  But what exactly is it?

What does it feel  like?
It’s really difficult to explain what restless legs feel like.  It starts with a sudden onset of an unpleasant sensation deep in the legs and it’s impossible to stop moving them in an attempt to relieve the feeling.  Some people describe the feeling as a deep rheumatic-type ache, a burning or tugging or sometimes a creeping feeling as though there are things crawling under your skin

There are two types of RLS.

Primary RLS can have many causes from poor circulation, anxiety, stress, heavy cigarette or alcohol use and lack of exercise.  It often runs in families and often affects people at a younger age, ie under 45.

Secondary RLS is usually caused by underlying disease:
Deficiency of iron, magnesium, folic acid and Vitamin B12
Pregnancy (although not strictly a disease apparently) affects  one in five women especially in the third trimester
Kidney disease
Chronic diseases such as Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid imbalances and diabetes
Some medicines such as anti-depressants, beta-blockers, anti-sickness, some anti-psychotic and a few anti-histamines

  • What actually is it?
    In both cases it’s a condition of the central nervous system and doctors are beginning to think that it may be related to an imbalance of  dopamine.  Dopamine is a hormone and neurotransmitter that controls movement function in the brain.  Although people suffering from Parkinson’s Disease suffer from a loss of dopamine, RLS is not connected with this disease.  Outside the nervous system, dopamine functions in several parts of the body as a local chemical messenger. In the blood vessels, it inhibits norepinephrine release and acts as a vasodilator; in the kidneys, it increases sodium excretion and urine output; in the pancreas, it reduces insulin production all of which would explain why people in the Secondary RLS category are affected.

    So what can I do about it?
    If RLS is worrying you, go and see your GP who will examine you and do some blood tests to check for underlying conditions. Initially, she will probably suggest some lifestyle changes such as:

  • stopping smoking
  • cutting out caffeine and alcohol from your diet
  • taking moderate exercise (but not close to bedtime)
  • getting into a good bedtime routine to maintain a regular sleep pattern – for example, going to bed at the same time every evening and getting up at the same time every morning
  • taking hot or cold baths – try both to see which works for you
  • going for an early evening walk
  • if you have to sit for a long time, such as when travelling, try to get up and move around periodically
  • massaging your legs
  • distracting your mind by watching TV or reading an engaging book
  • practising relaxation exercises or yoga
  • doing calf, thigh and hip stretches
  • eating more foods such as asparagus, spinach, cabbage and kale which are rich in folic acid
  • Vitamin B complex and calcium supplements may help. Marmite is rich in B complex
  • eat bananas which are rich in potassium
  • deep heat / Deep Freeze spray can also be helpful as can spray on ibuprofen

If this has no effect, there are some medicines which can help.  Codeine can give relief but other drugs (which sound scary because they are associated with more serious conditions) include anti-epileptics, sleeping tablets  and dopamine derivatives can be of great benefit.  If the cause is anaemia, she will prescribe iron tablets.

RLS is usually temporary and can usually be dealt with.  For further information visit the Restless Leg Syndrome website at the address below.

Sources:
www.nhs.co.uk
www.rls-uk.org
www.bupa.co.uk/health-information
The Nutrition Almanac by John Kirschman pub 2007
The New Complete Guide to Nutritional Health by Pierre Jean Cousin & Kirsten Hartvig pub 2011
Personal experience

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