Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Doors are fascinating items. They conceal and at the same time invite, inspiring imagination at what lies behind. They are symbolic of both closure and of new experiences. Here are some fascinating doors from around the world.

Jaffa, Israel


Bali, Indonesia

Beijing, China

Burano, Italy

Burano, Italy

Fes, Morocco

Madeira, Portugal

Jaipur, India

Swindon, Wiltshire, England
Just messing with you, that's Diana Dors (1931-1984), who was born Diana Mary Fluck in Swindon and who became a 1950's English movie sex symbol in the Monroe mould.

Noithumberland, UK

Rabat, Morocco

Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

Shanghai, China

Sardinia, Sicily

Lisbon, Portugal

Cotswolds, United Kingdom

Toronto, Canada

Valloria, Italy

Pollença, Balearic Islands, Spain

Soho, New York, USA

The Doors


Diagon Alley. No, not so. Old King's School Shop in Canterbury, England, 1647 

The building has suffered damage and near destruction in the past and is still suffering from deterioration, although attempts have been made to stabilise and protect it.  Considerable maintenance and refurbishment is required.  The lean is arrested by an internal metal cage and the door is a recent addition to emphasise the lean.  Here is a photo of the whole structure:

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Trivia Tuesday

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Marie Curie's notebooks:

Marie Curie, the first famous woman scientist in the modern world, was the first person to win a Nobel prize and the first person to win a Nobel prize in 2 disciplines (physics and chemistry). Her research, however, uncovered radioactive elements that ultimately took her life. She and her daughter contracted leukemia due to the radioactive exposure, her research notebooks being exposed to so much radiation that they still cannot be safely handled. Her writings had commented on how pretty she had found the blue-green colours given off by the radioactive isotopes she frequently carried around in her pockets. When they were not in her pockets, she simply kept them in desk drawers. 
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Military blunders:

In 1857, Indian troops known as “sepoys” in the employ of the British East Indian Company mutinied. The mutiny turned into a rebellion against British colonisation that took nearly 2 years to quash and it has been referred to by some as the First War of Indian Independence. The insurrection resulted in the dissolution of the East India Company, the end of the Mughal Empire after the British exiled Emperor Bahadur Shah to Burma and the beginning of the Raj, a British governor general (or "Viceroy" as he was known when representing the British crown) who ruled India. He in turn reported to the secretary of state for India, a member of Prime Minister's cabinet. 

What touched off the rebellion by the sepoys is fascinating.

The sepoys had been issued with new 1857 Enfield rifles that were superior to the Brown Bess rifles with which they had been previously armed. Nonetheless, the loading process remained the same, not changing until the introduction of metallic, one piece cartridges decades later. The procedure for loading the Enfield was to bite open a cartridge, pour the gunpowder from that cartridge down the barrel, then stuff the cartridge down as wadding, wrapped around the ball. 

An Enfield cartridge

Cartridges were made from paper coated with grease to make them waterproof. The introduction of the new rifles gave rise to a belief amongst the sepoys that the issued cartridges for the new rifles were treated with lard and tallow, cow and/or pig fat. The great bulk of the sepoys were either Hindus, for whom cows were sacred, or Mohammedans, to whom pigs were unclean, hence an unwillingness to handle, much less bite, the cartridges. Opinion as to whether the cartridges were actually covered in cow and/or pig fact is divided but the belief by the sepoys was that they were, fostered (perhaps even started) by the Indian princes. The British military denied the rumours, told the sepoys that they could make their own greased cartridges and that they could open them in ways other than biting them.  All such proposals were unacceptable to the sepoys.  When the British dealt harshly with some of the recalcitrant sepoys, the rest mutinied, touching of a rebellion that involved the civilian population and Indian royalty as well. Although there were atrocities on both sides, stories and images such as sepoys being tied to the front of cannon which were then fired remained in Indian consciousness. The rebellion led to the Indian independence movement that ultimately gave rise to Gandhi. 

One final comment: the sepoys had no reluctance during the rebellion in biting the cartridges for use against the British.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Monday Miscellany - Some Odds, Ends and Personals

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From Daniel as regards last Funny Friday's cartoons:

Best Friday funny to date I had to pick myself off the floor. 

Thanks Daniel.

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From David as regards the post on Tour de France Information and Trivia:

Your piece on le Tour de France was very interesting. However one interesting fact that you overlooked is how le Tour was spawned by the Dreyfus Affair of 1894
Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jewish army captain, was sentenced to life imprisonment for selling military secrets to the Germans. In fact he was innocent, but evidence of that was suppressed by the army. Inevitably it leaked and the Dreyfus Affair became a major controversy. Le Velo, a leading daily newspaper, was pro-Dreyfus but many of its major advertisers were anti-Dreyfus. Matters came to a head with a brawl at Aiteuil race track in 1899 involving Pierre Giffard - editor of Le Velo - and Comte Jules-Albert de Dion - a leading industrialist and advertiser in Le Velo. 
Led by the Compte many of the industrialists pulled their advertisibg and forned their own newspaper, originally called L'Auto-Velo and changed to L'Auto in 1903. As sales were not good they decided to sponsor a new type of bicycle race, a multi day tour, and thus was born Le Tour de France. Both the Tour and L'Auto went from strength to strength, the paper now being called L'Equipe. 
But it is rather depressing to think that the world's greatest sporting event is a result of early twentieth century anti Semitism 

Thanks David.

Alfred Dreyfus

Maurice Garin enters Paris as the winner of the inaugural Tour de France

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The following item is by Luminita D Saviuc.  A more detailed version with extra commentary appears on her blog at:

Makes sense to me.

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mattresses, Fishes and Offers

Kate and I watched The Godfather trilogy again in one sitting yesterday.

The Godfather is one of my Top Ten Plus Two list when I once posted about my top ten movies. I had to add the two because I couldn’t work out which two to delete.  Numbers 2 and 3 didn't make it to the list, my view is that TG 1 is good, 2 is less so, 3 is worst.

For those interested, the list, with comments about each film, is at:

Also for those interested, the list (not in any order) is:
1. The Godfather
2. Rat Race
3. Runaway Train
4. Blues Brothers
5. Chicago
6. 12 Angry Men
7. Zulu
8. Blade Runner
9. Groundhog Day
10. Full Metal Jacket
11. Pleasantville
12. Sin City

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That Sonny's runnin' wild. He's thinking of going to the mattresses already.

No, no, no! No more! Not this time, consiglieri. No more meetings, no more discussions, no more Sollozzo tricks. You give 'em one message: I want Sollozzo. If not, it's all-out war: we go to the mattresses.

I was aware that “go to the mattresses” had also been quoted in another fav pic, You’ve Got Mail  –

My business is in trouble. My mother would have something wise to say.

I'm a brilliant businessman. It's what I do best. What's your business?

No specifics, remember?

Minus specifics, it's hard to help. Except to say, go to the mattresses.


It's from The Godfather. It means you have to go to war.

The Godfather? What is it with men and The Godfather?

The Godfather is the I Ching. The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom. The Godfather is the answer to any question. What should I pack for my summer vacation? "Leave the gun, take the cannoli." What day of the week is it? "Maunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday." And the answer to your question is "Go to the mattresses."

You're at war. "It's not personal, it's business. It's not personal it's business." Recite that to yourself every time you feel you're losing your nerve. I know you worry about being brave, this is your chance. Fight. Fight to the death. 

That started me wondering as to the meaning and the origin. Although the meaning is clear – to prepare for war or battle – there is no definitive, verified origin. The Phrase Finder, an authoritative UK website, offers this commentary:

In 1530 the combined troops of Charles V and Medici Pope Clement VII lay siege to Florence. The bell tower of San Miniato al Monte was part of the defences. Michelangelo Buonarroti, as he was good at most things, was put in charge of defending the city. He used the ploy of hanging mattresses on the outside of the tower to minimise damage from cannon fire. 
In times of war or siege, Italian families would vacate their homes and rent apartments in safer areas. In order to protect themselves they would hire soldiers to sleep on the floor in shifts. 
Ordinarily we would want to verify such stories before publishing them here as part of a phrase derivation. In this case though it isn't really important. The meaning of the phrase turns on the association in Italian folk-memory of mattresses with safety in wartime. The phrase wasn't well known outside of the USA and Italy prior to the Godfather movies. It was used there, and later in The Sopranos television series, to mean 'preparing for battle'. Whether or not the stories that originated it are true doesn't alter the fact that the screenwriters of those films used them in that context.

San Miniato al Monte

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Which raises some other phrases from the Godfather . . .

When a package is delivered that contains a dead fish wrapped in the bulletproof vest of one of Don Corleone’s most loyal lieutenants, someone asks what it means. Clemenza states “It's a Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.”

Is it a Sicilian message or was in invented by Mario Puzo for the book The Godfather?

From the Phrase Finder:
Cassell's Dictionary of Slang dates "sleep with the fishes" from the 1950s, but The Godfather was only published in 1969; so although it undoubtedly gained circulation from the book, it didn't originate there. There's also a closely related phrase, "feed the fishes" which has been in circulation since the 19th century.

From Wiktionary:

A similar reference can be found in Herman Melville's Moby Dick, wherein the second mate Stubb soliloquizes: "when Aquarius, or the Water-bearer, pours out his whole deluge and drowns us; and to wind up with Pisces, or the Fishes, we sleep. (Melville, Moby Dick, ch. 94).
Earliest known reference for this phrase can be found in the epic Greek poem, The Iliad, by Homer. During Book 21, Achilles slays Lykaon, a son of Priam, and throws him in a river. Achilles taunts him as he dies, saying "Lie there now among the fish..." (Lattimore translation) or, "Make your bed with the fishes now..." (Fagles translation). In other words, sleep with the fishes.

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Don Corleone:
“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

Again from Phrase Finder:

This is the best-known line from The Godfather book (1969) and film (1972), both written by Mario Puzo. In fact, it is one of the best-known lines in any film and ranks second only to 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn' as the most celebrated quotation from an American film. The 'offer he can't refuse' line is used in all three films of the Godfather trilogy but varies slightly throughout and isn't always easy to hear through all that cotton wool. 
The expression 'make an offer he can't refuse' does occur in literature and film prior to 1972, but not with the meaning that it has now taken on because of its use in The Godfather. For example, Jason Robards' character in the 1934 film Burn Em Up Barnes uses "I'll make her an offer she can't refuse". The meaning there is quite different. The character is suggesting making a large and tempting offer of cash - it is meant to be taken as generosity rather than as a threat. 
Puzo appears to have been making an reference to an existing phrase so that the Godfather character could ironically pretend that his 'offer' was benevolent. 
In the first occurrence in the first Godfather film, it is 'I'll make him an offer he can't refuse'. In one of the film's best-known scenes Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is visited by his godson, the famous singer Johnny Fontane (Al Martino) - a characterization that is widely believed to be based on Frank Sinatra, although many people associated with Sinatra and the film have denied this. Fontane asks for Vito's help to secure a film role that will boost his fading career. The head of the film studio, has previously refused to give Fontane the part, but Don Corleone tells Johnny "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse."  The studio head later wakes to find the severed head of his expensive racehorse in his bed. Unsurprisingly, Fontane is subsequently given the part.

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

More Tour de France Facts and Trivia

Some more Tour de France stuff as the 21 stage race nears its end. The Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana make up cycling's prestigious, three-week-long Grand Tours; the Tour is the oldest and generally considered the most prestigious of the three.

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While 2013 marks the 100th running of the Tour, the race is actually 110 years old. The race wasn’t run during the two World Wars. 

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Despite covering 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles) over 21 days of riding, the time between first and second place has often been measured by mere seconds. Eight times, less than a minute separated first and second place. The closest was the 1989 Tour, when American Greg LeMond beat Frenchman Laurent Fignon by a mere 8 seconds. 

Laurent Fignon, wearing the yellow jersey, keeps just ahead of his American rival Greg LeMond (left) on the 1989 Tour de France.

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Each day of the race is called a stage and is a race unto itself. Typically, the Tour is made up of 21 stages. Only three riders – Belgian Eddy Merckx, Frenchman Charles Pélissier, and Belgian Freddy Maertens – have won eight stages during a single Tour. 

Between 1961 and 1978, Eddy "the Cannibal" Merckx won 525 races, including five Tours de France, four Giros d'Italia and three world championships.

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The 2005 Tour had the fastest average speed at 41.5 km per hour (25.8 mph), which is nearly double the slowest year, which was 1919 at 24.1 km per hour (15 mph). 

1921 beer stop 

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Twenty-two teams participate in the race, and each team is made up of nine cyclists, meaning 198 riders (unless any pull out prior to the start). Rules mandate that each team member be dressed identically: the same team shorts, jersey, socks, shoes, gloves, and helmet. 

Chris Froome, 2013 winner Tour de France

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The only exceptions are the leader jerseys. Most people know that the overall leader – that is, the rider with the lowest cumulative time, wears the yellow jersey. But there are other competitive classifications. The leader in points (a complicated system is used to calculate a rider’s “points”) wears a green jersey. The “King of the Mountain” wears a white jersey with red polka dots; it’s determined by a point system based on performance on mountain climbs. The rider under age 26 who has the lowest cumulative time wears a white jersey. 

2012 Tour de France

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The King of the Mountain jersey is red polka dots because the original sponsor of the jersey, Chocolat Poulain, sold candy bars with polka dot wrapping. 

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There are two other “minor” competitive classifications that don’t get you a jersey, but a different colored number to pin to your jersey. First is the most combative rider of the day; the following day, he wears a number printed white on red, instead of the usual black on white. And the team classification goes to the team with the lowest cumulative time among their three best riders. The next day, that team would wear numbers printed black on yellow. 

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L'Auto announces the route of the first Tour de France

The Tour de France was created as a promotion for the French newspaper L’Auto-Velo. Because the pages of the paper were yellow, race organizers designated that the race leader’s jersey should be yellow, too. But originally, race leaders were indicated by green armbands. Race organizers thought the bands were too difficult to spot, hence the maillot jaune (French for yellow jersey) has become part of cycling lore. 

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Known as “The Cannibal,” Eddy Merckx of Belgium has won the most Tour stages at 34. 

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Tour de France riders have a gentlemen’s agreement that allows riders to take what’s called “pauses pipi” – or quick potty breaks – without trying to make up time on each other. And breaks are needed; a day’s race often lasts more than five hours. 

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During the early years of the Tour de France, gearing systems were banned. Cyclist would grind up steep hills on a single speed – or riders could stop, remove their chain and flip their rear wheel for another gear. 

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Records and times from the years Lance Armstrong dominated the race have been vacated. The Tour organisers don’t list winners or official finish times for 1999 to 2005. 

Lance Armstrong, left, and team-mate George Hincapie toast the Armstrong's 2005 Tour de France victory at the start of the final stage 

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Because of the spectacle that is the Tour de France, several groups have interrupted the race as a demonstration. A few examples: In 1982, striking steel workers halted the team time trial, and in 1990, farmers attempted to blockade the race. 

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Four cyclists have died during the Tour. Three were killed in on-course crashes, the fourth, French rider Adolphe Helière died swimming on a rest day between stages. 

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Since 1975, the Tour has always finished on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. 

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The day’s stage doesn’t usually pick up from where the previous day’s stage ended. Often there are long drives, boat rides, or airplane flights to get cyclists to the next starting line. 

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During the 1950 Tour de France, many riders took a break from the extremely hot weather by jumping into the Mediterranean for a swim. 

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Early Tour organisers designed routes to be as grueling as possible to make the race more of a spectacle. In fact, one of the race founders, Henri Desgrange (above, with bike), said: “The ideal Tour would be one in which only one rider survived the ordeal.” 

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Prior to big climbs of the Tour de France, riders in the 1920s shared cigarettes - thought to help respiration.

Health and modern fitness principles were not part of early Tours. Some riders smoked while participating in the race. And instead of energy drinks, riders would share bottles of wine while riding. 

1964: Racing cyclists getting fresh supplies of wine in the during the 11th stage of the Tour de France 

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The Tour de France has legions of dedicated and flamboyant fans lining the roads. One of the most well known is German resident Dieter “Didi” Senft, who dresses in a red and black devil costume and carries a pitchfork as he cheers (or goads) riders up some of the most difficult climbs. Senft has been the Tour’s devil since 1993, only missing 2012 because of health problem. 

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Before the riders take to the roads for each stage, the Tour de France Caravan rolls through. With about 250 vehicles, the Caravan is an hour-long, mobile show with music, dancers, and skits. Advertisers also pass out promotional items, such as hats, pens, and water bottles, to those lining the streets. 

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While the race is primarily an individual race, teams support their lead riders. Team members allow the leader to draft to save energy, and some have even dismounted and given the team leader their bikes if needed. 

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 Early Tour riders were as much mechanics as they were cyclists. They were expected to make their own repairs. Riders would even strap spare tires over their shoulders. 

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