Category Archives: Miscellany
Is the English subjunctive dead?
I know some of you are looking at this and saying: “What th’eck are you talkin’ about? Never ‘eard of it. We was never taught anything about this at school”. And you are right, I never learned anything about the use of ‘moods’ in the English language, nor did I learn my tense endings, nor the position of adjectives in English……..and the list goes on.
When I came to learn foreign languages, however, some of these things came to light, but even then, many of them still remained a mystery. It was only when I qualified as a teacher, and had to teach Spanish to A Level and university entrance, that my knowledge and understanding finally matured.
Lidl obviously does think the English subjunctive is dead, and that is from a company that has its origins in Germany where the use of the subjunctive is very definitely alive and kicking. Abuse the German subjunctive and Angela Merkel will make sure you are personally ‘brexited’ head first from the EU.
Some of you are old enough to remember Fiddler on the Roof, and the famous song when Topol sings “If I were a rich man…….”. Now, would it have made any difference if he were (was) to have sung “If I was a rich man……”. If a lyricist were (was) writing those lyrics today, would he have used was or were? Do media giants like the BBC give tacit approval to linguistic pecadillos like these? And the big question is this: does common usage these days give its stamp of universal approval, and make them correct?
I am just a ‘hobby-blogger’. I don’t chase reading stats to make a living out of my ramblings. I simply write for fun, and if my scribblings entertain or inform just a handful of people, I am happy. In other words, within the world of blogging, my website is small-time, creating barely a ripple on the surface of the blogosphere.
However, today I wandered into some of my administration pages and encountered a few veritable surprises, especially on the ‘Top Posts’ page that logs the number of hits for each post. Although the predominant theme of the whole website is ‘cycling’ (and I do apologise if you are a non-cyclist), and more specifically, my long expeditions in some faraway country, it is not entirely about cycling. Hence the cover title of ‘Serendipities of Life’, which opens the door to writing just about anything that catches my attention.
The statistics of the most-read posts, since I began blogging in 2010, reveal that amongst the top ten posts, six have nothing (or very little) to do with cycling, even though many of my posts would never have featured as a ‘serendipity’ if I hadn’t been on a journey of discovery on my bike. So, if you have nothing better to do over the next few minutes, take a dip into some of my most read posts.
- Land’s End to John O’Groats on a Moulton bicycle. The most read post of all time was my account of riding the 1000 miles from Land’s End to John O’Groats in the UK, perhaps the most iconic of British routes that many people aspire to. Probably a key factor was the fact I completed it on a small-wheeled Moulton bicycle: https://frankburns.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/lands-end-to-john-ogroats-on-a-moulton-bicycle/
- Joe Tasker 1948-82. Joe and I were not only born in the same small town in County Durham, but we went to boarding school together. He became one of the most daring and successful climbers of his generation, pioneering ascents of the world’s highest peaks without oxygen, and operating with scaled down teams and minimal equipment. Sadly he died on Everest, with his partner Pete Boardman, in 1982. I had met with him just days before that expedition, and he had sent me a postcard from basecamp just before the final (and fatal) assault. I received that postcard 7 days after the confirmation of his death. Part 1: https://frankburns.wordpress.com/2011/07/15/joe-tasker-climber-extraordinaire-1948-82/……………. Part 2: https://frankburns.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/joe-tasker-1948-82-continued/
- A ‘peek’ amongst the peaks, and not just about the bike. A fascinating visit to the Peak District in Derbyshire. https://frankburns.wordpress.com/2011/07/01/a-peek-amongst-the-peaks-and-not-just-about-the-bike/
- Ushaw College 1808-2011. My school was almost one of a kind. A Roman Catholic Seminary, its origins came out of the Reformation, and its construction coincided with that period of growing tolerance and eventual emancipation at the beginning of the 19th century. https://frankburns.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/ushaw-college-1808-2011/
- A “breeze” through the Outer Hebrides. A singular cycle ride through all the Western Isles, the Inner Isles, ending up on the islands of Mull and Iona. https://frankburns.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/a-breeze-through-the-outer-hebrides-2/
- Coba: human sacrifice and scary heights! An encounter with Mayan history on the east coast of Mexico. https://frankburns.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/coba/
- Brixworth Anglo-Saxon church. A rare and fine example of some pre-Norman architecture very close to home. https://frankburns.wordpress.com/2011/04/20/brixworth-anglo-saxon-church/
- Damien Hirst: a genuine artist? A few reflections after visiting a Damien Hirst exhibition in the Tate Modern.https://frankburns.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/damien-hirst-a-genuine-artist/
- Santiago-Muxía-Finisterra. Back to cycling again. The last stage of my cycling expedition from my home in Cambridgeshire to Santiago de Compostela in NW Spain. On this leg, I left Santiago to reach the most westerly point of the Spanish peninsula. https://frankburns.wordpress.com/2011/05/26/santiago-muxia-finisterra-138kms87m/
- Latin as a school’s ‘lingua franca’. I had a very classical education. Four of my ‘O levels’ were classical subjects: Latin, Ancient Greek, Roman History and Greek History. Hence much of the day-to-day language of the school was a derivative of this classical bias. https://frankburns.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/latin-as-a-schools-lingua-franca/
Tom Allen caught my attention a few years ago as an adventure cyclist, the sort of adventure cyclist who understands the essence of travelling unaided, across continents, carrying only what is absolutely essential for survival.
He has now switched his focus to long distance walking, and is in the process of ‘trailblazing’ a new hiking route across the Caucasian Mountains. You may be inspired by this 5 minute video…………..
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/192392143″>The Transcaucasian Expedition</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/tenacityinpursuit”>Dave Katz</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
Seven years ago this month, I was reminded of a basic truth in life: none of us is indestructible. No matter how fit and active you are, no matter how many miles you cycle or run, the morrow can bring an unexpected surprise. Seven years ago (almost to the day), I came off my bike on black ice and spent six months recovering from a broken femur. In other words, I was reminded of the essential frailty of the human body.
Ten days ago I had enjoyed the liberating freedom of a 65 mile ride in warm winter sunshine, and had planned another 50 mile ride the next day. The body was in good shape, the eagerness was there to ride the miles, and I was getting myself prepared for a week of volcano cycling in Gran Canaria. I had every reason to feel bright and breezy when I leapt out of bed, but I was reminded once again of the frailty of the human body.
My blackout and fall are having their consequences. Although atrial fibrillation has not been definitively diagnosed, until I see a cardiologist, I have to take medication for it as a ‘just in case’. And the collateral damage to the back is obviously going to take weeks, or even months, to heal. So, freed up from all my natural eagerness to get out on the bike and ride the miles, I suddenly find myself with the imposed latitude to concentrate on writing. To the many kind people who have encouraged me over the years to begin writing books about my exploits, I thank you. My excuse has always been that I’ve been much too occupied planning and going on adventures to find the time for sedentary pursuits like writing. Every time I look out of the window, the allure of the open countryside beckons.
And I thought there was no cure for it……..
A hard lesson that I have failed to learn throughout my life is the art of getting out of bed safely. Yes, you have read that correctly…..getting out of bed safely. Be warned, the simple process of shedding the torpors of sleep to re-enter the world of the living can be fraught with potholes and thorns along the road. Let me explain.
I am, of course, speaking from very recent personal experience. I became a ‘cropper’ the other day by simply getting out of bed. Hard to believe, I know. I can be counted amongst the majority of people (I think) who return to waking consciousness in the mornings and delay the moment of getting out of bed, sometimes by minutes, sometimes by much more. Of course, waking up does not guarantee an immediate eagerness to get up. Two very different things. Last Wednesday, however, was an exception for this unwary riser. For some reason, totally out of character, I jumped out of bed with inexplicable enthusiasm and headed for the bathroom, only to find my blood pressure went into a downward spiral, and I landed in a heap on the floor, injuring my back in the process.
Jenny panicked, called the emergency services, prised herself into the bathroom and helped me get into the recovery position until the paramedics arrived. It’s only in situations like these that you really learn the true worth of people like paramedics. Working in a very confined space, they managed to administer all that was required, take ECGs, strap me firmly to a board stretcher and expertly lowered me down a very difficult staircase.
An X ray revealed a fracture to the T12, but it was inconclusive about whether it was caused by the fall. Apparently we can live many years with historic situations like these only for them to be revealed by accident in later life. There was much talk of me being fitted with a body brace, but I confounded them by passing all the physiotherapist’s tests, such as walking upstairs and toilet management. So now back at home, minus the body brace, plus a truly impressive array of pain-killers, I await follow-ups to check out the fracture in a few weeks time, and to determine the cause of the blackout. There are murmurings of atrial fibrillation……… Hey-ho!
As this is the season for dreaming of next year’s holidays and, in my case, the planning of forthcoming cycling adventures, Proust gives us a timely reminder:
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes” (Marcel Proust)
How right he is.
I knew this sort of thing was fast becoming a craze, but to descend from a 5,600 metre summit on a unicycle…….that’s more than a craze….that’s just crazy. Enjoy!
Like most social media sites, every year WordPress provides its subscribers with statistics of their previous year’s blogging. It is always fascinating to look at the numbers, not just of hits and comments, but more particularly of the number and variety of countries readers live in. I seem to have connected with 127 countries in the last year.
In the blogging world, this is merely a ‘social blog’, with absolutely no commercial interests. Like many bloggers, I don’t go chasing numbers to attract advertisers, though I am aware that WordPress reserves the right to post adverts on my blog from time to time.
If you have been an occasional, or even a frequent visitor to this site, thank you for your company. I hope you have enjoyed something of what you have read, even learned a thing or two, or been occasionally inspired to do something different for yourself.
If you are still waiting for the inspiration to kick in, I hope that 2015 will be the year that ‘you take the road less travelled’. May the winds of life be ever at your back!
(Click on the link at the bottom of this post).
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 31,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 11 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
….well, I was.
We’ve all heard of early flowering species, but to see daffodils in full bloom in the UK before the winter solstice (December 21st)….. something fishy must be going on with our climate.
Now, I am not going to enter the global warming debate here, but I am happy to pick up on a bit of Welsh folklore which tells me that the first person to see a daffodil in flower will have a prosperous year ahead of them…..but, of course, only if they are the first person…….second will not do.
And given that it is the Welsh national flower, they will be a bit biased about it’s powers…….but their optimism is shared by followers of Chinese Feng Shui, who believe it will bring good luck into their homes if it flowers in the new year.
Now tell me truthfully…..aren’t you thankful for these few pearls of wisdom?
To the music of the “Sugar Plum Fairy” from ‘The Nutcracker’, ballet and BMXing come together in a rare and curious partnership………
What does it take to remove the barriers in our minds in order to unlock some of the potential we all have (sometimes in abundance)? Whether its scaling mountains, cycling mega distances, conquering fears, acquiring skills……or simply doing something different in our lives that takes us out of our comfort zones.
Click on this link and be prepared to stand back in awe. This man takes all our excuses away…..
Hardly serendipitous, more a question of misadventure. Life throws up many happy chance encounters, but some encounters are a little less welcome.
My wife, Jenny, recently had the dubious honour of requiring the services of the blue-flashing-light taxi service to our local heart hospital. The initial ECG readings taken by the paramedic flagged up enough concern to call the ambulance. Further checks in our local A&E prompted a quick phone call to Papworth Hospital……and without more ado, the blue-flashing transfer took Jenny to the HDU of our local distinguished heart hospital.
We had to wait 12 hours for the blood test that would reveal the critical enzyme pointing to a heart attack. And yes, it was there, and a heart attack was confirmed.
But behind every misadventure, there will be a few positives. We had caught Jenny’s condition at the very early stages, and didn’t make the mistake of imagining the pain was just heartburn or indigestion. The blockage turned out to be in a minor artery, too narrow to take a stent, but which can be unblocked through medication. The prognosis is very good, too. With the aid of continued medication and a gentle return to exercise, she will be able to return to most of her previous activities.
And given that in the few days previous to her mini-crisis, she had attended an exercise class, ridden 33 miles on the tandem, and had been swimming and nordic walking on the morning of the mishap………. we all have to come to terms with the certain knowledge that, however secure we feel about our own lifestyle and health, life will always be full of twists and turns.
I would like to extend my gratitude to all who have bothered to drop by this humble weblog in 2013, for leaving your welcome comments and ‘likes’, and for giving me the reason and inspiration for ‘putting pen to paper’ or fingers to keyboard.
Blogging is all about the pleasure of sharing with a readership of willing volunteers. There is no major literary achievement in the art of blogging, but if you compare it with other social media (and I do confess to using them myself), there is a level of engagement which puts it in a class of its own.
Facebook is for chatterers, Twitter for witterers, and blogging is for…………..(enter your own appropriate description)? Communicators, perhaps?
I particularly enjoy my engagement with readers when I’m on one of my cycling expeditions. As a solo traveller, sometimes trekking through open empty landscapes, to be in contact with people thousands of miles away, and from the confines of my little tent, never ceases to be a wonderment to me. Not surprisingly, it is also when I engage with the greatest number of readers. Many, many people have a thirst for adventure, and if their circumstances prevent them from sallying forth themselves, from kitting out their bikes or donning their rucksacks, they love to do it vicariously by reading about the adventures of others. That’s what I love doing in my ‘down time’. And through the medium of the blog, you can get first-hand experiences from people as they are engaged in their adventures. That’s the power of the internet.
In the wider field of blogging, this blog is very much a minor player, but I have still had the benefit of over 29,000 hits in 2013, with one post in particular (No bluffing……… this is the end) attracting 348 hits. If you have been a regular (or even occasional) visitor, thank you. Your company has been very much appreciated.
It now remains for me to wish you a happy and adventure-filled 2014. And if you really want to know……. yes I am planning a couple of cycling adventures in the coming year. Watch this space……
So, if you ride a bike…….happy pedalling, and may the wind be (nearly) always at your back!
One or two of you may have wondered at the lack of activity on this web page in recent days. Well, let me recount a true story with a salutary lesson……. of course, it happened to me.
A few weeks ago, I was preparing my laptop and projector to give a slide presentation of my cycle ride Down Under. I had an expectant audience waiting for the start. I had checked that all leads were connected, the PowerPoints were functioning normally, and the Windows Media file of music was set to play at the appropriate moment. All was working as expected, and I was about to indicate to the assembled audience that I was ready to start……… then:
“The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft a-gley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief and pain, for promis’d joy” (Robert Burns).
My laptop crashed……. not just temporarily, but terminally (hence the lack of activity on this blog). I spent twenty minutes trying to re-boot the blasted thing, but absolutely no response. The prospect before me was either to bail out completely, or to fill the whole hour with words only. I thought to myself: the committed professional would never bail out, but then they weren’t paying me (so bail out!). The expert wordsmith would be able to paint word pictures (but then, I am not a wordsmith). I finally asked myself: am I really going to wimp out, or should I just take control of the situation and play down the importance of the technological lapse, and pretend it was only a minor inconvenience? What would you do?
In the end, I calmly pulled up a chair, sat down, meekly apologized for the delay and the lack of slides, and then proceeded to treat the whole hour like a fireside chat. I imagined the slides in my head as I pieced together the story: I was able to engage with the audience much more directly, respond to their questions and observations, and be much less tied to the sequencing imposed by a series of slides.
Thirty one years in the classroom had equipped me with the gift of “waffling”, and they liked it, apparently. For at the end they made a generous donation to the Syrian Appeal.
Message for me at the end? Well, first of all, go equipped with a plan B (ie. another device for showing slides). And secondly, it’s a mistake to think that your visuals carry the ultimate message. It’s you, the speaker, who carries the message. And interestingly, I didn’t see a single pair of drooping eyelids in the audience (a common factor in slideshows…..powerpoints do provide a trigger that sends listeners off to the land of nod).
So now I write this post on a new Windows Surface, having spent a couple of weeks familiarizing myself with the game-changing software of Windows 8…………..hey ho…..
I have to say, if it hadn’t been for the excellent guidance from a neighbour, and my earnest need to solve a technology issue on my last cycling expedition (New Zealand and Australia), I probably would never have entered the world of smartphones.
My day-to-day need for a mobile phone is very limited. Like many, I carry one around for convenience and safety. Only a handful of people know my number, so I expect few calls. However, in my quest to keep my luggage super-light on the bike, I jumped into the smartphone environment and, to my surprise, I found I could (learn to) do all the things I needed to do on this tiny hand-held device: email, blog, facebook, skype, take photos, read e-books, use GPS, send SMS texts, surf the net, listen to the radio, catch up with the news headlines…….. In fact, though
called a smartphone, the least useful facility turned out to be the phone itself……..
Many of the great mysteries of modern communication can be solved by the burgeoning App market. It would seem that, whatever you want to do in life, there will be some App to provide a solution. Although ‘Latitude’ is now a ‘retired’ facility on Google, my wife could track me on my journey on the sub-continent via this layer in Google Maps. When my phone was connected to 3G, she could see where I was (though a margin of error was detected when, one night, she thought I was somewhere offshore!).
From the tiny confines of my tent, in a remote corner of New Zealand, if I could pick up a 3G signal, I could communicate with the world. And it required no more than the touch of an App to call up my blog and write the day’s post; to open Facebook and catch up on the latest messages; to open Google Maps and find my way to a friend’s house in Sydney; to log on to the BBC and read the news headlines, and get a weather report for the following few days. Instead of carrying books, I connected my phone to my Kindle archive; with a built-in camera I could take photos and directly upload them to my blog or Facebook; and with WiFi connection, I could Skype home without incurring any cost.
For those of you long-distance bike riders who feel bereft if you aren’t carrying (in addition to a smartphone) a netbook, GPS, SLR camera and MP3 player, with all the required leads and transformers, learn to detach yourselves and have faith in that small hand-held device that goes
with you everywhere. You will experience a surprising level of liberation.
And if you have a challenge with a local language, the Google Translate App has VOP (Voice over protocol) which allows you to say something in English and will provide a written version of what you say in the foreign language. Though frequently inaccurate in its detail, it should be readily understood by any sympathetic listener. Try it. It is surprisingly good.
Somethings go together perfectly: cheese and wine, chocolate and orange, cycling and downhill……. Somethings, on the other hand, do not make a perfect partnership: politics and religion (?), drinking and driving, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry……..
Out on my morning ride today, I came across a startling revelation: some cyclists actually smoke!!! How does that work, I wondered……?
I saw a group ahead of me standing by the side of the road and, thinking they had suffered a mishap, I stopped to ask the if everything was OK. Then I noticed that two of the four riders were actually puffing away on cigarettes…..by the side of the road…..wearing club lycra……..holding onto nice carbon bikes……..looking to all intents and purposes like serious club riders…….and the other two were indulging their companions with their patience. Now, this got me wondering. Do cycling and smoking really go together?Well, do you recognize this gentleman? Yes, the famous Eddy Merckx, known in the cycling world as The Cannibal. Some would contend he was the greatest cyclist of all time. Maybe he knew something about the oxygenating properties of tobacco……… Obviously there was a time in history when the power of the weed was understood better than it is now……. and the guy crouching down in the second row wanted to be included in the promotional shot as well!And being a tandem rider myself, it’s good to know that the famous Player’s brand of yesteryear even had the welfare of twosomes in mind, when the company’s scientists beavered away behind closed doors to make their product not only a legal stimulant in the cycling world, but a desirable health product.
And if you still don’t believe me that Eddy Merckx smoked, here’s another promo he did….and contemporaries at the time will vouch that, at the end of a race, he would regularly light up as part of his recovery from the stresses and strains of the day.
Walter Raleigh…..you have much to answer for! But we do thank you for the potato.