Hostage to Fortune

The month is half gone and the Central England Temperature is currently on track to set a new record for the hottest January since 1659.

The forecast isn’t looking too cold either.

Who would have thought, eh?

Age Truth

As I was walking into town this morning, past the frosty grass, and the carnival of ice destruction at Inverleith Pond, I came to wondering about my age, the passage of time, the inevitability of death, the heat-death of the universe and how to tell truthfully my age to an appropriate level of precision, if asked.

It is not a lie that I am in my 30s, but it is not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I’m more accurately in my late-30s, but, even then, that contains something of a deception.

I’m really in my late-late-30s.

I then realised that recently I moved from being in my early-late-late-30s to being in my mid-late-late-30s. This happened so recently that I’m in my early-early-early-mid-late-late-30s. Though now that I’m doing this I feel it necessary to be as precise as possible (without asking my mother what time of day I was born).

I’m in my late-early-early-early-mid-late-late-30s.

While that is much more accurate than saying I’m in my late-30s, it’s interesting that all those “early”‘s in there make it sound so much less old than it should do. So that’s misleading too. Interesting.


The old people are coming

I heard the news recently that the 77-year old Michael Bloomberg was joining the 77-year old Joe Biden, the 78-year old Bernie Sanders and the 70-year old Elizabeth Warren in the contest to decide who will be the Democratic nominee in the Presidential election to defeat the incumbent, 74-year old Donald Trump, and I wondered where all the American politicians in their 50s and 60s had disappeared, that none of them are now part of this process?

Then I was distracted from answering this question by the realisation that, by the end of this year, everyone in their 50s and 60s will have been born in the 1950s and 1960s and that seems like an incredibly unusual occurrence. So, someone who was born in 1950, would this year be turning 69, and anyone who is this year turning 50 will have been born in 1969. Isn’t that quite the thing?

Meanwhile, in Britain, a recent ICM opinion poll for the impending general election puts Labour level with the Tories on 38% among those working full-time, ahead by 41%-35% for part-time workers, 42%-30% for those not working (but of working age), and 72%-7% for students, but 59%-15% behind for those retired (or 64%-12% for those aged 65+).

Overall that leaves Labour behind by 34%-41% and the oldies seem likely to get their way. It’s an incredible divide between the generations, and no good can come of it. This seems, as far as I can tell, to be a relatively recent phenomenon. We can calculate how much more strongly people aged 65+ support the Tories by comparing support in the 65+ age group to the overall figures. For the ICM poll cited above the Tory lead is 52pp in the 65+ age group, and 7pp overall, so they are 45pp stronger with oldies than on average. I can do the same with past general elections using Ipsos-MORI post-election “How Britain Voted” polls, and this produces the following figures.

General Election Year Oldie Bias To Vote Tory
1987 +3
1992 +6
1997 +8
2001 +10
2005 +9
2010 +6
2015 +17
2016* +24
2017 +33
2019 +45**

* This figure is for the Brexit Referendum where I’ve treated Leave as being Tory and Remain being Labour, which seems reasonable in terms of the overall pattern.
** This is taken from the ICM poll cited above, and may change before election day.


From datawrapper

There’s a silly little quote that goes around, that seems to be incorrectly attributed to any number of people, that is something along the lines of, “If a person is not a socialist at age 20 then they have no heart; if they are still a socialist at 40 then they have no head,” which might make one expect the dramatic divide we see in the later figures, but what I find most striking is how modest the divide was in the earlier years – it was only +6 in 2010.

Something very dramatic has happened to produce this divide. I’m tempted to attribute it to the way in which austerity was implemented in Britain. With the exception of the cuts to social care, the older generation were generally protected. Wages were held down, benefits were cut, but pension increases were guaranteed and house prices supported.

Perhaps there is something more psychological at play, as we become accustomed to a time when people are more pessimistic about the future, the young may be more inclined to more radical changes, and the old may be more inclined to hold on to what they have, even if that is little.

It seems like something important that is worth understanding. And then, hopefully, changing.

How Britain Voted sources:
2016 (YouGov in this case)

Jammy Devils

Jammy Devils, from Nanny Ogg’s cookbook are delicious. They’re a bit like jam tarts, but there’s less jam and the pastry case is much more substantial, more biscuity, slightly cakey and has jam rippled through it.

I really like jam, so I should really like jam tarts, but I much prefer jammy devils. I think it’s because jam tarts are not far removed from simply eating jam direct from the jar, but eating jam from the jar is so much less trouble. There’s a bit more to jammy devils that differentiates them from the direct method of jam-eating.

I was feeling too tired to bake this afternoon, but D reminded me of my intention to do so and then I felt obligated to follow through. I’m sure I will feel glad of doing so in due course, but right now my feet hurt.

They might look a little burnt, but they are delicious.

Sea-Ice Trends

It can be really easy to be distracted by the noise in a set of data. A great set of charts for looking at the day-to-day changes in the Arctic Sea-Ice is maintained by Neven, and I often find myself checking this on a daily basis. Fun as it is to follow the weather-driven ups and downs of the sea-ice, I decided that I wanted to create a chart that would remind me of the bigger picture: the inexorable, global-warming driven decline in sea-ice.


The Shipping Forecast

I am listening to the Shipping Forecast. I am willing on the person reading it. They are really struggling and are about to lose their voice. She makes it to the end!

And then she says this.

“Apologies for my voice at the moment, it appears to be leaving me, a bit early in the day.”



A “reader” writes:

My wife says that I sound like Sir Digby Chicken Caesar, a character from the superlative “A Mitchell and Webb Look”. Should I be concerned?


Cake or Death 6: Chocolate Almond Macaroons vs Death by Euphoria

Oh lordy. I’ve moved, which means that I’ve been filling my days with packing and throwing out stuff. I have managed to fit the odd bit of cake vs death action in, but the documentation has fallen by the wayside. Now I start to catch up on another chance to choose between cake, or death!

Those who forget what this ridiculousness is about will find out soon enough…

The Cake


Chocolate Almond Macaroons, by Linda Collister (p64, chocolate).

These macaroons are one of my favourite recipes. In the recipe it is intended to make a sort of chocolate truffle and sandwich two of the macaroons together, but I’ve never gone to that level of effort, finding that one macaroon is quite sufficient as it is. This might be related to the quantity of almond essence that I add, somewhat in excess of that recommended, making these macaroons more about the taste of almond than as as a chocolate sandwiching device.

This time I did experiment by following the directions in the recipe to flatten out the macaroons before baking for half of my macaroons. This produced macaroons that were more crunchy, and perhaps biscuit-like, than those I normally produce, which have a slightly gooey and chewy centre.

Everyone preferred my way.

The Death

Death by Euphoria

Given the sugar content of these macaroons, and their blissful taste, it might be thought that they would be involved. But, oh no. This death is generally about using pharmaceuticals to create uber-humans, but positing the scenario whereby such uber-humans will become so immune to anything unpleasant, by using pharmaceuticals to effectively wish such feelings away, that society will sort of disappear in a haze of not being bothered.

I found this chapter genuinely scary.

In many respects this future is here already, and there’s immense societal pressure to use pharmaceuticals to overcome temporary physical or mental weakness. The adverts for stimulants such as red bull, or even lemsip, are quite chilling when you consider the sorts of mind-meddling drugs that are on the horizon.

Cake or Death – what is your choice?

Cake or Death 5: Candidate Number Two vs Terrorism

I still have cake left that I baked at the weekend so it’s another chance to choose between cake, or death!

After this edition of cake-or-death I am up to date, so I’m open to suggestions for the cake to welcome D and R with next weekend.

The Cake


Candidate Number Two, attempting to recreate my mother’s carrot cake.

I have certain vivid memories from my childhood. Crawling through the long grass of our back garden, pretending that our cat was a tiger and we were in a jungle. Being scolded by my mother for trying to argue that a “couple of biscuits” might mean three. Running into my bedroom in the evening for fear of something in the darkness leading to the attic behind me, and rushing to close the curtains to banish the Cylons in the window. And my mother’s carrot cake. Dense. Dark. Carrotty. Completely devoid of walnuts, cream cheese frosting, or all the other daft things that afflict every single carrot cake recipe I have subsequently been able to find.

My mother doesn’t have the recipe she once used, and barely remembers the cake to which I refer. And so I am bound to a quest, to iterate upon a recipe until I reach one that matches my idealised memory. This is candidate number two in that quest, and it goes like this:

225g butter creamed with
half as much sugar to which add
2 beaten eggs
225g grated carrot
225g wholemeal flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
half tsp ground nutmeg

Unsurprisingly I messed up again and completely forgot to add any baking powder. Duh. It was baked at 160C (in a fan oven, so 180C otherwise) for one and a quarter hours. Once the excess butter had dripped off, and it had matured for a couple of days, it really wasn’t that bad.

It’s really interesting that the cake is now tastier to eat, on day four, then on the day it was fresh from the oven. Leaving out baking powder wasn’t such a terrible plan, the density is good, but I think in the next iteration I will add just a little. There is too much butter/not enough of the other ingredients. The smell of the spices was really exciting when I took the cake out of the oven, but I can’t taste them in the cake. Is there enough carrot? I’m not sure…

The Death


The risk of death here comes from terrorists constructing a nuclear dirty bomb, or a chemical/biological device for killing either a large number of people, or creating vast amounts of panic and disruption. Once again scientists are cast as the bad guys:

… it only takes a competent chemist to create vats of a toxic nerve agent, and there are plenty of competent chemists in the world… If the question is whether a dirty bomb will one day go off somewhere, spreading radiological, chemical or biological material, then the answer has to be yes. It only takes a patient, skilled scientist to prepare the equipment and the active ingredient.

However, Alok Jha concludes that this is a death that doesn’t have the potential to bring about the end of civilization. And that is undoubtedly correct. Civilization can survive vast industrial wars, so even scientifically-trained terrorists can’t put it at threat. Still, if a scientist you know starts to show an unhealthy interest in caesium-137, castor oil production, smallpox, anthrax (and light aircraft) or botulinum (and milk) it might be worth baking some cake while you still can.

Cake or Death – what is your choice?

Cake or Death 4: St Clements Meringue Pie vs Mutually Assured Destruction

It was another weekend, and thus another chance to choose between cake, or death!

This instalment of cake-related decision making happened some time ago, but I was so upset by my pie that I delayed writing about the experience.

The Cake


St Clements Meringue Pie, from Perfect Cooking by Marguerite Patten.

This isn’t the first time. My meringue pies have gone wrong before. The recipe states: “Stir over a gentle heat until thickened.” Either I’m not patient enough, my heat is too gentle, or my cornflour is defective because it never thickens. This then means it is fiendishly difficult to plonk the meringue on top, because it just wants to sink into the runny fluid underneath. This time, worse was to come.

Clumsily, I managed to spill much of the runny liquid onto the floor as I was placing the pie into the oven. I spent ages over that runny liquid! It just went over the floor!

It was still tasty. And the pastry in this recipe is fantastic. But, the disappointment. The regrets. I have unfinished business here.

The Death

Mutually Assured Destruction

Lots of nuclear weapons. Everyone dies. Except they don’t – surely nobody would be that mad! Oh, well, all sorts of people have nukes now, and some of them are definitely mad. And possibly not many nukes would be enough to finish us off, because of the dust, leading to a nuclear winter. The scientists said so.

Did I mention that the scientists are evil. Evil! Alok Jha really seems to not like scientists. He says:

Once the principle of this devastating bomb had been demonstrated, however, it was only a matter of time before scientists around the world would want to come up with their own versions.

Uh-huh. So, nuclear proliferation is entirely the fault of scientists wanting to play with their nuclear physics toys, and nothing whatsoever to do with power games by dictators, military leaders and politicians with a liberal arts education.

Cake or Death – what is your* choice?

* I think I’m leaning to Death this time, because I’m a scientist and I’m evil! Also, the pie was so disappointing…