Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Flaxen at Bay

Jack, Ted, and Rowan say hello

After today New Zealand enters 'Alert Status 4'. Severe restrictions are in place and normal life and routine, as we know it, become, no more. These are unprecedented times and therefore it is difficult to predict how this situation will pan out, eventually.

As I write my immediate family, with one exception, are sequestered on the homestead. This includes Mrs. S; my daughter and her brood of two daughters (9years and 10months) and my daughter's partner. For now, my son and his girlfriend have decided to stay in Wellington city, although this may change. They are both welcome to stay with us and as we live in a four-bed single-story home we should be fine. 

Work: normally I would work Monday and Tuesday, staying overnight Monday, with the boss. This arrangement is no longer tenable and instead, I'll work one long day (12 hours). Normally I catch the train to windy Wello, but for various reasons, I'm going to eschew this mode of transport. Consequently, I'll drive to and from work in one day which takes about four hours all told. I'll make up my hours working from home. One of our bedrooms is utilised as a study and so I'll be able to disengage from the family and family activities in order to obtain some peace and quiet. Clearly, this arrangement is not ideal but in the circumstances, it seems the best plan.

At the weekend a fellow archer came to the property to try out several different bow types. After some deliberation, he has decided to purchase a trilaminate English longbow with horn nocks. This is one of our more expensive bows and as the archer has paid upfront I'm sure he would like to obtain this wonderful specimen of the bowyers art as soon as possible. Posting the bow is out the question currently so it looks like I will have to transport the item personally. Not too much a problem as he lives about 40 minutes away by car. 

I stated in an earlier post that I would be attempting to pen an article concerning the 'Corona Virus' from a technical and scientific perspective. Hopefully, I'll find time to start writing today and a finished piece will be ready and posted within a few days. Therefore, gather, be watchful, and await with bated breath the fruits of my endeavours as specified within the framework of the space-time paradigm and continuum.       

Monday, 23 March 2020


With just over 100 confirmed COVID-19 cases, New Zealand is about to enter 'Alert Status 4'. As from Wednesday the country will, for all intents of purposes, close down. None essential services will cease and none essential shops and outlets will close. Travel will be restricted and folk are asked to self-isolate as far as is possible.

On the home front: Flaxen Hall has gone into lockdown. The family has gathered and we will hunker down (I may be the exception) until normality resumes. The powers that be reckon that we will stay at status 4 for at least a month. After four weeks the situation will be reviewed. Extreme measures for extreme times. The plan is that viral transmission will be choked out, or more realistically, the infection rate will be reduced thus preventing the swamping of hospitals and ancillary services. And let us not forget the medical staff.

On the work front: already the laboratory staff have been split into two separate teams. Team One works Monday to Wednesday, while Team Two takes over on Thursday and continues to cover  Friday and Saturday. Each team puts in a 10 hour day. As I only work two days a week I have been unaffected by the new regimen. I suspect the plan will continue for now, although in the future our role as geneticists may change as staff members become sick, samples numbers decline and we are required to take on ancillary roles within the health service. It has already been mooted that we may become involved in COVID-19 testing. As far as I can see, testing is relatively simple and we have the necessary analytical machinery on site. Furthermore, we may be called upon to perform mundane, but highly important tasks, such as general orderly duties- only time will tell.

We certainly live in interesting times. So, to all my readers: keep well and look after each other.    

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Corona Virus Update

Okay, I'm willing to admit that I may have been a tad optimistic about this Corona virus thingy- me bad/mad. Although I still think that overreaction by the ill-informed public together with irrational behaviour and sheep mentality is still our biggest issue. 

As for toilet rolls: The hoarding of toilet rolls is a behaviour that frankly baffles me. As a lad, I made do with newspaper. True, tis a little rough and not as absorbent as the fluffy scented stuff that currently assails anal orifices and environs, but it has the added bonus that when you photocopy your arse you not only have a facsimile of your nether bits, but you can also catch up on the news. By the way, the Romans used a sponge tied to a stick. Could catch on: please ensure the sponge is securely attached to prevent loss. It might send you into a state of permanent ecstasy. 

Politicians are fools, for the most part, and so it seems are their advisors. Sadly, those attracted to a life of politics are usually unfit to serve for several reasons, but mainly because they are not very smart. First-class intellects are not attracted to this sort of thing.

Anyway, we haven't quite got to the urine drinking stage, yet, although in truth I've been drinking mine for years. Follow prudent advice and in the immortal words of Lance Corporal Jack Jones, "Don't panic".

I've added a link to a YouTube video. It is from a UK doctor and his sage advice is well worth assimilating.  

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Parish Notice II: Black Dog

It may be known to my regulars, especially those who notice this sort of thing, that my postings have become sparse of late. This is due to a mundane cause and effect: I have been struggling with my physical and mental  (no shit, Flaxen) wellbeing of late. Luckily I have a wonderful, loving and supportive family that dispense succour and love, in measures commensurate with normality.  This is important as my grip/grasp on 'normal' is tenuous at best and sometimes I lose traction and descend into frank madness.

As things stand, I have not been infected with dat pesky coronavirus and if so afflicted I'm likely to survive as I have no comorbid factors contributing and abetting to my premature demise. That said, there is nothing certain in life, except death.

I am laying myself bare on my blog, as for the most part, I am conversing with strangers. I couldn't have this 'conversation' at work. Although my colleagues are well aware of my eccentricities, I endeavour to put on an air of professionalism. At times, the 'Black Hound' must remain in the pack. Ain't dat the sad truth.

Anyway, with time and perhaps a modicum of prescription medication, normal service will resume, unless it doesn't. 

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Corona Virus

Virus of DOOM?
I would just like to share some brief thoughts and opinions on the coronavirus outbreak. Also, I would like to follow up with a post discussing the scientific aspects of the outbreak, such as genetics, modes of transmission and the laborious search for a vaccine. Although I am not a microbiologist, I do have some knowledge of viral biology and I think I should be able to comment, in a reasonably competent manner, at least on the biological aspects of the outbreak.

Since the virus's discovery in Wuhan, China (December 2019), the disease has travelled widely throughout the world. It appears to be highly contagious and produces pneumonia-like symptoms. The death rate has been 'determined' at about 1.4% to 2% and fatalities are mostly among the old and the already sick- as to be expected. This may represent an overestimate as about 80% of infected patients have relatively mild symptoms and may be unaware of their coronavirus infection thus assuming that they are suffering from a traditional cold or flu infection.

Globalisation and ubiquitous international travel are clearly responsible for the virus's rapid dissemination from mainland China. In addition, we have become acutely aware and primed for a pandemic by the 'scientific media'. The consensus is that a significant viral pandemic is inevitable given enough time. Several pandemic scares have occurred over the past 20 years (SARS, etc) and although these viral diseases have been considered as potentially catastrophic, this has not turned out to be the case.

While I think government agencies have a duty to their citizens to report truthfully concerning the impact of the virus on health and society in general, it also has a responsibility not to foster a climate of 'gloom and doom'. There is a tendency to assume a posture of the 'worst-case scenario' and the media, for reasons of its own, are not always motivated to promulgate an even-handed or fact-based reportage.

I do not advocate complacency or foster a nonchalant attitude to a serious medical challenge but we are not dealing with the black death. The impact of the virus should always be considered within a medical context where death and disease are commonplace. Taking the US as an example: influenza has killed about 18,000 people this flu season; 30 million have been infected and 310,000 hospitalised. There are already reports of people overacting. In Auckland, New Zealand, a single case caused mass buying hysteria in local supermarkets. I do hear tell that the popular bottled beer, 'Corona' has experienced a recent downturn in sales of 30%! C'mon folks, let us be sensible, measured and rational.     

Anyway, I would be interested to hear what my readers think of the situation. In the meantime, I will get to work on a science-based article.     

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Helmets of the Great War

A cornucopia of helms or mayhap a menagerie?

At the opening of the Great War, in August 1914, all warring nations went into combat wearing cloth, leather or felt helmets. The Germans wore the distinctive boiled leather, pickelhaube, resplendent with a decorative spike. After the great battles of maneuver in the summer and autumn of 1914, the war settled into its distinctive pattern of static trench conflict. It was soon noticed by all combatants that their soldiery was suffering greatly from head wounds, mostly fatal, from exploding shells. Even the cover of the trenches offered no protection from shells designed to burst in flight, thus delivering a deluge of death from above. The answer, of course, was to design a metal helmet to deflect and absorb shell splinters and ball from shrapnel shells. The French in 1915 introduced a metal skull cap designed to fit under the cloth kepi. This was a stop-gap solution and it was clear that a more rigorously engineered helmet was required.

Both the German and British armies in 1915 were considering how to protect their soldier’s heads. Both nations took a lead from medieval designs. The British copied the ‘kettle’ style helm beloved by English archers during the ‘100 years’ war with France. The Germans took their inspiration from the late medieval sallet style of headwear. Each design had strengths and weaknesses as discussed below. It is a common misconception that the helmets were designed to be immune to rifle fire; this was not the case. A helm manufactured to stop rifle bullets would have been too heavy and cumbersome for practical battle use. Helmets were primarily designed to resist low-velocity shell fragments and clods thrown up from air and ground bursting ordinance.

British ‘Brodie’ Helmet
The Brodie helmet was issued to British troops in time for the great Somme offensive of July 1916. It consisted of a shallow bowl with a simple extended rim. It was designed to provide maximum protection from air bursts and in this regard, it worked rather well. The open design also allowed good all-round vision and hearing was not impeded. The helmet was easy to stamp out from a single sheet of metal and was inexpensive to produce. However, because of its open design, it provided little protection from munitions arriving from the front, sides, and back. Paradoxically, it was noticed that the number of head wounds actually increased fivefold after the introduction of the helmet. Some thought that the helmets emboldened the men to think they were invulnerable to head trauma and therefore were exposing themselves unnecessarily. There was even a move afoot, from high, to discard the helmets altogether. But, luckily for the men, wise heads prevailed, especially among those with a sound grounding in statistics and it was quickly realised that this vexed anomaly was due to the helmet providing effective protection from head wounds as soldiers without helmets were unlikely to survive a shrapnel wound to the head. The helmet, even if it did not completely stop the projectile, at least lessened the damage caused.

Brodie Helmet

German 'Stahlhelm'
The Germans adopted a helmet designed to provide maximum protection from incoming projectiles. The dome of the helmet was deep and leaves of metal sloped down across the sides and front. Also, the helmet was extended at the nape of the neck. Due to the stahlhelm's enclosed construction, both hearing and vision were restricted to some degree. The helmet underwent various degrees of modification during the interwar years and the Second World War to alleviate these problems. Characteristically German, the helm was over-engineered and because of its complex shape was time-consuming to manufacture and relatively expensive. The side horns on the Great War helmets enabled the fixing of an additional front plate. This plate was usually issued to snipers and was supposedly proof against rifle fire. The carapace adornment was not issued to general troops due to its weight and cumbersome nature.

Stahlhelm modeled by a pesky Hun

French ‘Adrian’ Helmet
The French Adrian helmet was the first effective head protector to be introduced by the combatants. The design was apparently inspired by the French fireman’s helmet (oo la la, missus). The helmet was composed of a deep bowl with two separate brim pieces welded into position. To the front, a riveted cap badge was introduced and on the top, a metal comb was attached, again with rivets. The helmet was light and the metal thin in comparison to British and German helmets. The holes for the rivets introduced weak spots and compromised the integrity of the helmet. The peaks to front and back provided decent protection to the nape and upper face however, the sides were woefully unprotected. Also, the helmet was complex to make and involved riveting and welding multiple pieces. Therefore, the design was expensive and difficult to manufacture. Later in the war, the French acknowledged the inherent weakness of the front badge adornment and replaced it with a simple painted emblem. To sum up: the helmet was typically French and owed more to style than functionality.

Adrian Helmet

All types of helmet had an internal webbing structured for adjustment. The webbing was designed to leave a space between the wearer’s head and the helmet. This reflected sound practice and prevented dings and dents from impinging on the soldier’s delicate bonce.

In conclusion: The British helmet could be considered the best trench helmet as it provided excellent protection from projectiles raining from above. However, due to its lack of side and back protection, it was less efficient than the German stahlhelm in open combat. The French helm provided the least protection of the three designs because of the thin metal used and design weaknesses. The best, all-round helmet, in my opinion, was the German stahlhelm and it is a testament to the helm’s efficiency that modern combat helmets contain many features of the original German design.

Friday, 21 February 2020

Crony Virus: Part I

As I negotiate the highways and byways of the great metropolis of Tipton I am often accosted by random drunk folk asking for 20 quid in order that they can indulge their culinary appetite at Mr. Wong’s authentic donner kebab house and exotic disease centre. I look askance and in abject horror berate accordingly: “Have you not heard of the crony virus. A disease so virulent that it can species hop from a ferret to man and back to a slug in a single afternoon. A contagion so contagious that you can become infected simply by looking askance at the virus in a crowded room. A virus so deadly that once it clamps onto your writhing moist organs, you lose all violation of bowel movements and collapse in a disgruntled heap of bubbling ichor. And didn’t you know that Mr. Wong's kebab and rat rescue emporium is a seething hotbed of riotous organisms awaiting a billet to inhabit in order to fester/foster bodily havoc”.

The object of my distilled and disgruntled wisdom usually scurries off with alacrity to find solace in the arms of the local ‘lady of the night’, ten Gilda Hilda. So gentle readers here is Flaxen Saxon’s take on this ‘crony problem’ that skulks and hulks amongst the good folk of Tipton. Take heed and be cognisant.

The virus first alighted and emerged in Tipton after the 8.30pm 127 bus (Birmingham to Tipton, via Smethwick and Coleshill) careened/careered into the local midden pit. The calamitous calamity stirred up detritus and debris that had lain hidden and unbidden in the midden for 1,200 years. An elder virus that had slumbered for a millennium suddenly awoke as if from a slumber (it had been asleep). The virus’ first stop was the Birmingham to Dudley canal. Here it picked its way through the dead dogs and moldy perambulators til it espied (metaphorically speaking- viral particles lack sense organs) the indigenous, itinerant denizen of these parts: ‘Filthy Eric’ (for it is he). At this time ‘our Eric’ happened to be engaged in scraping off the patina from his bespattered and encrusted sundry underwear and dispatching the resultant crud into the foaming, broiling grime besmirched waters that comprise/compose the canals of Tipton. Our intrepid viral particle wafted upon the prevailing Tipton wind and hereby inculcated into Eric’s exposed nether bits and once ensconced began to replicate akimbo........

The virus first became prevalent in Tipton during the 9th century. At the time Tipton was ruled by the unlearned Saxon king: Athelstan ‘The Unready’. This was a time of war and famine and the kingdom of Tipton was gripped in a deadly conflict with the adjacent kingdom of Dudlleeee on Canal. It was whispered on the wind that the crony virus was introduced into the kingdom by a wandering band of gypos. These begrimed, filthy, dirty, scum laden thieving bastards harboured a host, nay a retinue of disease organisms, including impetigo of the kneecaps and scrofula. But it was the crony virus that decimated the good burghers of Tipton. The Tiptonites in order to rid themselves of the pestilent gypos hatched a cunning plan. For it was spread amongst the gypos that a cascade of scrap iron, and the occasional ferret, was about to be dropped awf at the local midden pit. And so the gypos rushed en masse to the midden pit to forage ferrous and ferrets as is their wont. Once the gypos were ensconced and distracted by the shiny iron and the occasional ferret athwart their pantaloons, the thegns of Tipton fell upon them in a frenzy and smote every gypo that tarried in the midden pit, that day. King Athelstan dispatched four score and ten gypos with his mighty sword, ‘Arse, big fat arse, biter’. While his brother Nigel did account for a further fifty gypos with a mighty swing of his double-headed Dane axe, ‘Twat cruncher’. The blood did rage and the blood did spill forming rivulets of crimson clot that soaked/cloaked the midden pit in a sheath of retribution. Afterward, the Tiptonites, satiated and sanguine, heaped the gypo corpses on the midden pit and set fire to the foul vile carrion in an orgy of conflagration. It was hoped that the virus had been vanquished from the land but little did the Tiptonites know that the virus was hibernating and awaiting a more propitious epoch to release its seeds of doom and dread........

To be continued...

Medication is overrated.