Saturday 28 October 2017

Where are the little green men?

Feeling a bit off colour today
This post is the first in a series of posts concerning our universe. I've always had a deep abiding fascination for the cosmos, probably because it is impossible to grasp with a mere mortal brain. A select few of mankind, such as Einstein, Feynman, Hawkins, and Newton have been allowed to peek behind the veil. They can only convey what they see in a maelstrom of mathematic formulae; sadly, formulae, only they can understand.   

In 1961 an astronomer, Dr. Frank Drake, deduced a formula for calculating the existence of intelligent life in our own galaxy. The formula is very basic just a succession of simple terms. I don’t intend to consider the equation here as it will be dealt with in a future post. It makes a lot of assumptions, but even on a conservative estimate, it calculates that there should be 50,000,000 technological civilisations ‘out there’unless of course, the equation is not an accurate reflection of how the universe runs. Recent revisions of the formula suggest that this figure is a gross underestimate.

If we take a lower limit of 50,000,000 technological civilisations as a reasonable estimate we are left with the question, where are they? Or more to the point, why haven’t we detected their presence? I know some would argue that we already have and that UFO sightings are proof of alien life. I’m not convinced. The evidence to date for  UFOs being non-terrestrial is not compelling.

It is not as if we haven’t tried. The SETI Institute has been actively searching for intelligent life with detectors reaching out into the deepest regions of space and have come up blank. It is likely that a technological civilisation would give off electromagnetic radiation as a by-product of civilisation, even if they are not intentionally beaming their presence to other civilisations. The earth has been emitting radio waves into the cosmos for about 100 years. Those signals travelling at the speed of light could conceivably be monitored by a civilisation within that 100 light year radius (1 light year =8.9 trillion miles ). Another possibility is that we are in fact all alone in a cold, almost lifeless, universe? And if we are alone, why? The seeming paradox of the Drake equation and the absence of evidence of advanced life is known as the Fermi paradox, named after the physicist Enrico Fermi. Here are a few postulates as to why we may be alone and adrift in an uncaring universe……

No intelligent life
Biologists have concluded that the formation of life on a suitably primed planet with the right conditions is virtually inevitable. Remember life comes in many forms and does not necessarily equate to advanced intelligent life. Taking our own earth as an example: Earth has existed for 4.5 billion years. The first simple life emerged at about 3.5 billion years ago. For 2.5 billion years life remained very basic and mono-cellular. A single event in evolution produced a cell with a fundamental advantage. A primitive cell engulfed another cell for nutrition, but the cell resisted digestion and became incorporated within that cell and contributed to the cell’s metabolism. Today we can still see that primitive ingested cell within all advanced cells today- they are called mitochondria and act as the ‘power generator’ for the organism. Perhaps this chance event in evolution is exceedingly unlikely and without such an event advanced life cannot evolve. Thus the universe may well be teeming with life but not advanced life as we know it Jim. Is it conceivable that we are the only technological advanced species in the whole of the universe?

Intelligent life is exceedingly rare
Maybe intelligent life has existed in the universe, but currently, we are the only example. The universe has been around for 14 billion years. During this period civilisations may have come and gone. Maybe, most technological civilisations fizzle out because of nuclear war and/or over utilisation of resources. The universe can be a dangerous place. Planets can be sterilised or destroyed by cosmic events such as supernovae explosions, gamma ray bursts and large object impacts. A star going supernovae within 1,000 light years of the earth would be sufficient to destroy all higher life on earth. 

Broaden our horizons
Mayhap we are not looking in the right place or using the right search frequency. Our search parameters are very restricted and the universe is very large, perhaps infinitely so. Even if we are looking in the right part of the sky the detectors may not be tuned to the correct incoming frequency. Or maybe the signals have not reached us yet. The speed of light appears to be the fundamental speed limit of the universe. Even though electromagnetic wave propagation is blisteringly fast it would take information 100,000 years to cross our galaxy. A signal from our nearest galaxy, the Andromeda galaxy, would take at least 2.5 million years to reach us.       

Prime directive
Could it be that aliens are deliberately masking their presence? Perhaps they are operating a ‘Star Trek Prime Directive’. They could be leaving us alone and watching our development. The problem I think with this hypothesis is that communication is still restricted to light speed. To watch us they would have to be close. It is not inconceivable, I suppose, that highly advanced aliens have developed a means of communication and travel much faster than the speed of light, even though it would violate all known laws of the physical universe.   

Some argue, including Professor Steven Hawking, that it is a good thing that we haven’t established contact with alien beings. There is no reason to assume that they would be benign. They may be so advanced that they may view us as we view microbes. They might just ignore us or simply swat us as a minor irritation or impediment. They could be predatory and exploit our planet for resources and despoil all with impunity. If this proved to be the case then it is probably a good idea that we haven’t established contact. When humans groups come into contact with cultures less technology savvy than themselves, the ‘developing folk’ invariably suffer.   

One day, if we haven't destroyed our civilisation, we may be able to traverse vast interstellar distances and actually seek out other civilisations. Hopefully, we will be more technologically advanced in order that we may rob them of their precious commodities, enslave the population and make better lives for the dominant life form in the universe, US. 

That's more like it

Thursday 26 October 2017

Flaxen's Thursday Rant

Celebrity endorsements really tick me orrrf. The tele is swamped by 'D' rated celebs of yesteryear or ex-sportsmen gone to seed berating us to buy some bloody product or service on their gainsay. They drone on how bloody wonderful this item/service is and how they would purchase no other and how it has changed their lives.

You have got to ask why an ex-boxer or ‘star’ from a 70s soap opera should know anything about carpets, building homes or insurance. But there they are with toothy smiles that don’t quite reach their eyes and paunches and thinning hair, barely concealed. They exhort (nay hector) us to buy their favoured product and explain how it's superior to the competitor’s product, also, strangely enough, promoted by an ex ‘reality show celeb’, called Candice Marie. Remember her? NO. I have a vague recollection of a young vivacious Candice, whipping out her thruppnees in episode two of: I’m in a gypo encampment- get me out of here before they nick my gold fillings’. I’m starting to digress. 

One thing you have got to ask: why are ‘D listers’ waxing lyrical about a lacklustre product? Mayhap, they are so impressed that they decided to contact the company and beseech the CEO to help promote their product/service, for nowt. Or more likely they are being paid squidoogles of cash for cavorting 'on air' for our televisual delight. And who ultimately pays the endorsement fee?

I suppose the advertising model works, otherwise, companies wouldn’t bother with celebrity branding. Clearly, the association of a product with a barely literate boxer of yore works for some mug punters. For me, however, tis a reminder to look elsewhere and find a competitor who doesn’t employ 'celebrity endorsement' in order to secure the lowest priced, but equally serviceable, product.  Arrrrrrrssse.   

Monday 23 October 2017

Bow III: A Trilogy in Four Parts

Flagella Dei English Longbow in all its spirited glory

I was pleasantly surprised yesterday when my two bows ordered from Flagella Dei, Hungary turned up. I was hosting a Sunday BBQ at the time and have only just managed to have a close look at the bows.

As I recall, I ordered two self-bows in Osage Orange: an Old English longbow and a primitive, rustic, flat bow. I did indeed receive the longbow. The other bow, although a flat bow is not what I ordered. Instead, I received a tri-laminated, flat, longbow. Perhaps it was my mistake. Anyway, I can't complain. Both bows are stunningly beautiful to behold (beauty is in the eye of the bow holder) and look very well made.

I've only managed to string up the flat bow, as yet. I tried it out this morning and once I got used to the bow I was able to repeatedly hit a 20cm square target at 20 metres. The bow is 74 inches long with a draw weight of 46 pounds at 29 inches. The bow shoots smooth and there is virtually no hand shock. I'm comfortable with a 46-pound draw weight as this is roughly comparable to my compound bow. Also, I'm used to shooting an Asiatic bow at 55 pounds so I'm hoping that the English longbow, at 64 pounds, will not be too much of a challenge.

I've not had a chance to string up the English longbow. The string supplied has only one loop and I need to learn how to tie a 'bowyer's hitch' on the un-looped end before I string up this bow.

So first impressions: I'm very impressed. Both bows appear to be well made, quality products. I paid $NZ480 for the bows and paid an additional $NZ100 for import charges. So altogether, I've paid $NZ580 for two traditional type bows. Could I have bought a superior quality product, elsewhere? Well, yes. If I were prepared to pay $NZ1,200 for a bespoke longbow made by a master craftsman. While I would love to own an English longbow, fashioned in Yew and made by master bowyer, there is no way I could justify paying this sort of money on a bow. I can afford it but my wife thinks it a waste of money and she doesn't grasp the inherent beauty in a well-made bow. As I own ten bows currently, she may have a point. I'm an obsessive and highly focussed man by nature and require reigning in on the odd occasion. If left to my own devices my world would quickly spin into unrestrained chaos and madness. My wife is the sensible one and prevents me from leaving the real world of mundane inanity to one of hectic insanity. Ain't dat the sad truth?   

Final words: At this price point you would find it hard, nay impossible, to find a similar quality product. I would certainly order from the company, again. Next time I would like an Asiatic war bow in the Hun or Scythian style. And yes, I still hanker after the rustic, self-bow in Osage Orange. Psst, don't tell the missus.       

Nice looking bow and well shooting bow
The one that got away. Self bow, Osage Orange, primitive flat bow 

Friday 20 October 2017

Tis all about YOU

What are the chances of YOU being born? This is not just a speculative question, but an empirical question which can be answered, albeit roughly, with simple analytical mathematics. Before I start I need to make an important assumption: everyone born, past and present, have a unique consciousness based on their genetic makeup. I don’t want to get sidetracked by a discussion of what is, or how we define human consciousness, fascinating as the topic may be.

It is not unreasonable to consider each human to have a particular unique consciousness. We know that identical twins are ‘genetically identical’ and yet each twin has its own conscious identity and reality. This is not strictly true as identical twins will differ in the realm of gene expression due to the mechanism of epigenetics. Again, I don’t have the space to consider the fascinating world of epigenetics- perhaps in a future post?

Firstly, let us consider the probability of say, your mother and father actually meeting. I’m going to have to fudge this a little as every case will differ with regards to probability. I’ll, for the sake of gross simplicity, assume that the odds of your father and mother actually meeting are 1 in 20,000 and say the chances of them liking each other and producing issue (ie you) is 1 in 2,000. You can argue that this is pure guesswork and you would be right. This part of the equation is the most inaccurate, but as you will see, it will have only a small bearing on the rest of the calculation.
Thus far we have a probability of 20,000 x 2,000 = 40,000,000 (forty million). But this is only the beginning.

For you to be you, a specific egg melding with a specific sperm is required. Each sperm and egg is genetically unique due to a biological process called meiosis. A normal man will produce about 12 trillion sperm in his reproductive lifetime and a fertile woman harbours 100,000 eggs or ova. We need to take into account that men are fertile throughout post-pubertal life while a woman stops ovulating when she hits the menopause. For the sake of this calculation, I'm going to say that a third of the sperm will be available during his partner's fertile period. Thus we can calculate the odds of you coming into existence due to one unique sperm meeting one unique egg as: 4 trillion x 100,000 = 400 quadrillion. But we have to take into account the rare union of two people coming together in sexual congress, as previously calculated as 40,000,000 (forty million). Therefore, the odds of you coming into existence are: 40 million multiplied by 400 quadrillion, which equals 16 septillions. Before continuing a slight digression is required (no shit, Flaxen). When dealing with large numbers it is convenient to apply the concept and notation of ‘the power of 10'. If you are unfamiliar with this mathematical notation, a quick gogle search will help you understand this convenient and practical mathematical shorthand. In fact, it is impossible to formulate the mathematics of 'big' numbers without the power of 10 notations. Therefore, our previous calculation can be rendered thusly:
406  x 40015  = 1624.

Hold onto your hat, this is where it starts to get a bit weird

Tis not all about YOU. Next, you have to consider the preceding generations. The fact that you have been born at all means that all your ancestors made it to reproduce. Any break in the chain results in your non-existence (?!). And at each generational stage the same probability previously and lovingly worked out will apply.  So how far shall we go back? Perhaps to the first human? However, this is not a discrete event in time. To gain a realistic figure we should continue back in time to your very first ancestor hanging around in the primordial soup/slime- a single-celled organism 4 billion years ago, called Ralph. To stop the numbers from getting REALLY BIG I’m going to consider just our humanoid lineage. I’m making the assumption that human/humanoid like organisms (I’m not including ‘Tipton Man’) have been around for 3 million years (36 years). This would represent about 150,000 generations (1503). After applying the mathematics previously given we have a probability of 1 in 102,640,000 (10 followed by 2,640,000 zeros). I’m not going to put forth my mathematical reasoning here, otherwise, this post will be way too long…….. Of course, you could have a go yourself in the comfort of your own home.

Tis time to gain perspective and provide comparisons.

The number of stars in the observable universe: 7 x 1022

The total number of fundamental particles in the observable universe (diameter 93 billion light years): 3 × 1080

The smallest possible length is called a Planck length which equals 1.6 x10-35 m and the number of Planck lengths present in the volume of the observable universe: volume in “Planck cubes” ≈ 2.2×10183.

The point I'm trying to make is that the odds of you existing are so infinitesimally low that your existence is impossible- but there you are, glancing at this page (hopefully in wonder) whilst drinking beer and scratching your gonads. And this analysis only takes us back to the first humanoid, before that there are another 4 billion years to take into account. This probability, if I could be arsed to work out, would take us into the world of hyper-maths.  

There are other probabilities we could layer on, such as, the probability that the Earth is able to sustain life and the probability that life actually got started and evolved. And of course, we could delve back further............

So, all said and done, the fact that anyone exits at all is an extremely strange phenomenon indeed and provides contemplative types with the stuff that induces nightmares and migraines. Anyway, I'm off to the pub to squander this good fortune. Cheers!  

Monday 16 October 2017

Passchendaele Revisited

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the battle of Passchendaele (3rd Ypres). Ostensibly, the objective of the battle was to reach the Belgium coast. But it soon became apparent to  British generals that this objective was beyond reach. From then on the battle would become one of attrition.

For the British: A terrible and largely pointless battle that achieved little, apart from killing Germans. A relentlessly grim conflict that defines the concept of attrition; fighting for the sole purpose of killing enemy soldiers and hoping that your losses do not outstrip theirs. Is there anything more terrible than the doctrine of attrition? Seeing men as mere counters to be erased from the board. Predictably, the generals who devised such a strategy were divorced from the terrors and tragedy of battle.

To mark this anniversary I’ve decided to rehash an old post.    

Read and weep

The Third Battle of Ypres in the summer of 1917 (Passchendaele), together with the battle of the Somme is synonymous, at least in British eyes, with the futility and mass slaughter of the First World War, and in my opinion, rightly so.

General Haig, the commander of the British forces had formed a picture in his mind. He envisioned a German army close to defeat, battered by the Somme offensive of the preceding summer. One last push to the Belgium coast and the German army would be rolled up from the north. To achieve this end he planned a grand summer offensive in 1917 and chose Flanders as the field of operation. On the map Flanders seemed the ideal place for a major British offensive. A gain of just 30 miles would take the British to the Belgium ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge. The problem was that his viewpoint was not rooted in military reality. Perhaps it was possible to reach the coast if the German army was no longer a coherent entity. But this was certainly not the case in 1917. Indeed, during the battle the Germans felt confident enough to transfer troops from the front line for operations elsewhere.

Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, was against the offensive from the first and predicted another 'slaughter fest' without any tangible result. Haig was adamant that Ostend and other channel ports could be reached in the first wave of the offensive. He emphasised the parlous state of a Germany army in disarray and imminent collapse. When Lloyd George visited the Western Front during the battle, Haig removed all the robust looking Germans from the prisoner of war cages to give the impression that the Germans were drawing on their last reserves of man power. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The French allies did not support an offensive here, nor did any of the other British Generals. As one French General so presciently (not a real word) stated: "You can't fight both Boche and boue" (Germans and mud). In fact it was the French army that was close to collapse. The German attack on Verdun in 1916 and General Nivelle's disastrous offensive in early 1917 had brought the French army to mutiny. The army would hold the line but further offensive action was denied to them. The last thing the French wanted was the British army to be ground down in the same way. It would be better to stand on the defensive in 1917 and await for the Americans and tanks for an offensive in 1918.

As predicted, the battlefield became a morass fuelled by summer and autumn rains. All that was needed was the ever present artillery fire to plough and churn the land into a mud/blood bath. Furthermore, in the north the Belgians had destroyed the dykes thus letting in the sea. On this flank the Germans were secure. They had also built strong defences in depth in front of the British trenches. The high water table in the area ensured that the forth coming battle would turn into a duck-walk rather than Haig's imaginary cake-walk.

The offensive was heralded by the obligatory drum fire of artillery extended over several days. The battle began on the 31st July 1917. By the end of the first day it was clear to the British High Command that the offensive had failed. With advances of no more than half a mile the main German line was nowhere breached. Men, tanks and artillery simply sank and disappeared in the deep cloying mud. With no breakthrough in sight, Haig changed his objectives. No longer would the offensive result in the capture of Ostend and Zeebrugge. Instead the battle would become one of attrition with the only purpose of killing Germans. It should be remembered that the concept of attrition is always a two way process. The battle rumbled on for a further three months before being called off.

And so for the butcher’s bill: British casualties- 300,000; German casualties- 200,000. Haig argued that the Germans had suffered severely and planned a further offensive in the spring of 1918 which would bring the Germans to their knees. Again Haig was wrong. The Germans had more than enough men left to launch their own formidable spring offensive of 1918.

The effect on the British army was more subtle. As one British army Sergeant sensibly put it: “We will beat them but not before they break our hearts”. If innocence had been lost on the Somme, so enthusiasm had been lost at Passchendaele. It was replaced by grim determination and a stark professionalism to get the job done, but at what cost?

There is nothing glorious about war except the men in it

Thursday 12 October 2017

Tats out for the lads

Dick Head

I thought I'd do another 'silly post' before I slip into another serious one. I'm not sure what the sensible post will be about, yet. But be assured, it will be very sensible.

When young and drunk tis very tempting to get a tattoo. Sadly, you will likely regret the decision in the cold harsh light of day. I'm not festooned with tats, myself- a couple of small motifs, tastefully done. However, back in the 60s and 70s, tattoos, especially on the hands, neck, and face marked you out as a lesser breed; an outcast from normal polite society. A distinction reserved for sailors and bar room brawlers. 
Today, things have changed. Respectable individuals are adorned, nay festooned with permanent ink; although the sanction and restriction with regard to the hands, neck and especially the face, remain. Even my daughter has a couple of small tattoos: one on her ankle, t'other on her shoulder. 

Not everyone possesses poise, grace, taste or even a spell checker. Anyways, check out this motley crew of misfits and fuckwits. Some folk really do need to be strangled at birth.    

Now, this looks like a salty dude. How more menacing can you get? Not content at desecrating his features he goes on to have one eyeball tattooed black. Predictably enough he appears to be wearing prison garb. Let's hope he's doing 50 to life. 

I'm guessing this fella ain't no Chartered Accountant. With such a provocative tattoo I'm thinking this man finds it difficult to obtain gainful employment, especially in the service industry: "Would like fucking fries with that, you cunt?" Another poor lost soul destined to remain on the margins of a just and judging society. An angry young man who finds the legit world baffling and unfriendly. For such a character, gaol is really his only fiend.

Hey, this man is ice cool, 'Da Iceman'. Guess how I know? Cos tis displayed on the canvas of his torso with gay abandon. The adornment of the skulls is telling. Skulls are super cool and this man displays at least five, so by implication, he must be super cool. Either that or he's an inadequate twat with a knuckle dragging low IQ and possessing  a need to show off his mind numbing stupidity. I bet he takes his shirt off at every available opportunity. If you have to broadcast that you are cool, then you ain't.

I have to agree with the sentiment but not the spelling. Is this supposed to be irony or is the recipient mind bogglingly dim? I suspect the latter.

Michael Jackson never looked so good. 'He's bad, he's bad'......The tattoo 'artist' ain't too good at this drawing thingy, either. Perhaps Michael Jackson did actually look like this at the end- one too many facelifts/nose jobs/skin whitening (sorry, no skin whitening. He suffered from a medical condition called vitiligo, allegedly).

Take a look at this fine specimen of manhood/humanity? As we can see he's a rampant ladies man. All those fine hos and bitches will be lining up to date this fine, sensitive and profoundly stupid young man. Could these be prison tattoos? I think so. I'd like to think that no legit tattoo salon would be responsible for this insanity. Putting on my all-seeing psychic hat on: I prophesise a life of petty crime and long spells of incarceration. No bitches there my fiend, just Bubba from C wing. Take care and don't slip in the shower.

Care and attention combined with a modicum of due diligence would have saved this girl from a lifelong of embarrassment and attention from men with a preoccupation with anal proclivities. Ana, take my advice and be generous with the lube. Although I suspect she will be wearing her hair down and flowing in order to protect her modesty and virtue.

This tattoo reminds me of a story, perhaps apocryphal, I was once told many years ago. Apparently, a young fella was holidaying in Hong Kong and thought it a good idea to get a tattoo on his arm in Chinese script. He chose a suitably uplifting Chinese proverb and had said tattoo proclaimed in bold Cantonese on his arm. Months later back in England he had occasion to visit the local Chinese restaurant with a few of his mates. As he was tucking into his sweet and sour pork balls he couldn't help but notice that the Chinese waitress could hardly suppress a giggle when she passed his table. Intrigued, our intrepid fella asked the young girl what the hilarity was about. The girl seemed reluctant to reveal the nature of her mirth. But our hero pressed on and eventually, she told him that his tattoo, in Cantonese read: 'At the end of the day, this is a very ugly boy'.

And finally. At the end of the day, these are very ugly babies. And very dysmorphic as well. We shouldn't be too surprised when we peruse the kid's names: Talanne, Janner, Alli and Teeganne. No shit, say I. Expect a visit from the child protection department and hefty gaol sentences for the parents for violating the universal law of good taste and for committing crass asinine stupidity. Furthermore, Prof Mugumbo and I found a clear and profound correlation between IQ and shite names. Check out this fundamental groundbreaking research, here and here.

Enough for now. A sane man can only take so much. And I have a tenuous grip on sanity at the best of times. 

Saturday 7 October 2017

Flaxen, abducted by aliens, again!

Oh fuck, didn't we anally probe Flaxen, last week?

I awoke late and wandered out of my bedroom to my well appointed and expansive/expensive deck, bedecked and regaled in a tawdry dressing gown. I greedily drew breath and was instantly rewarded with the olfactory delights of an Australasian spring; a mixture of new mown hay, tinged with the heady perfume of wildflowers, with a hint of warm dog shit.

What should I do today? I could continue my autobiography; perhaps I'll teeter down to the 'Old Folks Home' and refresh the inmates with daring do stories concerning times past. A simple world filled with chiselled jawed men of adventure and coquettish ladies festooned with bustles, ochre, and ringlets. Mayhap, I could take a walk along the coast road, watching the Pacific breakers play fume and spray and deposit seaborne detritus on a wind-scoured shore. I closed my china-blue eyes, pursed my perfectly formed and succulent lips and reflected, for but a moment..... Then revelation insinuated and grasped my inner being and related in no uncertain terms: 'Why not drink two bottles of cheap vodka and see what the day may bring?' Excellent counsel, I thought, and so I began the day by throwing myself into this worthy project, with gusto

After several belts, I started to see the world in a different light. All the world's major problems were laid out in sumptuous array in my whip-sharp brain. In turn, each problem was examined, laid bare and solved as if in a thrice. As I neared the last of the first bottle I began to sing a bawdy old sea shanty which I had learned at my father's knee. I suddenly became still, nay solemn. As if in a rush, the problems of a needy world descended upon my neatly coiffured head. Sharp featured furies were unleashed and lashed my wits with a thousand barbs. My morosity (not a real word ) held no bounds and I descended into a deep moribund pit of despair, self-pity, and despond. Before uncapping the second bottle, I thought it wise to open and drain to the end, a small bottle of baby sham. Twas, my undoing, but read some more and be aghast.     

The second bottle held no new terrors. As I drained the last I noticed a strange creeping numbness assailing my every fibre and within my very marrow. The significance of this malady only became clear after certain pertinent events had transpired. Hmmm, I thought, I do believe I have half a bottle of crème de menthe left over from the Vicar's tea party, last Eastertide. Wouldn't it be a good idea to cleanse my palate with a mint flavoured liqueur? As I reached for the rime encrusted bottle my world suddenly became a rotating demon. My wits seemed strangely befuddled and the room did spin like a demented Dervish on acid. With trepidation and dread, I recognised this strange phenomenon for what it was- I was about to be abducted by anal probing aliens, again! The last occasion was during the Christmas party. I remember as if it was last week (it was last week). I had just consumed: 12 shots of Jack Daniels; 15 glasses of the finest brandy; a magnum of champagne and a single baby sham. After the baby sham, my senses were robbed by an ethereal alien cosmic force. I can only surmise that I was taken aboard an alien spaceship and viciously anally probed- this would account for the subsequent and unsightly stains permeating my underwear. After they had obtained all the information that can only be obtained by anal probing, they deposited my spent and wasted body on a park bench. When I awoke I was totally naked and my head pounded with a ferocity as if a dozen Frenchmen had taken up residence there. And so it was to be this time. Next day I awoke on the same park bench, totally naked. But this time my tumescent member was circumscribed with a neat pink ribbon, tastefully attired. Again my head was quenched/drenched in pain; damn those alien cosmic beams! They had not only festooned my racked body with a sore arse (due, no doubt, to excessive anal probing) but my head did ache abominably. Damn Aliens! Can't you leave a pert and perfectly formed Englishman alone when there are so many Americans hereabouts willing to comply with the deepest and most painful anal probing?        

I recognised the connection. I will never drink baby sham, again.

Here is the news: 3.7 million Americans believe they have been abducted by Aliens/Xenomorphs.

I am a sinner, but I rest my case and sore arse (arse) on a rubber doughnut.

Artist impression of the anal probing

Wednesday 4 October 2017

The English Longbow

Is there anything more iconic than the English longbow? A weapon responsible for sending more Johnny Frenchmen off to an early grave until the Germans came along with the machine gun in 1914. The origin of the longbow is lost in the annals of time. However, representations of the weapon have been dated at 50,000 years.

The famous English longbow was assimilated from the Welsh during King Edward's  campaign in Wales in the late 13th century. The Welsh used witch elm; a wonderfully twisted and knotty wood. The English war bow favoured the use of yew, but not English yew. During the late middle-ages, most of the yew used for English war bows was imported from Alpine districts in Spain and Italy.

The English longbow is a deceptively simple weapon. The bow is made from a single piece of yew. The log is cut in a certain way so that it contains both the newer, springy, sapwood and the older and dense heartwood. Both these woods are incorporated in the resultant bow stave. When shaped to form the classic 'D' shaped bow, the sapwood is present on the outside (confusingly called, back of the bow) and the heartwood is on the inside (belly). Thus the elastic sapwood bends easily and snaps back when the bowstring is loosed. The heartwood resists compression and enhances the speed and power of the bow. The English war bow represents a natural composite and therefore obtains the best that is possible from a single stave of yew.

It is to be noted that I'll use the term, English longbow interchangeably with war bow. Strictly speaking, a war bow is a bow with a draw weight of at least 80 lbs. That is the weight required to draw the bowstring to its maximum length, usually between 28 to 32 inches.

The English war bow found fame during the hundred years war between the English and French (1337 - 1453). The worth of the English war bow is written in history and the battles of Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt resonate down the ages. Indeed, the introduction of the English longbow was the driving force in the development of more effective armour. A bow of draw weight of 80lbs may have been effective against French mail and plate armour in 1337, but as armour technology advanced, the draw weight of the bow increased accordingly. By the end of the hundred years war, the draw weight of the English war bow was in the realm of 180 lbs. The French in response developed ballistic shaped armour and the best quality face hardened steel. The armour of the mid 15th century was a miracle in engineering and very resistive to penetrating projectiles.

There is much debate about whether the war bow and armour piercing arrow of the late middle ages were effective against sophisticated plate armour. This is not a simple question and I don't have space here to put forth the elements of the debate. I have added a link to a video, by Matt Easton, at the end of this article which deals with this most vexed of problems. Matt makes some interesting observations and deductions based on available evidence. As Matt eloquently illustrates, the question generates a lot of passion. In the one camp, there are English archery enthusiasts who are keen to exalt the longbow as the ultimate knight killing machine. On the other hand, there are those who are beguiled by medieval armour and perhaps romantic chivalry who consider, late armour at least, invulnerable against the heavy war bow. Each side will cite evidence in favour of their biased point of view. There are YouTube videos showing arrows slicing through plate armour and there are those showing arrows bouncing off breastplates at almost point blank range. Anyway, watch Matt's video to obtain a balanced view of the debate.

It needs to be borne in mind that well-armoured knights were only a small portion of a medieval army. Most of the retinue, although encased in some form of armour, would have been a lot less protected than knights. A suit of well-made tailored armour was extremely expensive and only the very wealthy minority could afford top quality armour. A fine panoply would be in the region of paying for a top of the line Lamborghini sports car in today's money. Care should be noted: it is often very difficult to make direct economic comparisons between a medieval and a modern economy. Needless to say, good late medieval armour would have been very expensive. The common soldiery would have had some protection. Generally, at least, they would have worn a gambeson, a thick jacket fashioned from layers of linen and or wool. Many would have worn plate armour of some form, often of poor quality. But the plate would have only protected the torso leaving arms and legs highly vulnerable to arrow storms. Nearly all soldiers would have worn a metal helmet. However, in contrast to their chivalrous knightly cousins, the helmets would have been open affording little or no protection to the face and neck. Horses would have been exquisitely vulnerable. A large and mostly unarmoured target would have been an easy mark for men trained to hit a man sized target at a hundred paces. Some nobility may have utilised some form of horse armour, although, by necessity, coverage would be nowhere near complete. Once unhorsed a knight would likely be dazed by the fall from full gallop and thus easily dispatched by bowmen breaking ranks and dispatching the nobility with a heavy mattock to the helmet or a stab with a fine pointed blade to gaps in the plate or the vulnerable groin and armpit. It is to be remembered, an arrow didn't have to kill a man to render him 'hors de combat'. Any arrow wound would effectively remove the soldier from the combat. 

The English longbow has attracted more than its fair share of mystique and folklore, especially in English speaking countries. Regardless of point of view, there is little doubt that the English war bow had a powerful influence over medieval warfare and the French, in particular, had great cause to fear this weapon over any other.

As an aside, I have just purchased an English longbow and a primitive flat bow from a company called 'Flagella Dei'. Both bows are made from a single stave of osage orange and pull 60lbs at 29 inches. It would have been preferable if I'd purchased a bow made from yew, but good quality yew staves are extremely expensive. Anyway, once the bows arrive I'll keep my spellbound reader updated as to my experience and handling of these beautiful bows.