What’s in a Mac?

I’ve been thinking about buying s new laptop for a while now.  I know what I want – a  MacBook Air but the name got me thinking.
Nowadays, when we talk about Macs, most of us are talking about Apple Macs but when I was a child it was very different.  I don’t think Steve Jobs had even started his business back then.  So this week, I thought I’d write about the various “Macs” that are in our lives.
courtesy of Pixabay
courtesy of Pixabay

TarMAC or TarMACadam – a road surface material patented by Edgar Purnell Hooley in 1901.  The MacAdam bit comes from John Loudon McAdam who invented macadamisation (no, I don’t know why they can’t decide whether it’s Mac or mc either) .  Cutting a long story short, these earlier road surfaces were OK for horse drawn traffic but no good for the “horseless carriage” so something else was needed.

MACkintosh.  A waterproof raincoat first sold in 1824.  It is named after Charles Macintosh, the chap who invented the rubberised fabric from which it’s made.

Smack – I bet we’ve all had a few of them in our time!

Mace –  no, I know it doesn’t sound the same, but I didn’t say it had to!  There are three types of mace that I know of: mace as in mace and sceptre, mace the spice made from dried nutmeg, and mace the so-called self defence spray.  I’m pretty sure its use is illegal in the UK so don’t go out an buy any.

MAC make up – One of my favourites!  I particularly like the lipsticks, eye shadows and eyeliners.  MAC stands for Make-up Artists Corporation, and there is the MOST wonderful range of colours.  Just take a look at the website, it is like a sweetie shop for grown up girls.   If you’ve never tried MAC, give it a go.


Mach – the ratio of the speed of an aircraft (or similar) to the speed of sound.  I was going to say it’s around 770 miles an hour, but when I looked it up to check, there are so many variables, I decided I couldn’t be that geeky today.

Macaw – a type of parrot, native to Central and Southern America.

Courtesy of Pixabay
Courtesy of Pixabay

Macula – The macula is a spot near to the centre of the retiina in the human eye, with a diameter of about 6mm.  It’s yellow in colour, so it absorbs blue and ultraviolet light and acts like a pair of sunglasses.  It’s function is related to high acuity vision.

Couresy of Pixabay
Couresy of Pixabay

Macrame – I can remember doing this many years ago.  It’s a way of making things by knotting string.  I know that doesn’t sound very exciting, but if you use different coloured threads and put beads in, it’s actually quite attractive.

Pomace – the remains of grapes, olives, etc after the fruit have been pressed.  So this would be the pulp, the skin and the seeds.  Apparently, you can get something called Olive Pomace Oil, which is nothing like olive oil to taste.  It seems that this contains quite a number of chemical additives, so I won’t be buying that.

Stomach – the first site of protein digestion in the alimentary canal, rather than the thing that sticks out under our jeans…..  Oh, you don’t have one of those?  Ok!

Macchie is the German word for Maquis, in other words, Mediterranean crubland.

Machine – I think we all know what this is…

Primacy, grimace, macabre, yashmac…. If you want to find more, try www.scrabblefinder.com.  But no cheating when you play “Words with Friends,” with me!

Courtesy of Pixabay
Courtesy of Pixabay


© Susan Shirley 2014




London Underground

Dedicated to my friend on a Special birthday. Happy Birthday Nicola, this one’s for you. xx

Picture 007

We Londoners (I think I’m allowed to call myself that after living here for 30 odd years) don’t like people sitting close to us on London Underground or mainline trains, if we can avoid it. Our tolerance of people being close to us changes as more people board the tube, but the dance that we do is interesting. It goes something like this…

Board the train; look for a seat, a seat where there will be no one sitting either side of us. I’ve said it before, and it still holds true, I like to sit in the seat at the end of the carriage if I can. I don’t like human contact. Well, not on the tube. As the carriage fills up, the reality is that someone will sit next to me. I hope and pray it doesn’t happen too soon, but I must look terribly attractive, because someone always comes and sits next to me, even when there are loads of other seats. The people who do that clearly have no sense of personal space. That or I really am smokin’ hot.

We all seem to have a fear of the centre of the train, too. We tend to congregate around the doors, forcing people who try to board the train closer to Central London to barge onto the train much like a SWAT team on a raid, complete with ramming equipment.

“Can you move down please?” Nudge, push, shove.

“Move along the carriage.” Whack, barge, thud.

These pleas fall on deaf ears, of course. The people standing near the doorway shuffle a bit, but rarely do they move inside. I think, if I’m honest, it’s because it can be such a faff to get off if you are caught in the middle of the carriage or the end where there is no door when the train is still packed and it’s your stop.

courtesy of Pixabay
courtesy of Pixabay

There are some other things about travelling in London that add to the interest too. For example, I always forget that I wear my cloak of invisibility whenever I leave my house. I know I’m wearing it because people drive their baby buggies into me, or tread on me, or, my personal favourite, when I am already walking down the stairs (and I do like to hold onto the hand rail going down stairs, I just don’t seem to be able to balance properly otherwise). When I’m halfway or more down the stairs already, why would people start walking up right in front of me and force me to move out of the way, or curse me if I don’t? Well, of course, the only answer is that I am invisible so they don’t know they are doing it.

Last week was a classic. I’d just been to the osteopath, so was at a station I don’t frequently use. I duly waited for the crowd coming off the train to die down and started walking down the stairs. I could hear my train come in but knew I had enough time to get to it. At least, I knew I had enough time to get it if it hadn’t pulled in and people hadn’t started getting off. Honestly, I really understand how people get crushed in crowds; you’d have thought this mass of people coming off of the train was in fear of its life. I only had to travel about two more steps and then about a yard, and I had to do my impersonation of an American Football Halfback going for a touchdown in order to get on the train! This is the trouble with being invisible.

courtesy of Pixabay
courtesy of Pixabay

And then there is the music. I seriously worry about the young peoples’ hearing if they listen to such loud music so much of the time. But I think what makes them turn the music down best is when I start tapping my feet and jigging about in my seat. It is clearly not cool for an older person to enjoy a young person’s music. Works every time.

And finally, can I just mention male fashions sense? Or lack of it? Gentlemen, on which planet did it become ok for a man to wear smart business shoes, with red, white and black striped rugby socks, black scruffy shorts and a white tee shirt? Tell me. It is not a good look and whoever told you it was, was lying to you. I know the weather’s been hot, but is that what passes for City attire these days? Shorts, unless they are the Bermuda variety, worn the way the Bermuda police wear them, are a no-no in the City, as far as I am concerned.

courtesy of Pixabay
courtesy of Pixabay

Actually, there are some things that should never be worn outside of the house, let alone in the City in my opinion. Jogging bottoms. Socks with sandals. Stained clothes. Sometimes I wish we could go back to Edwardian times….
©Susan Shirley 2014

Poppies at the Tower of London

The Tower of London, September 2014
The Tower of London, September 2014

I went to the Tower of London today, to see the exhibition of poppies. To put it more correctly, it is the Installation of Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, to commemorate 100 years since Britain joined the First World War. There have been a number of events commemorating the war this year, and regular readers will have seen my Letter to an Unknown Solder back in June.

The poppies have been “planted” all around the Tower, in the area that once was the moat. They come out of a couple of the windows and are growing in number on a daily basis. Eventually, there will be 888,246 poppies filling the moat. Even though I’d seen photographs, I wasn’t prepared for the vast expanse of scarlet in front of me, as I walked towards the Tower. It was absolutely beautiful but, at the same time, poignant. Knowing what the poppies were there to represent made me feel a little bit sad.

The Tower of London September 2014
The Tower of London September 2014

The poppies are all ceramic, and the number on show is added to every day. Each poppy represents the life of someone in the British forces who died during World War I. Note this is just the British Forces, not members of the public or anyone else involved. The poppies were created by Paul Cummins, a ceramic artist. I’ll confess to knowing nothing about him before this, but he doesn’t just make flowers, he makes all sorts of ceramics. You can read more about Paul here:


The layout was designed by Tom Piper, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Associate theatre designer. He’s done Macbeth, Pride and Prejudice and Anthony and Cleopatra, to name but a few, so no great surprise that he’s done such a fabulous job.


Every day at sunset, the names of 180 Commonwealth troops killed during the First World War are being read out as part of a Roll of Honour, this is then followed by the Last Post. (I didn’t stay for this today, but intend to go back for it another day.) Members of the public can nominate names to be read out for the Roll of Honour. See http://poppies.hrp.org.uk/about-the-installation for more information.

The Tower of London with the Shard
The Tower of London with the Shard

I’ve taken photographs from all angles around the Tower, so that you can see what the poppies look like at the moment. The last one is due to be laid on 11 November – Armistice Day.

The poppies are for sale, you can buy them now, the total cost, including postage and packing is £30.95. Net proceeds plus 10% from every poppy sold will go to one of the following charities:

Cobseo – I’d never heard of this one before. www.cobseo.org.uk

Combat Stress – This is tremendous charity, dealing with things like PTSD. A disappointingly high number of ex-forces personnel end up homeless when they leave the forces, and one of the reasons is that they struggle to fit into civilian life because those of that have never been to theatre of war just can’t understand what they have been through. Combat Stress can help with this. www.combatstress.org.uk

Coming Home – Another one I’d never heard of, but they provide specially adapted homes for those (far too many) service personnel who were injured and disabled. They also provide general housing for ex-service personnel. www.coming-home.org.uk

Help for Heroes – do you know, I don’t really know exactly what they do, but anyway.


The Royal British Legion – this is the one that most of us know about and is the biggest forces charity.


SSAFA – If I get this right, it’s Sailors, Soldiers and Air Forces Association.



Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge

While I was there, I took the opportunity to have a bit of a mooch around the general area, and took a few other photographs – The Shard behind HMS Belfast, and Tower Bridge. I’ve also taken photographs of the little church there at Tower Hill, All Hallows by The Tower, which is the oldest church in the City.

All Hallows Church
All Hallows Church

This is one of those churches that was founded by Barking Abbey in 675AD. John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States of America, was married here in 1797. Unfortunately, the church suffered bomb damage during the Second World War and only the tower and walls of the original church remain. It was rebuilt, and rededicated in 1957.


Memorial to those who died during the First World War, at Tower Hill
Memorial to those who died during the First World War, at Tower Hill

©Susan Shirley 2014


Lunch at the Cafe Royal and The Tall Ships

Friday was a good day.  I went out to lunch with the boys.  We went to the Cafe´ Royal, the Ten Room, which apparently offers, “British informal dining.”  What a fantastic meal!  It was one of those Amazon Local deals, so we’d paid for the three course meal and champagne cocktail beforehand.

I didn’t know quite what to expect with the champagne cocktails.  There were three of them, and I chose the Bloody Mary Champagne Cocktail with chilli.  The boys all chose a gin based one.  Obviously we did the mix and match, so we all tasted each other’s and they were all fab.  Very delicate, so that the spirits didn’t overpower the fizz, but you could taste the additions.

The service in the restaurant was excellent.  I don’t eat wheat, so when they brought up the best basket of bread in the whole world, Paul asked if they had any wheat free bread, which they did.  I chose squid for my main course – which came up without the batter, and it was so tender, the way it’s supposed to be but so rarely is.  Stephen had the squid as well, while Paul had the venison and Dave had the mushroom veloute´.

Three of us had chicken for the main course, Stephen had lamb, but we were all very happy with our choices.  They were all very well cooked.  The mash was delicious and creamy.  Then came desert….

The boys all had lemon tart, which was apparently fab.  I had cheese, without the biscuits.  Well, they (the kitchen staff) either felt sorry for me because I wasn’t having biscuits, or they thought it was worth trying to tap into my life insurance because there was so much cheese on my cheese board, Stephen and I couldn’t finish it.  I told the waiter that I’d done my best to get my cholesterol levels up to dangerous levels but couldn’t quite manage it…

The Cafe´ Royal has been there since 1865 and is a Grade I listed building.  Although it was closed in 2008 and the majority of its furniture and fittings were sold off, it was refurbished and parts have been designed to reflect the original building. I hope one day to be able to afford to stay there.

I’ll say it again, the food was excellent and the service was excellent.  I wholeheartedly recommend it.  And, of course, we went for a little drinkette in a local pub afterwards.  A very good time was had by all, and if I had one criticism, it was that the seats in the restaurant were too low, but that’s so minor in the scheme of it all.

Take a look at the link for further info:


The Thames at Greenwich
The Thames at Greenwich

Yesterday, I went to Greenwich to see the Tall Ships that had raced up from Falmouth.  I’ll be honest, I was disappointed.  I’d checked the website, and it said that ships would be moored between 2pm and 5pm, and it would be possible to go on board to have a look around.  I arrived at North Greenwich at about 3pm, which is Greenwich Peninsula.  There were plenty of stewards to show the way, but once you got past the main drag at the O2 itself, they weren’t very helpful, no maps and I went the wrong way.  I saw a tall ship sail by, but it was too far off for me to get a photograph.  I use a Panasonic Lumix FS45, but I’m saving up for a higher spec one, something that has a better zoom.  I think I know what I want, but I’ll save it until I buy it before I mention it. You can see that my photographs are ok, but not the best in the world.

The Thames with the tide out - so you know why it always looks dirty, it's the muddy base
The Thames with the tide out – so you know why it always looks dirty, it’s the muddy base

I walked a good couple of miles and was on my way home when I eventually got a map, and actually found where some of the ships were moored. Still, at least I managed way over 10,000 steps…

When I found the ships, there was quite a bit going on:  a number of actors and actresses dressed in period costume, and a number of stalls serving food and souvenirs.  I understand that there are more events going on during the rest of the week, but I hope that they are sign posted better and that the people giving out maps are where they need to be.



Just so that you know, there are four sites involved in the festival:

Maritime Greenwich, which is the south side of the river, and seems to be the main site;

Royal Arsenal Woolwich, the second main site;

Greenwich Peninsula, just the site of ship visits;

Wood Wharf, Canary Wharf, another site of ship visits.


©Susan Shirley 2014





Smartphone Use

I was watching my favourite daytime television programme, BBC Breakfast today, when they 80% of Smartphone users check their ‘phones before brushing their teeth.  When I thought about my early morning habits, it really made me giggle.  My day goes something like this.

05:00 (if I’m lucky). I’ll wake up to the sound of Artemis walking around on my beside cabinet, possibly knocking things off.  She’s not quiet, that one, she chats as she does this.  I think it’s all part of the ploy to wake me up and give her attention.  There is always a bit of conversation because she wakes up the others, as well as me.  If I’m really lucky, I escape without a claw being shoved up my nose.  She’s not trying to be unkind when she does that, she just wants my attention.

06:00 The first alarm goes off, so usually I start to rouse myself and grab for my….Smartphone.  I like to have a little look at any e-mails that have come in over night.  My next job is to check the Amazon Appstore to see what the free app of the day is, and whether it is of interest to me.  If yes, I’ll download it, if not, I carry on with the rest of my day.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini
Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini

From here, I go downstairs to feed the girls and break up the fights that always ensue.  I don’t know why, I put three bowls down as near to simultaneously as is humanly possible.  Rhea usually eats in the conservatory anyway, so she’s used to be the last to get her food, but she really doesn’t mind.  I know that because she told me.

Once they’re sorted I can clean my teeth and have a shower.  Once I’m back upstairs to dry my hair, etc, it’s back to the technology.  I do this PTC thing every day.  There’s a company call youcubez, and I advertise with them, for free, in exchange for clicking on a few pretty coloured cubes.  (OK, I’m not sure the whole PTC thing works well, but I can do this whilst I’m drying my hair.)  If you fancy joining youcubez ,here’s my referral link:


Then I check e-mails again.  It’s an exciting life I lead, isn’t it?

The same piece of research said that 79% of adult Smartphone users have their ‘phones with them for 22 hours a day.  (22 hours?  Where are the ‘phones for the other 2 hours?  I understand them being close to the bed, I do that.  Is that lost 2 hours when they are in meetings and can’t have their ‘phones with them?  That happens to me, especially when I’m wearing something without pockets.

What did we do before we had mobile ‘phones and computers?  I can remember, as a teenager, if I wanted a boy to ‘phone me (on the one and only house ‘phone!), I’d go and have a bath.  It never failed.  I’d just settle down for a good soak and the ‘phone would go.


“Sue, It’s so-and-so for you!”

So I’d have to get out and get dry quickly and run downstairs.  That’s better than what my friend Nicola calls “Tipsy Texting.”  Now don’t try and tell me that you haven’t done it.  In fact, I’ve pretended that I’ve been tipsy just to save face.  That was a long time ago though, and no-one needs to know who the recipient was.  He won’t read this anyway.

There is definitely something to be said for not having instant access to communication with someone.  Sometimes you just need breathing time to think about what you are going to say.  At least Jane Austen had the benefit of thinking it all through before she went to press.


©Susan Shirley 2014




RSPB, Birds and Airports

I got my replacement entry card for the RSPB yesterday.  I’ll be honest, and it may be due to the Alfred Hitchcock film, “The Birds,” but I am not a great lover of our feathered friends.  Especially not when they fly near to my head.  However, I recognise that they have an important place in the ecosystem, so I was pleased to get my new card.  Nowadays, of course, the RSPB is not just involved in the protection of birds, it is involved in other areas of conservation work.

The RSPB and I both have something in common, we are both pleased that the Airports Commission has ruled out the “Boris Island Airport.”  I don’t see the point of building a new airport somewhere completely different when there are two perfectly good airports elsewhere.  And yes, I do know the issues building another runway at Heathrow or Gatwick will cause, but for me, it’s about doing the least amount of damage.  And, if I’m honest, I was concerned that it would increase the risk of flooding down that side of the Thames.  I may have been completely wrong about that, and maybe there would have been appropriate precautions in place, but that was one of my fears.

The RSPB was established in 1889, without the Royal, because it was fashionable in those days for women to wear hats with elaborate plumage. Birds like the Great Crested Grebe and Kittiwake were decimated.

Courtesy of Pixabay
Black legged kittiwake


Great Crested Grebe
Great Crested Grebe

Things have moved on since those days, and the RSPB is now the biggest nature conservation charity in the UK.  There are more than 200 nature reserves managed by the RSPB, some of which Ancient Monuments and World Heritage Sites, so a visit to these places can be a mixture of history and biology.  (Sounds like a perfect day out to me!)

The society also arranges various events such as guided walks, workshops, day trips, equipment demonstrations (eg binoculars), talks about wildlife, wildlife watching events, and even events for children.  None of these events is particularly expensive so can be educational as well as fun.

Aside from this, the society also runs a number of different projects, including species protection, site protection and research.  One of these, for example, is “the prioritisation of UK overseas territories where invasive vertebrate eradication would yield the highest benefit and the priority list of islands in the UK where invasive vertebrate eradication would yield the highest benefit.”  Ok, I’ll admit, I had to take a second look at that one, and it’s all about alien species threatening the indigenous biodiversity of islands.

Alien species can do huge amounts of damage – just take a look at the native red squirrel in the UK, and how they’ve declined in number because of the introduction of the grey squirrel…

Red Squirrel

Or Japanese bindweed.  When I was doing my biology degree, I remember learning about the introduction of Cane Toads into Australia, because it was thought that they’d control the Cane Beetle, which damage the sugar cane crops.  Sadly, not only did the toads not have any real impact on the beetles, they spread rapidly across Oz (they were introduced in the North East and have now spread as far as Western Australia, as if they didn’t have enough nasty, poisonous creatures over there).  They are thought to be responsible for poisoning humans and pets as well as other environmental damage.  So you can see the importance of projects like these being run by the RSPB.

I hope the RSPB keeps up the good work for as long as possible, I know I’ll be making a point of visiting more places in the coming year than before.


Photographs courtesy of Pixabay.


©Susan Shirley 2014