Friday 30 October 2015

A Creep of Tortoises in Ringmer

Recently I've been researching Ringmer's renowned reptilian resident - Timothy the tortoise - for Viva Lewes magazine... and discovered a few interesting facts that I couldn't squeeze into the final article.

Firstly, to avoid any confusion, Ringmer's Timothy tortoise is not the tortoise who died in 2004 and was dubbed 'Britain's oldest pet', despite some similarities. As well as having the same name, both tortoises were originally assumed to be male but were later shown to be female. In addition, it's likely that both were some kind of ship's pet before they reached England.

Our local Timothy was born in the 18th century - possibly around 1740 - by Henry Snooke, who brought it home to Ringmer. Mr Snooke gave the tortoise to his wife, Rebecca, who was the aunt of naturalist Gilbert White. When Rebecca died, Gilbert took her tortoise home with him to Hampshire, writing about the tortoise in his book 'The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne'.

The other Timothy, who ended his days in Devon, was born in the mid-19th century and has his own well-documented biography called simply 'Timothy the Tortoise'.

Henry and Rebecca are apparently buried together in Ringmer's parish church. Timothy, meanwhile, rests at the Natural History Museum in London.

My biggest surprise was discovering that Timothy may not have been the first tortoise in Ringmer. In 1774, Gilbert White wrote to his brother John, describing the differences between Timothy and other types of tortoise:
There are tortoises whose shells are always open behind and before "apertura testae anterior," as he says himself, "pro capite et brachiis; posterior pro cauda et femoribus." These apertures are supported, as it were, by pillars on each side and can never be closed. Of such construction is the shell of Mrs Snooke's present living tortoise, Timothy. But then there are tortoises whose under shell has a cardo, an hinge, about the middle of their bellies, commanding one lid or flap forward, and one lid backward (like the double lidded snuff-boxes) which when shut conceal the head and legs and tail of the reptile entirely, and keep out all annoyances. Two such (very small they were) Mrs Snooke had formerly; and the shells lie still in her room over the hall.
Although we can't be certain these tiny tortoises were born before Timothy, it's certainly possible that Timothy was bought as a replacement or even a companion for these creatures.

But it's Timothy that's remembered locally, with his likeness appearing in a number of places, including the village sign.

Recommended reading: 
Timothy the Tortoise: Rory Knight Bruce 
The Portrait of a Tortoise: Sylvia Townsend Warner 
Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile: Verlyn Klinkenborg

NB: The collective noun for a group of tortoises is a 'creep', according to most sources.

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Portrait photography with Katie Vandyck

In this interview (first broadcast on Rocket FM Lewes), portrait photographer Katie Vandyck of explains why a photo session is like therapy, why faces look good in black-and-white, and how her pictures reflect her personal philosophy.

On taking portraits:
"I think it turns out to be a form of therapy because you're having to be genuinely interested in them. It doesn't work if you're not genuinely interested. And you pay them really close attention to get them to relax, to get them to be themselves. I think it's very rare for people to have very, very intense concentration on them except for during therapy. And they're paying you, as a photographer, to do this, so they don't feel bad talking about themselves. It's very pleasant for them to be focused in on, in a benificent way."

Tuesday 20 October 2015

Every person you interview...

"Every person you interview becomes a kind of mentor of the moment." 
American journalist Gay Talese, interviewed in Esquire by Cal Fussman.

Monday 19 October 2015

Talking Culture on Rocket FM Lewes

Here are a few links from today's 'Talking Culture' show on Rocket FM Lewes, in which I interviewed gallery curator Sarah O'Kane, artist Keith Pettit, novelist Sarah Jasmon and writer Beth Miller:

Thursday 15 October 2015

TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' conversation for October 2015

Here's the technology I was talking about in my conversation with Dave Hodgson on TRE Talk Radio Europe this afternoon:

Microsoft Surface Book

This is a curious thing. We're all used to Microsoft making the Windows operating system that's then installed on a computer made by someone else: perhaps a Dell laptop, a Sony laptop, an Acer laptop, a Lenovo laptop...

But then a few years ago Microsoft started producing its own tablet computer - a rival to the iPad, you might say. It's called the Microsoft Surface, it has an optional keyboard and it's attracted quite a following.

Now Microsoft has taken another unexpected step: it's producing its own laptop.

The Surface Book has a touch-sensitive screen - 13.5 inches across - and a proper keyboard as well. It runs on either an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor and manages up to 12 hours of battery life. The screen has a hinge that'll let you adjust it to almost any angle and can even be removed if you want.

It's very much a competitor with Apple’s MacBook Air, their high-spec laptop, and it's priced accordingly. It goes on sale in the USA with pricing from $1499 [around £975 / €1300] for the 128GB version. There's no word of European availability but I imagine it'll be on its way before long.

Google Chromecast Audio

This product promises to 'cast your favourite tunes from your phone straight to your speakers'.

It's a development of Google's video-based Chromecast, which plugs into your TV and lets you watch YouTube videos via your phone.

Chromecast Audio does the same kind of thing for music. It's a little disc-shaped device that connects to the mains and can plug into most Hi-Fi systems, powered loudspeakers and amplifiers. It comes with a 3.5mm connection although it'll also work with RCA connectors and optical inputs if you have the right lead.

And then you can listen to music from your phone. Not just your Android phone but your iPhone as well. And this isn't just music that you've downloaded to your phone: it's streaming services like Google Play Music, Deezer, Spotify and TuneIn.

The whole thing costs £30 and I'd very much like one in my Christmas stocking.

Boogie Dice

These are self-rolling dice. They are programmable and sound activated - so if you clap your hands, click your fingers or tap the table, they will start rolling.

The standard 'Boogie Dice' die can be used in any dice-based game, but the manufacturer has also designed a special card game to take advantage of all the programmable dice features.

The technology is fairly obvious when you think about it. Each Boogie Dice is about an inch across; inside is a microprocessor, a motor to make the die vibrate, a microphone to detect noise, a rechargeable battery and some LEDs to make the die light up. A full battery charge gives you about 30 minutes of non-stop rolling or 500 separate rolls.

To recharge, you put the die on a little charging pad, which takes around 40 minutes. And because they're programmable, you can change things like the rolling time and how long the die waits before it switches itself off.

These are available via Kickstarter; pricing is from $22 for one die with a charger (plus $10 shipping) [around £21 / €28] or from $45 if you want the Bots Battleground game, which is a bit like robot Top Trumps.


There's a fair amount of controversy around this laser razor. It was raising money on crowd-funding site Kickstarter, where it was aiming to get $160,000 and ended up attracting pledges of more than $4 million. But Kickstarter suspended the campaign because the company didn't have a decent prototype (and some people have used much stronger words about the company). However, that's not stopped Skarp Technologies from moving their campaign onto rival crowd-funding site Indiegogo, where the rules are slightly different - and where things appear to be running smoothly.

Smoothly is another key word here, because Skarp is powered by a tiny laser that claims to cut through hair without irritating or damaging your skin. So not only is it theoretically safer than a traditional blade, there's also hardly any of the waste involved. You may not even need water.

The company behind it hopes to have products available from March next year, pointing out that the people involved are experienced at working with cosmetic and medical products. Of course, that doesn't guarantee this one will be equally successful... but such is the nature of new products.

If you fancy taking a chance, pre-orders are currently $159 for a limited period, plus another $10 for shipping [around £110 / €150].

Monday 12 October 2015

Just give me the long number from your bank card

My mother makes notes. Not always, just when there's something to tell me. Her latest contains a name (Natalie) and a telephone number (0800 0119290), along with the words 'stop all calls' and 'pay with Visa, give a password'. Apparently Natalie had phoned and had offered to help protect mum against unwanted sales calls. The irony of Natalie herself being an unwanted sales call was apparently never addressed.

"Just give me the long number from your card" was one of Natalie's preferred phrases, mum tells me. Given that mum treats her bank card as being more precious than the money it offers access to, that was never going to happen. Besides, she's already registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), which is (a) a free service and (b) the official opt-out list for avoiding unsolicited sales or marketing calls.

So what exactly was Natalie offering? Well, it seems she was promising to sign mum up to some kind of minimum-term contract deal. For a recurring fee, Nuisance Protect Ltd would register mum with the Telephone Preference Service and the Mail Preference Service (which is free if you do it yourself) and would contact companies that ignore the TPS or MPS regulations (although there was no explanation of how they'd find contact details for these errant organisations).

And - according to their website - "if a company contacts you and asks you for banking information over the phone", they will "search government websites and do as much research as possible on these companies to ensure that you are not going to fall victim to fraud and they are safe and reputable to be dealing with".

So I imagine it would tell me that Nuisance Protect Limited was incorporated on 18th June 2014 and the registered office appears to be a terraced house at 29 Nimbus Close, Littlehampton, BN17 6RX. It would also point out that Nuisance Protect had the status of 'dormant' when it published its last set of accounts (30th June 2015), with company director Mark Strange noting the business had assets of just £1. I don't think mum's going to help them increase that figure.