Category Archives: Miscellaneous


Notes from Wattana: An Orangutan in Paris by Chris Hertfield

p. 141 “Captive great apes … are present at the crossroads of several entangled histories, with their personal stories mingling with that of their ape or human partners, inscribing them with a social history as well as a specific cultural history. Nevertheless, we still continue to confine them to a single history: their natural histort, reducing them to representatives of their species and products of their phylogenetic history. Yet the behaviors of great apes, eminently social and flexible, cannot be generalised at a species level. … It is difficult for us to admitthat creatures other than human beings might have a biography. Yet great apes are born, grow up,meet others, form friendships, travel from place to place, developing different character traits, preferences, varied interests, and particular skills.

p. 97 “Knot after knot, assembly after assembly, weaving after weaving, Wattana repeats the chain of movements involved in knotting. Little by little, she refines her gestures, and increases their complexity, developing true technical mastery… simultaneously a rhythmic and a hand-to-hand struggle with the world and its materials, colors, consistencies, achieved with the aid of fiber and cords. … Sometimes she is absorbed in this activity for a whole afternoon, and thus expresses a real taste for the execution of knots. Her sustained attention, the depth of her involvement, and her craving to do it right all testify to this.”

p. 98 Orangutans “their fascination for sophisticated manipulations (their predilection for shoelaces being one example) is far more pronounced than in other primates. This also applies to their greater aptitude for using one tool to create another … p. 100 “plaiting, interlcaing, intertwining,: these are all terms used by primatologists to describe construction techgniques that greay apes use in building their nests. .. Great apes are not satisfied in building a basic bed. They decorate their nests with a plant mattress that some researchers consider artistic. They select their materials according to the available plant life and the shades of green. They then line their nests with Campnosperma branches to protect themselves from mosquitos. .. Some apes systematically bite the tips of the branches used for the fringes of their nest, the edge being composed of twigs of similar appearance and the same length. Some of them fashion a small cushion from plants that they grip tightly against themselves as they sleep. Apes also seem to attach importance to the panorama that can be seen from the bed; they chose the site carefully according to the view. These shelters may also be equipped with ‘roofs; to protect them from sun and rain.”

p.102 “The majority of behaviors devices and tools (associated with body care, sex, games,comfort) belong to what French philosopher Dominique Lestel would describe as an ethology of comfort… The concern for self by self and the simple fact of existing constitute tasks that our societies tend to forget… Great apes experience a power and a pure pleasure of being, which carries them beyond basic needs; to advance towards what for them represent possible sources of comfort, satisfaction, or pleasure.”

p.103 “Tool ideology.. the direction taken by the discipline is built on underlying sweeping dichotomous categories of males versus female, of hard versus soft, of the public versus the private (intimate) domains. Fibres are considered to be soft materials, in contrast to stone, representing the hard. As proposed by Nold Egenter, it would surely be very fruitful to ponder the question of homoisation using construction as a starting point.”

p. 33 “this case of adoption is not uncommon among the great apes. While some females very clearly turn their backs on motherhood, others are strongly attracted to babies.Some go as far as to take care of three infants simultaneously. .. Even if they have no experience at all, cats instinctively know what needs to be done after the birth of their first litter. In fact, great apes are envisaged as the natural counterpart to humankind, as authentic creatures of nature, entirely governed by instinct and subject to biology. .. Yet repeated cases of ape mothers in zoos that show no interest in their babies, or do not know how to look after them, clearly show the process leading to ‘becoming a mother’ is complex. Moreover, this suggests that the notion of ‘matrenal instinct’ as something both universal and automatic, and as the only foundation for this kind of capacity, needs reevaluation for great apes….even when they do have the opportunity to learn from an effective model, young female apes are still deprived of all that is transmitted through the close proximity of bodies: a particular maternal style will influence the baby more surely if it is incorporated, experienced in the flesh and picked up by all the senses.”

p.121 Siri, a 12-year-old Asian elephant … “the female would often trace lines with a stoneon the ground in her enclosure… he provided her with paper, paints,paintbrushes, or pencils. Without being encouraged or rewarded, she freely drew dozens of compositions on sheets of paper.. She produced these in 20 to 30 seconds,sometimes pausing to examine the paintings. … her pictorial techniques evolved considerably over the course of the sessions. .. elephants know what they are doing and clearly enjoy doing it. .. the French philosopher Etienne Sourian, a specialist in aesthetics, showshow much the aesthetic act seems to be linked to ‘impulses stemming from the depths of life’.”

p. 124 Bottlenose dolphins in Hawaii indulged in making bubble rings. “To achieve this, they produced whirlpools with their flippers and then breathed out air through these eddies with their blowholes. In this way they fashioned circles, spirals, tori, vortices and helices. .. Once the bubble rings had been shaped, the dolphins played with them”.


Oat and buckwheat gluten-free vegan cookies

I was going to point someone to the recipe on which this was based, but in fact I’ve varied it so much they’re really different cookies, so here it is:

1 cup of gluten-free oats
1/2 cup gluten-free white flour
1/2 cup of tapioca flour (not essential to have this type of flour, but makes them chewy)
1/2 cup of buckwheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
125 grams of margarine (or you could use butter)
4 dessertspoons of golden syrup
Teaspoon baking powder
Two tablespoons boiling water (or thereabouts)

Mix all the dry ingredients, melt margarine/butter in microwave with golden syrup, dissolve baking powder in water and mix into this, then mix into dry ingredients.

Bake in oven around 180C for about 20 minutes.

They’ll be soft out of the oven but will harden up as they cool.


Gluten-free coconut and lemon biscuits

1/4 cup cornflour
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup rice flour
1/2 cup margarine
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut
Teaspoon of lemon juice

Mix dry ingredients, melt margarine in microwave, mix, make into balls and flatten wiith a fork

Bake for about 20 minutes in 180 degree oven.

Based on this recipe.

Miscellaneous Politics

How a life was defined by childhood poverty

My grandmother, Edna White, nee Boar, aged 90, is now in hospital in Australia, receiving palliative care after a massive stroke.

Hers was a life marked indelibly by the Great Depression. She never tired of telling the story of how at the age of 11 she got a scholarship to a grammar school, but because her parents couldn’t afford the tram fare, she had to go to a three-year high school, and then go out to work at 15.

She was very intelligent, and artistically talented, and ended up forging a financially comfortable life for herself, working as a legal secretary, which for a woman of her generation was a very good job.

But the psychological scars remained – she always felt that the world hadn’t given her her due, and hadn’t allowed her a fair go. That marked her life, and that of her family.

Today, with the massive welfare cuts in Britain, the hideous and growing inequality, how many more people are being so marked?

Update: Nan died peacefully in her sleep on November 21. Seeking information for her death certificate, I’ve had cause to delve into the family history and learnt that her mother was Florence (nee) Grose, her father’s William R. C. Boor. They were married in Paddington (Australia) in 1919. (Nan was born on the 13th April, 1921, and married in 1946.) Two generations much marked also by war.


Women’s rugby – that takes me back

Was pleased to see in the Independent a very decent piece on the England women’s rugby captain, which only occasionally slips into the “gosh, girls are really playing” mode.

Catherine Spencer’s comment about not being recognised without mud in her hair takes me back to my rugby days – well my one rugby season.

I played for the really-not-very-good University of New England (Australia) team, which only made up the numbers with some “friends of players” who’d been talked into it without wanting to be there. Which meant when you got to the wings there were some players really not at all keen to tackle anyone.

I was No 8, a position for which I was way, way too slow, but we had a surplus of second rowers, which was probably where I belonged.

The mud line reminded me of my sporting fame moment when the local television stringer – who’d worked for me when I’d been news editor of the local daily paper – turned up to film a game, and was absolutely delighted to film me at the end of it, with a face as red as a desert sun, and hair that had reached the indescribable stage. (I do hope that tape has been safely confined to history, since I was also so high on adrenaline I was probably incoherent.)

Probably fortunately, I’ve forgotten the score of our biggest thrashing, when we played Newcastle Uni, which actually had Australian team members playing for them. One of them was a centre, who I recall only from the back, chasing her fruitlessly down the field…

File under nostalgia…


Check your American Express bill!

I just did mine, and found that I’d been charged for “American Express Card Defence” (one of those services that allow you if your cards are lost or cancel all your cards with one call), despite my having cancelled it in 2008 because the service was so crap.

After 20 minutes waiting without answer on their telephone line, I rang American Express, to learn that “sorry, they have accidentally charged lots of cancelled people – but we will refund your money”.

What would have happened, I wonder, if I hadn’t noticed and hadn’t run up? (This was a charge made on September 30 – so they have had plenty of time to correct it themselves.)