Sunday, August 31, 2008

Minefield Rats

As many of my doggy friends will know, I'm a big devotee of clicker training - or any form of positive reinforcement training - and I was excited to stumble across this story today.

A Belgian-Tanzanian non-profit, Apopo, is training rats to sniff out mines in Mozambique. The rats are trained to detect the scent of TNT. They scratch at the ground whenever they smell it and they receive a bit of banana as a reward. Brilliant, I think: in addition to excellent noses, the rats are too light to set off the mines, so the operation is much safer than it would be for sniffer dogs or people with metal detectors.

Here's the story:

And here's the organization that does the training:

Friday, August 29, 2008

As Any Fule Kno

This year I will be writing my Masters thesis on Nigel Molesworth, who falls between Ramona Quimby and Elizabeth Bennet as one of my top literary heroes of all time. That's saying a lot, because I have a degree in English.

Anyway, a couple of readers (yay, readers!) expressed interest in this particular personage. I am more than happy to oblige.

Nigel Molesworth is the creation Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle, and he appears in four books, all published in Great Britain in the 1950s.

Down With Skool! is the first of the series. It's followed by How to be Topp, Whizz for Atomms and Back in the Jug Agane. Sadly these masterpieces have not been reprinted since 1999, which is really inexcusable. If you happen across one in a used bookstore, snatch it up! (And send it to me, maybe?)

Molesworth attends the rather dreary St. Custard's, along with Molesworth 2, his little brother, his grate friend Peason and Fotherington-Tomas, who sa hullo clouds hullo sky and skips around like a gurl. The books aren't so much stories - the plot lines are loose, to say the least, and they jump around from straight narrative to scripts and leap back and forth in time - as musings on school, life, and everything. Oh, and Molesworth can't spell.

Here is an excerpt, to whet your appetites. From Down With Skool! Chapter 6, "How to Torture Parents":

Country Dancing

Another form of torture for parents is the displa of country dancing on ye sham vilage green. The skool gardener is awakened from another sleep in the onion bed and skool piano wheeled from big skool revealing wizard patch of dust marbles dead beetles conkers and skeletons of boys who hav crept away to die...

Boys then all dress up in weedy costumes with all sorts of bells everywhere and parents take their seats. miss pringle take seat at skool piano and strike huge opning chord.


(dancers enter)

ALL: Dilly dilly dilly dilly o

With a rilly dilly, strawberry, o.

(pointing toes)

EBENEZER: Rilly-dilly jingle. Rilly-dilly jingle.

EPHRAIM: With a raspberry-o.

ALL: Rilly-dilly raspberry, rilly-dilly raspberry o.

I'm looking forward to my thesis...

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

It was a drizzly, dark morning today, and I had Nutmeg out at the river early. She was happily digging her hole in the sand when she noticed a man in yellow emerge from the path. She watched him for a moment before he took out his harmonica and began to play for her.

Now, I cannot claim to be a huge harmonica enthusiast, usually because the only tunes I've ever heard played on a harmonica tend to be a bit too sprightly and wheezy for my liking. But this man began to play what I can only call a dirge - dark, melancholy and slow. Nutmeg was transfixed. She did none of her cute head-tilts, nor did she wag her tail or go up to him to search for treats. Nor was she afraid. She just stood there, enchanted, as he played his tune for her.

After he finished, the man just said, "That was for you, buddy," and disappeared again into the bushes.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

My very first (profound) post

Last night I was hit with inspiration. I should start a blog.

Usually when I am hit with insomniainspiration, I either:
a) forget all about it the following morning
b) realize that it was a silly idea and never follow through, hence my failure to - for example - try windsurfing.

This blog's aims are many and varied. Mainly I expect I will discuss (in no particular order):
a) My dog.
b) Dog training - theory and practice.
c) Children's Literature.
d) The many joys of Nigel Molesworth.
e) Things that bother me. Of which there are many.
f) The many joys of lamination.

Brace yourself for profundity.