22 April 2014

Media vita in morte sumus

Apologies for the lack of blog posts.  I have not felt like writing. 
My father passed away on the 26th March.  May he rest in peace. 
He had lung cancer and emphysema.  He spent the last week of his life in hospital in the Intensive Care Unit in an unconscious state.  Even though we were able to come together as a family with my brother and I traveling from afar to be by his bedside, we were unable to speak to him before he died.

This past month has been an emotional roller coaster ride with highs and lows.  There has been laughter as well as tears.  My father had a great sense of humour and we would remember funny anecdotes and laugh and also cry.  

Now that he is gone, I try and find consolation from family and friends as well as from books and music.   The Latin saying, "Media vita in morte sumus" (In the midst of life we are in death) strikes a particular chord with me at this time.  It reminds us that death is never far away and we need to be mindful of this fact and acknowledge our own mortality whilst at the same time doing our very best to lead a meaningful life.  

21 March 2014

More beautiful doors

I have often waxed lyrical about a visit to the Medina in Tunis.  It really is a veritable feast for the eyes, reminiscent of Aladdin's cave.  There is so much to see and do and my enthusiasm for it has not diminished even after more than a decade of living here.  As people who read this blog know, I have a particular penchant for Tunisian doors.  So without further ado, here is a selection of more beautiful doors.

19 March 2014


The gorgeously colourful plants in the above photographs are called Kalanchoe.  They caught my eye on a recent visit to a plant nursery in Tunis.  The fleshy stems and leaves give an indication that this is a succulent plant.

Kalanchoe is a genus of about 125 species of tropical, succulent flowering plants in the family Crassulaceae, mainly native to the Old World. Only one species of this genus originates from the Americas, 56 from southern and eastern Africa and 60 species in Madagascar.  It is also found in south-eastern Asia and China.  Kalanchoe beharensis from Madagascar, can reach 6 m (20 ft) tall, but most species are less than 1 m (3 ft) tall.  These plants are cultivated as ornamental houseplants and rock or succulent garden plants. This plant is known to the Chinese as "thousands and millions of red and purple" (萬紫千紅), and is commonly purchased during the Chinese New Year..  They are popular because of their ease of propagation, low water requirements, and wide variety of flower colors.  These plants are the food plant of the caterpillars of Red Pierrot butterfly. The butterfly lays its eggs on the leaf and after hatching the caterpillar goes inside the leaf and eats the leaf from inside. In common with other Crassulaceae some Kalanchoe species contain bufadienolide cardiac glycosides which can cause cardiac poisoning, particularly in grazing animals.

18 March 2014

Hand-shaped door knockers

Last year, I wrote a blog post about hand-shaped door knockers.  I am re-visiting the same subject again, as last week I was in the Medina with some friends and I was able to take more beautiful images to add to my existing collection.  I suppose I appreciate not only the detail of these door knockers but the whole idea behind what they represent.  You may like to read my earlier blog post to acquaint yourself with the subject-matter, here is a link for your information:

10 March 2014

Echium candicans

A butterfly can be seen feasting on the nectar of the Echium candicans

A close-up of the dense clusters of small deep blue flowers

The above photographs are of a plant called Echium candicans.  As you can see, this is a beautiful shrub like plant with dense clusters of gorgeously coloured small deep blue flowers.  It is known by the common name Pride of Madeira and is in the Boraginaceae family of plants.  It has dark green hairy lance shaped leaves.  Echium candicans also comes in white and pale blue colours as well as the deep blue coloured varieties.  It is said to be a good hardy plant which grows in well-drained soil in the full sun. Different sources on the internet refer to this plant as an annual, biennial and perennial and so not knowing precisely the duration of its growth and its biological life cycle I have included all three terminologies.

Echium candicans is cultivated in the horticulture trade and widely available throughout the world as an ornamental plant for traditional and drought tolerant water conserving gardens. It is particularly suitable for coastal planting, and is a popular ornamental in coastal California. With a minimum temperature requirement of 5–7 °C (41–45 °F), in frost-prone areas it needs some winter protection. It has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.

11 February 2014

Safer Internet Day

Today is Safer Internet Day.  You can visit the following website to find out about all the initiatives which are being taken to make the internet a safer place. 
Since the mid-1990s, the Internet has had a revolutionary impact on culture and commerce, including the rise of near-instant communication by electronic mail, instant messaging, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) "phone calls", two-way interactive video calls, and the World Wide Web with its discussion forums, blogs, social networking, and online shopping sites.
Over the years, not only has our internet use grown but the way in which we access the internet has also changed, with the invention of portable computer devices such as lap-tops, tablets, i-Pads and smartphones.  Whilst it could be argued, that the internet has generally had a positive impact on our lives as it has enabled us to connect with people from all around the world, it has facilitated the dispersal and accessibility of information, as well as providing educational benefits particularly to those people who use the internet for distance education.  However, there are those who might think that the effect of the internet has been rather insidious.  In so far as the harmful usage of the internet has been played down.  We need to protect and educate children, teenagers as well as the vulnerable people in our society about the negative effects of the internet such as, cyber bullying, paedophiles preying on children and teenagers in internet chat rooms, identity theft, the inappropriate anonymous comments left on virtual message boards, blogs and on social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter, the prolific availability of pornography, the internet gambling sites, the use of the internet by organised criminals and the decline of physical interaction between people.  All of these examples and many more besides can be sighted as negative impacts of the internet.  What is important, is that in a democratic society, we try to legislate towards the improper use of the internet by a minority of individuals and at the same time, respecting the rights and civil liberties of the majority.  Admittedly, this is a fine line which governments have to tread.  One would hope, that politicians would realise that the people do not want to live in a nanny state where governments and politicians decide which websites should be accessible to the public and which websites should be blocked.  Instead, the people want to have the freedom of choice, whilst at the same time they rely on their politicians to put adequate measures in place, to protect young children and teenagers under the age of 18 from accessing adult websites.

1 February 2014

Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

The cactus below is known as the Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) and as you can see from the photograph it has a spherical shape.  Apparently, due to the destruction and the consequent reduction of its natural habitat in east-central Mexico and is said to be "rare and critically endangered in the wild".  The cactus grows in volcanic rock on slopes, at altitudes around 1,400 metres (4,600 ft).

Every time I see this plant, I recall an unfortunate childhood encounter I had with it when I was four years old.  I was playing the children's game "blind man's buff" at a friend's birthday party and I was blindfolded.  Then someone pushed me and I fell backwards and had the misfortune of sitting on the Golden Barrel Cactus.  The pain was excruciating like having a dozen or more injections at the same time.  When I think back, my mind boggles and I cannot understand what the host must have been thinking to have a cactus indoors as a container plant at a children's birthday party.  Even the Wikipedia entry for Blind man's buff states under the paragraph entitled Gameplay that, "Blind man's buff is ideally played in an area free of dangerous obstructions so that the "It" player will not suffer injury from tripping over or hitting something."   Needless to say that I survived this close encounter with the Golden Barrel Cactus and had to leave the children's birthday party rather unexpectedly even before the cake had been served.  I think the moral of this blog post is to remind people not to have these plants indoors at a children's birthday party or indeed in their house if there are young children around.

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