In the Guardian yesterday there was a report of a study that shows that even at very low doses, neonicotinoids interfere with the ability of birds to navigate.

This is against a background that the European Union is moving (one step forward, two steps back) to a total ban on these pesticides. The UK is trying to stop the ban. Go figure.

Against this background, I have been thinking about thinking.

In May 2014 I wrote a short article here about Rachel Carson, the biologist who wrote in her book Silent Spring about the consequences of man’s interference with the environment.

Tamara and I made a card that year for World Animal Day. It featured a roan antelope and this statement about the current state of affairs. We wrote:

When Rachel Carson wrote ‘Silent Spring’
in 1962, people could perhaps claim they
didn’t know about the hidden destruction
to the environment, to wildlife.
No one can claim that now.

We wrote that because of the destruction of habitats and the crashing to near-extinction of wildlife of all kinds, both here in the UK and worldwide.

We saw that politicians were powerless against or, lobbyists for, businesses that simply didn’t seem care.

We joked ironically, asking where where these people were going to retreat to? Were they going to sit on their paradise islands and watching the sun dip over the horizon of a dead planet?


I am reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, and he makes a damning case for the destruction of the environment by Homo sapiens going back many thousands of years. He describes how time and time again, when man first reached a new destination – an island, a continent – the big fauna disappeared ‘overnight’.

And that got me thinking that perhaps this modern era is the first time in human history when there are any people who give a damn about whether the environment and its flora and fauna is destroyed.

It’s the first ray of hope I can tell myself against the figures for the crash in populations of just about all species.

Is The Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Engagement Big News Across The Atlantic?

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s engagement has pushed every other story off the front page of UK newspapers.

Only the British Government’s shambles at negotiating the EU withdrawal gets a look in.

But how big is the engagement story on the other side of the Atlantic? Or in the rest of Europe?

Come to think of it, are we in Britain soon to be no longer part of Europe? Will I have to say ‘in Europe’ instead of ‘the rest of Europe’?

So – all very interesting about the engagement- no, not really.

What is interesting to me are the news headlines like this from the BBC

“Harry and Meghan: Inter-racial couples react to the royal engagement …”

or the Guardian and

“I love the idea of a mixed-race princess’: readers on the royal engagement”

or the Independent with

“Prince Harry and Meghan Markle wedding: Will the bride really be our first mixed-race royal?”

What do you make of that? What do Harry and Meghan think to have ‘mixed race’ bandied about as a trophy of newsworthiness?

Metro Gets Prize For Best Headline

But, there has to be a prize for the best headline. A headline should be short and it should be multi-dimensional. And Metro takes the prize with One’s One.

If you are not familiar with the habit of Royalty to take about ‘one’ – as in ‘One is not amused’ rather than ‘I am not amused’ or ‘We are not amused’, then the headline might be lost on you.

When the Queen says ‘one’, she means ‘we’, and when she says ‘we’ she means that institution that has been sailing on intact for centuries and which will continue on its imperial course.

So the Metro headline has a dig at Royalty and at the way it is somewhat out of touch with the goings on at street level.

And it is sweet, with its ‘You’re the one, baby’ connotation.

It definitely gets my headline prize.

Metro newspaper headline - 'One's One' - Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

Man With Medals In The Hermitage In Saint Petersburg

In the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg I saw this man. I asked him whether I could photograph him.

I speak about ten words of Russian – mostly taught to me by Tamara, who had the patience to listen the CD before we went to Russia.

But my Russian didn't stretch to asking the man whether I could take his photo.So when I say 'I asked' I mean I raised my camera a few inches and moved my eyes between the man and the camera and gave a 'may I' look.

He was very pleased and amenable and I took the photo. Of course, we were in one of the very big rooms of the Hermitage – big enough for a grand ball – and the windows were off in the distance, so the lighting was poor.

That said, a photo is better than no photo, so I pressed the shutter.

Now the question was, who had I photographed? Was he a hero of the Soviet Union? I mean that absolutely straight up. I was madly calculating whether it was possible that he had fought his way to Berlin.

It's a bit of a stretch. If he was 20 in 1945 he would be 92 now.

Did he look 92? Well, I didn't have time to make the calculation.

When Tamara and I got back to England I asked people on Metafilter (a great place to ask questions, by the way) if anyone knew what medals he was wearing. Here are the replies.

On his right (our left) lapel, that is the "Order of the Patriotic War" (WWII or the Soviet-German war.) Some were issued as early as 1942 but they were given in 1985 to all living WWII veterans in the USSR.

He's wearing the anniversary edition of that medal, given to veterans in 2015 (emblem is on round backing, has pendant loop, with ribbon).

His peaked cap has the Russian naval ensign and the Russian Federation flag on it, though it's not an official uniform cap as far as I can tell.

The black and orange ribbon is presumably a St. George ribbon.

I think the pin on our left (his right) that says "Ударник" is a Shock Worker of Communist Labor pin from the 9th 5-year plan (1971-1975)

Assuming he was wearing his own medals, that would indeed make him a veteran of WWII.

I have to say I felt something when I saw him. Tamara and I had been to the Museum of the Siege of Leningrad (what Saint Petersburg was then called), and I have read a bit about what things were like in Russia at that time.

So it was like stretching a hand through history to be near this man.

I don't mean I admired him or idolised him or in some way elevated him, but he was there at a cruel time so far removed from the room in which we were standing, and he made that time seem a bit nearer.