Pumpkin Update

Following on from yesterday’s post I can report that, with some help from our neighbour, I have successfully disentangled the pumpkin plant from the fence. We ended up having to cut away some of the plant but managed to avoid removing any of the actual pumpkins.

The neighbour was even kind enough to return the big pumpkin that had been growing on his side of the fence. All 11 kilos of it.

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I also planted courgettes earlier this year and we harvested the first one yesterday. It’s a pretty decent size although I haven’t gotten around to weighing it.

While weeding and clearing, we discovered this little lady helping to protect the plants.

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After some searching, I think she’s a wasp spider (Argiope bruennichi) and I know that she sent me down an internet rabbit hole for much of the evening. They are fascinating wee beasties.

I tried not to disturb her too much but all of our banking about was enough to send her into hiding at some point during the day. I hope she comes back, though, as she provides a cheerfully colourful way of keeping my vegetables pest free.

Pumpkin Frenzy

I haven’t being paying a lot of attention to the vegetable patch recently, which is why the pumpkin plant has been able to grow completely out of control. Not only has it climbed the neighbours’ fence, but it has also grown a spectacularly large pumpkin on their side of said fence.

We have already told the neighbours that they can keep the pumpkin, unless it turns out to be the most impressive one we manage this year. I do, however, need to ensure that the weight of the plant doesn’t cause any actual damage so today I shall be mainly tying to exert some sort of control over this stationary triffid.

That was the summer that was

Bloggage has been a bit light recently because this is August and I’ve been on holiday. Two weeks involving a few days away with the extended outlaws (like in-laws, but without a marriage contract) and then a week at home.

I have to admit that I enjoyed the time at home much more than the time away. It’s not that I have anything against my partner’s family, but I do find having to be constantly upbeat and endlessly sociable to be very tiring. It doesn’t help that we have such a divergent view of what constitutes a pleasant excursion.

Even though it started to rain pretty much as soon as we were back in Belgium, it wasn’t bad enough to keep us from going outside and enjoying a bit of time together. And when it did rain, we managed to play plenty of board games and even managed a trip to the cinema to see The Lion King, which was impressively animated although I don’t really see the point of a shot for shot remake of the original.

I was also able to really appreciate the fact that, once we’d had enough of each other, the boys were more than happy to spend some time with their tablets while I quietly filled the bin and reorganised some of our endlessly cluttered living space.

I have spent a lot less time online that I expected to — which is probably a good thing — and have also failed to catch up on my reading backlog. Still, with my holiday being over, I suspect that I will fall into my usual rhythm quite quickly.

The boys are still on holiday of course, and from Monday they will be attending the week long and slightly misleadingly named Sport Camp. There is no camping involved but they do get to try a variety of sporting activities and to find out what the various local clubs have on offer. And after this, they will start ramping up for the new school year.

For now, however, it’s barbecue time, after which I shall fire Newsblur andf try to catch up on what I’ve missed over the past couple of weeks.

Another Five Things

It isn’t easy being a troll. Hand Me Downs is a short story by Maria Haskins.

“We Handed A Loaded Weapon To 4-Year-Olds.” Developer Chris Wetherell built Twitter’s retweet button. He tells Buzzfeed why he regrets what he did to this day.

Rosie Fletcher at Den of Geek suggests the 2 hour 45 minute running time for It Chapter Two indicates that the horror genre is moving into the mainstream. And that’s a good thing.

Over at Aeon, Matthew Stanley recounts British astronomer and physicist, Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington’s attempt to test Einstein’s theory of relativity. It’s worth reading not just for the challenges Stanley faced, but also the way in which he managed to craft the subsequent narrative into a symbol of post-war German-British solidarity.

And finally, Alastair Campbell has left the Labour Party and asked Jeremy Corbyn to seriously consider whether he’s really up to the challenges ahead.

Looking forward to a fun Autumn

As someone who commutes to Brussels by train every day, I was less than overjoyed to see an article start with the words There is bad news for those that commute to work in the capital by train.

Infrabel, the company that manages the rail infrastructure has announced that they need to carry out maintenance work in the tunnel that goes from Brussels North, through Brussels Central (my stop) to Brussels South. The engineering work will reduce the capacity of this tunnel which, according to Infrabel, means that dozens of trains will need to be scrapped.

And then they pass the buck…

It will be up to the rail operator NMBS to draft a revised timetable.

I don’t dispute the need for maintenance work and the Brussels north-south line is in a tunnel that runs through the centre of Brussels. So any maintenance work will inevitably be disruptive.

What I find wearing is that, whenever there is any disruption or problem, both Infrabel and NMBS immediately respond by blaming each other. And sure enough…

NMBS told ‘De Tijd’÷ that it was only told about the work three months ago. However, Infrabel denies this and says that talks about modernisation work have been going on since November 2017 and numerous meetings have been held.

I have never really understood the rationale for having separate companies for the infrastructure and the trains. At the end of the day it’s all one service as far as rail users are concerned and, quite frankly, a bit more integration would be nice.

Big Art, Small Country

Belgium is set to become the home of the largest public artwork in Europe. Bernar Venet’s Arc Majeur was originally set to be installed in France way back in 1984 but was abandoned due to local opposition.

Now, the French artist will finally be able to realize his original vision for the gigantic piece of art, which has been placed across a busy highway in Belgium. Once unveiled in October, the 250-tonne steel sculpture will be the largest public artwork in Europe.

We shall have to keep an eye out for it when we next find ourselves on the E411 between Namur and Luxembourg.

The UK election sweepstakes

Andrew Rawnsley is one of the more insightful political commenters out there but this doesn’t stop him from making the same mistake as a lot of the UK media in that he tends to look at Brexit for an entirely British point of view. Thus, we have this article suggesting that Boris Johnson will call an early election in order to crash the UK out of the EU.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that Johnson doesn’t actually have to do anything if he wants a no-deal Brexit.

It’s all well and good saying that Parliament won’t allow a no-deal Brexit but the only ways of avoiding this, ultimately, are to ratify the existing withdrawal agreement or to revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU.

Parliament can try to force Johnson to request another extension, but there is no guarantee that the EU will agree to grant one. Given the way in which the UK has wasted the time since April and the low esteem in which Johnson is held, it looks increasingly likely, to me, that the EU heads of government will decide that it’s better to get Brexit over with than to drag it on any longer.

So, if Parliament remains unable to decide whether to ratify the withdrawal agreement or revoke Article 50, then Britain crashes out of the EU on the 31st October, at which point Johnson will claim to have “delivered Brexit”, thus rendering Farage’s Brexit Party irrelevant.

So Johnson doesn’t need to call a general election in order to achieve a no-deal Brexit. On the other hand, if he calls an election in November, after the UK has crashed out of the EU but before the consequences start to bite, then the collapse of the Brexit party would be probably enough for him to hoover up the Leave vote and win a majority.

Johnson is blatantly gearing up for an election, but I don’t think it will happen until after Britain’s disorderly exit from the EU. The only way to stop him is for Parliament to call a no-confidence vote and bring down the government before the end of October.

Parliament returns on 3rd September. MPs will need to get their act together — and quickly — if they want to call a halt to this madness before it’s too late.

Today is Earth Overshoot Day

We have now used up our allowance of natural resources for the year.

Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. We maintain this deficit by liquidating stocks of ecological resources and accumulating waste, primarily carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Earth Overshoot Day is hosted and calculated by Global Footprint Network, an international research organization that provides decision-makers with a menu of tools to help the human economy operate within Earth’s ecological limits.

In the 1970s we were able to make it all the way to December before we started sucking up resources from future generations. Now we can’t even make it to August and we would need the equivalent of 1.75 planets to produce enough to meet humanity’s needs at current consumption rates.

Action is needed now more than ever.

If you want to find out when your own overshoot day is, Calculate your Ecological Footprint and personal Overshoot Day. Mine is pretty terrible.