Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Philemon and Baucis

As the embers of the current year die away, it is a time of reflection between these last moments of 2009 that are otherwise shared between finishing off a grant proposal to fund the next few years of my research and processing yet more manuscripts that await editorial decisions (it is perhaps not surprising that many reviews were submitted in these last days of the year). And as a part of that reflection, I reprint here a poem written by, of all people, my own father. Ostensibly, it is a poem about an old married couple, Philemon and Baucis, who, having given sanctuary to the god Zeus, were granted the wish that each should die at the same time. My parents are (I think, but cannot be absolutely sure!) 87 and 85. And I have learned much from them.

Philemon and Baucis

They no longer remember their actual age,
every night’s a new night on their hard bed.
They search for their old bodies and embrace.

Every night new, every night the same:
sharing of experience gives their love strength.
They no longer remember their actual age.

Time’s measure they now reject as strange,
the time that matters turns to love instead.
They search for their old bodies and embrace.

There is never in their love such careless haste
that forgets the affection of caress.
They no longer remember their actual age.

They now rejoice that they have learnt to tame
the youthful follies that helped create stress.
They search for their old bodies and embrace.

Their love does not seek greatness nor fame
but at last is all about and much more than sex.
They no longer remember their actual age,
they search for their old bodies and embrace.

I have never really understood poetry. Yes, I know that makes me a philistine. But this is one poem I do understand. I reproduce it here to remind myself that there is more to life than writing (and reviewing) grant applications, editing a journal, or coveting expensive bean-to-cup coffee machines...

poem © Simon L. Altmann

Thursday, 24 December 2009

it's almost xmas...

So... it’s that time of year again... Xmas is upon us. As is lots of chocolate.

Have a good one. And a great 2010.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009


Just in time for Xmas, I’ve cleared my queues at the journal. All the manuscripts I was handling that had received the required number of reviews have been cleared, and all the manuscripts waiting to go out to review have been sent out (or have been politely turned away through a process of triage). I even received one email today saying “this is surely the nicest rejection letter I have received yet.” Life can barely get better!

In the last two weeks I’ve accepted 11 manuscripts, rejected 29, and sent around 15 back to the authors for revision. And I only sent 9 out to review. At the very beginning of the New Year I’ll post more complete statistics about the journal, but it turns out I triage (i.e. politely turn away without sending to review) 40% of the submissions I deal with. This is the exact same number that I send out to review but then reject when the reviews come back. Pure coincidence, of course. Particularly quick-witted readers, or those that have a calculator to hand, will be able to work out that this means I accept 20% of the submissions that come my way. I can’t currently speak for the other Associate Editors - I’ll be calculating their combined accept/reject rates on New Year’s Eve... it’s something to do while listening to the year tick slowly away.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

it's very, very cold...

Last night it went down to -11C (that’s 12F). There’s an inch of ice on the pond. Or at least, there was until I dug a great big and unsightly hole in it...

Things I’ve discovered over the past couple of days:
  • Chocolate fountains and children do not mix. Or rather they do. All over the carpet: what goes down does sometimes come up again.
  • It’s actually quite pleasant doing absolutely no work at all over the weekend.
  • Delonghi have released the ESAM6700 - successor to the ESAM6600 that I really, really, covet. The new machine costs a few hundred pounds more, which makes it all the more covetable, and all the more out of reach. Anyway... I make a perfectly fine cappuccino each morning, and it’s almost as good as the cappuccino they make at La Colombe in Philadelphia. It’s true that I can’t do the Latte Art... but I want to drink the stuff, not hang it on my wall...
Things I’ve done over the past couple of days:
  • Turned the AMLaP 2010 page into a blog; I can now add information as I get it.
  • Almost nothing else.

Friday, 18 December 2009

life's ups and downs

UP: The snow is beautiful. It’s -2C and it snowed most of the night.

DOWN: We’re snowed in.

UP: My new contact lenses. I no longer need reading glasses! My left (dominant) eye is set to focus on distant things, and my right eye is set to focus close-up for reading. So wherever I look, one eye is in focus and the other is blurry... but the mind is an amazing thing, and I already am pretty much adapted, after just two days of the new prescription, and I barely notice the blur. Soon, I am told, I won’t notice it at all. Surprisingly, it takes no effort to switch from close-up to distant viewing. This is life-changing!

DOWN: The snow is indeed beautiful, but the burst pipe which flooded the kitchen and has left us with no water until the emergency plumber comes (at exorbitant cost) is not beautiful at all. It only took 90 minutes with two bath towels to soak up the water and leave the floor looking strangely dry (I have the central heating to thank for that).

UP: Morning coffee made with bottled water. Sparkling water. You just can’t beat a fizzy cappuccino...

Sunday, 13 December 2009

unfinished Finnish coffee

Am somewhere in the skies over Sweden, or possibly Norway, on the way back from Finland. Evidently, the civilised coffee world has not yet reached these dark frozen climes. Nescafé was the best you could get. I decided I’d give the instant cappuccino a go. The technology is clever, and it is worth watching the stuff froth and foam. But before you go off and try it for yourself, you should know that powdered cappuccino tastes very much like the regular instant coffee, except for the shot of Gillette shaving foam they’ve magically mixed in. I can assure you it is completely undrinkable and best treated, and disposed of, like any other biohazard. Anyhow, am drinking far better stuff on the plane back. Foolishly, I have just eaten the very worst idea in airplane vegetables - finely chopped beetroot. Yes, the stuff that, if accidentally dropped down your white shirt, makes you look like you’ve been stabbed multiple times. And to facilitate the stabbing, Finnair provide you with the tiniest of plastic forks, a more adequate description of which would include the words ‘over-active’ and ‘slingshot’. Accompanying this vegetable equivalent of an indelible marker pen was some unrecognisable seasonal meat - I guess that means it was either reindeer or elf.