The great fruit-fly battle

October 29, 2022

I am at war. My enemy has overwhelming forces. Like many a conflict, my territory has been invaded in a lightening attack. In this case, by an army of fruit flies. I am battling to repel the mini squadrons, but to little avail. 

Fruit flies reproduce at an astonishing rate. Females lay hundreds of eggs on feeding sites, such as overripe fruit and vegetables. Then, within a day or the within eggs hatch into maggots, that feed on the food source. Within about a week those larvae become sexually active and not more than two days later, start the cycle over again. 

The plague has begun. I remember the exponential nature of casualties during the Covid pandemic. How did it start? For me it was a month or so ago, I suppose. I then began rudimentary measures to deprive the flies of their food store which I had identified as a bowl containing my breakfast bananas. I wrap up the bananas. No obvious loss of flies. I move the bagged bananas into the cooler. Still no noticeable improvement.

Then a coincidence. A coffee-shop companion was buying the materials for trapping the fruit flies in her own home. Her method involved preparing a concoction including apple cider vinegar placed in a jar sealed with pierced plastic wrap. The flies get in, but then succumb to their sticky fate.

I’d never heard of apple cider vinegar but drawing on my chemistry background, I figured there would be less exotic ingredients which I could use to prepare my improvised fly weapons. For example, I needed some volatile substance whose molecules  are found in rotting fruit.  

Then, an answer presents itself. I notice wine dregs in glass left out overnight. The rim is surrounded by flies in the morning. The flies detect my approach and escape. But a plan has been revealed to me.

That evening I set a trap. I Leave a wine glass laced with the intoxicating volatile vapours of Merlot on the kitchen work surface.

Early the next morning,  I prime my fly spray andI creep up, The unsuspecting enemies are surrounding the glass. A swift blast, and the skirmish is over.

New dilemmas emerge. My nightly booze is a target for attracting flies I have been swallowing unwittingly by the glug.

I m not alone in my plight. I check the situation with neighbours and find this has been a good year for fruit flies. The gold-standard weapon using Apple cider vinegar is much favoured, but with mixed results. I have won a battle, but am fully aware that the war continues.

Fun scientific fact

Fruit flies have contributed to scientific knowledge. Their rapid breeding, and relatively simple biological structures make them favoured for scientific study, contributing to our understanding of genetic processes. Six Nobel prizes have been awarded to the fruit fly scientists.

You can learn more about it in a fascinating book, First in Fly. Drosophila Research and Biological Discovery, by Harvard researcher Elizabeth Mohr.  So, it follows, we do not want to eliminate fruit flies altogether, but only to keep them out of the kitchen.


Rishi Sunak’s first PMQs

October 26, 2022

October 26, 2022

In his first day as PM, Sunak has assembled a Cabinet. His awareness of likely internal trouble -points has produced the inclusion of members regardless of political differences. The most controversial appointment is Suella Braverman, purveyor of right-wing muscular views on immigration. Braverman is popular with party members. Only last week she had resigned or been sacked by the outgoing PM for her cavalier disregard for security precautions . Her re-appointment as Home Secretary is already seen as an unwise move, presumed to be a political necessity, and one expected to be raised at PMQs


I report the exchanges between new PM and arguably the PM in waiting, Keir Starmer. I use the abbreviation DATQ to indicate when the PM Did Not Answer the Question.

The customary warm welcomes and congratulations made on his appointment to an incoming PM.


Q Was his Home Secretary right for resigning last week on a matter of security?

A She recognised her error.  

Q Have officials raised concerns?


Q Should those with broadest shoulders pay most? (Labour pressing for a wealth tax)


Q why not change non-Dom rules (Non domestic status rules)?

A Spending needs to be paid for

Q Will he undo funded formulas he boasted he had used to deprive deprived areas?

A There are deprived areas everywhere. 

Q why not call a general election?

A He tried to overcome our mandate which I will deliver

A Will he sack the Home Secretary?  


Immediate reactions:

A robust debut giving some relief from the back benches. After the warm welcome, there was forensic targeting of the reappointment of Suella Braverman. Another expected attack was a pointed but subtler emphasis on privilege, wealth, and the PM’s own Non Dom difficulties. Non Domiciled status is a favoured tax avoidance strategy. Earlier in the year, the extremely wealthy wife of Rishi Sunak was the centre of criticism as a Non Dom, and has since renounced her status.

I pass over the sycophantic ‘questions’ of local constituency matters, and soothing responses.

The Times is reporting that Simon Care, the Cabinet Office chief Secretary was ‘livid’ at the reappointment of Suella Braverman. An urgent question about the matter was asked after PMQs. Govt response was that the Prime Minister has sole responsibility for such matters. 


Rishi Sunak has developed at the despatch box. He shows a capacity to think on his feet, but also avoids taking hostages to fortune in his replies.  He resorts to DATQ frequently, but as this is his Premiership debut, we will have wait to see what happens next. Press reports suggest that he appeared to be visibly controlling some first-night nerves

Rather over-politicised PMQ session, in light of the extreme financial crisis facing the country, which was only of secondary interest, except in the rhetoric deployed, from both Sunak and Starmer.

Will Boris Bounce Back? I Find the Answer in The Wind in the Willows

October 21, 2022

This has been the craziest week in U.K. politics since we cut off the head of King Charles 1st. Highlights included the sacking of top cabinet leaders, a lettuce becoming a joke measure of political survival time, the resignation of our Prime Minister, and Larry the Downing Street Cat seeing off a  marauding fox.

Oh, yes, and now a speed-dating version of Eenie, Meenie, Mindy, Moe, by the Conservative party to select a new Prime Minister in the time it takes for an iceberg lettuce to wilt.

Crazy enough? Enough, you cry. But there is more. As I write, I see today’s headlines. They include the name of Boris Johnson among the front runners for becoming our next PM.  Boris, the recently departed and discredited former PM but one. 

Fortunately, I have found an explanation hidden away in the wonderful children’s book Wind in the Willows by Kenneth GrahameFor those unaware of the story, it concerns the adventures of four very anthropomorphic animals. Yes, a sort of  Animal Farm but with more likeable characters.

There is Rattie, a water boatman, with the fussiness of a Mr Pooter, obsessively concerned with keeping the world shipshape. 

Mole. A subterranean dweller, but who once above ground is an intrepid adventurer.

Badger. A wise old working-class hero. 

And, the centre of all mishaps and most of the humour, is 

Toad of Toad Hall, the puffed-up irresponsible member of the landed gentry. Among the animals, he represents shameless dishonestly. When caught out, he shows flashes of guileful contrition.

Collectively, the animals become a brotherhood, unconditionally accepting, and tolerant of Toad’s egoistic and obsessional nature. 

These are anthropomorphic, subtly cuddly animals with paws and whiskers, and with  childlike enjoyments of food, comfort, and cosy nursery safety. 

A gentler tale than Animal Farm, but with something of Orwell’s genius of capturing the essential human characteristics in his animal creations. Badger has something in common with Boxer the willing workhorse. He represents working-class heroism and common sense. 

Toad is Napoleon the Pig, but cleverly made a likeable rascal. Yes, you can see where this is going.

Orwell’s great work is essentially in the spirit of Grimm’s morality folk tales.  

Wind in the willows is a bedside story. although concealing its gentle morality message for those who seek it.

You might have anticipated my interpretation of Toad as an amphibious Boris Johnson.

I could select a dozen scrapes of a Johnsonian kind from the book. One in particular strikes me as particularly apt.

The other three animals decide that Toad needs a good talking to, carried out by Badger at his most forceful. He takes Toad into a private room  ‘After some three-quarters of an hour, the door opens …

‘My friends’ Badger says ‘Toad has seen the error of his ways. He is truly sorry for misguided conduct in the past’.

He asks Toad to confirm his acknowledgement of his past wrongs, and his new commitment to change his behaviour. But Toad declines: ‘I’m not sorry one little bit. It was all simply glorious’.

‘What?’ cries the Badger, greatly scandalised. You backsliding animal, didn’t you tell me that, just so, in there – ‘

‘Oh, yes, in there,’ said Toad impatiently. I’d have said anything in there.’

‘Told you so, didn’t I?’ observed the Rat to the Mole.

A leap into the future

It is usual to confine case study analysis to the contents of the case. I’d like here  to speculate from the specific to the general. Clearly, I see in the repeated or characteristic behaviours  of Toad to have some connection with those of Boris Johnson.

Toad, the backsliding animal, as Badger put it. Boris the backsliding politician, whose word is his bond until it is replaced by a more suitable one. The Boris in favour of eating his cake and still having it.

As I prepare this, a day after the resignation of Liz Truss as PM, another episode in the folk tale of Boris begins. Members of the public are spontaneously declaring to eager journalists, their commitment to the return of their deposed hero. MPs are also urging him to stand for re-election to the post they collectively forced him out of less than two months ago,

The past in their minds is of the leader ‘who made all the right calls, saw us through Covid, led the international efforts against Putin. The leader who wins elections for us’ (us being conservative supporters).

But is there a lesson to be learned from The wind in the willows. Might the electors find out they are backing not Boris, the king across the water? Might the find later that like Toad, he will say anything to suit his purpose? 

And like Rat, will they have say to one another all too late ‘I told you so’?

An hour is a long time in politics. What happened after ‘Frantic Friday’

October 20, 2022

Wednesday, 19 October, 2022

Today is only the third PMQs since Liz Truss began her ill-fated Premiership. Since then, her original plan has been hung drawn and quartered, by market reaction, and this week by her replacement Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt. I prepared my notes expecting to record a period of calm after the recent events starting on ‘Frantic Friday’. I seriously misunderstood the situation.

My summary notes are abbreviated, but capture the general tenor of a noisy Prime Minister’s Questions. They start with the questions to the PM from opposition MPs with Shadow PM Kier Starmer granted six.

Why didn’t she lose her job, as well as the chancellor losing his?

I’ve made mistakes, and apologised.

Keir Starmer began with a well crafted question. A book being written about her is said to be Out by Christmas. Is that the title of the book, or a prediction of her Premiership?

PM I am prepared to take tough decisions.

What’s the point of promises that don’t last a week?

PM I think the house needs recognition of financial reality. (Ironic cheers)

Why trust the Tories again?

PM We are going to rescue the railways.

Why is she still here?

PM I am a fighter not a quitter.

Will she confirm pension support? 
I don’t know what he’s talking about. (Raucous laughter)

Will the PM confirm pensions will rise by 10.1%?

PM We will care of the most vulnerable. No question of the triple lock being threatened (another major policy change, from the one by announced the newly appointed Chancellor, yesterday).

My immediate reaction

I don’t know what I expected. The PM has been coached to show fighting spirit since her appearance yesterday. But the show lacked high drama. Yesterday’s uncertainties over pensions were swept aside. 

To me, the overall mood felt rather simulated.  I might have been watching an end-of-season football match between two fatigued teams. Or actors completing an unsuccessful run in a near-empty matinee house.

But then …

Within a hour of PMQs, a meeting planned for later in the afternoon with an electronics company was cancelled. The PM was expected to answer journalists’ questions. No immediate explanation was offered for the cancellation.

Stop press

An hour is a long time in politics. Home Secretary Suella Braverman resigns over a ‘genuine mistake’ involving a security lapse. The government has had four chancellors and three Home Secretaries in two months. 

The PM’s fight for survival seems increasingly a futile one.

The Elon Musk Show BBC2 Part1. How to show a girl a good rocket video

October 15, 2022

The BBC has granted Elon Musk a three one-hour mini-series on … Elon Musk. Without charging him for three hours of advertising. First learning point. You don’t become the richest man in the world without being a great marketeer. The title is a hint that we are to watch show biz in its treatment. We are not disappointed. 

The scene is set for a heroic tale of the childhood genius focussed on fulfilling his destiny to rescue civilisation by creating interplanetary travel for when the Earth becomes uninhabitable. 

First few minutes of the show confirm my earlier suspicions. This is one crazy dude. 

Mom, also appears as in a scene from the Munsters with a dash of Cruella de Ville. She is dressed as Queen Musk giving an address to her loyal subjects.  We learn of her grand plan which involved her searching for a mate  brighter even than she was. She quickly establishes that her plan works. She believes she produced has a genius. Recalls his mathematical aptitude, and his superhuman ability shown as a toddler to go without sleep to permit his all-night studying of astrophysics stints.

I was having trouble staying objective, rational about the show.

The young genius growing up shows social problems well  known among precocious infants. His early obsessions continue into his still precocious teens. Mom was right about one thing, the kid was super bright. He was to hit California where the time was right for ground-breaking ideas. Backers were willing to discount evidence of weird behaviours as perhaps a necessary component of the superstars.

His persuasiveness is that of the utterly self-assured visionary. This is one of the varied categories of the charismatic individual, the creator of cults. Brightness, self assurance (with or without concealed anxieties) and the extraordinary willingness to work 24 hour days and expect others to do the same. It may or may not be significant, that his grandfather founded a technology cult.

The programme has interviews with assorted family and work colleagues mostly suffering the chaotic distortion of the gravitational pull of the Musk supernova.

Most found the stress intolerable, several including at least one wife was brutally dismissed. One ex-partner found more positive things to say. Their courtship was a chaste one. ‘At our second date he asked could he put his hand on my knee. He asked my to go back to his rooms to lack at films about rockets. To my surprise that’s what we did’. 

His lifestyle, aided by his lack of need for sleep gave him the idea that was to turn into PayPal. But he found this too trivial to occupy his restless mind, already preoccupied with greater things. He starts the first of several financial coups each netting zillions of dollars up front.

By then his interest in creating an inter-planetary future for humanity has grown into an obsession, His plans are supported by $250 million he had pocketed from PayPal. 

He starts building and testing his space rocket. It blows up on take off. Naturally,  he identifies the junior engineer who is fired for the misfiring of the rocket.Fires said engineer.

In 2006 he invests in small electric car company. Tesla. Scrapes though teething problems, major faults for early buyers. Musk was appearing to work 24 hours a day. Twins and triplets impair his apparently 24 hour working days’.  Solves by a lightening divorce and a lightening remarriage. 

Second thought. This is one crazy guy. 

Meanwhile back to the rocket trials. Another failure. 

Undeterred, he tries a third time, knowing failure would mean ‘three strikes and you’re out’. Fails.

 The Tesla project is burning up money.  Customers start cancelling. Elon starts firing top team members in increasing numbers. The 2008 financial crisis was approaching. 

Me: things seem as bad as today’s global situation. Musk was as vulnerable as our new CEO Liz Truss seems to be as I write.

By much squeezing of available resources, he manages to get  a fourth flight off the ground just ahead of bankruptcy.

Success. It reaches its planned orbit. It had been corporate life or death. It turned out life.  NASA gives him a life saving contract. 

There are two more episodes. Overall, I learned a lot of background information. 

Maybe there is more to learn from watching another two hours of The Musk Show.


A day is a long time in politics. Frantic Friday in the U.K. as the Prime Minister sacks her Chancellor

October 14, 2022

I examine the events which took place on ‘Frantic Friday’, 14th October 2022 as a case example of a critical political leadership event in the UK.

Friday 14 October.

Overnight, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwartang (KK) has cut short his American trip, and is returning for crisis discussions with Prime Minister Liz Truss. Rumours of his sacking develop as the press circus starts to camp out at the entrance to 10 Downing Street.


News leaked that KK is to resign as Chancellor, or be sacked.  BBC TV News is on full political crisis alert. The BBC1 Politics Live show has its customary spectrum of opinion pundits. The pundit describe KK’s departure as a profound political crisis. The markets, with help from her own MPs, had forced another U turn, leaving her policy for growth in tatters. 

Presenter Jo Coborn  seeks to find balance by suggesting to  Emily Thornbury  that the Labour Party will now have to say what they would do next week to calm the market. (Jo has learned her skills at appearing neutral from her predecessor Andrew Neil):

‘Surely you can’t just be reactive? Your borrowing with its climate plans would still cost 100 billion. There’s going to be a lot more scrutiny on Labour. I spoke to John Redwood, who said for people to calm down’

Thornbury says the issues go more deeply than this month’s mini budget.

The news is arriving too quickly to assimilate. Twitter users are already identifying 9 or 15 December as date of a general election. Financial markets remain calm, interpreted as expecting a reversal of unfunded tax-cuts policy. 

A tweet from the BBC’s political reporter Nicholas Watt. His sources suggest that after KK’s departure, MPs are telling him they have enough support to force the PM to resign. 

A press conference is to take place at 2.00pm

KK’s letter makes it clear he has been asked to step down. Vows his continued support for the PM and her policies. Not clear why he was sacked, or the reasons he has resigned. His letter could  have been written as if there had been a metaphorical gun held to his head. An offer he couldn’t refuse? A letter written before he read it? KK’s junior ministers have also cleared their desks and collected their belongings at the Treasury.


Press conference has been rearranged for 2.30pm. Nice diversion, with a photo of Larry the Downing Street cat. He has starred in a video capturing him seeing off a skulking fox, earlier in the week.

PM’s letter to KK released. Sorry to lose him. He has put the country first. Still not clear why he resigned. BBC News announces Jeremy Hunt has been appointed Chancellor.


The Press conference (abbreviated comments)

‘Our potential has been held back by low growth. 

But clearly we went further and faster than we expected.

I have decided to keep the tax payment agreed by the last government. [major U turn].

I was terribly sorry to lose the former Chancellor. 

I have asked Jeremy Hunt to replace him.

I have acted decisively … I will be honest’


Telegraph:  Why should you remain PM?

PM: I’m determined to see us through this storm.

The Sun:  He has to go. How come you stay?

PM: I had to make the difficult decisions I made.

The BBC: What credibility do you have?

PM: I’ve made sure by acting decisively we can achieve stability.

ITV: Will you apologise to your party

PM: I was right in the decision I made to make sure of the country’s long term stability.

Questions ended, to cries of dissatisfaction from the majority of press pack unable to obtain a quote for tomorrow’s headlines.


Market trackers report that in the morning, markets rallied with hope of reversal of government policies. During the PM’s press conference, a reverse started which wiped out the morning’s gains. Any attempt by the Government to reassure the markets was not working

What went wrong?

What went wrong? In less than a month  after her election,  polls were suggesting that her party was heading for a monumental defeat in the next general election. Her popularity among her MPs was never high. She began with a weak political hand.

Within a week her ambitious plans for growth were announced to the world in KK’s mini budget with no explanation how it would be funded. There followed a market crash, panicky interventions from the  Bank of England, higher mortgage rates, various statements described as U turns, but defiance from the PM and her chancellor claiming that her basic plan remained intact.

Two critical incidents

1 The mini-budget leads to severe turbulence in markets, with a loss of confidence in the £ and in the government.

2 Today’s events starting with KK’s departure and Truss’s announcement of her position failed to secure approval from the markets or political commentators, even from her own MPs..

To be continued. A few initial thoughts.

I have studied the rise and fall of leaders in numerous posts on this site. My preference is to start with a closer examination of the events primarily covered in any specific post.  Later, connections with historic examples can be made. 

These notes are likely to stand alone as an example of how initial plans of a new leader can be destroyed on contact with realities. In this case the realities of the immediate reaction of financial institutions (bad) and the markets themselves.

A more charismatic figure would have retained support from influential groups including her own MPs. 

A more cautious one would have avoided the temptation to hit the ground running.

One irony is that the low growth of the British Economy is another reality which is now more recognised as a possible mayor factor around which consensus could by reached.

Unfortunately, there is always the possibility of a powerful desired vision succeeding over the promise of ‘blood, sweat and teams’. Although even that worked for one charismatic leader having to deal with an existential threat.

A dilemma of leadership pointed out by a financial analyst: 

The government appears to be promising U.K. levels of taxation with European levels of public services. A European leader says dismissively ‘It’s like a car running out of control with two drivers trying to move the steering wheel in opposite directions’.

The Goat Whisperers of Brecon 

October 3, 2022

The Brecon Beacons are the looming highlands of South Wales. Remote, dotted with hill farms, whose owners which have eked out a living from their goats and sheep for centuries. This a land where communication between remote homesteads once took place with farmers shouting across the rocky terrain perhaps to locate a missing animal. 

It gave rise to one the most famous of Welsh folk songs, about a wayward goat. In the spirit of such songs the verses are repeated, each with a different colour goat. The song is called  Oes Gavre eto. Roughly translated ‘is there another goat up there?’

The farmer is in luck. From the next hill, the answer comes back. Yes, it’s white. Very white.

It’s got a white lip, and a white tail. Then the repetition. In the second verse it’s a black goat, very black, with a black lip and a black tail.

That might have ended pretty quickly, but the poet then moves into more fancifully-coloured goats.

Yes there’s a red goat, very red, with a red lip and a red tail.

In the fourth verse there’s a blue goat. And in the final verse there’s a pink goat.

As children, we never challenged the possibility of such a rainbow bunch of goats not existing. Anyway, the song might have more than a dash of reality, especially at dipping time, when the sheep and goats are dipped into dyed disinfectants, useful protection from disease, and for goat spotting of strays.

The song ends, but my story is only beginning…

The entrepreneurial farmers 

There‘s an entrepreneurial spirit in these hill farms. A thriving industry has sprung up. 

Visitors can take part in the life cycle of the goats and sheep from birth to the sheering.

Other farms have expanded into goat-based activities. It seems young goats enjoy being taken for a walk, but even more if given a chance to demonstrate their climbing and jumping skills. A sort of Crufts for goats.

As the farmers might be saying:

There’s goats in them there hills. Any colour you like.

Notes for folk-song writers:

Here’s how the song goes in more detail

Is there another goat? One that hasn’t been milked?
On the craggy rocks the old goat is wandering

A white white white goat
Yes, a white lip, a white lip, a white lip
a bald white tail, a bald white tail
a white flank and tail, white-white-white

Is there another goat? One that hasn’t been milked?
On the craggy rocks the old goat is wandering

Now for the necessary repetition 

(2nd verse) A black goat

Yes it’s black black black

(3rd verse) A red goat

Yes it’s red, red, red

And as children don’t feel confined to colours empirically observed in goats we have 

(4th verse) A blue goat

(5th verse) A pink goat

Come to think of it, there might have been rainbow-hued goats after they have been subjected to the goat dips.

Or in Welsh

Oes gafr eto?

Oes gafr eto? Oes heb ei godro?
Ar y creigiau geirwon mae’r hen afr yn crwydro.

Gafr wen, wen, wen,
ie finwen, finwen, finwen,
foel gynffonwen, foel gynffonwen,
ystlys wen a chynffon, wen-wen-wen.

Oes gafr eto? Oes heb ei godro?
Ar y creigiau geirwon mae’r hen afr yn crwydro.

(2il pennill) Gafr ddu
(3ydd pennill) Gafr goch
(4ydd pennill) Gafr las
(5ed pennill) Gafr binc

Those willing to put up with my tuneless attempt at the first verse, will find it at the end of the podcast