Sunday, June 25, 2017

Walking : The Evolution

The origins of bipedal stance still remain a baffling subject with some anthropologists and biologist convinced our ancestors learned to walk on two feet whilst living in trees. Others remain convinced. The former accept human style walking began with arboreal apes approximately 17-24 million years ago, rather than the latter school, who estimate humans started to walk between 4-8 million years ago, when the ape-like human ancestors called Australopithecus started to walk upright.

br> Walking on two legs (all the time) is a basic human characteristic and we are the only living species that can make love standing (on two feet) facing each other. Freud believed the anatomical position our soft round wobbly bits were determined by walking in such a manner as we could distinguish gender by sight and not smell. No one can be one hundred per cent sure however of human evolution despite the oft quoted metamorphosis from arboreal apes to ground walking man.

It is unlikely we evolved through 'knuckle walking' to the upright, bipedal gait of people although this hypothesis is not entirely dismissed by many in academe. Tempting as it may to accept tree walking apes transferred to the ground, forced by deforestation there is just enough information available to be anything other than sceptical Arboreal walkers do rely on the use of their hands for balance and ostensibly this represents more of a modified quadripedal motion than actual bipedal stance.

Another thing anthropologists and biologists argue over is what precisely influenced the design of the human frame. Walking and running are two quite different forms of locomotion which involve a stance phase and a swing phase. When walking, the stance phase (ground contact) accounts for 60% of a gait cycle followed by 40% swing (through). Up to middle distance running the cycle remains more or less the same but in running stance phase is reduced markedly as the swing phase increases and the time spent in dual support is reduced.

Different musculature is necessary to run as opposed to walk and now researchers are hypothesising it took a few million more years for the running physique to evolve and it was running, not walking which made the naughty bits so visible to the naked eye.

The human running frame requires longer legs, shorter forearms to counterbalance the upper body and larger vertebral discs to give better shock absorption. Big buttocks are also very important. The common factor in all of the above is the development of the human foot which could provide a platform for lateral weight bearing and leverage for propulsion.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Prehistoric ice shoes: Good as new

Petr Hlaváček is a shoe savant and is best-known for his projects of making replicas of shoes worn by prehistoric men. Throughout his career, Petr worked on many types of research which changed our understanding of footwear in history. As an academic he studied the shoes of Ötzi the Iceman, the sandals from Fort Rock Cave in Oregon, the footwear of the Terracotta Army, the boots of Albrecht von Wallenstein, and Byzantine sandals from Turkey, among many others. His research projects include the shoe fragments from the Qumran Caves and the sandal of Masada in Israel. Hlaváček made replicas of these shoes, and road tested them for comfort.

Together with his team, he made three exact replicas of the Iceman’s shoes and five additional pairs to varying sizes . The team punctiliously sourced the deer, bearskin, and calf hide that were used for the soles of the shoes and managed to track down a piece of pelt that was from a bear. The shoe leather was tanned with boiled pig’s liver and pig’s brain. For added comfort a layer of hay was placed inside the shoes.

To road test the Ötzi’s shoes a hill climbing party including mountain-climbing shoe designer, Vaclav Patek went on a hike in the Alps wearing the prehistoric footwear. In three days, they climbed over 4,900 feet often tramping through ice water. At the end of the trip Patek, claimed the prehistoric mountain shoes were as comfortable as anything he had worn.

Toenails: A morbid fascination

Fantasy and fact clash when it comes to the undead and authors of occult fiction would sometimes have us believe hair and fingernails and toenails continue to grow after death. Be ready then for a myth bust. nails and hair do not grow after death. In life, the toe nails grow at a regular rate of between one fifth to one third of a mm, per day; in death, the illusion is the result of the surrounding tissue desiccating (drying out and dehydrating). The shrinking of tissue away from the nail folds and hair shafts, gives the impression of growth.

From antiquity women prepared the deceased for burial which would include preserving locks of hair and pairing the nails, today professional undertakers will make up the corpse and use moisturisers to help reduce skin shrinkage. Occult practice predates Christian belief but gradually many of the pre-Christian rituals were absorbed into theological practice. The concept of a thaumaturge (wonder woker), such as a Saint or Magician harnessing sacred power through ritual would ensure a supernatural outcome is an accepted part of the belief set.

It was common to treasure relics of the Holy and use them as a focus of worship or practice magic. Relics were divided into primary (or part of the individual i.e. bones); or secondary relics such as clothing e.g. Saint Teresa of Avila’s sandal. Most relics were collected after death, both for practical reasons as well as for the purpose of authentication. Selling Holy relics was big business in the Middle Ages and a major source of revenue for the Church but not all relics were genuine.

Morbid hair and nails provided an interesting souvenir (or Mana), which was frequently counterfeited. There are accounts from 14th century Inquisitional records that refer to the clipping of nails and hair of the newly deceased and it was common practice for families to keep morbid hair and nails clippings as momento in the form of Mourning Jewelry. It is also well established hair and nails were frequent ingredients for magical spells.

Picasso for example, kept all his hair and nail clippings safe and would document these to prevent those who might use them in the practice black magic, against him. Many spells are purportedly enhanced by affixing the hair or nail clippings of the spell’s subject into the candle used in the rutual.

Similarly in the practice of Vodun , voodoo dolls may contain hair or nail clippings. Love spells intended to influence or control other are based on ages old practices and many involve locks of hair and nail clippings.

Rituals involving nails are not restricted to occidental society and in the Loi Kratong (Light Festival) of Thailand, people put money, strands of hair and nail clippings on a handmade raft then set it afloat in the river with thousands of others. The sky is filled with paper lanterns and fireworks and the hope is evil spirits within, will leave the body in this cleansing ritual.

Haggis: Mythbuster

Take a wee donner through Literary Walk in Central Park, New York and you will find a statue of a man seated on a tree stump with a quill pen in one hand. The bronze figure by Sir John Steell (1804-1891) is of Robert Burns, Scotland’s most renowned literary figure. Great patriot he celebrated Scotland’s landscape with its moors, bogs and highlands in his folksongs and also reached a deep pathos in poetry about friendship, love and loneliness. The statue was gifted to NY by Scottish Americans in 1880.

Burns might easily have become an American had fate not thrown him a terrible blow with the loss of his true love. Whilst poised to immigrate she was struck down and Robert stayed in Scotland where he became a Customs and Excise man and celebrated poet. Burns’ poetry is appreciated all over the world and celebrated on his birthday, January 25th. He was a confirmed nationalist and proud to be son of Scotia, but he was also an international socialist and person of the people. Burns works, which was extensive, contained some excellent examples of pithy wit, keen observation, rye humour and bonhomie. None more so than his Ode tae a haggis.

The Haggis was a popular dish during Burns' lifetime but no one is quite sure why Burns wrote of something, that might be today the equivalent of a hamburger. He penned the poem in the midst of the French Revolution; the aftermath of the American War of Independence; and in the wake the Jacobite Rising. Being an educated man, he was well aware of the need for national pride and unilateral identity of the common man and may have chosen the humble haggis as the vehicle with which to demonstrate both national pride and internationalism. The Haggis was poor man’s fair but, as a nutritional treat, it could, without pretentiousness, take pride of place on the table of kings, amidst all other international cuisine.

In 1785 Robert Burns was a guest at a lawyer’s dinner in Kilmarnock. The meet was euphemistically known as a haggis dinner, because haggis was the main meal. Burns was asked to say grace and instead choose to address the haggis. The recitation went done well and was later published in a newspaper. This added to Robert Burns’ popularity as poet of the people. Address to the haggis was first published in 1786 in the Caledonian Mercury. After his death in 1796, many lamented his passing and a group of his friends met to have dinner to commemorate “The Bard.” The venue was in Alloway and the fayre was haggis. Burns had a great sense of humour and would have appreciated the Toast to the Haggis being ceremoniously recited. The friends decided to make the event an annual one and held it on January 25th (Burns birthday). News spread and in 1801 the world’s first Burns Club was founded in Greenock and now they are found all over the world. Burns Night is the pinnacle social event, where tribute to the life and works and rebellious spirit of Robert Burns is celebrated. Whether formal or informal the supper includes ‘Address to the Haggis,’ ‘The Immortal Memory” (reflection on the life of the Bard), a ‘Toast to the Lassies’ and a reply from the ‘Lassies’. Interspaced with songs and poems washed down with copious supplies of whisky and haggis.

The dish is almost certainly not Scottish in origin and was known to exist in antiquity. The combination of meats, spices and oatmeal boiled in a sheep’s’ stomach is an early example of a convenience food. The etymology of Haggis is unclear and most authorities trace it to words meaning "to chop" or "to hew". There is no agreement however whether the word was borrowed from Old English haggen, French hachis or hageur (to cut), or a Norse root, such as Icelandic hoggva- and haggw-, German –hackwurst (minced sausage).

Alternatively, some believe it is derived from Old French ‘agace,’ ("magpie"). The magpie is known for collecting odds and ends, and a haggis is made up of odds and ends. The term haggis is Scottish but it remains unknown when or where the first haggis was consumed. It was however, common practice after a beast was slaughtered by the landowner for workmen to have the offal as a perk. Stomach linings provided an ideal medium to contain liver, kidneys and the offal. This could then be boiled on site and eaten. Crofters used ingredients readily available and could conveniently be packaged for travelling. Haggis may therefore have been a convenience food for workers who travelled long journeys through inhospitable hills and glens. In any event, it took until the 18th century before the dish became popular in England. Today it is considered a delicacy.

Haggis became a source of amusement for many people and represents an early example of racist humour. For centuries, the English were distrustful of their neighbours to the North and that feeling was reciprocated. After the highland clearances, much animosity prevailed and all things Scottish were lampooned in a systematic attempt to destroy the highland culture. Decried by the English, the Scots reciprocated by inventing amusing origins to belittle their counterpart’s ignorance. The myth prevails and recent surveys indicate as many as one third of the tourists to visit Scotland expect to catch a haggis in the wilds, blissfully unaware of the real origins. Something the Bard would appreciate. It took until George III (1738 – 1820) before better social relationships was cemented and by the time of Queen Victoria everything Scottish was acceptable again.

An old receipt for haggis was to boil sheep’s pluck i.e. the liver, lungs & heart of a sheep before mincing the meats and mixing them with chopped onions, toasted oatmeal, suet, salt, pepper, and spices. These ingredients were stuffed into a cleaned sheep's stomach then closed and sewn. Enough room was left for expansion caused by heat and the haggis was boiled with stock for several hours before being served with mashed potatoes (tatties) and mashed turnip (neeps). The vegetables are prepared separately. Turnips or better known as 'swedes' (in England) and 'rutabaga’ in the US. Haggis represents the largest type of culinary sausage or savoury pudding and today is made from best meats, including tripe and offal and prepared with finest oatmeal and spices which are served in a synthetic skin. All tastes are now catered for and there is even a meat free vegetarian haggis available. Food laws in certain countries prevent the traditional haggis receipts from being made and sold.

Ode Tae a Haggis
Robert Burns 1796
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o' need,
While thro' your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An' cut you up wi' ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn,
they stretch an' strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve,
Are bent lyke drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
"Bethankit!" 'hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi' perfect sconner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro' bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll mak it whissle;
An' legs an' arms, an' heads will sned,
Like taps o' thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o' fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer,
Gie her a haggis!

Now the translation….
Greetings, you are a superior food and are worthy of a grace as long as my arm. You fill the plate so well and look so sturdy. Your juices are as inviting as whisky. See the knife cut you, allowing your insides to flow. A glorious sight and aroma. Then spoon after spoon they stretch and strain. It is every man for himself because there will be none left for the slow ones, until all their stomachs are full and fit to burst. Is there anybody who eats foreign food who would look down disdainfully at this dinner. Poor souls, if they do. They will be poor thin creatures, not fit for anything. But if you eat Haggis, you will be strong, robust and fit for battle. God, who looks after us and feeds us, Scotland does not want food with sauce that splashes in dishes. But if you want a grateful prayer then give her a Haggis.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Shoe Man (BBC Radio 4 )

The Shoe Man BBC Radio 4

Miguel Marcus Almeida is a shoe maker who has always dreamed of making luxury, British designer shoes and selling them to global markets like Japan and the US. Miguel has been asked to design some men's shoes by an agent in Japan, the world's biggest consumer of British luxury brands. But he's under pressure. At the same time, he's getting a collection of shoes ready to showcase in Florence, at one of the most prestigious international men's fashion shows. Here, he'll have the opportunity to meet buyers from around the world and there's a chance he might even meet his prospective Japanese buyers who could take a chance and invest in this little known shoemaker. Can this dreamer who dreams big really crack this?

Cinderella: From Bobby Soxers to Chavs

In 1944, the late cartoonist, Martha Arguello (aka Marty Links) created the comic strip and cartoon character Bobby Sox, (and later Emmy Lou). She launched a comic strip Bobby Sox about a teenager named Mimi who was described as a"precocious sub-deb with a flair for trouble." The name of the feature invoked “teenager” like no other: adolescent girls at the time made a fashion of wearing calf-length stockings, rolled down to a bulging bundle at the ankle, and when they showed up in legions to scream their adoration of singer Frank Sinatra, their uniform footwear attracted the attention of reporters, who called them “bobby soxers”

Bobby Sox came to epitomise the life and times of teenage girls capturing perfectly the angst and confusion of girl talk of the late 50s and early 60s.

Illustrator Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944) had done the same with Gibson Girl a half a century before.

When 50s teenage fashions changed and bobby sox (ankle length sox worn with clunky shoes) became passé, Bobby Sox the character metamorphosed into Emmy Lou. In 1960 there was a television series based on Emmy Lou Harper with the theme "Emmy Lou," sung by Frankie Avalon.

The cartoon characters Emmy Lou and her boyfriend Alvin continued to prosper, until 1979, when the artist felt the life of teenage girls had become too promiscuous to lampoon anymore.

Not sure what Martha would have made of today’s bling wearing Chavs and Ladettes. The young ASBOs believe one of their more appealing attributes are their feet according to a survey conducted by a London shoe boutique. The boutique even launched a campaign to find the new Cinderella. in order to identify the girl with the most gorgeous legs, stunning toes and beautiful feet.

Another survey commissioned by Papierdoll Fashion Magazine, revealed 82% (per cent) of women poled reported foot pain and a further 72% per cent suffered foot conditions, like ingrown toenails, fungal infections, calluses, bunions, corns, fallen arches and nerve injuries from wearing high heels. Whilst it would seem perfectly sound to implicate shoes (aka heels) there is absolutely no independent evidence to support a direct cause and effect relationship. Shoes and more precisely inadequate shoe fit may exacerbate common foot maladies but it is rarely the primary cause. Of course people prone to suffer painful feet would be better advised to avoid heeled shoes, especially when feet are difficult to fit into shies and and or the style of shoes is inappropriate for the conditions of wear.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Bipedalism, feet and shoes

Our ancestors have been walking upright (bipedal) for at least six million years. This is well supported by fossil evidence with the earliest bipedal footprints circa 3.66 million years ago, made by early hominids long before Homo sapiens, walked the Earth. The earliest indisputable evidence was found at Laetoli, close to Tanzania's Olduvai Gorge.

Some authorities believe there was a gradual transition from arboreal bipedalism to walking on the ground. This may have been forced upon tree dwellers due to changes in the geological landscape. Our early ancestors who lived in the tumultuous Rift Valley, were amidst unstable landscapes dotted with escarpments and crags. Living on the ground may have been a safer option particularly when climatic changes overtook.

Bipedal gait freed arms and hands for carrying and manipulating tools but exactly why and when standing upright on two feet started is shrouded in mystery. The scientific community remains divided but the long-standing and dominant theory suggests climate change several million years ago, was a key driver of the process. Our arboreal ancestors had to climb down from the trees to survive on the ground. These evolutionary processes meant there were several fundamental anatomical modifications to shift from four legs to two. The pelvis changed from being tall and flat from front to back to being much shorter and more bowl-shaped, giving better leverage for the muscles that move the hip in upright walking. The fossil record suggests the shift to walking on two legs might have occurred relatively early in our evolution.

The angle of the thigh bone changed to point inwards, bringing feet more directly under the centre of the bodies. Spines became more curved, forming a distinct S-shape and to facilitate body weight to lie over the hips and to cushion the brain while walking. Eventually the lower limbs also grew longer, allowing larger, more efficient steps. Feet too changed. Human toes became shorter and they line up with one another to create a lever to push off at the end of a step.

Standing allowed our ancestors to see over long grass to scan for predators and prey. The ancestral humans who were best at standing would have been more likely to survive and pass on their genes, so it is easy to imagine how natural selection could have resulted in a gradual shift from simply standing up briefly to permanently moving around in an upright posture.

Other researchers think standing upright helped our ancestors stay cool under the hot African sun. As a bonus, this idea might also help explain why our ancestors lost their hair to become naked apes. Standing up means only the top of the body needs to be protected with hair from the glare of the sun, while losing other body hair allows skin to cool more effectively in any breeze.

Recent 3 D analysis of early footprints reveal, the feet of our early ancestors made more than three million years ago, are not that different from the feet of today. Shoes it appears have had no adverse influence of the human foot.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Crooked Toes: Cause for concern ?

It may be a bit of a shock to learn it is more common to have buckled toes than it is to have straight ones. Straight toes in children are quite rare. Only in a very few cases is there any real concerns, and usually in such cases the child will have already report other painful symptoms and or an unstable gait or lack of normal growth development.

Toe deformities are of two types, congenital and acquired. Congenital deformities are inherited which is governed by genetics. Two common congenital deformities affecting the smaller toes are webbed feet (syndactylism); and extra toes or polydactylism. Currently the in the Guinness Book of Records 2016, the largest number of toes on one foot, is seven. Neither syndactylism or polydactylism present real problems nor it is usual to remove the extra toes early in life.

During the Middle Ages when removing a toe was life threatening broad shoes (Bear's Paw) became vogue. Many believe it was because the King of Spain had polydactilism fashions changed to accommodate. In the Connan Doyle's, The Hound of the Baskervilles, the solution Homes seeks involves congenital polydactilism.

Acquired deformities describe a process which usually involves post-traumatic repair. So a major cause of toe deformities is either one off trauma such in stubbing the toes; or miro-trauma where the damage is built up over many years. In acute episodes, pain is usually present whereas in the latter, deformity happens over such a long period of time, pain is not a factor. There are two types of acquired toe deformities i.e. fixed deformities which involve osteoarthrosis: and buckled toes which are non-arthritic. The names given to these conditions are very descriptive.

When the toe is bent and fixed at the first knuckle, this condition is called "a hammer toe". If the toe is buckled and fixed at the second knuckle, then you have a mallet toe. Some people have both. Painful fixed toes may need to be surgically treated.

To make sense of the non-fixed deformities of toes we need to accept the foot changes shape when we walk. The muscles and tendons not only control this function but they also set the timing for movement. When the action of muscles are upset these may cause the toes to buckle. If the muscles outside the foot (extrinsic) are not working in unison, the toes are pulled away from ground contact, these are known as retracted toes.

If it is the muscles within the foot (intrinsic) that are at fault then the toes claw. For most of us these deformities have no serious impairment to normal activities and provided shoes have adequate room then we can live in total harmony with our curly toes. In others, such as people suffering from rheumatoid disease or diabetes mellitus, the condition is part of related pathologies.

Non-fixed toe deformities respond well to conservative treatment with customised splits which does not involve surgical treatment. Consult your podiatrist for more information.

Many concerned parents worry needlessly and seek medical/podiatric advice because the toes of their offspring, curl. However, I am very pleased to report parents’ concern is usually ill founded and they generally have nothing to worry about. They are of course, quite right to seek expert opinion and usually this is met with sympathetic reassurances.

Reviewed 12/06/2017

Smelly feet win wars: Or do they? The end of the portyanki

Not entirely a military secret but the Russian Army rarely, if ever wore socks. According to them that know such things, Russian soldiers have for the last three centuries been bandaging their feet instead of wearing socks. The portyanki (foot bandages) were introduced by Peter the Great (1672-1725), who took the idea from the Dutch army after a visit to the country.

Frontoviks (combat veteran) have wrapped their feet ever since, choosing strips of flannel in winter and cotton in summer. Peter himself preferred to wear valenki, a fleece lined boot similar to Ugg boots. The notoriously difficult foot wraps were phased out by the end of 2008. In theory wrapping bandages around the foot gave greater support to the foot than knitted socks. Changing the tension would allow for finite adjustments and trapping dry air within the wraps would help insulate the foot, keeping it warm and dry. However all this would be negated when the wraps got wet either by sweat (most likely) or soaked by rain and snow. Technically a damp foot wrap could be rewound with the wet section to the leg and the dry wrap around the foot. In practical terms however the opportunity to undo a jackboot and rewrap in conditions of trench combat was quite impractical.

Long jackboots, Sapogi were traditionally worn by Russian troops. These were completely occlusive footwear similar Wellington boots and like Wellingtons prevented sweat from evaporating. Traditional woollen socks became quickly saturated and rotted away so the foot cloth was moderately better. Socks were available to soldiers but it was easier to dry strips of cloth overnight than woollen socks. This did not stop families knitting their relatives socks or making valenki (felt boots) which were collected by Party and factory organisation and eventually were be taken to the front for distribution.

Soldiers lucky enough to receive their home packages zealously guarded the contents as anything to combat the severe climate was welcome.

Wrapping the feet was a difficult technique to prefect, and many recruits suffered painful cuts and calluses before perfecting the wrap. Learning to wrap the foot properly became the mark of a real soldier and many die hard Frontoviks lamented the passing of portyanki. In Dmitry Bykov’s novel “Jewhad” there are passages referring to the difficulties associated with footcloths as a mother argues for clemency for her son who has as yet not mastered the technique. The officer remains adamant no socks will be issued but of course he is wearing a pair.

Footcloths trap sweat and bacterial breakdown in the sweat caused unwashed wraps to stink and this became a source of perverse pride to the soldiers. A common myth was the Russian army were invincible because of the foul nature smell of their foot cloths. Portyanki helped defeat Emperor Napoleon and Adolph Hitler in their quest to conquer Russia or so the old tale would have you believe. Barrack room funsters used the rank-smelling foot cloths, rolled into tight balls, as a means of play and retribution by leaving them beside snoring comrades, just so they could savour the aroma.

The drive for change came from Defense Minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, (a former furniture store manager and top tax official) who previously instigated changes to military uniforms prior to taking office. fashion designer Valentin Yudashkin was employed to create new military uniforms. The Sapogi will also be replaced with lace-up boots similar to those worn in the U.S. The trend reflects similar moves by the Ukrainian and the Georgian armies to streamline standards with the armies of NATO countries. Ukrainian soldiers were issued with 12 pairs of socks and 25 grams of detergent to wash them. Many marked the occasion with a special farewell ceremony to their portyanki with poems and fables performed by soldiers dressed in Soviet and Ukrainian army uniforms.

Overall the end of portyanki was welcomed but a wave of nostalgia inspired poets such as childrens’ writer, Sergei Mikhalkov, to record both 'fors and against.' Behind the scenes the two main drives to replace traditional portyanki was because it has become increasingly difficult to obtain new portyanki since the production was stopped after the collapse of the Soviet Union; and the intense lobbying by the Mothers of Soldiers, advocates for better army conditions, who for years staged public protests to highlight the need for better uniforms for combat soldiers. Debilitating trench foot is commonly reported in war zones where cold and damp conditions prevail.

Interesting site
Museum of Valenki