The Papworth Hermit

Page opened 1 Apr 2020
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Papworth Hermit: 22 April 2020
Well, having retired from agricultural botany, I have decided that my new area of expertise is going to be human nutrition and physiology.


My current research project has now completed 4 weeks and I think its high time to start publishing my findings (see chart). The first 10 days of the walking programme was incredibly encouraging, with 100% of my subjects showing steady weight loss in response to increasing kilometres walked and irrespective of diet (beer, mini pork pies and chocolate). Then we levelled out and actually started gaining weight (muscle?) up to the point where I had to implement Phase 2: No more beer (red dots), and hey presto, weight normalised and then went into decline! I am celebrating this discovery by switching today, Day 28, into a blue day. Cheers!

The slight downside of all this is that I can now hardly walk and I look forward to the next 28 days with some trepidation and returned home from the supermarket with a large quantity of almost certainly useless joint pain remedies this evening.

V316OL oilseed rape doing well in Papworth, Papworth bluebell woods.

On a more general note, life goes on, thankfully. The oilseed rapeseed has really filled in now, but very few bees in evidence, to cash in on this marvellous source of pollen and nectar. The bluebells have been wonderful this year and the fine weather just goes on and on. I spent most of my professional life wishing that it would just bloody rain in Cambridgeshire, to make things grow and I just can't get out of the habit now. Twenty-eight consecutive days walking across the landscape and not a drop.

Spring beans emerging, UK's entry into Rapsmasteren 2020 - Artemis.

And it gets worse! I'm a participant in an international oilseed rape tournament in Sweden this year and they've had no rain either! This may play in my favour because I have entered a tall, fairly weak-stemmed variety, at a high seed rate, which might have lodged in a wet season. And you don't want that. Late drilled spring beans are emerging here. Too wet to drill early on and now is really awfully late. If it doesn't rain soon the pod-set won't be very good.

What else? I'm working through the novels of Jussi Adler-Ohlsen, a Danish crime writer. Fairly grim tales, but his characters are great and his dialogue makes me 'laugh out loud' as the young people would say.

And here's a lovely cat that I met a couple of times when out walking, far away from human habitation. I mentioned her, as possibly lost or abandoned, on the village Facebook page. Tremendous response. Turns out she's quite famous for her wanderings and the owners were amused and not at all concerned. Meet Penny!

I'll sign off now and wish you all well. Simon

Papworth Hermit: 8 April, 2020
Well I am being a bit tardy with my updates, mainly because the days seem to be merging into a consistent pattern of sloth, only interrupted by the daily walk, which is taking on increasingly manic, and marathon proportions.


The disappointing feature of all this has been that my initial weight loss progression has faltered and could well go into reverse, although for the polynomial trend line now heading downwards at last.

Chart 1

On Sunday I did 16.7km (nearly 10.5 miles) as indicated by Chart 1. This took 3 hours and 9 minutes and allowed me to explore countryside previously unknown to (this) man, on the Far Side of Rogues Lane, between Papworth Everard, Hilton and Elsworth. I have to say that I was struggling towards the end, as my rations consisted of only four dried apricots, which was scarcely enough. The overall cost was 3 blackened toenails and a blister. Iíd forgotten what fun this walking lark could be.


But the weather remains fine and there are moments when it is almost good to be alive. The oilseed rape is well into flower now, as you can see. Not full flower yet: these are just the terminal inflorescences. Soon the side branches will fill in and the crop will come up to its full height of around five to six feet. As you can see in the close-up, the oldest flowers have lost their petals and the seed pods are starting to develop.

No sign of pollen beetles, which is a very good thing. They can cause catastrophic levels of pod abortion but with such a large area of crop in flower now, I think we are home and dry, unless we go back into frosty weather.

A lot of the farmland looks pretty bleak at the moment. Just bare ground. Because of the wet autumn and winter a tremendous amount of winter wheat just never got sown on the heavy clay land that we have in these parts. Last week they were all out drilling spring cereals Ė mostly barley, it seems. But there is no rain to get the crops away. Yet another of the Ten Great Plagues of England, sent to punish us for Brexit. So far, we have Flood, Drought, Flea Beetles, Coronavirus and Absence of Migrant Workers. Another five plagues to go, Iím afraid. Well itís certainly not my fault.


On my walks there are several badger sets, one of which is featured here. I have often seen badgers shambling out of the ditches, into the crops. They clearly have very poor eyesight.


Up on the plateau, above the village, thereís not much else to get excited about. OK, larks, crows, pigeons and buzzards. I always carry binoculars but rarely use them. The ditches are quite good, furnished with cowslips. Well, thatís it really. Cowslips. Down in the woods, the bluebells are just coming out and will be featured soon. Ahead of them, we have the primroses. I do like the woods. When I was running it felt so much faster in the narrow pathways than up on the exposed farm tracks. Not without hazards of course. I think Iíve tripped over tree roots about four times, going at full pelt, and tumbling head over heels. Luckily no witnesses. Once I just lay there, looking up into the tree canopy, wondering whether it was time to give up.

Life goes on. Itís now over two weeks since I got off the crowded plane from Thailand. Seem to have avoided that virus opportunity. I have books to read and plenty of people chatting on social media, in its different forms. Plenty of food and drink, although I might try not drinking next week, to try to break through the next body weight barrier. Iím happy, just getting used to not working. In a moment of weakness, I have agreed to go into NIAB on Tuesday, to give a bit of training to my replacements (Two!) and am looking forward to that. I want to see what my flea beetle-defying, companion crop experiments are achieving in the oilseed rape plots. So, thatís it. Take care everyone and remember: The government are releasing NO DATA on people surviving the virus.

Wed 2 April, 2020
A shorter walk today, to provide a bit of a respite from the long walks of recent days and to try to avoid my lifetime habit of 'over doing it'. The cold wind has gone and I felt good as soon as I got going. Set out to do the bypass route but knew that I would probably add on some bits if the going was good. Which it was. This included a diversion into the village shop to replenish supplies to stave off evening thirst. Almost no one about and those that were mostly retreated into the bushes on my approach, with the exception of a delightful black and white pussy cat which leapt over a ditch and pushed its way through bushes, miaowing ferociously and demanding to be stroked, and blowing all hopes of doing a fast time out of the water.

Left: Rape field

The first major landmark on this route is a big block of oilseed rape which is just coming into to flower. This in itself is a bit of a rarity this year, with a third of crops destroyed by flea beetles at emergence. The variety is the attractively-named V316OL which, I happen to know, was planted on the 17th of July, in a successful attempt to beat the beetle. This is a month earlier than normal good practise and carries its own risk of attack from cabbage root flies - but they got away with it. By Sunday it should be a sea of solid yellow in the glorious sunshine that is promised. V316OL is interesting in its own right, as the foremost exemplar of what are known as HOLL varieties, (High Oleic, Low Linolenic fatty acid profile) bred by Monsanto for improved shelf life and re-use quality of the oil. In normal varieties these qualities are often achieved by hydrogenation of the oil but this is now frowned upon because of the concerns over the trans-fatty acids that are associated with the process.

Left: So, here's the route, courtesy of Garmin and Strava. Just 6.52km at a pleasant stroll, building up to something much longer in the coming days.

And so the walk progressed in peace and quiet and sure enough I did feel like bolting on an extra loop up into the woods on the other side of Ermine Street. Bolting on loops can be a bit disappointing because you have to subtract the bit that you were going to do anyway. Makes you feel worthy though. To be honest, apart from the cat and the oilseed rape, there wasn't much to get excited about. OK, some primroses and buzzards but that's about it. Next week should see the bluebells out, which is a big local feature.

Left: The weight chart is going in the right direction but, annoyingly, the polynomial trend line still suggests ultimate defeat, with a marginally greater R2 value.

News from Alice, from her hospital in Portsmouth, is that they are fairly quiet still but expecting the peak of infections to come over Easter. She shares my frustration that the data coming out of Government and the media is not very helpful. Like no numbers for the proportion of those infected and then requiring hospitalisation and no numbers of those hospitalised who are subsequently discharged as 'cured'.

Wishing you all well, Simon

Tuesday 31st March
A strange existence at the moment. With all the available time for the domestic staff (moi!), the kitchen should be absolutely spick and span and every surface throughout the flat dusted to within an inch of its life. But why bother? No oneís coming round. Good!

In truth, the timing of all this couldnít have been worse. A year building up to the point where I could retire and leave things in good order has meant the hardest year ever and Iím just plain knackered. Simultaneous planning for a three-month adventure in South East Asia was probably madness. Anyway, those plans are all down the drain now and this week is really the start of the new life.

The daily walk is the main focus, as previously discussed. Today was Ďwoods and fields. Ten kilometres of pretty fast walking Ė almost running at the end because I could see that my Garmin watch was running out of battery life. Garmin had given me a new lease of life as a runner a few years ago and it is coming to my aid now as an incentive to go further and faster. When you download onto Strava and see your route and your speed itís great fun and makes you want to do more. But this also leaves you knackered and not up to much for the rest of the day Ė including cooking Ė so, all good!

Good countryside round here and very few people out. Mostly dog walkers and far fewer, more reluctant, child walkers. What the masses are up to I canít imagine, other than getting ready to kill each other (present company excepted, I hope). Today during my 1hr 50min excursion I came within hailing distance of less than ten people. Sunday was busier, once I got back towards the village, when families were emerging from Sunday lunch. Could have hailed 29 people, but didnít of course. One dog tried to savage me but savaging has never been a great trait of the West Highland Terrier and both the owner and myself pretended not to notice.

In general, sloth is prevailing, along with chatting to friends on various social media, going to bed too late and getting up correspondingly late. Not doing particularly well with reading, especially in the supine position, when after very few pages the book drops onto my chest, where it remains until guilt forces me to reactivate.

I really must start applying myself to HMS King George V battleship soon, which the kids gave me for Christmas (1/350 scale). Just short of some of the paints I need to do a good job as I go along.

Iíll leave it there

Saturday 28th March
Four days into Lockdown in Papworth Everard, life is developing something of a rhythm. This comprises waking up annoyingly early with a lifetime of training telling me to go to work. Get Up. Make coffee. Back to bed and read or doze for two or three hours. Try getting up again to a modest breakfast of two clementines and a banana (just to fool the body into thinking it's being fed), laze around for a bit then out for a walk.

There are two basic walks here: 1. The by-pass, which is a lot nicer than it sounds but pretty well limited to a 5 km circuit, with some nice vistas from the highest point, using bridleways and roads abandoned after the by-pass was built; 2. Woods and farmland tracks over to Elsworth. Nice walking here with some long inclines that leave you a bit breathless if you go hard at it (but not in a virusy sort of way)(I hope!). You can walk for hours on this side of the village and have even better vistas from even higher high points.

More than usual folk out walking in the recent sunny days, although still pleasantly few. That all changed today because it was cloudy and slightly chilly. Just two dog walkers I think. I did the by-pass at a good lick. Probably the best walking I've done since my knee op a year and a half ago. Not limping and not thinking about that knee at all.

That leaves the long afternoons and evenings and that's where the more serious eating and drinking comes in and further dozing and reading as the fancy takes me. I did finally get out to the supermarket and stocked up properly yesterday. Amusing to observe the way in which people were adjusting to keeping their distance from everybody except the people on the tills who, apparently, offer know threat.

Anyway, to my research and now that we are amassing a good volume of data, two potential outcomes are evident. Fitting a linear trend line to the weight records over the last four days suggests that my first objective of 80.0 kg will be reached, satisfyingly, within fourteen days. However, fitting a polynomial trend line to address the possibility that the data is non-linear, hints at an altogether different and potentially disastrous outcome. I could easily hit 90.0 kg a day after missing my primary objective. Worryingly the stats suggest that with R squared = 0.7685, this is the more likely case!

So what's going on? Muscle atrophy providing a rapid short-term weight loss before the lager, mini pork pies and the Cadbury's creme eggs take over in scenario? Or is this just Excel charts out of control? I do hope so. But without daily access to a gym it's going to be very difficult burning through the calories I plan to consume.

Incidentally you may wonder about repeated weighings on the same day. My ex-colleague, Clare is always telling me to weigh myself once a week but in answer to that, it's my research and I'll do what I like and she should just stick to wheat varieties!

Left: wtgraph-2.gif

That's it for now. More when there is anything to report.
Stay safe, Simon

Thursday 26th March
After the abortive mission to South East Asia I need a new focus and the current circumstances provide the ideal base for any number of research initiatives. My own, self-funded, project has already been summarised in my Facebook page today:

This is interesting! Decided to start monitoring my weight during my present life as a hermit and the early signs are very encouraging. Should be down to 80kg in three weeks and after that.....who knows? Of course I am starting off in a reasonably good place, having worked hard to get 'beach fit' for Thailand after my disastrous peak weight of 90kg around Christmas. It seems that, just by starting the graph, the body understands what is required!

Left: wtgraph-1.gif

Of course, my work is far more complex than implied above and I am making detailed recordings of exercise taken and nutritional intake. For the latter I am breaking it down into the major food groups, classified as follows: larger, wine, mini pork pies, Cadbury's creme eggs (or chocolate bar equivalents), fish cakes, Thai green curries. I sense that the illusive doctorate may at last be within my grasp!

Wishing you all well,

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