Tuesday, 13 October 2015

River Trout

No, I'm not posting anything about fish.  In fact, I've nothing for you today so I thought I would simply post this picture, taken almost exactly eleven years ago, of the River Trout, Vermont.  I had caught a glimpse of the river as we crossed a bridge and I thought it might be worth a picture so i stopped the car.  By the time I got back to the bridge, serendipity had come into play and the cows had decided to take a drink, vastly improving the picture.

Monday, 12 October 2015

On this day . . .

Edith Cavell, a British nurse, was matron of the Berkendael Institute in Brussels from 1907, where she helped pioneer modern nursing techniques in Belgium.  She was in England on leave when war broke out in 1914 but quickly returned to Belgium, where she insisted that soldiers of both sides should receive medical care without fear or favour.  But she did help British soldiers to escape and was arrested by the Germans in 1915, charged with treason.  Found guilty, she was sentenced to death and the next day, 12 October 1915, she was executed by firing squad.

The British government used her death as an effective propaganda weapon and, such was the anger in Britain, recruitment numbers rose from 5,000 to 10,000 a week.  In Canada, she was featured on a poster urging men to enlist.  Postcards were printed as well.
Her body was exhumed in 1919 and given a military escort to Westminster Abbey for a memorial ceremony, after which she was re-buried in the grounds of Norwich cathedral.

Just before her execution, she is reported to have said, "Standing as I do in view of God and Eternity, I realize that patriotism is not enough. I have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone".

Sunday, 11 October 2015

The Mary Rose

Thirty-three years ago today, the timbers of the Mary Rose were lifted above the waters of the Solent, more than 400 years after she had sunk.

According to BT: "The recovery of the vessel - Henry VIII’s naval flagship – had taken 11 years and cost some £4 million to achieve, and was even then jeopardised through technical issues with the complex apparatus used in the salvage operation.

"The ship’s hull had already been emptied and braced, then attached to a frame that was gradually lifted to take its remains off the sea bed. A huge crane was then used to lift them onto a specially-constructed cradle, cushioned with air bags.

"With a number of small boats in attendance filled with spectators – including Prince Charles, President of the Mary Rose Trust - the raising of the cradle, hull and lifting frame began early on the morning of October 11, with the timbers of the ship breaking the surface at 9.03am.  As they did so, a cannon was fired from the ramparts of Southsea Castle, where the king had stood and watched his flagship keel over four centuries earlier."

Construction began on the Mary Rose in 1510 and she was launched in July of the following year. The ship weighed around 500 tons when first built; it is estimated that around 600 trees, mostly oaks, were used in her construction.
  • The ship was substantially rebuilt in 1536, turning it into one of 700 tons and adding an entire extra tier of broadside guns. These and other, later improvements may have contributed to its loss nine years later.
  • The Mary Rose could have operated with a crew as small as 17 when laid up in peacetime, but at war would usually have held somewhere between 400-450 men, and sometimes as many as 700 in extremely cramped conditions.
  • While engaging French ships on the day of her loss (19th July 1545), the Mary Rose made to turn but a strong wind made her lean heavily over to the right, allowing water to gush in through her open gunports, which were as little as a metre above the water line.
  • As few as 35 men from the crew of at least 400 survived the sinking.  Several were killed by cannon, other objects or men falling on them as the ship keeled over, while many others were crushed trying to reach the upper decks via narrow companionways.
 The preserved remains of the ship and numerous artefacts are now displayed in a purpose-built museum in Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard, close to HMS Victory, probably Britain's most famous warship.  I have been on the Victory, and hope one day to see the Mary Rose.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Food for kings

Borrowed from the Daily Mail
Hot buttered toast spread with Bovril!

I know the French think that they invented good food, but they are wrong!  There are, too, lovers of Italian, Indian, Greek, Thai, Chinese and Japanese cooking - and I don't mean to suggest that those cuisines are without any merit - but to my mind, the whole world owes a great deal to Great British cooking.

Not everybody - not even every Englishman! - likes Bovril and perhaps it is something of an acquired taste: according to the Wiki, Bovril is the trademarked name of a thick, salty meat extract, developed in the 1870s.    Much to my surprise, I found that Bovril was invented (if that's the right word to use for a food product) by a Scotsman in Canada at the request of the French ruler, Napoleon III.  Well, that's almost true.  In fact, Napoleon III wanted beef, a million tins of it, to feed his troops in the Franco-Prussian War and gave the order to John Lawson Johnston, the Scotsman living in Canada.  Storage and transport for a million tins of beef would prove problematical, so Johnston developed 'Johnston's Fluid beef', later to be known as Bovril.

I don't know if Bovril's distinctive brown glass jar is registered as a trademark.  If not, it certainly ought to be.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

What happened to Rover?

There was a time when dogs would be called Rover or Fido or Skipper.  On the whole, the names used for dogs were not names that would be used for babies, although there were exceptions.  Farmers - especially shepherds - used a number of traditional names, names that were short and distinctive - Rob, Meg, Gyp, Beau and so on.  the OB and I almost cringed when we were told the name of the dog we took from a rescue centre half a century ago: Sandy.  It was not that Sandy was a particularly embarrassing name to have to call in the park, but it was just too common.  We would have preferred something a little more original.

Our second dog was bought as a puppy and we allowed the children to give him his name.  They decided on Rags, being heavily influenced by the children's television programme, Blue Peter.  Then came Bramble - a name I later found to be surprisingly common - and now, Fern, a sort of continuation in the same vein.

There seems recently to have been a trend developing for people to give their dogs real names.  Not that Rover and Gyp aren't real names, of course.  I suppose what I mean is human names as opposed to canine ones.  Walking in the park the other day, I looked down to see a small, pug-like dog trying to climb my leg.  "Geoffrey," its owner called, "what do you think you are doing?"  Well, I assumed the owner was calling her dog and had not confused me with someone else.

But I ask you: Geoffrey?  For a dog?

I have also met Nigel, Eric and Albert in the past few months.  Now I scan the hatched, matched and despatched columns looking for a boy called Rover.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015


The first time I visited Pouancé I thought what a scruffy, unprepossessing, little town it was.  That was almost exactly thirteen years ago.  My opinion since then has changed little.  I still think it is a scruffy, unprepossessing, little town - but I have really come to like the place despite its less than attractive appearance.

Pouancé is situated just in the Maine et Loire département of France (almost the equivalent of our counties) facing into Brittany.  In the way back, a Duke of Anjou built a castle there to defend his dukedom against marauding hordes of Bretons and nowadays the town proudly proclaims its château-fort - despite the fact that there is very little of it left, although it does look somewhat better when seen from the airfield.

Not far from the castle is the 15th century town gate, the Porte Angevine seen here from both sides.

Delusions of grandeur persist in the meant-to-be-impressive hôtel de ville - but it's only one room deep!

And despite the town being on the back road to nowhere, the junction in front of the hôtel de ville has been named  "the crossroads of Europe"!

All the same, there are some very attractive or intriguing little corners.

Monday, 5 October 2015

There's a conspiracy afoot.

It has nothing to do with Messrs Cameron, Corbyn, Farage or the other fellow whose name I have completely forgotten.  Indeed, it is international rather than domestic.  I think it is probably something to do with Mr Putin.  After all, the salt mines are in Siberia, aren't they?

You see, it does have a salty connection.  It is a conspiracy to bring down the West by preventing us from washing up, thereby forcing us to use dirty dishes and develop sundry foul and noxious ailments.  A form of bacteriological warfare.

Many years ago, the Old Bat and I were introduced to the delights of dish-washing machines when visiting a cousin in the wilds of Scotland.  After we returned to civilisation, we set about extending our kitchen to give us room to install one of these beasts.  Well, we planned to extend the kitchen anyway and it just so happened that by doing so we could fit in a dishwasher.  Dishwashers, as you are possibly aware, have to be fed with salt, supposedly (if you believe the adverts) to make glassware sparkle.  A couple of weeks ago I tipped the last of the salt into the machine so, on my next visit to the nearest supermarket, I went to buy a fresh supply, only to find an empty space on the shelf.  A few days later, at a different supermarket, I had the same experience.

Has the supply of salt from the Siberian mines been cut off?

Of course there are things that, for one reason or another, have to be washed by hand - using a washing-up brush.  I decided weeks - or maybe even months - ago that our washing-up brush was way past it's best before date.  I fully intended to buy a new one, but somehow it never made its way onto the shopping list until I wanted to buy dishwasher salt.  And if a thing is not on the shopping list, there is no chance that I will remember it when I arrive at the store.

I trawled Asda and Sainsburys, looking for washing up brushes, in vain.  I went round again, double checking.  None.  In France, I tried at Auchan without success, then Super U.  Still nothing.  Are we now not supposed to do washing up?

I did eventually find one - just one - hiding at the back of a shelf in Leclercs and we drove back from France last week triumphantly waving our new washing up brush from the car window.