Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Out to lunch

It was yesterday that the Old Bat and I attended the monthly lunch for people connected with Scouting in Brighton. There are usually between about 20 and 40 people turn up for the meal, which is at a different pub each month. The venue this month was the pub at the edge of the Devil's Dyke. a deep, dry valley cut into the South Downs and a popular spot to visit. This was the view along the edge of the Downs to the west when we arrived:

 And this is looking towards the north-west an hour-and-a-half later!

I wonder, do you know the story of how the Devil's Dyke was formed? It involved a spat between Cuthbert, who lived in a village just north of the Downs and was later made a saint, and the Devil.

Back in the mists of time (I know - that's a cliche but I like it so I'll repeat it!) Back in the mists of time, an old lady (some say she was a nun) lived the life of a hermit in a small cottage on top of the Downs. Cuthbert was in the habit of visiting her to encourage her in her prayerful life and one day, on his way to visit the old lady, he stopped to rest a little way off. He was admiring the view over the Weald, particularly noting the number of churches that had sprung up, when the Devil appeared beside him.

The Devil was furious because at one time the people of the Weald had worshipped him. He blamed Cuthbert, and announced that he would dig a passage through the Downs so that the sea would rush in and drown all the Christians in the Weald. Cuthbert struck a bargain and it was agreed that if the Devil could dig his channel before sunrise the next morning, he could reclaim the Weald. If he failed, the Devil was to leave Sussex for ever.

Cuthbert left the Devil digging furiously and went to visit the old lady. He asked her to make sure that she rose at a very early hour and asked that she should place a lighted candle in the window facing west.

The old lady did this. The Devil saw the light to the east and thought it was the rising sun. He had only dug halfway through the Downs, so he flung away his shovel (you can still see the mark where it hit the ground) and left Sussex, never to be seen again. The steep-sided valley that he dug is known still as the Devil's Dyke and is a popular tourist attraction just north of Brighton.

This picture shows the Dyke from the closed end:

Friday, 14 October 2016

1066 and all that

How the Daily Telegraph's pocket cartoonist views today's anniversary.
There is one date that is remembered by just about every Englishman, although very few know more than just the year. Ten sixty-six and the Battle of Hastings are more or less synonymous and it was on this day - 14th October - that year that the famous battle took place. It's known as the Battle of Hastings, but it was actually fought several miles away from the Sussex town. An abbey - Battle Abbey - was built on what was supposedly the site of the battle and a small town has grown up around it.

That was the last time on which a foreign army successfully invaded England, although for several hundred years incursions by Scots and Welsh occurred from time to time. Of course, it was not the first invasion: Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes (if they are not the same), Vikings and Romans had all at one time or another managed to move inland from the landing beaches and stay for varying lengths of time. Indeed, the English can really be called a mongrel race.

But William, Duke of Normandy, didn't see his action as an invasion. The background to the invasion is rather complex, but it started when King Æthelred II of England (Ethelred the Unready) married Emma, the sister of Richard, Duke of Normandy. Their son, Edward the Confessor, was childless and when he died in January 1066, he was succeeded by the Earl of Wessex, Harold Godwinson. But Edward had spent much of his life in Normandy and William claimed that he had been promised the throne when Edward died.

It gets even more complicated because the King of Norway reckoned that he should succeed Edward and he sent an army to back up his claim. It was that army that Harold had defeated at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire - after which he and his army marched 250 miles in just four days to face the invading Normans.

The final result is that we have a lot of French influences in the English language, a great record of the country in the 11th century in the Domesday Book, and a lot of castles!

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Milky Way

Pablo Rodriguez took this photo of the Milky Way from Beachy Head, on Sunday October 2, 2016
That's the Beachy Head lighthouse at the foot of the cliffs towards the bottom of the picture.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Well, well, well

Three holes in the ground, as my old granny was wont to say.

"Well, where have you been?" I hear you ask. (Well - and that's the second one - I don't really but it's as good a way as any of letting you know that I'm still here.)

Well (and that's the last one) actually I'm back. I've been back for over a week but have been enormously busy.

Can one be 'enormously' busy? I'm not at all sure that one can, but I've been busy. Let's just leave it at that.

We (that's the Old Bat and me - or I if you prefer) did have a week in France. And very restful it was, especially on the two mornings when we were able to sit in the courtyard and soak up the sun. But since we got back it's been go,go,go all the time and this afternoon is the first opportunity I have had to bore you all rigid.

I must say there are times when I wish we were back in our village without newspapers or, especially, television. Watching the goings on across the pond makes me very glad I'm not an American and as certain as one can be that one of two presidential wannabes will be forced upon me. Choosing between those two seems very much like choosing the lesser of two evils.

On the other hand, I was delighted the other afternoon to see that there are still harebells in bloom in the Ladies Mile nature reserve. In mid-October! They surely should have finished before now. And as I was walking across 39 Acres another day, a bird flashed past very fast, much too fast for me to identify it. I was pretty sure that it was a falcon; body shape, wing shape and flight pattern were right. But all I could really say apart from that was that it was grey or brown on the back and paler underneath, smaller than a kestrel but larger than a blackbird. Hobby or merlin seem the most likely candidates - but I have never seen either breed and don't know that they are South Downs regulars - although if it was a hobby it could be on migration.

Just another of those insoluble mysteries.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Just discovered!

While doing some housework on my computer (deleting old files that will never be used again) I came across a short 'video' I made back in the dawn of our French adventures.  We went to visit a house that I originally described thus:

It stood foursquare and forlorn with drooping shutters and with just about sufficient fragments of paint clinging to the door and window frames for a forensic scientist to work out what colour it had once been. Devising a way of opening the gate without causing it to collapse in a heap of worm-eaten wood almost needed the intelligence of Einstein and would have made a first class project for that old TV programme, The Krypton Factor. The garden was so overgrown that Dr Livingstone would have been quite at home in it. It would probably have taken Stanley just as long to find him here as it had in central Africa. When we had fought our way into the house and entered the kitchen, the first thing we noticed was a tidemark about fifteen inches up the wall. This, apparently, marked the highest level of the last flood.

"Not to worry," advised Monsieur D [the estate agent], jauntily. He went on to explain that the local authority had spent vast sums of money on flood defence measures which he would be delighted to show us.

The rest of the house was in much the same condition. The roof needed replacing, as did the windows and door. The wiring would have to be ripped out, and one room would need to be converted to a bathroom. Mrs S would never put up with the tumbledown brick shed beside the front gate, even if I had cleared away the jungle. There really was far too much work required although, as Monsieur D cheerfully said, it was "a small price for much work".
While I was glumly considering the wash basin on the landing with its mottled green and brown stains, Mrs S was pulling up the tattered carpets, which lay two deep, to expose the original terra-cotta floor tiles. I have to admit they were in remarkably good condition. But that was it, as far as Mrs S was concerned. The walls might have been falling down and the wiring more lethal than Alabama's electric chair, but as long as there remained perfectly good, old, terra-cotta floor tiles, she would be happy.

Monsieur D was astounded. "Madame prefers this?" he asked in a faint voice. "Definitely," replied madame firmly.

And this what I have discovered:


Saturday, 24 September 2016

In the news this week

If you have spent the week in Antarctica or on the moon, you might not have heard that Mary Berry will not be going to Channel 4.

There is, of course, a back story.

"The Great British Bake Off, often referred to as Bake Off or GBBO, is a BAFTA award-winning British television baking competition which selects from amongst its contestants the best amateur baker. The series is presented by Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, and judged by cookery writer Mary Berry and professional baker Paul Hollywood." (Wiki)

Paul, Sue, Mel & Mary
Since its inception, the show, now (I believe) in its seventh series, has been shown on BBC although it has been produced by an independent production company.  Recently, the production company accepted an offer of £25 million from Channel 4 for a future series, the BBC not being prepared to pay more than £12.5 million - although I am fairly certain I have also seen the figure of £15 million.

Be that as it may, the two presenters - Mel and Sue - stated immediately that they would not be going to Channel 4 with the show. Paul Hollywood subsequently announced that he would. But only a day or two ago, Mary Berry declared that she would remain with the Beeb out of loyalty to the broadcaster that had given the show its start.

(Loyalty: now there's an old-fashioned notion!)

I reckon that I, with the OB, must be one of only a very small minority of people in this country that has never watched:
  • The Great British Bake Off;
  • Strictly Come Dancing;
  • The X Factor;
  • Britain's Got Talent;
  • The Voice.
Nor do we watch:

  • Coronation Street;
  • Emmerdale;
  • Eastenders;
  • Holby City
  • Casualty.
Maybe there's something wrong with us - or maybe it's all the others who are out of step!

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Just like buses

Most days I  manage to find enough to keep me from twiddling my thumbs - which is no bad thing. Boredom is never o be welcomed. Of course, it may well be simply a  matter of 'work' expanding o fill the time available. Most days. Then there are days like today, days when, just like buses, jobs come in fleets, days when I wish time could be stretched to fit the work to be done. It's gone eleven at night and I'm only just getting round to the blog!