Friday, 22 August 2014

Independence Day, Detroit

Skip's story about the Beatles reminded me of one of my first experiences of American hospitality.  I had won a freebie, a trip to the Lions international convention which, that year, was being held in Detroit and Windsor.  (Detroit, as most Americans will know, is the one American city from which one travels south to cross the border into Canada.)  Skip and GS were also at the convention.  We had never met face to face but Skip and I had become electronically acquainted through a message board on the Internet.

Although the conference was not due to start until the Monday, I had travelled to Detroit on the Saturday, so Sunday was a free day.  It so happens that GS had family in Detroit, namely her brother, he of the Beatles story.  The Sunday was 4th July, and also the birthday of (I hope I've remembered this correctly) one of GS's nephews.  The family was holding a barbecue to celebrate and, hearing that I would be at a loose end, they very kindly invited me along.

The family have formed a Celtic band, playing traditional Irish music, and we all had a great time.

I remember that one of the guests, Dan(?), had been in the Detroit police, holding a high position.  He had spent some time in England on secondment to a Yorkshire police force and told me that on his return to Detroit he had mentioned to his colleagues that there had been 11 murders in the county.  (There had been 5 in Detroit the night before we met.)

"Eleven in one night?" asked a colleague incredulously.

"No," he had replied.  "In a year!"

He was quite convinced that the US gun laws didn't help, nor did the fact that US police are armed, unlike ours in the UK.  As a guest, I felt it was not my place to make any comment.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

How now, brown cow?

Or, Now You See Them, Now You Don't.

I am fortunate to live where I do, within easy reach of some of the finest countryside in England.  Owning a dog is an excellent reason for me getting out of the house and walking over the South Downs.  Don't get me wrong; what I do isn't to be compared to serious walking, the sort of serious walking that is involved in Snowdonia or the Lake District.  No, my walking is more akin to a Sunday afternoon stroll.

There are two or three routes that I like best, partly because they offer some delightful views, partly because they involve no strenuous (to me) hill climbing.  One of those routes takes me up Scare Hill, which is just the other side of the Brighton bypass at Patcham.  but this is not a walk I can take very often.  One of the fields - a very large one - is used as sheep pasture every spring and although I am sure Fern would not chase sheep, I prefer not to take the risk.  She would probably be scared of the animals as they are bigger than her so I would need to keep her on the lead, which rather defeats the object.

Fern is really frightened of cows and would refuse to enter a field with any in, so I have to check that there are none in the first field we would cross.  This last week or so, this has proved something of a puzzle.  I can see the field from the bedroom window and when I have looked out first thing in the mornings, the field has been empty.  I've looked again after lunch, and a herd of cows has taken up residence!

So we have not walked those fields for a while, which is something nof a pity as these are the sort of views I would have.

From the first field, there are good views up the Standean valley.

The Standean valley with Standean Farm

Turning aside before reaching the Chattri, we head across rougher pasture until we reach the top. From here we look out to the southern slope of Clayton Hill with the village of Pyecombe. There is a glimpse, too, of the busy Brighton to London road.

Clayton Hill and Pyecombe

On the way back, we pass closer to the Chattri, built on a south-east facing slope of Scare Hill.  During the First World War, the Royal Pavilion and the Dome in Brighton were used as a hospital for Indian soldiers wounded on the western front.  The Chattri is a memorial to those who died in Brighton and was erected on the site of the funeral pyres of the Hindu and Sikh soldiers whose religion required them to pass through the flames.  The Muslims are buried in a Muslim cemetery in Surrey.  This must have been a very isolated spot a century ago, none of those houses in the photo having been built.

The Chattri, with Hollingbury in the distance and a glimpse of the sea.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The happy folk

There are some people that my 10-years-old springer spaniel absolutely adores.  Well, one person really - my daughter.  We have never managed to work out just why that should be, but it is.  There are other people she likes very much, enough to make her excited when they come through the door.  Then there are others the mere sight of whom send her into a frenzy.  "Ten years old going on two months," as Dee remarked this morning.  At the time, Fern (the spaniel) was running dementedly in large circles around her.  Again, we have never been able to work out just what it is about these people - and there are perhaps just four or five - that has such an effect on the dog.

But then, I find that there are people who have, well, not exactly a similar effect on me, but an effect.  I'm very happy to greet friends and neighbours and to pass the time of day with them; with some, I am delighted to spend the time to put the world to rights.  I smile when I greet these people.  Well, one does, doesn't one?  But there are a precious few whose simple presence makes the world a brighter, friendlier place.  After a minute in their company I can leave, smiling, and that smile stays with me for quite some time.  They have some sort of charisma that transcends time and place so that even the thought of one of them starts my lips turning up.  I am lucky enough to know two such people.  And they could not be more different people, apart from that magic ingredient.

Here in Brighton one of my near neighbours is one of those two.  The fact that she is an attractive brunette, 40-ish (although I could be wrong; I'm hopeless at assessing ladies' ages) doesn't hurt, but it's not her looks alone that make me happy to see her.  And she always seems happy.

In Chateaubriant, a regular in one of the bars we frequent is the second person.  He stands well over six feet tall and almost as much round the waist.  He speaks not a word of English and has the largest hands I have ever seen.  There are several teeth missing and his moon-face is usually covered in about two days' of stubble.  He always greets the Old Bat with a bear hug and a kiss.  Just like my Brighton neighbour, he always seems happy.

They have some sort of a joie de vivre, but it's not that alone that brings happiness to others.  I don't know exactly what it is, but I'm glad it's there.  If only somebody could bottle it, he's make a fortune - and the world would be a much better place.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Getting old

Yep, I've come at last to that conclusion: I am getting old.  I know it happens to all of us - except Peter Pan - to get 12 months older every year, but I really had hoped I would never develop the symptoms of old age.  I really don't mind that my hair has turned grey, I'm not vain about that.  Mind you, I would have preferred to be silver or white instead of the dingy, sad grey that my hair has become.  I'm slightly less content about the bald patch - although the last time I had my hair cut the young lady (who was cutting my hair for the first time) seemed to get the hair to just the right length to cover that spot.  I must make sure it is she who cuts my hair next time!  The waist has expanded very little over the years, for which I am grateful as I hate those saggy stomachs that flop over the belt.  Have you noticed how many men will wear shorts that positively scream, "LOOK AT ME!" with one of those stomachs?

No, my problems are mental.  And there are two of them.

I am becoming a cantankerous, grumpy old git.  I have a tendency to get upset by council officials who send me emails about missed recycling collections without any regard to the actual content of my complaint.  Cyclists riding along a busy, fairly narrow, winding road annoy me intensely - especially when they are completely ignoring the new cycle path constructed beside the road at enormous expense.  I try not to yell at drivers who either fail to signal their intentions - or, as seems to happen frequently, give the wrong signals.  I even had to bite my tongue yesterday when the Old Bat said something to me.  It wasn't what she said as the way she said it, something to which I should have become accustomed after nearly 50 years of marriage.

All this means that I am more and more having to remind myself of the Garbage Truck rule, so much so that I was going to include it in this post.  Which leads me to the second symptom of my old age.

I was reasonably confident that Skip had first posted the rule on his blog, so I searched for it and found it.  Then I also found it on my own blog - just three months ago!  Help! My memory is going!  I must be getting old!

Anyway, just in case you are curious about that Garbage Truck Rule, you'll find it here on Skip's blog.  And it's here on mine.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Mans best friend

I am frequently astonished just how much a person's life can be improved by a dog.  Guide dogs for the blind have been around for many years now, as have hearing dogs for the deaf.  But what astonishes me is the way dogs can be trained to do all sorts of jobs - such as emptying the washing machine or pressing the button at a pelican crossing.  I have met quite a few assistance dogs, including one that had to be trained not only as a guide dog but also to help its disabled keeper (the dog was still owned by the charity which supplied it) with various tasks such as opening doors.

It has been documented just how having a dog can help autistic children - as this clip shows:

But what I find really exciting is the news that some dogs can detect cancer in people just by smell!  I can't face paraphrasing and typing all this so have copied it from 
"Dogs can smell in parts per trillion. An example of this is: one cc (less than a drop) of blood, diluted into 20 Olympic sized swimming pools.  . . . We have trained dogs to sniff gun powder, narcotics, missing persons, and now, finally, diseases. The interesting part about this is that cancer absolutely has a smell. Most oncologists will tell you that humans can actually smell cancer in latter stages through the patients breath. If we can smell it at stage 3-4, then of course a dog would be able to detect the scent much earlier, in stage 0, 1 or 2. There are many published studies that prove dogs can detect cancer through breath samples, and scientists and doctors are trying to come up with a breathalyzer test that works as good as the dogs nose. So far, the only ones that can smell cancer in early stages, are the dogs."

I find that absolutely astonishing.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Trial by media

When I switched the television on to watch the late evening news the other day, I fully expected the usual round of reports from Iraq, Syria, Gaza and Israel with, perhaps, the lighter touch of another defeat for England on the cricket pitch.  I was, however, astonished to watch police officers searching a house, the pictures obviously being taken from a hovering helicopter.  The we saw a convoy of unmarked police cars leaving the property, the number plates carefully obscured.

Next we were introduced to a reporter who had been sent to Portugal (or maybe he is based there anyway) and who showed us pictures of the Portuguese house owned by Sir Cliff Richard, whose home in Berkshire we had seen being searched earlier.

Thames Valley police, we were informed, had been co-operating with their South Yorkshire colleagues who were following up a complaint against Cliff of alleged sex abuse in Sheffield 30 years ago.

It seems that nobody had bothered to let Cliff know of the search - but the BBC had been given sufficient notice for them to have a helicopter on stand-by and a reporter outside Cliff's Portuguese house!  It is hardly surprising that no advance notice was given to Cliff.  After all, if he did have anything incriminating in the house he would have taken steps to dispose of it.  But why was the BBC "invited" to film the search?

I have no idea whether Cliff Richard is innocent or guilty of the alleged offence.  Strike that, I know he is innocent - at least until he is proven guilty.  That's the basis of the law here in Britain.  And he can only be found guilty by a jury in a court of law.  But given the enormous publicity that has ensued, there is bound to be speculation, especially following the high profile scandals surrounding Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris.  Even if no charges are ever brought against Cliff, there will always be a question mark hanging over him.  Mud sticks.

Whether the BBC contravened its editorial guidelines, as purportedly suggested by South Yorkshire Police, or whether the police encouraged the publicity in the possible hope of drawing out further complaints, is something we shall no doubt learn in due course.  Either way, it seems to me that somebody boobed in spectacular fashion and should be thinking very seriously about his future in the job, whatever that job might be.

Saturday, 16 August 2014


I'm not at all sure just why I have been thinking recently of my late grandmother.  But I have been.

My mother could never have been described as an assertive person so it must have been quite an ordeal for her as a new bride of just 20 years of age to be living right next door to her in-laws.  Furthermore, my father was away at sea for much of the early part of the marriage.  During my boyhood, Gran never came across to me as an awkward person but in her old age she was distinctly cantankerous.

Living next door to Gran had definite advantages for my brother and me.  There was a gate in the fence between the two gardens - probably made by my grandfather - so it was easy for my brother and I to pop next door.  In my memory, Gran spent a lot of time baking - always buns - and scraping out the mixing bowl while the buns were in the oven was a great treat.  As were the warm buns later!  My brother and I could, occasionally, earn a little extra pocket money by scraping the salt.  This was bought in blocks.  I don't really remember what size those blocks of salt actually were but in memory they were about the size of a large loaf of bread.  The block had to be scraped with a spoon or similar tool and the resulting grains could be stored and used.  We would sit at or kneel up to the table with the block between us on a sheet of newspaper, scraping like mad.

My fondest memory, though, is of the three of us - Gran, my brother and me - sitting in front of the fire playing board games.  Sometimes we would play snakes and ladders, but ludo was always the favourite.  I always played with the yellow counters and Graham had the red ones.  I think Gran usually used the blue.  There were great shouts of joy whenever one of us children managed to send Gran's counter back home.

And Gran always seemed to be singing.  She was a very spasmodic church-goer and although professing to be Church of England, I always felt she inclined more to the Methodist Church or even the Salvation Army.  Despite it being only the occasional Sunday that she went to church, it was always hymns that Gran sang, which is probably why I knew the words to so many of the old hymns.

I've just checked my records and I see that it was in August 1913 that Gran and Grandad married.  How different the world was then.