Wednesday, 23 April 2014

St George's Day

Cry 'God for Harry, England and St. George!'

The words of Henry V - according to William Shakespeare.  Today might well be St George's day, but there will, I suspect, be precious little sign of it in England, even though St George is our patron saint.  The English have a tendency to be undemonstrative; reserved; reticent.  We don't take every opportunity to fly our national flag - by which I mean the flag of St George rather than the Union flag.  Every public building in France, and quite possibly other European countries as well, flies two flags permanently, the French tricolor and the blue European Union flag with its circle of gold stars.  Few private houses in France have flags flying, possibly even fewer than in England and very much fewer than one sees in the USA.  As an aside, I seem to recall that one needs planning permission to erect a flagpole in England, which would be a definite turn-off if many English felt inclined to fly the flag.

There is, as always, an exception to the rule.  When the England football team is engaged in a competition such as the European Cup or the World Cup, the St George's flag is flown from many cars using those fixings that slip over the top of a window, and hung from many windows.  But that seems to bring out the worst in those who already lean to the extreme right-wing politically, the ultra nationalists, and it may well be that some people are worried about being associated with the BNP, the British National Party who, as far as I can tell, have no association with any of the United Kingdoms except England.

Having paid nodding respects to good old George, I will also mention in passing that today is the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare.  He was both born and died on St george's day, his death being on 23rd April 1616, but as he was born of 23rd April in 1564 some might argue that we should wait until 2nd May to celebrate (or mark) the true 450th anniversary.  You see, it was in 1752 that the calendar in Britain was changed from the Julian to the Gregorian.  This involved "losing" 11 days; Wednesday 2nd September that year was followed by Thursday 14th.  It is said that rioters demanded, "Give us back our eleven days", but this tale is probably apocryphal.  The calendar change also altered the financial dates in England.  before the change, the financial year had begun on Lady Day, the quarter day marked on 25th March.  However, after the loss of 11 days, it was agreed that the new financial year would start on 5th April so that nobody would lose 11 days interest on investments.  Another day was skipped in 1800, so from then on the financial year started on 6th April.  And it still does.

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Having been on the farm for Easter, I do have a few pictures to inflict upon you.  First, the farm as seen from across the fields.  Those frame-like contraptions are protecting fruit trees planted about three years ago - the new orchard.


Thursday, 17 April 2014

Gone farming

Well, it makes a change from "Gone fishing".   This is an easter tradition, as I explained three years ago thus:

With Easter coming this weekend there is only one place for the Old Bat and me to be. For more than 25 years it has been our custom to visit my cousin and her husband on their farm a few miles outside Bristol. (I wonder why there is no generally accepted term for the spouse of a cousin? I can't keep referring to "my cousin's husband" so without further ado I shall coin the phrase "cousin-in-law".)

Although I am no farmer, being a thoroughbred townie, I have, over the years, turned my hand to numerous jobs around the farm, albeit frequently acting mainly as gofer to my c-i-l. I have helped to dig holes for fence posts. That, on the face of it, sounds an unnecessary task but these fence posts were not the usual chestnut stakes. They were mini telegraph poles almost a foot in diameter and needed to be buried four feet into the ground. I am talking about the corner posts for an 8' high fence of high tensile steel netting to contain deer. At that time, there was no money to hire a contractor to do the job so it had to be done by hand. I have repaired the ordinary sort of barbed wire fence, having herded the cows that had broken it down back from the garden which contained grass so much more luscious than they had in the field. I have rounded up sheep, ducks and geese, though not all at the same time. Using my minimal carpentry skills I have constructed gates, I built a pig pen and dug a trench across the rock-hard ground of the yard. I helped install a milking machine and taught calves to drink from buckets. I have cut down trees (and tended the resulting bonfires) and I have planted hedges.

My job this year, I am told, is to construct cow-proof protectors for the fruit trees c-i-l wants to plant in groups in the Pond Field.

The weather forecast is good - at the moment - so it should be an enjoyable weekend with fresh air, good food, good wine and good company. Oh, and I'm meeting that long-lost cousin again for lunch on the way to the farm.

See you next week. 
Well, that's what I'm doing today.  Back next week, but in the meantime, happy birthday, ma'am, on 21st April.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Let's spend more money

I have two meetings to attend this evening, both to do with Lions.  first, there is a meeting of the management committee of the Lions Housing Society (which I might very well end up having to chair).  This will be a short meeting - they generally are - in which the report and accounts for the year ended 31st December will be considered and approved (I hope).  We, by which I mean the Society, had another very successful year with the accounts showing a surplus of just under £600,000.  Mind you, £350,000 of that was a donation from a charitable trust which was wound up.  We now have enough funds in the bank to put towards another development - when we find a suitable site - and always provided the bank will lend us the rest, about £3 million at a guesstimate.  That should mean another 20-30 flats to add to our present stock of 116, all let to people of retirement age at affordable rents.

Lions Dene is one of the Housing Society's developments.  It includes a doctors' surgery and a meeting room for the Lions Club as well as 37 flats and an office used by the nurses of Leo House Children's Hospice in the Home.


Then after that, a business meeting of the Lions Club.  I hope to get the club's agreement to spend another £3,000+ on a number of projects.  I want to subsidise holidays for four disabled Brighton residents, buy sleeping bags for a charity working with the homeless in the city, buy art materials for a charity working with abused women, donate £275 to MedicAlert's Early Start programme for children under 10, and £250 to Lions Clubs International Foundation scheme to provide measles vaccinations.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Temptation

I have been asked to propose a toast at the annual Charter Night celebrations of Brighton Lions Club.  Charter Night is the annual bash, basically the birthday party for the club.  When I joined the club it was a very smart affair.  The dress code was black tie, and the ladies all wore posh frocks.  The venue had at one time been the Royal Pavilion but price - and ongoing renovation work - had forced the club to look elsewhere.  Nowadays we hold the event at one of the hotels in the town or a golf club on the edge.  The dress code has become a little more relaxed and although most men wear dinner jackets and black (or colourful) bow ties, there is a growing tendency towards lounge suits.  The ladies are now more likely to wear cocktail dresses rather than evening gowns.

Dinner is followed by speechifying and then dancing.  The first toast is, naturally, the Loyal Toast, then the President proposes, "Lions Clubs International and District 105SE" - but he doesn't make a speech.  The District Governor responds to the toast and ends by proposing, "Brighton Lions Club".  This is the President's opportunity to make a speech as he responds.  Next comes the toast I am to propose, to "The City of Brighton & Hove, the Ladies, and Our Guests".  We have to include the city if the Mayor is to respond - a matter of protocol.  This is where I am very tempted.

When proposing a toast to someone - or something - it is customary to be tactful and say good things about the person or thing.  But I am strongly tempted to say what I think of the Council's treatment of Brighton Lions Club.  I have a vague memory of it being done once before and I would dearly love to do the same.  The Lions used to enjoy a very good relationship with the local council, but it has, to our regret, deteriorated.  My particular gripes would be:
  • The Lions re-introduced a carnival to Brighton, with the support of the council.  Groups entering floats in the procession covered their own, sometimes considerable, expenses.  Years later, the council started to charge us for road closures for the carnival procession - but when Gay Pride came along, groups entering floats in their procession were given grants by the council and Gay pride was given a grant of £25,000 to cover losses.
  • The Lions asked the council for permission to erect a sign showing the Lions badge at the entrance to the town, similar to those seen in many other towns.  This was declined - yet Rotary have put one up.
  • The elm trees in Elm Square had to be felled.  We offered to pay for replacements if the council would allow a plaque stating that the trees were planted by the Lions to mark our diamond jubilee.  We were told that plaques on trees are against council policy - but there are trees with plaques in other parts of town.
  • One councillor invited us to send him details of our Housing Society's need for a development site so he could tell us of opportunities.  The email has been ignored, yet development sites have subsequently been sold by the council.
  • It took us three years to get council representatives to agree to meet us with regard to buying the freehold of a plot of land leased to our Housing Society.  Three council official were due to attend; only one bothered to turn up.  That meeting was four weeks ago.  We have just managed to arrange a fresh date.
I still have several weeks in which to draft my speech and I suspect I will manage to avoid temptation, but it will be a damn close-run thing - to misquote the 1st Duke of Wellington. 

So here's to tact and diplomacy.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Ice cream

Talking of ice cream... Well, I did mention it yesterday.  Anyway, the Old Bat started making her own ice cream some years ago.  I was rather taken aback when this started as I have known for many years that she is not exactly an ice cream sort of person.  Sure, she indulges in a very occasional ice cream in very hot weather and has been known to select an ice cream dessert on occasion when we have eaten out.  This happens especially in France, where ice cream confections are much more common and where there seems to be a much wider range of flavours than we have here in England.

On the other hand, I don't recall seeing brands like Haagen Daz or Ben & Jerry in any french supermarkets, but maybe that is simply because I have not looked particularly hard.  But they do seem to have a wider range of fruit-flavoured ice cream than we do, the only non-fruity ones being rum & raisin - and that, of course, is partly fruity - and the newcomer, ginger.  Oh, and mint chip.  One that both the OB and I like is the lemon that seems to be a halfway house between ice cream and sorbet.  But to get back to the home made stuff.

It started out with strawberry - using real fruit, of course.  That was good.  I don't recall just what other fruits were used, but white chocolate was and still is a particular favourite.  Mind you, it is not cheap to make, but what a decadent taste!  Now that summer is a'coming on I must nag her into making some more.

There was one flavour that all three children - and I - refused to eat after the first time of serving.  Brown bread.  Yes, you did read that correctly.  Brown bread ice cream.  A most peculiar mix of flavours and an odd consistency.  Thank goodness she took the hint and didn't make any more.

~~~~~

The River Ouse at Lewes.  On the skyline towards the left of the picture is Lewes Castle, built by William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey, the brother-in-law of William the Conqueror, in 1069.


Sunday, 13 April 2014

Speculoos ice cream

Sunday, that means roast.  The Old Bat and I are traditionalists as far as Sunday dinner is concerned and we always have a roast.  And if the meat is beef, then there has to be Yorkshire pudding.  Chicken (or, very occasionally, turkey) is always accompanied by chestnut stuffing.  Gammon is glazed with honey and mustard, while lamb - which we had last week - is cooked with rosemary and garlic and served (for me) with mint sauce.  I suspect that today's meat is to be pork.  The Old Bat always has apple sauce with hers, but I have never much liked stewed apples so I pass on that.

We ate apples last night - in a crumble.  I have always thought of apple crumble as an English dish but it has now been discovered by the French and I have seen it on the menu in a number of restaurants over there, although they usually serve it as a form of tart or flan.  And I have never seen an apple pie in France.  Come to that, I don't recall ever seeing any sort of pie.  Except in the supermarket in PouancĂ©.  There they have a small section devoted to English foods, much as English supermarkets have a section for Polish food.  The English food stocked by Super U (the PouancĂ© supermarket) includes Heinz baked beans, Colman's English mustard, Cooper's Oxford marmalade - and Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies.

The commonest apple dessert served in French restaurants is tarte Tatin, but what is served up is rarely what I know as tarte Tatin.  Usually what we get is an apple flan.  But during the last six months or so there has been a revolution in France.  Desserts - such as tarte Tatin - have generally been served with piles of Chantilly, the sort of whipped cream served from an aerosol can.  For many years that was the only cream sold in France but about three years ago pouring cream started to appear in the shops and this is now quite widely available.

But that is not the revolution I'm talking about.  It was towards the end of last year that we were served with tarte Tatin accompanied by ice cream.  One might have expected the ice cream flavour to be vanilla, but no - it was ginger (speculoos in French).  And it went surprisingly well with the apple.  So well, in fact, that the Old Bat decided to adopt the practice.  Well, we were quite unable to find ginger ice cream in any English supermarkets so we looked in France.  The first couple of stores didn't have it, but we did track some down and there is now a tub in our freezer.  We had some last night with the apple crumble - and I highly recommend it.

~~~~~

Just outside the town of Lewes (that's pronounced almost the same as Lewis - two syllables) is Mount Caburn, an outlier of the South Downs.  This is a popular spot for hang-gliders, as it was when I drove past last Wednesday.


Saturday, 12 April 2014

If it sounds too good to be true...

I'm big enough, old enough and ugly enough to know full-well that if something sounds too good to be true, it very probably is.  But one always lives in hope that one might come across that elusive exception to the rule, the veritable four-leaved shamrock, the pot of gold at the foot of the rainbow.  That's what I am very much hoping is the case here.

I have been planning to change my car sometime about the end of this year.  By then, or very soon after, I will be looking at about £1,000 of expenses to keep it running and quite honestly I don't think it will be worth spending that sort of money as the car will be approaching the possible end of its reliable life.  Granted, it could go on quite a bit longer, but that's not a risk I am willing to take given the sort of journeys I do.

My preference, when buying a car, is to find one less than 12 months old and with under 10,000 miles on the clock.  That saves me a considerable sum of money and means there is a good chance that any niggling glitches have been sorted.  So I have been looking around to see which cars are being sold now that will be of interest to me in January next year.  So it was that I spotted just what I will be looking for - on a forecourt now.  An estate car with a 2 litre engine and cruise control, just over 6,800 miles on the clock, registered just 9 months ago - and (the clincher) priced 25% below the list price for the same model brand new.  What's more, that price is only £200 more than I paid for my present car some six years ago.

I went to look it over, drove it, liked it.  I was offered £500 less for my car than I would have liked but the salesman hinted strongly that he could probably increase that offer by £250.  I went away to think it over.

The following day I went to one of those "we'll pay cash for your car and save you money" web sites.  The valuation I got there was only just above the possible higher part-ex figure.  I rang the garage and told the salesman he had a deal - provided he increased his offer by £250 and supplied and fitted a dog guard - which I knew would cost a bit over £200.  And he agreed, and threw in a year's road fund (although that's only £30) and will treat the seats with a scotch-guard-like thingy which would normally cost £200 and which I had declined.

I pick the car up on Wednesday, just in time to take it to my cousin's farm in Somerset for Easter.  A pig in a poke or a pot of gold?  Hardly the latter, but I just hope it doesn't prove to be the former.