Sunday, 24 May 2015


Although the Vikings and Danes landed elsewhere, the principal target for invaders and would-be invaders of England has been the south-east corner - Kent and Sussex.  It's hardly surprising, really, given that this is where England is closest to the continent of Europe.  At its narrowest point in the straits of Dover, the English Channel is only about 21 miles wide.  Indeed, it is easy - on a clear day - to see right across.  the white cliffs of Dover can be seen in this picture taken from a motorway service station between Calais and Boulogne, just below the bank of cloud.

The Romans invaded three times, in 55BC, again the following year, and finally in 43AD.The first invasion was a half-hearted affair, and Julius Caesar returned with his small army to Gaul fairly quickly.  In 54BC he landed near Deal, Kent, but after defeating the Celtic army, he agreed to leave England on condition that an annual payment was made to Rome.  It was almost a hundred years before the third and last Roman invasion, a much bigger affair. Armies landed at three locations in Kent - Richborough, Lympne and Dover.

Fast-forward a thousand years and the south coast was once again the site of an invasion.  William, Duke of Normandy and claimant to the crown of England, landed at Pevensey in Sussex in 1066 and decisively beat his rival, Harold, at the Battle of Hastings.

There were sporadic attempts at invasion during the following 700 years but it was not until the early 1800s that such an event became more than a faint possibility.  There were fears that Napoleon Bonaparte might make the attempt, so between 1804 and 1812 the British authorities built a chain of 103 towers, known as Martello towers, to defend the south and east coast of England.  The towers were set at regular intervals along the coast from Seaford, Sussex, to Aldeburgh, Suffolk.  They were never called into use as Napoleon failed to gain control of the Channel, his fleet being trounced at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Fifteen towers have been demolished to enable the re-use of their masonry. The sea washed thirty away and the military destroyed four in experiments to test the effectiveness of the new rifled artillery. During the Second World War, some Martello towers returned to military service as observation platforms and firing platforms for anti-aircraft artillery.  Forty-seven Martello towers have survived in England, a few of which have been restored and transformed into museums, such as the one at Seaford.

The Seaford Martello tower.
Fifteen towers were demolished to enable the re-use of their masonry. The sea washed thirty away and the military destroyed four in experiments to test the effectiveness of the new rifled artillery. During the Second World War, some Martello towers returned to military service as observation platforms and firing platforms for anti-aircraft artillery.  Forty-seven Martello towers have survived in England, a few of which have been restored and transformed into museums, such as the one at Seaford.

The next threatened invasion was 75 years ago, when Hitler aimed to cross the Channel.  It was in that period after Churchill had declared, "we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets".  As well as numerous obstacles placed on any beach deemed remotely possible as a landing site, other fortifications were hastily constructed.  Known as pillboxes, there were numerous designs although most were built of reinforced concrete.  it is estimated that some 28,000 pillboxes and other hardened field fortifications were constructed in the United Kingdom, of which about 6,500 still survive.  Like the Martello towers, these pillboxes were never used for the purpose for which they were built.  In this case, it was the air over the Channel that the enemy needed to control, control that was denied to the Luftwaffe by the pilots of the Battle of Britain.

After the war, farmers were offered the sum of £5 to demolish a pillbox constructed on their land but few were touched at the time.  Since then, many have collapsed and, as far as I can discover, none have been given Listed Building status, which I think is a pity.  It would be a shame to lose all of them.

A World War II pillbox on the bank of the River Adur beside Shoreham airport.

Saturday, 23 May 2015


We didn't know it as bingo back then.  We called it housey-housey.  My father owned a set comprising perhaps a couple of dozen or more cards measuring - according to my memory, which is probably faulty - about 8 inches by 4.  Each card had the numbers printed in exactly the same way as the cards used today.  Then there was a large sheet of paper with nine rows of 10 squares each printed on it, the squares numbered from 1 to 90.  There was a cloth bag with 90 plastic tablets numbered (you've got it) from 1 to 90.  And what seemed like thousands of squares of cardboard cut from ceral packets and the like.  We wouldn't want to cross out the numbers on our cards as this would mean they couldn't be used again, so the cardboard squares were used to cover the numbers as they were called.

My brother and I thoroughly enjoyed a game or three with our parents.  Nowadays I can think of little that I would find more boring.  It's almost as boring acting as caller, which I do from time to time at retirement homes where the Lions organise sessions for the old folks, many of whom are younger than the Lions!

You will understand from what I have already written that I have had no difficulty in resisting any temptation to sign up for on-line bingo sessions, especially those for Foxy Bingo whose television advertisements I find excruciating.  All the same, I'm going to treat you to their latest, but only because it was filmed here in Brighton on the Palace Pier so you can catch a few glimpses of the city.

Friday, 22 May 2015

I am here, but

there's just too much else that MUST be done for me to find the time to even start thinking about blogging!

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Getting the wind up

This is what one might call a stock picture in that although I am going to mention my walk around the Roman Camp yesterday, this picture was actually taken three years ago.  It is the view across Brighton and out to sea.

When I was up there yesterday, visibility was better than when the picture was taken.  I counted seven or eight ships on the horizon heading down Channel - the up Channel lane is on the French side of the Channel.  I suppose they must have been between 20 and 25 miles away.  But I could also see the isle of Wight, albeit admittedly not very much more than a smudge on the horizon; I have seen it much more clearly defined on many an occasion.  That is over 50 miles away.

Now picture, if you can, a wind farm just eight miles off the shore, a wind farm consisting of no fewer than 116 turbines!  Just like this:

Now, I do appreciate that we can't go on and on using fossil fuels and although I am not against nuclear generated power, I am also in favour of more natural (if that is really the word) means of generating power.

But wind turbines I detest.

They are all the rage in France and we must see dozens and dozens of them as we drive down to our hideaway.  What irritates me most is that they seem so inefficient.  Many a time only half - or less - of the turbines in any group are actually turning and producing power.  The rest are, presumably, out of order.

Added to that, I consider them an eyesore, ruining many a good view.  And we are to have more than a hundred located just off Brighton!  And I suspect that the manufacturing these machines, the transporting and installing of them will put more CO2 into the atmosphere than they will save.  Then there is the cost, subsidised by the taxpayer (ie, me) to the extent of £236 million just for the construction, plus further "green" subsidies when operational.

I just don't understand it.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Medway Queen

Paddle Steamer Preservation Society

As can be seen, the Medway Queen was a paddle steamer.

But I want to tell you a little bit about my paternal grandfather.  Unfortunately, I have no real memory of him.  I do remember that he liked walnuts - well, I hope he did as my brother and I bought him a bag of them each year as a Christmas present.  He was born during the reign of Queen Victoria in a small, Suffolk village where, after attending the village school, he followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather by becoming a farm labourer.  But not for long.  At the age of 15 he joined the Royal Navy, in which he served for over 20 years.

He would sometimes take my brother and I into Chatham to the livestock market.  (I can remember how the pigs squealed when their ears were notched.)  And on one occasion he took me on the Medway Queen, my brother probably being thought too young to come as well.  We embarked at Sun Pier, Chatham, and sailed down the river Medway into and across the Thames estuary to Southend.  And back again.

The Medway Queen must by then have been about 25 years old, having been built in 1924.  In 1939 she was requisitioned by the Navy, painted battleship grey, and used as a minesweeper.  But in 1940, she was called into action for Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from the beaches of Dunkirk.  Sailing back and forth across the Channel, she rescued some 7,000 soldiers.  After the war she continued with the river trips.

Withdrawn from service in 1963, she has now been restored and although usually moored at Gillingham Pier, she is now at Ramsgate to mark the 75th anniversary of Operation Dynamo.


Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Tatty Tuesday

This post is my own version of Sarah's Rubbish Tuesday posts which she picked up from somebody else...

Anyway, this is a photograph I took some years ago when walking the dog on the South Downs.  It's one of those pictures that I rather like, although I would have great difficulty in saying exactly what it is that I like about it.  I do like the rather washed out look of the colours and the bleached fence posts leaning at all angles.  they are probably rotting in the ground, and the rusty barbed wire hanging loosely between them hardly provides a barrier to livestock.  Not that any livestock have been kept in this field for as long as I can remember.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Cow parsley

Here in Sussex - and, for all I know, across much of the rest of England - this is the start of the cow parsley season.  Parts of the wooded area at the top of Withdean Park are almost smothered by the plant with its white flowers and lacy leaves.  I always think of the scent as being nutty, it's certainly not sweet, but it is an aroma I like.

I think it makes an attractive picture when silhouetted against the dying sun.