Thursday, 5 March 2015

Too many books,

too little time.

I used to be an avid reader, getting through two or more books each week.  It started way back when I was but a lad working my way through Biggles, Jennings, Swallows and Amazons, the Famous Five and so on.  Of course, when I was working, I used to enjoy a train ride to work lasting about an hour and a half - and another hour and a half coming home.  Granted, that was only for the last 14 years of my working life, and I must also admit that I spent a fair bit of the train journey asleep.  All the same, I still managed to fit in a fair bit of reading.

I have never managed to work out why it is that, since I retired, I have almost no time at all to pick up a book.  I know that work expands to fill the time available - and I suppose that I now spend much more time attached to the Internet.  But all the same, there are still so many books I want to read.

Some how or other I seem to have missed out on a lot of the so-called classics.  Do you know, it was only when it was announced recently that another novel by Harper Lee is to be published that I realised I have never read Mocking Bird?  That said, there are plenty of "classics" that I have tried and given up on.  I did start Cannery Row but just couldn't seem to take it in.  That is what i find with so many modern novels.  Yes, I know that Cannery Row was published 70 years ago, but it's still relatively modern.

To me, Steinbeck and his ilk are the literary equivalent of Picasso, whose paintings leave me completely cold.  I just don't understand them.  Give me a Turner, Constable or Monet any day!

I will quite happily read books by many modern authors, authors who are still living and writing.  But they don't try to be clever, they just write what I call good yarns.  They tell stories.  And that is what we humans have been doing since Adam was a boy.

It's just a pity that I can't find the time for more of them.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015


Yes, that really is a weasel riding on the back of a green woodpecker!

To quote from the Daily Telegraph:
The remarkable shot was taken yesterday by Martin Le-May while he was walking with his wife through Hornchurch Country Park in Havering, London.  The pair heard “distressed squawking” before witnessing the woodpecker’s “struggle for life” as the weasel clung to its back.  ... The birdappeared to be “unnaturally hopping about like it was treading on a hot surface” before it flew in their direction.  The colourful bird eventually landed about 25 metres from the couple.

At that point the weasel fell off the woodpecker, which flew into the trees.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Evening shadows

There has not been a lot of incentive to use the camera recently, but late yesterday afternoon I glanced out of the bedroom window.  The shadows were lengthening across the fields and a bright white spot caught my eye.

It doesn't really show up as well in the picture but becomes a little more obvious when the photo is enlarged and cropped.

That is the Chattri, the memorial to Indian soldiers who died in Brighton during the First World War.  The memorial was built on the site of their funeral pyres.

Monday, 2 March 2015

My moment as a hero

Having been thinking about courage, bravery and heroes, I recalled the one brief moment when the hero was me.  I see that I did post this about three years ago but I am going to repeat exactly what I wrote then.  (It saves me having to think of something new.)  So, without more ado, (insert drum roll or trumpet blast) here is My Moment as a Hero.  If you read it the first time round, you are hereby forgiven if you just click on the "next blog" link up the page or wander off to put the kettle on or even prepare the Sunday lunch. (Yes, I know it's Monday. So what?) Either way, you are going to get the story. Again - or for the first time.

It all happened on a Saturday morning about 30 years ago. That's right - 30. It might have been only 27 or, on the other hand, it might even have been 33 years, but that is completely irrelevant. It was certainly a Saturday. I know that because I was still working ... No, hang on. I suppose it could have happened on a weekday if I was on holiday at the time ... Oh well, never mind. It might have happened on a Saturday and it might have happened about 30 years ago, but it definitely happened.

I wanted a new pair of shoes so I went into Brighton to see what I could find. I can't for the life of me remember if I drove into town or caught a bus but I know I started at the Clock Tower and made my way along Western Road towards Hove, looking in every shoe shop that I passed. Just before I reached the end of the bigger shops a police car passed me at high speed. It stopped outside the Argos store - a catalogue store with a jewellery counter - on the opposite side of the road. I assumed the police had been called to an attempted robbery and carried on. I reached the next road junction and turned back. I had gone only a couple of yards when I saw a youth dash out of the Argos shop, pursued by two policemen. The youth darted into the road and was heading straight for me.

From then on, time slowed down. I actually managed to think about what I could and should do. It was axiomatic that I should attempt to apprehend this (probably) highly dangerous villain, but how to do it? (Actually, it didn't cross my mind that he might be dangerous; I just knew I should try to stop him.) My first thought was that I should just stand in his way with my arms spread wide, but I quickly dismissed that idea as impractical. Then I decided that a rugby tackle would probably see me sprawled on the pavement while the escapee simply side-stepped. By now it was very nearly time for me to take some form of action if I was ever going to, so I just stuck out my leg and tripped him up. The youth fell on his face. A passing driver leapt out of his van and sat on him until the police arrived.

Although time had slowed sufficiently for me to think of - and reject - a couple of ways of stopping the escapee, and even a third way which proved remarkably successful, there had not been enough time for me to think through the full likely outcome of sticking my leg out. Sure, it worked in that the youth tripped and was caught. But what I had overlooked - or not had time to think of - was the fact that by sticking out my leg, I would be putting myself off-balance. Or rather, balanced on just one foot. What happened was that the force of my right leg being struck by the youth caused me to fall. As I did so, I instinctively put out my hands to break my fall. I landed awkwardly on my right hand, hurting the wrist badly. The pursuing policeman inadvertently trod on my left hand, as a result of which the thumb was extremely painful.

Fortunately, I knew somebody who lived in one of the side streets not too far away and I made my way there, hoping somebody would be at home. She was, and she persuaded me that I should have a hospital check-up. She rang my wife, who drove me to the accident and emergency department where it was confirmed that I had broken my right wrist as I landed - and the copper had broken my thumb when he trod on it!

So much for being a hero!

There is, however, a postscript to this story. It was a week or ten days later that I happened to be speaking on the phone to my brother, not a particularly common occurrence in those days although it happens quite frequently now. Brother was then a serving police officer in another county.

'Have you sent off the forms to the Criminal Injuries Board?' he asked.

'Do what?' I replied.

It transpired that the local police should have informed me of my right to lodge a claim with said Board. They had not done so, possibly in an attempt to save themselves some work - or maybe because they simply hadn't bothered to check that I was OK. Anyway, I duly obtained the forms and sent them off. In the fulness of time I received a cheque for no less than £500!

So that is the price of heroism!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Let us now praise famous men

On two consecutive days last week, our daily fishwrap carried large pictures of men, one man each day.  The second day's picture was of 'Jihadi John', the murderer of hostages held by the self-styled Islamic State, whose identity had just been discovered.  It struck me at the time that this was an obscene reversal of the previous day's picture, which was of Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey.  L/Cpl Leakey had just been presented with his Victoria Cross which he had been awarded for his action in Afghanistan in August 2013.

The Victoria Cross (VC) is Britain and the Commonwealth's highest award for bravery in the face of the enemy.  I did post information about this award in the way-back but it might bear repeating. The medal is a typical example of British understatement being a dull bronze suspended on a plain crimson ribbon.  Since its inception in 1856, it has been awarded some 1357 times with three recipients receiving a second award (a bar).  It was originally believed that the medal were cast from Russian cannons captured in the Crimea although it now seems that the guns were actually of Chinese origin.  There remains only 358 oz (10 kg), stored in a vault maintained by 15 Regiment of the Royal Logistic Corps at Donnington, Telford. It can only be removed under armed guard. It is estimated that approximately 80 to 85 more VCs could be cast from this source. A single company of jewellers, Hancocks of London, has been responsible for the production of every VC awarded since its inception.

Lord Ashcroft, in an article published in the Daily Telegraph, suggested that bravery might be something in the blood, handed down through the genes.  L/Cpl Leakey is not the only member of his family to have won the VC; Sgt Nigel Gray Leakey, Joshua's second cousin twice removed, was posthumously awarded the medal in the Second World War.  As further evidence of the existence of what he calls the "bravery gene", Lord Ashcroft pointed out that three fathers and sons have been awarded the medal as well as four pairs of brothers.  And there are plenty of other cases of blood relations winning the medal.  Given that the VC has been awarded only 1,358 times, those family connections form a significant proportion of the total awards.

Interestingly, Lord Ashcroft agrees with something I have long believed, that there are two types of bravery.  The first - and, perhaps, most obvious - is the sort of bravery shown by L/Cpl Leakey who ran through heavy fire to rescue trapped and wounded comrades.  he has been reported as saying that he didn't think what might happen to him, he simply took the action that seemed necessary.  This is the sort of unthinking bravery that has been the reason for the award of many of the VCs that have been won.

I think there is also another type of courage, what Lord Ashcroft describes as "cold" courage.  This is the courage shown by, for example, bomb disposal experts who regularly put themselves into dangerous and potentially fatal situations well aware beforehand what they are doing.  A prime example of this type of courage was shown by another Lance Corporal in the First World War.  In 1918, during the Battle of the River Aisne, Joel Halliwell was captured by the Germans and was a prisoner for a short time before escaping back to British territory.  He was met with carnage along the way, seeing many of his comrades lying wounded in the chaos.  Finding a stray enemy horse, he rode back through the heavy shell- and gunfire to pick up the wounded one by one and take them back to safety. Braving these terrifying conditions over and over, he picked up ten of his comrades until unfortunately, the horse was fatally wounded. He then trekked well over a mile and back to bring water for the wounded men.

I can but wonder when I consider the bravery shown by men such as these.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Warning: strong language.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Normal is good


It was yesterday afternoon when I had my eyes tested and the optician told me, "everything is normal".  I told him that normal can be a depressing condition but he responded that as far as eyes are concerned, normal is good.  Anyway, I do need a new pair of glasses as my eyesight has changed deteriorated.  The Old Bat had her eyes tested as well and she too needs a new prescription.  Just as well that she was there as I had no means to pay having expected that I would pay when I collect the new specs.

Today is not a normal Friday.  A normal Friday involves the Old Bat having her hour in the diving bell while I wander through the old buffers and their memsahibs at Sainsbury's.  Today, however, she has an appointment with a new specialist at the local hospital.  The last two times she has been there we have had to ask for an ambulance with a two-man crew to be sent to get her up the drive.  I would have taken her in the car but the normal situation is that there is a 90 minute wait to get into the car park.  Today the appointment is in the cancer clinic so I can drop her off right outside the door and then go and find a parking place on the street somewhere.  She is to get the result of a scan taken a couple of weeks or so back at the request of the doctor at the Royal Marsden who found it difficult to believe how well she looked.  So I'm hoping and keeping everything crossed.