Friday, 28 August 2015

Nature's bounty

I've been picking blackberries this afternoon, big, luscious, juicy blackberries, about the sweetest I have ever tasted.  And I don't have to go far to pick them; just down the garden.  There are brambles growing in the hedge that separates our garden from our neighbour's.  One advantage of having blackberries in the garden - in addition to not having to go far to pick them - is that I can wait until they are at their peak.  When we had to pick our fruit along the lanes and in the woods, it was always a case of having to pick what was available because as sure as eggs are eggs, someone else would be coming along very soon after you had gone and would pick what was left.

When I was a lad it was always something of a ritual at this time of the year.  My mother, my brother and I would set off with our . . .   I don't actually remember what we used to collect the berries in.  It was way before Tupperware had arrived, before margarine came in plastic tubs so maybe we used baskets of some kind.  Even 20 or so years ago the Old Bat and I would make our way along the old railway (the footpath where the Hove to Devils Dyke railway had run many years before) with the dog and those cardboard pick-your-own punnets to pick the blackberries, just two among a crowd of other pickers.  But these days?  This year I have seen just one person picking blackberries in the park.  Maybe people just don't bother any more.

Apart from crab apples (which I mentioned a few posts back) I harvest nothing from the hedgerows.  I'm not a lover of country wines such as dandelion and burdock (not that I have ever tried that particular one) and my one attempt at elderflower wine was a disaster, and we don't drink gin so the sloes are of no use to me.

I did have a picture that I intended to use to illustrate this post, one of the Old Bat picking blackberries, but I can't find it!  I suppose I might have deleted it by mistake and I will have to search the recycle bin (which hasn't been emptied in months - or even years).  But while I was looking through the archive photos, I came across these.  First, Brighton's Royal Pavilion at night:

Then my daughter, aged 4.  She is now a deputy head at a secondary school!

Thursday, 27 August 2015


A few random thoughts inspired by last night's dessert.

A few years ago, the idea of anybody naming their daughter Peaches would have been considered distinctly odd.  Then Bob Geldorf did it.  I'm not sure that anyone has followed suit, but by now it doesn't seem particularly odd any more.  Especially when you think of some of the other names that children have been saddled with.  Yes, I know that last sentence should really read, "Particularly when you consider some of the other names with which children have been saddled" but who cares?  Anyway, other strange names.  Two children at my grandson's school were named Scooter and Box.  I have to wonder what possessed their parents.

I think the funniest name I have come across - and this is true, I swear it - belonged to a customer whose surname was Pisitpong.  Just to make matters worse, his initial was I.

       "Mr Sandman, bring me a dream.
       Make her complexion like peaches and cream."
Why on earth would anyone want a complexion like peaches and cream?  All sort of blotchy red, yellow and white?

Way, way back we didn't get fresh peaches in this country; we could only buy them in tins.
On the occasions when we were invited to my grandmother's for Sunday tea, the tinned peaches would be in the centre of the table, decanted into a large fruit bowl.  After we had eaten the required two slices of bread and butter, we were served with peach slices in smaller fruit bowls, part of the set with the large bowl.  The special fruit spoons (including a matching serving spoon) would have been taken from the padded box in which they resided when not in use.  These were rather oddly shaped spoons, not unlike these:
(Does anyone ever use fruit spoons these days?)  Cream was never served.  Perhaps it was unobtainable, or maybe simply too expensive?  Instead, we poured evaporated milk on the peach slices and thought we were eating peaches and cream.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Enough is enough

I suppose we might have needed a drop of rain; it had been pretty dry for quite some time.  But then, that is much as we might have expected given the weather we had on St Swithun's Day.
St Swithun's day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain.
St Swithun's day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain nae mare.
According to the Royal Meteorological Society,
The St Swithun's Day legend is an old one – the earliest surviving written reference dates back to the 14th century – although its roots are much disputed. St Swithun (or Swithin) was an Anglo-Saxon bishop of Winchester who died in around AD862. The clergyman requested that his remains be interred among the common people outside the church, but in 971, after he had been made patron saint of Winchester Cathedral, his body was dug up and moved to a new indoor shrine. According to some writers, this caused sufficient displeasure in the heavens for a terrible downpour to strike the church and continue unabated for 40 days, hence the legend. The only problem with this theory is a complete and utter absence any evidence, with no early account of the reburial mentioning the slightest drop of rain.
It may seem a little odd for me to be writing (even if it is mostly copied from elsewhere) about St Swithun's Day given that it is 15th July but the 40 days finished on Sunday.  Since then it has done nothing but rain in this neck of the woods! The weather during the preceding 40 days was much the same as on 15th July: mixed.

There is a strong whiff of wet dog in the house.  Those raspberries that have ripened in the garden have been smashed to pulp.  Yesterday the water was spouting up out of manhole covers and on Monday, south-east England had more rain in 12 hours than it receives on average during the whole of August.

Does anyone know the steps of the Stop Raining Dance?

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Just say, "No".

That is something I have learned to do; say, "No".  I had always found it difficult to refuse when asked to do something, and even difficult not to volunteer when volunteers were needed.  But somewhere along the line it crept into what passes for my consciousness that always agreeing to take on jobs was not necessarily doing anybody any favours.  And those jobs weren't always continuing jobs; they could just as easily be one-offs.  Like the latest job I have agreed to take on.

No, that's wrong: it is not a job.  But it is a task, and a difficult one, at that.

A friend of mine died last week.  Not an especially close friend - certainly in the geographic sense as he and his wife moved out of Brighton almost two years ago to be nearer to one of their sons in south-west London.  But I had known Jason for nearly 30 years as a fellow member of Brighton Lions Club.  And I had a great deal of respect for him so when I was asked yesterday to speak at his funeral I readily agreed.

I have started drafting what I wish to say and already I am on draft number 3.  Or is it 4?

I wish I could have refused but there was no way I could do so on this occasion.

Monday, 24 August 2015

End of the silly season?

August is often referred to as the silly season, typified (according to the Wiki) 'by the emergence of frivolous news stories in the media'.  This weekend has provided the media with an opportunity to forget the frivolous as there has been quite a bit of real news, some good, some bad.

Sport featured quite heavily, what with the fifth and final test match and the world athletics championships.  Australia trounced England in the cricket, but England regained the Ashes having won the series 3-2.  Personally, I was quite pleased that Australia won that match as it was the last test that will be played by the retiring Aussie captain.  There was good news coming out of China, where two of Britain's favourite athletes won gold medals, Mo Farah in the 10,000 metres and Jessica Ennis-Hill in the heptathlon.  Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton led from the front to win the Belgian Grand Prix, his sixth win of the season, and extend his championship lead over Nico Rosberg.

Belgium also featured in another news story as it was in Brussels that a Moroccan boarded the Amsterdam to Paris express with the intention of committing mass murder.  It was the courage and quick thinking of American off-duty servicemen, especially Spencer Stone, that saved the day, although the would-be assassin's gun had jammed anyway.  Not that Mr Stone knew that.

But since Saturday afternoon the British media has been mainly concerned with the tragedy that happened just a few miles away from here at the Shoreham Air Show when a vintage jet fighter crashed onto the busy coastal trunk road, killing at least eleven people.  Police warn that they are still sifting through the wreckage and when the plane is lifted today they may well discover more bodies.

This was Britain's worst air show disaster for more than 60 years.  The worst ever was at Farnborough in 1952 when 29 people were killed when a De Haviland 110 exploded in mid-air.  I was there on the day, although I have no memory whatsoever of the tragedy.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Acute accent

I have to admit that I had never thought of it as an insult, or even a display of superiority, but I suppose it could be construed as such.  At least, a writer in yesterday's paper described it as an insult, a calculated insult, even though I suspect his tongue was very much in his cheek.

When ever I enter a restaurant in France, the waiters or waitresses immediately tag me as English.  And they are right; there is something quite undefinable about every Englishman that identifies his nationality.  I don't even have to open my mouth, the staff know I am English without hearing my execrable French spoken with a distinctive accent.

My grasp of the lingua franca is, admittedly, somewhat tenuous but I know just about enough to read (most of) the menu and to order my meal.  All the same, many a time the waiter or waitress has replied in English to confirm my order.  I have always taken that as a king gesture, even if at times it has given rise to a certain confusion.  But is it really a subtle insult or display of superiority?

"Huh, you Eengleesh, you 'ave no idea 'ow to speak our beautiful language whereas I, a mere French waiter, 'ave a full command of your mixed up mumblings."

I have been surprised to be offered a menu in English in some distinctly out of the tourist way towns and villages.  Another subtle dig?

On the other hand, the last English menu I saw in France had been produced by a non-English speaking restaurateur who had used a computer to translate from the French.  That, together with his typing errors (at least, I assume that's what they were) led to some hilarious and, frankly, quite unintelligible descriptions.  It didn't help that anyone ordering from the English menu had to point to what they wanted while the restaurateur read to dish in the equivalent place on the French menu.

And I recall reading somewhere, although this was many years ago so it may no longer apply, that the French consider French spoken with an English accent to be sexy, rather like the way English women loved the accent of Charles Aznavour.  And it's not often that I am considered sexy!

But now I come to think of it, I was once at a supper in California with several dozen Americans.  The woman sitting next to me exclaimed that she found my accent cute and she could listen to it all night.  I didn't take her up on the offer, and not just because the Old Bat was with me.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

It doesn't happen often

Perhaps I should qualify that statement, even simply by adding the words "in England".

This afternoon it is more comfortable indoors than out, which in itself is not exactly unusual.  What makes it unusual today is that it is uncomfortably warm and sticky out of doors.  I have just this minute - well, maybe five minutes ago - come back from walking the dog.  Although I decided against Stanmer woods (too crowded on a fine Saturday afternoon, and with Brighton & Hove Albion playing at home getting to and from might be tedious) I deliberately chose a route where we would be sheltered from the sun.  Even so, Fern was flagging a bit by the time we were nearly done.  Mind you, the temperature had come down a bit by then.  It was 28 when we started out and by the time we got home again it had dropped to 27!