Thursday, 18 September 2014

R Day . . .

or R Day not going to vote for independence?

(Sorry - I just couldn't resist that.)

Referendum Day, when the Scots, and those living in Scotland who are not Scots but are entitled to vote - honorary Scots? - vote to decide whether or not to remain a part of the United Kingdom.  There has been a touch of overkill the last couple of weeks with page after page devoted to the matter in the newspapers (I suppose they have to find something to fill the white spaces between the adverts) and almost half the BBC news team in Glasgow.  I imagine the same thing has happened to the ITV news team and others, but I don't see those news programmes.

I feel desperately sorry that there has been so much noise and fury - and, yes, rancour - instead of what should have been a calm and measured debate.  According to the newspapers I have seen, the Yes Team, as they are known, those urging people to vote 'yes' for Scotland to be an independent nation, have been the more vociferous, even to the extent of bullying and intimidating.  Those reports have been dismissed by some, possibly even many, as lies.  But sufficient unto the day etc etc

Just when the result is expected is something I don't know.  I don't recall ever being told, but maybe I just didn't pay attention.  Either way, there is going to be trouble ahead and it will be expensive trouble.  The result will also affect everybody in this country in so many different ways.  Nothing can ever be the same again.

But on a more positive note, whatever the result of the referendum, the views across the Downs will still be there.  We have been enjoying some glorious late summer weather this week and i took this picture the other afternoon while walking the dog.  The temperature was in the mid-20s and there was a touch of haze in the distance.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Broom soap

I have said before that I'm a great believer in lists, lists of any sort but especially shopping lists.  I don't know what it is about my memory, but if I go to buy four things, I will completely forget one of them.  I don't just forget what the fourth thing is (or was), I completely forget that a fourth item ever existed!  Usually that is not too much of a problem.  Our nearest supermarket is but a mile or so away so it's not a great hassle to make a second trip.

Things are a little different when we are in France, especially if I am buying DIY stuff.  That involves a drive of some 24 miles round trip and I have been known to curse roundly on occasions such as when I forgot the vitally important screws.  I now make out a list before I set off.  Which is fine when I remember to take the list with me, which isn't always the case.

I'm not sure that my brain is really wired just as it should be.  Although I am forever forgetting things I set out to buy, I have no difficulty in remembering people's phone numbers, even a year or more after they have moved and changed their number!  So I need a shopping list to help my memory.

For the last few weeks, it has been me who makes out the shopping lists but before that, She Who Must Be Obeyed gave me the orders of what to buy as I visited the supermarket while she relaxed in the diving bell having her high dosage oxygen treatment.  I quickly learned the need for me to read the list before we set out.  The Old Bat, bless her, would have jotted down things in such a way that she and only she knew what was meant.  For instance, she might have written "oil".  I would need extra information to ensure that I brought back the right sort of oil and in the right quantity.  What really threw me was the time when I had collected all the things on the list - except for one item right at the bottom.

+ r

I stared, perplexed, at this hieroglyphic while shoppers pushed and shoved around me.  What on earth could she mean by "+ r"?  I walked up and down the aisles seeking inspiration from the items on the shelves and suddenly it occurred to me.  That plus sign was really a lower case t and what I was to buy was toilet rolls.

Yesterday afternoon I found myself hoist with my own petard.  I had made out the list myself but quite why I wanted broom soap - or even what broom soap might happen to be - was something I failed to comprehend.  Until I remembered.  Not "broom" buy "b'room" - bathroom soap.

It's all a bit like the old school reports: "Must try harder".

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

It never rains but what it pours

There was a time when not a day would go past without a visit from the postman, even though half of what came through the letterbox went straight into the recycling.  Now the postman calls on perhaps three days a week.  There was also a time when the telephone seemed never to stop ringing - but now we can often go days without receiving a call.  Then yesterday the phone rang no fewer then five times!  Granted, two of those calls were expected as I had asked the callers to ring me.  Two of the others were welcome but the fifth (and last chronologically) was some Italian lady trying to persuade me to order Italian food from her - in Italy, I gathered.  She was very gracious when I explained that I am "quite happy with my present arrangements, thank you" and ended the call.  Which is more than can be said for so many cold callers who try to keep talking over me as I tell them to **** off.

I may well have seemed a little abrupt when responding to three of the welcome calls, all of which came at slightly awkward times.  First there was my son's ex-mother-in-law, offering to come and sit with the Old Bat for a while to give me a break.  It was very kind and thoughtful of her but as I was trying to get the old duck to the table to eat her "lunch" at the time, it was not a good time to talk, especially as I had to explain that the Old Bat sleeps or dozes most of the time and needs (wants) nobody sitting with her.  I called back later to explain.

Tony, a fellow Lion, called as I was trying to stop the sausages burning in the frying pan - more of which anon.  He was calling me back to confirm his availability to do the driving for the stroke club people this morning.  I had managed to get myself a little confused as at one time I had been down to do it this month andI wanted to make sure I wasn't still expected to do so.

I had removed the sausages from the pan (in accordance with the instructions in the recipe) and substituted the potato and onion (the recipe called for leeks but I had none so used onion instead) and they were sizzling away merrily when Julian rang.  He had heard "from various sources" that the Old Bat is unwell and rang to check up.  I was very touched that he had made the time to call as he is quite possibly the most overworked person I know.  As well as running the farm single-handed and looking after the deer, cows and sheep, he also does the butchering of the meat which he sells from the farm shop.  All this while caring for his wife, who is now completely immobile with MS.  And he finds time to chair the parish council.

The other call was from a doctor.  I had become so worried that I rang the surgery, hoping to speak to our regular doctor but it was his day off.  One of the others rang back and expressed a little surprise that we had not yet heard from the hospital as our GP had asked for an urgent appointment.  She promised a house call today, possibly from the regular GP.

And as for the sausages, well, I was trying out a different way of cooking them, a recipe from a one-pot cookery book.  This involved frying the sausages in olive oil for about 10 minutes then removing them from the pan.  Add more oil and fry thinly sliced potatoes and leeks for about 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, slice the sausages diagonally and grate some mature Cheddar cheese.  When the vegetables are done(ish), add the sausages and horseradish (I didn't use that) and mix well.  Leave for two minutes, then remove from the heat, sprinkle the cheese over it, stir and serve.  And very tasty it was.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Interesting times

In more ways than one.

There is, understandably, a call for military action, possibly including boots on the ground, to be taken against the self-styled Islamic State.  Those murderous thugs have cranked things up a gear with another execution, this time of a British aid worker.  They have also threatened the same fate for another British aid worker.  But just what action could - or, indeed, should - be taken?  It has been reported that security services have identified the murderer known as Jihadi John but are reluctant to take any action towards apprehending him in the concern that doing so would increase the danger to other hostages' lives.  There is also a view that military action against them is just what ISIL want - and sooner rather than later.  Perhaps we should be grateful that Messrs Obama and Cameron are not making knee-jerk reactions but are taking the time needed to ensure that action, when it is taken, is effective.  We must hope so.

Nearer home, this is the week in which the Scots will vote on whether or not to break up the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  I am not alone in failing to comprehend just what the problem is with the way things are right now.  Many Scots complain of being treated as second class citizens, but none has yet managed to explain in just what ways that happens.  They complain also of being ruled by a Tory elite in Westminster, hundreds of miles away from Scotland.  But that is the same for people in, say, Newcastle - and it's not as if the Conservative Party is always in power.  I have only today seen a comment on another blog stating that the promises of devo-max recently made by the government are "lies".  There is so much more I could say - but it would make no difference to anybody - least of all those who are eligible to vote in this referendum who seem to have their heads stuffed full of porridge oats rather than brains.

I sometimes dream of being on a desert island with none of these things to bother me.  But doing an ostrich is not an option.

My main worry at the moment is not just nearer to home but actually in it.  My wife has been unwell for just over two weeks now and spends all day in bed, much of the time either dozing or sleeping.  She is getting weaker and has lost quite a lot of weight as her diet now consists of two apples and a small bowl of mixed fresh fruit each day, supplemented by a couple of cups of tea.  Hardly surprising that she is losing weight!  Last Tuesday the doctor rang to advise the results of blood tests and said he is referring her to hospital with the hope (expectation?) that she would hear within two weeks.  As I didn't speak to him myself, I'm not sure whether he expected her to have an appointment within two weeks or merely hear when she could be seen.  If we hear nothing today I shall ask for a chat with the GP and another visit as something needs to be done - and soon.

Interesting times indeed.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Tour information

Most bloggers will have heard of the Tour de France cycle race but many will not be aware that we in Britain also have a tour, not surprisingly (and not very originally) called the Tour of Britain. The penultimate stage of this year's tour ended yesterday in Brighton.  Let me give you a few snippets of what the Tour PR people had to say about Brighton.
Widely-regarded as Britain's coolest seaside city, Brighton & Hove is known for its cosmopolitan café culture and bohemian atmosphere. As well as a former royal palace, the city has a beachside prom, grand Regency crescents, city parks and the stunning South Downs National Park right on its doorstep. The Downs are now part of a new world Biosphere site, the first place in the UK for forty years to be awarded this prestigious accolade by UNESCO.
Brighton streets are awash with chic eateries and art galleries and The Lanes and North Laine area boasts over 500 independent retailers selling everything from bonsai trees to bongos, designer homeware and vintage fashion; all within a half mile radius. 
Attracting about 8.5m visitors a year, recent figures released by the Office for National Statistics confirmed Brighton as the most popular UK seaside destination for foreign tourists.
Museums and galleries mix with great shopping, stylish cafés, bars and restaurants, and the city has a glittering nightlife and arts scene alongside traditional seaside fun. 
Sounds a great place to visit, doesn't it?  And the accompanying video also makes it look good.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Summer fruits

When I studied English literature back in my teenage school years, I was struck particularly by Keats' 'Ode to Autumn'.  That's the one that starts, "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness".  I was so smitten that I decided to have a go myself.  My poor imitation started thus:
'Tis autumn; the armies of the season
Intermingle. Summer retreats, winter
Advances her probing, dead'ning squadrons.
Strange how those few words just came back into my head.  I know there was more but that is forgotten, which is probably just as well.

On opening the bedroom curtains on the last couple of mornings I have been unable to see the Downs for the autumnal mist.  It really feels as though we are on the cusp, slipping not so slowly from the warmth of summer into the cool freshness of autumn.

My raspberries - an autumn fruiting variety - are really coming into their own right now.  I picked enough the other day to have them for dessert with a scoop of ice cream and there were plenty for the Old Bat to have a lunch of strawberries and raspberries yesterday.  Yes, strawberries - in almost-mid September!  I was astonished to see how many there were when I did the shopping yesterday - and several different varieties as well.  I was even able to buy some of our favourite Camarillo.  We thought last year that the strawberry season had lasted longer than usual and it is doing so again this year.

In a way I find that rather a shame.  Strawberries are such a special, summer fruit that can be enjoyed piggishly when the season lasts only a few weeks, but when it lasts for months they become ordinary, more on a par with grapes and bananas and apples and oranges - all available all year round.

Not only have I been picking raspberries, but I also picked a plum this week.  Yes, one plum.  That makes about five I have picked this year from our two trees, which is five more than last year.  There is always plenty of blossom, which sets well, followed by plenty of fruit.  But there is some disease or other in my trees and I have been unable to work out what it is that causes the fruit to go mildewy and rot on the tree before it is ripe.

Earlier, it looked as though this would be a reasonable year for pears, although they were not as prolific as last year.  Now there is just one left on the tree - and I have not picked any!  In past years, the jackdaws have pecked away at the fruit before it is ripe and a good many of the pears have suffered as a result with woodlice getting into them.  This year, though, the jackdaws actually plucked the pears and flew off with them, holding the stalks in their beaks!  Then the neighbourhood squirrels decided that perhaps they would like some fruit, and even the blue tits joined in.  Windfalls became snacks for the dog.

Oh well, there's always next year.

Friday, 12 September 2014

The whole truth

I am fairly certain that some people will be offended by what I am about to write.  It's not that I'm setting out to offend anybody, but it is said that the truth sometimes hurts.  And what I am about to write is the truth, the generally unspoken truth about how some people in Britain - mainly England - felt about the horrific events that were commemorated yesterday.  It wasn't everybody who felt like this and the view was rarely uttered aloud.  Many who did feel a little like this also felt guilty that they should have even thought like this.  But it seemed to me like a sort of undercurrent, something unseen that was lurking just beneath the surface.  It was a feeling that I think I can best describe as a sort of smug satisfaction; a sort of "now they know what it feels like".

In the years before 9/11, we in the United Kingdom, especially and in particular in Northern Ireland, had been going through what are euphemistically called "the Troubles".  It was more akin to a bloody civil war.  On the one hand were the Irish Republican Army and its various offshoots who wanted the six counties of Ulster, Northern Ireland, to secede from the UK and become part of the Republic of Ireland, Eire.  On the other hand were the Unionists, who wanted fervently for Northern Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom.  Just to make matters worse, religion came into the equation with the Republicans being Catholic and the Unionists, Protestant.  Both sides were guilty of atrocities, but the general feeling was that the IRA was the more evil.

Although the Troubles were confined in the main to Northern Ireland, the IRA exploded several bombs in mainland England, notably in Warrington (2), Guildford (also 2), London (another 2) and Brighton, nearly killing the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.  Lord Mountbatten, the Queen's cousin, was killed by a bomb on his boat when sailing off the Irish coast.

It was believed that the IRA raised much of the funds needed to buy arms and explosives from the Irish community in the USA and there was a certain degree of anger that Americans were financing terrorism in the UK.  It was that anger that gave rise to the feeling "now they know what it feels like".

Believe me, I take no pride in the fact that many of my countrymen felt this, even if they didn't say that they did.  Even those who did feel like this shared the outrage, the hurt and the grief.  John Donne had the right of it when he wrote, "No man is an island".