Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Dark clouds

Although the sun was still shining - just - on the Chattri and surrounding fields, dark clouds were looming on the horizon the other evening.

And tomorrow we're off again. It's three months since we saw our house in France - and I'm certainly looking forward to the break!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Bank holiday weather

The last bank holiday before Christmas, and what do we get weather-wise?  Rain, that's what.  Typical English bank holiday weather, many would say.  Mind you, about Thursday last week the forecast was for rain yesterday, which would have been a shame.  My elder son was planning a barbecue, as requested by his partner's soon-to-become teenage daughter.  As well as those three, there would be my son's two boys, my other son, my son's partner's parents and a couple of friends of the birthday girl.  As it happened, we were able to spend the afternoon in the garden quite comfortably.

We really can't complain too much about today's rain - not, of course, that it would be any good if we did.  Up until the tag end of Bertha arrived we had been enjoying a splendid summer, warm and dry, with hardly any rain at all.

Which reminds me.  Quite a few times recently I have wanted to ask, "A tall what?"

We of the elder generation - and I reluctantly now include myself in that - are known to mutter about the gay abandon with which youngsters spray the word "like" into their verbal outpourings.  But it really isn't just the youngsters who develop verbal habits that can be irritating or even downright annoying.  The Old Bat had a friend who used to spend one or two weekends with us each year for one of the regular girls' nights out.  Apart from the timbre of her voice (strange how some voices simply grate on the ear), I found myself getting increasingly irritated by her over-frequent use of "you know?".

But to get back to "at all".

I had made my regular purchases at the deli counter (a Melton Mowbray pork pie for me, a goat's cheese and sun-dried tomato tartlet for her) when the assistant, a lady of mature years, asked me, "Anything else at all?"  Then the cashier in the supermarket, despite me having a trolleyful of shopping bags, asked, "Do you need any bags at all?"

Why has this "at all" habit developed recently?  Or has it existed for a long time without me being aware of it?  Curiously, I have noticed another habit which has probably been going on for ages, right under my nose, so to speak.

The television newsreader opens the story and then announces something like, "Joe Smith is in Brussels for us.  Tell us, Joe, what do you think the outcome will be?"

"Well, Jane, it's like this . . . "

Joe or whoever almost invariably uses the word "well" - and frequently goes on to tell us "it's like this".

Oh, heck, maybe it's just the rain getting to me.  I'll be less niggly tomorrow.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Taxable assets

When my mother died, nearly 15 years after my father's death, her estate was comfortably below the threshold for Inheritance Tax to be due.  Had it not been, I very much doubt if I would have taken into account any potential value attached to the medals my father had earned during the Second World War and those earned by his father during the First.  It would simply not have occurred to me.  Just as her clothes - all chain-store purchases - were valueless, the run-of-the-mill crockery had no value, the rusting garden tools also, I would have lumped those medals in with them.  That is not to say that they had absolutely no value to me; I would simply not have considered them to form any part of the estate for tax purposes. 

And that is where, as I have discovered this week, I would have been wrong.

I suppose I have for a long time known that medals could be bought and sold and, therefore, they must have a value.  Or rather, a price.  I don't think the two words are necessarily synonymous.  Those medals are worth more to me than any price at which I could sell them.  But that is not the way Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs look at things.  In their view, medals are salable and therefore have a value.  And that value has to be taken into consideration for the purposes of Inheritance Tax.

But not all medals are classified in this way.  In the eyes of HMRC, there is a distinction between campaign medals and those awarded for gallantry.  Medals awarded for individual acts of heroism or gallantry, such as the Victoria Cross and the Military Medal, may be passed down through the generations without having a taxable value - until they are sold.  Only after the sale to somebody outside that generation-line are they classified as being part of an estate for the purposes of Inheritance Tax.  And that is quite equitable.

But campaign medals are treated quite differently and have to be included in the value of an estate at the estimated price they would fetch at auction.  So my father's Arctic Star, Atlantic Star and so on count as taxable assets.  As does my grandfather's 1914-15 Star.

The "value" of those campaign medals is not actually very high; there are too many of them kicking about for that.  But that is not the point.  I see no reason why they should not be treated in exactly the same way as those gallantry awards.  After all, they weren't awarded simply for opening packets of corn flakes; my father endured the horrors of the Arctic and convoy duty in the Atlantic to earn just two of his medals.  Was that not a form of gallantry?

It is quite possible that even though I am by no means a wealthy person, my estate will be above the Inheritance Tax threshold as that is not being raised in line with the increase in the value of houses.  If that should be the case, I hope my sons will have the nous to say that I passed ownership of those medals to one or other of them years before I died so they fall outside my estate.  Or simply ignore their existence.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

How long?

Yesterday evening we watched a television programme I had recorded back on 4th August, the exact date of the 100th anniversary of Britain declaring war on Germany.  The exact causes of the war are still subject to some debate, but there is no doubt that the immediate reason why Britain joined the fight was the German invasion of Belgium.  It was that invasion and the reports of atrocities carried out on Belgian civilians that inspired so many of Britain's young men to join up.

Fast forward 25 years and in 1939 Britain again declared war on Germany.  The reason was once again a German invasion; this time, of Poland.  In both cases, this country was honouring treaty obligations and coming to the assistance of other countries under attack.

I have never been entirely convinced . . .  Correction: I have never been convinced at all that the invasion of Iraq was about anything other than oil supplies.  The weapons of mass destruction excuse was a figment of somebody's overactive imagination.  But how much longer, I wonder, can we hold back from further action in the Middle East?

I have no views of the rights and wrongs of the Shia/Sunni dispute.  As far as I am concerned, the two sides should forget their differences in much the same way as Catholic and Protestant Christians have learned to do.  But the Islamic State is a beast of a different hue.

This is evil and needs to be stamped out.

I have no wish to be told that more young English man and women - and Scots and Welsh and Irish and American and Australian and Canadian - have died and I would never want to be the Prime Minister or President who ordered troops into combat, but that is what is needed.  And it should not be just American troops backed by British and Australian allies with a smattering of other European countries.  It is time for some of the emerging economies such as India and Brazil to stand up and be counted - and Saudi Arabia.

It is repugnant to me to say it, but action needs to be taken - with boots on the ground.  We have no treaty obligations this time, just humanity.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Independence Day, Detroit

Skip's story about the Beatles reminded me of one of my first experiences of American hospitality.  I had won a freebie, a trip to the Lions international convention which, that year, was being held in Detroit and Windsor.  (Detroit, as most Americans will know, is the one American city from which one travels south to cross the border into Canada.)  Skip and GS were also at the convention.  We had never met face to face but Skip and I had become electronically acquainted through a message board on the Internet.

Although the conference was not due to start until the Monday, I had travelled to Detroit on the Saturday, so Sunday was a free day.  It so happens that GS had family in Detroit, namely her brother, he of the Beatles story.  The Sunday was 4th July, and also the birthday of (I hope I've remembered this correctly) one of GS's nephews.  The family was holding a barbecue to celebrate and, hearing that I would be at a loose end, they very kindly invited me along.

The family have formed a Celtic band, playing traditional Irish music, and we all had a great time.

I remember that one of the guests, Dan(?), had been in the Detroit police, holding a high position.  He had spent some time in England on secondment to a Yorkshire police force and told me that on his return to Detroit he had mentioned to his colleagues that there had been 11 murders in the county.  (There had been 5 in Detroit the night before we met.)

"Eleven in one night?" asked a colleague incredulously.

"No," he had replied.  "In a year!"

He was quite convinced that the US gun laws didn't help, nor did the fact that US police are armed, unlike ours in the UK.  As a guest, I felt it was not my place to make any comment.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

How now, brown cow?

Or, Now You See Them, Now You Don't.

I am fortunate to live where I do, within easy reach of some of the finest countryside in England.  Owning a dog is an excellent reason for me getting out of the house and walking over the South Downs.  Don't get me wrong; what I do isn't to be compared to serious walking, the sort of serious walking that is involved in Snowdonia or the Lake District.  No, my walking is more akin to a Sunday afternoon stroll.

There are two or three routes that I like best, partly because they offer some delightful views, partly because they involve no strenuous (to me) hill climbing.  One of those routes takes me up Scare Hill, which is just the other side of the Brighton bypass at Patcham.  but this is not a walk I can take very often.  One of the fields - a very large one - is used as sheep pasture every spring and although I am sure Fern would not chase sheep, I prefer not to take the risk.  She would probably be scared of the animals as they are bigger than her so I would need to keep her on the lead, which rather defeats the object.

Fern is really frightened of cows and would refuse to enter a field with any in, so I have to check that there are none in the first field we would cross.  This last week or so, this has proved something of a puzzle.  I can see the field from the bedroom window and when I have looked out first thing in the mornings, the field has been empty.  I've looked again after lunch, and a herd of cows has taken up residence!

So we have not walked those fields for a while, which is something nof a pity as these are the sort of views I would have.

From the first field, there are good views up the Standean valley.

The Standean valley with Standean Farm

Turning aside before reaching the Chattri, we head across rougher pasture until we reach the top. From here we look out to the southern slope of Clayton Hill with the village of Pyecombe. There is a glimpse, too, of the busy Brighton to London road.

Clayton Hill and Pyecombe

On the way back, we pass closer to the Chattri, built on a south-east facing slope of Scare Hill.  During the First World War, the Royal Pavilion and the Dome in Brighton were used as a hospital for Indian soldiers wounded on the western front.  The Chattri is a memorial to those who died in Brighton and was erected on the site of the funeral pyres of the Hindu and Sikh soldiers whose religion required them to pass through the flames.  The Muslims are buried in a Muslim cemetery in Surrey.  This must have been a very isolated spot a century ago, none of those houses in the photo having been built.

The Chattri, with Hollingbury in the distance and a glimpse of the sea.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The happy folk

There are some people that my 10-years-old springer spaniel absolutely adores.  Well, one person really - my daughter.  We have never managed to work out just why that should be, but it is.  There are other people she likes very much, enough to make her excited when they come through the door.  Then there are others the mere sight of whom send her into a frenzy.  "Ten years old going on two months," as Dee remarked this morning.  At the time, Fern (the spaniel) was running dementedly in large circles around her.  Again, we have never been able to work out just what it is about these people - and there are perhaps just four or five - that has such an effect on the dog.

But then, I find that there are people who have, well, not exactly a similar effect on me, but an effect.  I'm very happy to greet friends and neighbours and to pass the time of day with them; with some, I am delighted to spend the time to put the world to rights.  I smile when I greet these people.  Well, one does, doesn't one?  But there are a precious few whose simple presence makes the world a brighter, friendlier place.  After a minute in their company I can leave, smiling, and that smile stays with me for quite some time.  They have some sort of charisma that transcends time and place so that even the thought of one of them starts my lips turning up.  I am lucky enough to know two such people.  And they could not be more different people, apart from that magic ingredient.

Here in Brighton one of my near neighbours is one of those two.  The fact that she is an attractive brunette, 40-ish (although I could be wrong; I'm hopeless at assessing ladies' ages) doesn't hurt, but it's not her looks alone that make me happy to see her.  And she always seems happy.

In Chateaubriant, a regular in one of the bars we frequent is the second person.  He stands well over six feet tall and almost as much round the waist.  He speaks not a word of English and has the largest hands I have ever seen.  There are several teeth missing and his moon-face is usually covered in about two days' of stubble.  He always greets the Old Bat with a bear hug and a kiss.  Just like my Brighton neighbour, he always seems happy.

They have some sort of a joie de vivre, but it's not that alone that brings happiness to others.  I don't know exactly what it is, but I'm glad it's there.  If only somebody could bottle it, he's make a fortune - and the world would be a much better place.