Friday, 24 July 2015

Peter Sellers

Sometimes called the greatest comedian of all time, Peter Sellers died 35 years ago today at the age of 54.  I remember nearly splitting my sides with laughter at The Goon Show, a zany radio programme in which he appeared with Spike Milligan, Michael Bentine and Harry Secombe.  He is often remembered for his role in the film The Millionairess in which he starred with Sophia Loren.  The song they recorded, Goodness Gracious Me, doesn't feature in the film and it was released as a single simply to promote the film.  Back in 1960 it didn't bother anybody, but I wonder what the politically correct brigade would make of it now?

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Swan Upping

Picture: Heathcliff O'Malley
The third week in July each year sees a centuries-old tradition enacted - swan upping.

Swan upping is the annual census of the swan population on stretches of the Thames in the counties of Middlesex, Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire. This historic ceremony dates from the twelfth century, when the Crown claimed ownership of all mute swans. At that time swans were regarded as a delicious dish at banquets and feasts.

Today, the Crown retains the right to ownership of all unmarked mute swans in open water, but The Queen only exercises her ownership on certain stretches of the Thames and its surrounding tributaries.

This ownership is shared with the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the Worshipful Company of Dyers, who were granted rights of ownership by the Crown in the fifteenth century. Nowadays, of course, the swans are no longer eaten.

In the Swan Upping ceremony, The Queen's Swan Marker, the Royal Swan Uppers and the Swan Uppers of the Vintners' and Dyers' livery companies use six traditional Thames rowing skiffs in their five-day journey up-river.  The Queen's Swan Uppers wear traditional scarlet uniforms and each boat flies appropriate flags and pennants.

When a brood of cygnets is sighted, a cry of "All up!" is given to signal that the boats should get into position. On passing Windsor Castle, the rowers stand to attention in their boat with oars raised and salute "Her Majesty The Queen, Seigneur of the Swans".  The cygnets are weighed and measured to obtain estimates of growth rates and the birds are examined for any sign of injury (commonly caused by fishing hooks and line).

The swans are also given a health check and ringed with individual identification numbers by The Queen's Swan Warden, a Professor of Ornithology at the University of Oxford's Department of Zoology. The swans are then set free again.

Most words lifted straight from the web site.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

A record?

Or maybe it just proves that I need to get a life!

This is post number 2500 on this blog.

Now I'm packing the car ready to go wineracking.  And I have just discovered this promotional video I made some years ago when we were still renting the cottage as a gite:


Monday, 20 July 2015

Avian ASBO kids

I have long had my doubts concerning the efficacy of ASBOs - Anti-Social Behaviour Orders.  Wikiwot defines ASBOs thus:
An Anti-Social Behaviour Order is an Order of the Court which tells an individual over 10 years old how they must not behave.
An Order can contain only negative prohibitions. It cannot contain a positive obligation. To obtain an ASBO, a two-stage test must be satisfied by the applicant authority (see s.1(1) Crime and Disorder Act 1998). The first is that the defendant has committed acts causing or likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress within six months of the date of issue of the summons. The second is that an order is necessary to protect persons from further anti-social behaviour.
They have always seemed to me to be little more than somebody saying, "You've been a bad boy.  Don't do it again."   I understand that in some areas, teenagers consider an ASBO a badge of honour, proof that they are at one with the rest of the gang.

But where, you might ask, does the avian reference in the heading come in?  Quite simply, it was how one newspaper described the herring gull.

The herring gull grows to or just over 2 feet long and has a wingspan of about 4 feet.  It is possibly the most common gull around the shores of this country - and, indeed, inland.  And at this time of the year it can be particularly badly behaved.

The species has become almost immune to the presence of people.  In fact, it seems to be drawn to them, especially if they have food.  Here in Brighton they will swoop to seize chips or other food from the hand - and not just singly; usually they operate in gangs.  They have been know to attack and kill small dogs, and even a tortoise was flipped over so that its soft underside could be attacked.

The gulls often nest on buildings and when they have young, they become especially aggressive, attacking people who are judged to have approached too close to the nest.

But the herring gull is a protected species and it is an offence to disturb the nests or to kill the birds without first obtaining a special license.  Even with a license, it is difficult for local authorities to know just how to control the herring gull population.  The most usual way is, I believe, to smash the eggs - presumably the smashing being done by men wearing full protective clothing!

A few years ago our neighbours fed the herring gulls by throwing bread onto their garage roof.  One particular gull would wait on the corner of the garage, calling impatiently until food was provided.  He or she even brought the youngster along for a meal.  Thankfully, I can say that our neighbours no longer feed the critters.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

In the public interest?

I am a great believer in the freedom of the press.  In my opinion, any democracy needs the beast to look after the public interest.  On the whole, the British press acts responsibly, not abusing its freedom, although the phone hacking scandal brought much of the industry into disrepute.  But this week the Sun was described as 'having 'reached a new low'.

The newspaper - although I hesitate to use the word as 'comic' would seem to me to be a more accurate description of the publication - somehow obtained a published - on its front page, no less - a picture of the Queen giving a Nazi salute.

That said, the picture was a frame from a home video shot in 1933 when the then Princess Elizabeth was just 7 years old.  The movie, thought to have been taken by the Queen's late father, also shows her sister, the later Princess Margaret, and their mother, the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and the Princesses' uncle, then Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor, giving the salute.  Quite why the paper's managing editor thinks the picture is a matter of historical significance is beyond me.

The Queen is said to be livid and Buckingham Palace has been reported as considering legal action.

Frankly, I would have thought that the least said or done, the sooner this discourtesy would be forgotten.  Nobody in their right mind would think that a seven-year-old girl would appreciate the significance of that gesture, especially as Hitler had been in power only a few months when the film was shot.

And which of us has not, at one time or another, given the Nazi salute in an act of mockery?

Saturday, 18 July 2015

When you've nothing to say . . .

Although I do have plenty to say.  It's just that what I have to say would be of interest to very few people, so I won't bother.  Instead, here is a picture of an English summer morning on the South Downs.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Silver threads among the gold

Darling, I am growing old,  
Silver threads among the gold.
I really don't think I could be described as a vain man.  Granted, for the last few years I have used a small dab of gel on my hair to stop that annoying flop over the forehead but that's more a matter of comfort than for appearance sake.  It didn't bother me when my hair started to go grey, although I am still surprised that when I look in the mirror there appears to be some colour left.  But in photographs, my hair looks white or even silver.  And I'm going thin on top as well.  This was brought home to me about two or three years ago by my granddaughter, then aged about 5 or 6.

"Grandad," she said, "I can see your head through your hair."

My maternal grandfather had a full head of white hair right up until his death in his mid-80s and I had always hoped that I might have inherited that gene through my mother.  (Yes, all right; call me vain if you must.)  Instead, it seems I have my paternal grandfather's hair.  Or rather, I don't have.  He didn't either.  Have hair, I mean.  But OK, I can live with that.  Well, I shall have to, won't I?

But this morning...


I looked in the mirror - and saw white hairs in my eyebrows!

I'm not just GROWING old, I've GROWN old!!