Thursday, 31 December 2009

To end or not to end, that is the question

Just as, ten years ago, there were heated debates about just when the new millennium began, so now there are debates about just when the new decade begins. Television and newspapers seem to have decided that today is the last day of the current decade and are providing lists of such things as the most influential people of the ‘noughties', as the years 2000 - 2009 appear to have been dubbed. Whether or not the decade runs from 2000 to 2009 or from 2001 to 2010 is not something I can get very worked up about.

Nor can I get excited about the last day of the year. At least there is no argument about just when one year ends and another begins, although that has not always been the case. I don't know exactly when the calendar changed - sometime about 1750 I think - but the year used to end on Lady Day, 25 March. When the calendar was changed there was such a hullabaloo about people losing 11 days interest, that it was agreed to alter the date on which the financial year ended to 5 April, and that is still the case.

Now I have started rambling miles away from what I was going to write about: the highs and lows of the last ten years. (Who cares if the decade still has another year to run?) I had been giving thought to what has happened over the last 12 months and decided that life has, on the whole, cruised along on a pretty even keel during 2009, so I thought back a bit further. During the last ten years there certainly have been lows, but there have been highs as well. The lows include the breakdown of the marriages of both sons, although one has since remarried and appears very happy. My mother died, but that was a blessed relief as she had lost her sight, was practically deaf and was in considerable pain. The highs have included the births of three delightful grandchildren. The lowest of the lows was, I suppose, the (almost) diagnosis of the Old Bat's condition, although conversely one of the highs this year is that it has progressed much more slowly than I had feared. I just hope and pray that the same applies during 2010.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Dog days

I'm sure that people who have never owned a dog are unable to appreciate just what an effect they can have on one's life. It's pretty obvious if we think of an assistance dog, but the bog standard family pet can make a big difference. We have owned dogs for more than 40 years, since a year after we were married. The first was a collie cross which we got from a rescue centre. I can still remember how proudly she seemed to walk along the road with us after we left the centre as if she knew full well she was "rescued". Although very friendly generally, she was a tremendous guard dog. We had had her a little more than four years before our first son was born but she immediately adopted him as a surrogate puppy. If Mrs S wanted to pop into a shop, she left the pram outside with Sandy tied to it and woe betide anyone who had the temerity to so much as look into the pram.

Our next dog, Rags, was a flat-coat retriever and just about the soppiest dog you could meet, although as he was big and black, a lot of people gave him a wide berth. Our daughter learned to walk by hanging onto his tail and on more than one occasion he was found lying on the floor wearing a jumper and covered in the dolls' blanket. His biggest treat was to meet the children from school when just about every child would come and make a fuss of him. Later, when the children were old enough to come home by themselves, he knew just when they should be home and would be sitting by the door waiting. After school activities really worried him because the children were not home on time. I remember that one winter, after it had snowed, we took the children and Rags across the golf course. The children had extra-strong plastic sacks to act as sledges and we soon found a spot where children were sliding down a steep hill into a bunker. Rags insisted on sitting on my younger son's sack as he slid. When they reached the bottom, he (Rags) jumped off the sack and ran back to stand in the queue for another go. He was just that sort of dog - completely mad and almost untrainable, but as big-hearted as they come.

Then came Bramble, a golden retriever. Another gentle dog but not a madcap like her predecessor. She had a strong maternal instinct and even allowed motherless lambs to try and suckle. One year we looked after just such a lamb for a farmer friend. I built a pen on the lawn from chicken wire and the lamb was supposed to stay inside it during the day. Unfortunately, Bramble learned how to open the pen and on several occasions we found the lamb rushing about the garden eating the wallflowers while the dog sat in the safety of the pen. Our garden attracted all the local children, each of whom wanted to give the lamb its bottle. Not only that, but Mrs S took the lamb to her cub pack on one occasion. The lamb went in the back of our estate car and was then walked down the road on a lead, just like a dog. A passing motorist nearly crashed when he saw it.

We ran up vast vet's bills with Bramble as she had a sort of stroke when she was 6 and was paralysed from the neck down. Eventually, steroid injections got her back on her feet and she made a full recovery. A few years later one eye had to be removed, then a year after that, the second one as well so she was completely blind. This didn't stop her, and she would rush headlong across the field when I took her to 39 Acres.

The current canine companion is Fern, an English springer spaniel. She is well-known in the various parks we go to as a happy dog with a tail that is constantly wagging. She thinks that children were put on earth just for her pleasure and absolutely adores them. If she spots a child in the park she rushes over, never touching the child, and drops her ball before retreating a few feet and lying down to wait for the child to throw her ball.

Yes, a dog is a tie and one does have to think before just heading off for a day out on a whim. In fact, one doesn't do that. But there is something about coming home to a house that is not completely devoid of life and having a dog come to greet you, and at least one can tell a dog one's troubles without it seeming to get bored.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

In case of disappointment

And that's as kinky as it gets!

Kinky people

I have come to the conclusion that some people, of whom Mrs S is one, are just born that way. They have an innate kinkiness. Now, don't misunderstand me, dear reader: I would hate you to get over-excited and swallow your teeth. What I am talking about is not the kinkiness of Page 3 shenanigans, thigh-high boots and g-strings or three-in-a-bed romps. Mrs S would never be into anything like that, not even in her younger days, but she has a strange ability to put a kink or tangle into the lead of any electrical appliance. Take, for example, the telephone we used to have in the kitchen. This was before the days of digital, cordless handsets and we had a wall-mounted apparatus which was the one most used for making and receiving calls. The dearly beloved had a habit of pulling the handset across the kitchen so that she could sit down to chat. I did try suggesting that it would be easier on the cord if she moved a chair to the telephone instead of the telephone to a chair, but my suggestions fell like seeds on stony ground. The cord was one of those coiled things that are supposed to contract when the handset is replaced. It always did that, but somehow it always managed to twist itself up so that when the handset was next used, one had to lean across the working surface and hold ones head about three inches from the base set. Eventually, of course, the cord had been practically pulled free at each end so I had to buy a new phone. I bought a cordless one, thinking it would mean that Mrs S could sit down to talk and I could pass from one end of the kitchen to the other without having to negotiate a stretched-taut lead. In suppose I should have known it wouldn't suit, but she seems to have got used to it, and we no longer have a tangled telephone cord.

Another example is the vacuum cleaner. I would have thought it simple enough to wind the lead around the fixtures made specially for that without getting into a mess. But somehow Mrs S manages to kink the lead so tightly that the plastic sheathing cracks and, eventually, the insulation round one of the wires also gives way. The first I am aware of the the problem is usually when there is a loud bang and the cleaner shorts out. The kink is always just where the lead enters the cleaner, so all I have to do is to cut off the last foot or so of the lead and rewire the machine. The trouble is that after this has been done a few times the lead becomes too short to be of any practical use and I have to buy a new length.

The latest piece of equipment to need my attention was the iron. I just happened to notice that the earth wire was bare - again at the point of entry into the iron. No problem, I thought; I'll just remove the back plate and pull through six inches of lead before reconnecting. No such luck. The lead was connected with spade connectors and I ended up at a car spares store where I had to buy a pack of 25 connectors so that I could use three.

And so passed Christmas Eve.

Monday, 28 December 2009

The Cruel Sea

I was delighted to be given as Christmas presents both the book and the DVD of the film of The Cruel Sea. I am just a little surprised that the book, first published in 1951, was re-issued in a new edition only this year. The film came out in 1953. At the time, my brother and I were at school on the Isle of Wight. It was a boarding school run by nuns and was described as an open-air school for delicate children. And no, we didn't sleep in tents, nor did we spend that much time out of doors. We were there for eight months and while we were there we were taken to the cinema on two occasions. One was to watch a film of the coronation (which took place in June that year) and the other was to see The Cruel Sea. I still find it surprising that the nuns allowed us to see a war film. But that film made an indelible impression on me. My father always said that the book was the only one he had ever read which accurately described what became known as the Battle of the Atlantic. I will be very pleased to be able to read and to watch it again.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

When I get around to it

I sometimes think that procrastination must be my middle name. It seems ridiculous that now I am retired I just don't manage to finish those little jobs I set myself. OK, none of them are of life and death importance, but I really should discipline myself to finishing one before starting another. Two that I have on the go at the moment are the scanning of my collection of 35mm slides - a rather bigger job than I had first realised - and the remounting of my grandfather's and my father's medals. It is more than four years since they came into my possession and, very soon after that, I bought new ribbons for them. The intention was to give the medals bright new ribbons and then mount them in a frame, possibly with photographs of my grandfather and father. This picture shows how far I have got in those four years. Not something of which I am particularly proud.

(My grandfather's medals on the right are the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal (WWI), the 1918 Victory Medal and the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. My father had the 1939-45 Star, the Atlantic, Africa and Pacific Stars, the Victory Medal and the LS & GC Medal.)

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Christmas madness

I didn't bother going down to the beach yesterday but there is a picture in today's newspaper of a good many people taking their traditional Christmas Day swim. It seems this is something that started back in 1885, so madness is obviously not something new. Continuing the sporting theme, I was driving back from my son's house during the morning when I glanced across a park I was passing and noticed a cricket match in progress. By the time I had managed to park the car the players were retreating into the pavilion so I didn't manage to get a picture.

I suppose it takes all sorts.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

The land of milk and honey

No, scrub the honey. As I said yesterday, we have milk delivered three times a week, yesterday was a milk day and the milkman was unable to get to us, so we went to the supermercado and stocked up. The milkman was not due again until after Christmas but - bless him - he came this morning and delivered yesterday's order. We are now almost overflowing with milk, but at least what we bought yesterday can go into the freezer.

I am, however, unhappy with the dairy. I received an email yesterday telling me that the price of milk will go up from 1 January. To quote: "For the past year we've all been enjoying the reduced VAT rate of 15%. Unfortunately this can't last forever and the government are increasing the VAT rate back to 17.5% as of the 1st January 2010. There's nothing for you to do, we just wanted to let you know that our prices will be going up in line with the VAT increase." Now I read that as meaning that the price will go up because the VAT element will be increased from 15% to 17.5%. But milk is zero-rated so there is no VAT element in the price (delivery is free). To both me and Mrs S this seems an underhand way of increasing the price and we are cancelling our order. We shall just have to go back to buying at the supermarket.

Oh yes. After 24 hours of more than zero temperatures the snow and ice have virtually disappeared. Long may they stay that way.

A Christmas card

This was sent to me by email.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Got any milk?

It rained last night, then froze. As a result, many of the roads in Sussex were closed this morning because of black ice. It also meant that our milkman didn't arrive. We have a delivery three days each week - Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Of course, he failed to arrive last Friday, unsurprisingly, but did get to us on Monday. As Friday this week is Christmas Day there will be no delivery, so we doubled our order for today. Now I shall have to push my way through the crowds in the local supermarket to get some milk, unless the newsagent has some left. I have to go out anyway as we need to collect the meat ordered from the butcher.

This snow and ice is a real pain. It looks very nice on calendars, but they can keep it in Switzerland as far as I am concerned.

The quote for repairing my car arrived this morning. The work involves just a couple of scratches to be rubbed down, possibly filled, and then the bumper resprayed, although as there is also a scratch on the black plastic underpart of the bumper that will need to be replaced, but the part costs just under £50. I was astonished to see that the total cost is over £400 - and this body shop is not the most expensive either. Then there will be the cost of a hire car while mine is in the shop... It all adds up to a tidy sum for a moment's carelessness.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A Christmas treat

I managed to get the car out today after chipping the ice away from the top of the drive - it was 2" thick in places - and I was taken for a Christmas treat. Shopping at Tesco's. Including a stop at the car body shop to get a quote for repairs, the trip took two and a half hours. I thought that all of Brighton was there, but my neighbour assures me that Asda was the same. Must be people making up for not getting out over the last few days. We have had no post now for four days but presumably the postman will get up our road eventually.

Monday, 21 December 2009

A good excuse

SWMBO has, for the past several years, decided that we would decorate the outside of the house for Christmas as well as the inside. This involves me balancing precariously on a ladder to hang icicle lights from the eaves (amongst other things). When I got the decorations out of the loft yesterday (for She to decorate the tree)I deliberately left behind the outside lights. Apart from the fact that the ground all around our house slopes in a most alarming manner, I didn't fancy trying to place a ladder securely on the ice. She kindly agreed that I could defer the decorating for a day or two. Then I reminded her that my son borrowed the ladder several weeks ago and he still has it.

I think I might have got out of that one for this year.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Times past

I have picked up a project that had been lying dormant for many moons - scanning onto the computer many of the 35mm slides that I took over the years before digital cameras came into my life. It is a tedious job and while the scanner does its work I tend to distract myself with solitaire. Anyway, here's one of the pictures from 1974 when we were all somewhat younger.

Saturday, 19 December 2009


There are some great pictures on the Telegraph web site which I would have liked to copy but as they are all copyright I will just post a link to the gallery.

Snowed in

I indicated somewhere that Fern, our springer spaniel, doesn't like the snow. Today she proved me a liar. After breakfast, which is our usual time for a walk to the nearby Withdean Park, she was positively eager to get out and thoroughly enjoyed rushing around in the snow.

The pavements are, for the most part now, trodden-down snow with only a thin layer of ice beneath so it's safe to walk. The roads, however, are a different story. The main roads, by which I mean bus routes (some of the bus routes) have been salted but the temperatures dropped well below freezing during the night and the side roads are little better than sheets of ice or frozen slush. Even if I could get the car up the drive, the road outside is impassable. One car going down the hill just managed to stop before hitting a tree; another coming uphill failed to make it and slid back to be abandoned just at the point where it is likely to be side-swiped by a car going down. All this is rather a pity as it means we will not be going to Chris and Mrs Chris's annual Evening of Christmas. Mrs Chris plays the piano, a friend plays the flute and guitar (although not both at the same time) and a third plays the cello. This makes for an unusual trio, but they get together just before Christmas every year with about thirty or more of us gathered in the room (Chris and Mrs Chris have a large dining room with a sun lounge opening off it) to sing carols and take breaks for mulled wine and mince pies. It always seems to me to be the start of Christmas.

At some time I shall have to put my boots back on to try to find some milk.

Friday, 18 December 2009

A quote

From our local newspaper's web site:

" Gritters started the first run yesterday at 4pm with a 40g drop on all main routes.

Following this, they continued on continuously throughout the night

Ploughs were used from at midnight and ploughing took place using 3 vehicles on plough routes until 2am. "

If the person who wrote this is supposed to be literate, Heaven help us.

A bit of a bummer

I wasn't over pleased to be greeted by this scene when I opened the bedroom curtains this morning. Although that is not quite accurate: when I opened the curtains it was still snowing and was too dark for taking photographs, but you get the picture (pun intended). All schools in Brighton are closed and there are no buses running. Cars were, I am told by the local radio, being abandoned on the main London to Brighton road last night. We have a steep drive which would need quite a lot of work to clear before I could get the car out, and then it would be onto a steep hill which is passable only in one direction as yet. So may plan to take the car to a repair shop for an estimate have had to be abandoned today. Yesterday I was stationary in the local supermarket car park when a woman drove into the back of me. Fortunately nobody was hurt and it looked as though there was a lot more damage to her car than to mine. Once I clean the mud off my rear bumper I might find more damage, but in any case I want it repaired, especially as it will be her insurance payng for it.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Bye-bye cheque-book

A group of faceless bankers and others, known as the Payments Council, yesterday decided that banks in this country will stop issuing cheque books in 2018. There was a rumour a couple of weeks ago forecasting this decision, but a report in today's paper confirms that it has been made. I have to agree with the majority of comments that follow the foresaid report, although I use internet banking and am happy to buy on-line from trusted retailers. But there are many occasions when I find it necessary or more convenient to write a cheque. Only a couple of days ago I paid the kennels for Fern's keep while we were in France; I always pay the Lions Club by cheque for dinner meetings (while I was treasurer I found it preferable to be paid by cheque rather than in cash - that way I always knew who had paid). Many charities cannot do without cheques as people use them to send donations.

Having said all that, the threatened cut-off date is nine years away and the Council has said it will review the situation in 2016 to see that other payment methods are in place. I wait with interest to see just what form those other payment methods might take.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Books and inn signs

When I first blogged about inn signs I said it was a somewhat tortuous route I had followed. It all started when I clicked on the link to one of the books read by Skip - The War for All the Oceans. It looks a fascinating read. I then discovered on their web site that the authors have also written a book about the battle of Trafalgar. And there it was - a picture of the inn sign displayed by a pub in Chatham called "Trafalgar Maid". The picture on the web site showed the pub as being a free house, but I remembered it as a Whitbread pub and the sign was reproduced in miniature - and I have one. On the back is written:
"To the only woman who fought at Trafalgar - on the frigate Euryalus. Later she lived at the "New Inn", John Street, Chatham, now removed to this spot."
Sadly, it gives no more detail about her, but there were in fact numerous women on board ships at the battle, many of them prostitutes. One was Jane Townsend, on board HMS Defiance, who applied for a medal but was turned down. The National Archives have interesting information on their web site.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Back from France...

...having slept too much, read too much, eaten too much and drunk too much. The diet begins today!

Oh, the Good Granny Guide I mentioned before we went away proved a success after all.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Mars v Venus

I earned some disapprobation yesterday. I brought the Old Bat a present from the Lions' book fair - a book entitled The Good Granny Guide by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall. I thought it looked as though it might amuse her, but I got it wrong again. 'Just like a man!' was her comment.

Not entirely unconnected with the previous paragraph, I saw a report in the newspaper this week of some research undertaken by an American (not that that is germane) professor who must need something useful to do in his life. Perhaps he should take up blogging - or even just reading other people's blogs.

It would seem that the said Prof researched why women like browsing the shops whereas men don't. He posits that this is a genetic thing, or liked to the X/Y chromosome, and can be traced back as far as the Stone Age. In those days, women went out searching for fruit, berries and nuts and had to be very careful to pick just the right ones, so they looked at them carefully, moving from one bush to another to make sure they selected only the very best quality. This makes them capable of going from shop to shop trying to ensure that the sweater or whatever is exactly the right shade of green, blue or red, and is made to just the right pattern. Men, on the other hand, set out to kill a bear or deer or bloody great dinosaur, and when they had done that they went home to their cave. Get out, get it, get home.

As I shall be out of contact with the bloggosphere for the next week or so, I shall leave you with this conundrum. My own research has been of a more limited extent, but I have noticed a strange thing. Maybe you have as well? When women talk about property which is jointly owned with their husbands - a house, for example - the refer to it as 'mine' - 'my house'. But men refer to it as 'ours' - 'our house'. I have yet to conduct any research into why this may be and will welcome comments.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

A family connection

Researching my family tree has thrown up an astonishing number of ancestors who ran pubs. It all starts with my 7x great grandfather who, in 1702, appears to have been prosecuted for selling beer without a license. There is a document in the Hampshire Records Office which reads:
"Borough of Portsmouth
"Robert Hewett and William Tooth do formally make oath that this day how at Portsmouth Simeon Waldgrave did in his dwelling house sell and retail beer and those depositioners do further make oath that they have heard and believe that the said Waldgrave is not licenced to sell and retail ale or beer according to law.
Inv 14:9:1702 (signed) Robert Hewett the mark X of William Tooth"

Come forward to the 1880s and the Woodland Tavern. The licensee was Walter Cooke, a 2x great uncle.

The inn sign produced above has information on the back which reads:

"Some local cynics aver this inn was so named as a protest against 19th century planning, although there is little doubt a tavern of this name existed when the area was still largely wooded, and supplied much of the timber for His (or Her) Majesty's more picturesque but less efficient men-of-war." Those ships would have been built in Chatham Dockyard, where my grandfather was employed as a shipwright - but long after the ships were built of wood.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Sign ins

Before my granddaughter interrupted me I think I had just reached the fact that Whitbread's very soon produced a second series of fifty inn signs. By the end of 1952 I had collected several, but matters were put on hold for pretty much all of 1953 while I was away at school on the Isle of Wight (which is an altogether different story). The third, fourth and fifth series were produced in cardboard, and there was more information printed on the back. It wasn't until the fifth series came out (must have been 1954 or 55) that some of us twigged on to how best to collect them. Our father's had, of course, been encouraged to visit all the local outlets, a task taken up more eagerly by some than by others, but as my father was away with the Navy I wasn't able to adopt this approach. But for the fifth series, I somehow managed to obtain a complete list of the pubs covered. It was then a simple matter to write to the licensee of each pub, enclosing a stamped addressed envelope, and ask for an inn sign. Most were happy to oblige, or, if not exactly happy, they did oblige anyway. But some stuck to the letter of the law and refused to hand over a sign without a drink being bought. There were, I seem to remember, three of these, and each of those three pubs was in a pretty inaccessible spot as far as we Medway-towns-ites were concerned. I remember that two of them were the Red Lion at Stodmarsh and the Ypres Castle at Rye, but I can't remember the third. But there were ways and means.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Time for a break

I'll continue the inn sign saga later, but today, please meet my little princess.

Emily is 2½ and has just discovered that she likes oranges. She spotted the fruit bowl when she visited last Sunday and helped herself to one, although Grandma had to peel it for her. She can, of course, twist Grandad round her little finger, but hey, that's what Grandads are for, isn't it? I've noticed that Grandma isn't immune.

By the way, Emily is blonde, not ginger. I don't know what happened to the photo. Who said the camera never lies?

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

To continue

It must have been in 1950 or, more likely, 1951 that Whitbread's introduced a new marketing ploy. They selected 50 of their pubs and produced miniature copies of the signs of those pubs, each pub having a supply of its own miniature signs to be given to customers. Those miniatures were printed onto thin sheets of tin, 2" x 3", with just a minimum of detail on the back. It didn't take long before we schoolboys had started collecting the miniatures. Being printed onto tin, the pictures were particularly susceptible to scratching, so we protected out collections by wrapping each miniature in a sheet of toilet paper. Izal was the usual brand, probably because it was the most commonly used (no doubt price had something to do with that). None of this soft namby-pamby stuff we use nowadays, Izal was smooth and shiny on one side, slightly rough and matt on the other. And it was stiff, so it was easy to fold around the inn signs.

And I have just discovered that Wateringbury had at least two more pubs.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Inn signs

It was a tortuous thread that reminded me of a hobby I had rather more than 50 years ago, that of collecting inn signs. I don't mean to suggest that I crept out at the dead of night with a ladder and a toolbox to remove the signs from local hostelries. By way of explanation I should start by saying that there was at the time a brewery based at a village in Kent (which has since become a national name although it has no doubt been taken over by an international name by now). The said brewery also owned a fairly substantial chain of public houses which were known for their artistic and/or humorous hanging signs. Some of the pubs had unusual names themselves. I should imagine that Royal Oak or King's Head are possibly the most common names, although Red Lion could well be a contender.

The village where the brewery was based - Wateringbury - boasted at least three pubs. There was while a little further along the road wasand on the edge of the village was
I think perhaps we will return to this another day. Just looking at those pictures is making me thirsty!