Saturday, 31 January 2009

A glorious dawn sky

About 8.30 one morning last week.

Books, books, books

It was a most relaxing week in France. The only ‘work' I had to do was painting the door, skirting, radiators and pipes in the downstairs bedroom and I was able to get a lot of reading done. The weather wasn't brilliant, but on one afternoon which turned out fine we went for a drive to explore some of the lanes we had never driven before. Very pleasant it was too. But back to the books. Just before we left I had started rereading Robert Goddard's ‘Play to the End' so I finished that. The book is set in Brighton and the setting is researched so thoroughly that the various locations are described with complete accuracy. I had borrowed several books from the local library, only one of which I had read before. I do tend to reread books as I can rarely remember very much about them if the time between readings is long enough, say a couple of years or so.

The one I had read before was Bernard Cornwell's ‘Harlequin' which is a novel set in the 1340s and concerns an archer in the army of Edward III. Apart from the fact that it is a good yarn, the setting is interesting in that it covers a part of France I know pretty well, from Cherbourg, through Rennes, Caen, Rouen, and up to Crecy, where the French were routed in battle in 1346 at the start of the Hundred Years War. The motorway we drive is just a short distance from the site of the battle and one day, when we have time, I should like to make the detour to visit it.

Elizabeth George is a favourite author with her Inspector Lynley series, which has been adapted so well for television. This time, though, the book was nt a novel but explained how she sets about writing a novel. Presumably it is based on the creative writing classes she gives. I found it most interesting.

I have recently discovered another author, Peter Robinson. Or rather, I have discovered his books. These are police novels (who-dun-its) around the character Chief Inspector Banks, and I took two with me, although I read only one. This was partly because I found the latest John Grisham (‘The Associate') in the bookshop at the tunnel terminal. I don't think this has reached the High Street yet as this was an ‘airport version'. Now that both Sheila and I have read it, it will no doubt be passed on to our son Neil who is an avid Grisham reader.

No, I won't use the word 'frustration'

After I had packed the car for our trip to France, I decided to update our web site as we had fixed when we would be going over next. I also wanted to respond to a comment made by Skip — indeed, several comments made by Skip — but something had gone wrong and I was completely unable to access the internet. Fortunately, it must have been a problem with my ISP as I have had no difficulty this morning. I have updated the web site, but I can't remember what I was going to say to Skip!

Thursday, 22 January 2009

By the way...

...I'm off to France tomorrow so won't be 'blogging' for a week or so.

Winger gets red card

A parrot has been banned from a football ground - honestly!

Get the story here.

A funny thing, language.

In fact, words in general can be a bit peculiar at times. It's odd how there can be a word that I don't hear or see in years, then all of a sudden it appears three or four times in as many days. ‘Hubris' has just done that to me. Mind you, ‘hubris' always seems an odd sort of a word to me. For a start it sounds as though it should be a synonym for ‘humility' instead of being an antonym. I'm probably the only person in the English-speaking world who thinks that. No, that's not quite true; there are probably quite a few who have never even heard of the word, let alone know what it means. Perhaps we should all be like Tweedledum (or was it Tweedledee?) who claimed that words meant exactly what he wanted them to mean.

When it comes to language, many of us have our own pet quirks or foibles, such as not liking to end a sentence with a preposition. I know that is the correct way, but I do think there are times when throwing the rules to the wind produces something that sounds better. For example, the sentence ‘Who did you give the pen to?' is incorrect, but the correct — or more correct — ‘To whom did you give the pen?' sounds a lot more... Formal? Pedantic? Precious, even? I'm sure that in casual conversation the vast majority of people would end the question with the preposition because it just sounds better.

My own foible is to avoid splitting infinitives whenever possible and I growl and grumble when newsreaders do it on the television. But I have to accept that the split infinitive is sometimes better. (And that's another rule broken: never start a sentence with a conjunction.) Take the old Startrek: ‘to boldly go' is much stronger than ‘to go boldly', although I suppose the writer could have said ‘boldly to go'.

Ah well, language is constantly evolving, and it really doesn't matter that much in day to day situations so long as we understand each other.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

After the Lord Mayor's Show ...

... comes the dust cart. And after yesterday's shenanigans it is time for me to return to more domestic matters.

It is a glorious day here; a blue sky, the sun shining with a little welcome warmth in it. The flooring for the bathroom and toilet finally arrived yesterday. Actually, it had arrived earlier but the store forgot to ring me. Anyway, I have now laid the flooring in the bathroom. The toilet will have to wait until it has been painted. I should say, RE-painted, since we have done it but don't like the paint. The colour is OK, but the finish is appalling. I have been and bought some new paint today in a gloss finish instead of the satin that we used.

The cricket club have at long last come up with their figures for the fireworks display last November. The total profit was just under £29,000 — down from £34,000 in 2007 — of which Brighton Lions keep half. Not a bad result considering the economic climate.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Here and there

This is a momentous day for the USA with their 44th President due to be sworn in. What makes it even more momentous is that Barack Obama will be the first African American to become President. By all accounts, the citizens of America expect great things of him, but he will be taking over at a very difficult time. American troops are still in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is a growing problem with Iran, and the Israel/Palestine situation, although temporarily calm (we hope) could flare up again at any moment. Possibly just as big a problem is the economy. Like the rest of the so-called developed world, America is facing a recession. But I suppose matters economic could be worse both there and here. Take Zimbabwe, for example. In October last year their rate of inflation was calculated as 231 million per cent per annum. The rate of exchange used at Harare airport car park is Z$400bn to US$1.

Here in the UK the banking system is almost in crisis with the Government having to launch another rescue attempt yesterday. This brings the total sum committed by the Government to the banks to more than £800 billion. The aim is to get the banks lending again, to industry and to individuals. But what I don't understand is why a company would want to borrow money to make more objects that nobody will buy because they are too worried about what might happen in the future.

But to come back nearer home. Yesterday was the first anniversary of the sinking of a ship in the Channel as a result of which 2000 tons of timber was washed ashore, mostly just along the coast at Worthing. For a few days Worthing became famous for something other than its largely elderly population. By coincidence, another ship yesterday — exactly a year to the day — lost 1500 tons of timber, washed overboard in the Channel. This time, though, the ship was not sunk and the timber will most probably wash ashore somewhere in Kent.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Ranting again

On his blog, Steve Brewer mentions a survey undertaken by the UK subsidiary of an Australian company. Just why a company supplying motor oil should want to survey the amount of swearing done by people is something of a puzzle, but their survey shows that 87% of Brits swear on a daily basis, with the average being 14 times a day. I'm strongly inclined to agree with Benjamin Disraeli (if indeed it was him who coined the phrase) when he said ‘there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics'. I always treat the results of surveys and opinion polls with more than just a pinch of salt.

Part of the problem is that the announcement of the results of a survey fail to give sufficient information. In this case, for example, we don't know that all respondents had the same idea of what constitutes a swearword. There is no doubt that a century or so ago the words ‘damn' and ‘blast' would have been called swearwords by the world at large, whereas in these days I imagine that many people — if not the majority — would consider them pretty mild.

I also question the average of 14 swearwords a day. Go into a garage workshop, onto a building site or army base, in fact anywhere that is entirely or almost entirely male dominated and you will be lucky to hear a sentence that doesn't include a swearword, usually starting with ‘F'.

It irritates me enormously (can one be irritated enormously?) when scriptwriters and authors use excessively strong language in search, they claim, of verisimilitude. I really think it unnecessary. After all, there can be very few viewers or readers who are so far from the real world that they are unaware of what goes on. (I should have written ‘intensely' instead of ‘enormously', but the meaning is much the same.)

I can't claim that I never swear, but there are a number of words that I do avoid using. I do wish others would follow my example, but I must remember that if I can't control the speech of others, I can control my attitude to it.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Les Lavandes

Well, I have reached the end of the line on my blog 'Les Lavandes'. Perhaps what I should do now is post pictures of the house from the first time we saw it to illustrate how the renovation went.

I'll give it some thought.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Interesting site

I came across This is my first effort at using the program. Pretty poor, but I dare say I could improve in time.

ScreenToaster - Les Lavandes

Posted using ShareThis

Dinner party

We've been talking a bit recently about food and it made me wonder who I would like to share a table with for dinner. I decided to restrict myself to living people rather than trawl through the annals of time, and I nearly limited myself to British people. This made matters a little difficult. On the whole, I consider politicians to be self-serving egotists (I did say ‘on the whole' as I am sure there are exceptions — well, I certainly hope there are) so most of them are off the list. Most of the others seem pretty boring people. Likewise, I am not the least bit interested in the showbiz ‘M' list celebrities or any other list of celebrities. Again, many of them are likely to be self-serving egotists and I doubt that I would find their conversation very stimulating. And I haven't much idea of the arts, music or literature scenes, so I found it a bit difficult to come up with a guest list. But here goes:

1. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London. Comes across as something of a buffoon and certainly doesn't seem to mind making a fool of himself, but he is a highly intelligent man.
2. Mary Robinson, past President of Ireland and past UN Commissioner for Human Rights.
3. Ian Hislop, editor of the satirical magazine Private Eye who has a dry sense of humour and a quick wit.
4. Ann Widdicombe, Member of Parliament. She has sparked well when on the same television programme as Ian Hislop and it was obvious that not all the wisecracks were scripted.
5. The Duke of Edinburgh. A plain-spoken (some would say outspoken) man with strong views but he seems willing to listen to the other point of view. Known for his verbal gaffes.
6. Stephen Fry, television personality, actor and writer. Another very intelligent man who should be able to add an extra dimension to the conversation.

And for my seventh and last, to make up the table of eight which is just about the perfect number for a dinner table,

7. Barack Obama, President-elect of the USA.

Ah. A problem. I also wanted to have Sir Richard Branson at the table. Now what do I do?

Friday, 16 January 2009

I nearly forgot.

It's official - I am a good driver. I passed the Institute of Advanced Motorists test this morning.

And while I'm ranting...

Why is it that when I try looking through a few other blogs by clicking the 'next blog' bit in the navigation bar, 90 per cent of the time I end up looking at blogs in Chinese, Spanish, Greek or Russian?

Ranting time

I haven't had a good rant in ages, so here goes.

I have nothing against Americans as individuals or even, sometimes, in small groups. Indeed, I'm very happy to call some Americans friends. Of course, most of them can't help being American, their place of birth being the fault of their parents. I don't even mind them mangling the English language the way they do. But I do wish they would keep it to themselves.

There was a time, not so very long ago, when an Englishman who wanted to catch a train would go to the railway station. In this country, stations on railways have always been called railway stations, unless they were wayside halts; we used to have a few of those as well. But the vast majority of the places where trains stopped were called railway stations. Now, all of a sudden, people are calling them train stations, a phrase which has, I believe, been imported from the colonies. Yes, I know it's logical. We do have bus stations and coach stations, not road stations, so the logical extension is to call railway stations, train stations. But it still grates on my ear.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

And so goes another day, or Isn't it fun being a Lion?

They say the devil finds work for empty hands, so I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised to find that something cropped up on the one day this week when I had nothing in the diary. That doesn't mean I had nothing to do: far from it. I had planned a visit to the bank, then on to Asda for a little light shopping, and then a car wash. On top of that, the details of the 1911 census have now been made public, two years earlier than expected (and the reason for that is another story, but we won't go there), so I was hoping to get down to further investigations into the mystery of Sheila's grandparents (and that, too, is another story we won't be going into). So of course the phone rang, and there was another Housing Society panic. Bill (the chairman) was unobtainable, being out shooting, so it was down to me to sort it. The details of the panic are too personal to be mentioned here, but suffice it to say that they involved addiction to a prescription drug, illegal entry into a tenant's flat in the early hours of the morning, etc. I have sorted it in a temporary way, but it can land on Bill's plate when he is back in contact tomorrow. Meanwhile, most of what I had planned for today will just have to wait.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Bill Stone, RIP

I was sorry to learn of the death of Bill Stone, one of only three remaining British veterans of the first world war, at the age of 108. In fact, Bill served in the Royal Navy in the second world war as well, being demobbed after 27 years' service. From what I have read and heard, he was a man I would have very much liked to meet.

When I visited the library last week, my eye was drawn to a book containing extracts from diaries kept by people during the second world war. This was all part of an exercise conducted by Mass Observation, a social research organisation founded in 1937. Coincidentally, the BBC has also had diaries on its mind and last week broadcast a television adaptation of Anne Franck's diary. As this was split into five parts and was aired at an inconvenient time, we recorded it and so far I have watched only the first episode. It is many years since I visited the house were the Francks family hid in Amsterdam, and even more since I read to book, but all seems reasonably true to the story as I remember it.

The BBC also broadcast a programme about a diary kept by a 14-year-old girl, a Jewess, in Poland during the German occupation. This had only come to light fairly recently but has now been published in book form and is used as a textbook in Polish schools. It was very moving to hear Polish schoolgirls of the same age reading aloud from the diary, even with subtitles. Unfortunately, the girl (I can't remember her name and couldn't spell it even if I could remember it) perished in Auschwitz.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

I'm confused.

I know, it doesn't take much these days.

Anyway, a couple of days ago I was wondering if the large flocks of winter-visiting birds presaged hard weather ahead. Today I have seen a primrose in bloom, something like two months ahead of its time! So, will it be a long, hard winter or an early spring?

Monday, 12 January 2009

Some people can't (or don't) read.

We had an enquiry today about a three-week letting from Friday, 23 January. Both our own web site and the one through which the enquiry originated show that the house is unavailable until the end of January. It just so happens that we will be there from 23 January to finish redecorating one of the bedrooms and to return the curtains and rugs which we had brought back for washing. And both web sites state quite clearly that changeover day is Saturday, although in the off season we are more than happy to be accommodating if we can.

And another thing.

I sometimes get a little concerned that my memory is not all it should be. For example, I can remember perfectly well what we had for dinner last night (roast chicken with chestnut stuffing, roast potatoes, roast carrots, broccoli & bread sauce followed by tiramisu) but can't for the life of me remember what we had on Saturday! It's probably down to my age, but I always tell people it's because I have so many other things I am thinking about at any one time that the more trivial or mundane matters just don't sink in. Not that dinner is either trivial or mundane. Sheila is such a good cook that every meal is a delight.

(I had to add that last sentence just in case someone who knows the Old Bat happens to read this and tells tales out of school.)

Sand weighs...

In "Les Lavandes" I mention that Tom helped me remove the old floor from the upstairs bedroom and that we calculated we must have moved about three tons of tiles and sand. I have now discovered that lean quartz sand weighs 80-125 pounds per cubic foot depending on degree of compaction and moisture content and that the rule of thumb is 100 pounds per cubic foot. With the dimensions of the room being sixteen feet by twenty and the sand having an average depth of three inches, we removed 80 cubic feet of sand. That makes 8000 pounds. In the UK, we reckon there are 2240 pounds to a ton (2000 in the US), so we shifted three and a half tons of sand, plus the tiles. No wonder I was knackered!

Sunday, 11 January 2009


There are some pretty good examples of unintelligible writing on the Plain English Campaign's web site. See the Golden Bull winners for 2008.

But Skip will love this page.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Gaudeamus Igitur

It would seem that at least one of the local authorities in England is intent on making its documents intelligible to all people by banning Latin words and phrases such as ‘inter alia', ‘ad hoc', ‘per capita' and, in one case, even ‘via'. Apparently, some people don't know the meaning of these phrases – and presumably don't know how to look up the meanings. Why can't councils concentrate on what they are supposed to be doing, like providing an education?

Friday, 9 January 2009

While walking Fern in Stanmer woods this week I've seen the biggest flocks of fieldfares and redwings that I can remember. In fact, I haven't seen either species for a number of years. Could it mean a hard winter ahead?

Pennsylvania 6-5000

I've answered my own question. Apparently it was and still is the number of the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York, except that the letters P and E have been replaced with the numbers 7 and 3.

Pennsylvania 6-5000

On his blog, my friend Skip posted a joke which made reference to STDs. In the context of the joke, that meant sexually transmitted diseases but I queried if it was subscriber trunk dialling. I'm not sure if Skip realised that really is (or was) a well-known abbreviation over here. History lesson coming up.

Back in the so-called good old days one could make a telephone call to a local exchange by dialling the first three letters of the exchange name followed by the number. For example, WHItehall 1212 was the number for Scotland Yard. A call to anything other than a local exchange was known as a trunk call. These had to be placed through the operator at the local telephone exchange. Then came a breakthrough. Using what was known as subscriber trunk dialling a person in, say, Southampton could dial a number in, say, Newcastle direct - without going through the operator.

I wonder if Pennsylvania 6-5000 was ever a real phone number?

Thursday, 8 January 2009

The Yellow Rose of Texas

I know Christmas is over, but that song title made me think of Christmas carols, one in particular. As a young child, ‘reconciled' was not a word in my vocabulary, and when we sang ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing' and came to the line ‘God and sinners reconciled' I always had visions of a builders' merchant's yard with chimney pots and roof tiles. I thought the line was ‘God and sinners, red and tiled'. How God and sinners became red and tiled was not something that bothered my imagination. I just knew that they were.

So how does ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas' remind me of ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing'? Well, it might be a little convoluted, but I don't know the correct words to ‘Yellow Rose' (rather like Americans don't sing the correct words to our national anthem). The words I know are:

The Yellow Rose of Texas
And the Man from Laramie,
They went to Davy Crockett's
To have a cup of tea.

The tea was so delicious
They had another cup
And poor old Davy Crockett
Had to do the washing up.


As we will be away for a week near the end of this month, I have started thinking about the February issue of Jungle Jottings and it made me wonder what has happened to our Yellow Rose of Texas? She hasn't posted Under the Pier for a long time. I liked to read the newsletter of Converse Lions Club while she was editor, and then the newsletter for her district when she took that on. I'm always on the lookout for bits and pieces for JJ and I found quite a few in both those other newsletters.

OK, Skip? Two hits in one?

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Sur le pont d'Avignon

First Corfu was eliminated, then the Amalfi coast/Sorrento area was thought to be too hilly so that went by the board as well. We finally decided to go back to Provence this year and I tracked down what appears to be a very pretty little cottage in a village just 3 miles from the one Peter Mayle lived in (A Year in Provence).

To get there, we drive the Autoroute du Sud as far as Avignon and then head east into the Luberon. We visited Avignon a couple of years back. In fact, we stayed there overnight on our previous trip to Provence. The Papal palace is magnificent, but the famous bridge was just a little disappointing. It stretches part way across the river Rhone, rather more than half of it having fallen down. According to a guide book I was reading, the song is wrong: the locals danced beneath the bridge (sous le pont) not as the song has it, on the bridge (sur le pont). That would not have been as difficult as it might at first appear. The bridge starts from the top of a cliff and they could have danced on the river bank, although that is not to be recommended nowadays as it forms the very busy Avignon ring road!

The Yellow Rose of Texas?
Maybe tomorrow.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Knees Up, Mother Brown

Those were the days! Every good party ended with ‘Knees up, Mother Brown'. In fact, Brighton Lions' Charter Nights did as well. First would be the Hokey Cokey, then the Can-Can followed by ‘Knees up, Mother Brown', after which the President would be lifted onto the shoulders of a couple of Lions while we sang ‘For He's a Jolly Good Fellow', rounded off with ‘Auld Lang Syne'.

Knees up, Mother Brown,
Knees up, Mother Brown,
Under the table you must go,
Ee aye ee aye ee aye o.
And if I catch you bending
I'll saw your legs right off.
Oh, knees up, knees up,
Don't get the breeze up,
Knees up, Mother Brown.

Oh my, what a rotten song,
What a rotten song, what a rotten song.
Oh my, what a rotten song,
And what a rotten singer too-oo-oo.

I don't think I could keep going through all that lot these days, and nor could most of my friends and acquaintances. There's Bruce with his dicky heart and failed kidneys, Jason with a dodgy heart and bad legs, the other Sheila with her back, not to mention Sheila, my brother in hospital and Sue, a friend of Sheila's, also in hospital.

Physical jerks seem to be in vogue this week. Well, not physical jerks but physiotherapy. Graham has started his following his hip replacement. Sue's problem is quite a story. She lost the use of her legs on Christmas Day but they recovered. It happened again at 5am on Monday last week when she went to the loo and she lay on the floor for three hours until her 92-year-old father found her. Taken off to hospital in Brighton she was later transferred to the neurological hospital at Haywards Heath where they operated on Saturday to remove a tumour from her neck which had been pressing on her spinal cord. Apparently she has now started physiotherapy. Sheila also had a physio session this morning, the first for about a month, the last session having been cancelled when her physio was sick (for the second time in three months). Let's hope it won't be too long before they're all capable of doing ‘Knees Up, Mother Brown' again.

Maybe The Yellow Rose of Texas will appear tomorrow.
But then again, maybe not. I'm still waiting for Skip's sick parrot joke.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Beware Waltzing Matilda

Opened the curtains this morning to find I had gone colour-blind overnight, then I realised it wasn't that at all; we had a covering of snow. Not a lot, but enough to make everything white. Having my advanced driving test booked for this morning, I fully expected to get back from walking the dog to hear that there had been a phone call from the examiner cancelling. It came while I was warming up again with a coffee. Apparently, it was then snowing hard on the other side of the Downs although it had only just about started again on our side. We agreed to postpone until next week on the grounds that the examiner didn't want to put me in a potentially dangerous situation when some other clown would be playing Waltzing Matilda all across the road.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Tomorrow is another day

The Christmas tree was outside and all the decorations down but not packed away when Ian arrived with the boys. Fortunately Sheila had vacuumed the carpet so there were not too many pine needles left lying about. It wasn't too much longer before Neil and Wendy arrived with Emily. Naturally, chaos ensued and the decorations are still on the dining table and not yet packed away. Never mind, it's good seeing the grandchildren so frequently and watching them grow and develop. There's always tomorrow for packing away the decorations.


I seem to be developing a penchant for using song quotes as titles, what with 'Skip to my Lou' on Les Lavandes and now this one. I wonder if I can keep it going?

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Christmas fare

We finished the Christmas pudding and mince pies yesterday. Well, I finished the pudding as Sheila doesn't eat it. The last of the brandy butter went with the mince pies. At lunch today we ate the last of the turkey and ham pie that Sheila had made with the remains of the Christmas meat. There's just the cake to finish off now. That will be down to me as Sheila only eats the marzipan and icing. I estimate that it will be gone by about next weekend as there is only a third of it left.

Friday, 2 January 2009

An early Twelfth Night

It might not be Twelfth Night yet, but this afternoon I took advantage of a dry day with very little wind to climb up the ladder and take down the outside decorations. I took great care to leave the leads untangled when I packed them away, but no doubt they will come out of the boxes next December in just as much of a mess as they did this Christmas.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Good luck, bruv

My brother goes into Truro hospital this afternoon in preparation for a hip-replacement operation tomorrow. This, we hope, will bring an end to the problems he has been suffering since November 2007 when he fell while walking the dogs and broke his pelvis. The fall was in woodland quite near to their bungalow, but not easily accessible by vehicle and it took the crews of two ambulances to remove him.

Meanwhile, I have been holding a little competition amongst myself to select the winner of the Photo of the Year contest, 2008. As the only photographer allowed to enter this contest, I stand a pretty good chance of coming in the top three. There were three or four pictures that made the short-list, which was whittled down to two.

There was this view of houses in Ribeauville, Alsace, France:

and then a view of Langdale in the English Lake District:

I'm still dithering about which of them I prefer.