Wednesday, 31 March 2010

I almost forgot

to mention that tomorrow we will be heading westwards for our traditional Easter on the farm in Somerset. What makes this trip particularly interesting is that we will be meeting up with a cousin I knew I had but didn't know how to contact until a couple of months ago. It was only about then that she discovered the existence of her late mother's brothers and their children.

Back in the middle of next week - by which time I hope my ISP will have sorted the glich which is preventing me reading my emails.

The War For All the Oceans

Every now and then I glance down the list of books read by my friend Skip which he keeps posted in the sidebar of his blog and some time ago my eye was caught by The War For All the Oceans. I checked out the authors' web site and found the most amazing reviews. I managed to acquire a copy eventually, and by the end of the first chapter I was in full agreement with the reviewer who wrote, "Reads more like a novel than history". By the time I had read the next two chapters, I had decided that my opinion had changed. That's not to say that I found the book uninteresting: quite the reverse, in fact. But it's not written like a novel I would normally enjoy.

Given that the book covers the history of the British Royal Navy from 1791 till 1815, by which time Britannia really did rule the waves, there is a fantastic amount of detail. Of particular interest are the accounts from seamen's letters and journals of battles and day-to-day life aboard naval ships of various sizes, from brigs to ships-of-the-line. It is surprising that so many of these have survived two hundred years - and surprising also that so many lower deck seamen could write so well.

So, yes, a book I can recommend to any interested in the history of that period - basically, the Napoleonic wars - but this is not for most people. I can give no more than 3 stars.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Change of plan

I had intended posting a book review today but I'm going to take the opportunity to vent my frustrations. Yes, it really has been one of those days - and we're only about halfway through the afternoon so far.

I had to take Madam to the hospital this morning for a check-up on her wrist, which has not come on as it should have done. She still has way too little a range of movement in it. The appointment being for 9.20, I drove the dog to the park for a quick walk (we usually walk there) before leaving for the hospital at 8.45, arriving in plenty of time and finding - miracle of miracles - a parking spot almost as near to the door as one could get. Up till now, the Old Bat's appointments have run very well to time. Not so today: we were kept waiting until 9.50.

Then, on the way home - just after I had remarked that we would be home in very good time for coffee - we were flagged down by a lady asking if we had a mobile phone. An elderly lady had fallen in the street and an ambulance was needed. I waited while the ambulance was called and directed that the lady be left where she was without being moved, that she be given a pillow and a blanket, but absolutely NIL by mouth. So we eventually got home and had coffee.

After that, the Old Bat decided we should go shopping together, although we really had not a lot to get as we shall be away again over Easter. Still, she brought her credit card so I wasn't complaining - until I had unloaded the trolley at the check-out (1 large bag potatoes, 1 large sack dog meal, 1 tin dog meat, 2 x 2 pint bottles milk, shampoo, hair conditioner, body lotion, toothpaste, and what seemed like a hundred Easter eggs). It was then that Madam announced she had forgotten her PIN! I hadn't bothered with my card - she had taken hers after all - so I had to load the trolley up again and drive home to fetch my card.

Getting on for lunchtime now, but just enough time to fire up the computer and check my email. But when I closed down yesterday I had got that wretched "updates to be installed" warning. Things seemed to go pretty well when I first switched on, with none of the "configuring update 1" nonsense, but after half an hour I was still not able to open any programmes.

Lunch, then walk the dog again in the teeming rain (why do we do such daft things as own dogs?).

Back to the computer, which seemed to have hung somewhere along the line, so I switched off at the mains and started again. Bingo! Up and running.

Open the email programme, but it wont open properly AND I CAN'T READ MY BLOODY EMAILS!!!

Monday, 29 March 2010

To continue

We reached home about 9.30 on Saturday night and after I had unloaded the car we sat down to a hot drink and opened the stack of post that was waiting for us. I guess three-quarters of it went straight into the recycling bin and half the rest through the shredder. One of the items I decided I ought to keep (and deal with) was a bill for the gas that had been delivered to our tank in France while we were there! The we turned to the answering machine which was winking its red light, but there was just one message which had been there since the previous Sunday when a fellow Lion had rung to tell me his wife had died. This was hardly a surprise as she had been ill for years and in hospital for several weeks, Geoff having been warned it was just a matter of time - days, weeks or months. Thankfully it was not too long drawn out.

Sunday morning I checked the Lions' answering machine - no calls - and my email. 1700+ in the spam folder and just 45 in my in-tray, although some of them were spam that had not been caught. Others were close to spam and I soon whittled the number down to 19 that I wanted to read. Having opened some of them, I decided that I didn't really want to read the attachments, so a few more were dispatched to wherever deleted emails go.

I think I have answered (or otherwise dealt with) all but one of those that were left and I must get onto that one right now.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Did you have a good holiday?

Whenever Mrs Pensioner and I announce that we are leaving Brighton for a spell in our house in France, people wish us a good holiday, and when we return, they ask if we had a good holiday. I have given up trying to explain to people the difference between going on holiday and living in one's second home for a week or so. I wonder, if we owned a flat in, say, London and spent the occasional week or so there, would people still think of us as being on holiday? Or is it the fact that we travel to France, a country seen by most Brits as a holiday destination, that immediately makes them think "holiday"? Skip had it about right when he commented that we were probably checking that the cottage was ready for the summer lettings (if we ever get more than the one). We did have it in mind to give the place a thorough spring clean and I was planning to repaint the woodwork in the hall and on the stairs, as well as tidying the flower beds in the courtyard and weeding the gravelled bit. Unfortunately, little of that came to pass.

Mrs Pensioner's broken wrist is still not properly healed so she was unable to share the driving on either journey. Consequently, I spent (according to the on-board computer) 7 hours 58 minutes behind the wheel going down, so I declared Saturday a day of rest; there were, after all, another six full days ahead of us n which to do the work. On Sunday, we examined the white gloss paint in the hall and decided it would last another season. This was a great relief to me as I had left Blighty with a heavy cold which seemed to have got worse and really taken away what little energy I normally have. The Dearly Beloved was also coming down with a cold and frankly, all we wanted to do was collapse in armchairs and read. So we did - all Sunday, all Monday and all Tuesday. By Wednesday I hardly had the energy to get out of the chair but we went out for a meal that evening, neither of us having the energy to cook. Mrs P managed to enjoy her confit de canard (duck's leg preserved in its own fats) but my salmon in sorrel sauce was not a success. I was expecting succulent, pink fish, but what I got was an off-white, greyish lump served on tubes of pasta (also off-white and greyish) which was in turn on top of some whitish vegetables, the whole smothered in a white sauce with flecks of green sorrel. It did not look appetising, and my opinion was confirmed with the first mouthful of salmon, just about the driest salmon I have ever tasted. I managed (I think) four mouthfuls before giving up, explaining to the patron that I was unwell - which was quite true - but not being in the mood for a discussion, I forebore telling him what I thought of his salmon in sorrel sauce.

By Thursday, my cold had become more like bronchitis and Mrs P had lost what little energy she had. We ate sparingly of toast. Friday was the same, but on Saturday I felt well enough to drive home (8 hours 18 minutes this way). And we both had a small salad in the early evening which went down very well. Mrs P is due to see the consultant on Tuesday and will try to find out why her wrist is still so painful, and she is talking of me making an appointment with the doctor tomorrow. If I do go, it will be first time for seven years so I am hoping for a swift, overnight recovery.

So, did we have a good holiday? I think I've already answered that question.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Could this be spring?

Yesterday we drove out of town for lunch with friends and spotted lots of new-born lambs. Then, this morning, while walking the dog in the local park, I saw that quite a lot of daffodils have come into bloom. Certainly it has felt warmer over the last few days - I just hope the weather doesn't slip backwards. The forecast for the next few days is for rain or showers, but as there has been no rain for a couple of weeks, except for a sharp shower one day towards the end of last week, that will be no bad thing. Down the garden yesterday (or was it the day before?) I was pleased to see that most of the garlic I eventually planted has started sprouting. The seed potatoes have been in the airing cupboard and most have now started chitting, but it will not be until after Easter that they will go into the earth.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Just another one of those days

Sometimes the day can be so full of "must-do's" that there doesn't seem enough time even to turn round! And today is one of them.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Western civilisation

I see from today's tomorrow's fish-wrap that Detroit is in the news again. A snippet in a side column mentions that a worker in the famous city has been awarded damages of $100,000 because a colleague's perfume caused her breathing difficulties. Now workers in the city are being encouraged not to wear scented after-shaves, deodorants, perfumes etc.

Monday, 15 March 2010

A one-hit wonder

I've been listening to music this afternoon while visiting the various blogs I keep an eye on on which I keep an eye. One of pieces was the slow movement from Mozart's clarinet concerto. Mozart, of course, was a genius, a boy wonder who composed so much music that is still loved by many. But what about another of my favourite pieces, the intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana? This is probably the only piece of music written by Pietro Mascagni that is ever heard these days (although I did see the opera performed many years ago). A true one-hit wonder.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Mothering Sunday

So, a picture of me (coming up 3), my mother and my brother (almost 1).

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Punch & Judy

I have spent a considerable time over this last week trying to book a Punch & Judy show for the 'Lilac Lark' that Brighton Lions are organising in conjunction with the Friends of Withdean Park.  My first choice was a professor (which is what P & J operators are called) whom Brighton Lions have used in the past.  He is flying out to South Africa that evening but he promised to check his flight time to see if he could fit in one show early in the afternoon.  But it was not to be: he has to be at Heathrow Airport at 4.00pm, which means leaving Brighton at 2.30 at the latest.  A search on the interthingy showed just one other Brighton-based professor - but he turned out to be dead (so that was a dead end).  When I finally managed to track down three others just along the coast at Worthing, I learned that 9 May - the date of the Lilac Lark - is Mr Punch's birthday.  It seems this was the day in 1600 and something that Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary that he saw the show for the first time, and this is the earliest record of the show.  So on 9 May each year, professors gather in Covent Garden, London, to celebrate the anniversary and, it goes without saying, all those I have managed to contact will be there.  So no P&J at the Lilac Lark.

One of the professors I spoke to had, by coincidence, performed for councillors and council officials in Brighton that very day as he was hoping to obtain a license to perform on Brighton sea front.  He said that the reception he received was 'hostile' and the show was frowned upon because Mr Punch hits Judy and mistreats the baby so the officials thought it unsuitable for children.  What nonsense!  Every child who sees the show realises that what Punch does is unacceptable - and this show is an English tradition dating back almost 350 years to our knowledge.  It just goes to confirm what I said yesterday: the lunatics are running the asylum.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Looking back

Skip mentioned on his blog today that he had looked back to see what he was doing this time last year.  I have just copied him, and glancing through a number of postings for March 2009 I see that we had daffodils in bloom in our garden before the end of February.  This year they are still at least a week or ten days away from coming into bloom after the worst winter for 30 years.


So it has finally arrived.  Brighton, and presumably much of the UK, can now be seen on Google's Street View.  When it was announced last year that Google intended publishing Street View pictures of England, there was something of an outcry from people who claimed that their privacy would be invaded.  But how can anyone's privacy be invaded when all Google do is publish pictures that are taken from the street?  Anybody driving or walking along the street can see as much as, and often more than, can be seen on Street View.  And from the top deck of a bus the view is even better.  Far more invasive of privacy are the aerial views published by MultiMap, but nobody seems to have been bothered by them.

My personal view is that those people who kicked up such a fuss could have found far more important things to rant about.  I wonder if they realised that we in England are the most spied-upon people in the world?  Go into the centre of any town and you will see CCTV cameras bristling from every building and many street corners.  This, it is claimed, is to combat crime, but I suspect that all it does is push criminals into performing their nefarious deeds either in a place that has no coverage from a camera (in which case I suppose it could be claimed that the cameras have worked, albeit that would be a somewhat dubious claim) or in full view of one or more cameras in the confidence that they would not be identifiable from the film - or that they just couldn't care less.  While I don't much like the idea of Big Brother watching over me, I can just about put up with all those CCTV cameras.  The use of anti-terrorist legislation to prevent people taking photographs in public places is something else.  OK, in most cases this has been down to over-zealous police officers, but I would have thought the one who tried to stop somebody photographing Christmas illuminations should have had more sense.  Since when are terrorists interested in a few coloured light bulbs strung across a street?  We are also told that taking a photograph of a police officer - or even a photograph of a scene with a police officer in it - could be construed as an offence.

It seems to me we are in the classic situation where the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

A knotty problem

To continue with the agricultural theme (well, almost).  There is something of a horticultural problem abroad, only it's not abroad, it's right here in England.  Way back in the early 19th century, an English traveller in Japan was very taken with a plant going by the name of fallopia japonica.  So taken was he that he introduced the plant to England.  His fellow Victorians also took a liking to it, with the result that it is now recognised as the most invasive weed in England and almost impossible to kill, certainly for the amateur gardener.  This plant - Japanese knotweed - grows to a height of 13 feet and can split, and therefore grow through, concrete.  So destructive is it that I understand building regulations require developers to eradicate it before they can start construction.  Not that they always do.  I believe Cornwall may be a "hot spot" and certainly the plant exists on the opposite side of the lane my brother lives in down in the far west.  Despite its existence, a developer has built several houses on the land.  But that is by the bye.

We are now given the good news that a solution has been found.  The trouble is that it involves introducing another species alien to our shores - a 2mm long bug, Aphalara itadori, which breeds and feeds only on Japanese knotweed.  The "experts" say they have carried out experiments and found that it will not eat 90 other species of plant.  But what if it can't find knotweed and takes to eating, say, potatoes or beech trees?

That's the problem with introducing alien species: you never know just what will happen.  Some of our waterways are over-run with mink after several animals escaped from farms and they have devastated the indiginous wild life.  Parts of south London are infested with parakeets, again, following escapes.  On the other hand, one of England's most succssful trees was introduced from somewhere in Asia (I forget just where) and the apple is now considered as English as, well, chicken korma.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Book reviews

My regular reader (yes, I do have one) might have noticed that quite a few days have passed since I posted my last book review.  I have been reading - at the moment I am half way through The War for All the Oceans - but I seem to have had less time free to read over the last week or so.  I can't think just why that should be so as I don't think I am doing anything extra to what I was doing, say, the week before last.  In fact, there are still a lot of things that I haven't found time for, like pruning that is needed in the garden and clearing away stuff that I have already pruned.  Never mind, we shall be off to France on Friday week and that means I should get a fair bit of reading done.

Glancing back over that paragraph reminds me of another Grrr! point: people saying "less" when they should say "fewer".

I'm writing this late at night and will try to schedule the post to appear tomorrow morning.  Quite a few times recently I have noticed that Blogger doesn't like doing that and merely saves the proposed posting as a draft.  We shall see.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010


Memories came flooding back when I saw this picture of Detroit in yesterday's paper.

I mentioned to the Old Bat that I remembered walking down that very street back in 2004.

'Did it look like that then?' she asked.

I assured her that it did, although here were (and presumably still are) more attractive aspects to the city, like this:

Monday, 8 March 2010

If it aint broke...

A maxim by which I try to live.  There seems to me little point in spending precious time endlessly adjusting something which is running perfectly well, but just occasionally I do like to tweek things here and there.  The latest case in point is the web site for Brighton Lions Club.  Having been not quite dragooned into taking over the District 105SE site, I have spent several hours producing what will, I hope, eventually be a better site and one around which it is easier to navigate with every page being no more than two clicks away from the start.  The ideal, of course, would be to have everything no more than one click away from the home page, but I don't think that is feasible with the District site as there is just too much to be included.  The club site, however, is a different kettle of fish.  I used to have a search facility on the site, but all the search scripts I have found rely on an external site sending a robot spider to index the site.  The hosting server no longer allows robots to do that so I removed the facility and merely expanded the directory menu.  That, I thought, makes the site look rather cluttered and I thought it would be better with a more open appearance.  So I have redesigned it with a cascading menu across the top.  All the pages of the site are now accessible from the home page with a single click and links to other sites require no more than two clicks.  Added to which, I think the whole site looks cleaner and clearer.  I hope people agree with me.  The site is at Brighton Lions Club if you would like to see it.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Bird watching

The weather has been fine all week; some frosty mornings, but no rain.  The paths in Stanmer woods are once again walkable without the dog coming home covered in mud and yesterday afternoon I spent a few delightful minutes there watching a flock of long-tailed tits as they hunted grubs or whatever it is they eat.  These elusive little birds travel in family groups - I assume they re family groups - usually a dozen or so strong and are best seen when the trees are leafless as they tend to stay in the higher branches.  There used to be a family of them in Withdean Park that I would see occasionally but have not done so for some time.  We get plenty of blue tits in the garden - another delightful bird - but I only recall ever seeing a long-tailed tit in the garden on one occasion.  My friend Tony has them visit him quite frequently, which makes me rather envious.

Mention of Tony reminds me that his late wife planted daffodil bulbs on the triangular, grass-covered traffic island outside their house.  She chose the earliest flowering variety she could find and I noticed this week that they are already in bloom.  Last Monday (St David's Day) I wondered if the daffs were blooming in Cornwall and on Tuesday it was reported in the paper that daffodil farmers in the Vale of Glamorgan (which is in Wales) had no blooms for their patron saint's day, the daff being the national flower of Wales.  The report also said that the Cornish daffs were not yet ready and that everything was a month behind.  That seems a little strange as only in January we were being told that everything was three weeks ahead!

A day or two back, Skip posted a picture of grape hyacinths blooming in his (Californian) garden.  We have one or two trying to bloom here in Brighton, but the crocuses are doing very well.  Many years ago I planted a couple of hundred or so bulbs.  They were the naturalising sort and in various colours - white, cream, yellow, pale mauve and purple.  They have almost taken over the garden, despite rigorous thinning, but are now nearly all pale mauve.

I have until now forgotten to report back on the malt bread.  It was surprisingly successful, albeit not of the same stickiness that there is in the shop-bought variety.  At the request (request?) of She Who Must Be etc I made another this week.  I think I squeezed in a few extra sultanas - this loaf seems fruitier - and I made sure to put in two full tablespoons of malt extract.  This is of such a high viscosity that it is difficult, no - it's impossible, to ensure that all the extract leaves the spoon so this time I used two overflowing tablespoonfuls.  The result is a marked improvement and I suspect it will not be long before another is made.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Getting serious again

I rarely touch upon political matters and never offer an opinion on party political matters believing that my politics is a matter that is private to me.  What I am about to write is political but sectarian only in that it reflects upon national and international affairs.

So oil has been discovered in the Falkland waters and Argentina wants a share of the revenue.  Surprise, surprise.  The view has been expressed in our media that this is a gesture, mere posturing, by the Argentine president for home consumption and that there is no intention of taking the matter as far as invading the Falkland Islands on the spurious grounds that they belong to Argentina.  The last time they tried this, in 1982, we very quickly despatched a task force and liberated the islanders.  Of course, in those days we had a navy with sufficient ships to make a task force.  These days our entire navy probably consists of fewer ships than were in that task force.  Fortunately the Falklands are garrisoned by a larger number of troops than was the case in 1982 and they would probably be sufficient to deter any landings.

Why is it, I wonder, that our politicians are unable to learn the lessons of history?  It was 80 years ago that we started to run down or navy, only to find that we needed it again in the fight against Hitler, and history shows that we did exactly the same thing after the battle of Trafalgar in 1805.  The Government has, I appreciate, the difficult job of keeping down taxes while keeping up expenditure on defence, the National Health Service, education, etc etc.  But if there was less wastage on ridiculous ideas such as the national ID cards (the latest example is £41 million on an abhortive attempt to introduce road pricing) and less of the snouts in trough, not to mention the EU, well, then there would be plenty for all the important things.

But back to the Falklands.  Hillary Clinton has kindly offered to mediate between the Argentine and British governments, but she and Bill are personal friends of the Argentine president.  Impartial mediation?  Anyway, there is nothing to mediate.  The oil is in Falkland waters and belongs to the Islanders, who want to remain a British dependency.  Full stop.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Third time lucky?

The living room in our house, which we bought very late in the 1960s, has an alcove either side of the chimney breast, a common feature of houses built before and soon after World War II.  We decided that we would like a light on the wall in each alcove and my late father-in-law, an expert DIY man, fitted them for us.  They were switched on buy a pull cord so there was no need to run wiring through the walls to a single switch.  Not surprisingly, by the late 2000s those lights were looking a little dated - very 1970s - and She Who Must Be Obeyed suggested that we should replace them.  I was, in principal, in agreement, especially as the only way I could remove the shades was by inserting the index and middle fingers of one hand and turning the fixing ring with the tips of those fingers, not a particularly easy job.

After many hours of searching we eventually found fittings we both liked.  There was just one problem: the wall lights had no pull cord to switch them on and they had to be wired in to the normal flick switch.  I gave the matter considerable thought and hit upon the solution, which was to place switches where the old lights had been and carefully cut a short channel up the wall so that the lights fitted above the switches with the bottom of the light fittings resting on the tops of the switches.  It proved remarkably easy, and it was a piece of cake to fit the three-branch matching central light.

All went well until, about a year later, one of the lamps in the central fitting went out, came back on a few minutes later, then went out again.  I removed the bulb - which looked fine to me - and fitted a new one.  This performed in exactly the same way.  I swapped it with a bulb from another of the branches, only to find the the "new" replacement didn't come on while the replacement bulb that I had put in another branch performed perfectly.  I diagnosed a wiring fault in the light fitting.  Having taken the fitting down and dismatled it as far as I could, I realised that there was one junction that I could replace, but I was unable to get to the area where the lead reached the lamp holder and Murphy's Law said that was where the fault would be.  The answer was to exchange the whole fitting.

I took it back to the shop, the local branch of a national chain of DIY stores.  As I was unable to produce the receipt, they refused to replace the fitting - even though it was one that was exclusive to that chain so could not have been bought anywhere else but one of their stores.  I swallowed my chagrin and bought a new fitting.  (I later discovered that we had bougt it not just the previous year, but two years and a day before my attempted exchange.)

Within a month, the new fitting played up in exactly the same way.  Yesterday I was finally able to take it back and get a replacement.  How long, I wonder, will this last?  Or will it be third time lucky?

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Let's lighten up a bit

We've I've been getting a tad serious with my last couple of posts so let's have a little light relief.

I love those optical illusion thingies - you knw, the picture that could be two faces looking at each other or a vase.  Here's one I've not seen before:

Do you see a skull or a woman looking in a mirror?  This one and many more at

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Manners maketh man

The motto of Winchester College and almost certainly coined by William of Wykeham, founder of the  College.

Although when the motto was adopted by the College the word "manners" probably had a different meaning from our understanding today, to me it still seems very apt.  Life is so much sweeter when those around us display good manners, and I don't mean good table manners.  Placing one's elbow on the table while discussing a serious point over dinner hardly counts as a major breech of etiquette these days, although seeing a dinner companion chewing with an open mouth is a little off-putting.

I do get slightly irritated on those occasions when I have displayed good manners by holding a door open for a lady and she just sweeps through with no acknowledgement.  It doesn't seem too much to ask for a smile and a 'Thank you'.  I get just as annoyed when I see somebody leave a supermarket till without thanking the cashier, although in that case I am annoyed for the cashier rather than myself.  I sometimes stop and wonder how often I am equally guilty given that it is so easy to be in a hurry or to be worlds away mentally writing tomorrow's blog or some such.

I think that I generally remember to thank the supermarket cashier and the bus driver, but one place where I slipped up for a good many years was in the home.  Every night the Old Bat puts a meal on the table having spent an hour or so preparing it - not to mention the time and effort involved in shopping etc - and it is just too easy to take that for granted.  I do now try to make the effort to express my appreciation, but it is difficult to come up with a different form of words to avoid it sounding either insincere or mere habit.  I console myself that it is the thought that counts.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

"The French have a word for it."

Or so it is said. In fact, that is not quite true. The Acadamie Française - I think it's them - has been conducting a campaign to purify the French language by eradicating foreign words which have crept into everyday use; words such as "weekend" and "picnic" - although the latter is sometimes spelt "pique-nique", presumably in an attempt to make it look more French. I think the Acadamie is fighting a losing battle as those words are now far too deeply entrenched in the minds of the Frenchmen "sur la route".

There is another way in which that old saw is short of the truth. Sometimes the French don't have just a word for it; they have several. For example, a potato is pomme de terre, literally "apple of the earth", which is three words. I always thought the French for apple was simply pomme but I have recently seen the fruit described as pomme de l'air - four words, and literally "apple of the air".

But we Brits can't afford to poke fun at our nearest neighbours.  After all, we no longer have an English word describing an establishment where one goes to buy a meal.  We used to have chop houses, and then there were dining rooms, but they are now all called restaurants or bistros or cafes, all French words, although café in France means "coffee" rather than the place where one buys the drink.  And it's not as though we are actually short of words in the English tongue.  Take the words ditch, rill, stream, brook, dyke, burn and bourne.  All of them mean a waterway smaller than a river, although it is true that they are not quite synonymous as there is an implied difference in the size of the waterway.  That said, it is difficult, even impossible, to define just when a stream has grown big enough to be called a river, and some of those words are virtually obsolete or mainly regional in their use.  One word missing from that list is creek.  I think I'm right in saying that in America it is used to describe a waterway like a large stream or small river.  In England that is not the case.  Here a creek is a tidal inlet which may or may not lead to a stream and creeks are generally associated with areas of marsh.

Whether the words are French or not, what a vast wealth we have in our native tongue.  Things can sparkle, glitter, glisten; water can be still, unmoving, limpid.  It's such a shame that there are so few people nowadays able to use the language in the way that the Bard did 400 years ago.  We are missing so much.

Monday, 1 March 2010

St David's Day

St David, of course, being the patron saint of Wales.  I'm not Welsh; nor have I a drop of anything but pure English blood running through my veins.  All the same, St David's Day is an important date in my calendar.  As far as I am concerned, 1st March is the first day of spring.  Not that the weather lords seem to agree with me.  Nevertheless, by sheer coincidence I lifted the last of the parsnips from the garden on Saturday (we had fine weather, unlike yesterday) and ate them, roasted, with the roast pork for dinner yesterday.  I always regard the parsnip as a winter vegetable, so eating the last two on the last day of winter seemed particularly appropriate.

I've grown parsnips in the garden for a good many years now, despite the fact that our soil is almost too shallow and definitely too stony.  The stones cause the roots to split, so our parsnips remind me of squids - a bulbous bit at the top with loads of trailing tentacles.  It does require the demonstration of a certain degree of dexterity to prepare them for the pot, but they taste so much better than those we can buy in the supermercado and roast parsnips are among my favourite vegetables.  Some years ago now, a neighbour advised me to use a dowel - the end of a fork handle or broomstick is ideal - to make a hole in the soil.  This should be filled with compost and the seeds placed on top.  The idea is that this gives the parsnip a chance to develop without splitting, but it has never worked very well for me so this year I have decided to try something different.  I have a number of deep flower pots which I don't use for anything, so I will fill them with compost and sow the seeds in them.  Maybe we will get some proper looking parsnips next winter.  Or maybe we won't.

Anyway, it's now spring.  The crocuses are in bloom (when the sun shines), the snowdrops are out in force, there are catkins (see the picture on Fern's daily photo blog) and the daffodils planted by my friend Tony's late wife in the grass in front of their house are waving merrily in the wind.  They are a particularly early variety.  I have seen none in the shops as yet, but no doubt my brother has seen plenty.  He lives in Cornwall in a spot where they are grown commercially.


And so we are back where we started as the daffodil is the national flower of Wales.