Monday, 31 May 2010

When will summer come?

Or perhaps I should phrase that question as just "Will summer come?".

Walking in the park this morning was delightful - provided I was in the sun and out of the wind. The lilacs are now in full bloom, just two or three weeks later than they would normally be. Our maigold is always the rose first to bloom, usually about the 10th of the month although it has sometimes started before the end of April. This year it was the 19th or 20th before the first bud broke into full bloom.

It really is a lovely rose and has the added advantage of blooming over a much longer period than most varieties.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Back home

Once again we managed to survive a whole week of all that France and the French could throw at us: temperatures up to 30 (that's mid to upper 80s in old speak) when just half an hour reading in the courtyard was quite enough sun at a stretch; wine at much lower prices than we would have to pay here in England; evening meals in the square at Chateaubriant watching the swifts as they flew screaming round the church spire. What a hard week it has been!

Of course, all this good life does have to occasional downside. There are those French drivers who will insist on driving about three inches from my rear bumper at 70 mph. There is still the occasional driver who doesn't realise that the rule was changed many years ago and that he no longer has the right of way as he approaches a roundabout but has to give way to traffic already on said roundabout. Our neighbour speaks very good English, but for some reason he insisted this week that we spoke French - and my French really is not up to a technical discussion about the merits and otherwise of those windmill things that are supposed to produce electricity. There was the evening meal disrupted by unruly and undisciplined under-5s whose father objected when I told them not to get in my space: I merely shrugged my shoulders and told him, 'I'm English. I don't understand you.' while other diners grinned at his discomfort, if discomfort it was. Perhaps they thought the discomfort was mine.

Anyway, we're back home in Blighty and this afternoon will be off to my granddaughter's third birthday party.

Friday, 21 May 2010

All done

Case packed, books selected, TV recorder set, hot water settings changed, plants watered, slug pellets put down, plums sprayed, ironing done, last email sent, tyre pressures checked. Aah - I've forgotten to set the answerphone to 2 rings, otherwise all done. Car loaded and ready to go. Back in a week.

The day before

The day before we go to France always seems to be fraught. No matter how well organised I try to be during the week or so before, there always seems to be more than I can cope with on that last day. Matters have not been helped this time by the fact that the Old Bat is still not happy that her wrist has enough strength for it to be safe for her to drive so if she wants to go anywhere, I have to drive her. And on Friday mornings she visits the MS treatment centre for high dosage oxygen treatment. This means that I have to walk the dog earlier than usual, then spend a couple of hours driving to Southwick, filling in time by doing shopping, and then driving home again, by which time it is nearly lunch time.

This morning I needed to put diesel in the car. Unfortunately, I had not managed to stretch the last tankful to allow me to get Boulogne where the prices are lower than here. I couldn't be fussed to put in just a couple of gallons but regretted the decision when I realised what the tankful was going to cost me. £75! I have never before spent that much on diesel in one go. Petrol and diesel are sold in litres now, so it is not easy to adjust immediately to a price per gallon, but I've just done the calculation: £5.54 a gallon!! I can remember when you would buy four gallons of petrol and get change from a ten bob note!

Oh well, it's no good crying over spilt milk. The dog is now in kennels, but I still have to check next week's TV schedule and set the recorder as necessary, see to the seedlings that will need keeping alive while we are away, work out how to set the boiler so that it goes off while we are away but comes back on in time to provide hot water when we return, check the tyre pressures and eventually think about packing. The June issue of Jungle Jottings can wait until I get back!

Thursday, 20 May 2010


What a lovely word that is! I do like to hear of those little examples of bloodymindedness that bring a smile to the lips and there have been a couple just recently.

First, a Dorset village has been begging for years to have a bypass built but there has never been enough money (and, even if there were the funds, there would probably be several years of arguments about the route of the new road). The villagers have become so fed up with the volume of heavy goods vehicles and other traffic, that they have started action. A group of them have drawn up a rota to use the pelican crossing in the village constantly during the day. One of them presses the button, waits for the traffic to come to a halt, then crosses the road and immediately presses the button on the other side to cross back again. It is reported that queues of traffic up to four miles long have formed as a result.

The second example involves a new housing development. Many buyers of the new houses were delighted by the view they had across an open field at the back of their houses. Then they learned that the field was to be turned into a sports ground with floodlit football pitches. As an aside, I have to wonder how this intended development of the field was not discovered by the solicitors in their pre-purchase searches. But never mind that. The house owners petitioned the local authority to have the sports ground turned down, but to no avail. Then someone asked if, perchance, there were badgers on the field, it being illegal to disturb the creatures. As it happened, there were no badgers, but the residents went out one night armed with spades and dug a few entrances to "badger setts". They then contacted a taxidermist who supplied them with some hairs of badger fur which they scattered around the "setts". An expert was called in and he promptly declared the field to be inhabited by badgers. The sports ground plan was dropped immediately.

Lovely stuff!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

What's up, Doc?

According to my blogroll, Uncle Skip posted something with the title "Naming a car" on WHTPFIHC some 7 hours ago - but according to Blogger, that post doesn't exist.

Ees a puzzlement.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Am I repeating myself?

Tomorrow sees the eighth anniversary of my retirement. It seems only last week that my next-door neighbour warned me that after three months I would wake up in the morning and wonder what I could find to do to pass the time before going to bed again. Three months? Here I am, eight years later, and still I haven't found the time to do all the things I promised myself I would get done once I retired. I'm starting to think that some of them will never get done now, but I continue to live in hope.

If a younger person asks me for advice on how to live a long and happy retirement I always answer that I will tell them when I have had one, eight years not being a long retirement in my book. I know things were different in my grandfather's day, even in my father's day, but I fully intend to enjoy at least twenty years of retirement. But to be serious for a moment, I am sure that the answer is to have at least one hobby to keep ones mind active and another to keep ones body in reasonable shape. And these really should not be hobbies taken up on retirement. Planning for the big switch off should start several years before the day. (In the case of finances, of course, planning needs to start years before - and the earlier the better.) I'm not saying that one should avoid taking up a new hobby on retirement - far from it - but I do think it helps to have some continuity. No, that's not what I mean. It's not continuity that one needs, rather a hobby one has been practicing in the evenings and at weekends can be given more time on retirement and it is something one knows one enjoys. A new hobby might turn out to be a mere flash in the pan, looking interesting but turning out to be otherwise after a few months.

I always feel so sorry for people who have had no time or inclination to follow any pastime while they are working and then, on retirement, are at a complete loss. All they can do to fill the time is watch television or do something else equally uninspiring. The secret of a long retirement, or one of the secrets anyway, is to keep both body and mind active. That is what I tell the youngsters. Not that I have ever been asked, but that is what I would tell them if any were to ask me.

And what, you might ask, have I got to keep me so busy? Before I retired I had started producing a family tree and retirement gave me the time to get as far down the line as I think will be possible. I have now got so far backwards and sideways that I have given up searching for names to add. I try to keep up with new births, marriages and deaths, but with more than 5,000 names from the 17th century onwards, the tree has grown quite big enough. Being a member of the Lions Club gives me as much or as little to do as I want. Just this week, for example, I have been polishing a history of the club that I have written (this year is the club's 60th anniversary), getting started on the next issue of the monthly newsletter and producing the menus for our forthcoming Charter Night dinner and dance. There is a meeting tonight that I could attend if I wish, and a regular club meeting tomorrow night. To keep the body active, I walk the dog a couple of times a day (usually) for 45 minutes to an hour each time and I grow vegetables so there is always something to be done in the garden.

Retirement is to be highly recommended - but take my advice: get yourself a hobby or two first.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Is Blogger playing up?

I notice that there was a further comment added to yesterday's post some half an hour ago but I have yet to receive email notification. That is a little unusual as notification seems normally to be instantaneous. On the other hand, it might be my ISP delaying things as a fellow Lion was about to send me an email almost four hours ago and I haven't got that yet.

Another thing that I have only just spotted. The blogroll on some people's blogs is in ascending order of the most recent posting on the blogs so it changes as new posts are added to those blogs. (Does that make sense?) It doesn't happen on my blog so I assume it is built in to the template that blogger is using.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

I shouldn't be here

I really shouldn't. I should be somewhere else. I can't actually remember exactly where I should be, but I know its not here. It is today that the District (that's the Lions District) is holding its Spring Forum somewhere - I forget just where - and I am supposed to be there. It's not that I have ever indicated I would be there, it's just that as an incoming District Officer (hey - note the capital initials!) I am expected to attend. I have done so on several occasions in the past and have been at sessions for incoming presidents, incoming treasurers and others and I have taken sessions on setting up a club web site. But this year they are having to do without me.

My conscience, though, is not troubling me in the least. I have a lot to do here at home and it has a higher priority than taking in sessions in which I have little interest just to pass the time until, at about 4.00 this afternoon, I can be introduced to the assembled multitude as one of the incoming members of cabinet.

Whether or not writing my blog should be considered a higher priority than attending Spring Forum is, possibly, a moot point. But there you are; that's what I'm doing right now. There are other things to be done, some in connection with Lions, some just family business. And family takes precedence over Lions. So there.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Random musings

One of the advantages of having to walk a dog - at least, it is in fine weather - is that it gives one time to think. It's difficult to get away with mulling something over sitting in a chair - other people, especially They Who Must Be Obeyed, have, I find, a tendency to assume that one is just doing nothing and soon interrupt the musings with a series of "can you just"s. So, walking the dog gets me out of the way of SWMBO for an hour or so at a time. Yes, I do have to greet other people, but it is not difficult to be alone if that is what I want without snubbing anybody I know.

Of course, it's not everyday I have a particularly knotty problem I want to think over and on many a day I find myself just taking in my surroundings - how the leaves are starting to show on the trees, what flowers are coming out, the different species of birds. Other times I find my mind just switches off and I go into that half-awake, half-asleep state that is one of the most delicious parts of going to bed. It is then that those random thoughts strike. Take, for example, this morning's.

Out of nowhere, I started wondering just how one should pronounce the year number 2010. Is it twenty-ten or two thousand and ten? A hundred years ago it was nineteen-ten, not one thousand nine hundred and ten, nor nineteen hundred and ten. Last year, though, was two thousand and nine, not twenty-oh-nine.

The French don't have this problem (I can't speak for any other country). As far as they are concerned the year is two thousand ten (no "and"). Thirteen years ago we were in nineteen-ninety-seven, but to the French it was mille, neuf cent, quatre vingt dix-sept, which translates word for word as "thousand, nine hundred, four twenties [four score?], ten-seven". They have no word for eighty or ninety, nor for 17, 18 or 19. It's all very strange, but perhaps nowhere near as strange as my rambling thoughts.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Today's quote

"When I was a kid my parents moved a lot, but I always found them."

I'm sure I've seen that somewhere before.

Thursday, 13 May 2010


If the editor of the Daily Telegraph allows it, which he does in this morning's issue, I don't see why I can't use a comma before a conjunction AND even start a sentence with a conjunction.

And if all this seems like double Dutch to you, there is a back story which starts with a comment I made to my friend Skip's post.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

I wonder...

Ash before oak; we're in for a soak.
Oak before ash; 'twill be but a splash.

As far as I can tell, it's pretty much even Steven this year with both ash and oak coming into leaf at the same time. Meanwhile, back on the ranch, we are still having teething problems with our new boiler. The nanny state insists that new installations include a room thermostat on one wall but we have individual thermostats on every radiator. Despite the temperature control on the boiler being set at its maximum, the room stat being set at 25 C (77 Fahrenheit) and the radiator stat in the living room at its highest, the radiator is getting nowhere near as hot as it should - and the temperature is nowhere near 25! The bossman of the company which installed the boiler is coming round today to see what he can do. I'm not holding my breath.

At least I haven't paid them yet.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Diamond Geezers

The wife of one of the Lions Club members died a couple of months ago and, thinking it might help him to have another project to distract him, I gave him the latest draft of Diamond Geezers, the history of Brighton Lions Club on which I have been working. I knew also that he would be the most likely person to spot ambiguities, commas that should be full stops and so on. What I had forgotten was his aversion to the word "that". He returned the manuscript over the weekend with all but about two occurrences of the word marked for deletion. I think he is obsessed and that the word should be used in some places, although I have to agree that there are a number of places where it is over-used. I am now working my way through the file and in most of those places (so far) I have rewritten the sentence so as to avoid using the dreaded word, but I think it should stay in, for example, the following sentence: "It was estimated shortly after the display that the club had made a profit of £1,400."

What really frustrated me was that when I tried to open the file on my computer I discovered that on saving it, the computer had corrupted it. I had then copied the freshly-corrupted file onto a memory stick. Fortunately, I did have a slightly older version which I was able to open, but now I have to try to remember where I had made alterations and how I had written the updates.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Busy weekend

Maybe not the whole weekend, but I was in the park walking the dog early (for me) yesterday morning, then back there again by 9.45 to prepare for the Lilac Lark. Spent most of the afternoon on the shooting gallery which seemed to be a great success with the crowds. The weather could have been kinder to us - cloudy with a cold north-east wind - but the Lions treasurer rang me this morning to say we had done reasonably well financially. The park was cleared by 6.00pm, but I had forgotten to take down some of the notices in the woods, so after dinner I walked the dog again and removed them. It was by then impossible to tell that there had been anything happening that was different from the usual Sunday afternoon if one overlooked the few areas of flattened grass and the few tyre marks.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

The weird and the zany

Just a few glimpses of the election that the media did not, in the main, bother to report.

  1. The CURE party fielded a total of four candidates across the country, one in my own constituency. CURE is an acronym for Citizens for Undead Rights and Equality. Soraya Kara, the Brighton candidate, said, 'We live in an increasingly diverse society. Yet, to my dismay I find that there is one section of society that is severely underrepresented. That section is of course the Undead. Human rights, should not only mean Human LIVING rights. The Cure party and myself want to see this extended to Human UNDEAD rights. I felt moved by the injustice that the undead have had to deal with in society. I want to be an MP to make a change, to encourage interaction between the living and the undead. We aim to give the undead equal rights to the living.' She polled 61 votes. I ask you, 61 people in Brighton want to give the vote to zombies!
  2. Then there was the candidate in one constituency who changed his name to None Of The Above. He forgot that ballot papers are printed with the candidates names in alphabetical order - of surname. His appeared at the top of the list.
  3. And what about the independent candidate who was so independent that he didn't even vote for himself? He actually polled no votes at all.
  4. At least one independent candidate in my constituency did better than that. I doubt that more than a handful of people had heard of him before looking at their ballot papers as he had, to the best of my knowledge, done no campaigning at all. His total vote was 19. Could that be wife, parents, uncle and aunt, parents-in-law and next door neighbours?
  5. I am surprised that I have heard nothing this time round of the Monster Raving Loony Party. This was founded years ago by the pop star Screaming Lord Such and has put up candidates at every general election since. I have no idea who pays for this, but suspect that SLS might have dug fairly deep into his pocket. Maybe he's gone broke, or they've simply changed their name to CURE?

Friday, 7 May 2010


Yesterday turned out to be a perfect spring day - warm and sunny with just a very gentle breeze. Today by contract it has turned a lot colder. Yesterday was also the day of our general election.

At the Lions' dinner meeting on Wednesday, two of the members admitted - no, not admitted: that sounds as though they had misbehaved in some way - anyway, two members said that they intended staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning to hear the early results. That's not something I have ever done and cannot imagine ever being sufficiently interested to do. The morning news programmes are soon enough for me. But by 11.30, when the first two results had been announced, I had almost changed my mind. Those first two results were for strongly held Labour constituencies but both of them showed a dramatic swing to the right, one nearly 9% and the other over 11%. This could get interesting, I thought. Then there was the news that hundreds of people had been unable to vote. They had been queuing to get into their polling stations in various cities across the country but had been unable to do so before the doors were closed at 10.00pm. There was a suggestion that, if the result in any of those constituencies is very close, a legal challenge might be made. Even more interesting, but still not interesting enough and I went to bed. This morning I discover that we have a hung Parliament, although the Conservative party have won the greatest number of seats. I learn that, under the rules for a hung Parliament, the incumbent Prime Minister (who is Labour) has the first opportunity to try to form a government. Only if he is unable to do so does the leader of the party with the most seats have his chance. So there is still a possibility that Gordon Brown will continue to live at No 10.

Closer to home, my constituency has a Green MP. No, that's not right, although the mind boggles at the thought of the House of Commons peopled by little green men and women. Would we notice the difference, I ask myself. Anyway, our new MP is a member of the Green party, their first and only MP.

And so to my predictions. I forecast that the new MP for Brighton Kemp Town would be called Simon, and he is - Simon Kirby. The MP for Brighton Pavilion, I said, would be a woman, and I was correct.

Confession time. The two leading contenders in Kemp Town have the same Christian name while in Pavilion, all three main parties and the Green party fielded a woman as their candidate. So there was no crystal ball gazing or tea leaf reading involved.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Couple of days ago my friend Skip commented that tourists see more than locals. That is certainly true in my case. I have lived in Brighton and Hove for 50 years, yet I have only been round our fabulous (I use the word deliberately) Royal Pavilion on, I think, two occasions. Both times it was to escort visitors. And there are plenty of places within 30 miles that I have never visited. In many cases I keep promising myself that I will go there one day, but somehow that day never comes. There is Michelham Priory, the Roman villa at Bignor, Sheffield Park. A little farther away are places such as Hever Castle (of Anne Boleyn fame) and Chartwell (Churchill's house). There is the Mary Rose at Portsmouth and the D Day museum at Southsea. All of them, I am sure, worth a visit - but none of them, to my shame, visited.

But I'm not entirely sure that when I am a tourist I really do see more than the locals. I certainly tend to 'cherry pick' what so-called tourist attractions I bother with. Actually, the thing that frustrates me most about being a tourist is that I don't really see life as the locals live it. When touring, or on holiday in one spot, one tends to stay in hotels or rented cottages which tell one nothing about the real life of the area. I have been privileged on occasion to have been welcomed by overseas friends into their homes and have been able to catch glimpses of their different lifestyles. Yes, it is good to see "the sights", be they the leaning tower of Pisa or colours of a New England fall, but there is a lot to be gained by simply having a glimpse how other people live. That is what we most miss out on as tourists.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Riches indeed!

Our local supermercado is a branch of Walmart's subsidiary, Asda, and we shop there once a week, on Tuesdays. I visit a Tesco branch on Friday while Mrs S is having her high dosage oxygen treatment. Asda have recently introduced a scheme under which one can go to their web site and enter the details of the Asda receipt. The prices of the items bought are then compared with those ruling at three other supermarkets at that time. If it would have been cheaper to buy the same products at another supermarket, Asda refunds the difference plus 1p. This is done by the production of a voucher which then has to be presented at the till along with the appropriate receipt. I have now checked last week's Asda shopping - and received a voucher for 3p!

Riches indeed.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

A small island

It was, I think, his book Notes From a Small Island that brought fame to that American Anglophile, Bill Bryson. Not too many of we Brits think of Great Britain, the island which consists of England, Scotland and Wales, as small. Indeed, we are astonished when we hear American visitors say that they have spent a couple of days "doing" England. In that time they might well have visited London, Windsor, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon, Bath and Cambridge, a feat that seems impossible to those of us who live here. But when one compares the size of England with the size of the USA - well, yes this is indeed a small island, a very small island. (I'm not entirely certain of this, but I think I once read somewhere that there is nowhere in England that is more than 75 miles from the sea.)

It is probably the sheer size of their country that makes so many Americans quite apathetic to anything happening outside their borders. I can quite understand why so few US citizens bother to acquire passports. With all that country to explore, with the variety of its weather and the differences in landscape, why would they bother? They can go skiing sunbathing, hunting, fishing, play golf on some of the world's best courses . . . The list just goes on and on.

I like America. I have been there on several occasions and have visited New York, Washington, Boston, Detroit and San Francisco among its major cities, and I have driven through the Blue Mountains in Virginia, Yosemite in California and seen fall in New England. I have seen fantastic scenery and marvellous architecture, and met some of the most generous and friendly people it is possible to meet. All the same, I do sometimes find Americans puzzling, especially when it comes to that attitude they can show of thinking that nothing happens unless it happens in the good old US of A. I feel like shaking them and saying, 'Come on, guys, there's more to life than this.'

What happened in New York on 9/11 (and almost happened a couple of days ago) was shocking, but there was a certain smugness evident in the attitude of some Brits. Their thinking was something along the lines of, 'Now you now something of what we have been putting up with for 30 years from the IRA - and much of their funding came from you!'. Of course that was not in any way the right reaction, but it was perhaps understandable.

As I said, I like America and I would love to see more of that great country and meet more of its people. But do you know? I don't think I could ever be truly happy living anywhere but on this small island.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Bank holiday

Weather forecasters, according to a report in this morning's newspaper, expect between 2¼" and 3" of rain during the month of May. What the paper doesn't tell us is just whereabouts in the country one can expect rainfall to that extent. Surely some parts will nearly always have considerably more than that and some a lot less? That's the problem with averages: they never tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It's even worse when the figures quoted are averages of averages! But to get back to that newspaper report. It goes on to say that during the first two days of this month, no less than 1½" of rain fell – a good half of 30 days' worth and, if one takes the lower of the expected rainfall, two-thirds of this month's rain in just two days. It has rained again this morning, fortunately leaving it until just as I was getting near home with the dog as I was not wearing a waterproof. The forecast is that it will dry up today, but the wind has gone round to the north (It's either backed or veered but I don't know which) and is very cold. Typical bank holiday weekend weather.

The television schedules are just as bad. There is not normally a great deal that both Mrs S and I want to watch on the box but over the last four evenings there has been nothing except the late night news. No, that's not true. There was a programme yesterday but that went on too late so I have recorded it for later consumption. What this has meant is that on no fewer than four consecutive evenings I have been able to watch the snooker from the world championships, but I can only take an hour or so of that at a sitting.

Yep, it's a typical bank holiday.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

A broken promise

I had promised myself that I would make no further mention of the election until next Friday when I will announce whether or not my predictions have come to pass. But I'm sorry, self, I am going to break that promise. I really would prefer not to do so, but yesterday I was told something that was just too witty for me to allow to slip by without comment. At least, I thought so. It concerns the visit that the Prime Minister made last Thursday to the Northern mill-town of Rochdale. Well, it used to be - a mill-town, I mean: it still is in the north of England. While he was there, a life-long supporter of the Labour party, widow Gillian Duffy, was introduced to Mr Brown and asked questions that many, many people in the country are also asking - about the level of immigration, about plans to tackle the national budget deficit and about the cost of a university education. Nothing untoward in that, one would think. But just watch his reaction afterwards when he forgets that he still has a live microphone attached to his lapel.

And so to what I was told yesterday morning. Or rather, what I was asked. The question was, what does BIGOT stand for?

The answer: Brown Is Going On Thursday.

There are many who hope that prediction will come true.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Double whammies?

There is one thing about this election that has me puzzled. OK, there are plenty of things that leave me ranting or just plain apathetic, but I am puzzled by one thing. I know of two members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who are standing for election as members of our own national Parliament (MPs). What puzzles me is how on earth they think they can manage to sit in Brussels and Strasbourg (yes, the European Parliament actually moves between the two cities!) and in Westminster at the same time? Surely they can't give proper attention to both jobs? And will they be able to claim salaries and expenses from both?

Seems to me there's something wrong somewhere.