Saturday, 31 July 2010
The first county on the list is Kent, situated at the most south-easterly corner of the country. It seems a pretty good place to start as this is the county of my birth. It is also the nearest to the continent (as Europe is known to us), so it is the first county that many Europeans see when they visit England. Kent calls itself the Garden of England on account of the many fruit orchards and hop fields there once were in the county. Sadly, many of them have now disappeared and the county is better known as the route of the high-speed rail link to France and beyond as the route of the M20 motorway linking London to Dover, the busiest port in the world, and ferries for Europe. But Kent is more than that. There are the extensive marshes in the north of the county along the Thames and Medway estuaries and, in the south-east, Dungeness, a wild and desolate promontory which is the site of a nuclear power station and a landfall for many migrating birds. And Kent is also the cradle of British Christianity and the "home" of the Church of England's senior Archbishop, Canterbury. In past centuries Kent was also the site of two of the counties main naval dockyards - Deptford and Chatham. In fact, Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory, was built at Chatham.
Talking of historic buildings, two of the county's castles are very well-known: Hever and Leeds.
My first thought for a picture was Canterbury cathedral but then I had second thoughts. Why not use a picture of something which is the first many people see of England? So here are the white cliffs of Dover.
Friday, 30 July 2010
Thursday, 29 July 2010
One of the blogs I follow is written by Jim 'Suldog' and he recently listed 100 things he loves about America. Having done so, he challenged readers to come up with their own lists, whether about America or their own countries. Now, there's one thing some of us Brits (Limeys, Pongos, Rosbifs) can't resistn, and that's a bit of a challenge. It might take us some time to really get a response going, but we usually get there in the end. And I have.
What follows is a list of 100 things I like about England. Some of the are essentially English, some uniquely English (or even British); some are sentimental, some quirky or downright zany. Some can be found anywhere, some can be found elsewhere than England but not everywhere. All of them can be found right here in the land I love. Yes, I am proud to be English. Anyway, here goes.
|6||Fish & chips|
|7||Nowhere is more than a couple of hours from the sea|
|8||The temperate climate|
|12||Roast dinners on Sundays|
|14||The way the scenery changes even in short journeys|
|16||The National Health Service|
|17||The South Downs|
|18||Melton Mowbray pork pies|
|19||The British system of justice|
|20||The monarchy - especially the Duke of Edinburgh|
|21||Royal Marine bands|
|22||The Last Night of the Proms|
|23||A stable political system|
|24||Policemen who don't carry guns|
|28||Free bus passes for the over 60s|
|32||Cornish clotted cream teas|
|33||Tea - made the English way!|
|35||A tolerant society (on the whole)|
|36||Morecambe & Wise|
|37||Public parks with grass in them|
|38||Our love of animals|
|39||The English Channel|
|40||The Lake District|
|41||Clean water at the turn of a tap|
|45||Cadbury's crème eggs|
|47||Chris Barber's jazz band|
|48||Elizabethan manor houses|
|49||Bright red pillar boxes|
|50||The Commonwealth War Graves Commission|
|51||People not wearing their hearts on their sleeves|
|53||Lack of the death penalty|
|54||A TV channel devoted to repeats of old programmes|
|57||Red telephone boxes|
|58||The musical drive of the Royal Horse Artillery|
|59||Freedom of religion|
|61||A reliable supply of electricity|
|63||The British banking system|
|67||You can drive from one end of England to the other in a day|
|68||The Old Crock's Run|
|69||Punch & Judy shows|
|72||Independence of the press|
|74||Steak & kidney pudding|
|78||Most people speak the same language as me|
|79||Buses with signs advising the next stop|
|81||The Royal Pavilion|
|83||The song of the blackbird|
|85||Train-spotters are tolerated|
|86||The massed bands of the Brigade of Guards|
|87||Not too many dangerous wild animals|
|88||Men wearing socks with sandals (thereby giving me a laugh)|
|89||Going abroad is easy|
|91||The white cliffs of Dover|
|92||Full English breakfasts|
|93||No land borders with other countries (except Wales & Scotland which, for the purposes of this exercise, don't count)|
|94||The ability to poke fun at ourselves|
|95||A wide range of affordable foods|
|96||Hot, buttered toast|
|98||Sea water spray in a storm|
|99||My family is here|
|100||A warm bed on a cold, windy, rainy night |
I've included just a very few links, but I'm sure you can find more if you want to.
Wednesday, 28 July 2010
(As an aside, I find it a little confusing that the Old Testament talks of an eye for an eye, whereas in the New Testament we are urged to turn the other cheek and to forgive our enemies.)
Having stated my opinion, I must accept that proponents of the death sentence do have points with some validity. They might, for instance, worry that a life sentence is not quite what it purports to be and that some murderers will be released from prison after serving only 14 or 15 years. Do we, they ask, really want to release a murderer so he can do it again? But they are overlooking the fact that the vast majority of murders are committed against family members and the released murderer poses little or no threat to society in general. As I understand it, only seldom is a murder committed at random, and in those cases the guilty party is imprisoned for very much longer periods; indeed, they are often imprisoned for the rest of their lives.
It is when those who want to bring back hanging resort to complaining about the cost of keeping a man (or woman) in jail that I start to be concerned about their pro-death penalty stance. Yes, I know it costs many thousands of pounds a year to lock up someone, but that doesn't strike me as a very good reason for killing them instead.
Then there are the difficult cases, the people who might be described as truly evil, like Fred & Rose West, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. Yes, their crimes were horrific, but I can't be sure that they were not insane as opposed to evil. Is there such a thing as a truly evil person? I'm not entirely sure there is.
But to get back to the book. Reading it, one forms the opinion that justice in the Oklahoma town of Ada was, back in the years when those events occurred, very much a hit or miss affair. But is that picture accurate? District Attorney Bill Peterson was sufficiently incensed to set up a web site to counter Grisham's alleged inaccuracies.
I suppose the reader pays his money and makes his choice, but it doesn't alter the fact that another innocent man was very nearly put to death.
Tuesday, 27 July 2010
I had said the book was ready to go to the printers, but in fact there was still a little more to do. I had to convert the file to .pdf format and burn it to a disc. Now that would normally cause no problems. Normally. But this time, of course, it did. I decided to finish off the August issue of Jungle Jottings before starting on Diamond Geezers (as the book is called). Now I always send out JJ in .pdf format having produced it in WordPerfect. Conversion is simple enough: I have a freebie program which converts as part of the printing process. But no matter how many times I tried to convert, only half of JJ would emerge in the .pdf document. I finally decided the .wpd (WordPerfect) file must be too large. With several pictures in this issue, it was a pretty big file. I reduced the size of the graphics, and lo and behold - problem solved.
It was the same with Diamond Geezers. No matter what I did, the .pdf file contained less than half the .wpd file - and there was no way I could reduce the size of the file. However, although the printers could not accept WordPerfect files, they could accept Word files as well as .pdf. So, I saved the .wpd file as a .doc file. But that threw up other problems, principally with the formatting.
(This is where I must insert a prescript.)
Flashback twenty years: PCs (personal computers) were not called that in those days - they were desktop computers. It was about then that, in my capacity as general manager of a small company, I bought myself my first computer. Well, the company bought it for me to use in the office. That computer didn't come with all sorts of goodies pre-packaged and any software had to be bought separately. I decided to use WordPerfect as my word processor. I can't remember why I chose WordPerfect: I don't suppose it was simply because I liked the colour of the packaging but it might have been for an equally inane reason. Whatever the reason, WordPerfect it was. And I still use it today. Eventually, of course, I upgraded my computer (several times, even since retirement) but I have loaded good old WordPerfect onto each one. I did try using Word, but because I had become so set in my ways with WP, I just couldn't get to grips with it. And I still think that WP is the better program for some things.
Anyway, Diamond Geezers was now on my desktop in Word format - but everything was skewwhiff! It took me ages to sort out - and I still can't get to grips with section breaks! But sorted out it was, so I burned it to a disc and went off to the printers yesterday afternoon. They checked it out and it looks good for printing, so in three or four weeks' time Diamond Geezers will be in print. And the printers gave me a very good price as well.
Monday, 26 July 2010
It was on Friday that I picked the first peas of the year. There's something very special about the first picking, even though the peas are always very good when they go from the garden to the plate in no more than 30 minutes on any day. The first runner beans should be ready in a week or two.
On Friday I also lifted my entire crop of potatoes, onions and garlic. The garlic took very little time as the entire crop had failed. The onions weren't much better and those that had done anything are no bigger than shallots! And to think that we finished last year's crop only three or four weeks ago - both onions and garlic. The potatoes were an experiment - which didn't work. I have grown potatoes in the past, although not for many years, but this year I bought three planter bags with 15 seed potatoes as a special offer. There were just enough potatoes for one meal. I will not be repeating the experiment next year.
I also picked the first of the gooseberries and found a few more blackcurrants. Most of the blackcurrants were picked three weeks back. The raspberry canes produced a handful of fruit, but that is very early as they are autumn-fruiting canes. And this year, for the first time in many years, I managed to beat the birds to some of the cherries. All of three of them, and the birds have got the rest.
Sunday, 25 July 2010
Another picture snatched while at traffic lights. This shows, in the centre of the picture, the cathedral of Rouen with its three different towers. The building dates in parts from the 12th century so it was certainly there when Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake in the city in 1431 having been found guilty of heresy. A particularly painful death - just for wearing men's clothing.
Saturday, 24 July 2010
The farmer who owns the field next door to us in France has started rotating his crops. When we bought the house, the field was used for grazing cattle. Then last year, the farmer grew a cereal of some sort - probably barley. This year it's maize. Similarly, the field behind us was pasture up until this year and now there is a good crop of barley growing there. Maize next year?
Maize, or sweet corn, is a popular crop in the area but we were puzzled by the lack of corn on the cob in the local shops - it was just not to be seen. Then we discovered that the whole plant is cut and chopped by a machine, presumably for use as animal feed. In the early autumn tractors are constantly trundling to and fro with huge trailers loaded with chopped maize being taken to the farms.
Another crop which seems to be growing in popularity is this one:
We've never seen as many sunflowers in the western Loire as there are this year - and yes, that is maize growing beyond the sunflowers.
Friday, 23 July 2010
By the time we returned exactly two weeks ago today, the hoopoe had moved on. But a chaffinch had taken his place. Granted, the song of the chaffinch is a little more melodious than the hoopoe's 'poop, poop, poop', and is distinctly more melodious than the town band from Pouancé or a caravan of heavy lorries, but it can become a little wearing when the bird sits on the electricity wires above the courtyard and insists on repeating his song from dawn till dusk. When I woke in the mornings I could hear him even before I opened the shutters (it was too hot to close the windows at night) and he continued until it was too dark for him to read his music. No, that's not strictly true: there was one day when he broke off for lunch and we had the relief of sitting under the wisteria to eat our lunch in blessed silence.
I did try shooting the wretched bird, but, close as he was, he was just too far away for the picture to come out well.
If you don't know the song of the chaffinch, try visiting this site.
Thursday, 22 July 2010
My neighbour-over-the-road in France seemed a little surprised when I expressed the hope that a plan to install several wind turbines in a nearby field would come to nothing. He, along with many other Frenchmen, appear to be of the opinion that these machines are the best thing since sliced bread (not that I think sliced bread a particularly good thing). My concern is not entirely that of a NIMBY, although if the plan does go ahead the wretched things would spoil what little view we do have. I have yet to be convinced that wind turbines are sufficiently efficient at the production of electricity to justify (a) the ecological cost of manufacture and installation and (b) the spoiling of the countryside. Wind farms are springing up all over France - the one pictured is somewhere south of Calais - but there are many occasions when the turbines are not working. Whether that is because there is too little wind or too much wind or whether they have just plain broken down I have no idea, but they do seem to stop turning an awful lot. And I have read reports that the amount of electricity they generate is minimal.
So much for the efficiency of the machines: but what about the cluttering of the countryside? These things always have to be sited in a prominent position and, as a result, are usually visible for miles around. There have been proposals to site large wind farms in several sensitive environments in this country - Romney Marsh and the Scottish Highlands are but two examples - and off-shore farms have also been proposed. On the other hand, do wind turbines really spoil the countryside? We can't live in a vacuum and while it is undoubtedly a 'good thing' to preserve some of our best scenery, we do have to bear in mind that very little (in this country if not elsewhere) is entirely natural. Most English countryside has really been man-made. Over the centuries woods have been cleared, hedges planted and chocolate-box thatched cottages built: man changing the countryside. Nowadays we delight in seeing windmills - especially in Holland - but what are they if not the forerunners of today's wind turbines? How do we know what people will think of these turbines in, say, 100 years' time? Could it be that they will be looked upon as quaint and delightful antiques? I somehow doubt that, but I suppose the chances are that very few of them will still be around in 100 years' time anyway.
I do have to wonder if there is not a better way to produce the electricity that is so essential to our modern lives. Hydro-electric generation seems to work, so could this not be adapted to harness the power of waves or tides? I would have thought that would be more efficient than the reliance on variable winds and would probably be less intrusive to the eye.
But what do I know about these things?
Wednesday, 21 July 2010
Last Wednesday was the first time we have ever been in France on Bastille Day, although I think the French now more generally refer to the day as simply 14th July, and we were interested to see what form the celebrations would take. On the way down to La Prévière we pass through the city of Rouen. The city straddles the River Seine with a multitude of bridges and we noticed that one of them was decorated several days early. I managed to take a quick snap while waiting at traffic lights.
According to a poster we saw, there were going to be fireworks but we agreed it would involve far too long a drive for us to see them.
Nothing appeared to have been arranged for La Prévière, but I noticed on an information board outside the town hall in the town of Pouancé that they were planning a firework display. This would start at 11.00pm in La Fuye (a field opposite the castle) and would be preceded by a fanfare starting a procession from the town hall at 10.00pm. Given that Pouancé is only a couple of miles from La Prévière, this seemed too good an opportunity to miss.
Our first few days saw blue skies and temperatures of 30+ (that's 90 or so in old money), which is hot as far as we are concerned, but on Bastille Day I threw open the shutters to find the sky full of cloud. The rain started just before 9.00am and continued all morning. In fact, about lunchtime it seemed to have reached monsoon-like intensity. I rang the village restaurant to book a table for the evening, convinced that the usual lengthy meal would not stop us watching the fireworks as there was no way the display could go ahead in that weather. Nicolas, the restaurateur, asked if we intended watching the fireworks, saying that he planned to take his younger son to see them.
Blue skies returned in the afternoon, and the service at the restaurant was quicker than we have ever known so we had no difficulty in getting to Pouancé in time.
La Fuye is a field which slopes gently down to a lake, on the far side of which there is a road skirting the walls of the castle. It was to be from the castle itself that the fireworks would be fired. Not only did we reach the field in time, we were actually very early. This, of course, meant that we were able to select a good spot to sit as dusk fell. The selection of music being played over the loudspeakers was not entirely to our taste, being French pop music which is usually pretty tuneless to our ears, but it did help to create an atmosphere - and was distinctly preferable to the band which led the procession onto the field at about 10.40. We had had the dubious pleasure of listening to a few of the members of the band on a previous occasion. The cacophony produced by the band at full strength was increased enormously from that of the two buglers and three drummers we had encountered before. It was something of a relief when the band stopped their attempts at playing and the French pop music restarted.
It was only a few minutes after the pop music resumption that it started to rain. Most people - but not us - had brought umbrellas and we resigned ourselves to getting wet while being unable to see anything of the forthcoming fireworks because of all the umbrellas. But it was only a brief, very light shower, and not that the fireworks would be forthcoming in the immediate future even though it was by now only about five to eleven. Eleven o'clock came and went and the DJ started getting agitated, watching the castle with a radio transmitter/received clamped to his ear. It was a French 11.00pm, ie 11.13, before the castle floodlights, the street lights along the foot of the castle walls and the temporary lights on La Fuye were extinguished. What followed was a superb display. At one time the castle was lit from within the walls by red fireworks to look as if the place was burning.
Having been involved for 25 years with the fireworks displays laid on by Brighton Lions (rated by The Times newspaper as one of the ten best displays in the country) I think I know a good display when I see one. And this was good. It lasted about 20 minutes - and was completely free of charge, laid on by the local authority. Small wonder that there was a crowd of 4,000-5,000 people - more than the entire population of the town!
Tuesday, 20 July 2010
That, I thought, was one of the most sensible statements I have heard from a politician in a long time. I fully accept that a terrorist might wear a burka to conceal a bomb but that terrorist could just as easily carry a bomb in the boot of his car. In my opinion it is when we start passing laws like this "in the interests of national security" that the terrorists have won.
The same goes for the plan to introduce ID cards for the entire population. When this was first proposed it was intended to make the possession of an ID card compulsory (I'm not sure if it was also going to be compulsory to carry one) but that was watered down and the possession of an ID card was going to be completely voluntary, although people applying for a new passport or renewing an old one would have to apply for an ID card at the same time. How was that voluntary? The then Government spent millions (or was it billions?) of pounds on a scheme which faced widespread disapproval and which would cost many billions more if and when it was brought into being. I am pleased to say that the ‘new' Government scrapped the scheme almost within hours of taking office. I hope they continue to show common sense.
Monday, 19 July 2010
Sunday, 18 July 2010
The journey down took rather longer than usual as we fell foul of an irritating habit the French have when they are doing roadworks. They frequently just close the road and post a diversion. OK, that might not seem to bad, but those diversions can be pretty long and can add a good few miles and minutes to the length of one's journey. In our case, 15 miles, much of it on winding, country lanes, and half an hour in time. Thankfully, there was no rush and it was actually good to see some different scenery and one or two very attractive spots. I doubt that I could ever find them again if I wanted to!
So today is a day of catching up. Well, it was going to be until we listened to the final call on the answering machine. This told us that our younger son would be holding a barbecue this afternoon to celebrate his sister's birthday (which just happens to be this weekend and she just happens to have travelled down from Birmingham to see us). Two loads of washing have been put through the machine, I have read my emails and most blogs in which I am interested, fetched Fern from kennels and given her a run, now I must get ready for the celebrations.
Thursday, 8 July 2010
Next came Google to try and find suppliers of the equipment. There was no trace of any supplier of the camera, but I did find a UK supplier of the autorefractor, the device which provides a digital read-out. With my limited knowledge, I had already decided this looked a better system as it did not involve analysis of pictures by people who would need training to undertake this. The I saw the price - a whopping £4,816, and that is probably before the addition of Value Added Tax at 17.5%.
I shall continue with my research when I get back from France (we are off tomorrow), but I suspect the club will be less than happy to fork out that sort of moey, even if it is a terrific way to mark our diamond jubilee.
Wednesday, 7 July 2010
Tuesday, 6 July 2010
So what gave rise to all this griping? Basically, it is because I have ideas for two service projects, both of which - if taken up by the club - would require research before they could get off the ground. I am a little reluctant to put forward either of them because I'm not sure that I either have time for or want to undertake the research. And I have that nagging feeling that it would end up on my plate if I suggest the projects. Having said that, I have actually started researching one of the projects already because I need information before I can put it to the club. Watch this space!
Monday, 5 July 2010
The other day I watched with some amazement as a driver committed no fewer than three moving traffic offences - all at the same time! I don't think I have ever seen that before. I was driving along an urban dual carriageway with a 30mph limit when he overtook me doing well over 30. I know that as I glanced at my speedo and saw I was spot on the limit as he drew away. He then swerved into the nearside lane and passed another car (on the wrong side). What's more, he did it on the zig-zag lines at the approach to a zebra crossing. I didn't notice if he was using a mobile phone, but it wouldn't have surprised me.
And the winner is...
...You'll just have to wait.
Sunday, 4 July 2010
Saturday, 3 July 2010
One of my ancestors - a great grandfather or 2 x great uncle or some such - was a market gardener back in the days of Queen Victoria. He would not have had the benefit of modern inventions to produce his own micro-climates and would, like me, have been at the mercy of the vagaries of the weather. The difference is that he grew vegetables as a way of making his living whereas for me it is more of a hobby. The fact that my parsnip seeds failed to germinate this year is an irritation, not a disaster. No, wait a minute. The seeds have not completely failed to germinate. Two did. My garlic seemed to be coming along very nicely, but all of a sudden the plants have collapsed and now I have just three which might, just might, come to something. At least the runner beans and the first sowing of peas look as though they will produce a crop.
I have picked most of the blackcurrants this week, leaving a little under a quarter of the crop to finish ripening. We have just the one bush, but it produces enough fruit to last us through the year. I also picked three raspberries yesterday. Since they are supposed to be an autumn fruiting variety, coming on stream in September, that is a little early. Mind you, I gave some roots to my friend Tony two or three years back and he has already eaten two bowls of raspberries and cream for dessert!
Mrs BP and I went strawberry picking yesterday morning at a farm a few miles north. The fruit was so plentiful that in just 15 or 20 minutes we had moved only about 5 yards and picked three or four pounds - enough for Mrs to make this year's jam (we don't eat much of it) and leave enough fruit over for dessert on three days or so.
But I still want rain - a couple of days of steady, gentle rainfall - to liven things up. The water butt is bone dry, something I have never known at this time of the year, and I am putting on the hose (on the veg only) every couple of evenings. Can anybody give me the steps of the rain dance?
Friday, 2 July 2010
I stumbled across some of these and, as I have recently Done My Bit to serve the Cause of Justice - well, I sat on a jury for a week and a half - my interest was piqued. They were produced by the International Centre for Prison Studies, an organisation of which I had never before heard and which, on investigation, turns out to be part of King's College, London. These statistics are in a report entitled World Prison Population List (eighth edition) and throw up some interesting facts. For example, the country with the highest percentage of its population behind bars is the USA with 756 prisoners per 100,000 of population followed by Russia with 629 and Rwanda with 604. China, perhaps surprisingly, has only 119, just three more than Canada (116). The figure for the UK is 131 and other European countries are Norway - 69, Italy - 62 and France - 96. India has just 33 prisoners per 100k population, and Japan 63.
What, I wondered, do these figures tell us? Is France, for example, so much more law-abiding than the USA? Or are the American police more efficient at catching criminals than are the French? And in any case, can we accept the accuracy of the figures? The Chinese figure, for example, appears extraordinarily low given what we hear of the country, or maybe they just execute more convicted criminals and that reduces the prison population. Or do the figures indicate a difference in the punishment systems in various countries? Could it be that Norway uses fines and/or community service sentences rather than imprisoning people?
Of course, the bare statistics alone really tell us nothing and we need much more information to interpret them properly. But isn't that the case with all statistics?
Thursday, 1 July 2010
'Hello, I'm calling from the Microsoft technical department. You've downloaded a malicious (something or other) while browsing and your computer is at risk. Can you switch your computer on and...'
'I don't respond to phone calls of this type.'
'But your computer is at risk! I'm from the Microsoft technical department...'
Oh yes? I thought, and I'm the tooth fairy in my spare time, but I replied, 'So you say, but anybody could say that.'
'I'll give you a number you can ring which will prove that I'm from Micro...'
'You could give me any number but if somebody tells me that I've called Microsoft it doesn't mean I have.'
'But I really am!'
Persistent devil, wasn't he?
'Thank you for your call and goodbye.'
I suppose some people will fall for this type of thing.