Sunday, 31 October 2010
Hallowe'en, and I have no stories about ghouls or ghosts or vampires. Instead, I will tell you the legend behind the Long Man of Wilmington. The Long Man is a figure cut into the steep, north-facing slope of the South Downs a few miles from Brighton. He measures some 230 feet from head to toe, making him the second largest chalk figure in the world. His origin is unknown, but Sussex being Sussex, there is a legend.
In days gone by, before even our great-grandfathers' great-grandfathers were born, there were two giants living in Sussex, one on each of two hills on the South Downs. No-one knows what names the hills had in those distant days, but nowadays they are called Mount Harry and Firle Beacon, probably because the giants who lived on those hills were called Harry and Firle.
Every morning, Harry would look towards the east as the sun came up. On seeing Firle, he would call out and the two of them would discuss their plans for the day, the prospects for the weather and so on. In the evening, Firle would look westwards towards the setting sun and would call out to Harry. They would tell each other about how their plans for the day had turned out and chat generally as the sky darkened from the east.
Now it came about that the two quarrelled. What the quarrel was about, nobody knows, but neighbours being neighbours, it was probably over something quite petty. Harry and Firle no longer told each other their plans, nor did they discuss how their crops were doing, nor about the chances of rain in the morning. Instead, they hurled insults at each other. Then one day, Firle throw a lump of earth at Harry. Harry responded by throwing a large lump of chalk. This hit Firle on the temple and he fell down, dead on the instant.
Harry was immediately full of remorse and rushed across the valley. There was nothing he could do: even giants can't be brought back from the dead. Harry decided he would have to bury Firle. But Firle had been standing on Windover Hill at the time and Harry couldn't face carrying him back to Firle Beacon, so he decided to bury him where he lay. He thought of erecting a headstone, but chalk - the local rock - is quite unsuitable for headstones. Instead, Harry dug round the outline of Firle's body, his two staffs included, through the shallow topsoil to the white chalk beneath so that all who passed by could see and remember the giant Firle. Harry left Sussex after that, never to be seen again, but his memorial to Firle can be seen to this day on the slope of the Downs above the village of Wilmington.
Saturday, 30 October 2010
From soulless London suburbs to soulful bird calls on the marshes, from kiss-me-quick razzamatazz in gaudy seaside resorts to bucolic pastoral views in Constable country, from dingy industrial and port towns to the charm and tradition of small country towns, Essex is, perhaps more than any other in England, a county of contrasts.
Two of the most attractive towns are Saffron Walden and Great Dunmow. The latter is where the traditional Flitch Trials are held every leap year. This tradition is supposed to date from early in the 12th century and involves married couples attempting to satisfy the Judge and Jury of 6 maidens and 6 bachelors that in 'twelvemonth and a day', they have 'not wisht themselves unmarried again'. Learn more here. Colchester dates from Roman times and is said to be Britain's oldest recorded town. More visited, though, is the resort of Southend-on-Sea where England's longest pleasure pier stretches more than a mile into the Thames estuary.
Forming part of the boundary between Essex and Suffolk, its neighbour to the north, is the River Stour. This, together with Dedham Vale, is Constable country where the artist painted many of his famous landscapes. By way of tribute to him, our picture this week is of Dedham Lock, although I have to wonder if Mr Constable would recognise the spot were he to return nearly two centuries since he painted it.
Friday, 29 October 2010
Thursday, 28 October 2010
I wrote that I was saddened to learn of his death, and that is indeed the case. But as to the manner of his death - well, that both puzzles and angers me. You see, it is thought that a trophy hunter paid a large sum to kill him for his antlers, which are said to be worth up to £10,000. I just cannot understand the mentality of people who hunt and kill wild animals just for the thrill of killing them. It is no good me asking, 'Why?' and expecting somebody to explain it so that I can understand. I never have and I never will understand.
I know that it is sometimes necessary to cull deer when their numbers are becoming too great or when they have reached the stage where it is kinder to kill them than to let them die slowly of disease or starvation. I might not particularly like it, but I understand and accept it.
But trophy hunting? Never!
Wednesday, 27 October 2010
Of course, we Brits are less fortunate than our ex-colonial cousins in that we have no equivalent of the Thanksgiving holiday. Harvest festival is about the nearest we get to it, and that is a wishy-washy, half-hearted affair involving children taking apples or tins of baked beans and the like to school to be collected up at assembly and, possibly, distributed to elderly people living near the school. The churches don't do much better, if as well. No, the nearest holiday we have before Christmas is the August bank holiday on the last Monday of that month.
I did try joining in the "Thanksgiving comes first" movement with a British slant on it. I prepared a pic which appeared at the top of this blog yesterday saying "Remembrance Day comes first" but I removed it this morning as I decided it was in questionable taste.
So, my American friends, I think you will just have to get by without us Brits. But I do wish we could do something to stop Christmas puddings appearing in the shops in August. Come to that, could they leave off selling hot cross buns until after New Year?
Tuesday, 26 October 2010
The Lions Clubs in our zone hold an Olympic Games contest each year. In this, each club organises an evening activity so we have seven social events during the course of the year. Yesterday, Lewes Lions hosted their event - the toad-in-the-hole competition. Last year, Brighton won that event but I regret to say that yesterday both our teams were knocked out in round one. Maybe we will do better at the next event - a shuffleboard evening.
Monday, 25 October 2010
I also picked a lot more apples, but only after starting to prune the tree. This has grown far too big and, because I have not pruned it well in the past, I was unable to pick the fruit from the upper branches as I couldn't get a ladder in place. So I had to cut a few branches away before I could really get going on the remains of the harvest. There is still some fruit on the tree and some branches to be cut back. In the meantime, there are a good few more pounds of apples (Bramleys - a cooking variety) for the Old Bat to freeze or give away. The problem is that most of the people we know who would appreciate home-grown apples have their own trees. I'm sorry to say that at least half our crop this year has already been allowed to rot down as compost.
Apart from more pruning, my next job is to get half a forest (well, it seems like that) to the tip.
Sunday, 24 October 2010
I'm less sure about John Constable's Haywain, although even with this picture I tend to start towards the left - possibly the with dog - and then work my way into the river.
This next picture is another by Monet, but to me it's back to front and I tend to ignore the left side.
I bet you feel much better for knowing that.
Saturday, 23 October 2010
It was Samuel Johnson who said to Boswell back in 1777, "Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."
That is my problem this week: not what to say about London, but what not to say. As far as scenic Britain is concerned, there is just too much: the River Thames (famously painted by both Turner and Monet), the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, St Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London - and numerous nooks and crannies far too many to mention.
Just in passing, I should mention that the real London - the City of London - is just one square mile and was surrounded by a wall in Roman times, traces of the wall still there to be seen. True Londoners, born within the sound of Bow bells, are known as Cockneys. And the Bow bells are not the bells in the church at Bow, part of the East End and outside the City. Bow bells are the bells of the church of St Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside.
Two pictures this week (and it could just as easily be 200 or 2,000). First, one of the most famous pictures from the Second World War - the dome of St Paul's Cathedral rising above the flames and smoke as London burned during the blitz. It was this picture as much as anything that gave hope to the hard-pressed citizens.
And now something more up to date - a view from the London Eye showing the Houses of Parliament with St Margaret's church and the much larger Westminster Abbey to the right of the clock tower. (Which reminds me, it is not the tower which is named Big Ben, it is just the bell in the clock.)
Friday, 22 October 2010
Although I can't claim to have made the definitive study of the subject - or even done any research at all - I think that most people when they peel a potato hold the vegetable in one hand while wielding the peeler in the other and pulling it across the potato towards themselves. That seems the natural way of doing the job and, indeed, that is the way single-handed peelers are made. The type of peeler that lives in our kitchen has two blades facing in opposite directions. (Forgive me if I am going into too much detail.) This means that it can be used in either hand in the normal fashion. However, as my wife was the first to use it and it was quite a while before I peeled any potatoes, the peeler became a left-handed peeler. Somehow the blade for a right-handed person became so blunt as to be useless. This means that when I peel potatoes I have to peel away from myself as if sharpening a pencil. And it's not just our peeler either. My cousin (and both she and her husband are right-handed) has the same model - but my wife can't use it as it has become a right-handed peeler. It's all very strange.
It's not just tools and the like which go the wrong way round. Just look and see which way round people place ornamental jugs. Right-handed people naturally place them with the handle to the right, left-handers the other way. We have a very large jug at the foot of the stairs and to me it always looks the wrong way round. You've guessed it: it was She Who Must Be Obeyed who put it there.
I find the same thing with pictures and photographs. Many years ago I was told about the rule of thirds. This states that in composing a picture, it works best if something is place one third in and one third up or down - like this:
The theory is that the Chattri (the memorial) catches the viewer's eye and leads into the picture. (I think that is the theory, but I could be wrong.) For me, it works - this way round.
But in this picture, taken from almost exactly the same spot, I find my eye being led out of the scene. I suppose it could be that there is more to look at in the first picture, but I don't think that is the reason. Could it be that I am used to reading the printed word from left to right and automatically do the same with pictures?
And what, you ask, is the point of all this? Well, there isn't one really; it's just me musing.
Thursday, 21 October 2010
It was decidedly nippy when I took Fern out after breakfast. So much so that I looked out my gloves and wore a thicker coat. Although we had no frost, being protected from it partly by being in a town and partly by being so close to the sea, people the other side of the Downs were having to scrape their car windscreens. However, it was a sunny day but the temperature seemed lower than it really was due to the wind chill from the brisk northerly.
I could see from the kitchen window that the farmer had moved the cattle and sheep from the fields leading to the Chattri, so in the afternoon I braved the wind, which was blowing just as strongly straight into my face, and walked Fern up there so I could see the new memorial, dedicated just over three weeks ago. (The photos will appear on Fern's blog over the next day or two.) An hour of it was enough, but it was an invigorating walk.
Today is just as sunny but fortunately the wind has dropped so it feels warmer. But we have had our first frost of the winter. In fact, the car roof was frosted when I left the Lions' meeting last night. Admittedly it was nearly eleven - we had a lot to discuss. And now I must get on with writing the minutes.
Before I do that, perhaps I should just mention what the Chattri is. It is a memorial to the Indian soldiers who died in hospital in Brighton during World War I, erected on the South Downs north of Brighton at the spot where the funeral pyres were built. In Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi, 'chattri' means 'umbrella', which reflects the deisgn of the memorial and reflects the protection offered to the memory of the dead. See a general picture here on Fern's blog.
Wednesday, 20 October 2010
Amongst the papers and other bits and pieces that I cleared out of my mother's house after she died was an envelope bearing a couple of Hong Kong stamps and the words "Souvenir First Day Cover". This had been sent to my father from Fook Tai & Co of Hong Kong, who I assume were among the suppliers of food for the ship. I know nothing about the value of stamps but had always wondered when I came across this envelope from time to time if it was worth anything. Every time I have come across it I have told myself to go to a stamp dealer to check, but somehow I have never remembered to do so. The I came across a company which provides free valuations over the internet. I scanned the envelope and duly uploaded it. The eagerly-awaited reply came back within 24 hours. I looked at it lying there in my inbox for some time before I could click to open it. Was this like one of those old master pictures that one hears of just left in somebody's attic? Was I in line for a £50,000 pay out? Alas no. The cover would - if in better condition - fetch about £10. It was suggested that a less discerning buyer might be found on eBay.
Oh well, I suppose I can't miss what I've never had, but it would have made a nice story.
Tuesday, 19 October 2010
Quite a few months back I suggested that if we all reduced our mileage by, say, five a week, we would make a significant contribution to saving the world. I have made a bit of an effort in that direction myself, but am surprised to see that my annual mileage has fallen by considerably more than that. Three or four years ago I was regularly covering between 15,000 and 16,000 miles a year, but I see that between September 2008 and September 2009 I drove only 12,800 - and that has dropped to just 10,700 during the last twelve months. How that has happened I have no idea. And maybe it has not made a significant reduction in the world's CO2 emissions. I console myself with the story of the man walking on a beach just as dawn broke. As he headed into the rising sun, keeping to the firm sand below the high water mark, he noticed somebody else walking towards him. That person kept bending down, picking something off the beach and tossing it into the waves.
When they got closer, our man could see that the other was picking up starfish.
'Why,' he asked, 'are you doing that?'
'If I don't,' the other replied, 'all these starfish will be burned to death by the sun as it climbs through the sky.'
'But there must be thousands if not millions of starfish on the beach. What difference can you hope to make?'
The other looked down at the starfish in his hand. 'It makes a difference to this one,' he said as he tossed it back into the sea.
Monday, 18 October 2010
(For those who have no time to glance at the link posted above, I will explain briefly that I ended up telling the YS a story on many occasions, and these always had to be one of the series I made up about a young horse called Henry.)
Here is another of those Henry Horse stories, although this one, unfortunately, is not illustrated as was Henry Horse Plays Football. This one is called
Henry Horse Wins a Medal
'Come on, Henry,' his mother called up the stairs. 'It's high time you were down for breakfast.'
Henry rushed downstairs and stopped suddenly as he went into the kitchen.
'What are you doing, Mum?' he asked.
'Making sandwiches,' his mother replied. 'It's such a lovely day we thought we'd go for a picnic.'
There were hay sandwiches, carrot sandwiches and - Henry's favourite - crunchy apple sandwiches. When all the sandwiches had been put into the picnic basket, Henry's mother added a flask of tea for the grown-ups and a bottle of fizzy lemonade for Henry.
Once Henry had finished his breakfast they set off. Henry thought it took a very long time before his father decided they had found a good spot for their picnic, just beside a river. Henry hoped they would have their lunch then because all that walking had made him very hungry.
'Oh no,' said his mother. 'It's far too early for lunch. Besides, you've only just had breakfast. Run along and play for a while - but mind you don't fall in the water.'
Henry wandered off. He watched the water for a while, then found sticks to throw into the river, but there really wasn't much else to do and he was soon bored. He walked along the river bank and round behind some bushes. Perhaps there would be something interesting a bit further along.
Henry hadn't gone very far when he heard someone calling.
'Help! Help!' the voice cried.
Racing round the next bend, Henry found a girl on the river bank.
'Please help,' she called. 'My brother's fallen in the water and he can't swim.'
Without more ado, Henry jumped into the river. As he jumped, he wondered if he could swim, but luckily he had long legs and he could walk through the water. He reached out his neck and grabbed the boy's jumper in his teeth.
When Henry reached the bank with the boy, quite a crowd had gathered.
'Well done, Henry!' they called.
And the Mayor presented Henry with a special medal for being so brave.
Sunday, 17 October 2010
See what I mean? There's a nasty great blob in the sky. I don't know what the problem is, but nearly every time I use this camera to take a picture with a lighter area at the top, this is what happens. Before I can use the picture for anything I have to correct it on the computer. It was bad enough when just the one blob appeared, but now there are three. I've been trying to work out how best to justify spending money on a new camera, but it has only this morning dawned on me that I don't actually need to justify spending the money. I can just go and do it. Now all I have to do is decide (a) how much I want to spend and (b) just what I hope to get for my money.
Saturday, 16 October 2010
Pronounced "Barkshear", this county lies between Wiltshire and Greater London. The River Thames flows from west to east across Berkshire and at one time the Thames Valley was supposed to be England's equivalent to California's Silicon Valley. It may still be for all I know. In the west are the Berkshire Downs with numerous racing stables in an area around the village of Lambourn. Appropriately enough, one of the country's best-known race courses - Ascot - is also in Berkshire, albeit in the eastern half of the county.
The main urban centre is the conurbation of Reading (pronounced "Redding"), which is a town I am happy to avoid. Slough is another town to be dodged. This was made famous (infamous?) by John Betjeman: ‘Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!/It isn't fit for humans now,/There isn't grass to graze a cow./Swarm over, Death!'
Not far from Slough is another famous town - Eton, home of probably the most famous boys' boarding school in the world. Eton stands just across the Thames from Windsor, site of the Queen's favourite castle (or so we are told).
Berkshire always seems to me a strange county: some attractive countryside and pleasant, small towns in the west, ghastly urban sprawl in the east.
The picture has to be Windsor Castle. I was once invited to a reception there. While I was standing talking in a small group, the Duke of Edinburgh entered the room through a door just beside us and tripped over the carpet. He looked at us and asked, ‘Do you know how old this carpet is? It's 150 years old, hand-made in an Indian prison.'
Next day a national Sunday paper rang me. ‘Were you at the reception yesterday?' I confirmed that I had been.
‘What did the Duke of Edinburgh say to you?' I told them he had asked if I knew how old the carpet was. They only printed it in their next issue!
The picture shows St George's Hall in Windsor Castle. The original hall was destroyed by fire in 1992 but has since been rebuilt to look exactly as before. The ceiling is decorated with the coats of arms of past and present members of the Order of the Garter.
Friday, 15 October 2010
And it turns out that boy I mentioned yesterday is a girl. Whoops! Too much vino on my part?
Thursday, 14 October 2010
Having decided to write to the suppliers rather than just telephone, I decided first to check their web site with a view to finding the name of the managing director (it wasn't there). While on the site, I checked their terms and conditions. Lo and behold, the guarantee shown there is for ten years. I have now written asking for comments concerning the discrepancy and proposals for rectifying the matter.
By coincidence, it was about 40 years ago that I last had dealings with this business. It was then operating simply as a supplier of glass and glazing under a slightly different name but the present company is essentially the same business. Back than, I went to their premises with the measurements of a pane of glass I needed in order to replace a broken bedroom window. When I came to fit the glass late in the afternoon, I discovered that it was wider at one end than at the other, presumably because it had been cut using the sloping side of the T-square. I had to call the boss at his home and insist that he provide glass to the correct measurement straight away. His initial response was that I should nail something over the window and deal with it the next day. Unfortunately for hm, I had to be back at work the next day and I refused to leave a baby in that room overnight until the next weekend. It was with a bad grace that he turned out so that I could finish the job that day.
I hope my earlier experience is not an omen.
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
This last fact was brought home to me the other day by a workman we had in the house. He was here all morning that day, installing a new front door. Yes, we finally managed to get a quote we could accept (I won't say a quote we liked - they were all too high for happiness) and the door was delivered and installed this week. Anyway, the chap who came to do the job brought his radio with him and it was playing in the hall all morning. He had it tuned to a station called UK Gold or something, a station which, between commercial breaks, played records from the 60s, 70s and 80s. I recognised, and was able to sing along with, far too many of them and it was this that brought home to me just how much I have become like my father and thousands of other fathers and mothers who complain that the music their children play is absolute rubbish compared with what they used to play at the same age.
'Oh, no,' I thought. 'I'm not just getting old, I am old!'
True enough. I have not yet used up my allotted span of three score years and ten, but that day is, if not a storm about to break over my head, rather more than a distant raincloud on the horizon. It is only three generations since anyone of my class living to the age I am now would be considered not just old but truly ancient. They would have spent more than fifty years working in the fields in all weathers and by now would be crippled with arthritis, sitting by the fire wrapped in a blanket and shouting, 'Eh? What?' as they waved their ear trumpet. That, of course, is assuming they were still the right side of the turf, and the chances of that would surely be no better than evens.
It's not as though I feel old. I feel older, certainly. In fact, I am well aware that my body is no longer able to do what it did just a few short years ago. It seems but a year or two since I was well able to put in a morning digging over the vegetable plot. Nowadays half an hour is about the longest stretch I can manage. Likewise, I used to be quite happy drinking half a bottle of wine with my evening meal. Nowadays a glass and a half is about all I can manage without starting to lose the plot. So perhaps I do feel old - in body if not in mind.
And there's the rub. I'm pretty sure that even though I retired from work more than eight years ago, my mind is still reasonably sharp. I still manage to complete (all bar one or two answers) the cryptic crossword in my daily paper - and have learned to do sudoku as well. I have even written two books. Granted, they are both short ones and will never be published, let alone published to critical acclaim, except by means of so-called vanity publishing. The web sites I have designed in my retirement may not be the ultimate in sophistication, but they don't look unduly amateurish (to my mind) - and they work.
So I am in the autumn of my days, although as yet the leaves have still to fall. Well, some of them - I do have an incipient bald spot. But autumn can be a wonderful season and I am determined to make the most of it, or as much of it as I can. I still have good health, I have all my marbles and I am comfortable financially. Yes, there are things in my life I wish I could change, principally my wife's health, but I can't, so I'll be happy with what I have. As the Lions' grace has it:
'Give us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.'
Tuesday, 12 October 2010
Monday, 11 October 2010
I have never been a cyclist. I didn't have a bike as a boy and the only time I have ever ridden one was the occasion when I borrowed a school friend's and rode to the supermarket where I worked stacking the shelves. It was downhill all the way, possible getting on for a couple of miles, and my friend had to run all the way to reclaim his bike and ride back again. Maybe that lack of cycling experience makes it difficult - if not impossible - for me to think as a cyclist. For me, that's a plus! I wouldn't want to think like some of the cyclists I have very nearly run into.
Why do cyclists think they own the roads? Do they really think that just because they rely on human strength as opposed to mechanical they can wander at will? They act all too frequently as though the rules of the road that are obeyed by every other living creature - well, every other type of road user - don't apply to them. They ride blithely through red traffic lights and, if a motorist happens to be coming across their path they look as though he has no right to be anywhere in the vicinity, let alone proceeding on a green light. They move off the road onto the pavement when the whim takes them, completely regardless of pedestrians, mothers pushing prams, children, dogs... Even when the local council spends a small fortune marking out special cycle lanes, do they use them? There was a time when I regularly (ie every day, Monday to Friday) drove along a stretch of country road with one lane for traffic in each direction. There was a grass verge on one side of the road, with a cycle path beyond it, yet almost every day I would find a cyclist blocking my way while I waited for a gap in the oncoming traffic to pass him. And it wasn't the same cyclist every day, in case that's what you are thinking.
Even if one cyclist does ride in the cycle lane, if he/she has a companion, the second cyclist, rather than riding in front or behind, has to ride alongside the first - in front of all the motorists.
But my gorge really rises when I'm walking the dog through the woods or along footpaths across the fields. I suppose cyclists relish the challenge of riding along the narrow paths that wind through the trees, but when the ground is soft those cycle wheels cut up the paths something terrible. Even so, that's not the worst. The worst is when they insist on riding like bats out of hell regardless of children or dogs running around, coming up from behind without any warning. They seem to think we mere walkers should be constantly watching rear-view mirrors just in case a cyclist wants to get past, which they seem to do by getting as close as they can without actually knocking down the startled walker.
I know one shouldn't generalise and that not all cyclists as as bad as that. All the same, the majority seem to be. Perhaps if the government was to insist that all cycles be registered and taxed... But no, that would make no difference to the riders' behaviour.
I suppose I shall just have to grin and bear them, but cyclists - I hate 'em!
Sunday, 10 October 2010
Having now Googled "donkeys' years" I find that it is quite a modern slang expression and actually started out as "donkey's ears", possibly as rhyming slang. Cockney rhyming slang, perhaps? There's a fair bit of that about, for example:
trouble and strife = wife
dog and bone = phone
apples and pears = stairs
whistle and flute = suit
plates of meat = feet
There was another form of slang we used at school: ackbay langsay. It takes quite a bit of practice to use this and even more to understand it, although the basics are simple enough. All you have to do is move the first letter of a word to the back and add "ay". Hence "ackbay" = back. Easy! (But that's not such an easy word in ackbay langsay: asyeay - pronounced see-ee-ay or C E A.)
Go on - give it a try.
Saturday, 9 October 2010
Lying to the east of Somerset and Avon is the largely rural county of Wiltshire. There are just three urban areas of any size - Swindon, Salisbury and Warminster - but neither Salisbury nor Warminster can be called large.
In the west of the county is a part of the Cotswolds, a chain of hills well-known for its honey-coloured stone and attractive villages. Possibly the most attractive of these villages in Wiltshire is Castle Combe, which has been described as the prettiest village in England.
Salisbury (pronounced 'Saulsberry') is home to the tallest church spire in England - all 404 feet of it towering over the cathedral and the city. One of the best views is from across the water meadows to the south west of the city, a view made famous by a painting by John Constable. On the subject of views, the original Magna Carta can be viewed at Salisbury cathedral.
North of Salisbury is the immense (for England) stretch of Salisbury Plain, a chalk plateau covering 300 square miles. Once given over mainly to sheep grazing, much of the Plain is now under army control and used as tank training grounds and artillery ranges. A bird long extinct in England, the great bustard, is being successfully re-introduced here.
The Plain is the destination of large numbers of people at each solstice when they journey to England's first world heritage site - Stonehenge. There are varying suggestions about the age of this stone circle and, as far as I know, nobody has yet worked out just how these enormous lumps of rock were transported 160 miles from Pembrokeshire in Wales. Twenty miles away is the village of Avebury, which is surrounded by another large henge, also a world heritage site under a joint listing with Stonehenge.
Given that so much of Wiltshire comprises wind-swept Salisbury Plain, my choice of picture is of that ancient monument, Stonhenge.
Friday, 8 October 2010
The situation is much better at Les Lavandes. There are only a few street lights in the village and they are not particularly bright. What's more, they are switched off at 10.00pm. There is just a little light pollution from the town a couple of miles away, but on a clear night, of which there seem to be more than here in England, the sky is a twinkling mass.
All that is simply a lead-in to a mention of Wednesday evening. There was a Lions dinner meeting at a pub in Rottingdean, a suburb of Brighton - although residents will insist on calling it a village. The door we use opens onto a narrow terrace after which there is an almost equally narrow car park and the sea wall. When we left, we could see the lights of a fishing boat several miles out to sea, and nothing else to the south except for one bright light in the sky. No moon, no stars, just this one bright light. It was so big and so bright we thought at first it must be a plane. But it wasn't moving, so it couldn't be a plane. It was, presumably, a planet. Venus? Mars? I couldn't say, and nor could anyone else.
It did bring to mind a memory from nearly 60 years ago. I was at school in Ventnor, on the Isle of Wight, and I can recall waking one night and sitting up in bed to look out of the dormitory window (at which there were no curtains). The window looked out across Ventnor, over the church tower and out to sea. There was a full (or nearly full) moon which lit a pathway across the sea. And there, in the very centre of the moonlit pathway, was a fully-rigged sailing ship. Magical moonlight indeed.
Thursday, 7 October 2010
This afternoon there were another two calls for me while I was out. I returned the first, which was from the Lions treasurer. We spent nearly 10 minutes discussing an accounting problem but I'm not sure I was able to provide a very good answer. I had no sooner put the phone down than it rang again: the Housing Society again with yet another problem needing my input. The second call while I was out was from another Lion who is due to call back again in about a quarter of an hour, which will no doubt involve another discussion lasting 15 minutes or so. And I must go down to B & Q to get a paint roller if I'm to paint the kitchen walls tomorrow.
Thank goodness for the sanity of a walk across the Downs for an hour or so after lunch. Which is where the swallows and amazons come in. No, nothing to do with the children's books by Arthur Ransome - indeed, I'm really continuing the bird theme from yesterday and the heading should be swallows and buzzards. Or perhaps singular - swallow and buzzard. I was surprised to see a swallow this afternoon, thinking they had already left for their winter holiday in the sun. I was also surprised to see soaring in the distant sky what I am confident was a buzzard. I'm quite used to seeing these raptors in France and on the farm when we visit my cousin, but I can't recall having seen one around Stanmer before. There's absolutely no reason that I know why they shouldn't be seen here: it's just that they aren't - until this afternoon.
Now I must be ready for that phone call, and then I'm sure I'll get caught up in the rush hour traffic going to B & Q.
Wednesday, 6 October 2010
OK, clever clogs, you already knew that - but it was news to me when I clicked on it this morning.
Tuesday, 5 October 2010
Monday, 4 October 2010
- One council decided to cut down horse chestnut trees in case they were sued by people who had conkers fall on their heads.
- Another council banned floral baskets hanging from lamp-posts as they could be a hazard to pedestrians.
- A school head teacher banned children from playing conkers in case a piece broke off one and flew into a pupil's eye.
- Cheese-rolling (a traditional annual sport in some areas) cancelled in case participants injure themselves.
- Many carnival processions called off because people on floats might fall off the lorries.
- People advised not to clear snow from pavements and/or their paths in case they left a bit of ice on which a passer-by could slip.
Lord Young's proposals include banning advertisements from ambulance=chasing lawyers and applying common sense when looking for potential health risks and hazards.
I see a contradiction in terms there: common sense and politicians? That's why I'm not holding my breath.
Sunday, 3 October 2010
What is far worse than having a house trashed by uninvited guests - although Heaven knows, that must be bad enough - is hearing of children being groomed by perverts and paedophiles. I think I have an inkling of how they (the perverts) mange to do this. I have a F/b page, although I rarely even log on and even more rarely post anything, but I quite often receive emails saying that somebody wants to be my friend. I suppose it is about half of those wannabe friends that I have actually heard of - but the rest are complete strangers. (Yes, I know - a stranger is just a friend I have yet to meet.) I have heard somebody - a grown adult, not an impressionable teenager - say, 'I've got 197 friends now. How can I get to 200?' Or words to that effect. That seems to me to be part of the problem: there is a compulsion to collect as many so-called friends as possible, regardless of the fact that one knows nothing whatsoever about them.
I put that flag-thingy widget - a visitor counter - in the sidebar earlier this year. I think it was only this year although I suppose it might have been last. Anyway, the thing that surprises me is that this blog has had (I don't say 'attracted') all but 1600 different visitors since the widget was installed. The vast majority of those visitors were, I am sure, people who were idly surfing the bloggoshpere and clicking on the 'next blog' link at the top of most pages without pausing long enough to read anything of real interest to them. But I do wonder just how many people have read posts that I have made saying exactly when the Old Bat and I are going to be away from home - an open invitation to burglars (not that it would do them a lot of good) if they can work out just who I am and then where I live.
Am I becoming paranoid? I don't think so, but we do read so much about identity theft and putting the internet to use for illegal purposes that there are times when I get just a little anxious that I might be posting a bit too much personal information.
I realised, while typing that last paragraph, that anyone who lands on this blog can very easily find out exactly who I am and where I live. The information is just a couple of clicks away and, for semi-business purposes, there it must remain. At least until I can work out a way to make that information more secure. Oh crikey - I am becoming paranoid!
Saturday, 2 October 2010
This is, as far as I am concerned, a new-fangled county which didn't exist when my geography lessons covered the British Isles. Avon is, principally, the City of Bristol and was carved, in large part, out of south-west Gloucestershire. Indeed, Gloucestershire Cricket Club still play most of their matches in the city. But, although the Ordnance Survey map on which I have based my maps still shows the county, it apparently ceased to exist nearly five years ago. It's all a bit confusing for an old bugger like me and, just to make matters worse, I covered Bath last week although Bath used to be in Avon. Anyway, let's pretend that Avon does still exist and talk about Bristol.
Bristol used to be one of the three biggest ports in England along with London and Liverpool. Many Bristol ship-owners got rich on the slave trade, carrying slaves from Africa to America and then tobacco back from Virginia to Bristol, which certainly was and probably still is one of the two big cigarette manufacturing cities in England. Bristol is also the English ‘home' of sherry - think of Harvey's Bristol Cream.
Being some way up the River Avon, the docks became inaccessible to ships as they grew larger and new docks were built at Avonmouth, on the confluence of the Avon and the River Severn. The dock area became very run-down but has now undergone a renaissance and is a "cultural" area with flats and restaurants, as well as the SS Great Britain, the first ship to be powered by a screw propeller.
There is a story (legend?) That the phrase "cash on the nail" originated in Bristol. There are in Corn Street a number of bronze pillars with flat tops. These were used a dealing tables by merchants and were called nails. Payment would be made by putting cash "on the nail" at the time of the deal. A delightful story, but there are other explanations for the phrase.
There is also in Bristol one of England's best known bridges, the Clifton suspension bridge, which is second only to Beachy Head in Sussex as he country's favourite suicide spot.
Friday, 1 October 2010
No, hold on a minute. I wouldn't want you to get the wrong idea. You don't really think this drivel is planned, do you? I thought not: you are far too intelligent for that.
But on this occasion, I had actually thought of some more drivel. It's almost an extension of yesterday's blurb in that it concerns travel.
For many years now, vehicle registration numbers in Britain have indicated in what year the vehicle was first registered (except for certain exceptions, of course). Every six months, two numerals in registration numbers allocated to new vehicles are changed - on 1 September and 1 March. From the beginning of September last year, it seemed as though almost every other car bore the numbers 59, indicating that the car had been registered between 1 September 2009 and 28 February 2010. This year, the numbers changed to 60 on 1 September, but up until yesterday, a month after the new registrations came into force, I had seen only one car with a new registration. I put this down to the ongoing recession, last year's excess of new registrations being a result of the government's scrappage scheme. Then I had to go out yesterday afternoon. I can't have been more than half an hour, but I saw four cars with '60' registrations!
Of course, that still makes only five in the whole month. The motor industry must be feeling the pinch.