Tuesday, 31 August 2010

"Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow...

...creep in their petty pace from day to day until the last syllable of recorded time."

Shakespeare had a wonderful way with words but that is about the only bit of his writing that I can quote. It comes from the Scottish play, Macbeth, which I studied for A level English Lit.

I have mentioned before that my life is so full of wonderful and interesting things to do that I have no time to get bored. That doesn't, however, mean that life is never boring. Take today, for instance. I have a whole range of pettyfogging chores to get through: haircut, visit the bank to get some cash, buy postage stamps, pay the paper bill and cancel delivery for next week when we will be in France, buy milk. I was contemplating these tedious tasks when I read Suldog's comment on my post yesterday about the water coming through the kitchen ceiling. To save you having to go back to it, dear reader, here is what he said:

'Well, everything happens for some purpose. That's my belief, anyway, and even if the purpose isn't readily seen, it is there. Maybe there's a hidden treasure in the floorboards? Best case scenario, I know, but...'

Thanks, Suldog, that gave me a smile. The purpose (if there really is one) is still hidden from me but will, no doubt, become apparent all in good time. As for the treasure, I can assure you that pretty well all the floorboards in the house have been up at some stage or other during the 40 years we have lived here. If there is treasure there, it's still very well hidden!

But on the matter of the leak, my tame builder chappy popped in yesterday morning and very quickly identified the source. I suppose if I had thought sufficiently - and logically - I could have done it myself. He realised that it was the airing cupboard where the water was originating and spotted that a pile of old towels we keep on the floor in one corner (they are used for rubbing down the dog when she is wet and muddy) were wet. Water had to be dropping down onto them and, sure enough, when I looked more closely I saw it was part of the boiler installation that was leaking. This is a thing, fitted into the pipework, which contains a magnet to attract and trap stray bits of metal circulating in the heating system. I managed to tighten the screw-top a minute fraction and, touch wood (preferably dry wood) since then there has been not a drop escape.

Oh well - on with the chores.

Monday, 30 August 2010

What a shower!

I suppose it's sod's law that says these things always have to happen at the beginning of a bank holiday weekend. When I opened the kitchen door first thing on Saturday Fern shot out and the look on her face was saying, 'It wasn't me!' Then I noticed the puddle of water on the floor. I could see straight away that Fern was not responsible (it was the wrong colour) but couldn't work out just how it had got there. My brain doesn't really click into gear until I have had that first cup of tea, but I eventually decided it must be leaking through from the shower which is just about exactly over where the puddle was. I wiped up and put a bucket under the source of the drip. Mrs S examined the shower closely and spotted that there was a crack in the grouting where the wall meets the shower tray. I dried the wall as best I could with an old flannel and dismantled the kitchen light fitting through which I realised the water was coming. During the day the drip stopped and, having given the shower time to dry out properly, I regrouted the wall/shower tray junction. All seemed well. Until yesterday morning. Not only was the drip back, it was dripping more quickly - and from two different places. Then three places! We now had three buckets in a line across the kitchen, and an obstacle course to get from one end to the other. I hate disturbing people over a bank holiday, but yesterday afternoon I rang our tame builder who has promised to drop by this morning - just to see if he can spot the problem quickly. I have the horrible feeling that our floorboards are going to be up this week. At least, I hope it will be this week. We are due to go to France next weekend and I would prefer that the problem was sorted before than.

I really should be at Seaford today where another Lions Club is holding a donkey derby. Brighton Lions have several stalls, but even though help for just an hour would be appreciated, that means at least a two hour trip as the journey there would take a good 30 - 45 minutes. Not only do I have to walk our dog, but I have also promised to walk the dog of a fellow Lion who has contracted pneumonia. He is recently widowed and will worry if his dog doesn't get enough exercise so I hope this will ease his mind a little.

Must press on.

Sunday, 29 August 2010


Yesterday's sunset was particularly magnificent seen from the bedroom window. The sun itself was too far round to the left, hidden by the house next door, so it's not in the picture.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Scenic Saturday - Hampshire

From the army bases at Aldershot in the north to the great naval base at Portsmouth, from the town of Farnborough (also in the north of the country), famous for its international air show, to the docks of Southampton from where the trans-Atlantic liners sail. This is Hampshire.

However, before we look any closer, here are a couple of nuggets of useless information. The county's original name was Southamptonshire but that was contracted somewhere along the line. And the abbreviated name for the county is Hants, not as one might expect, Hamps. Then, as this is the first county we have entered with a shire in its name, let's get the pronunciation right. ‘Shire' is a word which is approximately synonymous with ‘county' and is pronounced as it is spelt, to rhyme with ‘hire'. But when a county name ends with ‘shire' it is pronounced ‘shear', to rhyme with ‘hear'.

And so on to Hampshire. The county town is Winchester, still called the county town even though it is a city. There was a time, back in the days of Alfred the Great, when Winchester was the capital of England, or what passed in those days for England. Winchester College is believed to be the oldest continuously running school in the country, founded in 1382.

Perhaps the chief tourist attraction at Portsmouth is Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, HMS Victory. But an even older ship on view is the Mary Rose, built 500 years ago and discovered some 40 years ago sunk in the Solent, the stretch of water separating the Isle of Wight from the mainland.

In the south-west corner of the county is the New Forest, a large tract of heathland famous for its wild ponies and a popular area for holidays, particularly for campers and caravanners. The New Forest was the site of the death in 1100 of King William II, William Rufus, while on a hunting expedition. The Rufus Stone marks the spot where he was allegedly killed.

The Isle of Wight lies to the south of Portsmouth, looking on the map for all the world as if it has just drifted away from the mainland. It was a favourite spot of Queen Victoria, who spent a lot of time at Osborne House. The town of Cowes, situated at the northern point, is known to yachtsmen across the world for its regatta known as Cowes Week. Although small in size, the island has some magnificent scenery. My brother and I spent some time at school on the island so I have selected a picture from there rather than the mainland. This is the village of Godshill.

Friday, 27 August 2010


I was sorting through some (very) old family snapshots yesterday when I came across one of my brother and I sitting on a fallen tree trunk. This tree was in a field that was a favourite picnic spot. To get there we had to catch a bus at the Jezreels, get off at Chattenden and walk down a lane that was no more than a cart track. To get back home we would continue down the hill to the village of Upnor where we would catch a ferry - not much bigger than a rowing boat with an engine - across the River Medway to Sun Pier, Chatham, and then catch another bus back to the Jezreels. ‘Jezreels' was the name given to a road junction about half a mile from our home and was named after Jezreels Tower which, in those days, stood nearby. I remember my mother telling me about Jezreels Tower. She said that a religious sect known as the Jezreelites thought they could build a tower to reach up to Heaven. Like the dutiful son that I was, I believed her. In fact, she may well have believed that herself, but the reality was different, as can be seen here.

My home town of Gillingham is and was a pretty dull sort of town. In my young days it was a navy town with many people employed in the dockyard or actually serving in the Navy, unless they were army people as the Royal Engineers had their main garrison there. Dull it might have been, but there is hardly any town in England that has not thrown up a ‘character' or two, an eccentric or a hero, an inventor or an artist. Gillingham, I have discovered, has two. Not only was there the leader of the Jezreelites, but there was also Will Adams. I little realised, as I walked past his memorial clock with my father on a Sunday evening , quite what a man he was. (There's more in Wikipedia.) Our house was in a side street just off the main Watling Street, the road from London to Dover - and also the road to the seaside resort of Margate, beloved of south-east Londoners who used to flock there on coach outings on summer Sundays. As they all returned home at about the same time, there was usually something of a traffic jam on the ‘top road', as we called it, and my father would often take my brother and I for a walk along the ‘top road' just to see the traffic jam.


Thursday, 26 August 2010

Grumbles and groans

It seems scarcely possible that just a couple of weeks ago I was complaining about the lack of rain. The trouble is that when it starts, it seems to forget completely that it should also stop. At least the grass is green again - and it needs cutting again but it's far too wet to do that. There is one thing to be said for English weather: it is so changeable that it makes an ideal topic of conversation. I'm sure that is why almost every conversation in England starts with a remark about the weather. 'Nice today' or 'Bit breezy, isn't it?' are typical starters. I don't think it happens to quite such an extent in France, although when we visit one particular restaurant the conversation with the patron always includes remarks about the weather. Of course, it may be that he is being polite and deferring to what he conceives as an habitual custom of his guests. But whatever the weather, you can be sure that it is wrong for somebody. Farmers, in particular, seem always to want something different. Of course, this wet, windy (and fairly cool) weather is hardly ideal for those family bucket-and-spade holidays at the seaside and I feel so sorry for people who, for whatever reason, are holidaying in England with children. They (the children) go back to school next week - I think - so the weather will almost certainly cheer up pretty soon. I certainly hope so.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010


Before anyone tells me, I know I should have written 'libel' and not 'slander'. The trouble is that I always feel I am talking to somebody when I type my blogs, so 'slander' seemed appropriate! Anyway, he wasn't at the meeting, which went off very amicably.

There's always one

I usually manage to avoid attending, but this year I was too slow with the side-step and unable to avoid agreeing to go. I really should be there by virtue of me being the treasurer and company secretary but I do find it a bit of a bore. It will be held later this morning - the annual meeting for the tenants of the Lions housing society. Many of the tenants don't bother to go either. Some of them tell our manager that they can't see the point of having the meeting. If they have any problems they let her know and she sorts them out. That, of course, is very pleasing - even if it is only what should be happening anyway. But some tenants do come along each year - one in particular. And what's more, he always has something to complain about or he knows better than anyone else what should be done and how it should be done. According to him, he is closely acquainted with the Royal Family, he has been a builder, an electrician, a chef, a surgeon, a pilot and just about anything else that takes his fancy. And he's bombastic with it. It wouldn't be so bad but... No, I mustn't say any more or I could be accused of slander as anything else would give away his identity.

I suppose I'd better go and get ready for it.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Who stole summer?

Summer seemed to vanish at the beginning of last week. Although the mornings started bright and sunny, albeit a little on the cool side, by midday the sky had usually clouded over to bring a rather dreary afternoon. Until Saturday. On opening the curtains on Saturday morning, I discovered that most of the world had vanished, as you can see on Fern's blog. We were smothered in low cloud and, although it did lift at times, the sky stayed 10/10 cloud all weekend. Yesterday started out just the same: cloudy skies and the occasional spats of rain or drizzle. But in the late afternoon the cloud disappeared and the sky turned a bright blue. In the soft, evening light the fields were back to a brilliant green as the shadows grew longer and the valleys darker. Even doing the washing up seems less of a chore when this is the view from the kitchen window above the sink.

Monday, 23 August 2010

I think we're there

I certainly hope so. When I agreed, several months ago, to take responsibility for the Lions District web site I knew darn well that my knowledge of html was far beneath the level of the outgoing webmaster. All the same, I reasoned that I should be able to produce something that would (a) look not too amateurish, (b) work - with navigation that was simple - and (c) not require too much effort to keep up to date. Then I came across a snag. Once my predecessor had given me the necessary access codes to the host server, I found I could not get in to upload the new pages. I spent several weeks trying at various times; I emailed my predecessor (with no reply) and I telephoned the support line of the hosting company. I was cut off in mid-sentence but had been unable to understand what I was being told anyway as the person on the other end had such a strong Indian accent.

I mulled this over for a while before coming to the conclusion that the best way forward was by transferring to a different hosting server, one that I knew all about. Now the old server allowed sub-domains and several clubs had taken advantage of this. Most of those sites were hopelessly out of date - I suspect the clubs concerned had forgotten all about them - but there were a few that appeared to be live. Anyway, I emailed all the clubs involved, advising them that the facility was to be withdrawn at the end of July because a change of host server was needed and giving them three weeks or so to make different arrangements. I got a very quick - and very shirty - reply from one club. They have a fund raiser at the beginning of September and have advertised their web address for people to apply to take part in the run. I agreed to hold off the transfer until the end of August.

It was on Friday last week that I started the transfer process, thinking it would take a week to ten days. It took two hours. I then uploaded all the new pages and thought I was done. But for some reason, when I typed the address of the web site into my browser, the old site came up. I tried again and got the new site. The again (just to check) - and got the old one again. This went on for most of the weekend. I tried clearing both the cache and my history without it making any difference. Then I booted up the laptop and switched on my usual browser (Firefox). I got the new site! I switched to Explorer - and got the new site! But the tower PC, running Firefox (there's a problem with IE on that machine) kept switching between the old and the new. Until this morning. Every time I have tried today I have got the new site. I sincerely hope that is the end of it.

Oh yes - if you're interested, it's at www.lions105se.org.uk

Sunday, 22 August 2010

This is NOT a TV show script

There is a problem currently exercising the minds of countless officials of the European Union. They are trying to decide when a swede is not a swede but a turnip and, conversely, when a turnip is a swede. Please note: 'swede' is spelt with a lower case 's' and does not refer to a national from that Scandinavian country next door to Norway. It all started, as so many things like this seem to do, with the French. Their wines have long been subject to appellation controllée which defines exactly where the grapes for the wine were grown. (They later spread this scheme to cover cheese and, for all I know, it might now cover olive oil as well.) The original reason for this was to protect their farmers and to prevent people from other areas or, worse, other countries from using names such as Champagne when what they were really describing was a sparkling wine produced in the Champagne style. Needless to say, the Brussels bureaucrats soon jumped on this idea as a way of expanding their own little (only now it's not so little) empire.

The first foodstuff from England to be given this sort of protection was Stilton cheese, which has to be made from milk from cows in a small area of, I think, Cambridgeshire. Then came the humble pork pie. But this is not your everyday supermarket pork pie - this is the Melton Mowbray pork pie, made in (or near to) the Leicestershire town of that name to a particular recipe. There have been calls for Cheddar cheese to be similarly protected but I don't think those calls have been successful - at last, not yet.

So, back to the original problem. When is a swede a turnip and when is a turnip a swede? For the uninitiated, both are root vegetables but a turnip is white with an earthy flavour while a swede is usually larger, yellow and with a sweeter taste. But in the south-western English county of Cornwall, the swede is known as a turnip. Now, as many people know, a traditional Cornish food is the Cornish pasty. This delicacy is currently being considered by the European Union for appellation controllée-style protection, and this is where the problem arises. The traditional recipe uses swede in the filling, but to a true Cornishman, it's turnip. So the bureaucrats have to decide just what ingredients go into a Cornish pasty - and what should be listed on the packaging. Does it include swede or turnip? If the bureaucrats decide on swede because that is what most people call the vegetable, the Cornish will say it's not the proper recipe, but if the decision is to call the vegetable turnip, people outside Cornwall will expect something different.

Solomon, would that you were living at this hour!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Scenic Saturday

This week we move northwards across the border into Surrey.

Surrey is a county of great contrasts. There are the Surrey Hills, as this stretch of the North Downs is known, in particular Box Hill and Leith Hill. There is the urban sprawl of Croydon, which seems to start as soon as one leaves the M23 and stretches right into London. There are the villages tucked away down country lanes - and there is the stockbroker belt of mansions behind electric gates.

There is a strong military presence in the county with, amongst others, the Guards' depot at Pirbright and the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.

One little oddity is that Surrey is the only county in England where I have seen lupins growing wild - in between the railway tracks at Redhill! Presumably they were self-seeded plants from nearby gardens. But to me Surrey means cricket above all else. In my younger days the county team always seemed to be at or near the top of the table and they produced very fine players such as the Bedser twins, May, Lock and Laker. Their home ground is the Oval at Kennington, which, curiously enough, is no longer in Surrey following county boundary changes back in 1995. I did consider using a picture of the Oval for this week's illustration, but perhaps this shot of a cricket match on the village green at Tilford will be more appropriate.

Friday, 20 August 2010

The door

Our front door is not the one that came with the house either when it was first built back in 1947 or the one that was there when we bought the house in 1969. Come to think of it, it was still the original door when we bought the house. We had it changed for a smart hardwood door which has nine small glass panes in the upper half. Those small panes are actually pains when it comes to giving the door another coat of stain, with the wooden beading requiring very careful painting if I am not to obscure the glass even more than it is meant to be. Over the last few years there have been numerous times when the door has stuck shut or been so difficult to close and lock that I have occasionally thought I would have to leave it open. I did once suggest to She Who Must Be Obeyed that we should replace it with a UPVC door, but she would have none of it, despite that fact that all our windows and the other doors have been changed. I think she didn't really believe me when I assured her that it was possible to get UPVC doors finished in a wood effect, which is what she wanted. However, times have changed and Madam has changed her mind.

This was partly because while we were in France last month our elder son had trouble with his washing machine and he came over to use ours. He had trouble opening the door and, in giving it a hard push, he put his hand through one of the glass panes. He cleared up and found a piece of timber to nail across the hole while he went to get some replacement glass. That caused him something of a problem as, when he mentioned it was for a front door, the shop refused to sell him the glass he wanted on the grounds that the law now requires thicker glass. That, however, would have prevented him replacing the wooden beading holding the glass in place. Eventually he persuaded the shop to sell him the small piece of glass (about 9" x 6") that he needed. He drove back, but managed to hit the glass with the hammer when refitting the beading. Returning to the glass shop, he deliberately refrained from mentioning doors of any description and consequently had no problem in buying a second piece of glass. This one cracked right across as he was refitting the beading and was still like that when we returned home as son ran out of time. We told son not to bother attempting any more DIY as we would replace the door. So I arranged for reps from three double-glazing companies to call.

The first arrived wearing T-shirt and jeans. Now it may be that I am a little old fashioned, but I do think a salesman should dress a bit smarter than that. A jacket and tie is, to my mind, pretty well essential. We told him what we wanted: a door with wood effect both sides. He told us we couldn't have that; we could have wood outside but the inside would have to be white. We selected a design, he measured up and gave us a verbal quote which we had to write on the business card he left with us - no brochure confirming our selection or any other paperwork.

I spoke to rep number 2 on Friday. He asked if we would be available on Saturday and I confirmed, yes, we would be around tomorrow. 'No,' he said, 'on Saturday.' I pointed out that tomorrow was Saturday. 'Oh dear,' he said, 'I seem to have lost a day.' Hmmm. Anyway, he turned up more or less on time - wearing a proper shirt but no jacket or tie - and yes, he could supply a door with wood on both sides. We chose the design and glass and he left us with a written quotation complete with a diagram of the door we had selected. Not only that, but his price was almost 25% less than the first quote.

Rep number three was a woman who rang the bell at exactly the appointed time. She was wearing a smart trouser suit and the faint Brummie accent was not really enough to put me off. She, too, was able to supply what we wanted and, although the price was nearer the first quote than the second - slightly off-putting for me - Madam preferred that design as well as finding the rep more congenial. She also left us with a written quote.

We decided to ignore the most expensive quote and visit the showrooms of the other two companies in the hope of seeing examples of our selections. First up was the cheapest. They had no examples of our choice in stock but we did see a different design which we rather liked. Then we went off to a town several miles away to find the Brummie woman's company - only to find their factory empty. Somebody from a nearby factory told us the company had gone bust but was now trading under a different name from premises in yet another town.

The cheapest rep is currently away (he did tell us he was going) so next week I will ring him and get a quote for the design we saw in his showroom. Knowing my luck, that will probably turn out more expensive even than the first quote.

Watch this space.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

A Journey

No, it's not me taking a trip - not yet, anyway. A Journey is the soon-to-be-published memoir of Tony Blair. Now normally this wouldn't cause me to make any comment at all. I'm not a political person and, quite frankly, I have never managed to stir up any interest in reading the memoirs of politicians. Never having even opened the cover of such a book to flick through the contents, I am really in no position to comment, but I have always assumed these tomes to be nothing more than a means of self-aggrandisement and, so the authors hope, a way to make yet more money. The only reason I am making any comment on this occasion is because the past Prime Minister has announced that all the money he receives from the sale of his book will be donated to the Royal British Legion to help fund a new rehabilitation centre for injured troops.

The newspapers have calculated that this is likely to add up to quite a tidy sum - in the region of £4.6 million, no less. If TB uses the Gift Aid scheme, the Government will refund Income Tax at the standard rate, thereby making the donation to the British Legion up to a cool £5.75 million.

Not surprisingly, reaction from the men on the Clapham omnibus has been varied. On the one hand, people have said what a magnificently generous action this is. But others point out that Mr B is, by the standards of most people, a very wealthy man (he charges upwards of £100,000 for an after-dinner speech and is fully booked for several years!) so this gesture is not really as generous as it might at first appear. There are those who consider Mr B led this country into an illegal war in Iraq on the false premise of weapons of mass destruction that could be unleashed in just 45 minutes and they are saying that this is blood money that should be refused by the Legion.

A view has been expressed that this announcement is a brilliant PR stunt, but some think that he should have made the donation without publicity or that by announcing it so publicly he is trying to improve the way people think of him.

Of course, if everybody refused to buy the book but simply donated the cost of it to the British legion, as has been suggested, the sum raised would probably be greater than £5.75 million. Anyone who really wants to read the book can wait until it is remaindered and buy it for 50p or a £1 in one of the bookshops specialising in remainders.

The most commonly expressed views seem to be cynical and I am inclined to think that this has rather rebounded on Mr Blair. But then, that often seems to happen to him.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Signs and portents

Perhaps the "portents" is a bit "portentious", but "signs", anyway. Street furniture-type signs. Drivers are complaining of information overload with so many signs to distract their attention. One short stretch of road that I drive almost daily has the following affixed to lamp-posts along a stretch of no more than 200 yards: three signs warning of a school ahead, one sign warning of (non-existent) speed cameras, one warning of a sharp bend with a concealed entrance on it and one warning of traffic lights ahead. There is also the word 'slow' painted on the road. And those are just the official signs.

But perhaps we English are not quite as bad as the French when it comes to road-side clutter litter. Off the motorways over there, a driver can always tell when he is approaching the next town by the increasing frequency of the banners of greeting. These are fixed to posts stuck in the hedgerow or along the edge of fields and always seem to be of a standard size - about two feet square. They are advertisements, mainly for hotels, restaurants, garages and supermarkets. A stranger looking for the XYZ Hotel will doubtless welcome the sign that announces it: 'Turn left at the second roundabout', it might say, albeit in sign language that an illiterate Azerbaijani can understand. But why a stranger should be looking for the nearest Auchan or Leclerc supermarket is something I have never worked out. Then at the entrance to the the town, there will be another rash of signs. There will be, of course, the official sign announcing the town's name. This has to be there, and in a standard format, as it is the indicator that the speed limit falls to 50km/h (31.5 mph give or take a few decimal places). There might also be another official sign - in fact, there nearly always is - telling the world that the town has been rated as anything from 1 star to 5 star in the eyes of the floral judges. This "ville fleurie" thing is something else I have yet to work out, but it is some sort of national rating scheme. If the town has twinning arrangements with one or even several other towns, there will be another sign listing these twin towns. Then there is a sign in the shape of a cross announcing the times of masses, and often another largish board displaying the emblems of various service organisations with branches in the town - Lions, Rotary etc.

The most one is likely to see in England is a sign displaying the speed limit (when there is a change) and another with the name of the town and, possibly, its twin town name (rarely more than one) beneath. None of the welcoming banners from hotels and supermarkets; no board displaying the times of church services; no announcements that service organisations are represented.

But Brighton, in this as in so many other things, is a bit of an exception. Only a bit, mark you. A few years ago the Lions Club approached the Council with a request that we be allowed to display our logo at the side of the road on the approach to the town. 'No way,' was the response. This despite the fact that at the exact spot where we would have liked to display our logo there is - and already was when we made our approach - a large, yellow-painted board displaying the Rotary logo and announcing, 'Rotary welcomes you to Brighton' or something like that. The sign is still there. At least, it was the last time I drove along that road, which is not very often. The cynic in me wonders if the fact that one of the councillors (and a past mayor) just happens to belong to Rotary has any bearing. No, of course it doesn't!

Last week, the membership committee of the Lions Club met. One of the recommendations to be put to the club is that we should approach the Council with an offer, as a way of marking the diamond jubilee of the club, to pay for the replacement of the two ancient elm trees in Patcham that have succumbed to Dutch elm disease. It would be subject to the club being given permission to erect a plaque saying that. An unofficial approach has already been made in order to find out the possible cost and to gauge the reaction. We have been told that permission for a plaque is most unlikely to be given as it the Council's policy to refuse all such requests. Oh well, it seemed a good idea at the time.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

No comment

There are days when things I want to write about keep cropping up and it's all I can do to keep in touch with them, and then there are days when I really cannot find the inspiration to write anything. This is one of the latter.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Where has the day gone?

I generally try to put some comment or otherwise useless drivel on this blog during the morning but somehow today has gone by without me having the time. No, I have had the time, I have just felt that there were other priorities. One of those was mowing the lawn. This is the first time for six weeks - something completely unknown before - although I suppose it might have happened back in 1976 when we had a long, hot, dry summer. Anyway, I've done it.

Another thing I have been doing is playing around with the Lions' district web site. It was as long ago as January that I was asked to take on the job of district webmaster. I assumed that the handover would, as with all Lions' positions, take place at the end of June/beginning of July but it now seems that I was intended to get into harness straight away. Well, I didn't. I did eventually make contact with the previous webmaster sometime in April (I think) and agreed to take it on then. I started redesigning the site to make it simpler and, in my opinion, more user-friendly (ghastly cliche!) then sometime in May I tried to upload the new site. I spent six weeks or more trying to access the server where the site is hosted without success. I will now be transferring to a new server next week - I hope! In the meantime, I decided to change things around a bit to make it easier for me to add or delete pages. The new site - or most of it - has been uploaded onto my own personal site for testing. I will welcome suggestions for improvements if anybody who has bothered to get this far would like to take a look. It can be found here.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

It's an ill wind...

I always like to think that I'm a glass-half-full type of chap, the sort that tries to look on the bright side. People with a positive outlook on life are always so much better company than the doomsayers, aren't they? Of course, adopting a positive approach is not always easy. Take my experience yesterday, for example.

As my regular reader knows, I am a member of Brighton Lions Club and produce the monthly newsletter, Jungle Jottings. The next issue, September's, is due to be published next weekend - a little early because of a time-important notice. I was congratulating myself on having it all ready apart from the minutes of the business meeting to be held next week which would be easy enough to slot in provided they could be kept to the size of the vacant slot. You are probably ahead of me now and thinking, 'Pride goes before a fall'. Spot on. The treasurer had earlier sent me the draft receipts and payments account for the Charity Trust Fund which I had included. The he rang to say he had discovered an error and could I hold off on publishing the figures? The difference was only £19 and, given that our income for the year was in excess of £70,000 I didn't think that would make much difference, but Tony is a stickler for accuracy in financial matters so I agreed to pull the accounts. It was no real problem as I had something else up my sleeve which would pretty well fill the newly empty slot.

But before I could pull the accounts I had another phone call telling me that one of our members had died suddenly. This, I knew, meant that I would have to fiddle around with things to get in a notice about Derek.

So I tried to open the file, only to discover that it had somehow been corrupted and my word processor software didn't recognise it. Nor did any other software. Besides, checking the properties of the corrupted file showed that it had lost most of its contents as the size was ridiculously small. However, all was not lost. I have a separate hard drive and the computer is programmed to back up new and altered files on a daily basis. All I had to do was restore the file from the back up drive. Unfortunately, that didn't work either. There seemed to be a problem with the restoration part of the software. OK, try a different way. Find the back up copy, copy it and paste onto the main computer. That was when I found that the back up was a copy of the corrupted file! I had to start from scratch, redrafting and retyping everything.

So, you might ask, where is the silver lining in that cloud? Well, there are actually two:
  1. The September issue of Jungle Jottings looks better than it first did; and
  2. I am now aware of a problem in the back up program so I will take steps to back up daily a different way.
And Tony now tells me that the accounts he sent me are OK for publication so I'll get back into the word processor and play around again.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Scenic Saturday

It is, I suppose, hardly surprising that as we travel along the south coast from east to west we move from East Sussex to West Sussex. The two counties have only fairly recently been separated as, up till the 1970s, they were joined at the hip and Sussex was just one county.

Just as in East Sussex, the South Downs run across the county but in West Sussex there is a coastal strip of fertile land to the south of the Downs. Here are grown tomatoes and strawberries amongst other market garden crops.

The county town of Chichester is well known for its Festival Theatre. Its cathedral is a little unusual in that the bell tower stands as a separate construction. Chichester harbour, as the inlet in the south-west corner is called, is where King Canute (or Knut) famously tried to stop the tide from coming in. Bosham is a particularly attractive spot here.

In the opposing corner of the county is Britain's second biggest airport, Gatwick - or, to give it its full name, London Gatwick. There was a bit of a scrap between the counties of Surrey and the former Sussex as the county line ran across the airport. Both counties wanted to claim it because of the rates income. Sussex won the battle and the county line was redrawn accordingly.

The picturesque town of Arundel sits on the River Arun and the castle is the ancestral home of the Dukes of Norfolk, one of the country's senior peers, and that is the subject of this week's picture.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Seeing stars

A Lions dinner meeting last night and it was at a Chinese restaurant some way out of town - pretty well in the middle of nowhere, in fact, so there were no street lights and almost nil light pollution when we left. The sky was clear and we were able to see plenty of stars. I'm not much of a star-gazer and can only recognise the Plough and Cassiopeia. As Mrs BP and I were making our way to the car we remembered that this was one of the nights when there were due to be several shooting stars. Blow me down, we had no sooner mentioned it than I looked into the sky and - for the first time in my life - saw a shooting star.

Now it's Friday morning and I have finished the chores. Friday morning is my regular chore time, especially if I have work to do in the kitchen, like redecorating. It is on Friday mornings that Mrs BP goes to the MS centre for some high dosage oxygen treatment: she swears it helps and I quite believe her. She doesn't suffer from MS but has a condition which the doctors have been unable to fully diagnose. It is probably an obscure variant of Parkinson's disease called corticobasal degeneration but there is also a possibility that it is an equally obscure form of motor neuron disease know as primary lateral sclerosis. Not that it makes any difference which it is as the prognosis is the same in both cases. It's a bit of a nuisance as her legs don't always do what she thinks she is telling them to do and walking any distance is slow and difficult; rough or even slightly sloping ground is pretty well impossible. Anyway, while she's out this morning I have been getting the first coat of emulsion paint on the parts of the kitchen wall that needed re-papering after we had our new boiler installed. That was done back in April and it was only last Friday that I pasted up the wallpaper patches. I know I will need to repaint the whole of the wall where the boiler is and I have a nasty suspicion that as the paint won't be exactly the same shade as the rest of the walls I will have to set to and do the whole lot. That should keep me busy for quite a few Friday mornings.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

I'm green with envy

I know that envy is considered not good, but after a phone call from my daughter yesterday that is what I feel. She and her partner have just returned from a trip to the States. They flew into Chicago and drove south through Memphis and Nashville to New Orleans, then spent a few days in Florida. K freely admitted that she had previously had no interest in visiting any of those large cities (I think New Orleans was the exception) but said she had found them all most interesting.

I rather share her earlier view about the large cities, but I would love the opportunity to spend several weeks just driving across America. What I would most like (apart from the scenery in some places) is seeing small town life and learning how Americans really live. I have been fortunate enough to have had a little experience of American life but I want more!

That, too my mind, is one of the major drawbacks of visiting foreign countries on holiday. It is great to see the famous sights like Venice or the Eiffel Tower but that is no substitute for getting to know the way of life of the ordinary people who see those sights every day or live in the places that are not inundated by tourists.

Oh well... one day. Perhaps. But probably not.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The beans liked it

The rain, that is. With all we had yesterday I shouldn't have to water the runner beans for a few days.

One of the beauties of growing vegetables is the taste and freshness of the results. There's nothing quite like that plot to pot to plate taste - and try saying that quickly after a couple of glasses of wine. Or even before a couple of glasses. It must have been on Sunday or Monday that we finished the peas, although I have another row still growing. I do have my doubts about them fruiting as it's a bit late in the season. The main crop gave us one of our vegetables for the standard 'meat, potatoes and two veg' meals for a couple of weeks. Now we are into runner beans which are really starting to come on stream with a vengeance. The blackberries are coming along nicely as well. There are a number of plants in the hedge between us and our neighbour - nothing that I have sown but entirely wild. I leave them because the blackberry is one of my favourite fruits. Having them in the garden means I can leave the fruit until it is just right for picking - large, juicy and sweet.

Of course, growing vegetables is not all roses (I think I might have picked the wrong metaphor there!). crops do fail or do less well than hoped. My garlic this year failed completely and the onions grew no bigger than shallots - those that grew at all. Parsnips are usually safe, but this year only two germinated. And the rhubarb has been poor, not only for me, but for everybody I have spoken to. On the other hand, the autumn raspberries are looking good so far. I shall just keep my fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Getting wet

There were nowhere near as many people as usual in the park this morning - just because it was raining! I sometimes wonder if some of those poor dogs that aren't taken out in the rain are expected to cross their legs all day?

While I am glad to see the rain as the garden needs it pretty desperately, I was less pleased to discover that we have a hole in the roof. Not the 'real' roof, but the roof of what we call the conservatory. We had an extension to the kitchen built some 30 or so years ago and, at the same time, had a bit built on at the back of the living room to provide space for the freezer, the tumble drier, wet wellies and rainwear - and muddy dogs. This so-called conservatory is roofed in corrugated plastic sheets, all but one of which have been there since day one. (The other one had to be replaced in 1987 after the hurricane had dislodged a roof tile which fell through.) Anyway, I let the dog into the garden first thing and all was well when I let her back in. Just half an hour later, the place was flooded out. I mopped up half a bucket of water - and another half a bucket quite soon after that. OK, it's nothing like as bad as those poor folks in Pakistan have got, but it's annoying. I just hope the rain eases off before we go to bed tonight or I shall have to be up all night.

Monday, 9 August 2010


I don't know how it has happened, but somehow August has sneaked up on me and here we are nearly a third of the way through without me even noticing that July had come! August is the traditional month for family summer holidays as the schools break up towards the end of July and the next term starts quite early in September. It is much the same in France only more so. Paris and other large cities more or less close down for all of August. At least England stays open.

When I was a small - well, smallish - child, our family holidays were always spent at Broadstairs, a seaside resort in north-east Kent, where we stayed for two weeks at Mrs Ponsonby's guest house. Mornings would usually be spent on the sandy beach, then back up the hill of the High Street to Mrs P's for lunch, after which it was back to the beach for the afternoon before traipsing back up the hill again. Up the High Street there were the shops full of interesting things like buckets and spades, beach balls and shrimp nets, kites and gliders made of balsa wood cut-outs through which one had to insert the wings made of cardboard, and embarrassing Donald McGill postcards. There was also the marionette theatre were we would spend an hour or so on a wet afternoon. The High Street came down almost opposite the pier, which was really a solid jetty curving round to provide a small mooring place for the odd fishing boat or two and pleasure boats of the "Any more for the Skylark?" sort. It had to be our father who took us onto the pier as my mother suffered from sea sickness just walking along it. At the other end of the bay there were rocks to scramble across while looking for interesting creatures like crabs in the pools the tide left behind.

One thing my brother and I always looked forward to was the evening when we were allowed to stay up late. We would go out after the evening meal and walk along the cliff-tops to Ramsgate (the next town along the coast) where we would see the illuminations (much superior to those at Broadstairs) and - joy of joys - have a knickerbocker glory.

Years later, with young children of my own, the holidays were in north Devon where we stayed with Mrs Longman in a small village not far from Westward Ho! (The exclamation mark is part of the name of the town.) The children thoroughly enjoyed the wide open spaces of the sandy beach which was far less crowded than the sands of Broadstairs had been. We continued the tradition of taking the children out one evening and allowing them a little time in a playground before having an ice cream sundae of some sort. I wonder if they still remember that?

These reminiscences are all Nana's fault. She commented on the latest Scenic Saturday blog that she is planning a holiday and that put the thoughts into my head.

My brother and me with our father on the front at Broadstairs, circa 1950.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

A strange compulsion

The longest essay I ever wrote while at school ran to something like twenty pages. I don't remember whether I was in the fifth form or the lower sixth but I know that the essay was geography homework. Being geography (my favourite subject - or maybe the subject I disliked least) it was probably illustrated fairly liberally with maps and diagrams. I didn't cheat by using big writing,but there was probably a fair amount of drivel padding it out - a bit like this blog, really. I don't think I got a particularly good mark either, maybe a B-. That was the only time I can remember any of my essays stretching beyond four or five pages but with that one I just had this strange compulsion to keep writing.

That compulsion lay dormant again for many years until I decided to produce a composite diary of the Lions' Shoebox Appeal trip to Bosnia. It settled down again after that. Until after I retired. Since then it has come back with a vengeance. Not only have I written two books (no, they haven't and won't make it onto the best seller lists) and produced the monthly newsletter for Brighton Lions for six years, but I also have the compulsion to post something on this blog every day. I know it won't matter if I miss out a few days here and there - in fact, it won't matter if I don't post anything ever again - and what I do post is hardly Earth-shattering - grief, it's not even that interesting - but I just have to do it.

The one blessing is that nobody has to bother to read it, unlike my poor geography teacher all those years ago.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Scenic Saturday

From my birth county we move into what is my adopted home county, East Sussex. The name Sussex comes from Old English (or Saxon or something similar) and means "the land of the south Saxons". To get there from Kent we can take the road across the Weald, the ridge of higher country that runs more or less along the border between the counties for some distance, or we could cross Romney Marsh and Kent Ditch to come in by the sea. If we come across the Weald, we will soon enter Ashdown Forest, an area of heathland (with a few trees) which was home to Winnie the Pooh. The coastal route brings us to Rye, a delightful little town of cobbled streets and half-timbered buildings.

A little further west is the small town of Battle. This grew up around the abbey founded on the site of the Battle of Hastings in which William of Normandy (afterwards known as William the Conqueror) defeated the Saxon king, Harold. This took place in 1066 and was the last successful invasion of England.

My (current) home town - and it has been for nearly half a century - is Brighton. A cosmopolitan town sometimes known as London-by-the-Sea, Brighton has for two centuries had a racy reputation for dirty weekends. Graham Green possibly did the town no favours with his book Brighton Rock.

But for me, East Sussex means the South Downs, the stretch of hills that run from Salisbury Plain in Hampshire, through both West and East Sussex, to explode into the sea in the white cliffs of the Seven Sisters and the country's most famous suicide spot, Beachy Head.

This week's picture is of a view of the South Downs just behind Brighton with Firle Beacon in the background on the far left.

'And along the sky the line of the Downs
So noble and so bare.'
(Hilaire Belloc)

Friday, 6 August 2010


very occasionally, a company comes up with a series of television advertisements that catches the public attention in a way that adverts so seldom do. Years ago, the ads for Nescafe ran a bit like a soap opera and people were agog to know what would happen in the next instalment. I don't recall another series quite like that, but a price comparison web site has come up with an idea that I find quite amusing. If you like meerkats - or even if you don't - do have a look at www.comparethemeekat.com.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

At Last!

At Last 1. Rain! We had some rain overnight Tuesday/Wednesday then it started raining on and off from about lunch time yesterday. There was also a little thunder rolling around somewhere in the distance. Although still nowhere near as green as it normally is, the grass is looking a little better. It is now four weeks since I last mowed it and I am usually mowing twice a week at this time of the year.

At Last 2. Yesterday afternoon Mrs BP was discharged from the hospital. No, she hasn't been an in-patient but has merely been receiving therapy for the wrist she broke back in January. Yesterday's session was the last.

At Last 3, or How Times Change. Way back when, before I realised my mistake, I worked for one of the High Street banks. After almost a year in one of the busy branches in Brighton I was transferred to a small branch in a sleepy mid-Sussex village where I was to be the ledger clerk. Although on two mornings each week I had to run the sub-branch in the even sleepier village along the road, my principal job was to post the ledgers. This was a pen and ink job - way before the advent of computers-for-all. The branch had a total staff of six people (I think). There was the manager, his assistant (I can't remember his title) who also ran the second till if the usual second cashier was on holiday, the two cashiers, a machinist who typed customers statements and did all the junior work, and me. Every day the work had to be balanced, or, as we used to say, the sides had to be got right. As most of the entries could not be posted on the day of receipt, the work was finally balanced the following morning, although several parts - such as the cash holding - had been balanced the day before. Now, in theory balancing the day's work should have been a piece of cake. Everything leading up to this had been checked and double checked so it was simply matter of listing the various sub-totals of debits on one side of a form and credits on the other, adding them up and seeing that the two sides agreed. In theory. In practice, it rarely happened. I then had to track back to find the mistake(s) and get them corrected. On one particular day I had more difficulty than usual in finding the numerous errors and it was not until well into the second lunch hour that I finally got the sides to agree. ‘At last!' I exclaimed.

As the second cashier was on holiday and the first cashier at lunch, the number two in the office - a tall, gangly man with a prominent Adam's apple named Mr Thornton (the man - not the Adam's apple) - was running the second till. After he had finished serving a customer, he turned to me (my desk was immediately behind the cashiers' run) and said, ‘Mr BP, kindly moderate your language'. (Yes, those were his exact words. And yes, we were called Mr or Miss So-and-so - none of this Christian name nonsense in British banks in those days.)

‘But...,' I stammered, ‘what have I said, Mr Thornton?'

‘I distinctly heard you say, ‘Blast'.

I remember it as if it were yesterday!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The richest language in the world?

English must be the richest language in the world with so many words which are synonyms or near synonyms. This is because our language has been influenced by both the Teutonic languages of northern Europe and the Latin languages of the south - France in particular. Take the words ‘hungry' and ‘famished'. They mean the same thing, but ‘hungry' has a German base whereas ‘famished' comes from the French.

It must be this very richness that leads to a source of irritation for me, the use of the wrong word. In particular, I cringe when people say ‘raise' when they mean ‘rise' or (more commonly) when they say ‘lay' but mean ‘lie'. It is possible that the use of the verb ‘raise' instead of the noun ‘rise' stems from across the Atlantic. Yes, I know we English blame the Americans for all nasty things, but don't you Americans ask your boss for a raise when you want him to raise your pay? There are two correct ways to phrase the request: to ask the boss to raise one's pay, or to ask the boss for a rise in one's pay. Asking for a raise really grates on me, as does the use of ‘lay' instead of ‘lie'.

(The French have overcome this particular problem by introducing reflexive verbs - something I have actually remembered from school!. A reflexive verb is merely the original verb preceded by the word ‘se'. For example, to lay something down is, in French, ‘coucher' but to lie down is ‘se coucher', literally ‘to lay oneself down'.)

But something that really gets my goat is when the TV news reader announces, 'This report from so-and-so contains graphic images'. I'd love to see the report containing images that are not graphic!

When I get the heeby-jeebies about this I try to remember two things:

  1. I am not perfect. I don't know the difference between ‘may' and ‘might' or ‘shall' and ‘will', so I must not rant and rave at other people who are confused.
  2. Language, as I am sure Shakespeare would have said, is a tool for communication between people. The really important thing is not that we use the correct words, tenses, grammar etc but that we understand each other.
As I said, I am not perfect and I know I break the rules of grammar frequently, usually by starting a sentence with a conjunction.

Coincidentally, today's quote seems quite apposite: 'Devotees of grammatical studies have not been distinguished for any very remarkable felicities of expression.' This is by Amos Bronson Alcott, arguably less well-known than his daughter, Louisa M.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

New kid on the block

At recent exhibition of the work of the world's most collectable new artist all 33 pictures sold in half-an-hour. For a total of £150,000, That's right, £150,000 for 33 pictures by a collectable artist. Doesn't sound much - but Keiron Williamson (the artist) is just seven years old. I'm not going to infringe his copyright by posting an image of one of his paintings but you can see them for yourself here. I think you will agree that they are stunning.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Fireworks come first!

With all due respect to Skip and Suldog and their "Thanksgiving comes first" logo, I would point out that actually Bonfire Night precedes Thanksgiving by about 3 weeks. This comment is prompted by the news that a certain London department store has opened its Christmas shop today, not long into the school summer holidays. Surely to goodness we can do without Christmas in August?

Sunday, 1 August 2010

My 100 best...

Pondering further on the list of 100 things I like about my country, I remembered a radio programme from many years ago. It must be about 50 years since Alan Keith broadcast a series of programmes in which he played records of his 100 best tunes. For "best" (which is what he called them) read "favourite". The tunes were, in the main, popular classics. His programmes spawned a number of long playing records each being a compilation of twenty or so of those tunes, as well as a second series of programmes in which he played the 100 best tunes as voted for by listeners.

There is no way that I would even attempt to produce a list of my 100 favourite tunes, let alone place them in order. My choice would depend very much on the mood I was in on the day I drew up my list, but there are a few tunes which would feature in my list no matter what my mood. Some would be classical orchestral pieces such as Nimrod from Elgar's Enigma Variations, the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, the second movement of Dvorak's symphony no 9, the Grand March from Aida or the second movement of Mozart's clarinet concerto. Some would be operatic choruses - the Hallelujah chorus from the Messiah, the humming chorus from Madam Butterfly. Some would be traditional jazz, like Basin Street Blues or Petite Fleur - and I could never leave out Peggy Lee's Mr Wonderful or Harry Belafonte and Island in the Sun. Abba would have to feature, as would the Carpenters. There are just so many tunes I like that I wouldn't really know where to begin. And my list would have include what I consider to be the greatest love song of all time - Danny Boy. I see that I have no fewer than six CDs with this song on them. Three are played by Glenn Miller as instrumentals and the others are sung by Judith Durham (of The Seekers), Charlotte Church, Eva Cassidy, Mary O'Hara and Roisin O'Reilly. The best of those is Roisin O'Reilly.

If I can't produce my 100 tunes, how, I wonder, would I fare on another radio programme which is still running? I mean Desert Island Discs. Each half-hour show features a celebrity who has to imagine being cast away on a desert island. Somehow the celebrity will have eight records (and something on which to play them) as well as one "luxury". But how to select just eight tunes? No way could I do it.

Anyway, I'm off to play a few CDs. Now, which one will be first? Shall it be James Last, or would I prefer the soundtrack from west Side Story? Or maybe the Very Best of the Royal Marines?