Sunday, 31 October 2010

The Long Man of Wilmington

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

Scenic Saturday - Essex

Number 14 in the series.

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

A busy week

For Brighton Lions Club, that is. Possibly one of the busiest weeks of the year. There was a large party from the club at the annual Formation Lunch of Seahaven Lioness Club last Sunday, then on Monday evening we had a group of nine at the Zone Olympics evening playing toad-in-the-hole (for those who don't know what this is there is an explanation a here). Tuesday there was a zone meeting, then on Wednesday some of the members ran a bingo session for the residents of Lions Dene. There will be another bingo session this evening at Evelyn Glennie House and some of us are putting on a fireworks display at Hassocks Golf Club to mark Diwali. Meanwhile, some have been making up the fireworks for our big display next week. At least we all have the weekend off - I think!

Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Emperor is dead

I had never heard of the Emperor of Exmoor until earlier this week when I was saddened to learn that he is no more, having been shot by a trophy hunter. Those last two words will indicate to most readers that the Emperor was no member of the human race: he was a red deer stag. Estimated to weigh some 300 pounds and standing about nine feet at the tip of his antlers, he was reckoned to be the largest wild animal in these islands. He was thought to be about 12 years old.

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

Thanksgiving comes first

Several Americans of my acquaintance (well, two - here and here) are campaigning against commercial organisations stocking their outlets with Christmas goods even before Hallowe'en and are hoping to persuade people in general that the time to start preparing for Christmas is after Thanksgiving Day. I'm 99% sure I'm right when I say that Thanksgiving is the last Thursday in November, ie about four weeks before Christmas. It seems to me that is about the right time for preparation, although I can also understand that there are undoubtedly people on low incomes who, unable to actually put money aside without breaking into the piggy-bank early, want to start buying dribs and drabs while they still have some cash. All the same, I wish my American friends the best of luck with their campaign: the start of Advent would seem to be a most suitable time to start preparing for Christmas.

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


Most people, when they think of toad-in-the-hole, think of sausages cooked in a batter pudding. But not in Sussex, especially in Lewes, where the local Lions Club organises the world toad-in-the-hole championships. Toad-in-the-hole is an ancient pub game, played particularly in Sussex where it has been seeing something of a revival. It can be played one against one or by teams. The game requires a wooden stool with a lead covering, in the centre of which is a hole approximately two inches in diameter. The object is to toss toads - brass discs only fractionally smaller than the hole, onto the stool from a distance of seven feet and, with luck, down the hole into the drawer below, each player using four discs on a turn. As with darts, the teams try to reduce the score to reach zero, starting from 31. A point is gained if the toad stays on the stool top without striking the back board. Dropping the toad into the hole scores two points. Naturally, there are other rules and that is just a basic description.

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

Fresh raspberries

One of the joys of having autumn-fruiting raspberries rather than the more usual summer-fruiting canes is that one can enjoy fresh fruit well into the last few months of the year. I should have been picking still over the last weeks but rain had spoiled the fruit and it was not until yesterday that I was able to get any more. There weren't all that many berries, but I gathered what there were and took them indoors to find, most serendipitously, that the Old Bat had already decided on fruit salad for dessert. Those raspberries went particularly well with it.

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

A bi'a cultcher

I have continued to cogitate on the matter of how I "read" pictures. I mentioned the other day (see Left hand, right hand) that, to me, a picture should lead the viewer into the scene from the left to the right. Perhaps I should have made clear that I was referring principally to landscapes as portraits and still lives are subject to different ways of "reading". It occurred to me to check work by some of the world's acknowledged greats, so below are shown paintings by J M W Turner, Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet which I think illustrate my point.

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

Scenic Saturday - London

Number 13 in the series.

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

Left hand, right hand

I once read somewhere that ten per cent of the world's population is left-handed. My wife, bless her, is the one in ten. Now, that doesn't cause us too many problems, even though I am in the 90% that is right-handed. I have become partly ambidextrous. By that I mean that even though our electric kettle is placed in such a way that it has to be picked up in the left hand, that now causes me no difficulty: I simply lift it and pour using my left hand. Simple. The potato peeler, however, is a different matter. There are potato peelers for right-handed people and there are potato peelers for southpaws. There are even potato peelers that can be used in either hand, and we have one of those.

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

'England expects...'

Today being Trafalgar Day, marking Nelson's famous victory 205 years ago, it might be expected that I would post something on that subject. But I'm not going to. Instead, I'm going to blether on about yesterday.

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

The fortune that isn't

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

Am I a saddo?

I suppose many people would think so, based simply on the fact that I 'blog'. But why does that make me a saddo? Couldn't the same be said for people who use sticks with knobs on the whack little white balls around the countryside? Or people who pour over their collections of pieces of paper printed colourfully on one side and covered with adhesive on the other? Perhaps what makes me more of a saddo in the eyes of some is the fact that I keep meticulous records of the cost of running my car. For example, I know the average fuel consumption since I bought the car until Monday last week (when I last filled the tank) was 43.63 miles per gallon. Granted, that figure is of little use or interest to anybody, but if I should happen to notice a fairly dramatic increase in fuel consumption it might indicate something going wrong or already gone wrong under the bonnet. So I think it as well to keep an eye on the figure.

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

More stories from childhood

I have mentioned before (see Stories from Childhood) that my younger son would often come with me when I walked the dog on Sunday afternoons. For some reason that I never discovered - or, if I did, have since forgotten - he would only accompany me when I went to Stanmer Woods. It was probably because there were usually puddles to splash through or leaves to kick through or other ways of getting generally mucky.

(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

The camera doesn't lie

The camera may not lie, but certainly photographs can be taken or manipulated in such a way that the final result doesn't tell the truth, or perhaps just not the whole truth. But sometimes the camera does not record exactly what the photographer sees. Take one of mine, for example. It's a few years old now and doesn't have all the bells and whistles that the newer models have. It is also incapable of being used in the way I was accustomed to use my trusty old 35mm camera with its full range of apertures and exposure times. As a result I sometimes have to rely on good old Paintshop Pro or Photoshop Elements to get the result I was aiming for - or somewhere near the result I was aiming for. There is, however, one major irritation. Look, for example, at this picture of Venice.

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

Scenic Saturday - Berkshire

Number 12 in the series.

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

Cheers, Chile!

It is reported that as the Chilean miners were coming up, Chilean wine was going down. Down the throats of people in this country. In celebration of the good news coming from that part of the world? Could that be what pushed the sales of the country's sauvignon blanc up by 25% in one of our supermarket chains? Granted, Chile does produce some remarkably good sauvignon blanc, although in my opinion the best comes from New Zealand. Not that I drink very much of it. Much as I like sauvignon blanc, which is probably my favourite white wine, the price of the New Zealand product is too high for my taste. But to get back to Chile. Could that surge in sales be related to the rescue? Or was it simply because of the substantial discounts on Chilean wine this week?

And it turns out that boy I mentioned yesterday is a girl. Whoops! Too much vino on my part?

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Small beer?

The news coming from Chile, that the 33 miners who have endured some 69 days trapped almost half a mile underground have now all been rescued, puts a different complexion on my rant about the insurance on the new door. Makes it seem small beer, in fact. To watch the agony on a small boy's face turn to sheer joy as his father surfaced was something I will remember for a long time. What a magnificent job has been done by all involved in that rescue.

This could run

I have mentioned before that we decided to replace our front door and it was back in August that I wrote about the various sales reps and their companies. I also mentioned yesterday that the door was installed earlier this week. Part of my reason for placing the order with the company concerned was the offer of a 15 year insurance backed guarantee - words which were written on the contract form by the sales rep and which are confirmed in the small print terms and conditions on the back of the form. Today I received documentation from the insurance company which stated that the guarantee was for ten years, which period the insurers confirmed when I phoned them.

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

Autumn days

A well-known and, I believe, highly respected political commentator and journalist was recently reported as having described bloggers as pimply-faced, angry young men, loners who spend many hours hunched in front of their computers in their mothers' basements. Well, Mr Marr, I have news for you. I might not surf the blogosphere to any great extent, but neither I nor the authors of any of the blogs I have looked at really match that description. I certainly don't. I don't have a pimply face, unless the pimples are hidden by my beard; I don't think I am particularly angry; I may not have hundreds of friends but I do have several very good ones so I'm not a loner, and my mother is dead so I can't use her basement - not that she ever had one anyway. And I'm most certainly not young.

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.'

Monday, 11 October 2010

Pet hates

Although I always try to adopt a positive attitude to life and not to allow too much garbage to enter into my thought processes, I do from time to time get a little ... shall I say irritated? ... by things. My current "pet hate" is cyclists.

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

Why do we say that?

I have, at various times, made a note to myself to buy a book that would explain the origin of some of the peculiar phrases we use, phrases such as "donkeys' years" (which, as you probably already know, mean "ages"). I know I can always look these things up on the internet, but that is just the sort of book I would love to browse through as the mood took me, and that's not something I can do so easily on the computer. Of course, there have been times when I have ordered CDs, DVDs or other books and I could quite easily have found just the book I want and added it to my order. But I could just have easily have found, when the long-awaited book arrived, it was not really what I wanted. This is the sort of book that one has to find in a real shop in order to ensure buying the right one and as I rarely get anywhere near a book shop, I've never managed to acquire what I want.

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

Scenic Saturday - Wiltshire

This is No 11 in a series in which we visit the counties that make up England.

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

Magical moonlight

I sometimes wish I knew more about the stars and the whole astronomy scene. I can pick out but three constellations: the Plough, Cassio-wotsit (the one that looks like a partly flattened "w") and Orion. I can even use the Plough to find the Pole Star. I think it's the Pole Star, but I could easily be wrong. I suppose living in a town in England doesn't help one gain a view of the sky at night. Ours is such a tiny, crowded island that there is nearly always light pollution - unless one is in the Highlands of Scotland or the wilderness of Dartmoor. Neither does the cloud cover, of which we have a lot, do much to help.

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

Swallows and Amazons

It's been a madcap sort of a day so far - and it's only mid-afternoon! I woke feeling woozy having slept too deeply after a couple of insomniacal nights - and if that's not a proper word, it ought to be. But the real problems didn't start until after I had walked Fern round Withdean Park, our usual post-breakfast perambulation. I returned to find there had been two phone calls for me while I was out: first, from another Lion who had fallen yesterday and sprained his wrist. I had promised to take him to hospital today for an x-ray if there was no significant improvement overnight. Fortunately, there had been. The second call was from the Lions Housing Society about a potential tenant. This involved me calling back to discuss the problem, then making a phone call to another Lion. He asked a question which led to me examining the Society's last audited accounts, which didn't supply the answer, so I had to ring the Society, call the Lion back, and then call the Society again with the answer to the first question. I had only just finished with that when the phone rang again: it was the agents who manage a flat we own where the tenant had a problem. It seemed he was unable to shut a window. I promised to call over this afternoon and rang the tenant to arrange a time. Soon after, I realised I wouldn't be able to fit it in, so I had to call the managing agents and the tenant to make arrangements for a workman to sort the problem.

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

Not to be outdone

Skip says there's a dove outside his window this morning. Here's my picture of a wheatear.

Well now, fancy that

I can't remember how long I have been doing this blogging lark but it has to be more than a twelve month. During that time I have posted a new blog most days, except for when I have decamped England to restock the wine cellar. So how come I have not noticed the tab at the right of the line that is labelled "Stats" (the tab is labelled, not the line)? It's actually a mine of interesting but pretty much useless information.

OK, clever clogs, you already knew that - but it was news to me when I clicked on it this morning.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

I lied

Well, perhaps not really lied. Maybe exaggerated, or used a bit of poetic license. Whatever, over on Fern's blog I implied that it has done little but rain recently. It does rather seem that way, but in fact yesterday was a very pleasant day, warm with a reasonable amount of sun. I took the opportunity to climb into the pear tree and pick the rest of the fruit before it crashes to the ground and gets eaten by Fern. I say tree (singular) because although we have two pear trees, the second bears very little fruit which ripens several weeks earlier and which has already been picked. The crop I picked yesterday is one of the best for some years, both in quantity and, particularly, in quality.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Good news?

Well, it might be, but I'm not holding my breath as time alone will tell if the politicians in our government are going to do more than pay lip service to proposals announced over the weekend. Lord Young has been looking into this country's addiction to the imposition of ever-dafter rules and regulations in the name of health and safety. For example:
  • 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.
The list goes on to include:
  • 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.
Those killjoys have always blamed health and safety legislation, but Lord Young has pointed out is that the legislation blamed for much of the madness does not actually exist. The real concern of all those wet blankets was not that somebody might be hurt but that, IF somebody was hurt they might sue the organisers of events or local authorities (in the case of the trees and hanging baskets) etc, but they have always claimed that they have been acting in accordance with health and safety legislation. This culture of litigation has been growing over the last few years and has now reached the stage where ambulance-chasing lawyers advertise in hospital A & E departments offering to sue on a no-win, no-fee basis. As a result, event organisers (and/or their insurance companies) have had no option but to pack up shop.

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

Danger! Social networking site

All too often we read in the press about a house being trashed because a teenager posted an invitation to a party on a social networking web site - usually Facebook - and had hordes of gatecrashers arrive. This has always puzzled me as I understand that the only way to read what somebody posts on their Facebook wall is to be a 'friend' of the poster. How do all those gatecrashers manage to read comments made by somebody completely unknown to them?

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

Scenic Saturday - Avon

This is No 10 in a series in which we visit the counties that make up England.

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


I had decided that today I would write about...

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.