Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Here yesterday, gone today

Well, it makes a change from "Here today, gone tomorrow". But we need to go back to the day before yesterday for the start of the story. That was the day I read my emails after getting back from a week away. (France, and yes, thank you - very nice.) Along with 2000+ spam messages were 82 that warranted at least checking out. Several of these were about an influx of travellers who had arrived on Withdean Park, where I walk the dog every morning, late on Thursday evening last week. That was on Sunday morning. After lunch, I went to the kennels to fetch Fern and on the way home we stopped at Happy Valley, another Brighton park which just happens to be on the route home, to give her a run. I noticed several travellers' caravans parked on the far side of the park and, while I was getting out of the car, one of their vehicles was driven out of the park. It was an 18-month old BMW no less! Anyway, back to Withdean.

Yesterday, I went as usual to the park, making sure Fern stayed well away from the travellers and their mess. When I fired up the computet later, one of the emails I read contained an attachment. This had been sent to a local councillor by a member of Brighton & Hove Council Traveller Liaison Team and he, the councillor, had sent it on. Part of the attachment read:

The current Traveller situation is as follows:

Happy Valley

A group of English Gypsies, with 5 trailers, vacated land at East Brighton Park, and moved onto land at Happy Valley in the evening of Thursday 26 May. A joint visit, with the police, was made on Friday 27 May, and health and welfare checks were carried out. The presence of this encampment is not having a significant impact on the settled community, and therefore, no immediate action is required today.

Withdean Park

A group of Irish Travellers and English Gypsies, with 14 trailers, vacated land at East Brighton Park, and moved onto land at Withdean Park in the evening of Thursday 26 May. A joint visit, with the police, was made on Friday 27 May, and health and welfare checks were carried out. The presence of this encampment is not having a significant impact on the settled community, and therefore, no immediate action is required today.

The councillor's response to the autocratic bureaucrat was:

This encampment IS having a major impact on the settled community and I have had numerous complaints regarding this issue. On the opposite side of the A23 there are a number of blocks of flats occupied by hundreds of residents, all of whom live in my ward (Withdean) that directly overlook this encampment. Withdean Park is actually in Patcham Ward and I had spoken to Geoffrey Theobald who has also had numerous residents contacting him complaining about this group of travellers.

This group must be removed from this site immediately as this is a highly sensitive area and is extremely well used by large numbers of residents from across the city, especially at weekends such as this bank holiday.

Well, something happened as the travellers\gypsies were gone this morning. I wish I could say they have gone without trace but, of course, they have left behind the remnants of fires on the grass with litter and rubbish blowing everywhere. They have probably fouled the woods as well. But this morning, also, there was a council van on site to start the clear-up.

I have nothing against people wanting to live a life of vagrancy, but I do wish they would respect other peoples' rights, refrain from causing damage and not expect local councils to spend money on them when they pay neither rates nor taxes.

Monday, 30 May 2011

An English tradition

I really couldn't say how long it has been established but it is now well and truly a part of English life. It's not something that anybody here in England can control; indeed, there is nobody anywhere who can exert much influence over this tradition. The time might come, many years from now, when that situation is altered but it certainly won't be in my lifetime and I doubt very much that it will come in the lifetime of my children or even my grandchildren.

Today, the last Monday in May, is a bank holiday in England and, true to tradition, the weather is grey and dull and there is a damp feeling in the air. Traditional bank holiday weather. Having said that, tradition went out of the window for the Easter bank holidays when the weather was glorious.

It doesn't seem so very long ago that the then Government changed our May bank holiday from Whit Monday to the last Monday in May. It must have been at the same time that they introduced an extra bank holiday on the first Monday in May. We had a Labour government at the time and they wanted to make May Day a bank holiday but rather than have a holiday occurring on a different day of the week each year, they decided to fix on the first Monday of the month. That means that when Easter is late, as it was this year, we have four bank holidays in very quick succession. This year, though, we have had five as the day of the royal wedding was declared an extra holiday.

We don't get another one until August. That one - August Bank Holiday - used to be on the first Monday in the month but that was moved (at about the same time as Whit Monday was cancelled and the Late Spring Bank Holiday introduced) to the last Monday. Then that will be it until Christmas.

There has for some time been talk of the possibility of introducing another holiday between August and Christmas but nothing seems to be coming of the idea. We will have an extra holiday next year to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. The suggestion is that the Government will soon announce that the Late Spring Bank Holiday in 2012 is to be moved to the first Monday in June and the Tuesday will be declared the Jubilee holiday. I wonder if there will be an alternative plan in case something happens?

Sunday, 29 May 2011

The latest news

Every morning I pick the newspaper up from the door mat (or pull it from the letter box if the paperboy has, as he usually does, failed to push it all the way through) and immediately scan the front page, especially the lead headline. Every evening, shortly before going to bed, I religiously watch the late night news on television (unless, of course, I'm doing something else). Why? What can be so important that I need to know about it at that instant? Why can I not just eat my breakfast and then look at the newspaper, or wait until the morning to find out what happened the day before?

I have just returned from a week at our house in France. No television, no radio, no newspapers, no email or internet. And you know what? I didn't miss any of them one little bit. But when we stopped at a motorway service station I had to read the headlines and as soon as we reached the Channel Tunnel terminal, I walked into the bookshop and read the (English) newspaper headlines as well - just to make sure. Then I watched the television news as usual.

So did I miss anything of immediate importance by being cut off from the news for seven (eight) days? No, of course not. It mattered not a jot that the news of the arrest of a Serbian war criminal - sorry, alleged war criminal - was two or three days old before I heard it. I had gathered that the Apocalypse failed to arrive as predicted. And I don't suppose there was anything else happened that will affect me unduly. But I will still watch the late evening news before I go to bed tonight.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Scenic Saturday - County Durham

Number 43 in the series.

This is the only English county with the word "County" in it's title. The official county tourist board says, "With its iconic Cathedral and Castle World Heritage Site - Durham City is the jewel in the crown of an extraordinary county. The Durham Dales and Vale of Durham are diverse landscapes, dotted with market towns and picturesque villages. The Durham Dales and North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty are home to moorland and forest, whilst the stunning Durham Coast begs to be explored."

In the city of Durham, the cathedral stands on a bluff high above the River Wear.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Scenic Saturday - Cleveland

Number 42 in the series.

Cleveland - part North Yorkshire, part County Durham - is largely urban, consisting in the main of the old steel towns of Middlesbrough, Stockton-on-Tees, Hartlepool and Redcar, although Redcar is also a seaside resort. I have found little scenic value except for the small town of Saltburn-by-the-Sea, which is the subject of this week's picture.

Friday, 20 May 2011

My Fab Five

I was asked a difficult question the other day. What, my interlocutor wanted to know, was my favourite book of all time? Did I describe the question as difficult? Belay that: it is actually impossible to answer. Other people - and you, dear reader, may well be among that happy band - might have no problem coming up with an answer. I am not so fortunate. For a start, there is no way I can remember all the books I have read or that have been read to me. Yes, I did write "read to me". Well, the question did say "all time" so I reckon it must cover the books that were read to me when I was too young to read them for myself.

The one book I do remember having read to me was Robin Hood. It was fully illustrated with colour pictures on just about every page but what I remember most was my father having great difficulty deciding whether the word "bow" was pronounced to rhyme with "how" or "hoe". Later, I thoroughly enjoyed the Secret Seven and Famous Five books by Enid Blyton as well as all the Swallows and Amazons titles. All ripping stuff, but not really among my all-time favourites.

For a book to be selected as my favourite of all time it would have to be one that I can and have read time and again, enjoying each reading as much as or more than those that went before. There are many, many books that pass that test simply on account of my age. As I get ever closer to my allotted three score and ten (less than a year to go now) I find that I can pick up a book and start reading only to discover on page 7 (or 23 or in chapter 3) that I have read it before. Not that I necessarily recall all the details of the plot, far less who "dun it". But that doesn't automatically mean the book in question can be regarded as a contender for the title "All-Time Favourite". For a book to be in that position it would have to be one I know I have read before, one whose plot I remember and in which the denouement comes as no surprise. That still leaves me with a fair few from which to choose.

On further consideration, I have decided I just cannot pick out any one book as my all-time favourite but I can make a short-list of five titles. I will also restrict my selection to no more than one title by any author. There are several titles I considered but which failed, in some cases very narrowly, to make the cut. These include Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and - much to my surprise as I don't usually enjoy fantasy - Lord of the Rings (I know - that's three books but I couldn't separate the three titles). So what is on my short-list? I am slightly surprised that three of the books fit into the genre "war" although, in fact, two of them are concerned not so much with the action but with the reaction of men caught up in war; with their courage and cowardice, their loves and hates, and with what sustains them in almost impossibly difficult situations.

And, at last, my fab five (in no particular order) - with brief reviews by other readers.

The Cruel Sea (Nicholas Monsarrat): "The story of the crew of a newly commissioned corvette, acting as an escort to merchant convoys during World War II. The crew is initially mostly inexperienced, from non-naval backgrounds. The plot focuses on their differing reactions to some of the horrifying experiences they have as the German U-boats attack their convoys with increasing success. Some will survive the war, and some won't - but all of them will be changed by their experiences."

Birdsong (Sebastian Faulks): The book's hero, a 20-year-old Englishman named Stephen Wraysford, finds his true love on a trip to Amiens in 1910. Unfortunately, she's already married, the wife of a wealthy textile baron. Wrayford convinces her to leave a life of passionless comfort to be at his side, but things do not turn out according to plan. Wraysford is haunted by this doomed affair and carries it with him into the trenches of the war. Birdsong derives most of its power from its descriptions of mud and blood, and Wraysford's attempt to retain a scrap of humanity while surrounded by it.

HMS Ulysses (Alastair MacLean): "When I first came across HMS Ulysses, I read it from cover to cover without putting it down - three times in a row. The story about the captain and crew of the HMS Ulysses, the story about men driven to the limit and far beyond by terror, cold and hunger, who somehow kept going because of their love and devotion to one extraordinary man, was one of the saddest, most capturing and most compelling stories I've ever read. I could almost feel the crew's desperation, feel the piercing cold, hear - and be tormented by - the captain's ripping cough. Not many books have the power to capture me that way. I know HMS Ulysses almost by heart by now - but whenever I read it, I still do it from cover to cover, without putting it down. Once I begin, I just can't let it go until it's all over."

In Pale Battalions (Robert Goddard): "The story is about finding and understanding your identity. A young lady raised indifferently by her grandparents learns the truth about her parentage in pieces throughout her life. She is lucky enough to find love with a wonderful man and have a fulfilling marriage enjoying motherhood but her past remains a mystery for most of her life. The title refers to a war and indeed World War I and it's terrible toll plays an important part of the story, [but] I believe that the root of the book is identity. The story is told through the perspectives of a few different people in the life of the main character. The truth only becomes clear at the very last pages. You do need to have patience. I found it heartbreakingly true and have read it 4 times. The writing is compared to Daphne DuMaurier but I don't think that is necessarily true. What is apparent is the way that layers of the story are similar to an onion. The more layers that are peeled away, the more story you find."

Under the Greenwood Tree (Thomas Hardy): "A poignant little novel. It is a tale of a traditional country community, it's choir, which is under threat, and a romance. The novel highlights the beginnings of change for such communities, through the travails of the "Melstock Quire", which is being threatened by the introduction of a new organ. Meanwhile Dick Dewey pursues schoolmistress Fancy Day - although he is not her only admirer. There is a gentleness and warmth to the characters we meet in Melstock, their traditions and concerns become ours, it is an absolute joy, a real timeless classic."

And there, in the words of others, you have them.

Thursday, 19 May 2011


Am I a vain person? I, like most other people, like to think not. But an email I received yesterday from our Lions District Governor Elect gave me pause and made me wonder.

I have been District Webmaster since the beginning of July last year and have been asked to continue in post for another 12 months. While I don't consider myself in any way expert in the production of web sites (the software I use was bought 11 years ago and has never been updated) I can produce something simple. The District site is not one of my best, especially when compared with the Brighton Lions site or my own Les Lavandes, but I agreed to his request although I would be very happy for somebody else to take the job on. Having put the background in place, to that email.

"Could you please also email a .jpeg passport-style head and shoulders photo of yourself asap to Lion X"
, it read. A photo? Of me?? I'm not sure that I have one that I would be happy for others to see. I generally stand behind the camera rather than in front of it and I'm certainly not a person who starts preening himself whenever a camera lens appears. Perhaps it's some kind of reverse vanity because I am only too well aware that I'm not the world's most photogenic man. In any case, he asked for "passport style" and I certainly don't have one like that.


I've found a group picture and cropped it to just me. This will have to do.

Actually, that's not too bad at all considering.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Good news

Well, fairly good news. When I got out of bed this morning it was raining. Now, given this country's reputation for being wet that might not sound exactly like good news but here in Brighton we have had no rain at all for ten days. And then it was just a bit in the morning, soon over, and a very light shower in the evening. This morning's rain didn't last very long either. We do really need rain. Already crops are failing for lack of it and the soil in the garden is like rock where it isn't just dust. It means I am having to put the hose on the vegetables just to keep them alive and growing - and that doesn't do my water bill any favours. It also means the vegetables I do grow are getting more and more expensive.

I have been toying with the idea of giving up growing vegetables. These days I find my back dislikes the digging and weeding involved - another of the disadvantages of getting older. What I would like to do, I think, is plant a small orchard. Actually, what I would really like to do is own a large-ish orchard. I like the idea of fruit trees spaced properly apart so that they can grow to their natural size, unlike so many commercial orchards, with the grass beneath being cropped by sheep.

A psychoanalyst would probably decide that this "wish" of mine is really a subconscious desire to return to the womb or some such. You see, I was born and brought up in Kent when that county was still known as the Garden of England on account of its orchards and hop fields. Although we lived in the town of Gillingham, orchards weren't far away. Indeed, there was one hill only a few miles distant which afforded a 360 degree view, all over cherry orchards. In the spring, anyone standing on that hill could imagine himself standing on top of clouds as there were billows and mounds of white blossom all around. One of my oldest memories is of going to the nearby village (as it was then) of Rainham and taking the footpath running along the side of the churchyard. Immediately behind the churchyard was an orchard (I don't remember what fruit) with sheep grazing. Whether it was right to do so or not, we would sometimes take bread (yes, bread) to feed the lambs. I'm not sure they appreciated the food on offer, but they were tame enough to come and investigate.

Well, even though the rain has stopped now I shan't have to use the hose today as I expected to. That will give me more time to print out Lions Charter Night menus.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Quote of the day

"Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. It is bad for the mind to be always part of unanimity." (Christopher Morley)

That showed up this morning in my sidebar and, as it will be gone tomorrow, I thought it worth copying. You see, it resonates with me. And if "resonate" seems to be the wrong word, then tough. I know what I mean.

I like especially the third commandment: "Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do". I only wiish I could live up to that. There certainly have been times when I have struck out on my own but those times have been fewer and farther between than I would really like. I wish I had both the courage and the imagination to be a true eccentric, to do things that are not so much really daft as just a little odd, things that perhaps many people would like to do but that would make them too self-conscious. And don't ask what sort of things. I don't have the imagination to think of any.

Oh well, I shall just have to settle for a life of drab conformity, I suppose. How boring that sounds.

Monday, 16 May 2011


I have for some time been giving thoughts to perhaps maybe investigating the possibility of installing solar panels on the roof to produce electricity. It's not something that has been in my mind continually but I have contemplated the idea sporadically for two or three years. In both England and France one sees small solar panels beside road signs and I know of a swimming pool in France that is heated by solar energy. This latest bout of meditation was brought about by an article in a supplement to yesterday's paper - one I rarely glance at but which caught my eye on this occasion.

We do have an ideal roof - south facing, uncluttered and unshaded by trees or, indeed, anything else. But there would be a considerable outlay involved. So what benefits would I receive for my expenditure?

Obviously I would reduce the cost of my electricity. If the solar panels were to produce sufficient, I might even get my electricity for nothing. Indeed, if there were to be a surplus to my requirements, that surplus would be "sold" to the national grid. On top of that, the Government would pay me for all electricity produced - even the electricity used by me - and the rate of payment is index-linked for a period of 25 years. Provided a future Government doesn't move the goalposts. On average, I understand, the cost of installation is £12,000 and this could generate savings and income of nearly 10% per annum, much better than any savings account is offering.

But what about the cons? The biggest seems to be the as yet unknown question of whether the installation would make a house more difficult to sell. I have seen arguments both ways, but I live in Brighton and here we have elected the country's first (and so far, only) member of the Green Party as our Member of Parliament. The Greens are also the biggest party on our local council. That would seem to indicate that the installation of solar panels would be a plus when it comes to selling a house in this town. In any case, I doubt we will be looking to sell for many years so the "problem" might look completely different by the time we do come to sell.

One thing that does rather concern me is that there could be considerable improvements to the technology over the fairly short term - after, of course, I have installed a system. But that always applies to just about every aspect of life.

I shall continue to mull this over - but I may well call on the people ropund the corner who have solar panels on their roof just to find out what their experience has been.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Catching up

So the world-wide blogging community was well and truly bloggered on Friday - coincidentally, Friday the 13th. What, I wonder, would I have posted had I been able to access this blog?

I might have mentioned bacon. On both Wednesday and Thursday I enjoyed bacon at dinner time. On Wednesday the Old Bat and I went with a fellow-Lion friend to our local Italian restaurant where I had pasta (tagliatella) with bacon and onions and the chef's home-made tomato sauce. Brilliant! I know I had bacon on Thursday as well and if I stop thinking about it I shall probably remember just how I had it. Oh yes, John Noakes Special - which will need explanation. Years ago there was a children's TV programme called Blue Peter. In fact, I think there still is a children's TV programme called Blue Peter but I'm talking about the time when one of the presenters was a man called John Noakes. That was in the days when my children were children. Just why JN was talking about cooking is something I didn't know then (I never saw the programme as it was aired before I got home from work) and I don't know now. But he was. He described a dish he had invented and which he had not named so it was called John Noakes Special. Not being much of a dab hand in the kitchen department, I don't know what the recipe is - or even all the ingredients. All I know is that one puts chopped potatoes, lardon-sized bits of bacn and chopped tomatoes in a dish which is then put in the oven. Serve with a green veg.

So that's bacon done with - except to say that we will be eating roast gammon this evening. Now, what else?

I went to the doctor on Thursday afternoon, not something I do lightly. I developed a particularly nasty cough before Easter. It cleared a bit but then came back with a vengeance and by Tuesday I had had enough. I thought it was/is a bout of bronchitis and it had reached the stage where I really wanted something - an antibiotic - to knock it on the head. So on Tuesday afternoon I phoned the surgery and was given an appointment for Thursday with a doctor I had never heard of. I think he is one of the juniors at the practice. After I had described the symptons (I won't bore you with them) he asked me, 'Do you think it could be a virus of some sort?' I assured him that I thought he was on the right lines. 'Should I prescribe an antibiotic?' was his next question.

I've heard of DIY in many areas, but that was ridiculous. Anyway, I am now in the middle of a course of antibiotics, hoping it will do the trick.

Doesn't that make you glad Blogger was down all Friday?

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Scenic Saturday - North Yorkshire

Number 41 in the series.

There are no doubt many people - and not just Yorkshire tykes - who would claim that the north riding of Yorkshire, or North Yorkshire as the county is known, is the most scenic part of England. Certainly there is no shortage of beauty, both natural and man-made. There are the dales and the North York Moors as well as the sometimes dramatic coast, then there is the city of York with its monster, city walls and medieval buildings. There are the seaside towns of Scarborough and Whitby (Captain Cook's home port) and the inland towns of Knaresborough and Harrogate. All would provide pictures suitable for this series. In the end I have decided to borrow Bob Tuck's dramatic picture of the entrance to Whitby harbour with the ruins of the abbey on the headland.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Great excitement!

I went down into town yesterday afternoon. Yes, really! That was the first time I had been into the centre of Brighton since the Lions held their fun day in the Royal Pavilion Gardens at the end of June last year and the first time I had been into the Churchill Square shopping centre for, oh, possibly two years or more. The objective yesterday was to buy a globe. My granddaughter will soon be celebrating her fourth birthday and she has asked for a globe. For some unknown reason she has become fixated on Africa and she wants a globe so that she can see where it is. I could have ordered one online but was dubious about it arriving before we leave for our next trip to France. The big day is while we are away so we need to have the present wrapped and ready before we go. Another thing the little madam is fixated on is the colour pink. If asked what flavour ice cream she wants, her answer is, 'Pink'. So imagine my delight when I discovered a pink globe! I have never before seen the seas and oceans depicted in pink, but they are on this globe. The Old Bat expressed mild doubts when she saw what I had bought, hoping the different colour wouldn't confuse the GD. I'm confident she is bright enough for it not to matter.

And I killed two birds with one stone. While I was in town I took the opportunity to buy some new clothes.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

I may have mentioned it elsewhere on this blog but I will repeat it now for those who have just come in (there are always a few late-comers) and for those who might have read it before but have forgotten. I don't blame them for having forgotten, after all, it's hardly earth-shattering news. Indeed, if "news" concerns up-to-date happenings, this isn't news at all: it's ancient history.

(I've forgotten what I was... Oh, yes.)

I spent twenty-five years working for a High Street bank. I include the words "High Street" to make clear that I was not one of those City types dealing in derivatives and other things I don't understand and being paid millions. I was at the sharp end where we dealt with real people and real money. Not being one of those real whizz-kids, I never made it to full managerial status. The peak of my career was when I was appointed a Support Branch Manager. This meant that I was in charge of a small branch which was under the full managerial control of the manager of the bigger branch in town. I had previously been the number two at the branch when it was totally independent and with its own full Manager. On his retirement the branch was downgraded whereas I was upgraded - slightly.

It was about this time that the bank started on a programme of rationalisation. What this meant, of course, was that smaller branches were being closed. I, and several others, were convinced that "my" branch was on the list for closure and I was expected to oversee the running down of the business and the transfer of the bigger accounts to our parent branch. However, things happened that were outside the control of the powers that were. One of my staff took a phone call from a man who told her he was in charge of a new business in the area, a subsidiary of an international company, and he was looking to open a bank account for this new company. He asked if we could handle this. My young lady promptly replied in the affirmative and the result was that we opened what would become one of the biggest accounts the bank had in Sussex. My branch earned so much from this one account that we became the second most profitable branch per head of staff in the county and, indeed, one of the top ten in the country. The local bigwigs, I believe, decided not to close the branch in case that account was lost to another bank who still maintained nearby branches, a decision which, I also believe, they disliked having to make.

This was also a time when my own authority to lend money was being eroded. All managerial staff had authority to lend up to certain limits allocated individually. These limits were reviewed from time to time to ensure that the effects of inflation etc did not cause problems. My limit was increased but each time it seemed to be increased by less than I needed. Whereas at one time my limit was high enough lend one customer enough to cover a month's sales invoices, over time inflation outstripped the increase in my limit and I had to refer upwards at more inconvenience both to the customer and to me and my staff. At the lower end of lending, computerised credit scoring was gradually taking over and the result was that the area over which I had authority was narrowing year by year. I felt I was becoming just an intermediary with less and less responsibility. This did little for my ambition and, in any case, the branch closure programme meant that I had less and less chance of going further up the ladder. My frustration grew.

The bank I had joined after leaving school had changed. We were now being encouraged to sell a variety of insurance policies and had to accept targets for the volume of insurance business we wrote. I had not joined a bank to become an insurance salesman and I was concerned that, in order to meet targets, we were selling policies to people who either didn't really want them or didn't need them.

It all boiled away inside me and eventually something had to give. I knew that it wouldn't be the directors of the bank, so it had to be me. I resigned. Had I stuck it out another year or two, I am convinced the bank would have paid me to go as they did with so many others, but I jumped ship just a bit too soon.

And what has brought all this to mind? It's the news this week that Britain's banks have had to set aside millions (if not billions) of pounds to repay customers who were mis-sold insurance policies. I feel vindicated.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Keeping me safe

Some people would, I suppose, say that I have been lucky to have had my credit cards misused on only two occasions (so far). The first occasion could have been embarrassing but wasn't. It happened one Easter when the Old Bat and I were staying on their farm with my cousin and her husband. We had taken our hosts out for a meal and when I went to pay the bill there was a slight problem. May card was declined with the request that the merchant phone the credit card company. I was distinctly puzzled as I knew full well I was nowhere near my limit on the card. That has been set at a ridiculously high figure, high enough for me to use my card to buy a car - or even two small cars! I never get anywhere near it so I knew the problem that evening could not have anything to do with that. The phone was passed to me and I satisfied the credit card company that I was the person named on the card. The transaction was authorised but I was asked to contact a different department as soon as possible. Back at the farm, I phoned the number I had been given and I was asked about one particular transaction which had, I gathered, taken place on the internet. As the card company suspected, this had nothing to do with me. They didn't tell me what aroused their suspicions but they immediately blocked my card and I received a replacement a few days later.

The second time this happened I spotted four entries that had nothing to do with me when I went online to check something. Three of the entries were debits while the fourth was a refund of one of the debits. I immediately rang the credit card company and the reversed the three debits straight away and blocked any further transactions on that card. (Despite my pointing it out, they never did take back the credit entry so I ended up about £90 better off.)

I am one of those people who uses a credit card for nearly all my purchases and to be without one even for a few days could cause considerable inconvenience. It is because of that that I have a second credit card. I have considered keeping one for purchases over the internet and the other for things like supermarkets and restaurants but somehow I have never got round to putting this into practice. I also have three debit cards, one for each of my two English bank accounts and one for my French account. This does lead to a numerical headache as, of course, each card has a different PIN. Fortunately, each PIN is reasonably easy for me to remember for one reason or another but I have devised a way of keeping a note of each of them in a form of code, a code which is not obviously a code, although I don't keep this list in my wallet with the cards.

This question of PINs and passwords is becoming ever more difficult to resolve. I would find it difficult to even guess at how many different web sites require me to enter a password - banks, building society, credit cards, blogs, on-line stores and so on. We are told we should use a different password for each, but how I could ever remember, say, 24 passwords is open to question. Then I would have to remember which password goes with which web site - and remember to change each password every few months. I do use more than one password and I can generally remember which password goes with which site but I haven't yet done what a friend tells me he does. He uses a different password for each site - but he keeps a spreadsheet detailing all of them. Admittedly, that spreadsheet is also password protected but it still seems a bit dangerous to me.

I heard of another idea recently which I might one day adapt and bring into use. This involves thinking of a password of eight characters rather than the more usual ten then, for each web site, put the first letter of the name in front of the basic password and the second at the back. For example, if the basic password was 12345678 and the web site was Blogger, the full password would become B12345678L. There are, of course, a number of ways that could be adapted and I rather like the idea. The challenge is to remember, while gradually changing over to using this system, which sites have the new password and which the old. Still, that's a challenge easy enough to surmount.

What I have yet to crack is the problem of remembering the answers to some of the security questions. OK, my mother's maiden name is easy enough to remember (and easy enough for half the world to find out) but a "memorable place"? What should I choose? And when, four or five years later, I am asked what it is, will I remember?

Life must have been a lot easier when people were paid in cash every week and they just walked down the road to the parade of shops which sold everything one needed, but somehow I don't think we could go back to that style of living.

Monday, 9 May 2011

That's another one over

I groaned when I opened the curtains yesterday morning, the day of the Lilac Lark. This is a fete which, for the second year, was arranged jointly by the Friends of Withdean Park and Brighton Lions Club. The Lions stepped in last year when the Friends decided they were unable to muster enough volunteers to run the event so now we take over some of the planning and administration, bring along a few extra stalls and share the proceeds. What we Lions have ended with is a community service activity which also raises money for our charity trust fund. But back to yesterday morning. I heard the rain before I actually opened the curtains, hence my groan. Last year we froze (and the Withdean Park lilacs were not yet in bloom), whereas this year we looked like being washed out - and the lilacs are definitely past their best! But by the time I had seen to the dog and made the Old Bat a cup of tea, the rain had stopped. I started again just before I set off with the dog for a walk round the park where I had to pin up notices warning people of possible moving vehicles ('elf and safety being what it is). That was a fairly brief shower and, after that, it was pretty much sunshine all the way. Good crowds who seemed to be enjoying the sun and spending their money. The book stall seemed to have crowds of browsers all afternoon and took over £100.

We don't yet have the final figures but it should have been a good result.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Busy weekend

What with the Lions' book fair yesterday morning and the Lilac Lark taking up most of today, it's a busy weekend for me. The next couple of weeks will also have a fair number of Lions events. I am doing the blind club transport on Tuesday and bingo on Friday, then the following week I have the stroke club transport to do on Tuesday followed by the Housing Society AGM and a Lions business meeting on Wednesday. I suppose if nothing else it will keep me off the street corners!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Scenic Saturday - Lancashire

Number 40 in the series.

Lancashire these days is considerably smaller than it once was, having "lost" Greater Manchester and the area around Liverpool. But what it has retained is the most scenic part of the old county. The eastern border of the county is in the Pennine Hills, an area which is more often associated with Yorkshire even though Lancashire has its share of the moors and dales. It is here that we can find Pendle Hill where England's most famous witches lived in the early 17th century. On the opposite side of the county, on the coast of the Irish Sea, we have Blackpool, probably England's best known seaside holiday resort, while to the north we have part of the beautiful Lake District.

Although there are many country scenes I could choose for this week's picture, what we have is the famous Blackpool illuminations.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Being picky

I don't want to be picky, really I don't, but...

The television news last night and this morning's paper report what amounts to a third version of the event in Abbottabad last weekend when American special forces stormed bin Laden's "fortress" and killed the world's most wanted man. Or so we are led to believe.

I do feel that this could have been handled better, by which I mean the announcements. Now I'm not suggesting that things would have necessarily been different had it been forces from any other country who had done this and the news had therefore been released by a different authority, but surely in these days of instant communication we could have been given the definitive account at the outset? We were told at first that there was a 40-minute fire-fight and the bin Laden cowered behind one of his wives. Then it transpired that he didn't cower, the wife concerned had tried to rush the attacking forces. Now it seems that only one of bin Laden's supporters opened fire.

The differing versions of what happened do tend to lead to questions and doubts. Personally, I have no doubt that bin Laden is dead: if he had been in hiding somewhere else, he would surely have arranged for video footage to be released showing him with a newspaper dated sometime after his "death". But I don't think that will stop others questioning the reliability of the reports.

I have also to admit to some discomfort over what amounts to his execution. We are told that there were guns within easy reach but he was shot before he could grab one. Maybe he could not have been taken alive - and I'm not sorry he is dead - but I have to wonder if his capture and subsequent parading before a court would not have been more disheartening for Al-Qaeda.

As I said at the outset, I don't want to be picky, but I do find myself with, if not doubts, nagging questions.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

A puzzle

There are a few other blogs I like to look at on a daily basis. I follow these through my dashboard and the reading list produced on it. There is, however, one thing about this which has me puzzled.

Nearly all the new posts on the blogs forming my reading list are shown there almost as soon as they have been posted - it seems to be pretty much instantaneous. Except for one blog. Why Uncle Skip should be singled out for special treatment by Blogger is what is puzzling me. Take his post yesterday. It is timed at 5.50am. Since that is Californian time and I am in Merrie England it works out eight hours later for me, say 1.50pm on Wednesday 4 May. Yet according to my reading list it was posted just an hour ago - 11.00am Thursday 5 May. But in the meantime I have gone direct into Skip's blog and found that post. Weird.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Don't take it for granted

There was a time when younger son worked at a posh hotel in St Albans, a city the other side of London. One time he came back home by train - I expect his car was out of action as it so often seemed to be. (All the AA patrols new him well, he broke down and called them out so often.) Now, there is a direct train from St Albans to Brighton which passes through London, crossing the Thames on Blackfriars Bridge. The views of the river, both upstream and down, as the train crosses the bridge are very good and YS expressed surprise that he was the only person admiring these views. I pointed out that many of the other travellers had seen the view so many times that there was no interest in it for them and they just took it for granted. I knew the feeling as I crossed that bridge twice a day on my way to and from work.

I hope that I never reach the stage where I take for granted the view from our house. I find it fascinating to see the changes of the seasons - and even of each day. Take, for example, these two pictures. The first was taken yesterday evening at about 9.00 while the second was taken only about five minutes ago.

But it is even more important that I never take the Old Bat for granted. This was brought home to me in a message from Les, Tina's husband. Tina has been a friend of the Old Bat since they were in Guides and is one of a group of five who, over the years, have got together on about a monthly basis. Tina was diagnosed recently as having a brain tumour and the prognosis is, frankly, not very good. Les's words: 'To the men I would say, treasure your wives and do not take the days for granted'.

Amen to that.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

A wedding and two funerals

Well, we've had the wedding. In fact, we've already had one of the funerals - and a very quiet affair it was, especially in comparison to what went a couple of days before it. The other funeral will take place shortly although, as far as I am aware, no date has been announced.

For the sake of posterity (Who am I trying to kid?) I should explain that the wedding took place between Prince William of Wales and Miss Catherine Middleton last Friday. Saturday's Daily Telegraph newspaper devoted no less than 23 pages to reporting the event which millions of people had already seen on television. It might seem a little strange that they have managed to fill only 16 pages today on the death of Osama bin Laden, the world's most wanted terrorist, at the hands of US special forces. It is his funeral that has already taken place, a burial at sea so there is no grave to become a shrine to his violent followers.

Bin Laden will not be mourned by many in the western world, nor, indeed, in the Arab world either. Sir Henry Cooper, however, will be. His death also occurred over the weekend. There will be many who have never heard of one of Britain's greatest boxers but there are equally as many to whome his name is synonymous with not only boxing but sportsmanship in general. I am not a fan of boxing although I have watched the occasional fight on television, usually because my father wanted to watch and I didn't happen to be out that evening. Somehow it was obvious that Henry Cooper, as he was then, was a natural gentleman. One of identical twins, he never lost his sarf London accent and always referred to himself as 'Enry. His well-deserved knighthood made no difference.

So, after a tumultuous four-day weekend (here in England), the world is both better than it was last week and poorer.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Torquay not for me

Torquay, Queen of the English Riviera - or so the locals would have one believe. I have actually been to the town three times but it is now a place I avoid. My memories of the town itself are not unpleasant; in fact, I have quite enjoyed my visits. But, despite my memories of the town itself not being unpleasant, the mere mention of the place certainly does give rise to memories that are less pleasant.

It was Friday's royal wedding that made me think of the town again. No, that's not really the case. It wasn't so much the wedding itself, but the fact that yesterday's news was that William and Catherine have postponed their honeymoon. I didn't spend my honeymoon in Torquay - well, not all of it. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

My first visit to Torquay was more than fifty years ago. I was just 12 and had been seriously ill with pneumonia. I think it was pneumonia that time: it might have been pleurisy - I had that as well - but I think on that occasion it was pneumonia. It had been bad enough for me to have been hospitalised, except that by the time it was realised I was that ill I was too ill to be moved. Quite why it took so long for the doctor to realise I needed hospital treatment I don't know. I was, in any case, too young to even think the question let alone ask it. Anyway, he - the doctor - told my mother that I needed a month on the French Riviera to convalesce. France was right out of the question on the grounds of cost but the English Riviera was accepted as a substitute. My father was at that time in the Navy and there was no chance of him taking a month's leave, so my mother, younger brother and I went off to a guest house in Torquay for pretty well the whole of May.

As far as I can recall, the weather was mainly fine and we spent much of the time on the beach. As a change, we would sometimes go into Tor Abbey Gardens where we might feed the ducks. The gardens were quite a long walk from our guest house and I certainly didn't enjoy that walk back after I had fallen into the duck pond one day.

I mentioned my honeymoon earlier and it was during that holiday that I visited Torquay once more. Torquay is on the south coast of Devon and we were spending our honeymoon in a village in the heart of Exmoor, which is in the north of the county. As I had sold my car to buy furniture, I had hired a car for the week we were away. The weather on one day was not good but we learned that it was fine on the south coast and we decided to drive across the county to Torquay. There were, of course, quite a few years between visits but I remembered a reasonable amount of the town despite the changes which had taken place. We drove on through Dartmouth and decided to take a route back to our village across Dartmoor.

We never did reach Dartmoor. We were driving along a narrow lane just outside Dartmouth when a lorry coming towards us pulled in to one side. In doing so, the driver managed somehow to bump the back of the lorry on the hedge or wall or whatever and it swung across the road, smashing in the bonnet of our hire car. We ended up leaving the car where it was and hitching several rides back across the county. At the end of the honeymoon we caught a train back to Brighton.

Years passed again before I went back to Torquay. This time I had not only a wife but three young children as well. We had for several years taken our holidays in a village close to Westward Ho! in north Devon, but the lady who provided bed, breakfast and an evening meal had given up so we had found a farm in south Devon that year. It was the sort of place we like - stuck in the middle of nowhere with a bus perhaps once a week. One day we decided to take the children to a larger town and decided on Torquay, some 30 miles or more from the farm. The children quite enjoyed the day, until we were on the Exeter bypass heading back to the farm, still 20 miles or so distant. It was then that the gearbox in my brand new car (just 3,000 miles on the clock) seized up. I got the car towed into a garage in Exeter and borrowed the telephone directory. Back then I was a Scout Leader so I looked up the local Scouts to ask advice on a suitable car hire company. The chap I spoke to insisted on leaving his meal and driving us all the way to the farm. This was kind of him, but it did mean I had to get somebody else to drive me back to Exeter the following day to hire a car. Once again I left a car in Devon only this time I had to go back for it two weeks later after it had been repaired.

I'm not prepared to risk Torquay again, nice as the town might be.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

May Day

As I walked down the woods this morning with the dog, I was mentally drafting what I would write today. It was a longish piece about why I try to avoid going to Torquay, inspired by the news that their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, or Prince William and Princess Catherine as the Court has indicated they are happy for William and Kate to be called, have deferred their honeymoon and that William will be back at work this week. Then, as I arrived back home, I noticed that this rose is just in bloom. As today is May Day and the rose is Maigold it seems far more appropriate just to post a picture of it. If you look closely you may see a small drop of water left from the rain we had last night. Although it was welcome, we still need a lot more. This rose is the earliest one in our garden to come into bloom and it has a second bloom in late August and September. The bush is getting old - it must have been there for the better part of 30 years if not more.