Saturday, 30 June 2012

A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play

So while I was in the supermercado yesterday to buy the usual boring things like milk and broccoli and breakfast cereals and cleaning materials (as one does) I treated myself to a Mars bar.  I couldn't help thinking how they have shrunk over the years.  Yes, I know it's partly a way of increasing the price without actually increasing the price but some of it, I expect, is because I look now through adult eyes and no longer the wide eyes of childhood.

Back in those days, when a Mars bar was almost as big as a loaf of bread, my brother and I would, on the rare occasions when we had a Mars bar each, borrow my mother's fruit knife and cut the bar into slices, just like a loaf of bread.  I think there must have been two reasons for doing this: it made the bar last longer, and anyway it was fun!

~~~~~

Barclays Bank has been fined pretty heavily for its part in fixing interest rates in a way that is illegal.  Not that I understand just how this could have been done - it all goes way above my head when anybody attempts to explain it in words of two syllables or fewer.  Anyway, it seems that the London Inter-Bank Offered Rate, or LIBOR, which is the rate at which banks borrow from each other, was set artificially high.  Now that might not, at first glance, seem to be of any interest to the man in the street (as opposed to the man on the Clapham omnibus) but look a little deeper and you will see that there are many companies affected.  One small example is close to home (for me).  Brighton Lions Housing Society, of which I am treasurer, has a loan from Barclays and the interest rate is linked to LIBOR.  The loan started at £2.25 million so we are talking significant sums (for us) in interest.  I believe there is a class action under way in the States and it will be interesting to see how this develops.

And it might not be just Barclays.  Several other banks are also under investigation.

The fine, by the way, was £59 million - which seems to me to be an odd sum.  That's odd as in peculiar, not odd as in uneven  Why 59 and not 60 million?  I suppose it's all Monopoly money to those involved so it doesn't really matter.

~~~~~

Just like the Mars bar, Shoreham harbour is not what it was.  Time was when there was coal for the power station and timber from the Baltic as well as general shipping.  However, there is now a fishing fleet, albeit a very small one.  They use the eastern end of the harbour where the daily catch is sold to to public with a separate salesroom for restaurateurs.


Friday, 29 June 2012

Counting my blessings

Both yesterday and today I have been mixing with disabled people.  Yesterday some members of Brighton Lions Club visited a local Riding for the Disabled group to see in use the carriage we had paid for for which we had paid.  We all came away full of admiration for the time and effort put in by able-bodied people so that some of the less fortunate members of society can benefit from carriage driving and the social side of their weekly meeting.  By my calculation there are two able-bodied people involved for each disabled person.  Most of the horses and ponies used are owned by private individuals and lent to the group although I understand that the group owns all the carriages - all seven of them.  Then there is the farmer who allows the group the use of one of his fields (which means he can't use it) and storage for the carriages.

As for the disabled "clients", there was one who had been badly injured when a lorry pulled out from a side road right in front of him on his motorcycle; one was blind; another had undergone an operation (at the age of 14) which went wrong; two were the victims of thalidomide.

This morning it was too windy for the Old Bat to walk unaided so I drove her to the MS Centre for her weekly oxygen treatment.  This meant I was talking with several people with MS, each at a different stage.  (The Old Bat doesn't have MS, by the way, but does have a vaguely similar degenrative condition.)

All in all it made me realise how lucky I am.

While the Old Bat was in the diving bell I did the shopping and then drove down to Shoreham Harbour and admired the white horses landing on the beach the other side of the harbour arm.


Thursday, 28 June 2012

Just a quickie

I'm rather pushed for time today.  Almost as soon as I'm back rom walking the dog after breakfast I shall be setting off again to visit one of the Riding for the Disabled groups.  This particular group specialises in carriage driving and last year Brighton Lions paid for a new carriage for them.  This morning we will have a formal presentation of it.  Then late this afternoon I will be attending a concert being staged  to mark the diamond jubilee by the school my grandsons attend.

On that subject - the jubilee - you might, if you area regular reader, know that the Old Bat and I were in France over the bank holiday weekend when most of the celebratory events were held.  I somehow missed recording the Thames pageant and, given the criticism I have heard on the inane commentary by the BBC's presenters, I am not sorry.  However, we have now watched everything else except the Queen's address to the nation.  We didn't know about that beforehand.  I have never seen English crowds so exhuberant, although to call the crowds English is a stretch as there were Canadian, Australian, American and numerous other nationalities represented.  At one point when Prince Charles spoke after the concert the crowd started chanting, "Philip, Philip," in reference to the Duke of Edinburgh, then in hospital.  As the Queen arrived at St Pauls for the service there were chants of "God save the Queen".  I've certainly never heard the like.  And to see the crowds massing down the Mall, just as they did after the wedding last year - wow, what a sight!

~~~~~

Unlike any other town or city I know - except New York - Brighton's taxis are all painted in the same livery - white with turquoise bonnet and boot.  There are usually plenty of them at the East Street taxi rank.


Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Money money money

I suppose it was thinking about the 50p stamp that turned my mind back to the days when if I had a ten shilling note I thought I was well off.  That would pay for me and my girl friend to catch a bus into town, go to the cinema, have a coffee afterwards and catch the bus back home - and I would still have some money left!

When I started work we were paid monthly and I well remember my take-home pay being about £28 a month.  There were more senior people at the bank who cleared £30 a month and I thought I would feel really rich when I did!  In those days we got a pay rise every year on our birthday up until our 31st birthday egardless of whether or not we were doing a more responsible job.  A bank clerk of 30 would break through that seemingly magic barrier of £1,000 a year salary.  Of course pay rises also went with promotion and it was possible to earn merit rises.  These were usually rises of £15 - a year!  When I got married my monthly salary was £42 clear.  This covered our rent and living expenses for three weeks of the month; the Old Bat's pay covered the rest and provided savings for holidays, Christmas and so on.

Still on the subject of money - or just about - I see that the Duchess of Cambridge is being slated for spending an estimated £35,000 on clothes so far this year.  As it is apparently her father-in-law, the Prince of Wales, who is footing the bill and not the taxpayer I don't see that anyone has the right to criticise her for this.  In any case, she frequently wears comparatively cheap clothes from High Street stores and there are times when she really does have to dress up.  And even if it were the taxpayer footing the bill, I would suggest she is cheap at the price.  She must be worth far more than that to the country in invisible exports.

(Picture: Daily Mail)

What a stunner!

And while we are on the subject of money...  National Westminster Bank (NatWest) is one of England's "big four".  It, along with the much smaller Yorkshire Bank, is a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland (of Fred Goodwin fame).  On Monday night last week the bank updated part of their accounting software - and everything crashed.  Customers of NatWest were able neither to receive funds such as wages and salaries into their accounts nor to transfer money out of them, so employers trying to pay their staff - who might bank with Barclays, HSBC or Lloyds - were unable to do so.  For those affected the results have ranged from people unable to buy food to those unable to complete on the purchase of a house.  That, of course, would have had knock-on effects both up and down the chain.  There was one man who spent the weekend in prison as he was unable to access his account to pay the bail demanded by the court.  And matters are still not completely settled.  I'm glad I neither bank with nor work for NatWest.

~~~~~


The wild flower meadow in Withdean Park look likely to be somewhat monochrome this year as the only flowers in bloom were ox-eye daisies.  They have now been joined by a yellow flower I am unable to name and there are a very few other coming along.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

How to shoot yourself in the foot

The United Kingdom is, I believe, the only country in the world whose postage stamps don't bear the name of the country.  What's more, they bear no words of any sort, just the value of the stamp - and that might be "2nd" or "1st".  This, I presume, is an historical legacy.  It was, after all, in this country that a national postal service was first introduced.  And the word "national" is or was important.  Back in the middle of the 19th century few English people would have considered dropping a line to a friend in, say, Paris or any other overseas town or city so it was hardly necessary to show the name of the country on those first postage stamps.  If my history is correct, those first stamps were penny blacks, the cost of sending a letter to any address in the country being just one penny.  Even in my teenage years - the early ones, anyway - the cost of sending a letter to another UK address was just tuppence ha'penny, two and a half times what it had been a hundred years before.  Given what inflation had done to the buying power of the pound (and the penny) over the intervening years, either the 19th century cost was high or the 20th century cost was remarkably low.  Of course, volumes and new technology contributed towards keeping the cost comparatively low in those more recent years.

During the last 60 years the cost of sending a letter has increased considerably and at the beginning of this year the cost of a second class stamp was 36p.  (I don't buy first class stamps so have no idea what the cost of those was.)  And remember, since we "went decimal", that tuppence ha'penny of my teenage years had become just one "new" penny so the cost of sending a letter had increased by 360% in about 60 years.  And still the Royal Mail operated at a loss.  They tried cutting out the second delivery of the day.  They cut the number of collections from post boxes, especially the later ones.  No matter what they did, they couldn't stop losing money.  So, from April this year the cost of a second class stamp was increased to 50p, a rise of more than 40%!  That makes the cost of sending a letter ten bob, half a nicker!  I accept that 50p is probably cheap compared to the 1d back in the 1840s but nonetheless people think it excessive.  No wonder people are resorting more and more to texts and emails.  The Royal Mail, it seems to me, will be making even greater losses in the future.

~~~~~
It doesn't often happen but yesterday there were no cows on Scare Hill and no sheep in the field round the Chattri so I was able to walk to and beyond the memorial.  The side of Scare Hill is one of the few places affording a view right up the Standean valley.  This picture, however, was not taken yesterday.



Monday, 25 June 2012

A triumph of hope over experience

That is a reasonable summation of my gardening; in particular, my vegetable gardening.

We moved in to this house just over 42 years ago and it was in the early years, when I was still in my physical prime, that I decided to grow vegetables.  So I erected a fence across the garden about two-thirds of the way down, declaring that the bottom third was a child-free and dog-free zone and would henceforth be my vegetable garden.  There were already three fruit trees down there - a pear and two apples - and I planted a gooseberry bush and a blackcurrant bush.  Over the years I have grown - with varying degrees of success - carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, parsnips, onions, garlic, peas, leeks, courgettes, French beans, runner beans, raspberries, spring onions, radishes, rhubarb, blackberries and Chinese gooseberries.  Not all of them in any one year, you understand.  My plot isn't big enough for that! 

Over the years, as I have grown older and less able to dig the garden for more than 20 minutes or so at a time, the space I have actually used and the variety of vegetables grown has shrunk in direct proportion to the energy available for cultivation purposes.  This year we are down to just peas, runner beans, parsnips and onions - in addition to the perrenial gooseberries, blackcurrants, raspberries, rhubarb and blackberries.

It possibly hasn't helped matters that, when digging the soil over during the winter, I added what I thought was well-rotted compost.  You see, we do compost the vegetable waste from the kitchen as well as grass clippings.  But it would appear that the grass clippings included seeds from a lot of weeds which are now flourishing in the vegetable beds.  Another thing that doesn't help - three things, actually - is the number of trees sending their roots across and stealing nourishment menat for the vegetables.  One neighbour has a rhus, one a large laurel and one a sycamore.  And there are two or three holly trees in the hedge which I fight to keep down!

This year my efforts have been restricted to peas, onions, parsnips and runner beans.  The peas are doing fairly well, although about 50% failed to germinate.  The rhubarb is refusing to grow.  The onions appeared to be doing nicely but have now rotted as a result of all the rain we have had.  None of the parsnips have germinated.  The runner beans were doing well up until a few days ago.  I went down the garden yesterday to find they have now all been eaten by slugs and snails!

 You see why I call my efforts a triumph of hope over experience?

~~~~~

We will stay with the Royal Pavilion for today's picture.  First, the "standard" view of the back of the palace, then a view I much prefer.



Sunday, 24 June 2012

Yesterday once more

The weather clerk was reasonably kind to us, the weather being mostly cloudy.  That (mostly cloudy) is really shorthand for very little sun, quite a lot of wind, not very warm (we all wore fleeces; in June!) but at least no rain.  Unfortunately there were not too many people either and those who were about were very wary of putting their hands in their pockets.  Of course, it is too soon for me to know the financial outcome but I think the main fund-raiser was Leo the Lion.  His "keeper" carried a collecting bucket and people who wanted a picture of a child (or themselves) with Leo felt duty-bound to make a donation.

There is a link between both yesterday's picture and today's and the one I posted on Thursday.  On Thursday I mentioned Indian soldiers who died in Brighton during the First World War.  That came about because in 1915 the Royal Pavilion in Brighton was turned into a hospital - for Indian soldiers injured in the trenches.  After the war,the southern gate to the Pavilion grounds was built, paid for by India to commemorate this and the deaths of the Indian soldiers.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Keeping on keeping on

Today could be busy.  Well, the afternoon at any rate.  I certainly hope it will.  You see, Brighton Lions have our annual fun day in the Royal Pavilion Gardens from noon until five.  I don't know yet just how I shall be occupied but I'm sure I will be offered a job of some description.  All the money raised today will be donated to Leo House, the children's hospice in the home service.  I have a particular interest in this charity as I was instrumental in setting it up.  Originally it was an appeal run by Brighton Lions to mark the club's golden jubilee when we aimed to raise money to build a children's hospice.  Along the way our plans changed as a children's hospice was built along the coast so we decided to concentrate of employing a team of nurses to provide palliative care in the home.  I was chairman and then treasurer for several years but withdrew some years ago when I felt it necessary to curtail my activities outside the home.

This is the first year the Pavilion Gardens fun day has been held on a Saturday, Sunday having previously been the day of choice.  We changed in the hope of increasing the footfall and thereby the profits as we had seen profits falling over the last couple of years.  It could be that the weather will be against us this year - it was England versus Germany in the World Cup two years ago and something else last year but I can't remember what.

I suppose a picture of the gardens would be appropriate today so here it is.


Friday, 22 June 2012

You live and learn...

...die and forget the lot.  (Good old granny once again.)

It's surprising - or perhaps not - just how much one can learn browsing the webbynet.  Even the odd blog or two!  For instance, one day last week I learned that there are such things as parasitic plants.  Fleas I knew of.  Ticks too.  But plants?  That was a new one for me.  I had discovered this astounding information on Colin and Elizabeth's blog where they mentioned a plant called the common broomrape.  This, I learned, is a parasite which attaches itself to and therefore grows from another plant's roots, presumably being unable to produce roots of its own.  It is also unable to produce chlorophyl, which might be why it is completely brown.  (I really am ignorant about these things.)

Seemingly this plant is particularly fond of clover - which is probably why I just happened to spot it in a field where I was walking the dog.  This is a field where the grass has been left to frow for hay and there is an abundance of clover.  I had not taken my camera that day but I went back a few days later and found plenty of examples to photograph.


A few days later I was on the Roman Camp when I saw somebody who looked as though he knew a thing or two about wild flowers as he was busy taking close-up photos of them.  He was using a tripod so he seemed to me to be pretty serious and I thought there was a good chance he could identify one particular flower which I have seen nowhere else and which was in full bloom all over the Camp that day.  As it happened, he knew the flower and the name was on the tip of his tongue but all he could recall was that it is related to the willow tree.

I mentioned, in passing, the broomrape saying I was surprised to learn that there are parasitic plants.  "There's another one," he said.  "That yellow flower next to your foot."

I don't know what that flower is called either - but I do now know that parasitic plants exist - and there is more than one of them!  I wonder what I shall learn next?

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Green eyes

I have to say that I really am just a little envious of Buck and his Tart.  OK, Dowager Tart.  You can see pictures of her right here.  I have kept my last two cars until the mileage crept up to about 90,000 before getting rid of them but I have been sorely tempted to give up on my present car even though the mileage is still only 48,000.  It's ridiculous, but when something goes wrong I tend to start worrying that something else will happen - and happen soon.  It doesn't help that every four years or 40,000 miles (yes, that means I have a while to go yet) the timing belt and water pump etc have to be changed - at a cost of £425 earlier this year.  Then there was that fiasco back in February when the car broke down on a French motorway and it cost me £750 to have an injector replaced.  OK, so the dealers are liaising with VW to get me a refund and the other injectors are to be replaced free of charge next week, but still and all...  Then this morning, on the way back from the park with the dog, I met one of the residents who has just replaced his 7-year-old Ford Mondeo estate with a Volvo VC90, a Chelsea tractor type of vehicle.  He told me it was either get a new woman or a new car and his wife didn't like the idea of a new woman.  I assured him he had made the right decision as a new woman would cost more to run than the car.

Anyway, today I am all behind like a donkey's tail, as my old granny would have said.  Or did she say like a donkey's gallop?  Maybe that was my other granny.  Either way, I slept more soundly last night than I have  for quite a while.  I did wake once to hear rain lashing against the window but as I have found nobody else who heard it, I have to wonder if I dreamt it.

[Did you know that dreamt is the only word in the English language ending in the letters MT?]

For some reason, not only did I sleep more soundly but I also slept longer.  I suppose the extra couple of glasses of wine yesterday evening might have contributed, but I somehow doubt that.  So today is likely to be a Lions day.  I will make a start on the minutes of last night's meeting.  That was where I had the extra glasses as I wasn't driving.  (We have a licensed bar at our meeting room.)  I just hope I made enough notes during the meeting!  This should be the last meeting with me as minute secretary.  I have done the job for two years and it's someone else's turn now.

I must also make a start on the July issue of Jungle Jottings.  I have been producing that for eight years now but am happy to keep on for a bit longer.

Then I have four dozen Message in a Bottle bottles to deliver to a local community nurse.  If you don't know of the Message in a Bottle scheme, you can go to the Brighton Lions Club web site, click on the "Our Projects" link, then "Service Projects" then "Message in a Bottle".

~~~~~

The weather having been kind for the last couple of days, I walked across the fields beside Upper Lodge Wood in the afternoon a day or so back.  When I go that way I always look across to the west at the Chattri.  Standing high on the South Downs behind Brighton, this is the site of the funeral pyres of some of the Indian soldiers who died in Brighton of wounds sustained on the western front during the First World War.  I reflect that those men, nearly a hundred years ago now, travelled thousands of miles only to die as a result of the senseless slaughter of the trenches.


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Doing it myself

When I first drove a car and I needed petrol I would pull up beside the pumps and wait for somebody to come and see what I wanted.  I would wind down my window and ask for four gallons of super.  The petrol pump attendant would put in the fuel, then return to my window and say, "That's six and tuppence, please" or whatever the cost was.  I would hand him (always a him, never a her) a ten bob note and wait for my change.  That was back in the days when there were still butchers' shops and bakers' shops - and quite possibly candlestick-makers' shops as well.  I have long since become accustomed to refuelling the car myself, driving on to pay at the kiosk or walking into the shop to pay.  In France, because it's more convenient, I generally use the pumps where one inserts a credit or debit card and has no need to use the services of the cashier.  Which is a little hypocritical of me.

I have come to accept the need for me to push a trolley around a supermarket, selecting for myself the goods I wish to purchase, rather than expecting a shop assistant to do the running backwards and forwards to fill my list told to him one item at a time.  But I do dislike those do-it-yourself checkouts.  I have used them on quite a few occasions and I still do if I have just one or two things in my basket and there are queues at the few tills open.  My experience is that leaving the cashier to do the work is very much simpler.  When using those DIY tills I usually forget to tell the machine that I have brought my own bags so as soon as I put one on the packing shelf the wretched machine screams at me, "Unexpected item in bagging area" and whatever I do has no effect so I have to wait until the one member of staff overseeing a dozen of these machines spots the red light and comes to my rescue.

Two or three items later, the machine screams again, "Unexpected item in bagging area".  Unexpected? That is the packet of tea I scanned only two seconds or so ago.  How can you not be expecting it?  Once again I wait to be rescued.  And it's definitely not worth the bother of trying to buy a bottle of wine.  Scan that and the whole thing goes into collapse mode just in case I am under 25 years old.  (Why 25 is something I have yet to work out since anyone over the age of 18 is allowed to buy alcohol.)  Trying to buy two or three bottles practically brings the whole store to a standstill.

I am not entirely sure what might be the benefit to me of using these tills.  I can accept the concept of supermarket chains buying in such bulk that the goods they sell are cheaper than at the local corner shop (which has been put out of business now by the supermarket) and the fact that by serving myself from the shelves I am helping to keep prices down.  I suppose the idea is that these latest machines will help ensure that prices are kept down but at what cost?  I would, I think, prefer to have supermarkets employ people to act as checkout operators than have to do all the work myself.  That, surely, is beneficial to the community as a whole: more people earning cash, fewer people claiming benefits.  I have to wonder, too, just how many items find their way surreptitiously into shopping bags, bypassing the scanner and bagging area of DIY tills.  Does the saving of, say, one salary outweigh the cost of the seepage?  I do know that I prefer the human contact.  It's better for my blood pressure as well.

~~~~~

What does help keep my blood pressure at a reasonable level is opening the bedroom curtains in the morning to see this view.


Tuesday, 19 June 2012

My grandfather's axe

When I read one day last week that the doors of the baptistry at Florence (pictured left) were not the originals, I was disappointed.  It was a totally irrational response, really, but I had thought when I saw the doors a few years back that I was admiring the craftsmanship of a medieval goldsmith/metalworker.  And all the time what I was admiring was a 20th century replica.  The original doors have now been cleaned and restored and are on display in a museum where they will not be subject to the ravages of the weather and the foul airs of the city.  But it got me to thinking.  (And yes, Skip, I do know that is a dangerous practice.)  How much of what we happily accept as historical objects is original and how much is modern replacement?

Take, as way of example, Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory.  Many thousand of people visit the ship every year and, as they duck below the beams on the gun deck, marvel at the way seamen lived and fought this ship at the Battle of Trafalgar way back in 1805.  But just how much of the ship was actually at Trafalgar?  i rather suspect that the rigging (and possibly the masts and spars as well) has been replaced and almost certainly there have been timbers scarfed into the hull where the original had rotted.

And what about Anne Hathaway's cottage at Stratford-on-Avon?  You can't expect me to believe that is the original thatched roof!  And the stonework of our medieval cathedrals is a patchwork of original stone and replacement.  Eventually all the original stone will have been replaced!  And that is where my title comes in.  "This is my grandfather's axe.  My father replaced the head and I have replaced the haft."

But does it matter that what we see is not original?  I suppose to answer that question we need to consider the purpose of these objects.  The doors of the baptistry at Florence (Firenze to the Italians) were not created for tourist to gawp at; they are intended to glorify God and whether they be several hundred years old or modern replacements is of no importance.  A work of art is a work of art no matter how old - and those doors are a work of art!

HMS Victory, however, is a bit different.  The principal raison d'etre of this preserved ship must be as a museum and therefore instructional or as place of entertainment (to put it crudely).  That being so, does it really matter whether it is entirely original or if bits have been replaced?  OK, so it might be pushing things a bit to claim this as the ship that fought at Trafalgar, but does it really matter?

The Battle of Britain Flight, consisting of Spitfire and Hurricane fighters and a Lancaster bomber from the Second World War, is another example.  I strongly suspect that there are parts of those planes which are modern replacements necessary if the planes are to fly at all.  But who cares?  Like the Victory, they remind those who see them of our country's history, our common British heritage, and that surely is important.

Monday, 18 June 2012

And also

Today is also the 70th birthday of Sir Paul McCartney - and I do know who he is!

This day in history

I sometimes take a look at one or other of the web sites that offer notes of what happened on any particular date in years gone by.  I usually find myself muttering about the information given as it so often seems to consist of listing the births or deaths of people of whom I have never heard,  Today, though, I don't need to check out any of those sites as I know full well that today is the 197th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.  I have never visited the battlefield, which i believe might offer the tourist more than, for example, the site of the Battle of Crecy, which I have visited and nearly missed.


I have no picture of Waterloo, but I can provide a picture of Napoleon's tomb on St Helena. This is a sketch by Lt Henry Jervis (further information here and here) dated 23 January 1833.


Napoleon's body is, of course, now in Les Invalides in Paris but the original grave can still be seen on St Helena. I don't know if these words are engraved on the tombstone but they are written in the sketchbook on the facing page:
In this far distant spot is laid
A head once pregnant with Imperial fire
Hands that the Rod of Empire firmly sway'd
Till lost by mad ambition's blasting ire

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Bits and pieces

That's Charter Night done and dusted for this year.  It all went pretty well with just one or two very minor cock ups.  My speech was well received - largely, I suspect, because it was short.  In all, the speeches took only 23 minutes or so.  The meal was good, one of the best hotel meals I have had in a long time and a lot of people said the same.  While the choices available on the menu were not particularly inspiring, the food was well presented and properly cooked.  There was plenty of it and the hotel included half a bottle of wine per person in the price which made it very good value at £30 to include meal and a live band for dancing.

Today the town is split in two by the London to Brighton bike ride orgainsed by the British Heart Foundation.   I have not managed to find out how many cyclists are due to take part this year but I am sure in other years it has been somewhere in the region of 30,000 (yes - thirty thousand).  Trying to get across a road they are streaming along can take ages.  It does mean that several of my favourite walks with the dog are not available to me today but fortunately I can still get to 39 Acres and the Roman Camp.

The observant may have noticed that I referred to the town being split in two.  Yes, Brighton & Hove is a city not a town - and I haven't the foggiest idea what makes a town a city except that it is done on the authority of the Queen acting on the advice of her ministers.  Brighton and Hove were previously two adjoining towns which were merged into a unitary authority, which is a bit like a mini-county.  The unitary authority was later promoted to city status and took the name Brighton & Hove as neither town wanted to be left out!  However, I - and, I suspect, many others - still think of the two separate towns rather than the city.

This time of the year would be one of Fern's favourites if dogs had the sort of brain with the ability to select favourites.  The grass has grown long and she delights in running through long grass and hunting down a tennis ball.  The grass on 39 Acres is cut just once a year, in the autumn, and is now so long that it can be difficult to spot Fern in it.  This picture is actually of part of the golf course beside the Roman Camp - and there is a springer spaniel in that grass.




Saturday, 16 June 2012

My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen

I have to make a speech this evening and although there will be a Lord there, I will not be starting with the words of my title.  That is only partly because he is not what I call a real Lord.  I am told he bought an obsolete Lordship of some obscure Manor so he is, in his view at least, entitled to be known as Lord Whatsisname.  The real reason for not including "my Lord" in the salutation is that I am well down the list of speakers, proposing the fourth toast.  The correct protocol will have been observed by the Toastmaster at the beginning of the programme and even that will probably be abbreviated to "Lion President Doug, Past District Governor Eddie, Mr Mayor, distinguished guests, ladies, gentlemen, my fellow Lions".  After that we don't bother with PDG Eddie or the Mayor.  My job, as I said, is to propose the fourth toast.  The programme actually runs as follows:


Programme

Toastmaster: Past President Lion Bill Catchpole.

The Loyal Toast

Lions Clubs International and
District 105SE
To be proposed by the President, Lion Doug Taylor,
with a response from Past District Governor Lion Eddie Warn.

Brighton Lions Club
To be proposed by the Past District Governor
with a response from the President.

The City of Brighton & Hove,
the Ladies and Our Guests
To be proposed by Past President Lion Brian Slater,
with a response from
the Right Worshipful the Mayor of the City of Brighton & Hove,
Councillor Bill Randall.


Dinner will be followed by dancing to Hi Society.


Carriages at midnight.

We have to include the City of Brighton & Hove if the Mayor is to respond to the toast.

I mapped out my speech in my head several weeks ago and while we were in France recently, I took the opportunity of writing it out (using old-fashioned pen and paper).  Back home, I refined it, deleting words here and there - even complete sentences - to pare it down to three minutes.  A day or two back i decided that the first third needed rewriting.  This morning I was lying in bed waiting for the alarm to go off for the third time and I was running through the speech in my mind.  (I always try to have these speeches learned so that I have no need to read them.)  Now I have decided I need to rewrite the middle third!

~~~~~

Yesterday I had a few minutes spare between shopping and collecting the Old Bat from her gas tank session so I went onto Hove seafront.  The middle of June: grey, dreary and deserted.


Friday, 15 June 2012

Un enchevêtrement de paperasserie

(Google assures me that means a tangle of red tape.  I wanted it in French because... well, you'll see.)

It all started back in the autumn last year.  Here in England we received a letter inviting us to a meeting in the village hall in La Prévière - two days later.  I translated the letter as saying that the meeting would be about cleaning the street.  This didn't seem to me to be of any great moment as far as I was concerned and it goes without saying that we didn't attend.  I later discovered that I had made a mistake in my translation but I still don't know if the meeting was about rubbish collection of the extension of the sewer...

It was about the same time that somebody left a very nicely printed note at the cottage telling us that he (or she) had called in connection with the wheelie bin which was to be issued to us.  he (or she) would, we were assured, call again or we could visit the office on a Saturday morning.  (Saturday is usually the day we arrive late in the evening and depart first thing in the morning so that was out.)  Naturally, both calls were made while we were in England.  On the second occasion a similar notice was left, but on the third attempt - we were back in England again - a different notice invited me to call a telephone number.  On our next visit I duly switched on the mobile first thing on Monday morning.  Could I visit the office on Saturday, I was asked?  No, I explained, as we would be leaving for England.  The very nice lady promised to have a wheelie bin delivered on Friday.

Friday came and went without a wheelie bin in sight.

Somewhere along the line we had been warned that there would be a change in the arrangements for rubbish collection effective from the beginning of January.  Before then we had just left a black sack outside our gate on a Monday evening and it was gone long before we surfaced on the Tuesday.  Starting from January, the dustmen would not touch a black sack left on the pavement and would only take rubbish from wheelie bins.  (Typical French bureaucracy.)  I pretended to be an ostrich/adopted a French approach and ignored this change.  As it happened, we had not put out any rubbish for about a year - which leads me to another branch of this seemingly interminable yarn.

Up until January last year it had been our practice to stop off at the local tip and leave our rubbish on the way home, having already recycled as much as possible.  But the local tip was closed for redevelopment from January to June last year.  During the second half of the year our homeward journeys rarely coincided with mornings that the tip was open so we usually just brought the rubbish back to England.

When the tip was redeveloped, barriers were installed at the entrance and exit but it was not until quite late in the year that I discovered why.

I now have a new piece of plastic.  When I go to the tip, I have to place this credit-card-sized access card against a reader before the barrier will rise.  (The reader is situated to be beside the driver's window - for left-hand-drive cars. I have to get out of the car and scurry back as soon as the barrier starts rising or it comes down again before I drive through.)  I am allowed just 18 visits to the tip between April and December this year - one a fortnight.

The reason for all this, I am told, is to stop residents of other areas using "our" tip and costing us money.  I presume the same system is being or has been introduced throughout France - but at what cost?  And how many new jobs have been created to monitor the number of visits people make?  What happens if I try to make a 19th visit this year?

But back to the wheelie bin.  The instructions that came with this access card gave a telephone number, a telephone number which I recognised as being the same as the one I had rung about the wheelie bin.  But there was also an address, which I had not been given before.  So on a visit earlier this year, I made my way to the office, fully prepared to do a bit of desk thumping should it prove necessary.  I wasn't sure that my French would be quite up to the discussion I felt sure would take place, but I would have a go.

As it turned out, my French was perfectly adequate and the young man I saw did try to speak a little English as well.  It transpired that wheelie bins are specific to an address and have to be singed for, this being the reason why it was not possible just to drop one off when nobody was about.  He promised that my wheelie bin would be delivered that lunch time.  And it was.

All in all, I feel I have done quite well to disentangle the French red tape involved.

~~~~~

Here we have part of the Brighton skyline as seen from the Roman Camp.


Thursday, 14 June 2012

Call me old fashioned

Or square, or past it, or just not with it.  I - and, I am sure - many thousands like me were delighted to learn that the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, is instructing schools to re-introduce the teaching of tables.  Times tables or multiplication tables.  I had not realised that these are no longer taught in schools but I suppose I should have guessed given the volume of complaints I hear and read about, for instance, shop assistants unable to do simple mental arithmetic.

My elder son, when he was about 6 and having to learn his tables, had many an argument with the Old Bat about it but, when he was 13 or 14 or so, he thanked her for making him learn them.  He realised then how much easier things are if one just knows without thinking that seven eights are 56.  The best was of learning tables in the classroom is, in my opinion, the old fashioned way.  By rote, or parrot fashion.  Have the whole class standing and chanting, "one two is two, two twos are four, three twos..."

As a parenthetical aside, our tables go up to 12 times because we used to count in dozens.  Do countries where the metric system has been fully adopted have tables going only to 10 times?  And why do they still sell eggs by the dozen in France?

But to get back to learning by rote.  The Old Bat agrees with me - about tables, anyway.  She doesn't seem capable of understanding that an extension of this is the training given to our armed forces so that when given an order, they obey immediately without thinking.  The OB is of the opinion that soldiers should think about an order before obeying in case it is a stupid command.  What she doesn't appreciate is that in some circumstances it is absolutely essential that a soldier moves immediately when so ordered and that his training, including square bashing, is to ensure that he does just that.

~~~~~

I was kicking myself yesterday lunch time.  We were out to our monthly Scouting pub lunch at a pub near the mouth of the River Cuckmere which is one of those really old rivers that twists and turns along a valley though the Downs to the sea between Seaford Head and the Seven Sisters.  The sun was shining - and I had forgotten to take my camera!  I suppose I could steal a picture, but I would prefer to offer one of my own, so here is an old one (I have no new ones) of a Provencal village when we stayed a few years back: Seillans.


Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Missed it

I suppose it is because I have become so accustomed to not smoking that I failed to note the first anniversary of when I smoked my last cigarette.  It was, I believe, one day last week.  I could, I suppose, find out on just which day last week the anniversary fell, but I really am not that interested.  I know I have gone a year without smoking so I have to believe I can go another.

It has been very much easier than I expected.  I have not had to resort to nicotine patches or electronic cigarettes or any of those other devices intended to fool the brain.  Nor have I eaten mints by the pound.  For our first trip to France after I stopped I did buy a packet of salty biscuits and some boiled sweets just for the long, sometimes boring stretches of motorway, but otherwise, nothing.  At first I would tell myself that if I smoked again I would be letting down the doctors, nurses, radiologists and eveyone else who had been involved in treating me for what turned out to be just a cancer scare and not the real thing.

Of course there have been occasions when I have thought how good it would be to have a cigarette.  Just the one.  But I know from personal experience that "just the one" leads to "well, another one won't hurt" so I have resisted the temptation.  The nearest I have got (so far) to caving in was on the way back from our French house.  We had just crossed the Pont de Normandie near Le Havre and I was in the outside of two lanes, closing fast on a lorry on the inside lane.  The lorry was empty but had load restraining bars fitted along the sides of the flat bed.  ne of those bars must have been loose because when the lorry hit a pothole or similar, one bar flew into the air.  It had every appearance of flying straight for our windscreen and I hit the brakes - hard.  Fortunately, the bar landed on the road beside the car but it was a very close thing.  I knew the Old Bat had cigarettes with her and if there had been somewhere I could have stopped to recover from the shock, there is every chance I would have begged a fag from her.  But there wasn't and I didn't - so here's to the next year.

I don't yet consider myself a non-smoker.  I am simply a smoker who has not smoked for the past 12 months - or a recovering junkie if you prefer.

And today's picture - the Pont de Normandie!


Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Of injectors and other complicated things

My car has a multiple display panel in the middle of the dashboard.  Controls on the streering wheel allow me to view in this panel, courtesy of the on-board computer, the current fuel consumption, the average fuel consumption for this trip, the length of this trip in either miles or time elapsed, the range available to me with the fuel remaining and so on.  It also tells me when I need to add oil, top up the washer reservoir, refuel and when a service is coming up due - "service in 500 miles or 93 days" or similar.  It had started nagging me some time before we went to France but it just wasn't convenient to book a service with the result that by the time we left it was telling me, "service now!"  It has gone into the local garage today.  But what really got me to book a service was not the nagging, on-board computer with its irritating beep every time I started the car.  No, it was the result of my visit to the supermarket last Friday.  You see, if I had not driven the Old Bat to her session in the diving bell and then gone to do the shopping, it would not have occurred to me to drop in to the local main dealer about my car.

Back in February the car broke down when we were in France and it ended up being carried off the autoroute on the back of a transporter.  The diagnosis was a faulty injector which I duly had replaced at considerable expense.  Some weeks later I happened to see in the weekend motoring section of my newspaper that VW had issued a recall of some cars because of faulty injectors.  So I determined to visit the main dealer at some time to see if my car should have been recalled.  It was purely by chance that my route on Friday took me very close to the dealer and I had time in hand.  I was attended to by a very attractive young lady at one of the service reception desks and she quickly confirmed that yes, my car is one to be recalled.  However, the dealership is sending out recall notices in batches and they have not yet got round to me.  When I explained that I had already suffered a breakdown, she spoke to her boss and gave me the phone number for the VW customer care department, telling me that my first step would be to contact them.  We also arranged to have the other three injectors replaced.  As I don't want the main dealer to service the car, I needed to act quickly.  Luckily, my local garage is very accommodating.

Meanwhile, I have decided against contacting VW customer care.  I will instead write to the branch of the dealership from which I bought the car as my contract is with them, not VW.  I think it is their responsibility to reimburse me, and then claim it from VW if they wish, or if nothing else, they should contact VW and fight for me if only to provide good customer service.  I see an interesting time ahead but I shall not give up as the cost of rep[lacing that one injector came well into three figures.

The car broke down as I was crossing a viaduct.  I had often wished I could stop to take photos - but I would rather not have done it this way.  Anyway, this was the view.

The lady on the other end of the emergency telephone was most insistent that we should get out of the car and sit on the grass.  I did try to explain that the nearest grass was 200 feet straight down but she didn't seem to understand.

Monday, 11 June 2012

We love to hate them

There's a sort of love:hate relationship between the English and the French.  It's nothing new: it's probably been going on for the better part of a thousand years, since William the Conqueror decided he wanted to be King of England way back in 1066.  At times the relationship has been more hate than love, sometimes just hate.  (Think of Crecy and Agincourt.)  And certainly there seems to be a national animosity among the French because they needed liberating from the German occupation.  There is a feeling among some English people that the French police are out to "get" English motorists, choosing to stop an English driver rather than a Frenchman if two drivers are committing offences.  French motoring law is different from English and there are several points that English drivers need to bear in mind before driving in France.  It has long been the case that French law requires each car to carry a warning triangle, not something that is necessary in England although it is considered good practice (not that many drivers seem to know the correct way to use them in the event of a breakdown).  It is also a requirement that a spare set of bulbs is carried - which seems especially daft in my case as changing a bulb in my car is a garage job!  Some confusion exists over whether a first aid kit is compulsory.  If it is, one wonders just what such a kit should contain.  I say that a few sticking plasters is sufficient as my knowledge of first aid is so limited that I could never use any more than that.  But the latest - or soon-to-be latest as the law comes into effect next month - is that each car must carry a breathalyser.  Or two - because if it is necessary to  use one there must always be another so that there is a minimum of one in the car.  What I have yet to discover is just when one might be expected to use one.  Do the French police no longer carry them but expect drivers to provide their own if they are suspected of driving with too much alcohol in the blood?  I shall probably never find out.  I have been stopped by the police just once in the nearby town.  They were pulling all cars over and checking documents.  Luckily I had mine with me and since then I have made a point of always carrying my driver's license, my insurance certificate, my MOT certificate and the car registration document.  Of course, I have never needed them again.

~~~~~

The Patcham windmill has recently been swathed in scaffolding but I noticed when I was at Waterhall the other day that this has now been removed and the mill is a pristine white.  From it one can presumably see the rugby pitches and baseball diamond of yesterday's photo.


Sunday, 10 June 2012

Disappointment - twice

With neither television nor newspapers nor computer and internet while we are in France, I do manage to get quite a bit of reading done.  On this latest trip there were two books in particular that I was looking forward to opening: Calico Joe, John Grisham's latest which I had been given as a birthday present, and Believing the Lie, the latest Inspector Lynley novel by Elizabeth George which I had borrowed from the local library.  Both proved disappointing for different reasons.

I rather suspect that in the case of Mr Grisham, his publishers were pressing for another book and he dusted off a draft he had written some years ago, padded it out just a little and sent it off.  Yes, there is the nub of a plot but I found I was quite unable really to believe in the characters - and far too much of the book read like a report of one or more baseball games in the sports pages of a newspaper.  But on the plus side I did learn quite a lot about baseball!

The interplay between the aristocratic Inspector Lynley and the almost-Essex girl Sergeant Havers is one of the strong points in Miss George's novels and also in the television adaptations broadcast by the Beeb.  There is a modicum of it in her latest offering and I found most of the other characters as believable as hers usually are, but somehow there was just something lacking.  The plot was as convoluted as ever, maybe more so with more than the usual twists and surprises along the way.  All the same, I didn't think this vintage George.  Coincidentally, there is a repeat of a Lynley episode on television tonight and I don't recall either seeing this one before or reading the book either.  I shall look forward to it.

The last time we went to France I suggested to the Old Bat that she might enjoy Loss of Eden, John Masters trilogy set at the time of the First World War.  Although we did take the first of the books - Now God be Thanked - she didn't get round to reading it.  We took it with us again this time and she was very quickly hooked by the story of how the war affected three or four families from a town and a nearby village in Kent.  Almost as soon as we were home she had picked up the second book.  To my mind this trilogy is one of the classics of the 20th century and I just cannot for the life of me understand why it is not better known.  It really is right up there with Birdsong and The Cruel Sea, two more that I consider to be modern classics.

~~~~~

Yesterday afternoon was windy but bright.  I went up the Waterhall valley for the first time for several weeks - and discovered this:


Saturday, 9 June 2012

Getting to grips

I had intended to spend most of yesterday catching up.  The Old Bat and I had spent a week at our French house, driving back on Thursday.  And what a day that turned out to be!  It didn't just rain, it monsooned all the way from the Loire very nearly to Calais, a jouney which takes us about eight hours with the number and length of stops we make on the way.  We sometimes stop for a meal at Calais but this time we decded to continue the trip on the basis that we would be home reasonably early and the Old Bat would cook omelettes.  Our booked train was the 20:50 from Calais, arriving at Folkestone at 20:25 thanks to the change in time zones but we were confident of being able to change our booking for a departure at about 19:20.  Unfortunately the trains were so full that the earliest we could switch to was the 19:50.  But what we didn't know until we had checked in and it was too late to turn back was that trains were running behind schedule because of what was described as "an earlier incident".  It was 10:30 or later before we finally arrived in Brighton - but at least it wasn't raining this side of the Channel.

So yesterday I was going to catch up with emails and reading the blogs I follow.  But I had not allowed for the wind.  Gusting at up to 80 mph, this was almost a living animal.  And the OB was due for a hugh dosage oxygen session in the diving bell.  So I had to provide an arm to stop her being blown over and that was the morning gone.

We were, of course, away from home over the Jubilee weekend and so missed all the jollifications.  I had, however, set the DVD recorder beforehand so we have many hours of programmes to while away the sultry summer evenings - or the cold, wet, windy ones.  Most of the coverage I have recorded, including the Thames river pageant, was on BBC as I consider they generally handle those big occasions better than the competition.  I am, however, wondering if I made a mistake as there was criticism in yesterday's paper, obviously ongoing citicism, about the somewhat fatuous approach of the BBC's presenters.  Luckily I had saved a copy of a Sunday supplement from a week earlier in which there are reasonably full descriptions of the various sections of the flotilla and the vessels in them.  But perhaps more of that when I have watched the recording.

~~~~~

We are quite accustomed to seeing lizards in the courtyard over in La Prévière, usually looking like this one which was sunning itself on our bench.  Most of them are about three or four inches long, including the tail which probably accounts for about half of the length.  They scurry around but scuttle under a shed door or flower tub as soon as they realise that a human is in the vicinity.  But not so the one I met last week.  I was using the flame-thrower to burn off the weeds and he (or she) seemed intent on suicide by self-immolation as he (or she) would keep heading for the heat.  Eventually the beast went indoors and I was able to lift the door mat with the beast on it and deposit it on the far side of the courtyard.  But I have never seen a lizard like this.  Longer (about six inches) and fatter that the run of the mill lizard, it was also a bright green with - as you can see -b lack spots and a vivid orange stripe down its back.


Friday, 8 June 2012

Annie's

I think it was while my daughter was a teenager that we first heard of Annie's restaurant, said daughter having been taken there to celebrate a friend's birthday.  The restaurant was not actually owned or managed by a woman called Annie but that had been chosen as the name of the establishment.  It was in a small, flint-built fisherman's cottage - possibly 500 years old - set at the end of a narrow passage between shops in the Lanes.  You can see from the picture on the left just how narrow the passage is.

There was room for just four tables on the ground floor with a little more space upstairs - maybe 36 covers all told if people tucked their elbows in.  All very cosy.  The menu was cosy as well, concentrating on pies: steak and ale, turkey and apricot and various other delicious options.  It quickly ecame a favourite eating place of ours.

Then - horror of horrors - the whole thing changed.  We understood it was still in the same ownership but gone was the name Annie's - and gone, too, were the pies.  Or most of them.  Almost overnight, it seemed, Annie's had become Blind Lemon Alley and the menu had changed from pies to burgers and the like.  Not being great burger fans, we were somewhat relucant to visit the changed establshment but eventually decided to give it a try.  It was, it seemed, still as popular as ever and booking was essential even though the tourist hordes rarely made it up the passage - now painted yellow to give the reason for the new name.  Never a place for a quiet, romantic evening, the decor was just the same - plain wooden tables and a homely, friendly atmosphere.  The staircase to the upper floor was still hobbit-sized.

The food was just as good if not better than before and I quickly fell into a routine of not even reading the menu before ordering deep fried potato skins with cheese and bacon as my starter, followed by a burger (I don't recall just which one) with garlic potatoes (Oh, those garlic potatoes!) and finishing with a slice of Eli's Chicago cheesecake served with cream.  OK, so you've spotted the contradiction.  I said we were not burger fans, but these were burgers the like of which we had never beforecome across in England.  They were not your massed-produced packages of gristle but made daily on the premises from good beef supplied fresh every day by a local butcher.  All the difference in the world.

But four years ago the owner went broke and the restaurant closed.  It has (fairly recently) re-opened but now calls itself a cocktail bar with food.  I did look at the menu the other day as I walked past and it might be worth a try.  I noticed that I should be able to park almost right outside - something that is not easy to do in the Lanes but essential these days for the Old Bat.  Maybe in the not-too-distant future.

Right opposite is this old cottage which I find very attractive.



Thursday, 7 June 2012

The greater striped tile cutter

The new tile cutter was quite a machine. It would need to be placed on a workmate and, we guessed, would have to be outside. With a diamond cutting wheel powered by electricity, tiles would need to be placed on the flat surface and pressed two-handed against the rotating wheel, which ran through a water bath to cool it. It looked as though it might be just a bit too messy to use indoors. As it was by then beginning to get dark, we decided to give ourselves the rest of the day off and to start afresh in the morning.

The next day saw us up early, raring to go. We set up the cutter with an extension lead, filled the water bath, and pressed to ‘on' button. The cutting wheel rotated at high speed, throwing out droplets of water in all directions. Leaving Chris to decipher the finer details of the operating instructions, I measured and marked up another tile.

I stood well back while Chris laid the tile on the cutter, switched on the machine, and gingerly pressed the tile against the wheel. Just a little more pressure and the wheel cut through the tile swiftly and cleanly. I burst out laughing as Chris handed me the piece I needed: he had been sprayed by the cutter and now boasted a white stripe from the middle of his forehead, down his nose, over his chin and down his chest.

Chris got no cleaner as the day wore on, and I was laughing too much to lay the tiles straight, but we got the job done. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

If at first you don't succeed

Chris and I spent an exorbitant amount of time examining the various cutters on sale: we wanted to make sure that whichever one we bought would be up to the job of cutting floor tiles about a quarter of an inch thick. Eventually we found one which we thought would be right for our needs and drove back to Les Lavandes whistling merrily.

After lunch we tried out the new tile cutter. We decided to play it safe, and used one of the already spoiled tiles. The result was exactly the same as before. Could it be that there was something wrong with this tile cutter as well, or were we just not using it correctly? Perhaps somebody at Mr Bricolage could tell us, so we put the cutter and the spoilt tile in the car and set off back to Mr B.

It was only with some difficulty that we managed to explain to the assistant at the information desk just what our problem was, but our persistence paid off and she went to find the store's resident expert on tile cutting. When he arrived we went through the rigmarole again. Fortunately the expert cottoned on quicker than the young lady had. He raised his eyebrows in time with his shoulders as he shrugged and spread his hands as if to ask, "Well, what do you expect?" His response was issued in machine-gun-style French, from which we gathered that he really was saying "Well, what do you expect?" We also understood him to be saying that the cutter we had bought was completely useless for cutting floor tiles, a job for which it was never intended.

He led us back to the area of the store where we had so carefully examined all the wide variety of tile cutters on sale. The expert pointed to a huge beast that stood on the floor like a saw bench. "That is what you need for floor tiles," he exclaimed.

The price of this monster made me raise my eyebrows: the cutter was going to cost me more than the tiles, the adhesive and grout all added together. Luckily, the cost was defrayed a little when the store agreed to buy back the cutter I had so recently bought and Chris and I drove away with the back of the car almost dragging along the road, so heavy was the brute.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

We make a start

When the shower room was built, the floor - for some reason I have never worked out - was raised by about one and a half inches. But instead of leaving the normal type of shallow step, the builder made a slope from the hall floor to the new, higher, shower room floor at an angle of forty-five degrees, presumably on the grounds that it would be safer as people were less likely to trip over it. Then, at the end where the toilet pan sits, the floor is at yet a higher level, again by about an inch and a half. And again the builder made a slope at an angle of forty-five degrees. At least, we thought that had been his intention. Unfortunately the angle was nearer sixty degrees at one end of the slope and thirty degrees at the other.

So, as well as one of us having to twist like a contortionist, we had to cut tiles to fit the corners, the edges, round the wash basin pedestal, round the toilet pan - oh, and round an air grill which had been set into the floor for ventilation, there being no outside wall to the room. And then there were those two funny little slopes to contend with.

Chris being bigger than me, it was decided that I would lay the tiles while Chris would cut them to shape. I slapped a generous layer of adhesive on the only place on the floor where I could lay whole tiles and put the first two in place. We congratulated ourselves on having made a good start and went to have a coffee.

The next tile to be laid needed to be cut down. I took great care in marking just where the cut was to be made, remembering Chris's maxim, "measure twice, cut once", before handing the tile to Chris, who had set up the workbench in the courtyard. Chris followed the instructions which had come with the cutter, pulling the diamond wheel along the line of the cut, then inserting the tile between the upper and lower bars and pressing down on the handle. The tile snapped in completely the wrong place.

I had anticipated that we might have the odd accident or two and had deliberately bought more tiles than I should really have needed, so it was no problem for me to mark up a second tile. But when I gave it to Chris to cut, the same thing happened. It happened with the third tile as well.

We decided that there must be something wrong with the tile cutter, but as I had bought it in England there was nothing we could do about that. We had another coffee, and then went off to Mr Bricolage to buy a replacement.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Chris and I and the shower room

The time came when I could put it off no longer. Something had to be done about the flooring in the shower room. I agreed that I would replace the faded and worn-thin lino with tiles and, on one of my solo trips to France, I drove hundreds of miles and traipsed round about seventy-three different outlets - posh shops, DIY stores, cavernous warehouses and builders' merchants' yards - to find tiles which I thought would please Mrs S. I did eventually find what I wanted in Mr Bricolage, the DIY store which had become my second French home and which was, of course, the nearest tile stockist to Les Lavandes. As well as the tiles for the floor, I found a similar narrow tiles to fix to the bottom of the walls instead of the skirting board which wasn't there anyway. I had insufficient faith in my French to buy adhesive, grouting and a tile cutter over there, so found what I wanted in England.

Chris came over with me: I can't think why it can be, but he seems to like these jaunts. We removed the lino and stood jammed shoulder to shoulder in the shower room doorway considering how to tackle the job.

Perhaps at this stage I should explain that the house, when it was built in 1840, consisted of just two rooms - one downstairs and one up. Adjoining the house were cattle sheds with a hay barn above. The cattle sheds had at some time been converted into the living room and kitchen, while the downstairs room in the house part had a stud wall built to provide a bedroom and an entrance hall. The hall had been further divided to provide a shower room, effectively under the stairs, and the shower room was therefore a little on the small side, shall we say. If Chris and I had attempted to get in there together we would have been unable to see the floor properly.

The dimensions of the room alone would mean that this would not be a particularly easy job: one of us would have to twist like a contortionist to reach every corner. And it was plain to see that only two tiles could be laid without cutting them. But there was another little problem as well.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

An Egyptian brothel?

Chris and I had a little discussion before we fixed the first length of tongued and grooved board. It would need two and a bit lengths of board to cover the length of the hall and Chris thought we should arrange the boards so that the joins were level with each other in every second row. In my opinion this would be just a little too formal and I preferred a random pattern of joins, which I thought would be more in keeping with a house of this age. Chris deferred to me most graciously.

"After all," he said, "it is your house. And anyway, we would probably end up with a lot of short pieces to fill the last two or three rows."

Fixing the boards was a little fiddly as we wanted to nail them through the grooves so that no nails would be visible when the job was finished. Luckily, none of the boards was unduly warped so at least we did not have that to contend with. All the same, it was well into the following day before we could turn our attention to the really tricky bit were the stairs emerged into the hall. But Chris's plan worked well and we were undeniably pleased with ourselves when we stood back and looked at the end result. There was just one final, finishing touch needed.

When our son and daughter-in-law had moved into their new house, Mrs S had looked at a lampshade left by the previous owners and realised straight away that it would not be to the taste of either son or daughter-in-law. She had decided it was just what was needed in the hall at Les Lavandes. It was a somewhat fragile affair of clear and coloured panels in a wire framework and I had been extremely careful how I had packed it in the car. Now was the time to put it up.



I thought Mrs S was quite right and it was just what the hall needed. Chris's comment was that it made the place look like an Egyptian brothel: I diplomatically refrained from asking him what he knew about such houses of ill repute, but Mrs Chris was less restrained when I reported his comment later.

 And just to finish off, this is the hall as it looks nowadays.


Saturday, 2 June 2012

Cross battens in place

The next thing for Chris and me to do was to cut the cross battens and fit them in place. Each one had to be measured separately as the walls of the hall were not exactly parallel. There was also the small matter of how they were to be fixed to the battens on the wall. For some reason which I can't recall we decided that we wanted the underside of the cross battens to be at the same level as the underside of the wall battens. Eventually, we decided to cut the cross battens to exactly the same measurement as the gap across the hall between the wall battens. We then cut shorter lengths of batten which we fixed to the top of the cross battens but protruding at each end. These short lengths could sit on top of the wall battens and we could fix them by screwing down through the protrusions. It was not until we had nearly finished that we realised we had made unnecessary work for ourselves: all we really had to do was to fix the cross battens immediately underneath those on the wall and screw up through them. We consoled ourselves by telling each other that our method produced a much neater finish!



So far we had given little thought to the most difficult part of the job but that could not be put off any longer. At the far end of the hall from the front door the stairs curved round the corner of the wall behind the shower room and jutted out into the hall a little way. There was insufficient height over the bottom two stairs for our new, lower ceiling. We stood gazing at the spot for some time until eventually Chris exclaimed, "I've got it!" He had worked out how to construct a step in the false ceiling so that, although the step itself would be clearly seen, it would not look out of place.

I left him to the carpentry while I went and prepared our lunch.

We were ready to nail the first length of tongue and groove boarding to the cross battens. Now, however, we had another decision to make - and we realised that there was something we had forgotten. We had intended buying the nails the previous day as we had to pass Mr Bricolage on our way to the timber merchant to buy the battens. Six times we had driven past - three return journeys - and each time we had forgotten to go in. Before we could go any further, that had to be put right.

Friday, 1 June 2012

In which battens are fixed to the wall

After all the measuring, calculating, running around and general faffing around, the afternoon was pretty well gone and we decided that there really was no point us starting to do any actual work. We might as well relax for a while before getting cleaned up to go out for a meal. Chris could relax with a glass of Scotch, but I had to content myself with orange juice as I was driving.

Next morning we were up bright and early, raring to get started. We took great care as we fixed the battens to the wall: they needed to be perfectly level round all four walls. Actually, there were six walls as the hall is L-shaped, but that is just splitting hairs. Despite all our care, we did make a small mistake. We started at the wrong end of the hall.


The front door to the house is recessed into the two-feet thick wall, but the recess does not reach to ceiling height. If we had thought about it, we would have fixed the batten above the front door first in order to ensure that the tongue and groove timber ended up at the same height as the top of the recess. It would not have been the end of the world if the false ceiling had been slightly above the door recess, but going into the recess would have led to some tricky cutting of the boards as the recess is not square-shaped. But for once Lady Luck was on our side. As we fixed the last batten to the wall - the one above the door - we realised that the ceiling would line up exactly with the top of the recess.