Sunday, 30 September 2012

That Was The Week That Was

To continue from where I left off yesterday.  But first, I should perhaps explain that I have again taken the title of my post from a television programme.  This time I have used the programme's title rather than a quote from it.  That Was The Week That Was, also known as TW3, was a satirical television comedy programme that was shown on BBC Television in 1962 and 1963.  It was presented by David Frost and was, I think, his television debut.

Coming back to the present, or at least the near past in the form of the week just gone by, I took Fern, the springer spaniel, to Waterhall one afternoon.  Wednesday, I think.  It was just as well I had not gone earlier as when I arrived I noticed a caravan in one corner of the car park and two rather burly men leaning on their big cars in the middle.  Then I saw the council's rubbish containers and realised that those two men were bailiffs who had just evicted a load of travellers.  Unfortunately, these were the sort of travellers who delight in leaving a mess behind them.  It was disgusting.  The one bright spot in the afternoon (other than the moving on of a bunch of ne'er-do-wells) was a large flock of swallows flying over and around the playing fields.  I would have expected them to have left before now but they were presumably just getting ready to move on.

I did say write yesterday that the week had periods of nothing much happening.  Most of those seemed to have been when it was raining.  And we have had a lot of rain this week.  That said, this little corner of south-east England has escaped the worst of the wet summer and we have certainly been a lot better off than hundreds of people in the north of the country who have been flooded out of their homes.  OK, it will be of absolutely no consolation to those people in Northumberland and Yorkshire, but there were a paragraph or two on a page well inside the newspaper the other day from which I learned that there are many more people - millions, was it? - in India who are also homeless as a result of flooding.  I wondered why I had not heard of this before and if Lions International have been brought in.

Yesterday was a day of glorious sunshine in these parts and I took the dog up to the Roman Camp.  It was the first time I had managed to get there for three months or more but I had overestimated my recovery and had to cut the walk short when my left knee started playing up.  But it was worth it to get the fresher air on top of the Downs and to enjoy the views extending 50 miles to the Isle of Wight in the west.  I took a couple of pictures and may well post one in due course.

In the news this week was a comment made by the Queen to a BBC correspondent in a private conversation.  Frank Gardner, I am sure, realised what a gaffe he had made almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth and both he and the BBC have apologised to Her Majesty for the breach of protocol.  All the same, I am sure that the Queen's comment that she was puzzled why Abu Hamza, the militant Islamist cleric, was still a free man will have endeared her to 99% of the British population.  (He isn't free now - he's in a high security jail at a cost of £50k a year.) If the Americans want him, let them have him, is what most of us think.  And this has been dragging on for eight years!  What sticks in the craw even more is that, although his appeal to the highest European court has been turned down, his lawyers have launched yet another, believed to be on the grounds that his mental health is below par or some such.  It makes matters worse to learn that those lawyers have received fees of about half a million pounds, fees paid by the British taxpayers!!

Had to smile on Friday, though, to read a front page story.  A post box on Birmingham station had not been emptied for - wait for it - 23 years!  It seems the Royal Mail forgot they had it!  I'm surprised that there was still room to post letters in it.  It must be in a pretty out of the way spot not to have been filled long before now.

I think that just about wraps up the week.

~~~~~

The Château de la Lorie is another of those not very far from our village.  We had learned that there is a magnificent marble staircase here so when my brother and his wife were staying with us we set off to pay a visit.  Unfortunately, we arrived on the one day of the week that the château was not open to the public and were unable to go back again.  Next year, my wife and I went - only to find that the château opened to the public in July.  This was in June.  We have never been back again.


Saturday, 29 September 2012

It's been a funny sort of week

The title of this post is a paraphrase of what were almost the last words in every episode of Open All Hours, a sitcom starring the late Ronnie Barker and David Jason which was broadcast back in the 1970s.  Barker played the part of a lonely, late middle-aged bachelor running a corner shop and as he took in the potatoes, brooms, buckets and other things placed or hanging outside the shop at the end of the day he would cogitate what had gone on, always saying, "It's been a funny sort of day".

I suppose, when I come to think of it properly, it hasn't really been a funny sort of week.  It's been perfectly normal; which is to say, I have enjoyed (?) a variety of experiences interspersed with longish periods when nothing much was happening.  So let me tell you about those experiences and maybe comment as well on things that have been going on around me but not directly affecting me.

The first thing of note was the receipt of a letter, a copy of the letter my consultant rheumatologist sent to my GP.  It told me pretty much what he had said at my consultation last week about decreasing the daily dose of prednisolone (the steroid I am taking) and starting a low dose of methotrexate and gradually building this up - subject to no adverse reactions shown in blood tests.  These will need to be done every month while the dose of meth is built up and then every 6 to 8 weeks.  I knew I would need to have regular tests once on this new drug but I had assumed they would be every 6 months or so, not every 6 weeks!  This drug must be more dangerous than I had realised but I must at least try it.  If I am crippled by arthritis the way I was a month or so ago I can be no help whatsoever to Mrs S as her condition gradually worsens - and it is.  I will see my GP next week and will take it from there.

I didn't do bingo on Wednesday.  The Lions run bingo sessions twice-monthly in each of two retirement homes and I volunteered to stand in for one of the Lions who was on the rota for Wednesday when it seemed he would be unable to go along.  As it happened, the Australian couple who had said they would arrive with him and his wife on Wednesday afternoon changed their plans and came on Tuesday for one night.  But I did do bingo yesterday where I distributed invitations to the pre-Christmas tea party we are organising.  They were well received.

Of course, I nearly forgot that the Old Bat and I went out to eat on Thursday.  I had wondered if the local Italian restaurant had pasta with barolo sauce on the menu but they don't.  Instead I tried rigatoni with boscaiola sauce.  This sauce is made with thin slices of mushroom simmered with Parma ham, garlic, tomatoes, onions etc.  Very tasty it was too, although not quite as tangy as the amatriciana which the Old Bat tried for the first time and very much enjoyed.  Desserts were tiramisu for me and panna cotta for her ladyship.

Well, there is more I could write but I think that will do for today.

~~~~~

We were looking at châteaux in the daily pictures but got slightly diverted yesterday in Vitré.  Château is French for castle but the building evolved from the defensive forts such as the one at Pouancé into the hunting lodges and mini-palaces that are a feature of the Loire valley.  Our village is some distance from the major châteaux but there are some minor gems not far away, such as this one at Challain la Potherie.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Off on holiday again?

I often wondered what drove people to buy a time-share.  They were, I thought, tying themselves down to taking a holiday in the same place and at the same time every year.  (I had not realised that time-share holidays could be swapped.)  This was during the years when the Old Bat and I were exploring the world and taking our holidays in a variety of places: Scotland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Guernsey, France, Jersey, Madeira, Malta, the Blue Ridge Mountains, New England and other places in between.  I had forgotten that for quite a few years when the children were small we had spent a week each August in the same guest house in a small Devonshire village.  Mrs Longman's one-time farm house was in Abbotsham, just a few miles from Westward Ho! on the north Devon coast were there was a large expanse of sandy beach beside a free car park.  The children loved it and Mrs Longman apparently enjoyed looking after us.  Our elder son loved her treacle tart and every year she would make sure it was on the menu, baking a special small one just for him.

Now we are older we tend to explore less and less and make more use of our French hideaway as a destination for holidays.  But that - holidays - is a word I don't associate with Les Lavandes.  People always talk of us going on holiday when we go there but I never think of it in those terms.  After all, the house requires work from both of us.  There is painting and decorating as well as gardening - and who associates DIY with going on holiday? 

All the same, those jobs seem less like chores in France than they do here in England and even though I always tell people we are not going on holiday, we are merely living in our other house for a while, a week there always seems like a holiday.

Roll on next weekend!

~~~~~

Vitré is a quaint town - at least, the central old part is - with narrow streets and half-timbered buildings.


Thursday, 27 September 2012

Food, glorious food

I did say a few days ago that one effect of the steroids I am currently taking is that I have developed an obsession with food and that as soon as one meal is finished I am thinking about the next.  Today that situation has worsened to the extent that I was thinking about tonight's dinner even before I got out of bed, let alone waiting till after lunch or even breakfast!  Of course, that could be partly because the Old Bat and I have decided to eat out tonight at our local Italian restaurant.

Even though we don't live "in town", we are very well served for both take-aways and restaurants within a mile or so.  There are three fish and chip shops, although two are just too far away and the food is cool by the time it reaches the table.  And the last time I bought at the other one I discovered it had changed hands.  I was ill during the night so have never been back.  We also have two Chinese take-aways and an Indian, a pizza take-away and a burger bar.  On top of that, there are two Indian restaurants, a carvery, three pubs serving food and the Italian we will be patronising.

So, what shall I eat tonight?  There is a splendid range of pizzas on offer, together with a wide selection of pasta and different sauces as well as meat and fish dishes.  (You might have noticed that I fail to mention any starters.  Our experience is that the main courses are so large that a starter is not needed, especially if one wants a dessert.)  We last ate here a couple of weeks ago when I ordered salmon and mushroom risotto and was slightly - only very slightly - disappointed.  There was nothing wrong with the food I was served; it just wasn't quite as good as the risotto cooked by the Old Bat.  Mention of the Dearly Beloved reminds me that she had lasagne and declared it excellent.  Not as good as the lasagne served in La Roma, a restaurant in Châteaubriant that we very much like.  Their lasagne contains some ingredients we have so far failed to identify and is cooked in the wood-burning pizza oven - which may also affect the flavour.

I think I will probably go for pasta this evening.  I'm not that much of a pizza eater and I rather like pasta.  But what pasta?  And what sauce?  For a long time my favourite was spaghetti or tagliatelle with a carbonara sauce but I have recently taken to amatriciana,  especially with rigatoni.  I wonder if they serve it with barolo sauce?  I haven't tried that and it looks interesting.

Desserts are equally difficult to choose.  They have banoffi pie - but I'm not over-keen on that so it's off as far as I am concerned.  There is also chocolate mousse, but the pick has to be either tiramisu or panna cotta, both of which are made in house and are world class.

Last time we ate there we tried their house red wine, a cabernet sauvignon from Chile's central valley, and found it first class - fruity and just right for dryness.  It comes in a screw-top bottle as well which makes it easier to take home what we don't drink at the table.  And the espresso coffee is just as it should be, in fact, almost as good as in France.

I'm feeling hungry just thinking about it!

~~~~~

The front of the château at Vitré is also pretty impressive.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

A banking bleat

I spent the first 25 years of my real working life (I don't count Saturday mornings stacking shelves in the supermarket or working there full-time pending starting the "real" job) with one of England's big banks.  You might think this would mean that I view the actions of banks in a more sympathetic light than most.  And perhaps I do - in some instances.  But there is one thing that has bugged me for quite a long time.  No, that's an understatement: there are lots of things that have bugged me.  But this post moan is about one thing in particular: the way bank's hang onto our money for days when they transfer funds from one account to another.  If I give my bank instructions to transfer money to another account, whether at a different branch of the same bank or a completely different bank, it takes two days for the money to be available to the recipient.  Two days!  And that in this age of instant electronic communication.  Now my gripe is not that neither I nor the recipient (or intended recipient) of that money don't have the use of it but that the bank does.  I know full well that if all those funds being transferred are added together they amount to millions of pounds at any one time.  And millions of pounds borrowed by the bank interest-free but lent or invested at a good return means substantial extra profits.

Having said that, I have been impressed for several years that my French bank doesn't hang on to money sent over by my English bank (and this would indicate that the receiving bank is the one hanging onto the money) but gets it into my account fast.  I had occasion to top up the French account this week having seen that the exchange rate had recovered slightly in my favour,  The money was available to me in France before the close of business on the day it left my English account.

Actually, now I come to think of it, there was one occasion when the money was in my French account before it had even been taken from my English one!

Now I have got all that lot off my chest i must confess that my rant is out of date.  The English banks have cleaned up their act to a certain extent.  Some inter-bank transfers are effective within two hours - but not all of them, so there is still some way to go.

~~~~~

Continuing our tour of French châteaux, we move twenty miles or so north from Pouancé to Vitré, another town on the Breton marches.  If I am taking people to Vitré I like to circle the town on the bypass and enter from the north.  This way one drives down a long, fairly shallow hill which is lined on either side by hideous 1920s house and bungalows.  But at the foot of the hill there is a right angle turn into a narrow street and the "wow" factor becomes apparent.


Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Now I wonder why that is?

For some years now I have been the editor of Jungle Jottings, the monthly newsletter of Brighton Lions Club, and yesterday I finished the October issue (which just happens to be the 100th under my editorship).  I say I'm the editor which rather implies I collect material from a lot of different people and decided what should be published and how the newsletter is to be laid out.  In fact, I am also the one and only full-time writer with just the occasional - very occasional - piece being contributed by somebody else.  Having completed the issue in my chosen word processing package (Wordperfect), I convert it to a pdf file and send by email to approximately 60 people, some of them members of Lions Clubs other than Brighton.  In fact, it is sent to California, Maryland, Oregon, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Brazil as well as England.  Now my ISP, through which I send and receive email, will not allow me to send one email to more than20 recipients, a means of cutting spam, so I have to send three emails.  using my contacts list I have three mailing lists and I insert the contents of each in turn into a different email as blind carbon copies.  But this month the draft email will not update with the third third mailing whether as blind addresses or as original addressees.  I have now sent the newsletter to some of the folks on that list individually but there are several who won't see my next masterpiece.

I wonder what will happen next month?

~~~~~

Yesterday we looked at Pouancé castle (I refuse to call it a château) from across the lake.  That is where people congregate for the Bastille Day fireworks display, the fireworks being set off in the castle.  Today we will go inside the castle and you can see just how much of a ruin it really is.



Monday, 24 September 2012

Could it be down to the steroids?  I was awake early yesterday and even earlier today - more than two hours before the alarm was due to wake me and it was still only dimly light outside.  This was due in part to the continuing cloud cover.  Still, maybe the rain will fatten my raspberries.  Although I have been picking them in reasonable numbers, they are much smaller than in other years and I put this down to the extraordinary dry period we have had in this little corner of south-east England.  The blackberries are also smaller than usual but at least we have some.  I have read in the paper that they are in short supply in the hedgerows, as are the sloes.  Not that the shortage of sloes bothers me unduly since neither the wife nor I drink gin in any way.

I spent those two hours after waking alternately dozing and counting my blessings, though why I should suddenly decide to count my blessings I really cannot say.  But it ius an exercise we should all go through from time to time just so that we realise we are all so much better off in some ways than other people.  I got to thinking about a whole raft of small things that give me pleasure, not blessings in the strict sense of the word but definitely things that improve my life.  I had a long list of them as I was lying there but I probably won't remember the half of them now.  All the same, here goes.
  • The comfort of my bed on a wet, windy, winter night.
  • The intense, almost acrylic colour of the scarlet Queen Elizabeth rose in the evening light.
  • The trust, loyalty and, yes, canine affection in the eyes of my dog as she looks up at me with her chin on my knee.
  • The song of a robin or blackbird as I walk through the woods or park.
  • The green of a beechwood in spring.
  • Catching the scent of a vase of sweet peas on the kitchen table.
  • A bowl of raspberries freshly picked in the garden.
  • Seeing my granddaughter tucking into a meal prepared by my wife.
  • A Union Jack flying free.
  • A grassy bank scattered with primroses.
  • Watching a family of tits - blue, great or long-tailed - foraging in the trees.
I'm sure there were more but that's all I can remember.

~~~~~

Châteaubriant is a town some 10 or 11 miles away from our house in the small village of la Prévière.  Much nearer - in fact, only 2 or 3 miles away - is the smaller town of Pouancé.  Pouancé in in the ancient dukedom of Anjou and also has a château, although this is much more like the castles we know in England with thick walls and strong towers.  At least, they were.  Much of it is now a ruin.  It stands high on a bluff overlooking a lake and getting a good photograph proved difficult.


Sunday, 23 September 2012

Sunday, lazy Sunday

After yesterday's blue skies it was a bit of a downer to open the curtains this morning and see them a uniform grey.  I know "leaden skies" is a cliché, but I can't think of a better word to describe the colour of the clouds this morning.  And they weren't bubbly or shaped in any way, just flat, dull, heavy.  Need I say it was raining?  But at least I could still see the Downs even if the Portland stone of the Chattri was not gleaming in the sun.  This was the weather that had been forecast so the cynic in me was surprised not to see the sun.  It didn't seem to be raining too heavily so immediately after breakfast I took Fern for a walk before the rain got any worse.  That is what I would have done as a matter of course just a few weeks ago and I hope we are getting back to normal at last.  I did manage two walks yesterday, one in Stanmer and another round our local park, although both walks were somewhat shorter that what I would consider normal.  This morning I went to Stanmer Woods again and walked a little further.  I shall try to get out again this afternoon.  Meanwhile, read the blogs I am following and perhaps trace a few more of those elusive distant relations.

As well as easing the joints so that I can walk the dog more comfortably, the steroids I am taking are having another effect: I have developed a voracious appetite.  No sooner have I finished one meal than I am wondering what will be on the menu for the next and as for snacking in between...  Nuts, biscuits, chocolate bars...  At this rate I will very soon have regained the weight I have lost recently and more besides.

So I wonder what will be for dinner tonight?  We ate Italian on Friday - risotto - and Greek yesterday - moussaka - but should be back to English tonight with a roast.  I think I saw beef taken from the freezer.  And on that note we will leave you.  Except for today's picture.

~~~~~

As I have taken so very few pictures just recently - yesterday's was about the only one for weeks - we will delve into the archive once again for another view of the château at Châteaubriant.  This always seems to me a peculiar mix of the defensive castle and sumptuous (for its day) living accommodation.  Nowadays the building is used as offices for local government.


Saturday, 22 September 2012

Two more

You may or may not know that I am something of a family history nut.  In other words, I am tracing my family tree.  I spend a little time on it most days and, indeed, have done every day this week.  Although I have long had a very large database of ancestors, there are still plenty of them to trace.  I had already found a good many relatives who had been killed in action during World War I, usually at sea as many of them were fishermen recruited into the Navy, but this week I have come across another two cousins, both of whom were in the army and were killed in the trenches on the western front, one aged just 19, the other in his 20s.  I find it very sobering to contemplate.

~~~~~

There is a beautiful blue sky over the Downs this morning but at 8.00am there was a distinct nip in the air and for a week or so now I've noticed an autumnal feel when I've let the dog out last thing in the evening.


Friday, 21 September 2012

Where is the muse?

Faced with a blank sheet of paper and a box of crayons as a child, my usual cry was, "What shall I draw?" to which my father, if he was at home, would reply, "Draw a bucket of water".  It was many years before I realised that this was a double entendre, albeit not one that would be used by a stand-up comedian or music hall artist.  Anyway, today I am faced with the electronic equivalent of that blank sheet of paper - a nearly-blank monitor, the blank bit being where I am supposed to type today's pearls of wisdom to be cast before the swine of Cyberworld (that's you).

I see that Skip and GS are off to see a specialist in Sacramento and obviously our thoughts go with them.  I'm not sure if it's today or yesterday they go - the different time zones confuse me terribly.  I do know that I saw my specialist yesterday and I didn't have to drive a couple of hundred miles to get to him, merely five or six.  I had half expected him to reduce the quantity of steroids I have been taking over the past two weeks but he told me to continue for another fortnight.  At that point the dose will be reduced from 15mg a day to 10, then after a while it will be reduced to 9 and 8 on alternate days, then 8 daily etc until after about three months or so I will be off them.  Meanwhile, I will be given a small weekly dose of methotrexate to start with.  I will need a blood test after a month and if my liver and kidney are still there and functioning, the dose will be stepped up for another month before a second blood test.  After about three months I should have noticed the effect this has on the arthritis.  Frankly I'm not at all sure I will notice anything as the steroids have practically cleared everything up already.  The consultant, however, assures me that is just short term.  The methotrexate is intended as a long-term solution.

We will wait and see.  In the meantime, I'm looking forward to getting back to our French hideaway next month.  We were last there in July and had planned a return at the beginning of this month but deferred the trip as I really could not face the journey.

~~~~~

And yet another picture of the the château in Châteaubriant - with more arches.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Literary lethargy

Since as long as I can remember - or very nearly as long as I can remember - I have enjoyed reading.  I have always been able to lose myself in books.  As a child it might have been  Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree followed, as I grew older, by her Famous Five and Secret Seven.  Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons books were a joy, as were the Jennings and Biggles stories.  My tastes have changed a little since those days and it would be difficult to name even a small fraction of the authors I have read and - mostly - enjoyed.  My preference is for novels although I have included a smattering of travel, history and even, on one or two occasions, biography.

People who consider themselves superior might well sneer at my choice of John Grisham, Bernard Cornwell, Robert Goddard and Peter James and suggest that my reading material provides me with nothing more than a form of escapism.  That is quite possibly so, but it is my choice and it is me that enjoys it.  At least, I did so until recently.

I find it both perplexing and a trifle worrying that my enthusiasm for turning the pages seems to have disappeared.  There was a time when I would pick up my book whenever I found myself with even a minute to spare - but not lately.  I started a newish Bernard Cornwell book the other day, a rather blood-thirsty tale set in about 950AD during the reign of King Alfred, and would normally have expected to have got well over half way through it by now, but instead I am still only on the third chapter.

And there's another thing.  I have lost my whistle.  Not completely, but enough for it to embarrass me when I try whistling the dog while we are in the woods.  It first disappeared completely back before Christmas.  Since then it has come back, but only partially.  Now I sound like a nine-year-old girl trying to emulate her big brother!

Oh well, such is life.

~~~~~
Another picture of the the château in Châteaubriant, this time reflected in the windows of the bank opposite.


Late news update

The bacon and tomato cakes turned out to be something of a disappointment.  This was more so to the Old Bat than to me as she found the cakes just would not bind together properly.  As for me, I found the taste of the bacon completely overwhelmed and missing.  It will be back to Delia next time.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Late news

The Old Bat has just told me she is trying a new recipe this evening - tomato and bacon cakes as described here.  They look delicious but I hope there will be a little more on the plate.


It's a good life - sometimes

Enough of this mawkish, maudlin, sentimental, nostalgic claptrap about the so-called good life on the farm.  Time to get back to the real world where the vegetables come already washed and nicely wrapped in polythene at the local supermarket.

Nah, those readers who have virtually (or even, in one case, really) known me for any time will remember that I am prepared to get my hands dirty and I do occasionally make some sort of feeble attempt towards self-sufficiency by growing a little fruit and veg.  I have been known to attempt such exotic delicacies as potatoes and broad beans.  There was one year when I grew, or rather, tried to grow Chinese gooseberries.  That's the name by which I know that cherry-like fruit, actually a little larger than most cherries, orange in colour and usually served with a couple of dead leaves attached to the stalk.  (I see it is also known as a Cape gooseberry but it's proper name is physalis.)  I have, over the years, tried all sorts of things in my miniscule vegetable patch at the bottom of the garden overshadowed by one neighbour's laurel, another neighbour's sycamore and a third neighbour's sumac.  That sumac is a wretched nuisance as it sends new trees up from the roots which, needless to say, stretch across my garden and those new trees are real buggers to dig out.  I get my own back in a small way by sending raspberry canes into her garden!

I have now settled on the vegetables I will attempt to grow and sow the same ones each year.  We have runner beans, peas, onions, garlic, parsnips.  That's it.  But in addition, we also have the raspberries, rhubarb, a gooseberry bush, a blackcurrant bush, an apple tree, a cherry tree, two pear trees and two plum trees - and blackberries growing wild in the hedge between us and Tom.  This year only about half the peas germinated, giving enough for three or four meals, the runner beans were eaten by slugs, the parsnips failed to germinate, the onions rotted, I forgot to buy the garlic.  I picked two sticks of rhubard as thick as my thumb and about six inches long - that from four crowns! - and they had absolutely no flavour.  The arthritis was too bad for me to harvest the gooseberries or blackcurrants.  The birds ate all the cherries (as usual).  Neither plum tree has any fruit, nor does the apple, as the bees could not pollinate the blossom due to the rain.  One pear tree is bare though there are some pears on the other - but fewer than usual and the jackdaws keep lunching on what there are.

BUT he autumn raspberries are delicious and plentiful.  We keep eating huge bowls of them with cream for dessert.  The blackberries are also doing very well so there will be a good supply for flavouring apple pies and apple crumble - and for baked Alaska.

At least something is turning out well.

~~~~~

I got slightly side-tracked with yesterday's pictures as I had started out on a set of arch photos.  These arches are in the grounds of the château in Châteaubriant, a town in France almost on the borders of Brittany and Anjou and which is proud to fly the black and white flag of Brittany.

[Trivial fact:  Brittany and Cornwall are the only two places with an official flag which is black and white.]


Tuesday, 18 September 2012

More from the farm

Being a born and bred townie, visits to my cousin on the farm provided me with a completely different view of life.  Yes, farming was hard work - or it certainly could be - but there were compensations.  But for me the novelty of doing anything around the farm provided relaxation and refreshment.  It was no hardship to accompany Julian and help lay out the silage for the cattle and deer, even if it was tipping down with rain.  Which reminds me of another meal time.

It was my elder son's birthday - just which one I have no idea and it really doesn't matter.  Lisa always let the children choose the menu for their birthday dinner and my son had chosen baked Alaska for dessert.  Now this was not a dish with which Lisa was familiar but the Old Bat knew it well and was able to tell Lisa how to prepare it.  For any who don't know it, baked Alaska (or Norwegian omelette as the French call it) is a sponge cake base topped with fruit (blackberries are my favourite with their strong flavour), covered with ice cream and then meringue, which needs cooking.  The dish is served hot with the ice cream just beginning to melt under the meringue.  It's beyond my capabilities but I'm told it's not particularly difficult.  However, Lisa was cooking it for the first time and was understandably a little nervous.

We had just finished the first course when the phone rang.  It was to say that cows had broken through a fence and were enjoying eating the shrubs in somebody's garden.  Of course, it was by then dark and raining hard but there was nothing for it:  Julian and I took torches and fencing tools and I rode illegally on the back of the tractor as we went to round up the beasts and repair the fence.

The baked Alaska was a great success.  Two portions had been put in the freezer and Julian and I did eventually get to enjoy them - cold.

 In those early days everything on the farm had to be done by hand: milking the two cows, skimming the milk for the creamy top to churn into butter.  There was little money and things had to be built up gradually, with the farm first always.  So, bringing back memories for me, here are two pictures from almost 30 years ago.  First, Julian milking, and then just to prove that even at 7 my daughter was unafraid of cows.



Monday, 17 September 2012

Down on the farm

I was reminded when re-reading yesterday's post of a meal on my cousin's farm.  It was Easter Day about three years ago when, as has become traditional, we spent the weekend with Lisa and Julian.  As has also become traditional, we had taken a turkey as our contribution to the celebrations, along with a mixed half case of wine.  That year I had taken a sauvignon blanc I had discovered and which I liked particularly.  I was also aware that Julian's favourite white wine is sauvignon.  This St Bris comes from Burgundy, an area I associate more with expensive red wines, but was remarkably cheap for the quality.  L & J's younger son and family were at table with us and after Patrick had tasted the wine, he remarked that it must have been expensive.  Now, back in Edwardian days, that would have been considered an offensive comment, but these days - especially round the Somerset dinner table - it comes as no surprise.

There are so many memories of times spent on the farm coming crowding into my mind but today I will mention just the dinner table.  This is huge and seats ten very comfortably - which is fortuitous.  Like my wife and I, Liza and Julian have three children.  In both families the children are boy, boy, girl and the matching children are really very close in age as well.  All of them have always got on extremely well.  (I remember the two girls, when they were about 8, sitting on the stall dividers in the calf shed giving each animal a name.  Julian accepted Chainsaw for one but did draw the line at Beefburger!)

As I said, the dining table seats ten, so the combined families, once the children were old enough, could easily eat together.  And talk.  And, boy, did we talk.  And argue in a friendly way.  Any subject under the sun would be discussed round that table and everybody's views had equal weight.  If there was disagreement - no, when there was disagreement - which was quite normal - everybody would politely listen to a different point of view before somebody demolished it.  And, not surprisingly, with ten people from two generations there would usually be more than two points of view.

But any argument, or discussion, whilst it might get heated, was always amicable and it was all hands turning to when the time came for the washing up.  Great times.

~~~~~

Another arch today, although this arch is a gateway.  But it is appropriate as this is on my cousin's farm.


Sunday, 16 September 2012

Beers, wines and spirits

My father used to drink brown ale.  I never did acquire a taste for it and, when I started drinking alcoholic beverages, my choice was the then current fashion - lager and lime.  The short (or spirit) of choice was rum and black(currant).  Of course, my tastes changed over the years and I eventually drank the same as most other people - bitter - with lager left for continental holidays.  None of that chemical brew for me, thank yo very much.  My decision to leave lager well alone was reinforced one summer when we were on holiday in Switzerland.  It might have been the hot weather or it might not, but one afternoon after I had enjoyed a cooling lager in the warm sun I developed a splitting headache.  This was within five minutes of finishing my drink.  When it happened again I swore off lager for good.  I did rather assume it was the chemicals in lager that were causing the problem and, once back in England, continued drinking the occasional pint of bitter.  And the pints were just occasional.  But in the end even English beer was causing headaches, even half a pint, so I switched to Scotch, but that was too expensive.  Nowadays I drink wine instead.

All that drivel is rather a long way to reach the point where I say that the Old Bat and I enjoy a glass of wine with our evening meal.  Indeed, we enjoy a glass and a half each, which means that a bottle of wine lasts us for two meals, which in turn is a complicated way of saying that we drink half a bottle of wine between us with our evening meal.  We are not winoes or alcies, but we do enjoy our wine.  You will realise, then, that I was rather concerned when my rheumatology consultant, when talking about prescribing methotrexate for me, asked about my drinking habits, explaining that this wonder drug and alcohol just don't get it together.   OK, we could have easily stopped drinking wine, but all the same, it was good to hear the consultant say that my couple of units a day would not affect the methowotsit.

We don't drink expensive wine.  In fact, most of the wine we drink is a French supermarket's own label and costs about £3 a bottle top whack.  Wine snobs can turn up their noses, but we are happy with what we drink.  Those tasting notes that mention aromas of tobacco, red fruit or the garrigue are completely wasted on me as I can never distinguish any of the aromas (my poor sense of smell) and can rarely taste anything except excessive oaking (apart from the wine itself, of course).

We drink more red than white and are happy with the Auchan merlot or their Cahors, Ventoux, Corbieres, etc etc.  As for whites, my real preferred choice is sauvignon blanc from New Zealand but I am happy with muscadet (provided it is sur lie) or - a current favourite - the chenin blanc Secrets de Chai.  We finished off the second half of this bottle last night with the fish pie and thoroughly enjoyed both the food and the wine.

Tonight we will eat a roast meal, the traditional Sunday dinner.  I don't know what meat the Old Bat has on the menu - if I were a betting man my money would be on lamb - but I suspect we will be drinking the other half of a bottle of Ventoux.  Neither last night's nor tonight's wine would make the top ten of a real wine buff but the best advice I have ever seen from a wine expert was in last weekend's paper:  "if you like it," he said, "drink it".

I'll raise a glass to that.



~~~~~

So the bridge pictures are finished.  At least, I have posted all those that are not near duplicates and that I am prepared to make public.   But it occurs to me that a bridge in its simplest form is nothing more than an arch, so that leads me on to post this picture of the southern gate to the Roman town of Glanum down in Provence.  This dates from about the time of Christ and is remarkable well-preserved for 2000 years old.. Unfortunately, the Old Bat didn't feel up to exploring the ruins and I couldn't leave her sitting in the car for an hour to do it alone so I had to content myself with just this little bit and the nearby mausoleum.


Saturday, 15 September 2012

Telephonic tactics

It is now a good many years since I signed up for the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).  This is a scheme which should ensure that we receive none of those cold sales calls on our phone.  Note that I say "should".  The scheme does rely on companies using cold-calling to maintain an up-to-date list of numbers NOT to be called.  Presumably this is done mechanically as so many of these companies use automated dialling.  On the whole, it does work.  But there are ways round it.  For example, many companies now say they are not selling anything but are simply conducting a survey - and that is not proscribed by the TPS.   And the TPS only covers calls from this country, calls from overseas are outside the scope of the scheme.  So many companies now use call centres in such paces as India - or even the USA.  And then, of course, there are the phishig calls, the ones that purport to be coming from Microsoft Technical Department to advise you that there is a fault on your computer.  For the miserly sum of £250 they will "fix" the non-existent fault - and harvest all sorts of personal data while they are at it.

I usually tell the supposed Microsoft boys that I'm not falling for that scam and tell anyone else that I'm too busy to take their call.  But there are a few tactics that I just love to employ from time to time.  Take yesterday for example.

Me:  123987 (quoting my phone number)

Indian gent:  Can I talk to Mr S?

Me:  What do you want to talk to him about?

IG: I just want two minutes of your time.  We're conducting a survey.

Me:  How do you know Mr S?

IG:  I don't.

Me:  The why are you calling him?
        (Aside:  Sergeant, put a trace on this number, will you?)

IG: We are conducting a survey.

Me:  What number are you calling from?

IG:  I don't have a number.

Me:  You must have a telephone number - you are using a phone.

And so it went on until I told him we had succeeded in tracing his number and would ring him back as part of our investigation into (an unspecified) crime.  I have to say that IG was particularly thick.  I don't usually get anywhere near that point before they hang up.

Another good one (which the Old Bat has banned) goes as follows:

Me:  Ooh, you do sound nice.  Will you be my friend?

Caller:  usually mumbles something.

Me:  Go on, say you'll be my friend.  I haven't got any friends and you do sound nice.

I leave the rest to your imagination.

~~~~~

We reach the end of the bridge series of pictures today with a bridge that must surely be recognised by everyone.  In case of problems, though, here is a clue.  I'm told it's frequently foggy in that area, so a bit of mist in the photo is quite appropriate.


Friday, 14 September 2012

Cracking on

It was back on Tuesday that I mentioned all the offers of help I have been receiving and that I expected Doug and David to come over to discuss the Lions Christmas activities.  Come over they did, and then spent nearly an hour working in the garden, much to my embarrassment.  Thankfully I am so much better now that the steroids are working that I can truthfully tell Doug that I can take care of the grass cutting myself.

We have made progress with the Christmas arrangements (and yes, I am well aware that Thanksgiving comes first but if we don't crack on it will be the New Year before anything gets sorted).  We know that we will have about 15 guests from a retirement home where we organise bingo evenings, the meals on wheels people will be able to get 30 or so together and I have made tentative enquiries at a sheltered accommodation home for the remaining 15 places.  Minibuses and drivers are provisionally booked  and the entertainer and hotel are confirmed.  Nearly there!

It helps that I am at last able to get back to my main computer and - almost as important - the printer.  After three or four weeks an amazing backlog has built up but I am now slowly working my way through the paper.

~~~~~

While I'm here, a brief rant on my favourite hobby-horse - the mis-use of the English language, especially by those who should know better.

An advertisement in the newspaper extolled the "visual dramatics" (whatever they might be) of Vietnam.

A television programme covered an attempt by severely disabled soldiers to climb Mount Everest but the commentary insisted on numerous occasions that they were attempting "to summit" the mountain.  I've just checked the dictionary and am pleased to report that "summit" is still a noun (or it was when the dictionary was compiled) and has not yet morphed into an adjective.

~~~~~

We move north today for our bridge picture - north to Cumbria and the Lake District.  There is a narrow road runs up into the hills (or fells, as they are called up there) from the Derwentwater-Borrowdale road, leading to the hamlet of Watendlath and nowhere else.  Along the way the road crosses a stream at Ashness Bridge, providing one of the best-known views of the area.  That is Derwentwater in the picture with the slopes of Skiddaw behind.


Thursday, 13 September 2012

The ghost that got lost

In my considerably younger days I ran a scout troop.  One of the things I most enjoyed was coming up with imaginative and novel ideas for wide games.

At this point it might be as well for me to explain that a wide game is one played out of doors over a larger area than your usual football pitch.  Indeed, the event could take the form of a hile and stretch out over several miles.  I and a couple of other local scouters became very well known as a team organising these events that for several years we were called on to run them for the county.  But to get back to this particular one.

I had found a great site for our summer camp that year.  It was in the middle of the Forest of Dean, right on the bank of the River Wye down on the border of England and Wales.  The boys were able to enjoy canoeing, rock climbing and hiking along with the usual in-camp activities. One evening, as we were sitting round the camp fire, I told the troop that I had found an old copy of The Times lining a drawer at work.  This dated from a century before and, coincidentally, mentioned the Ghost of Cinderford which was said to appear in the Forest of Dean once every hundred years.  Of course, that was the night on which the ghost was due to appear.  What was more, the ghost was said to appear in the Forest on the other side of the river not very far from our camp site.  I said no more and sent the boys to bed in the normal way.  BUT...

At about half past eleven I woke them up again and told them to get dressed.  They were going on a ghost hunt. I explained that the ghost would be laid to rest if a group of people formed a ring around it, holding hands.  I sent them downstream to cross the river by a footbridge about half a mile away while the three adult leaders stayed in camp in full view.

After the boys had gone, one of the other scouters took a sheet and crossed the river by canoe.  Unfortunately, neither the boys found the ghost nor the ghost found the boys, who eventually trooped back into camp rather dispirited.  They got back before the ghost and the evening was saved when he slipped and fell into the river while disembarking from the canoe, much to the amusement of the boys.

Fortunately, most of my wide games were more successful than that one - but that's the one that sticks in the memory!

~~~~~

OK, so it's pushing it a bit to call this a picture of a bridge, but there is a bit of Westminster Bridge showing.  This was taken from the London Eye.


Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The beat of the drum

 One of the annual highlights of my younger adulthood and a very occasional, very special treat as a child was the Royal Tournament.  This was staged every year at Earls Court in London and was a magnificent entertainment put on by all arms of the services.  There would be the excitement of the musical drive of the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, or of the White Helmets (I think that was what they called themselves) of the Royal Signals.  We would yell ourselves hoarse encouraging the field gun crews of the Royal Navy as they raced.  And the massed bands always provided a stirring finale.  Sadly, the tournament is no more, dropped for reasons I don't recall.

However, we do still have the Edinburgh Royal Military Tattoo.  This is staged in conjunction with the Edinburgh Festival, Britain's biggest arts festival, and while concentrating on themes Scottish (such as the pipes and drums) always has other "acts", many from overseas.  The Tattoo is televised each year, albeit in severely truncated form, and as we were unable to watch on the day of the broadcast, I recorded it.  We have only just got round to watching it and I, along with the live audience, was especially taken with one of the overseas acts, the Top Secret Drum Corps from Basel, Switzerland.  Some of their display has been uplaoded to YouTube so you can see what you think.



~~~~~

We stay on the River Adur for today's picture but move downstream a little under a mile.  Here we see the footbridge linking Shoreham Beach with Shoreham-by-Sea.  The vehicular route from this spot to the opposite shore is well over a mile.  Not a beautiful bridge by any means, but very practical.


Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Tempus fugit

Doesn't it just?  To think that today is the 11th anniversary of those dreadful events in New York.  And back in July we had the 7th anniversary of the London bombings.  Next month it will be 38 years since the Provisional IRA blew up the Grand Hotel here in Brighton.

Why can't people just live and let live?

~~~~~

I have failed to mention the numerous offers of help we have received over the last couple of months, help with transport, help with shopping.  But the palm d'or must surely go to Doug whose persistence eventually wore me down.  On Monday last week he turned up with his lawn mower.  First, he cleared the garden of all the dog's mess, I having not managed to get down to do it.  Then he mowed the lawns not once but twice on different settings.  What's more, he came back on Tuesday and mowed them again!  And he is insisting on doing the job again today.  That's what I describe as being above and beyond the call of duty - or even friendship.

David will be coming with Doug and the three of us will be trying to take further our plans for the Lions Christmas service activities.  We are well on the way with plans for 60 elderly people to have afternoon tea at a seafront hotel.  One hotel has offered us the exclusive use of their bar area for the afternoon along with tea at a very good price.  We have booked an entertainer but what we do need to finalise is the transport - and the guests!  Oh, and some small gifts for them to take away.

The other activity is to take place on Christmas morning when we plan to deliver small gifts to people who will otherwise see nobody that day.  We have managed to find a source of names and addresses but we do need commitment from Lions so that we can plan just how many people we can visit as each Lion will be able to cover only three or four.  And, of course, we need to think about the gifts.

~~~~~

I have pretty well exhausted my supply of bridge pictures from the continent so we are now back in England.  Just a few miles along the coast the River Adur reaches the sea at Shoreham.  Until not so very many years ago, the main road along the south coast crossed the river on this rather rickety bridge, owned by the railway company which charged a small toll to cross.


Monday, 10 September 2012

So that was summer

"They" were right about the weather.  Yesterday lived up to its promise and the weather was glorious with temperatures here in Brighton as high as 27.  I had to go part-way into town to take the spare key to my daughter-in-law who had locked herself out and the traffic was horrendous - cars crawling nose-to-tail towards the beach.  Goodness knows where - or even if - they managed to park.  Some must have done as the late evening television news had a piece about the Trades Union Congress being held in Brighton and they showed shots of the beach.  It was so crowded you could not have squeezed another pebble between the sunbathers.  The sea looked a beautiful turquoise as well.  The crowds would have been further boosted by an enormous motorcycle and scooter rally from London to Brighton - thousands of bikes came streaming down the A23 and we could hear them from our lounge almost a mile away.

Then about four o'clock I noticed clouds building and the wind picking up.  Summer was over.  Today we have a stiffish breeze, clouds, there has been rain and there is continual dampness in the air.  Quite miserable.

But what a summer it has been.  First we - by which I mean almost everybody in the country - celebrated the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, then there were the most spectacular Olympics ever and just last night saw the closing ceremony of what are being called the greatest Paralympic Games.  We are told that these events have introduced a feel-good factor not often seen in this country.  Maybe I'm just an old curmudgeon but I have not noticed any difference in the way people have been behaving round these parts.  But it was all great while it lasted.

Which is pretty much what I said about ast night's dinner.  And I mean it: it was thoroughly enjoyable.  A delicious roast gammon cooked with a honey and mustard glaze and accompanied by roast potatoes (of course), carrots and runner beans donated by a fellow Lion, washed down by a glass and a half of Ventoux.  This is a fairly light red wine we discovered by chance and only costs about 3 euros a bottle.  Dessert was home-made profiteroles.

It always seems a little odd when I eat profiteroles in France that they are filled with ice cream instead of the cream which is used in England.  But then, the French don't use cream in quite the same way as we English.  Confectioner's cream in their patisserie but only Chantilly squirted from a bottle on desserts.  I have heard it said that the original French name for profiteroles was nuns' farts but I can't swear to the truth of that.  Anyway, on that high note we will move on to today's picture.

~~~~~

The most famous bridge in Venice is, of course, the Rialto and today, our last in this city, we have a picture of the Rialto.  But not the standard shot taken from a boat in the middle of the Grand Canal.  Any fool can do that.  My picture shows a Venetian ambulance by the Rialto.


Sunday, 9 September 2012

The last rose of summer

Well, maybe not the last rose but those nice people who tell us what the weather is to be have said that this will be the last weekend of summer weather this side of the New Year.  Time alone will tell if they have got it right this time but so far, so good.  Yesterday was a glorious day with wall-to-wall sun and temperatures up to 24 that I noticed.  Today is shaping up very well so far.  Mind you, on the last couple of days I have noticed when letting the dog out last thing at night that there has been a distinctly autumnal feeling/smell.

Talking of autumn, I started picking our raspberries on Thursday and picked more yesterday.  The result: a large bowl of fresh raspberries and cream for dessert yesterday.  (Perhaps I should explain that mine are autumn fruiting raspberries.)  And very nice they were, too.  I do need my food at present as I think I need to put on weight.  I noticed this week that I seem to have lost quite a lot: my trousers are very much looser round the waist - indeed, they now rest on my hip bones - and my hips have become quite scrawny.  The real give-away is my watch.  This used to sit snuggly on my wrist but now slides up and down my arm just like a bracelet.  Look:

I rather hope that the steroids I have been taking the last few days might help build me up again.  I saw the consultant on Thursday and he prescribed them.  I did wonder just a little at the start of the consultation.  He is a rheutologist and having watched me hobble along the corridor and into the consulting room ( and remember, he had a letter from my GP as well) he asked, "What seems to be the trouble?"

After I had explained the situation and he had taken copious notes, he asked me to strip and lie on the couch.to

"Hmm," he said.  "Your wrists are swollen, [I didn't think they were but my hands were.] so are your feet and your knees."

He listened to my chest and tested my reflexes before coming to a decision.

"You have rheumatoid arthritis," he told me.  I managed to refrain from replying that my GP had confirmed that and it had been diagnosed more than 25 years earlier.

Anyway, he hummed and hahed a bit more and asked more questions. He wanted some blood tests but then realised that they had been done recently and he was able to phone the hospital and get the results.

I came away with a prescription for steroids - what seems to me to be a fairly high dose - which I am to take for a month.  Another consultation in two weeks will decide if I can reduce the steroid dose and start on another drug to control the arthritis (and possibly damage my liver but I can live with that as I will still be allowed a glass of wine with my dinner).  Meanwhile, I have been taking the steroids for just three days and can already see and feel a staggering improvement (pun intended).

If I had  to choose a theme song for today, it would be:



Hey look me over, lend me an ear, Fresh out of clover, mortgaged up to here, Don't pass the plate folks, Don't pass the cup, I figure whenever you're down and out, The only way is up.. And I'll be up like a rose bud, High on the vine, Don't thumb your nose folks, Take a tip from mine, I'm a little bit short of the elbow room, But let me get me some, And look out world, here I come...

~~~~~

And so to our bridge pic. This is the amazing Accademia bridge over the Grand Canal in Venice.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Words to inspire (5)

There are two speeches that have been jostling for top spot in this short series.  In fact, they very nearly made numbers one and two but they are both by the same person and, even though some say he was the greatest orator of the 20th century, I didn't want to have more than one speech from any one person.  The person in question is Winston Churchill.  The speech of his which has not made the cut is the one he made immediately after being appointed Prime Minister in May 1940 - his "blood, toil, tears and sweat" speech.  However, the most inspiring speech ever made is, in my opinion, his address to Parliament in June that year, after the shambles of the retreat from Dunkirk.  Whenever I hear or read these words the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.

We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
~~~~~

Still in Venice, and another of those back-street canal bridges.  I couldn't say what was going on, but the Venetians do seem to enjoy dressing up.




Friday, 7 September 2012

Words to inspire (4)

March 2003.  800 men of the 1st Batallion of the Royal Irish Regiment were preparing to advance into Iraq and their commanding officer, Colonel Tim Collins, decided he should say a few words.  The Daily Mail's Sarah Oliver reported:

"He delivered the speech completely off the cuff. He said to me, 'I'll have to say a few words to the men to explain to them why they should take their anthrax drugs and malaria pills, or they just won't bother'. It just grew and grew into something magnificent - it made you realise the true meaning of the term 'rallying cry'."

Fortunately, Oliver copied the speech in shorthand, otherwise there would be no record of Colonel Collins' words:
We go to liberate, not to conquer.  We will not fly our flags in their country.  We are entering Iraq to free a people and the only flag which will be flown in that ancient land is their own.
Show respect for them.

There are some who are alive at this moment who will not be alive shortly.  Those who do not wish to go on that journey, we will not send.  As for the others, I expect you to rock their world.  Wipe them out if that is what they choose.  But if you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory.
Iraq is steeped in history.  It is the site of the Garden of Eden, of the Great Flood and the birthplace of Abraham.  Tread lightly there.  You will see things that no man could pay to see -- and you will have to go a long way to find a more decent, generous and upright people than the Iraqis.  You will be embarrassed by their hospitality even though they have nothing.
Don't treat them as refugees for they are in their own country.  Their children will be poor, in years to come they will know that the light of liberation in their lives was brought by you.
If there are casualties of war then remember that when they woke up and got dressed in the morning they did not plan to die this day.  Allow them dignity in death.  Bury them properly and mark their graves.
It is my foremost intention to bring every single one of you out alive.  But there may be people among us who will not see the end of this campaign.  We will put them in their sleeping bags and send them back.  There will be no time for sorrow.
The enemy should be in no doubt that we are his nemesis and that we are bringing about his rightful destruction.  There are many regional commanders who have stains on their souls and they are stoking the fires of hell for Saddam.  He and his forces will be destroyed by this coalition for what they have done.  As they die they will know their deeds have brought them to this place. Show them no pity.
It is a big step to take another human life.  It is not to be done lightly.  I know of men who have taken life needlessly in other conflicts.  I can assure you they live with the mark of Cain upon them.
If someone surrenders to you then remember they have that right in international law and ensure that one day they go home to their family.  The ones who wish to fight, well, we aim to please.
If you harm the regiment or its history by over-enthusiasm in killing or in cowardice, know it is your family who will suffer.  You will be shunned unless your conduct is of the highest -- for your deeds will follow you down through history.  We will bring shame on neither our uniform or our nation.
(On Saddam's chemical and biological weapons.)
It is not a question of if, it's a question of when.  We know he has already devolved the decision to lower commanders, and that means he has already taken the decision himself.
If we survive the first strike we will survive the attack.
As for ourselves, let's bring everyone home and leave Iraq a better place for us having been there.
Our business now is north.

~~~~~

As I said, there are plenty of bridges in Venice, some grand, some less so.  This is definitely one of the "less so".  See the "No Entry" sign?  Somehow one doesn't expect road signs on canals!

Now that's what I call value

A Lions' dinner meeting yesterday evening.  We use a different venue each month and this month all was arranged at the last minute as personal problems had interfered for the guy who deals with this.  Anyway, we met at an Italian restaurant in the centre of town.  I opted for a 3-course meal at £8.95: prawn cocktail, rigatone al amatriciana, lemon sorbet.  Espresso for £1.50 and a bottle of house wine £6.95 on production of the advert from the local paper.  The Old Bat's stawberries had a £1.25 supplement and I think her cappucino was £1.75.  And the servings were standard size - which means they weren't small by any means.  Total cost: about £30 for the two of us, half what we paid the other Saturday and the food was just as good.  The company was equally good as well.  All in all a good evening.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Words to inspire (3)

My next selection is also from an American.  I'm sure no reader from the US will need me to say that these words come from the inaugural address of President John F Kennedy.

Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
~~~~~

Here we go again.  A phone call from my credit card issuing bank to advise that mine is one of a batch of card numbers that have been unlawfully obtained from an online retailer.  My card has therefore been cancelled as a precaution and a replacement card will be issued in 6-7 working days.  What a pain.  I think this is the fourth time but at least this time there have been no fraudulent transactions as there were on one occasion.  But it will be a nuisance having to do without the plastic for a couple of weeks.

~~~~~


A couple of months before our Tuscany trip, the Old Bat and I had spent a few days in Venice.  Now Venice, with all its canals, probably has more bridges per head of population than anywhere else, except perhaps for Amsterdam.  This is the Bridge of Sighs, linking the interrogation rooms in the Doge's palace with the prison, hence its name.


Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Words to inspire (2)

I really am reluctant to place these speeches in any sort of order as they are all so inspiring, albeit perhaps in different ways.  However, man is always looking to see what or who is "best", to place things in order of preference.  And so I feel that this speech by Martin Luther King comes into my top five inspirational speeches at number four.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

~~~~~

We (that's the royal "we", you understand. In other words "me" or "I".) interrupt our series of bridge photos to show you this morning's view from the bedroom, which I think particularly attractive.


Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Words to inspire

The other day Suldog posted that beautiful passage from St Paul's epistle to the Corinthians.  Such inspiring words.  I have provided a link instead of retyping (or copying and pasting).  It made me think about other inspiring words, especially speeches, and I thought to draw up a list of the five speeches (or passages of words, prose or poetry) that I find the most inspirational.

Two passages from Shakespeare immediately sprang to mind, both of the from Henry V.  The speech ending, "Cry God for Harry England and St George" was my first thought, closely followed by a speech earlier in the play including the words, "And gentlemen of England now abed will think themselves accursed they were not here".  I'll go with my first thought.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call'd fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'
The fourth-placed speech tomorrow.

~~~~~

Several years back the Old Bat and I holidayed in Tuscany.  We could not miss out on a visit to Florence and duly caught a train, our genial hosts having warned against trying to drive.  Neither of us are really ones for art galleries so there was no question of traipsing round looking for David.  And, frankly, Florence was not for me - far too many people, hustle and bustle and big city drive.  OK, the cathedral is something else, and the doors to the baptistry are magnificent.  Then, of course, there is the famous Ponte Vecchio over the River Arno.  Over-crowded and shops full of tourist tat.  No thanks - but here is a picture taken from along the river bank.

 And the crowds!


Monday, 3 September 2012

A funny old day

I'm absolutely certain that the weather girl on the television late last night promised us a sunny day but so far - it's just coming up to 10.00 - there's no sign of that golden orb.  Just grungy low cloud with a hint of dampness.  And I have a nasty feeling that weather thingy over on the right has changed as well.  Oh well.

I thought when I got up that this seemed like a better day on the arthritis front.  I was moving around rather more easily and I even managed to open a new bottle of milk with my bare hands.  That might sound odd but over the last few weeks my hands have not been doing quite what they are meant to do and I have resorted to using a mole wrench to unscrew the top of new bottles.  But after I had collected the Old Bat from the garage where she had taken her car for servicing and the keep-your-fingers-crossed annual test, things had gone downhill quite drastically and I am now only just mobile.  Which is a bit of a bugger as I particularly wanted to be able to get about today.

It is now almost two months since I was last down the garden.  By the way, our garden slopes downhill quite steeply and also slopes downhill from right to left just to make things more interesting.  There is a steep bank about a third of the way down which I turned into a rockery many years ago.  Above and below the bank are lawns and flower borders.  I say "lawns" but the grass is now a foot high or more.  The bottom lawn is also covered with the dog's calling cards which I have been unable to clear up.  I have finally given way to a fellow Lion who has been badgering me to let him come and clear up the lawn and he is due to arrive at any time.  I hate the thought of me sitting indoors while he is doing such an unpleasant job in my garden, which is why I wanted to be more active today.  But beggars can't be choosers so I shall just have to put up with it.

~~~~~

Staying in France just a little longer, this bridge is where my car broke down earlier this year.  I had often wanted to take a picture of the view but would have preferred to go without!  And now I can't for the life of me remember the name of the viaduct.  It's on the A28 near Bernay, in case anyone is remotely interested, and the view is quite spectacular.


Sunday, 2 September 2012

Peaches and cream

Do you remember that old song in which Mr Sandman was implored to bring the singer a dream and to "make her complexion like peaches and cream"?  We had peaches and cream for dessert the other evening and, frankly, a girl with a complexion like that would be a nightmare rather than a dream.  The peaches and cream of my childhood would be no better.  Nowadays the only peaches eaten in our house are fresh ones and the cream is real cream but in the wayback things were different.  OK, I'm talking 60 years ago and things certainly were different then.

We - that is me, my brother and my mother; my father was probably at sea - would sometimes be invited to tea by my grandmother.  The table was always laid with a special cloth and the best tea plates were in evidence.  There would be a plate of bread and butter slices and we would be expected to eat at least two, spread with home-made jam, before the special treat.  Those teas always ended with peaches and cream being served.  Of course, being 60 years ago my grandmother had special fruit dishes and special fruit spoons.  I suppose they can still be found but I don't know of anybody who has them, let alone uses them.  The peaches were tinned peach slices and tasted completely different from the fresh fruit to which we have become accustomed.  Maybe fresh peaches just could not be bought?  Or were too expensive?  I don't know why but tinned fruit was much more popular back then than it is now.  And the cream wasn't cream; it was evaporated milk out of a tin - Carnation brand probably.  Still, we thought it was a treat and that's all that counts.

I mentioned a special tablecloth.  This had been embroidered by my favourite aunt, Grace, Gran's daughter.  Grace was an expert embroiderer and this tablecloth was a fine example of the art.  It was, I think, hexagonal in shape and just in from the edge there was a garden scene running right round the cloth, flowers of all descriptions together with the occasional lady in a poke bonnet.  Outside that were embroidered the words of a poem:
A GARDEN is a lovesome thing, God wot!
Rose plot,
Fringed pool,
Ferned grot —
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not —
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign
Tis very sure God walks in mine.


My grandmother still had that tablecloth when she died  - rather surprisingly in view of what happened - and it passed to my mother.  On her death, I acquired it as a memento of those long-gone days and my favourite aunt.

I don't even remember now why Grace was my favourite aunt.  She worked in Athens for one of the agencies which was to become part od the United Nations - or maybe already was a UN agency - and would send us exotic presents such as my first pistachio nuts or minature Greek soldiers in their skirts and pompom shoes.  When on leave she would sometimes take us to lunch in department store restaurants where elderly ladies dressed in black and with white aprons and headdresses served brown Windsor soup.

Nobody now knows what caused the rift but Grace cut herself off completely from the rest of the family.  She had married in Athens with none of the family at the wedding - too expensive - and we knew she had a daughter, Hilary.  It was only three years ago, after Grace's death, that Hilary discovered anything about her mother's family and that she had cousins.  The Old Bat and I meet up with her once a year and I have tried to give her some idea of what her maternal grandparents were like.

Just before our last meeting I rediscovered that tablecloth which I had quite forgotten.  I gave it to Hilary and I just hope it means something to her.  It felt almost as though I was taking it back to its home.

~~~~~

Before we leave southern France I can't resist another look at that magnificent piece of engineering, the Millau viaduct.