Monday, 31 December 2012

Goodbye, 2012 and all that

In some ways I will not be sorry to say goodbye to this year in the hope that the next will be better.  Round these parts, 2012 started out in drought but quickly changed to become the wettest year since records began.  And it certainly feels like it, although i will grant you that I managed two dry walks yesterday.  This morning's after-breakfast walk was also dry, but it's started raining again since.

The rain affected the garden as well.  We had no fruit on the apple and plum trees, supposedly because the bees were unable to leave their hives to pollinate the blossom because of the rain.  There were a few pears, but the jackdaws got them.  There were also a few cherries, but it is many years since we last managed to pick one as the birds - again - always get there before us.  The onions rotted in the ground and the slugs ate the runner beans.  The parsnips didn't germinate and the rhubarb just didn't thrive; I picked three stalks about six inches long and hardly any fatter than my little fingers.  The gooseberries were left to rot and I picked only a very few blackcurrants.  We did fairly well, however, on peas, raspberries and blackberries, albeit with smaller crops than in other years.

I said that I left the gooseberries to rot and picked only a very few blackcurrants.  That was a result of my worst year for health problems since I don't know when.  It started in May when my breathlessness caused by my allergy to the aspergylosis fungus in the lungs became so bad that the Old Bat called an ambulance and I was whisked into hospital for a morning.  Then I had not long got over that when I was hit hard by arthritis and spent three months of the summer pretty well crippled.  I was eventually put on a different drug, one that can cause liver damage so I have been having monthly blood tests.  The latest shows something gone off the scale so that drug has been stopped and I am to see the consultant again in a couple of weeks or so - after another blood test to see if things have calmed down.  This morning I have had another chest x-ray as I have started coughing up blood.

On the other hand, 2012 has been a good year for us English in several ways.  We celebrated the Queen's diamond jubilee in traditional fashion - under umbrellas - and then there were the Olympics.  I had been very much a "don't care" beforehand, even so far as wishing that the games had been awarded to Paris rather than London, but even the Old Bat got caught up in the excitement after watching that marvellous opening ceremony.  And Team GB won more gold medals than ever before.

So the year has been rather like the curate's egg - good in parts.  But I will not be staying up to see in the New Year and I am refusing to make any New Year resolutions.

~~~~~

I sincerely hope we are spared scenes like this in 2013!  This is the view from the bedroom window when the cattle in the field by the Chattri didn't look too happy.


Sunday, 30 December 2012

Milton, thou should'st be living at this hour

Delete Milton, insert Trollope.  I'm sure he would have found the recent shenanigans useful for a plot for another chronicle.  You see, matters ecclesiastical and quasi-ecclesiastical have caused cathedral closes across the shires to resound with the sounds of wailing and the gnashing of teeth and there has been hand-wringing in the cloisters.  But not only have those matters ecclesiastical and quasi-ecclesiastical caused chaos in close and cloister, they have provided the letter editors of the more serious newspapers with the headache of choosing which letters to publish and which to spike.

The Church of England, the largest Protestant church in this country, is governed (I suppose that is the right word) by the General Synod which is comprised of three "Houses", those of bishops, clergy and laity.  A proposal was before Synod last month that women should be permitted to become bishops.  (It is now 20 years or so since they were permitted to be ordained priests.)  For the proposal to be passed into legislation, it would have to be accepted by all three houses.  Those of the bishops and clergy were in favour but the House of Laity voted, narrowly, against.

And why was this?  One of the principal arguments against women bishops was that Christ selected only men for his apostles.  Whilst accepting that statement is indeed true, what I can't accept is that it meant Christ was against women apostles.  In any case, the world in the 21st century is completely different to the world 2000 years ago.  Women these days have the vote; they are no longer mere chattels and are even allowed to own property in thier own name.  And, anyway, if women priests are acceptable, why not women bishops also?  Frankly, I think the House of Laity was acting like a modern-day King Canute in trying to hold back the tide of nature.

The other, quasi-ecclesiastical matter is still filling the letters page of my daily newspaper.  This is the question of same-sex marriage.  There is, I understand, a proposal to come before Parliament to allow marriages of same-sex couples to be effected in churches.  But not the Church of England, which will be specifically forbidden to effect such marriages.  Other churches, if the proposal becomes law, will be able to perform these marriages if they wish to do so but, as I understand it, they may also decline.

Like many other countries, we already have civil partnerships which provide same-sex couple with the same rights and responsibilities as married opposite-sex couples.  Apart from the dogs-breakfast situation of some churches performing these marriages and some not, the main stumbling block is the definition of the word "marriage".  Traditionalists insist that a marriage can only be between a man and a woman, that this has been the case even before the church took over responsibility for confirming the union (and subsequently yielded that responsibility to the state) and that the principal reason for marriage is procreation.

I have to admit to being in something of a quandary over this as I favour both sides of the argument.  I suppose if I were to be forced to choose, I would come down on the side of the antis on the grounds that same-sex couples already have the rights of marriage (if not exactly the rites) and the proposal that civil partnerships be called marriages will cause offence to many people.  Yes, I think on balance the best thing would be to stay with the status quo.

~~~~~

Walking across the Downs towards Plumpton Plain, the sky in front of me was mainly blue but there were heavy clouds coming up from the west - you can see the shadow on the left of this picture.


Saturday, 29 December 2012

Deja vu

It happened to me again yesterday.  You'd think I would have become used to it by now, completely immune and free of the wobblies that it cause me after the event.  But no.  Half an hour after hitting the "publish" button I realise that what I have put up on the interwotsit for the world and his wife to read bears little resemblance to what I had intended to be the pearls of wisdom to be cast in front of the swine in the form of you, dear reader.  (Not that I'm really suggesting there is any resemblance between you and a member of the porcine race.  That was merely a figure of speech, you understand.  Well, I hope you understand as I really would not want us to fall out over such a small matter.  At least, it is small to me, though I appreciate that your thoughts on the matter may well differ from mine.  But dash it!  It's happening again!)

So here we are, a week or so after the shortest day of the year.  The days are supposedly getting longer and,by rights, it should be getting lighter in the mornings.  It wasn't so bad today but yesterday it really was the pits.  Actually, that word is quite apt.  "Pits."  Yes, it was so dark that it almost seemed that we were down a pit.  True, the fog (or low cloud, whichever) didn't help matters at all.  And it was raining.  Again (or still).  And it was blowing.  All in all it was a morning for lying under the duvet just a bit longer.

(Duvet.  When did we stop calling them continental quilts?  And I wonder what has happened about that invention by an English housewife?  You probably know what it's like trying to stuff the duvet into a clean cover.  I did once hear of a man who would hold the duvet in his teeth as he stood up and pulled the clean cover over his head.  I did consider trying that myself but thought i would in all probability end up entangled in the by now dirty clean cover, so I didn't.  But this housewife produced a duvet covet that opens on three sides.  Just lay it on the bed with three sides open, lay the duvet on top and zip up the sides.  Simple!)

By now you might see what I mean by the title of yesterday's post: circles of my mind.  Perhaps tangles of my mind would actually be a better description as my posts are somewhat inclined to wander all over the place and never really settle on any one thing.  Unless, that is, I exercise great self-discipline, and I'm too old to bother overmuch about doing that.  Hang it all, I even sneaked an extra chocolate on my way to bed last night.  Have I told you that I'm pretty much what might be described as a chocoholic?  I love the stuff -especially the dark variety.   My favourite is Cadbury's Bourneville.  Hey, I hope those Yanks don't mess with that now that they've taken over what was probably the last of our English sweet companies.

Now there's another thing.  The two main chocolate companies in this country - Cadbury's and Fry's - were both founded by Quakers.  Sadly, neither is now English owned.  I have never understood why politician think it such a good thing for us, ie this country, to attract foreign investment.  Just look at the situation here in England now.  The French own a good part of our electricity supply companies and our railways.  The Spanish own half of our major airports.  Our last surviving large shipping company is owned by Arabs.  The Dutch and Germans want our mail delivery service.  The Japanese car companies are about the only ones making cars in this country now.  What, I ask, is the good in all that for poor old UK Ltd with all the profits going out of the country?

But who am I to worry about such trifles when I can, even if only occasionally, see a dawn like this one?

Friday, 28 December 2012

The circles of my mind

While walking the dog this morning, I realised that it was two weeks' today that those children were killed at Sandy Hook elementary school and I started mentally drafting a post about gun control.  I had marshalled impressive arguments guaranteed to demolish those of the National Rifle Association and even the Supreme Court in its 2008 ruling in the case of the District of Columbia v Heller.  I also - mentally - counselled against any knee-jerk reactions.

I fired up the computer and was about to start typing what was in my mind when a further thought stopped me.  It really is none of my business.  Granted, I can have an opinion but in this matter it is probably better that I keep my opinion to myself and leave it to teh citizens of the USA to argue and decide what action, if any, should be taken.

We have seen knee-jerk reactions in this country, notably after the Dunblane massacre of 1996.  Many consider that the Dangerous Dogs Act is another example.  Under his act the pit bull terrier is classed as a dangerous dog and is outlawed.  There are those who claim that no dog is inherently dangerous; only the owners are, and they train the dogs to be vicious as well.  Doesn't matter if it's a pit bull or a chihuahua, any dog can be trained to be dangerous.

Of course, there are also those who claim that every dog is potentially dangerous - and, indeed, they are probably correct.  But the same could be said of cats.  After all, both dogs and cats are essentially hunting animals which will kill for their food.  Maybe if we want to keep pets we should stick to ruminants like cows or sheep.  But hold it - they can be dangerous, too.  We occasionally hear of walkers being trampled to death by cows.  Indeed, I have been obliged to get out of a field quickly when a cow thought the dog I had with me on a lead was a danger to her calf.  I should add that I was on a public footpath and not just walking anywhere I chose.  And there was the young ram owned by my cousin.  He considered that anybody who entered his field was a rival and would attempt to butt with his horns in the firing position.  It was essential to carry a spade to be held in front of one's important parts when seeing to that flock of sheep!

Maybe a goldfish is the answer.

~~~~~

Earlier this month we had two or three dry days and I was able to get up to the Roman Camp with the dog.  This picture shows the rampart in the south-western corner with the remains of the ditch alongside.


DSC02773 by Brighton Pensioner

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Memories

Regular readers of my daily drivel, or perhaps I should say long-time regular readers, may possibly recall that I am something of a family history nut.  I'm pretty sure that I have mentioned - probably on more than one occasion - how frustrated I get as I turn into no more than a collector of names, dates and places.  It's one thing to know that my first cousin three times removed, Elsie Bloggs, was born in Bishop Auckland in January 1847 and that in 1861, aged 14, she was a general servant to a greengrocer and his family in Durham.  By 1871 she had married a coal miner and had two children.  But what was her life really like?  What were her duties as a servant, the only servant in the house?  What was her house like, the house where she brought up nine children?

And what about three-time great uncle George who, along with several other members of my extended family tree, was a brush maker?  What did making brushes involve?

The names, dates and places provide merely a skeleton, the bones on which I long to find meat.  There was a time when I had thought this blog might provide a source of meat for the generations who will follow me - always assuming that any of them are at all interested.  Looking back, I see that some of the posts might do that - but there is so much that is missing.  Historians today delight in examining household accounts from (for example) Elizabethan days; they love to see what people were buying and what the prices were.

An uncle, before he died, wrote down many of his childhood memories, a true autobiography which has provided my cousins with hours of pleasure and given them a much greater insight into what caused their father to develop in the way he did.  But, again, there were bits missing.

I have been toying with the idea of maintaining a journal for a twelve-month or so in which I would describe in detail my life as an elderly person in the early years of the 21st century.  A hundred years down the line there will be people interested not only in the great sweep of international or just national politics but also in the nitty-gritty of daily life.  What did people think about things?  What did they eat?  What sort or entertainment was common?  What were incomes and prices?

It doesn't seem a bad idea - but I'm not at all sure I could do it justice.  Maybe I'll just leave it to somebody else.

~~~~~

This picture was taken back in the spring and is one of my favourite pictures of 2012.  It was taken looking west across the South Downs from a spot near the Upper Lodges of Stanmer Park.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

It was a different Christmas

Christmas Day for me started exactly like any other day: shower, dress and downstairs to let the dog into the garden while I set out her breakfast.  (Dogs, and other animals, have absolutely no idea that one day is different from another despite the mawkish words of some carols.)  Then take a cup of tea up the the Old Bat, get my breakfast, wash up and then off to the park with the dog.  Only after that did the day become special - and, for a while, different.

Brighton Lions had been concerned that we seemed to "take time off", as it were, over the extended Christmas period - other than taking a party of children to the pantomime.  So it was that, earlier this year, a small committee was convened to put matters right.  That was how the old folks' pre-Christmas party came into being.  But there was another activity planned.  We obtained the names and addresses of a couple of dozen elderly folk who would be most unlikely to see or speak to anyone on Christmas Day and we put together suitably festive supermarket bags filled with a variety of goodies such as chocolate hobnob biscuits, wafer thin chocolate mints, tea bags etc etc and some of us spent an hour or so delivering these yesterday morning.

Then it was out to my elder son's partner's parents for lunch - only the third time in 48 years of marriage that we have not eaten our Christmas meal at home.  But very pleasant it was with goose, gammon, turkey, pigs in blankets, roast potatoes, sprouts, broccolli,peas, carrots, sweet corn, stuffing - and we did!  We even managed Christmas pudding afterwards!

As we sat around the table yesterday we managed to spare a thought for all those - particuklarly in south-west England - having to spend Christmas in temporary accommodation after their homes were flooded, other homeless people, and those desperately sad parents in Sandy Hook.

Today my daughter will be arriving and we will eat a late lunch at my elder son's house - possibly leftovers from yesterday - and see our two grandsons.

~~~~~

The Royal Pavilion lawn has once again been turned into an ice rink.

in

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christians, awake!

Salute the happy morn
Whereon the Saviour of the world was born.
Rise to adore the mystery of love
Which hosts of angels chanted from above.
I was in my teenage years when my father retired after 22 years service in the Royal Navy.  I say he retired, but in fact he retired only from the Navy; he was still a comparatively young man - well, in his 40s - and needed to continue earning a living - there were a wife and two teenage boys to support.  The job he found involved moving the family from the Medway towns in Kent to the Sussex coast area as Dad, although having to travel all over Sussex, would be working out of an office in Hove.  He found a suitable house in Hangleton, a suburb of Hove which in those days was still out on the South Downs.  Although we had not for many years been regular church-goers, we soon started attending St Helen's church, about half a mile from our house.

In those days, more than 50 years ago, St Helen's stood almost isolated amid fields.  To the west - fields.  To the north - another field and then a farm.  To the east - another field, but with a footpath running along the side from the main built-up part of Hangleton.  To the south - a large, triangular patch of grass - St Helen's park.  The made-up road from the south ended at the church, after which it was a heavily-rutted farm track.  Now, of course, all the fields have been built on, although the park is still an open space.  But the dewpond which used to be just outside the churchyard has been filled in.

St Helen's is the oldest building in the city of Brighton & Hove, dating from the later part of the 11th century with some parts being of Saxon origin.  The village it served was practically obliterated by the Black Death of the 14th century so the church escaped the attentions of the Victorian "restorers" and remains still much as it was in earlier centuries.

One of my most vivid Christmas memories is of my family returning from midnight mass along the footpath heartily singing, "Christians, awake!"




























In the picture you can see, on the left, traces of a medieval wall painting.  The floor of the aisle slopes downhill from the chancel towards the back of the church.  A small church, seating 80 maximum. Quite plain, but to my mind all the more beautiful for that.

I do hope you have a happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

Monday, 24 December 2012

A Christmas Eve story

Do you remember the first time you tried a different food?  Or a familiar food prepared and cooked in a different way?  Today, Christmas Eve, 24th December, is the anniversary of the first time I tried rosti, a way of cooking potatoes that is traditional in Switzerland.  Let me tell you about it.

Once upon a time there was a young man and a young woman who were very much in love.  They were so much in love that they got married.  Not long after the wedding they were living in a flat in a town in the south of England, a town that stood on the shores of the cold, grey English Channel.  That town was called Hove - although many of the people who lived there called it Hove Actually.  Hove (or even Hove Actually) had a neighbour, the bigger town of Brighton.  Not only were Hove and Brighton neighbours, they actually butted up against each other so that many people didn't know where one town ended and the other began.  Generally speaking, people knew when they were in Hove and when they were in Brighton, but there was a sort of grey area where people were unsure.  That didn't really matter very much, except to the people who lived there and the postman and so on.

Not only was Brighton a bigger town than Hove, it was also much better known.  People who had never heard of Hove had probably heard of Brighton.  You see, Brighton had a reputation, a reputation for being a bit bawdy, for dirty weekends, for gang fights and for trunk murders.  Oh yes, there were very few people in the country who had not heard of Brighton.  But to many of those people who had heard of Brighton, Hove might as well have been a town in Norway or Yugoslavia.  (In the days I am talking about, Yugoslavia was still a country.)  So when a person who lived in Hove was asked, at a party, for instance, or by a stranger on a train if a stranger on a train ever got into conversation with a stranger who lived in Hove, which is unlikely...  So when a person who lived in Hove was asked by somebody, "Where do you live?" the answer would almost always be, "Brighton".  Then the resident of the ultra-respectable town called Hove would have a Horrible Thought.  "Good heavens," the resident of the ultra-respectable town called Hove would think to himself, "that man might think I'm one of that sort!  The sort of person who would live in Brighton!" whereupon he would correct his previous answer by saying, "Well, Hove actually".  And that's how the ultra-respectable and downright dowdy and straight-laced town called Hove became known, if only to its residents, as Hove Actually.

You might be wondering what all that has to do with Christmas Eve, rosti and the young couple who were very much in love and the answer is, nothing at all but it helps to fill the blank screen.  So, to get back to our young couple.

There was little money to spare in the early days of their marriage but they did decide to splash out on a Christmas Eve soon after they had married.  The young man had enjoyed a meal at an office party held at a restaurant in Brighton - the Swiss Restaurant.  It was called the Swiss Restaurant because it served Swiss-style food, including rosti, although the young man had not eaten rosti when his employer had paid for the meal.  It was to the Swiss restaurant that our couple repaired on the long-ago Christmas Eve and it was that evening they both tried - and very much liked - rosti.

They so much enjoyed their Christmas Eve that year that the next year they went again to the Swiss Restaurant and it became a tradition that they ate there every Christmas Eve.  Until, that is, the children started coming along.  By the time the children were old enough to be left alone on Christmas Eve, the Swiss Restaurant had long been closed down.  Our couple were older now (obviously) and didn't even think of going out for a meal on Christmas Eve.  Indeed, we shall spend the evening quietly at home again this year after eating a meal cooked by the Old Bat.  I wonder if she'll do rosti?

~~~~~

These red deer hinds were on the Downs last Monday.  They seemed unperturbed when I raised the camera but watched me closely all the same.


Sunday, 23 December 2012

Ready, steady...

Ready?  Yes, I think we are.  I finally put up the tree on Friday and - surprise, surprise - the lights worked!  It's a pity the tree has been standing around for a bit too long and is already starting to drop but SWMBO seems happy.  I strung the cards up and eventually got round to hanging the other decorations yesterday.  It was yesterday, too, that I drove to Hassocks, a small town/large village the other side of the Downs, to collect the meat: a turkey to take to the farm at Easter (assuming we are invited), a turkey crown for who knows when, a gammon and some venison.  The whole turkey, the gammon and the venison are now in the freezer but the turkey crown in in the fridge just in case we are unable to get out on Christmas Day when we are due to have lunch at house of the parents of our son's fiancee (if you see what I mean).

I was very glad not to be driving very far yesterday morning.  The almost incessant rain means that even in our neck of the woods there is a lot of both standing and running water on the roads with very large puddles in places.  But at least there is no flooding in our immediate area although some roads are closed as impassable not so very far away.

After due consideration I have decided that I am not especially ashamed of my reaction to a telephone call the other day, although I did display considerably less than what might be called the Christmas spirit.  A woman (I hesitate to call her a lady) rang to question why a neighbour of hers had received a gift of £20 from the Lions.  She actually lived in Hove, not Brighton, so I was able to assure her that I knew nothing about this as it would be Hove Lions involved.  As I was looking up the phone number for Hove Lions she ranted on about being a disabled pensioner and why wasn't she chosen to receive £20?  And so on.  I (almost) regret that I lost my rag.  I told her that her attitude smacked of "gimme, gimme, gimme" and I wasn't prepared to help her any further.  Oh well, that's one fewer fan of Lions International.  Too late to do anything about that now.

~~~~~

This is another picture taken last Monday from the same spot as yesterday's.  The fields of St Mary's and High Park farms are alternately in sun and cloud.  The highest point on the horizon is Ditchling Beacon which, although it might not seem it in the photo, is one of the higher points of the South Downs.


Saturday, 22 December 2012

Banking boring?

Many people, perhaps even most people, would think that working in a bank must be one of the world's most boring jobs.  Granted, for much of the time - even most of it - there's nothing very exciting happening.  I should know, I spent 25 years working in various branches of a high street bank before I saw the error of my ways.   But there were moments.

One of the customers at a small, country branch was most decidedly a sandwich short of a picnic.  She caused no trouble as a rule and was quite capable of walking the High Street on her own.  She would sometimes push open the door of the bank, put her head round and poke her tongue or pull a face at the cashiers.  But one day she came in, lifted an inkpot off the counter and placed it on the floor.  She lifted her skirt and pulled down her drawers...  And I had to clear up afterwards.

Some of the stories one heard were probably apocryphal.  There was the little old lady (they are always little old ladies) who asked the cashier for her balance and then wrote a cheque for that exact amount which she proceeded to cash.  She took the cash to a table in the banking hall, counted it carefully, and then took it back to the cashier, saying, "That's right, it's all there.  You can put it back again now."  And then there was lady who very carefully examined every note she was given when she cashed a cheque.  "But none of these is one that I gave you last week," she said.  "They all have the wrong numbers."

Not all the eccentrics were on the customers' side of the counter.  One head cashier, on being asked a question by a customer, often replied that he would have to go downstairs to find out.  He slowly sank below the level of the counter and remained crouched there for a couple of minutes after which he slowly rose and answered the question.riends

Another chief clerk (the second in command of a branch) was a part-time smallholder.  He worked at a branch in a town where there was a weekly cattle market and one morning he bought a calf.  Unable to leave the branch for the rest of the working day, he put the calf in the strong room where the grill was kept locked.

I spent some time at a branch where many of our customers came from the poorer part of town and were prone to running into the red, after which we often had considerable difficulty in obtaining repayment.  Two of us would spend one afternoon each week driving around, knocking on doors and asking for our (well, the bank's) money.  This was a most frustrating exercise as customers, if we found them at home, usually tried to fob us off with vague promises of funds at some indeterminate point in the future.  One "lady" opened the door in a dressing gown which she allowed to fall open as she hinted strongly that we could take repayment in kind.  Both of us.  I got repayment in kind at another house.  We were - for once - invited in, an invitation we should have declined.  As we explained the reason for our visit, a young son of the house was asking for a clip round the ear as he kicked my shin monotonously.  I was scatching we we drove away and went home as soon as I could, hung my suit outside and took a shower in the hope of ridding myself of fleas.

But the palm d'or must go to Big George.  He was - maybe still is - a Greek Cypriot who emigrated to Glasgow at some time after the war.  (Try to imagine somebody speaking English with a Greek accent overlaid with a Glaswegian accent!)  He got involved in the gang scene and ended up with a razor scar down one cheek.  This did nothing to improve his looks.  I should mention that he was built like the proverbial brick shit house, stood over six feet tall and nearly as broad.  His party trick was to take a one penny coin, wrap it in a thick serviette, place it in the palm of his hand and squeeze.  The coin came out bent in a right angle.  A penny coin has a diameter of 20.3 millimetres, approximately 0.8 of an inch, which gives an idea of the strength this feat needed.

Big George and his fellow Cypriot Vic - who was about 5' 6" tall - ran competing coffee houses but were the best of friends.  They often came into the bank together.  Vic was happy to be served by any cashier, but Big George had his favourite young lady, Claire.  No matter that she had a queue and other cashiers were free, he had to wait for her.  One day, Vic had been served and was waiting patiently while George queued.  At one point, George took exception to something the customer in front of hime said to Claire.  He tapped the other man on the shoulder.  The other man to find a knife in his face.

"George," called Vic.  "Behave yourself," whereupon George put away his knife and we all breathed again.

Banking boring?  Well, yes and no.  Sometimes.

~~~~~

St Mary's farm is situated deep in a valley of the Downs about three quarters of a mile north of Falmer and I took this picture last Monday.



Friday, 21 December 2012

Bah humbug

Last Christmas, if my memory serves, it was robins.  This year is would seem to be post boxes.  I refer to the pictures on Christmas cards.

The production and sale of cards must be a multi-million pound business these days, a far cry from the first tentative days of Christmas cards back in 1843 when the first one was produced in London by John Horsley for Civil Servant Sir Henry Cole.  I do have to wonder if things haven't gone a bit too far, indeed, more than a bit over the top.  I thought this the other evening at a Lions meeting when we each walked around the table handing out and receiving greetings cards.  At least we only see each other on occasion, unlike colleagues in the work place.  It seems to be de rigeur to write a card to everybody at work even though the people concerned will say goodbye on Christmas Eve and be back together on 27th December.

Now I'm not going on letting off steam about the sending of Christmas cards per se; indeed, I think they are a great invention.  However, I do maintain they should be used much more sparingly.  I am more than happy to send cards to friends and family members at a distance whom I will not see over the holiday - indeed, I positively like doing so.  But if I am able to offer personal Christmas greetings and wishes, I see no need for a card.

And what about the message inside the card?  Not the printed one but the message written by the sender.  "Love from" is probably the most over-used and, at the same time, inappropriate phrase.  And just who is the card from?  "Doris, Jack, Ethel and Malcolm": I work with Doris, I know her husband is Jack, but Ethel and Malcolm?  Her children whom I have never even spoken to, let alone met?  They don't want to send me Christmas greetings never mind love!

But I almost forgot what I deem the worst faux pas of all: adding the cat's name.  Bah humbug!

~~~~~

This is one of my favourite pictures of the year.  It is a quiet square in Patcham (a suburb of Brighton) but really needs a boy or girl in Victorian dress with a hoop just to complete the scene - and the television aerial removing.  I particularly like the delicate green of the young leaves with the brnches of the tree showing through as well as the contrast between the flint walls and the weatherboard, the slate rooves and the tiles..


Thursday, 20 December 2012

Christmas tree, o Christmas tree

It is fortunate that I am now able to bend both my knees.  Until not so very long ago I was still having problems with my left knee in that it was painful to kneel on it.  This, for those who really couldn't care less, was a hang-over from the crippling bout of arthritis with which I was afflicted during the summer.  As I say, it is fortunate that I can now bow the knee as the Christmas decorations are kept in the loft.  Our loft is in three parts.  When the boys were teenagers or coming up to that age we had the loft converted by putting down flooring over part of it, adding plasterboard walls and ceiling and putting in a Velux window.  That part of the loft is now my office.  There are two storage areas, one of which has electric light and some flooring.  That is where the Christmas decorations are stored during the eleven and a half months or so that they are not in use.  Also stored there are numerous board games that the grandchildren are still too young to play, the remains of an N gauge electric railway layout along with the usual host of other things that really should be thrown out.  To enter this Aladdin's cave of my childrens' youth we have a hatch about 2' 6" high which means I have to take to my knees to get through.  I really don't know why we didn't make a higher entrance - there was more headroom - but there we are; we didn't.

I had bought a Christmas tree nearly a fortnight ago and it has been resting in the lean-to which we laughingly call a conservatory.  This is where we have the freezer, the tumble drier and where we keep muddy wellies and waterproof clothing - and the dog when she comes back from a walk either soaking wet or just plain muddy.  I thought that as I was to be out at a Lions meeting yesterday evening and there was nothing the Old Bat wanted to watch on television, I would put up the tree and add the lights.  That is the extent of my involvement with the tree.  I do have to put up the garland-like streamers around the walls of the lounge and strings on which to place the Christmas cards in the dining room but decorating the tree is reserved for She Who Must Be Obeyed.  Anyway, I thought it would give her something to do while I was out.  But no, she didn't want the tree brought in yesterday.  So I shall have to do it today, provided SWMBO has vacuumed the carpet first.

I find it slightly surprising that no new ecorations have been bought this year, though I suppose there is still time.  Most years we have at least one new thing.  We also have several old decorations which are brought out year after year, like this crib scene which I bought in Holland many years ago. I had gone over with a party of Scouts to meet up with Dutch Scouts with whom we had established a sort of twinning arrangement. Looking round the shops in the Hague I saw this and it proved a big hit when I got it home.  I'm not sure that Joseph should really be holding a crook, but there you are.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Yorkshire wave

It is my experience that most drivers, when granted a little courtesy like being given the right of way when it isn't really theirs, make some form of acknowledgement.  Granted, there is a minority who are too ignorant to do so, but most do.  In years gone by, this would have been done by giving a quick flash of the headlights.  A flash of the headlights could mean, "After you, Cecil" - but if the other driver also flashed, "No, after you, Claude", there could be a little confusion.  Of course, there were, and still are occasions when a flash of the headlights meant, "Keep back, I'm coming through".  But what I'm dribbling on about is the acknowledgement of a small courtesy.

I'm reasonably certain that it was Bill Bryson who, in one of his books about the idiosyncracies of the English, mentioned the Yorkshire wave.  His description of this regional phenomenon was a raising, by a driver, of the index finger on his right hand while keeping both hands on the wheel.  This gesture could be an acknowledgement of a courtesy or it could a form of greeting addressed to another driver or a pedestian known to our Yorkshire driver.  The response to such a greeting varies.  It might be a straightforward repetition of the gesture (from another driver) or a pedestrian might simply nod - but only gently.  Except for a Yorkshire tyke used to spotting the gesture, it would often be missed and many a driver has left the county fuming at the bad manners of its drivers.

(Actually, I made that last bit up.)

The Yorkshire wave has now been adopted almost universally, albeit in a modified form.  One solitary finger might be in order for those dour northerners but we soft southerners will raise not just one but all four fingers while gripping the steering wheel with the thumb.  We might, on occasion, be sufficiently reckless to raise the whole hand, leaving just one hand to type the text message.  And it can be either hand, doesn't matter which.

There is one thing I have noticed - and this is where I display my chauvinistic streak.  Women drivers have a tendency to do one of two things, both of which are easily missed by the other driver for whom the gesture is intended.  They might raise the hand when too far away for it to be easily seen so that when the courteous driver expects to see an acknowledgement, it has come and gone.  Or the woman driver is so terrified of losing control of her vehicle (that's the only reason I can think of) that the gesture is over far too quickly and, again, the other driver misses it.

Of course, neither the Yorkshire wave nor its southern equivalent are of the slightest use after dark - or, come to that, when driving behind tinted glass - as neither can be seen.  Some drivers revert to flashing their headlights, others (I am giving them the benefit of the doubt) continue to wave.  Me, I do the opposite of flashing: I switch my headlights off for a split second.  I wouldn't want anyone to accuse me of being a flasher.

~~~~~

Earlier this year, I realised that the Roman Camp would make an excellent spot at which to photograph the sunset.


Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Memories of summer

The sun was shining as I walked the dog yesterday morning and it was very pleasant to stand in the warmth of its rays in the park as I spent a minute or two listening to the robin in the nearby bush who was singing fit to bust.  At this time of the year it is only the robin one hears, although I did see a cock blackbird trying it on with a hen bird the other day.  She gave him the brush off!

Talking of hearing, I was pleased to hear a green woodpecker in the park over the weekend.  I have neither seen nor heard the resident bird for several months and I rather assumed he/she was no longer.  But perhaps this is a different bird?

After lunch I took Fern (that's the dog, not the wife) along the path from the back of Falmer that leads out to Plumpton Plain.  I remembered that it was on this path one day in the spring that I could hear nothing but the song of a skylark; I blogged about it here.  We didn't go the whole way along the path yesterday and I turned into a field beside the path to make our way back on firmer ground.  I had admired - and photographed - the bare branches of trees standing against the blue sky across the field to my left when something made me look to the right.  There, about a hundred yards away, was a bunch of three deer.  They stood perfectly still, watching me, and even stayed while I raised the camera and photographed them several times.  I know there are plenty of deer in Sussex but it's not often one sees them on the Downs.

I'll get round to uploading those photos one day but in the meantime, here is a view from this path across the Downs towards Ditching Beacon.


Monday, 17 December 2012

Grandad

5-year-old Emily was, I am informed, most concerned on Saturday when Grandma (the Old Bat) announced that it was time for dinner.  This was early (for us) at about 5.30 and I was still helping to entertain the old folks in yesterday's blog.  That - my absence at dinner time - was what concerned my young princess.  What would Grandad do for dinner?  She was assured by Grandma that Grandad's dinner would be kept warm in the oven for him.  Unfortunately, Emily had gone home to get ready for  bed before I had a chance to see her.

Emily does get to meet all four of her grandparents, as did I when I was a child.  The Old Bat was less lucky as all her grandparents died before she was born.

HMS Impregnable
He also served on HMS Hearty, a torpedo boat destroyer
I really don't have many memories of my paternal grandfather.  He was born in the 1880s in a small village in Suffolk.  His family were farm labourers and fishermen (although the sea was eight miles away) and had mainly lived in and around that part of Suffolk for at least a hundred years.  One branch had left during a time of great hardship and were to be found in the coal mines around Durham.  But those apart, my grandfather was the first to leave the area.  At the age of 15 he joined the Navy.  I have his Naval papers which detail all the ships he served on, the courses he attended and his promotions through the ranks from boy seaman to chief petty officer.  His first posting was to a training ship, HMS Impregnable, a retired sailing ship, and he later served on torpedo boat destroyers (as destroyers were then known).  He must have had more guts than I do as he served on submarines during the First World War.  It must have been a terribly cramped and claustrophobic existence once the boat was beneath the surface.

Although Grandad didn't die until I was approaching 10 years old, my memories of him are very vague.  Seeing photographs remind me that he was quite short and well-built - stocky verging on stout.  My brother swears that he never left the house without wearing a brown trilby.I do have other vague memories, although I still can't picture Grandad in them.  He once took me on a trip from Sun Pier, Chatham, down the River Medway and across the Thames estuary to Southend and back.  We travelled on an old paddle steamer, the Medway Queen, which had seen service at Dunkirk.  Grandad also took my brother and I to the cattle market in Chatham on a number of occasions.  Although Grandad himself doesn't feature in those memories, I could still find my way to the pig stalls - if the market was still there!  How those pigs squealed when their ears were clipped.

My brother and I always bought Grandad the same present for Christmas: a bag of walnuts.

I do wish I had known him better.

~~~~~

It's not only the humans who enjoy the view from the southern rampart of the Roman Camp.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Christmas is coming...

...the goose is getting fat.
Please to put a penny in an old man's hat.
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do.
If you haven't got a ha'penny, God bless you.
I know Christmas is coming because of two events that took place yesterday.  I managed not to fume at all in the lead-in to the first of the two, the pre-Christmas party organised by Brighton Lions Club for elderly people in the city.  We had at first attempted to invite 60 people in total and had arranged the sole use of the bar area in one of the fairly posh hotels on Brighton sea front.  Here, our guests would be entertained by a professional who plays the keyboard, sings and tells jokes.  Then tea would be served.  All our guests would be collected from their homes and returned after the party.

We eventually had 49 acceptances from pensioners and, where necessary, their carers so we arranged with the hotel that they would cater for 55 people - a few extra just in case, and anyway, that would leave a little something for the Lions who were there.  Meanwhile, one of our number had bought 60 boxes of chocolates and a pile of Christmas wrapping paper and he and his wife had wrapped each box very nicely.  All seemed to be arranged, even the taxi to collect one person in a wheelchair and her carer as we could not figure out a reasonable way of getting them onto a bus without an unduly long journey.  It was while we were collecting our guests that it all started to fall apart.

It was arranged that a Lion would travel on each bus to greet our guests and to assist as necessary.  Other Lions woukld be at the hotel.  I was on one of the buses, having been told only at the last minute that two of my passengers would not be coming.  I wasn't told why.  Anyway, we arrived at one block of flats - sheltered accommodation - where we had seven to collect.  Only two were coming.  Granted, one was ill, but one, I was told, "had to go somewhere else".  Another had her granddaughter coming.  As for the rest, goodness knows.  I managed to smile sweetly and assured the passengers we had collected that they were very welcome.

Lions on the other buses had similar experiences and we ended up with, I think, between 36 and 40 guests and carers.  So we paid an entertainer, provided the buses (at a cost), arranged (and paid) for the hotel to provide food and drink, bought presents - and people had the appalling manners just to change their minds about coming.  And these are members of the oldr generation who complain about lack of respect and ill manners in the young!

Having said that, those who were there enjoyed themselves, there was no room for any more and nearly all the food was eaten.  The presents left over will be used on Christmas Day when we visit the lonely.  All in all, it can be described as a success.

There were slight problems afterwards which resulted in me not getting home until 7.15 - the time I was supposed to be leaving again.  But my meal was being kept warm for me and I ate both courses, changed, and was back out of the door in twenty minutes.  The Old Bat and I were due at friends for their annual evening of Christmas, as they call it.  Mrs Chris plays the piano, a friend is an oboist and guitarist and another friend plays the cello.  Along with 30 or so others, we spend the evening singing Christmas songs and carols, drinking mulled wine and eating all sorts of delicacies provided by the guests.  We have only missed one of these evenings in the 16 years our friends have organised them and it is this evening that really tells me Christmas is coming.

By the time we got home just before midnight I knew I had had a long day as I had originally left home at 12.30.

~~~~~

There is a seat o the southern rampart of the Roman Camp which is a good place to sit and admire the view on a summer day.


Saturday, 15 December 2012

The labyrinth of my mind

I never cease to be amazed at the convoluted way in which my mind works.  I suppose other people's minds might perform similar tricks but it takes something special in the mind to link, as my mind has, Suldog, my parents' summer holiday habits, George Frideric Handel, a nine-inch television screen, Frankie Vaughan, the Farnborough air show and the Huddersfield Choral Society.  Now that I've given you the tease, the come-on, I had better provide the explanation.  It starts with Suldog.

Suldog (Jim) recently blogged about his favourite Christmas music.  That, not unnaturally, set me thinking.  What is my favourite Christmas music?  Well, Jingle Bells it is not, nor Frosty the Snowman.  My two favourite carols are probably Hark the Herald Angels Sing and O Come All Ye Faithful, but very high on my list of favourite Christmas music are two of the choruses from Handle's oratorio, The Messiah - the Allelujah chorus and For Unto Us a Child is Born.  I remember that, as a child, I heard the Messiah every Christmas.  The BBC broadcast it and my mother always had the radio on to listen to it.  (Funny, I don't recall my father ever being there.  Perhaps he was away at sea every year.  No, he can't have been.  But that's another story.)  I seem to recall that the performance was, every year, by the Huddersfield Choral Society.

See?  Already I have provided evidence of the tortuous reasonings of my mind and have linked three of those seemingly disparate subjects.  Now read on...

You will have noticed that I mentioned listening to that inspiring music on the radio.  Back in those days very few English homes had such a thing as a television set.  They didn't really come into their own until 1953 when many people bought them to watch the coronation.  My parents didn't buy a television until, oh, the later 50s or even, perhaps, the early 1960s. But that's yet another story or two.  I am uncertain when I first saw a television programme.  It might have been when we visited my parents' friends Doris and Reg.  They certainly had a set and I have vague memories of seeing Frankie Vaughan performing Green Door on it.  But now I have checked I find that Mr V had a hit with that song in 1956.  That means my other early television memory is from an earlier date.  And this is where my parents' holiday habits come in.

My parents were nothing if not consistent in their holiday planning.  In their later years they spent a week each summer at the same guest house in Cornwall, each year booking their next holiday before they left - along with at least one other couple.  When my brother and I were young our holidays were at Broadstairs, a seaside town some 44 miles away.  Then in 1951 or 1952 the mould was broken and we went to Folkestone, another seaside town just 43 miles away.  You might have gathered that my parents were adept at befriending other people who were staying at the same guest house, and that is what happened at Folkestone.  So it was that in September 1952 we travelled to Farborough to stay with Ron and Elsie and their two sone, Ronnie and David.  Ron was a bus driver and the family lived in what hid, I imagine, at one time been a farm labourer's cottage.  It certainly seemed small and was probably a two up, two down sort of a place.  But that was where I first saw a television.  Ron and Elsie had a set with a nine-inch screen.  I don't remember being much impressed by this technological marvel even at my tender age.  We had gone to stay with them for the weekend in order to visit the Farnorough air show.  It was 6 September that we went - the day John Derry, a test pilot, was killed when the DH110 he was flying broke up in mid-air.  Fortunately, none of us were hurt - 29 spectators were killed and 63 injured.

I did warn you that my mind runs in tortuous twists.

~~~~~

The weather both yesterday and so far today has been and is foul with heavy rain and blustery winds.  I wouldn't mind being back in the warmth of the Luberon, where this picture was taken.  It is the courtyard of Domaine Faverot where we bought some excellent wine.


Friday, 14 December 2012

Plain speaking

Today is Plain English Day and the Plain English Campaign.  That is the day on which they "present awards for the best and worst examples of English. The main awards recognise organisations and individuals who have genuinely made an effort to present themselves using clear and concise English. The infamous 'Golden Bull' and 'Foot in Mouth' awards inject a sense of mischief into the proceedings."

So, some examples of the Golden Bull winners.  First, the Cheshire, Warrington and Wirral NHS Commissioning Support Service.
"A unique factor of the NHS Cheshire Warrington and Wirral Commissioning support organisation is its systematised methodology for project and programme management of small, medium, large service re-design and implementation…Building in equality and risk impact assessments the options are taken through a process to arrive at the content for an output based specification and benefits foreseen as a result of the implementation. The service is inclusive of full engagement with Clinical Commissioning Groups who direct at decision-making points how they wish the proposal to be deployed (re-commmisson, de-commission or changes to current services/providers), and lastly an implementation team who see the service redesign through to evaluation and benefits realisation."
Next, another part of the NHS, NHS Norfolk and Waverney.
"The concern regarding the lower base fees in 2010 cannot supported by the evidence gained from national research or the use of evidence and experience of a national review of costs undertaken by OLM.
The PCT is obliged, via the NHS Operating Framework 2012/13, to apply a negative financial uplift to the out-turn value of all our supplier contracts in the sum of -1.8%. This is to reflect the pressures on the health care system as a result of the national economic situation and the normal efficiencies that suppliers are expected to deliver.
The contract outlines the new fee structure. All care homes fees need to be adjusted, deducting -1.8% and then adding 1.25% as an advanced payment for CQUINs. A further 1.25% can be achieved at the end of each quarter if CQUINs are met; this further payment will be made by NHS Norfolk & Waveney."
Enough already: my mind is going round in circles - as was Mitt Romney, the winner of the Foot in Mouth award with this delightful proclamation:
"I believe in an America where millions of Americans believe in an America that's the America millions of Americans believe in. That's the America I love."
Don't you just love it?

~~~~~

The answer to the question I posed yesterday: 468.  A partridge on day one, a partridge and two turtle doves on day two, and so on.

~~~~~

There are the remains of a number of disc barrows - ancient burial mounds - in the Roman Camp.  This one enjoys a sea view!



Thursday, 13 December 2012

Last week

I'm still smarting a little.  It's not that I'm a bad loser; well, not usually at any rate.  But last week still rankles a little.  It was at the regular monthly dinner meeting of Brighton Lions Club.  We were at a new venue for us, one of the several golf clubs around the fringes of the city.  There had been a choice of dishes and I had decided to have the gammon steak for my main course rather than the roast turkey but I did opt for Christmas pudding (and custard) for dessert.  I wished I hadn't.  It was possibly the most indigestible Christmas pudding I have ever eaten - and I've eaten a good few bad ones in my time.  Mind you, another Lion said how good she thought the pudding was.  Perhaps there's no accounting for taste, or maybe I was just unlucky.

(I'm eating turkey today - and I hope the Christmas pudding to follow is better than last week's.  Out to lunch with the management committee and staff of Brighton Lions Housing Society.)

But that's not what causing the smarting.  One of the Lions had organised a quiz with question papers for each table.  One of the answers and one of the questions are causing me grief.  One question asked, what is the date of Twelfth Night?  I said it is the 5th of January, only to be told that the correct answer is the 6th of January.  Wrong!  According to the Christian calendar, the first day of Christmas is Christmas Day itself, 25th December.  There are 12 days in the Christmas period, so the 12th is 5th January.  In any case, 6th January is Epiphany.

It was our own fault that we got the wrong answer to another question.  How many gifts, we were asked, would the singer of the Twelve Days of Christmas receive?  We all said 78, but that's not right.  And I'm not going to tell you the correct answer just yet!  In the meantime, you can work it out.  Come back tomorrow for the right answer.

~~~~~

Still walking round Hollingbury hill fort, aka the Roman Camp, this is the southern rampart.  Its ditch is still there, albeit a lot shallower than it probably was 3500 years ago.  I expect the rampart is lower as well.


Wednesday, 12 December 2012

"It'll be alright on the night"

I sincerely hope so, although I suspect that we shall be patching things up here and there, more or less making it up as we go along.  And for "night" read "afternoon".  I met up with my two fellow sub-committee members on Monday afternoon to finalise plans for this coming Saturday when Brighton Lions are hosting a pre-Christmas party for about 50 pensioners at a sea-front hotel.  Now I just have to make sure that there are members of the club at thr hotel to greet our guests and one on each of the four minibuses we are hiring (with drivers) to collect said guests.  I also have to break the news to the bus company that there are not the three pick-up points I told them: there are 13!  Oh well, I'm sure it will sort itself out eventually.  At least the entertainer rang me yesterday just to confirm.

I had another walk across 39 Acres and round the Roman Camp yesterday afternoon before a supermarket trip and Christmas shopping with the Old Bat.  Oh fablous joy!  At least I enjoyed the walk with the dog.  By the way, I'm sure I have mentioned it somewhere but the Roman Camp has (or had) nothing to do with the Romans.  It pre-dates their invasion by 1500 years as it is about 3500 years old, dating from the Iron Age.  As I approached the golf course en route to the Camp, I spotted three magpies in a circle chattering away.  They flew off in one direction and the squirrel they were bullying ran the other way.  That's something I have never seen before - birds mobbing a mammal.

Plenty of gorse in bloom in the Camp, so kissing is in season - and you don't even need mistletoe! (It's an old country custom: kissing's in season when gorse is in bloom.)


Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Apologies

Apology No 1.  I was very late posting yesterday so it is possible that some regular readers will need to read two posts today, yesterday's having been missing when they logged in.  For some reason my ISP would allow me to access only its own site: all other areas of the net were unavailable to me until after lunch.

~~~~~

Apology No 2.  This apology is addressed principally to Mr or Mrs or Miss or Ms or even Mx Anonymous who has taken it into his or her head to bombard my blog with comments about Hermes handbags or telling me how he or she was recommended by his or her brother to visit my blog and thanking me for the information it contains.  I'm fed up with receiving spam comments like this so to foil Mr (or Mrs or Miss or Ms or even Mx) Anonymous, I have switched word verification back on.

~~~~~

Apology No 3.  To anyone who wants to submit genuine comments.  I know the WV is a pain in the neck and I hope to disable it in a week or so.  We shall see.

~~~~~

Apology No 4.  To David Thomas, a writer on the Sunday Telegraph who this last weekend answered some of those tricky Christmas questions.  I intend to plagiarise his work quite shamelessly, but since I have given him the credit I hope I may be excused.
How do Rudolph and the other reindeer fly?

It's a question of needs must.  To reach every girl and boy who deserves presents, Rudolph and the others have to travel at millions of miles an hour.  Unfortunately, the animal-rights people have objected to Father Christmas putting rockets on his reindeer, current health and safety legislation prevents the use of chimneys as domestic entrances, and most people have central heating instead of fires these days anyway, so all the chimneys are blocked up...

And that's why Father Christmas has decided to modernise his operations and subcontract the whole thing to Amazon.
~~~~~

Early morning frost and mist starting to clear on the field next to our French hideaway when we were there recently.


Monday, 10 December 2012

Back to camp

What I really mean is not back to camp but back to THE Camp, ie the Roman Camp.  There are basically two routes to the Camp.  One is by way of a public footpath running from Ditchling Road across the golf course, the other from a car park further along Ditchling Road, across 39 Acres, through a patch of wood at the top of the Wild Park, then up behind a hole (12th?  14th?) on the golf course.  Unless the golf course is closed because of snow or some such, I always use the 39 Acres route when walking the dog.  The walk on the remains of the ramparts round the Camp is one of my favourites.  Given reasonable weather, there are views across the South Downs to the east, the west and - principally - to the north.  To the south one looks over the city of Brighton to the English Channel while to the south-west there is sometimes a faint glimpse of the Isle of Wight, some 50+ miles away.

A drawback to the walk across 39 Acres - which is a field owned by the council and left almost completely untended for public recreation - is just that: the field is untended.  That means that the grass grows to quite a considerable height, which Fern loves, but it also means that there are millions of seeds in the autumn and those seeds cling to Fern's fur, which is both fine and long.  Ridding her of those seeds is a lengthy process so I usually avoid this walk at that time of the year.  However, once a year the council have the field mowed, very roughly, and from then on the walk is available to me once again.  As it was this past weekend.

Today's picture was taken on the western rampart where there is a trig (or triangulation) point.  These concrete pillars were erected by the Ordnance Survey in order to make their highly accurate and detailed maps.  Nowadays, of course, trig points are obsolete and maps are made and checked using satellite photography.


Sunday, 9 December 2012

St Barbara

Although I can't get in a lather over Sunday trading, I do try to avoid visiting any shops on that day.  Except for Sundays in France, when I will happily visit the boulangerie to buy fresh bread.  And so it was, exactly a week ago, that I found myself buying bread at my favourite boulangerie in Pouancé.  (I also bought some patisserie which later proved to be delicious, but that's a digression.)  As I left the shop, I noticed a police van approaching at slow speed with blue lights ablaze.  It was then that I heard the band.

(Why is it that French bands sound so discordant to my English ears?  It's almost as if they are playing off-key or slightly out of tune.  To somebody brought up on the music of the bands of the Royal Marines and the Brigade of Guards, French military-style bands just don't cut the mustard.)

As the police van passed me and the band approached, I was immediately transported to a December day three years ago.  That was when the Old Bat and I were in Châteaubriant and I was trying to take a photo of the château reflected in the windows of the Glass Theatre. (It didn't work.)  On that occasion, what seemed like the entire manpower of the local fire station, led by their band and all their vehicles, came marching up the hill and off, we assumed, to the nearby war memorial.  (If you are feeling sufficiently masochistic, you can read about it here.)

After the police van came the tricolor, escorted by a fireman and a firewoman, each carrying a fire axe, then the discordant band, followed by a mass of men and women in uniform.  Given that the population of Pouancé is little more than 3,000, I was surprised how many people there were marching.  Presumably some were full-time firefighters while others were part-time volunteers (which might explain why some were wearing traditional French caps and others red baseball-style caps).  They were followed by a van, a fire engine and an ambulance (French firefighters are also trained paramedics).

 Being on my own and not in any great hurry, I joined the throng of camp followers and tagged along behind.  Our destination was the local war memorial.  After some time while the fire brigade got themselves sorted out, the buglers sounded a short fanfare and the big cheese, accompanied by a man dressed in scruffy civies, marched up to lay a wreath.  Another fanfare (the same tune as before), and then it was time to present awards and so on.  I drifted away.

That afternoon we were invited to take tea (or coffee or beer) with Jacques and Brigitte.  While we were there, I asked Jacques about the parade.  He explained that this was to mark the feast of St Barbara (which was actually two days later) who is the patron saint of the French fire brigade.  And miners.  And artillerymen.  And the US Navy and Marine Corps Aviation Ordnancemen (according to Wikipedia).

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Fermeture definitive

"Permanent closure" is the strictly literal translation, although "closing down" would perhaps be a better known expression this side of the Channel.  But "fermeture definitive" is what the notice said.  I wondered, when I saw how empty the car park was, if the store was closed on Monday mornings.  But it would not be just Monday mornings that Mr Bricolage would be closed.  Mr Bricolage closed down!  I found it difficult to take in that my favourite DIY store in all of France was no longer in business.  My friend Chris and I have spent many hours wandering the aisles of the store picking up the odd bits and pieces we needed for the work we were then undertaking at les Lavandes, the French hideaway that the Old Bat and I had bought almost ten years ago.  They sold everything from artists' materials to ready-made staircases, from ride-on lawn mowers to floor coverings.  They had the biggest range of drawer handles I have ever seen, and a veritable rainbow of self-coloured skirting boards.  Over the years, Chris and I had bought screws, drills, a tile cutter, a window shutter kit - all manner of things.  So familiar was I with the store that I could have found the screws even if I had been blindfolded at the entrance, but this time I had come in search of an alarm clock.

The Old Bat and I are very recently returned from a trip to stock up the wine cellar for Christmas and we had been plagued by power cuts.  Now, I have to admit that a power cut in the village of la Prévière is not at all an uncommon occurrence; in fact, they are quite the opposite, but it is unusual for them to occur as frequently as they did during the first three days of our visit when we had four or five.  I suppose calling them power cuts might be over-egging the pudding a tad as the only indication that the power had gone off was the flashing of the time display on the alarm clock in the bedroom.  Maybe they were simply hiccups, interruptions in supply, but sufficient to stop the clock.  Two of those interruptions had occurred on consecutive nights, thereby ensuring that I was not woken by the loud buzzing of the alarm.  You might - quite rightly - say that is hardly the end of the world considering that the only pressing business of the morning - indeed, the only pressing business of the whole day - was a visit to the boulangerie to buy the lunchtime bread.  However, an early start is needed on the day of our return to England, so an alarm clock is essential.  Ideally, we needed an old fashioned, wind-up alarm clock.  But where to find one?  It's hard enough in Brighton, but the shops of Pouancé, Châteaubriant and Segré (the three towns closest to us) are unfamiliar territory - apart from the boulangerie, charcuterie, supermarkets and Mr Bricolage.

Serious consideration was needed, the sort of consideration that would have been described as "a two-cigarette think" in the days when I was still an active smoker.  Having given that consideration to the matter, I had come to the conclusion that the most likely source of the apparatus we required was one of the big supermarkets in Châteaubriant.  There are three large supermarkets in the town and I was quite content to leave to She Who Must Be Obeyed the decision as to the order in which they should be visited.  So I drove to Hyper U, the larger version of Super U, our local supermarket.  We did manage to buy some felt-tip pens to add to our granddaughter's Christmas present, but alarm clocks?  We found none at all.  It just so happens that the Hyper U and the Mr Bricolage sites are contiguous (at least, I think they are) so I suggested that we check out Mr B before going on to Leclerc, the second supermarket on the list.

I have yet to break the news about Mr B to Chris - not that we have undertaken any renovation work or other improvements for several years.  Neither have we any planned.  He will, I am sure, be just as astonished as I was to learn of the closure of what seemed to me to be a thriving store.

I did manage to buy an alarm clock.  Leclerc had a good range.  Although none were of the wind-up variety, I found a cheap electric one which has battery back-up so that the settings are retained in memory in the event of a power cut.  I just hope we don't have one over the time the alarm is set to go off!

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Thinking of early mornings, this was the dawn at la Prévièreone day during our recent visit - at 8.45am!  Perhaps I should crop the picture to remove the lens flare, but I rather like it as it is.


Friday, 7 December 2012

What's up, Doc?

Or, what's been happening while I was away?

We actually arrived back in Brighton quite latish on Wednesday but as I had been well aware of just how much catching up I would have to do, reading all the blogs I follow, sorting out the trash emails from those I really wanted to read, dealing with the post and phone messages and so on, I left another post "on the schedule" as it were.

We learned at one of the French motorway service stations that not only was the Duchess of Cambridge pregnant, but also that she had been rushed into hospital.  The news might well have been covered by French newspapers but this service area sells the European edition of several English papers.  I refuse to pay the exhorbitant prices demanded for them and content myself with glancing at the front page headlines as I wait for the Old Bat to emerge from the ladies.  I could not help but notice that the Daily Mail was offering a "Royal Baby Special" on pages 2 to 14.  Eh?  !2 - no, 13 pages devoted to an embryo whose sex isn't yet known, let alone the name?

I was pleased to discover yesterday that Sgt Danny Nightingale (I mentioned him here) had his sentence reduced to 12 months suspended and was therefore freed immediately after his appeal against his sentence.  He has also been given leave to appeal against his conviction.  The justice machinery really did sort that out very quickly, probably because of the enormous swell of public opinion. "joke"

Reverting to Kate, I can't understand why two Aussie radio (or TV - I don't know which) presenters thought it so hugely funny to telephone the hospital pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles.  And I'm not just being an anti-republican royalist when I say that.  It just seems so utterly puerile and the sort of "joke" that even my 9-year-old grandson would think infra dig.  God help Australia if that really is the level of their humour.  But I can't imagine it is.

Eh bien, I must get ready to take the Old Bat to her Friday oxygen treatment.

~~~~~

There's just time to upload another picture of Christmas decorations in Chateaubriant, this one being a new picture.


Thursday, 6 December 2012

Plan B

The Plan B that Chris and I devised involved laying joists of three inches by two inches, fastening them to the existing boards with metal angle-brackets. On top of the joists we would fix loft panels, with underfelt and laminate flooring to finish. It was a shame to do away with what were, I thought, the original floor tiles, but they were breaking up and the floor was becoming dangerous.

Back in England, I e-mailed Chris with the room dimensions and, to help with my own calculations, I drew a scale plan on a large sheet of paper. I visited several do-it-yourself stores to get the measurements of their loft panels, all of which were the same. At least this meant that if I had to use several stores to obtain sufficient for my needs, there would be no problem with differing dimensions.

I took great care over my calculations as I realised that there was just one chance of getting this right. No way could we wing it once the tiles and sand had been removed. I had several telephone conversations with Chris in which we decided which way the joists would be laid (at right angles to the floor boards), which way the loft panels (at right angles to the joists) and which way the laminate flooring pieces (at right angles to the loft panels). By this time I felt as though my head was going round in right angles.

Having agreed the basics, we then needed to calculate how many lengths of timber would be needed, how many angle brackets, how many screws, how many loft panels. The timber could be bought in France, but the angle brackets, screws and loft panels would have to be bought in England as we didn’t fancy our chances of being able to pick up exactly what we wanted at any of the French do-it-yourself stores in the area, let alone in sufficient quantity.

Rather surprisingly, especially as neither of us is a quantity surveyor (or could it have been because of that?), both Chris and I came up with the same figures. I made several trips to B & Q to buy loft panels – no way could I get all I needed into the car in one go – and sourced a supplier of the hardware, which I duly ordered over the internet. As there was no way all this could be transported at once, I had to make a special trip to take about half of the materials. About half the remainder could be taken over when I went to remove the old floor and the rest when I went over with Chris to lay the new floor.

I was astonished when my neighbour, Tom, expressed interest in coming with me to clear the old material. I did warn him that it would be hard, dirty work, but he was still keen to come – and I wasn’t going to decline the offer of a free slave.

~~~~~

Still in Chateaubriant  but now with Christmas decorations.


Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Skip for hire?

The new plan for the floor in the upstairs bedroom would involve lifting all the tiles and digging out all the sand on which they were laid. If the boards beneath were in as good a condition as those I had already exposed, then they could be used as a foundation on which to lay joists and, on top of those, a new floor. In preparation for this, I would take careful measurements of the dimensions of the room.

I also decided to find out where I could hire a skip to dispose of the old tiles and the sand. A visit to the post office was needed so that I could study the local Yellow Pages. This was not terribly successful as there didn’t appear to be any company in the area which hired out the sort of builders’ skips we have in England. All I could find were giant, industrial-sized monsters, but, just in case, I noted the addresses of all the companies supplying these. Mrs S and I then spent several days touring the industrial estates and back streets of every town and city within a forty mile radius. I might have saved both time and fuel if I had bought some street plans. I’m sure there was one back street in Laval that I drove along three or four times, and the number of times we lost ourselves on vast industrial complexes verged on the ridiculous.

But the search proved fruitless. France doesn’t have builders’ skips. I wondered if this was a business opportunity, but then I remembered that practically every car in our village has a tow-bar and every car owner has a trailer. That was how they disposed of unwanted sofas, mattresses, bikes and the like.

I did consider having a tow bar fitted and buying a trailer myself, or borrowing one from Jean-Paul or Jacques, but decided that the cost of the tow bar would be more than I wanted to spend. The materials for the new floor were going to be expensive enough. I would just have to think of some other way to dispose of the remains of the floor.

~~~~~

The church at Chateaubriant again.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Think again

Mrs S and I were in France before Chris and I were due to go over to work on the floor in the upstairs bedroom and I took the opportunity to reassess the job. I lifted a few tiles in one area to check that they were indeed laid on sand and to see just how deep the sand was.

It was then I realised that, if the job was going to be done at all, we would need to re-lay the whole floor in order to even out the ridges in the sand. If we didn’t do that, the cracks would soon reappear. I also became concerned about the weight of sand we would need to use, fearful that the ceiling of the downstairs bedroom might collapse under it.

I dug out some of the sand where I had lifted the tiles. It varied in depth from two inches to four inches, and was laid straight on top of rough sawn planks that had gaps between them of anything up to an inch. How on earth could we stop the sand falling through the gaps? Come to that, how had the original builders done so?

It was becoming more and more clear that the original plan would have to be scrapped and that we would need a major rethink. Despite the cost, I phoned Chris for a discussion and Plan B was developed.

This was how it looked after I had cleared a corner.


Monday, 3 December 2012

The floor upstairs

I was becoming concerned about the floor in the upstairs bedroom. Mrs S might have been delirious about the terra cotta tiles, and I had to agree that the wavy floor added character to the room, but too many tiles were cracking and breaking along the ridges of the waves.

It so happened that Sue and Alan, an English coule living in France, had replaced the terra cotta tiles in their house with more modern ones and the old tiles were stacked in her shed. Every now and then she would take a few of them to the local tip. She told me she would be very happy if I took what I wanted as replacements for my broken tiles: at least that would be few less for her to dispose of.

My friend Chris and I went over to collect some. Unfortunately, few of them were real terra cotta and many were paint-stained. However, we sorted through them, picking out the best before loading the boot with as many as we thought the car could carry. We stacked them in one of the sheds before going back for a second load, and then a third.

But not only were those tiles made of something other than terra cotta, they were also smaller than those in our bedroom. Undaunted, Chris and I worked out that we could lift sufficient tiles from one corner of the bedroom to replace the broken ones and then lay the replacements all together in one patch. It might mean some jiggery-pokery, but we thought we could manage it. We arranged a tentative date to do the job.

~~~~~

The other day I posted a picture of the door of St Nicholas church, Chateaubriant.  Here is another view.