Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Strong language

I am well aware that there are places where "strong language" is the norm, places - generally - where the workers are only men.  Of course, those places are becoming fewer and fewer but building sites and garage workshops are still, by and large, male-only milieus.  (Blogger insists that last words has an "s" in the plural.  I think it should be an "x".)  And the armed forces and police to a lesser extent.  It is those areas that the strongest language flourishes still, but that doesn't stop me getting annoyed when an author tries for complete verisimilitude be peppering every sentence uttered by a soldier or policeman with fxxx and other similar expressions.  I am pleased that it happens a lot less frequently on television - and there, at least, we are usually warned in advance, "This programme contains strong language".

Many years ago I worked for a bank and for several years I was at a small, country branch where there were only 7 or 8 employees.  The number two for some of the time was a tall, thinnish gentleman, very correct - not to say prim and proper.  I don't think I ever knew his first name - men were always called Mr So-and-so and women were always Miss or Mrs in those far off days - but he was known to the less respectful among as as Flash Thornton.  Although he was second in command, Flash still had to man a till whenever things got busy and every day while the only full-time cashier went to lunch.  My job was to post the ledgers (all done by hand and in ink, using dip pens) and, after this had been done, balance the day's work.  This always took place in the morning, the "morning after" as it was, and the balancing could prove more than a little difficult sometimes.  And there was no "near enough", everything had to be exactly right - to the penny.

One day I had been struggling for a couple of hours to find a small error.  I had just about gone over everything a second or even third time before I spotted it and, to use the vernacular, "got the sides right". 

"At last!" I cried as I threw down my pen.

By this time, Flash was manning his till and when he had finished serving the one and only customer in the bank, he turned to me and said, "Mr Slater, would you mind moderating your language".

"Why?" I asked,  "What have I said?"

Flash responded, "I distinctly heard you say, 'Blast'".

~~~~~

I went back to Stanmer Park again yesterday afternoon, that being about the only place where I can let Fern have a good run off the lead without getting smothered in mud.  Let me give you a bit more of a tour of the park and village.  This is one of the lodge cottages at the main entrance.  Its twin sits on the other side of the road.


Monday, 30 December 2013

Let them eat cake

That's what I shall be doing.  The Christmas pudding has been eaten, the mince pies and brandy butter are but a memory, what was left of the turkey is now in a pie with the remains of the gammon joint from the previous weekend but there is still half of the Christmas cake left.  As I am the only one in the house who eats the rich fruit cake, that's mine, all mine!

Things should be getting back to what passes for normal today, with emphasis on the "should".  I want to speak to a chap from the Financial Conduct Authority who declined to accept the changes in the rules of the Lions Housing Society, then the solicitor who deemed acceptable one of the changes which I have been told is not allowed under the law.  But will either of them be back at the desk today?  Well, I suppose there's only one way to find out.  And just as soon as I have finished with this post I shall pick up the phone.

I have been getting a little bored hearing much the same weather forecast day after day: rain, heavy at times, with strong winds, especially along the coast.  Granted, there have been a few bright spells, some of them even lasting for half a day, but this morning it was back to the good old.  Good old, huh!  Wet and very windy.  It did make that coffee after I got home from walking the dog taste good, but I could have done without nearly an hour out in this weather.  Mind you, I did fell better for it.  I did.  Yes, I did.  Perhaps if I say it often enough I will start to believe it!

Yesterday afternoon we had one of those bright half-days.  I decided on a walk in Stanmer Park in the hope that I could avoid much of the mud and squelch that most paths have become.  It seemed as though half the folk in the city had the same idea as there were very few parking places left when I arrived at about half past one.  Quite where all the people had disappeared to I didn't discover but there seemed to be fewer people than there should have been for all those cars.  Here's a view of Stanmer House and church - and no people!


Sunday, 29 December 2013

Looking back

It's that time of the year when our newspapers and the various television and radio stations carry out their reviews of the year.  Highlights of the year - no, highlights is the wrong word.  Memorable events would be better phraseology, especially as two of them were deaths; those of Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela, two of the most influential leaders in the late 20th century.  At the other end of the spectrum, many in this country rejoiced at the birth of Prince George.  OK, that may not mean much to you, but I am a monarchist and I am happy that the future of the Royal Family is seemingly secure.

There's no point at all in me looking back over the past year and reminding myself (and others) of significant occurrences: there weren't any.  Or of there were, they can't have been that significant as I can't remember them now!

Another thing that one sometimes sees at the fag end of a year is a list of the 50 or 100 best.  That list may be of books or films or records or whatever, possibly that have been published or released during the year - or maybe of all time.  If I were to produce a list of my favourite films, for example, that would have to be of all time.  I don't remember the last time I visited a cinema, it was so long ago.  If the Old Bat and I want to see a film, we either wait for it to be shown on television or buy the DVD, usually waiting until the price has come down to what I consider a reasonable level.  But if I were to produce a list of my favourite films ever, I would have to plead that the list be limited to three - and I would not want to place those three films in order of preference.

A Man For All Seasons dates from 1966 and has an Oscar-winning performance from Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More.  Probably the best single-word description would be 'historical' as it is neither a comedy nor a romance nor, really, a tragedy.

Completely different is West Side Story, that lively musical based loosely on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet but set in New York and featuring teenage gang warfare.  But surely this musical is so well-known that there is no need for me to elaborate.

My third film is The Cruel Sea.  Many people consider this film, dating from 1953, to be the best war film ever.  But it is more than just an action movie, covering as it does a range of emotions and personal foibles: cowardice, courage, duty, persistence.

~~~~~

Yesterday was showery, some of them persistent, but I managed to dodge this one I saw coming up the Channel.


Saturday, 28 December 2013

Random thoughts

It's passing strange how, in my old age, there are times when I start thinking about something that has not entered my life in any way, shape or form for many years.  Although, now I come to think on it, that may well have been happening for many years and it is only now that I have the time to notice it.  Anyway, for some strange reason, the legend of Drake's Drum came into my mind this morning as I wandered idly through the trees while walking the dog, so I may as well tell you the story - just in case you have never heard it before.

It was back in the days of Good Queen Bess...  Though why she was called good is something I have never found out.  As I was saying, it was in the days of Queen Elizabeth I , so we are talking of the late 16th century.  Francis Drake was born in about 1540 and went to sea at an early age.  In 1567, he was with a fleet led by his cousin when they were attacked by Spanish ships and all but two of ships in the English fleet were destroyed.  From then on, Drake was an implacable enemy of all things Spanish.  Just five years later, he led a marauding expedition against Spanish ports in the West Indies and returned to England with a cargo of Spanish treasure and a reputation as a brilliant privateer.  Diplomatic relations between England and Spain became poor for a number of reasons and in 1588, the Spanish king sent an armada of ships to invade England.  The legend is that the commander of the English fleet, Francis Drake - by then Sir Francis Drake - was playing bowls on Plymouth Hoe when the armada was sighted unexpectedly.  Drake declared laconically that he had time to finish the game before setting sail.  When he did, he routed the Spaniards.

Drake died of dysentery off the coast of Panama but before then he had become the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world.  The drum he is said to have carried on that voyage was still on his ship when he died and he is supposed to have ordered that it be returned to England and kept in his home, Buckland Abbey where in times of trouble it should be beaten to recall him from heaven to rescue the country.  In 1938, when Buckland Abbey was partly destroyed by fire, the drum was rescued and taken to safety at Buckfast Abbey. Plymouth was devastated in the air raids that followed, reminding some of the ancient legend that “If Drake’s Drum should be moved from its rightful home, the city will fall”. The drum was returned and the city remained safe for the rest of the war.  The drum was most recently reported to be heard in 1940 at the Dunkirk evacuation during World War II.

The drum is still on public display at Buckland Abbey.

~~~~~

The view to the west from the Roman Camp, looking across the golf course and Patcham, on Boxing Day.


Friday, 27 December 2013

So that was Christmas

We were expecting to have a quiet Christmas this year.  Our daughter was (and still is) in Australia, our elder son and his partner were (and still are) at our cottage in France as the three children are all with their respective other parents, so it was just my younger son and his daughter who we were expecting to be with us for lunch and through the afternoon.  When I say we were expecting a quiet Christmas, I had forgotten my granddaughter's propensity for chattering.  I don't think she stops from the moment she wakes until her head touches the pillow.  But she's delightful, a lively 6-year-old with a wicked sense of humour and a surprisingly large vocabulary.  Her appetite is very good as well, and she tucked into the yummy (her word) roast turkey, bacon roll, chipolata, roast potatoes, carrots and Brussels sprouts, although she refused the bread sauce and the chestnut stuffing.  She followed up with two helpings of pavlova.  For the Old Bat and me it was a most enjoyable day.

Would that it had been so for everyone, but hundreds of people, mainly in this south-east corner of the country, spent Christmas Day in evacuation centres after their homes were flooded by rivers bursting their banks and something like 50,000 homes were without electricity, many of which will have to remain without until the flood waters recede.  We have also been thinking of our friends Chris and Mrs Chris.  It was they who hosted the Evening of Christmas last Saturday - despite the fact that Chris's elder daughter had been rushed into hospital suspected of having had a stroke.  It transpired eventually that she had suffered three strokes.  The last we heard she was paralysed down one side and had lost the power of speech.  All very worrying, especially as she is only about 45 and has two young children.

Otherwise, everything here is getting back to normal - or partly so.  When I was working, these days between Christmas and New Year were always busy and I used to get so frustrated because trains ran to a Saturday timetable and I travelled daily to London, a two-hour journey from home to office at the best of times.  neither did it help that so many people took time off between the holidays, just when I needed to get in touch with them!  Our financial year-end was 31st December and I insisted that the auditors complete their work before the end of February.  That meant they arrived each year on 2nd January, by which time I had to have the accounts - including the full profit and loss account and balance sheet - ready for audit.  At least I don't have that bother now.

I have been blethering quite a bit about various traditions - don't worry!  I've no more for you - yet! - and it occurred to me in a moment of deep, philosophical thought that traditions are not just amusing throwbacks, they perform an important role.  The observance of traditions - whether in spectating or participating in them - is a form of glue which helps bind together communities.  End of philosophy.

~~~~~

Yesterday, at least, was a bright, sunny day.  Even though the ground is waterlogged, it was pleasant walking across 39 Acres and around the Roman Camp despite a fairly stiff (and cool cold) breeze.  There were quite a few others walking their dogs and generally blowing away the fumes and cobwebs, including this family.  I wonder if they realised they were dancing on a grave?  Well, there's no body there now; it is an iron age disc barrow which was the grave site of a tribal chieftain but was excavated in the 19th century.


Thursday, 26 December 2013

"He's behind you!"

Boxing Day.  Here in England this is another holiday, although I know that in most countries  that is not the case.  The day acquired its name as this was the day on which the master of the house would present all the servants with their gifts, otherwise known as Christmas boxes.  Gifts (usually cash) left out by householders for public servants such as postmen and rubbish collectors are still called Christmas boxes.  Boxing Day is traditionally a day for sports - the local fox hunt used to meet when fox hunting was still legal, there are football matches etc etc.  I have it in mind that Boxing Day was at one time the day when the pantomime, another of our English traditions, opened at the theatre.   Nowadays, Boxing Day has taken on a likeness to the American Black Friday, although during the last few years the sales have started before Christmas instead of today.

But to get back to the pantomime.  This is something that seems never to have caught on elsewhere in the world - apart, that is, from Australia, Canada and New Zealand.  I suppose it is rather peculiarly English and one really needs a sense of humour of a certain type in order to appreciate this form of theatre.

Pantomimes are generally performed over the Christmas and New Year period and there are certain basic principles.  They are family entertainment, especially aimed at children, so there is no smut - except in so-called "adult" pantomimes.  That doesn't mean there can be no doubles entendres, which are frequently used as these are thought not to be understood by children and provide some entertainment for the adult members of the audience.

Mention of the audience reminds me that audience participation is a must.  Children are encouraged to take part, usually in response to a request along the lines of, "Tell me if you see X", X being the villain.  The villain's entrance is the cue for the children to shout out, "He's behind you!"  There will often be a song with the words displayed on a screen for all to join in and it is not unusual for a few children to be invited onto the stage under some pretext or other.

There is usually only a vague plot, although most pantomimes are based on a handful of fairy stories - Cinderella, Aladdin, Jack and the Beanstalk and among the most often performed.  Almost every pantomime will involve some slapstick humour somewhere along the line.

But possibly the oddest thing about pantomime is that the Principal Boy is always a young lady and her costume always shows off her attributes to advantage.  The female romantic lead is also played by a young lady while the comic lead is the dame, who is played by a man in drag.  There may well be a cow or horse in the cast, and this will be played by two people, one being the head and front legs, the other the body and hind legs.

As I said, pantomime probably does need an English sense of humour to be appreciated - rather like the English cricket team who have lost the current Ashes series in Australia.

~~~~~

Way back, many years ago, I was an adult leader in the Scouts.  Our District had a close relationship with Scouts in the Hague and one year a party of us went over early in December to see their Gang Show.  While I was there I bought a model crib, which has been on display every Christmas since.




Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas

I've been writing quite a lot about traditions but there are still some I have not mentioned.  When I was a child, my mother always listened to two radio broadcasts that were aired every year just before Christmas.  It was probably on Christmas Eve that the Festival of Nine Lessons was broadcast from King's College Chapel, Cambridge.  (I included a clip of a carol sung by them on Sunday.)  The other broadcast was of Handel's oratorio, The Messiah, sung by the Huddersfield Choral Society.  I have been looking for a video of them singing "For Unto Us a Child is Born" but there doesn't seem to be one on YouTube so here is a different choir, whose name is not recorded. I hope you enjoy it.


Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Ghost stories for Christmas

And we did get a bit of a battering from the wind and the rain but at least we have suffered no structural damage - or any damage at all, for that matter.  Plenty of debris down through the wooded area of the park, and one tree almost blocking the road with a car under it completely smothered.  Some bridges and roads along the sea were closed, trains cancelled or reduced in speed (in case of fallen trees, of which there were plenty), ferries and planes cancelled.  Our elder son was due to cross from Newhaven to Dieppe but had to drive 100 miles to Dover - and add almost the same distance to his journey on the other side of the Channel.  it's a bit calmer now, but forecast to be similar on Thursday.

~~~~~

There is a very old tradition that ghost stories be told on Christmas Eve - which does seem rather strange.  But we must remember that there is little real justification for the choice of 25th December as the date on which to celebrate the birth of Christ.  The date was probably chosen by early Christians because it was very close to a day on which pagans celebrated and many - well, some, anyway - of the old pagan traditions were usurped and brought into the celebration of Christmas.  Maybe that's how the telling of ghost stories became part of it?

Brighton has several really old pubs - and I suspect that I have drunk in most of them!  One of the oldest is the Druid's Head, which is said to date from 1510.  It is named after a circle of standing stones which at one time stood nearby and formed a place of worship for the druids.  Like so many old pubs, the Druid's Head is said to be haunted.  Could the poltergeist activity be connected with the troubled souls of human sacrifices made on those old stones?  The apparition of a woman in a long, red gown once made a sudden appearance in the bar - and just as suddenly disappeared.  But the disturbed spirit of a smuggler is blamed for much of the activity.  It is said that he met a brutal death in one of the tunnels that used to lead from the cellars, having been caught by customs men and beaten to death.  Glasses and bottles have been seen moving on the shelves of their own volition and glasses have moved unaided along the top of the bar.


I have never seen the ghost of Deryck Carver in the Black Lion, not so very far from the Druid's Head.  In 1548, Deryck Carver, a French-speaking Flemish man from a town near Liège, sought refuge in Brighton from the persecution he was experiencing from the ruling powers of the time in respect of his Calvinist beliefs. He had been a lay reader; as well as establishing Brighton's first brewery at the Black Lion, he held Bible reading sessions at his house in Brighton for the next few years until Roman Catholicism was re-established as Britain's state religion by Queen Mary I in 1553. At this time, such meetings of Protestants were banned, and Carver was arrested and committed to trial in London for continuing to hold them. He was burnt at the stake in 1555 in Lewes but is said to haunt his old brewery.

Both those pubs are in the Lanes but the best ghost story from "the Lanes - in fact, from the whole of Brighton - is that of the medieval Grey Nun, who fell in love with a soldier who happened to be billeted nearby. The couple eloped but were captured and whilst the soldier was executed immediately, the nun received a worse fate (a fate worse than death?); she was bricked-up behind a wall in Meeting House Lane and left to die. The sealed cell can still be seen to this day and the nun has been seen walking hurriedly around the narrow lanes. She was last spotted in a narrow alleyway between Ship Street and Middle Street by a fire warden during the Blitz, who reported that beneath her dark veil, there was .. no face! One presumes, though, that he wasn't using a torch."

(Although I knew that last story, I stole the words from here.)

Monday, 23 December 2013

Lull before the storm

All the weather forecasters seem to be getting theirs knickers in a twist - or several twists as there is more than one forecaster.  We were warned last night that there is a seriously deep low pressure system - the lowest for more than a hundred years - heading our way and should be arriving this afternoon.  Train operators have suggested that people should travel before lunch if possible and those hoping to fly off to warmer climes - or colder ones for that matter - are advised to contact the airlines before starting out.  Surprising to me was the warning of wind speeds of up to 80mph; I would have expected higher than that.  We are also due for a substantial amount of rain.

Actually, we have already had plenty and the wind has been rather ferocious as well.  When we set out for the evening on Saturday, the Old Bat could hardly stand even though she was clinging onto my arm.  It did seem to be calmer yesterday and we even had a blue sky so I set off across the fields in the afternoon.  I should have known better.  The field was a quagmire - just as it was last winter - and the wind was a lot stronger and colder than I had anticipated.  Added to that, there were cows in the field - and Fern (the dog) doesn't do cows!  They terrify her.  So I detoured into the nearby wood, where the paths were an inch or more deep in sodden leaves turning into much.

Now I am tasked with collecting the turkey and other meat, and I shall be doing it on my own as the Old Bat doesn't like the wind that is building up.

I'll leave you with a picture I took yesterday afternoon.  That's the new American Express Community Stadium looking like a stranded flying saucer with the buildings of the University of Sussex to the lft and those of the University of Brighton to the right.




Sunday, 22 December 2013

Another tradition

This one is not quite as old as the Burning the Clocks I wrote about yesterday.  In fact, it's been going now for 18 years - although the event wasn't held one year along the line.  I'm talking about the Evening of Christmas hosted by our friends Chris and Mrs Chris on a Saturday evening just before Christmas.  The format is that Mrs Chris along with two friends form a trio of piano, flute and cello to provide the music for a selection of carols.  Chris has typed out and printed the words of a good many carols now so we can all sing along - with breaks to recharge our glasses of mulled wine and to enjoy mince pies and sausage rolls and all sorts of other goodies brought along by the guests.  This always marks the start of Christmas for me.


One of the regulars is the Sussex Carol, but not to the standard set by King's College, Cambridge!



On Christmas night all Christians sing 
to hear the news the angels bring; 
on Christmas night all Christians sing 
to hear the news the angels bring: 
news of great joy, news of great mirth, 
news of our merciful King’s birth.

Then why should we on earth be sad, 
since our Redeemer made us glad? 
Then why should we on earth be sad, 
since our Redeemer made us glad, 
when from our sin he set us free, 
all for to gain our liberty? 

All out of darkness we have light,
 which made the angels sing this night; 
all out of darkness we have light, 
which made the angels sing this night: 
“Glory to God and peace to men, 
now and forevermore. Amen.”

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Traditions

How long does a custom have to have been established before it becomes a tradition?  Is 20 years long enough for an annual event?  Because that is how long the people of Brighton have been marking the shortest day of the year with a ceremony known as Burning the Clocks.  This is what the organisers, Same Sky, have to say about it:
Taking place on the winter solstice, this fantastical procession brings magic to the streets, with a stream of luminous lanterns and a spectacular 2,000-strong parade.
When the winter carnival has wound its way to the beach, people pass their handmade paper and willow lanterns – filled symbolically with their hopes and dreams – into a blazing bonfire and prepare for the spectacular fire show and firework display.
Held on the shortest day (longest night) of the year, this growing tradition marks the passing of time by ‘burning the clocks’ and welcoming in the new sun. With over 20,000 spectators, this popular event turns the spotlight away from the more commercial side of Christmas and lights up the darkest of winter nights.
Burning the Clocks was created by Same Sky in 1994 as a way for the whole community to enjoy the festive season, regardless of faith or creed. Each year a new theme, related to the concept of time, is incorporated into the event to bring new and exciting elements.
As part of the event, Same Sky carries out free lantern-making community workshops for disadvantaged local people. Some of those we work with are homeless young people, single fathers, and young carers. We encourage them to make something they are proud of, fire them up with creative passion and bring them together with their community through the shared experience of art.
And here is a video of last year's event:



The view from the bedroom this morning doesn't augur too well for this evening's festivities.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Music while you work

I can't begin to understand why it struck me only yesterday.  It has been going on for many years but I just hadn't noticed it before.  Or maybe I had noticed it but had never really thought about it.  There were two or three men - builder types - working on a house I passed on the way to the park and they had a radio playing.  It wasn't loud but it was loud enough for passers-by like myself to hear it from the pavement.  For some strange reason it dawned on me that almost nobody these days appears to be capable of doing anything without background noise of some sort.  Go into any workshop or factory and there will be music playing.  Our Housing Society staff in the office have a radio on.  People walking their dogs have things plugged into their ears, presumably connected to iPads or whatever so that they can listen to music as they walk through the woods.  Children can't even do their homework without music or television playing at the same time.

Why is it that people must have that cacophony all the time?  I take great delight in listening to bird song as I walk the dog.  The robins sing all year round and there was a song thrush singing in the park one day this week.  Without the birdsong there is often the sound of the wind sighing through the trees.  When I'm working at the computer I neither need nor even like to have background music.  On the rare occasions that I do play a CD while bashing away at the keyboard, I don't even notice the music.

It's really just another form of pollution.

~~~~~

The view from the bedroom yesterday morning.


Thursday, 19 December 2013

I won!

As a thrice-confirmed cynic, I view my local Council's "public consultations" as mere window-dressing, simple lip-service to the ideal of democracy.  What council official holds to the view that people who live in a town, or a particular part of a town, might have valid views on what changes should be made in order to bring about improvements?  For that matter, what council official considers that councillors might actually know more about what people want?  Of course, my view is that the vast majority of council officials are firmly of the opinion that they know best, that what residents want is not always good for them.  In fact, what residents want is usually downright harmful, so it's best just to let them have their say and then ignore their opinions.  Of course, whenever a survey is to be conducted by way of public consultation, simply phrasing the questions correctly will almost always result in the right answer being given.

But this thrice-confirmed cynic might have to concede that the above is not always true.  It's not in the case of turning left from London Road into Oxford Street.  Somebody in the Council offices wanted to stop traffic performing this very straightforward manoeuvre.  Well, it is simple in this country where we drive on the left.  The idea was to improve "sustainable accessibility" - but the Lord only knows how stopping traffic turning left would achieve that goal.  Anyway, I pointed out that this would result in drivers making one of two detours, one of a mile into the centre of town, the other shorter but even more congested already.  And the council official has listened!  My view has been taken on board and the plan dropped!

Well, I shall happily take the credit for that even though I am well aware that there were probably hundreds (maybe just dozens - or even one or two) other sensible folk who made the same comment.

~~~~~

I hope the forecast for today's weather will turn out to be accurate.  There has been a distinct shortage of blue sky recently but the forecast for today is just partly cloudy.  I was delighted to see blue sky after it had become light; I just hope it continues for the rest of the day.  It is great to walk the dog over the Downs given a bright day like this one was.




Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Today's quote of the day

"I have nothing to say, and I am saying it, and that is poetry." (John Milton Cage)

I know a few too many people who should take that to heart!

Seems that Mr Cage was an American composer and author, born in Los Angeles in 1912, died in New York in 1992.

~~~~~

When one drives across northern France or southern Belgium, it is almost impossible to miss the many signs - hundreds or even thousands of them - with their dark green background and white lettering indicating the existence of Commonwealth war cemeteries.  In other areas, one occasionally comes across a village churchyard or cemetery with s ign like the one at the entrance to the cemetery in Pouancé.  In the cemetery is just one grave of a British serviceman.


Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Better late than never

but better never late.

It's been one of those days when there has been hardly a minute to switch on the computer.  mind you, this new computer thingy is a whizz.  I press the button and hey presto! the monitor screen comes alive.  And I can start working straight away, which is more than I could do with the old computer.  That needed about 20 minutes to get into its stride.  But as I was saying, it's now very nearly five o'clock and I have only just got around to posting.  What's more, I don't have the time to do any more than this!

Things might be a little less pressing tomorrow.  I hope.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Uh oh.

I spoke too soon.  Although Money seems to be running perfectly well on my computer using the Windows 8 system, other programmes that I thought were running are not.  WordPerfect, for instance, is less than perfect.  So much less, that I have uninstalled it.  This has been my word processing package of choice since before any computers came with Word pre-installed.  I did look to see if there is an updated version that will run on W8 - but not at that price, thank you very much!  I'll get to grips with Word.  Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?  I always swore that WordPerfect was the best for producing the monthly newsletter for the Lions Club but I've made a good start on the January issue using Word.

For spreadsheets, my original choice was Lotus 123.  And even when I started using Excel, I still found that Lotus was produced charts that were more to my satisfaction.  However, I have just tried out the version of Excel that I bought with the computer, and guess what?  It's as good as, or maybe even better than, Lotus!

It's beginning to seem that I will have to eat my words.

~~~~~

This is the tower of Pouancé church as seen from beside the cemetery gate.






Sunday, 15 December 2013

Lull before the storm

This is a day for girding my loins (that phrase again!) as it is most definitely the lull before the storm.

(How many more clichés can I squeeze into this post?)

The coming week looks to me as though it will be the busiest week of the year for me, almost entirely taken up with Lions activities.  Tomorrow we (that is Brighton Lions) will be hosting a pre-Christmas tea party for elderly citizens.  We have almost 40 acceptances from a couple of sheltered housing schemes and we hired minibuses to collect them and deliver them to one of the sea front hotels.  Granted, it's not the poshest of Brighton's hotels, but is nonetheless very acceptable.  There will be a Lion on each bus to escort our guests and more Lions at the hotel to greet them.  We have arranged for someone to entertain them before the Lions serve tea.  Last year was our first attempt at this activity and it was well received.  I suspect it will now become a regular addition in the calendar.

On Tuesday I have to be one of the small panel conducting the annual appraisals of the Housing Society staff.  The Lions Club has a Housing Society as an integral part of the Club, albeit a separate legal entity.  With 116 flats and bungalows, this is not something that we Lions can run entirely in our free time and we have a small team of employees, both full- and part-time.

There will be the monthly business meeting of the Club on Wednesday evening, and on Thursday it will be Housing Society business once again.  Mind you, 'business' is not really the best word as I shall be attending the staff Christmas lunch!

Friday, as ever, means a trip to the MS centre and the supermarket shop, so that will be the morning taken care of.  (Or, to be grammatically correct, that will take care of the morning.)  It is on Saturday that I will really feel Christmas coming as it will be that evening that Chris and Mrs Chris host their annual Evening of Carols, about which more another time.  Meanwhile, I must spend some time lying down in a darkened room in order to gather my strength for the turmoil ahead.

~~~~~

Back in the Forêt de Juigné is this road.  I don't suppose there is one like it in England, but it's not uncommon in France for a relatively minor road to run strait as a die for several miles.




Saturday, 14 December 2013

Bah humbug!

I really have not yet got into the Christmas spirit, and am unlikely to do so for another week at least.  So I could summon very little enthusiasm for going out yesterday evening to take biscuits to the old dears who play bingo at one of the retirement homes in Brighton.  The Lions have been running these sessions for several years and it just so happened that I was on the rota yesterday - and that being the last session before Christmas, it was the time to distribute the goodies.  It was the second consecutive evening out for me and I could have done with staying in.  That said, Thursday evening's excursion was a personal outing: the Old Bat and I went out to our local Italian for a meal.  And what a meal!  Ravioli stuffed with lobster meat and served with a salmon and sage sauce with deep fried parsnip shavings, followed by a succulent tiramisu, washed down by a Sicilian red.  The restaurant was decorated for Christmas and the background music was Christmas carols and some of the less raucous secular Christmas songs.  Even that didn't get me in the mood!

To top it all, I had given no thought - well, almost no thought - until yesterday to Christmas cards.  Of course, I had missed the last recommended date for posting cards destined for overseas addresses so they may very well arrive late.

~~~~~

So as well as missing the post, I have mistimed posting these pictures by 24 hours - but the other way!  I have recently posted a few pictures taken in the Forêt de Juigné not far from our French hidey hole, including one of a memorial to men shot by the Nazis during World War II.  Rather nearer to our village than that memorial is another, just on the edge of the forest.



This is a comparatively new memorial and, while it is good that there is now a more permanent structure, somehow the old, hand-painted sign seemed more emotive.



Friday, 13 December 2013

Windows 8? So far, so good.

I finally gave up on the old computer.  It had been playing up for some time and eventually reached the stage where I just could not get it to boot up.  I could, I suppose, have taken it in to one of those repair shops but I had my doubts.  Would it be worth the expense of repairing or was it just past it?  And how could I know whether or not I could trust the repair shop staff with the confidential information on the hard drive?  So I cursed a bit and scratched around to see if there was any loose change down the back of the sofa.  Not that loose change would make much of an inroad into the cost of a replacement.  I even mentioned to my Luddite wife that I was thinking of spending money - she is almost at the stage of thinking that computers and the internet are tools of the Devil himself - and she seemed quite happy.  So I did.

I was decidedly dubious about the change in the operating system, having heard all kinds of worrying problems arising from Windows 8, including the fact that some of my well-proved and highly trusted software would not run.  I still use the version of WordPerfect that I bought at least 15 years ago as I consider it to be vastly superior to Word and I prefer Lotus 123 spreadsheets to Excel.  Then I had also been told that Microsoft Money (for Windows 95) does not run on Windows 8.

Well, I have loaded up most of my old packages - including Money - and so far everything seems tickety-boo.  Even the completely revamped desktop and start programs seem almost intuitive to me, although I have not yet worked out a few of the finer details.  I'm sure it will all be fine.

~~~~~

Now, somewhere on this computer - if I can but find them - are the photos I took on our last trip to France.

This is but another example of how buildings in France are sometimes just left to decay.  This is almost alongside the forest memorial in yesterday's picture.


Thursday, 12 December 2013

My country, right or wrong

Supposedly a phrase coined by Carl Schultz, that title is but a part of the sentence.  It goes on along the lines of, "if right, to be kept right; if wrong, to be put right".  As I say, something along those lines.  Perhaps.

What put that phrase into my poor, addled brain was the second piece of news I had missed during our all-too-brief sojourn in France.  It was, it sems, reported that the editor of one of our national daily newspapers was called to present himself in front of a select committee of MPs.

(That should probably be Select Committee with capital intials as the MPs were - and still are - Members of Parliament and not Military Police.  There is a difference.  I think any committee comprised of MPs is described as "Select" although why that should be is something I don't know.)

Said editor was taken to task because he had published in his newspaper some of the facts leaked by Mr Snowden (is he still living in an airport?  I've heard nothing for weeks - or maybe even months.) which, some claim, has jeopardised the security of the nation.  The editor was asked, "Do you love your country?"  I know not what his answer was, but the weekend paper asked the same question of several members of what might be described as the intelligentsia or prominente, broadcasters and writers in the main.  Unsurprisingly, each and every one of them professed to love their country and each and every one of them proceeded to explain just why or what it was about their country that made them feel that way.  I should explain here that all the interviewees were British - and most of them, or maybe even all of them, English at that.  Here is a selection of the comments:

"I grew to love the landscapes first; I learnt what beauty is."

"I take pride in the evolution of our freedoms and rights, from our tolerance and sense of justice."

"I love my country because it still retains a liberal and literate press, which represents a variety of views and can hold Parliament and politicians to account."

"I will endure rainy summers and sporting failure, because I am British and that is what we do.  We take everything in our stride, with a stiff upper lip and a warm cup of tea."

"I have never taken England for granted.  How could I?  I was born in June 1940, the crucial summer of Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain, so from my earliest years, I knew that I owe everything to the fact that I live in this country... my own amazing country that nurtured and protected me."

"This country has taught me important lessons, such as how to walk in the rain.  And to say sorry when someone else bumps into you.  And to admire eternal mysteries, such as how so many can find cricket exciting."

For my part, I can do no better than say me too!  And I love our English sense of humour!

~~~~~

Not far from our village, in fact almost in the direct route to Châteaubriant, is the Forêt de Juigné.  I showed a picture taken in it last Thursday.  Just inside the forest is this memorial to six Frenchment shot by the Germans in 1944, three at this spot, the other three not far away.  They were aged 42, 28, 25, 22, 21 and 19.


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

I survived

I quite forgot to confirm yesterday that I had survived my trip into town on Monday afternoon.  Luck was with me in that I had only a few minutes to wait for the bus both going and coming.  I have to say that the crowds were not as bad as I had feared and the jolly seasonal musak was, happily, rather muted.  As well as having a fairly lengthy street of shops in Western Road - I suppose if we take in North Street and Church Road as well which run on at either end and are also shopping streets, it probably stretches, in all, for two and a half miles or so - there is also the two-storey Churchill Square shopping centre with another multitude of opportunities to spend, spend, spend.  Really not my scene at all.

Anyway, I did buy the gift card wanted by daughter and I spotted a remote controlled battery-driven car which will even climb glass walls.  I was unable to resist buying one for the elder grandson.  And I got the diaries for the Old Bat and me - and not where I expected.  Smith's diaries were too pricy for my liking, but an open stall in the walkway selling mainly calendars had them at a price I deemed satisfactory for my miserly instincts.

But the whole trip took me two hours, two hours of my life that I could have used a lot more pleasurably.  No wonder I do that trip no more than twice a year!

I was slightly surprised to find that the open space in front of the Churchill Square shops was filled with little wooden stalls of the kind I have only seen in pictures of Christmas markets in such places as Germany.  They were selling - or had for sale as they seemed to be doing very little business - things like hand-made Peruvian jewellery, knitted finger puppets, wooden things (including spoons!), woolly hats and scarves and Belgian waffles.  I don't recall Brighton having had a Christmas market for a good many years - but as I try not to go into town maybe I have just not been aware of what has been happening.

Talking of Christmas markets, I read in the paper that a town in the Midlands had decided to hold a Moroccan market this year.  Unfortunately, the Moroccan traders were refused visas in case they outstayed their welcome.  The camels got through immigration, but they got stuck on the M1 motorway and arrived too late for the opening parade.  But since their handlers weren't there either...  Some of the locals were a little perplexed by the plan as they failed to see any connection between Muslim traders from Morocco and the birth of Christ.

But that's enough drivel.  Let's return to Châteaubriant and the Place de la Motte.  The square lies just outside the old town walls and here we see the New Gate.  I'm not entirely sure that blue is the colour of Christmas, but I do think this makes an attractive sight.  The lighted shop is in fact a restaurant specialising in crêpes, galettes and mussels and we had just eaten there.  In the summer they have tables on the paving.



Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Plus ça change,

plus c'est le même chose.  At least,that is what we generally find on our return from a week in France.  During those seven - no, eight in fact - days we have usually seen no newspapers or television, heard no radio and have no internet access so we have had no way of keeping up with the news.  But when we get back and open the newspaper, watch the television news and so on, it always seems as though nothing has happened.  It's almost as though the world has been in a state of suspended animation during our absence.  It makes me wonder why I bother to keep up with the news at all.  But this time, things were different - although it has taken until now for me to find out.  That is because it was only as I at last got round to reading the non-news pages of Sunday's paper that I learned of two things I had missed.  Granted, one of those was a report that would have caused only a very slight ripple in the UK and is most unlikely to have been heard anywhere else - and perhaps more of that another day.

The second item was the earth-shattering news of (I assume) research which has shown that men's and women's brains are wired differently.  It seems that men's brains are wired front to back, with few connections between hemispheres, while women are wired left to right.  This explains any number of things.

For example, when reversing a car into a tight parking space, a man will place his right hand on the steering wheel (the other way round in countries where they drive on the wrong side of the road) and the left across the back of the passenger seat.  He will turn his head to look out of the rear window, flashing a jaunty grin at any passengers on the way.  He will then drive into the space in a single, swift, confident manoeuvre.

A woman, on the other hand, will look in the mirror and take hold of the wheel in a very tight grip with both hands, then reverse very slowly indeed, pausing occasionally to check her position and asking any passengers what they can see from their windows.  She may, eventually, just about get in before collapsing in a heap.

On the third hand, a normal human being would just say, "Oh, the hell with it" and go off to find a bigger space.

(With thanks to Telegraph writer David Thomas and my apologies for blatant plagiarism.)

~~~~~

So, back to Châteaubriant and the Christmas tree in front of the château.


Monday, 9 December 2013

Girding my loins

Before we get onto the matter of what I am girding my loins for, I will just mention that I had no idea where, when or how the phrase came into being - so I tried that old new standby, Google.  Wikiwotsit says that it was used in the time of the Roman empire but others (rather more of these) say it is found in the Bible (Proverbs 31:17) and yet another says that the phrase is not used these days.  I've got news for them!

Anyway, I'm thinking of going into town this afternoon.  It is time I bit the bullet and got on with some Christmas shopping.  To be wholly truthful, I have already done a fair bit.  Well, I've bought a present for one grandson and a few bits and pieces for the OB.  One son wants Amazon vouchers, which is easy.  Oh, I've bought a present for the other son as well.  I bought it while we were in France.  Son & partner will be without any of their children this Christmas so they are going over to our place in France.  One of our favourite restaurants provides gift vouchers, so that was an easy way out and one which I am sure they will enjoy.  My daughter, however, wants to buy a particular watch from Debenhams.  I suspect that this is an expensive item as she has asked for vouchers towards it.  We won't be seeing her until sometime next year (she and her partner will be in Australia over Christmas to watch the Aussies smash the England cricket team - again!) so this will be easy to post.  I might be able to buy Debenham's vouchers online, but I do have another reason for going into town.  I have yet to buy a 2014 diary, and the OB wants one as well.  I had fully expected to get them when I did the shopping at Sainsbury's but there were none in the shop before we went to France - and last Friday they had only expensive ones.  Well, I think £6 is expensive for a pocket diary.  So I will try W H Smith this afternoon.

No doubt my ears will be assailed terribly in the Churchill Square shopping centre with carols and seasonal songs of all sorts.  I actually heard the first carol of the year yesterday when I went into Argos to buy a pair of curtains.  I adamantly refuse to try visiting any shop or other retail outlet such as pub or restaurant on Christmas Day and Sunday is a day when I usually try to avoid shops completely but things are starting to get a little manic chez the Brighton Pensioner so I broke my own rule.  Well, I made the rule so I think I'm entitled to ignore it when I want to.

I wonder if there are any Christmas illuminations in town?  There is a Christmas tree - complete with lights - on the Level, a small park not all that far from the centre of town but hardly central.  It's in the heart of the Green Party's electorate and the Green Party is in power, so...  (Who are you calling cynical?)

We had planned to visit the town of Vitré while we were in France as in past years the decorations there have been magnificent, but there was some doubt about them having been switched on so we didn't make the hour's drive.  The lights were on in Châteaubriant.  Despite this being quite a small town, they have two Christmas trees - one in front of the château and the other in the Place de la Motte, a large square just outside the town walls where the weekly market is held.  This is the Place de la Motte:


Sunday, 8 December 2013

Big boys' toys

I have been puzzling over why it is that men driving lorries along a motorway will insist on using those flashing orange lights.  I don't mean the indicators or hzard warning lights, I mean the revolving orange lights that one sees on the top of the cab or at the back of a low-loader.  Why do the lorries need the lights anyway?  I suppose it's an elf 'n' safety thing, something to show people on construction sites or roadworks that the vehicle is there, it really does exist and is not a figment of the imagination.  I suppose there is a smidgen of sense in that - but only a small smidgen at that.  But why use the lights when driving along the road?  Especially that one at the back of an empty low-loader?  I have come to the conclusion that it's all part of the "mine's bigger than yours" syndrome, showing what a tough guy the driver is - as if driving a lorry makes a man a tough guy!  We all know you need to smoke Marlborough cigarettes for that!

Actually, I have never liked Marlborough cigarettes.  My regular brand - back when I was a 20-a-day man, changed over the years.  I think I started out on Rothmans, a fairly low strength smoke.  That was when I could still afford king-size.  As my pocket got emptier I switched to Gold Flake, a regular size cigarette, and then even lower to a brand the name of which I have forgotten.  Those were shoret and thinner and it took barely a couple of minutes to smoke one!  If I was feeling really rich I might buy a pack of Balkan Sobranie.  These had filters encased in gold-coloured paper while the tobacco was covered in various colours.

One of the perks of being in the RNR (Royal Naval Reserve) ws that I could buy duty-free cigarettes when I did my annual training.  On board "real" ships these would be regular brands like Dunhill international length but at shore establishments the only brand available was the Navy's own, Blue Line.  These were pretty foul and took some getting used to.  I always swore they were made of dried camel dung - but at least they were cheap!

I'm not too sure quite how I have moved from flashing lights to fags so perhaps I'd better quit before I get in too deep.

~~~~~

Back in England, this is an early morning view from our bedroom, looking across Patcham to the South Downs.


Saturday, 7 December 2013

Birds of a feather

I really must learn to pay more attention to what I am doing - or what I am supposed to be doing.  Take yesterday, for instance.  There is a glaring example of what I am talking about in that I started writing the daily notes with a subject in mind to which I was leading up.  It was all about arriving home late the night before and what we heard when we got out of the car, but then I was led miles off course, wittering on about turkeys and chickens and such.

Although now I come to think of it, I was not exactly miles off course in my wittering as it was at least about birds, just not the birds I had intended to mention.

We live in a city, although not in the centre but in the suburbs where the houses have gardens of a reasonable size.  We are also quite close to open countryside and woodland so we are accustomed to see a reasonable variety of birds.  There are house sparrows aplenty, despite the fact that their numbers are supposed to be falling quite rapidly, but I find it surprising that we see very few starlings, a bird which was at one time in our gardens in greater numbers than any other.  Blackbirds, blue and great tits, robins, wrens, hedge sparrows, chaffinches, greenfinches etc etc are seen regularly.  We sometimes see a jay or two but the usual members of the crow family are the magpie, jackdaw and rook.  What we don't see are owls - but as we got out of the car on Thursday night, both the Old Bat and I heard one calling.

It is in France that I see any owls, usually the barn owls just as dusk is turning into night.  I didn't see any on this last trip, possibly because by the time I was going out in the evening the dusk had given way to full darkness.

There is a track runs up beside our house in France, leading to a farm and a large house.  This is how it looks in the early morning, just as the sun is coming up, with a touch of frost on the grass.


Friday, 6 December 2013

And so to bed

- as Samuel Pepys was wont to end the day's entry in his famous diary.  Perhaps that will have set you thinking that I am about to retire for the night whereas in truth the day is not far into its routine and I will shortly be driving the Old Bat to her regular Friday oxygen session.  No, that titular comment ("Titular comment"!  Get me!) actually refers to the fact that we were late going to bed last night.  We were late going to bed on account of the fact that we were late getting home.  Yesterday, as it was the first Thursday of the month, Brighton Lions Club held their (no, that should be "its", not "their", but "its" sounds wrong) monthly dinner meeting.  This being the Christmas month, we had a Christmas dinner.  Brighton Technical College has a training restaurant which is staffed by the students, both the chefs and the waiting staff.  We supported their efforts last night, indulging ouselves in a four course meal followed by coffee and mince pies.  And what a menu!  On offer, inter alia and as various courses, where such delights as duck terrine with pistachios and spiced plum chutney; grilled red mullet with raspberry dressing; meringue gelato with chocolate sauce.  It was good, but I did feel rather uncomfortably full when I got into bed and that kept me from sleeping for quite a while.  About 10 minutes, I should think.

Naturally, being a Christmas meal, the main course options included roast turkey.  I can't rightly recall when I first tasted turkey; it might not have been until I was into my twenties - which would put it at around the mid 1960s.  Certainly, as a child I never saw turkey at Christmas.  In those days a chicken was a luxury and in general that was what made special the Christmas Day dinner.  We ate our main meal - which we called dinner and not lunch - at about one o'clock.

Oddly enough, it would seem that in France even now chicken is something of a luxury, albeit not on the level of England in the late 1940s and 1950s.  When my son and his partner were over there with the children they thought to buy a chicken for their evening meal - until they saw the price!  That is perhaps why we have rarely seen chicken on the menus of French restaurants - by which I mean restaurants in France rather than restaurants serving French dishes and therefore . . . Well, you know what I mean.  No, chicken in France is a rarity, although turkey, especially turkey escalopes, has always been fairly common.  Until this last trip.  It seemed this time as though every restaurant was offering chicken and turkey had become almost persona non grata (avia non grata?)

But I have fallen into the usual trap of wandering well off course.  Perhaps it's just as well that I never achieved my ambition of being a ship's navigating officer.  Had I done so, I shudder to think where we might have ended up!

~~~~~

The papers this morning are leading on the death of Nelson Mandela and the world is a pooper place for his passing.  There surely has been no finer example of forgiving one's enemies for many a long year.

~~~~~

It was good to throw open the curtains today on a sky less cloudy than I might have expected even if it was not quite sunny.  It was too early for that to be so.  The view from the front of our French hideaway is not in the least spectacular or even scenic if the truth be told but, unlike here in Brighton, we can watch the sun come up.  This was one morning last week.


Thursday, 5 December 2013

Back - and frustrated

It has been very good, this past week, to sit back and swich off almost completely.  There had been a time or two during the days before we left for France when I was in danger of feeling quite overwhelmed.  It must be old age or something but there seemed to be just too much that needed doing.  I felt - and you must excuse the cliché - as though I was wading knee-deep in treacle.  Everything was hard work, even the things I enjoy the most, so having the chance to do little but read, eat and drink has invigorated me enormously.

But I have come back, not just to Blighty, but also to frustration.  I have been trying to switch on the PC without success.  When I press the on/off button, what appears on the screen is text that offers me the choice of "Press F1 for set up" etc etc.  This was happening before I went away and I discovered that what I needed to do was alter the order of the start-up search from DVD first and hard drive second to the other way around.  Today the wretched machine refuses to accept my commands!  And it is on that computer that I run my accounts software, store pictures and so on.

At least I have the laptop and so I have managed to catch up on my email and read most if not quite all yet of the blogs I follow.

We were extraordinarily lucky with the weather while in France, most days being pretty sunny although not scorching hot.  There is a forest near our village where the autumn colours were still perfect.  I must have taken well over a hundred pictures in my attempt to take the perfect autumn shot.  Not exactly perfect, perhaps, but I like this one.


Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Scooting along

When I think back to my childhood, I am often a little surprised just how much freedom my brother and I were allowed.  Certainly, my own children were not allowed as much, and as for the grandchildren . . .

We lived in a house in the middle of a short terrace of six which had been built in the 1920s.  There was a mix of houses further down the road on our side, while the other side of the road consisted of two long terraces, each running for half the length of the road.  Our house was perhaps 50 yards from what we called "the Top Road", in reality the A2 Watling Street, the main London to Dover road that followed, for much of its length, the old Roman road.  But that is by-the-by.

Although our house had both a small front garden and a much larger back garden, we boys were generally allowed to play in the street.  Next door but one to us lived the only two other children in the street - or, at least, the only two other children of comparative age to my brother and I at our end of the street.  But Barry and Susan were rarely allowed out to play, so it was my brother and I on our own.  I had a scooter and my brother a tricycle and it was on these machines that we - probably - scared the living daylights out of the housewives as they shopped on the Top Road.

This stretch of Watling Street had a few local shops.  There was a branch of Lloyds Bank on the corner, then a wool shop, a ladies' hairdresser, a bread shop (I think - not the one my mother used), a couple more I can't remember and, at the end, a newsagent/confectioner/tobacconist.  The pavement in front of these shops was wide - probably 15 feet or so - but narrowed after the tobacconist's shop as it passed in front of a petrol station.  We never went beyond the tobacconist.  But we raced as fast as we could up our road, around the corner and along to the tobacconist before swooping round and racing back again.  As we got older, so our boundaries stretched.  There was an alley running behind the houses on the opposite side of our street, with a cross alley halfway down.  That became one of our favourite race tracks.

Our street had - and still has - an odd shape.  One side of the road is straight as a die, while the opposite side - ours - has a big bow in it.  In the middle of the road is a green, a patch of grass split across the middle by a hedge-lined footpath.  It was that footpath where we, together with Barry and Susan, made our slide in the winter.  It must have been lethal for any of the old dears who used it, but I don't think many did.  At each end of the green was a small, round traffic island.  The one at our end had a street light and hollyhocks - just the place for a game of cowboys and indians!

Ball games were forbidden on the grass but we children, naturally, ignored the notice.  I remember that on one occasion, I was at senior school by then, we were playing cricket and a grumpy old git stopped us.  "Don't they teach you to read at your school?" he asked.

I replied, quite truthfully, "No, sir", but I don't think I was punished for insolence on that occasion.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Picnics

When my brother and I were children, we would quite often be taken for picnics during the summer months.  These would sometimes be on the Darland Banks, sometimes in what we called the Fallen Tree Field above Upnor, and sometimes just in the local park.  As well as the park having an area of fairly formal planting with lawns and flower beds, there was a bandstand and a large play area with swings, slides, see-saws etc.  Nothing that would get past today's Elf ‘n' Safety police, but to us children it was a wonderful playground.  The centre of the park was dominated by a large, circular patch of grass with trees at intervals around the edge.  I'm not certain just how big that grassy area was but it seemed enormous to my nine-years old self.  The paths were all surfaced with loose gravel and, outside the grass circle, there were informal areas of lawn and shrubs.  And it was one or another of those smaller, more secluded patches of grass that my mother always chose as the spot for our picnic.  Being the sort of child always to accede to a parent's wishes, I made no demur, but there was always a little bit of me that wanted to be with everyone else, to use one of those trees as a wicket for our game of cricket, to break out from the security of the small, enclosed area and go into the big, wide expanse of grass that looked so exciting.

But a picnic in the Fallen Tree Field was a real treat.  We would walk to the Jezreels, a major road junction about half a mile from our house, where we caught a bus to Chatham.  Here we had to change to another bus to take us onto the Isle of Grain and the small village of Chattenden.  From here there was a track leading downhill and, halfway to Upnor, we came to the field where we would picnic.  What the farmer or owner called the field, I have no idea.  We knew it as the Fallen Tree Field simply because there was a small copse and one tree right at the edge had been blown down.  It had been there so long that the bark had fallen off completely and the wood was pale and smooth.  All the branches had been cut off and the timber hauled away, so what remained was a superb, natural climbing toy for us children.

After our picnic we would continue down the track to Upnor for what was possibly an even greater treat - a boat ride across and along the River Medway to Sun Pier in Chatham.  Then it was back on the bus for the final part of the return journey.

It seems in memory that the sun shone every time and the water was deliciously cool as we trailed our fingers in the river.

Coincidentally, I have just discovered an intriguing connection between the Kentish village of Upnor and the city of New York.  In the days when we used to picnic above the river, there was moored at Upnor a sail training ship, the SS Arethusa.  Built in Hamburg, Germany, and originally named ‘Peking', she was one of the last generation of windjammers used in the nitrate trade and wheat trade around the often treacherous Cape Horn.  In 1932 she was sold to Shaftesbury Homes - known as 'The National Refuges for Destitute Children' for use as a training ship, many of the boys who passed through her making careers in the forces or merchant navy.  She was retired in 1975 and sold to Jack Aron, for the South Street Seaport Museum in New York City, where she is still moored as of 2013, although now in desperate need of reconditioning/renovation - or so I heard.  Here's a picture of her in 1934 that I have borrowed from a Mr Ingham.  I hope he doesn't mind.




Saturday, 30 November 2013

Memories

Memory is a funny thing.  There are some events that stay in one's mind almost for ever while other things are very quickly forgotten.  Then there are those things about which one is never quite certain; are they memories, or are they one's wild imaginings of what somebody once told one?

I was born, as I wrote in another, recent blog, in the middle of the Second World War in the Medway towns, an important naval base.  I have been told that there was in the road behind our house, a mobile anti-aircraft gun.  This was moved up and down the road in an attempt to fool German airmen into thinking that there we had more guns than was actually the case.  I know that I have no memory of the gun, firing or otherwise, but I'm not so sure about the searchlights.  I do have vague memories of searchlight beams dancing in the sky - but whether this really is memory or just my imagination, I couldn't say.  However, I do remember walking along the of the Darland Banks, part of the North Downs, fairly soon after the war.  Huge pits had been dug and were still there, open to the sky and any passing drunk.  They had been dug to stop tanks in the event of a German invasion.

There is just the vaguest memory of my father returning from the war, probably in 1948.  He had been in the Far East and Australia where he had managed to buy a whole heap of things that were not obtainable in England.  There were toys for my brother and I, including a large, clockwork bumper car each.  When set in motion, these would change direction if they bumped into the furniture or any other obstruction.  Magic!  For the family, especially my mother, there was a dinner and tea set.  During the war, the only crockery permitted in England was plain white - probably something to do with pigments having to be brought across the sea or the chemicals being needed for something else.  Anyway, Dad was in a department store in Sydney when he saw an assistant starting to unpack a dinner set.  The china was a deep cream colour, with flowers around the edge.  Dad immediately told the assistant to stop and to pack it all up again and he bought the lot.  Strangely enough, the set had been made in England!

Dad brought back so much from that trip that he had to get the ship's carpenter to make a large chest to stow it away.  That chest must measure about 2' 6" square in cross-section by about four feet long, maybe bigger.  You might notice that I used the present tense; the chest stayed in my parents' home until my mother died and my brother has it now.

Ahh, memories.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

GSOH

I sometimes wonder, when I glance at the personal ads for "friends" - which i do from time to time although very rarely as I am lucky enough not to be in the situation of needing to advertise .

Now, where was I?  Oh yes.  Just what is a GSOH?  Yes, I know it's an acronym for Good Sense Of Humour, but how does one define it?  I would have thought that just what comprises a good sense of humour (and, Blogger, that word is quite correct when spelled - or spelt - with a U) differs from one person to another.  And it can change as we get older.  Sometimes.

As a child, I was wont to practically fall of my chair when reading the "Beano" - which was why I always sat on the floor to read said comic.  Nowadays, the antics of the Bash Street Kinds or Dennis the Menace leave me cold.

As a teenager, I thought the Goons hilarious.  Yes, maybe even today I would crack a smile, but I still prefer something a little different.

What I cannot find at all humorous are some of the supposedly comic programmes broadcast on television these days.  "Mrs Brown's Boys" and "Live at the Apollo" are just a waste of time as far as I am concerned.  Of course, for someone of my age, there was a golden age of comedy ushered in by television sitcoms such as "Steptoe and Son".  You can tell I'm getting old when I say, "They don't make 'em like that any more".

Like this classic from Morecambe and Wise:


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Embarrassment

My mother, bless her, was very protective of her two chicks.  Indeed, one might almost say that she was over-protective in many ways.  Granted, if there were any germs or viruses about you could pretty much guarantee that one of us would catch whatever it was - and pass it on to the other!  Mum took to heart the old maxim, ne'er cast a clout till may be out.  But even when the hawthorn was in bloom, the likelihood was that my brother and I would still be wearing hand-knitted pullovers - as well as vests under our shirts and jackets when we left the house!

The pullovers - some long-sleeved, some sleeveless - were knitted by my mother.  She was seldom to be seen sitting down and relaxing without the knitting needles going clickety clack.  Jumpers, scarves, wooly hats, cardigans - even swimming costumes were home-made.  The clothing produced by Mum's knitting was as good as anything that could be bought in the shops so we were never embarrassed to wear it.  Except that I do recall being slightly embarrassed by my knitted swimming costume.  It was a costume as well - not just trunks.  The body came up over my chest and there were straps across the shoulders.  And how heavy it got in the water!  As I say, I can remember being just a bit embarrassed on the beach that year.

Mum was a great knitter, a hobby she continued until her sight became too poor, but she was not a seamstress, although I believe that as a teenager (aged about 18 or so) she may well have done some embroidery work.  Nor could she do smocking, although this was something she absolutely loved.  I'm sure she would have been delighted to have a daughter to dress, but she did her best to make up for the lack.  As youngsters, both my brother and I were dressed in blouses rather than shirts, blouses that had started life as plain white garments.  But before we were allowed to wear them, they were taken to either Mrs Hutton (our landlady) or a neighbour of hers to be smocked.

I've spoken to my brother since I typed the last paragraph and he confirms it was not Mrs Hutton who did the smocking, nor was it a neighbour of hers.  However, we agreed that whoever it was who did it, she lived on the Wigmore road in a bungalow with a wooden veranda - what would be called a porch in the southern states of America - the whole plot being covered in trees which made it seem rather spooky.

~~~~~

Those woollen swimming costumes:


Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Better late than never

Although I was out of bed this morning a littel earlier than usual for a routine check-up with my rheumatologist (all going well, thank you) I seem to have got way behind with everything.  The situation hasn't been helped by the fact that we are off to France first thing tomorrow (got to stock up the wine before Christmas) and there have been numerous things to get done before then.

The day dawned bright and sunny, although brisk with a frost.  I kicked myself when I was almost at the park with the dog as I had intended taking my camera.  It was sitting on the kitchen worktop next to the mobile phone - but I missed it.  My intention had been to take pictures of autumn colours - but although yesterday the leaves were there, today most had fallen.  Not that my effort would have been anywhere near as good as the pictures taken in Buckinghamshire by Jenny Woolf - just take a look at these.  It makes me want to spit!

Still, I was quite pleased with this view of the sea at Rottingdean that I captured this afernoon after taking the dog to kennels.


Monday, 25 November 2013

In praise of pasta

My late mother, bless her, was not the world's most adventurous cook.  Granted, she could bake cakes and produce the most wonderful steamed puddings, but as far as main courses went, she was strictly a meat-and-two-veg type.  And, if I am to be completely honest, the vegetables would have been boiled to within an inch of their lives, if you see what I mean.  Al dente was not something Mum had ever heard of.  Or if she had, she probably thought he was a singer from the southern states of America.  Potatoes were roasted on Sundays, but otherwise came boiled or mashed.  Parmentier, duchess, Lyonnaise, hassleback - no, these were not in her cookery book.  Don't misunderstand me; I'm not criticising Mum.  She was a working class girl who learned her cooking in the England of the 1930s - and that was the English cuisine in those days!

One area in which Mum excelled was milk puddings.  These would be based on a grain of some sort and baked in the oven - rice, sage, tapioca, macaroni were all used.  Yes, macaroni.  I'm not sure that the Old Bat believed me when I mentioned this a week or two back.  She had never heard of macaroni - or any other type of pasta - being used for anything other than savoury dishes.  But yesterday afternoon we were at a small family get-together to mark a grandson's birthday and I remarked on this to his other grandfather.  By some strange coincidence, he said that he had received the same reaction from his wife very recently when he mentioned a macaroni milk pudding as made by his mother!

Nowadays, of course, there is almost a complete aisle in our local supermarket taken up with the numerous varieties of pasta that are available but I can almost remember when macaroni and spaghetti were the only choices.  And the spaghetti was in tins with tomato sauce.  Poor old Mum never did really get the hang of all that Italian food.  A few years before her death - by which time Italian restaurants were all the rage in England, serving both pizzas and pasta - I took Mum over to France for a few days so that she could see our holiday getaway cottage.  While there, we went to an Italian restaurant.  Looking at the menu, Mum was hesitant about choosing something she didn't know.  She finally plumped for spaghetti Bolognaise, explaining that she had eaten that once before on an all-inclusive holiday.

I love pasta dishes, my current favourite being rigatoni amatriciana, but I do still get twinges of guilt for taking Mum a little out of her depth.  Mind you, I think she enjoyed it in the end.

~~~~~

Having been drifting on about pasta, it seems appropriate that today's picture should be of Italy.  I'm not well up on tourist attractions in that country, but I understand the triangular piazza of the small town of Greve in Chianti is quite well-known.  I was disappointed as the day we went there - and probably this is true of most days - it was full to overflowing of tourists.  Much more pleasant is another triangular piazza, the one in Figline Valdarno, and here it is.