Thursday, 31 January 2013

FX

I am so easily distracted - as if you were unaware of the fact!  Yesterday's post demonstrated what I mean, although at least I kept pretty much to an alternative meaning of the title.  That, I suppose, means that I could have got away with it and you might not have realised...  I'm doing it again, aren't I?

So.  Foreign exchange.  By which I really mean foreign currency exchange. I am, I suppose, declaring nerdish tendencies when I confess that I have long found foreign money of interest and I have been extraordinarily lucky when it has come to a matter of changing one curremcy into another.  An early example of both my nerdish tendency and my ability to make a profit, albeit small, on foreign exchange occurred when I was working at one of the mid-Sussex branches of the bank.  Back in those days there were very few branches of banks which kept foreign currency on the premises.  They would buy francs, dollars, pesetas etc from customers but would send them to a dedicated 'foreign' branch the same day.  If a customer was going on a trip to another country, the currency could be ordered and would take a few days to arrive.  But my colleague Neal was probably just as nerdish as me and also saw an opportunity so we persuaded the branch manager that a foreign currency till - in other words, a full bureau de change service - would be of benefit to our existing customers, would bring in customers of other banks who might then transfer their accounts, and would increase the branch profits.  The manager agreed and was able to persuade the local directors of the benefits so we opened a foreign till.

After I had left the bank and started as general manager and dogsbody at the newspaper company, I took things a step further.  The paper offered readers postal subscriptions with prices specified in US and Canadian dollars as well as sterling.  I got rid of the Canadian dollar price and set about reducing our costs in exchanging dollar cheques into sterling.  I realised that exchanging each individual cheque through our London bank was unnecessarily costly.  So I opened a bank in New York into which all dollar cheques were deposited.  When the US bank balance had built up and the rate was favourable, I would transfer funds to the UK.  All this made little difference to the company's profit and loss account, but it was enormously satisfying to be playing the game.  Not only playing the game, but winning as well.

Before we bought our French cottage, I realised we would need an account with a French bank which would have to be fed from England.  Over the years, I have kept an eye on the exchange rates and have generally managed to transfer funds when the rate was about as good as it got over a few days either side of the transfer.  The rate has fluctuated dramatically.  Ten years ago, when we bought the cottage, I got more than 1.5 euros to the pound - which made a big difference to the cost in real terms as it meant that the 40,000 euros price translated into £27,000.  As I say, I have generally been lucky - and it has been luck rather than skill - with the exchange rate.  But like Buck and his tax, I look at what I have sent to France and think, "That's a dinner out we can buy that we couldn't last time".  Or the other way round.  I recently sent some money over at an abysmal rate but the pound has grown steadily weaker since then so maybe I didn't do so badly after all.

~~~~~

I can't say that the snowdrop is my favourite flower but I'm always happy to see the blooms in the garden.  Ours, which are not the earliest, are much earlier than those in Withdean Park and have started coming into bloom this week.  There are other flowers which have been out for quite a while - Christmas rose, cyclamen, winter jasmine - but I regard all those as winter flowers.  The snowdrop is hardly a spring flower but I always think of it as such.  Or, more accurately, as a harbinger of spring.


Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Foreign exchange

It was only as I typed the heading you can read above that I realised it might quite reasonably apply to a completely different type of exchange to the one I was intending to write about.  So let's get that out of the way first.

Brighton (and Hove, too) is packed to the gunwales with foreign students.  Not only do the two universities attract vast numbers, but we also have language schools galore.  Hosting the students from those language schools is almost a cottage industry in the city suburbs, especially during the summer months when the numbers seem to escalate exponentially.  So much do they escalate, that there are complaints every year about overcrowded buses amongst other things.  For a while, the Old Bat and I hosted such students.  The first was a delightful Norwegian boy, aged about 14.  The second was another Norwegian, also aged about 14, but he was so out of control that we had to ask for him to be rehoused.  The third and last was a German lad of about 18 who was another delight - to the extent that he was happy to help about the house and garden.  But the payment really wasn't worth the hassle as far as we were concerned so we packed it in after...  I can't remember his name... left.

We packed it in until I, then President of Brighton Lions Club, received a phone call from the President of a Lions Club in Lyon, France.  His son, aged about 20, would be studying English in Brighton for a year.  Would any member of Brighton Lions Club be willing to host him?  It just so happened that my elder son would be leaving for a year in Australia just about the time Phillipe would be arriving in England.  My wife was already missing her oldest fledgling (even though he was still at home) so she jumped at the opportunity to mother another.

I drove to Heathrow airport to collect Phillipe only to find that he wasn't on the flight he (or his father) had told me.  It probably hadn't helped that my French was distinctly rusty and none of the French spoke English!  Eventually we met at a different Heathrow terminal where Phillipe had arrived on an Air France flight instead of the BA flight I had been told about.

Despite that somewhat inauspicious start to his stay, Phillipe proved to be a charming young man, full to the brim of Gallic courtesy.  My daughter, who must have been about 14, developed quite a crush on him and wasn't even jealous when he introduced us to a very good-looking girl he had met at the language school.  But all good things come to an end and Phillipe eventually returned to warmer parts, complete with the white Rolls Royce he had bought while over here!  He ran that as a wedding car for a while after his return to Lyon.

Then a friend of Phillipe's parents rang.  Her daughter Laurence would be studying in Brighton.  Could we...?  We could and did and, while not quite as much a part of the family as Phillipe had become, she proved another easy guest.  As did Charles, Phillipe's younger brother, when he, too, studied English here in Brighton.

There have been other requests since then.  Not made directly to us but to Brighton Lions generally.  That is the case when we as a city host so many overseas students.  Much as we have enjoyed having young foreign guests, we are now too elderly (and decrepit) to be able to face doing it again.

But that isn't what I had intended writing about when I typed "Foreign exchange" as the tile of this piece and I don't have time for any more right now.  Maybe tomorrow.

~~~~~

Although there was some early morning sun towards the end of last week, it has quickly turned into grey, January weather.  I grabbed the opportunity for another "from the bedroom window" picture.


Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Good news

I am one of the many people who, from time to time, moan that the media tend to ignore good news.  It is a news editor's mantra that bad news sells papers.  But the late evening national news on television yesterday broke the mould.  Granted, there had been the standard reports about the situation in Syria and in Mali, there was an update on the horrific deaths in a Brazilian nightclub, the route of the new high speed rail track was announced: all pretty routine stuff.  But right at the end was a nugget of gold.

It was reported that a six-month-old baby, strapped into his pushchair, had been blown by a sudden gust of wind off the harbour wall at the small Somerset town of Watchet.  His mother's screams alerted the dockmaster, who raced to the scene only to see the pushchair floating towards the harbour mouth with the baby completely submerged.  The dockmaster dived in and brought the pashchair and child back to the harbour wall where another passer-by threw a rope down.  Once the child was back on the wall, another passer-by performed rescucitation until the paramedics arrived.  The baby was air-lifted to hospital and appears none the worse for his ordeal.

Granted, that was hardly of national importance, but it nonetheless left me with a warm glow.  Then the lead story in this morning's paper reveals that doctors working on cancer research are optimistic that within five to ten years, cancer will be a chronic condition rather than a fatal one. Read the article here.

~~~~~

A wet, grey, foggy day - and I didn't much enjoy my morning walk with the dog.  But there has to be a positive angle and at least I got some fresh air and gentle exercise.  Today's view from the bedroom:

Monday, 28 January 2013

Me - from A to Z

I'm not usually prone to posting memes but young sonny Jim's rather caught my imagination.  He freely admits to having stolen the idea so I have no shame in pinching it from him.  But there is a difference.  Whereas he followed the subjects strictly, I intend to let my creative mind introduce some different ones.

A = age.  Old.  In fact, I am biologically old enough - just about - to be Jim Suldog's father, hence the reference to "young sonny Jim".  My old granny, bless her, whenever asked her age, replied, "As old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth", which I always - even as a child - thought a bit of a stretch as she had false teeth!

B = born.  Yes, I was born.  I was not discovered under a gooseberry bush, nor was I dropped off by a kindly stork that just happened to be passing the house.  In fact, I was born in a Royal Naval maternity home as my father was serving in the Royal Navy.  That maternity home was in Gillingham, a town on the estuary of the River Medway in Kent, which makes me a Man of Kent, not a Kentish Man.  The Medway rises in Sussex and divides the county of Kent into two parts almost equal in size.  People born north and west of the river - the London side - are Kentish men or women, while those born south and east of the river are Men (or Maids) of Kent.  I don't know how or when I learned that and I don't think there are too many people who know it.  There are probably even fewer who care.

C = children.  Three, two sons and a daughter.  My daughter, the youngest of the three, was planned although we didn't manage to get the age gap to exactly the three years we planned and she is three years and three months younger than my younger son.  I remember that when we told my mother my wife was pregnant again, she immediately caused herself embarrassment by exclaiming, "Oh, I am sorry".  Daughter is now a deputy head teacher at an inner-city secondary school where fewer than 1% of the pupils are white and have English as their language at home.  Don't ask what the sons jobs are - they're far too specialist for me to understand.

D = dog.  My wife and I are dog people.   We have owned dogs since about a year after we were married, apart from short gaps in between after the death of one.  The first was a collie-cross, followed by a flat-coated retriever, then a golden retriever and now an English springer spaniel.  Dog people will understand.  Other will simply scratch their heads and wonder.

E = essential start to my day.  There isn't one, although if I had to choose on pain of death I suppose I would say that it's a cup of tea.  My day generally starts with the alarm clock, although when we are at my cousin's farm I manage to wake at about 7.15 with no artificial aid.  At home, though, I seem to need that jerk - even if I do press the snooze button a few times.  After a shower (which is not really essential although welcome) I drink a glass of orange juice while waiting for the kettle to boil in order to make that necessary cuppa.

F = favourite colour.  Green, I think.  But, like music (see below), it rather depends on what mood I'm in.

G = games.  I'm not really a games person, either indoor or outdoor.  At school, I was introduced to rugby and made to play in the second row of the scrum.  I hated it and usually managed to cry off on account of my asthma.  I did enjoy playing at badminton.  Notice, I say "playing at" rather than "playing".  I have never had good eye-to-hand co-ordination (or eye-to-foot, come to that) so ball games and the like are really not for me.  I'm not even one for watching them on television either.

H = house, flat or bungalow.  I have spent the last 40+ years of my live living in a bog standard, three-bedroom, semi-detached house.  Before that, I lived in a couple of flats after getting married.  I have never lived in a bungalow, although I have tried to persuade my wife that we should consider moving to one before she has too much difficulty climbing the stairs.  But we will probably end up installing a stair-lift rather than moving.

I = Irish.  No, I have no Irish blood in me although, as I mentioned somewhere else on this blog, I have kissed the Blarney Stone.  My wife, otherwise affectionately known as the Old Bat, does have Irish blood.  Her great grandfather was born in Devon but emigrated to Australia where he married a girl born in Ireland.  Their son - the Old Bat's grandfather - was born in Australia, which makes him Australian, but he was also half English and half Irish by blood.  After the death of his mother, he was sent to England to live with his grandparents.  It was here that he met and married a girl born in Liverpool to Irish immigrant parents, so she was English (or even Scouse) by birth by Irish by blood.  Her mother died and her father put her up for adoption and her adoptive parents were English.  So what that makes the Old Bat confuses thew hell out of me and I think we should move on to

J = job.  Retired these past ten years and a bit, thank you very much, and that was the best thing I ever did.  Apart from marrying the Old Bat, of course.  (I have to say that just in case...)

K = kitchen.  I'm told we have one and it's there that meals are prepared.  You will gather that I am no cook, although I suspect that I could be quite a reasonable cook if I really tried.  My mother was one of the old school who thought that the man's job was to go to work to pay for things while the woman's place was in the home.  So she never taught my brother or me to cook.

L = language.  You will not be surprised to learn that my language is English.  I would dearly love to be a polyglot but restrict myself to a little French.  I do get extremely irritated by people who should know better misusing their (and my) native tongue by, for example, using the word "less" when they should use "fewer" or mangling things horribly along the lines of "we wasn't".  Let's move on quickly as I can feek a rant coming on!

M = music.  I like many types of music depending on the mood I'm in.  I am not a lover of current pop but take me back to the music of the Seekers, the Carpenters, Abba - that's the kind of pop music I like.  I am also a saddo who likes military music, especially the bands of the Royal Marines, than whom there is none better.  And some pieces of classical music can move me to tears if in the right frame of mind:  Elgar's Nimrod - so essentially English, the intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, the second movement of Mozart's clarinet concerto.  Others, too, but that gives you the flavour.

N = nicotine.  I stopped smoking about 18 months ago when I was introduced to my Macmillan nurse in a scare that turned out not to be cancer.  Before that I had smoked for fifty years, usually cigarettes but for some years I switched to a pipe.  I never did get on with cigars.

O = 'obbies.  Pushing it a bit, I know, 'obbies is what I have chosen for my O.  Does membership of the local Lions Club count as a hobby?  It certainly takes up as much time as I can find so I suppose that it might.  Otherwise, researching my family history.  It seems to me that there is something comforting in knowing where one's forebears lived and worked.  And just occasionally one turns up an amusing fact  For example, my 7 x great grandfather was reported to the magistrates in Portsmouth for selling beer without a license.

P = pet peeve.  Well now, if it's not the mangling of the English language - and the increasing introduction of American terms such as "train station" instead of the traditional "railway station" - then I suppose it must be cold telephone calls from companies saying they are conducting market research when they are really trying to sell me something.

Q = quote.  Winston Churchill's Second World War speech provides some of the most inspiring words I have ever heard:
"...we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender..."
Just reading those words makes the hair on the back of my neck rise.

R = royalist.   Definitely.  I think our royal family brings a degree of stability to the political scene in this country - as well as bringing in tourists and their money!

S = siblings.  One brother, who now lives in deepest Cornwall and to whom I speak every two or three weeks on the phone but whom I have not seen for almost three years.  We mostly got on well as children, subject to the usual siblings' spats.  I sometimes wished that I had a sister.  In those days, schools were single sex so I had little chance to get to know girls and this, I felt, led to shyness at an age when I should have liked to get to know more young ladies.

T = travel.  I have always had itchy feet and it is really only in the last few years that I have managed to completely ignore that itchiness.  Not that I ever indulged it to the full.  I have, for instance, never set foot on the continent of Africa.  My only time in Asia was a week in Japan for a Lions' international convention.  Granted, I have been to North America on five occasions, but never to South America.  I have, however, visited just about every western European country, several of them more than once.  There are still places I would love to visit but the Old Bat's lack of mobility makes it unlikely that I ever will.

U = university attended.  Oxford.  Specifically Worcester College.  But only for four days to sit the entrance exam - which I failed.  I also failed to gain admission to any other of the universities to which I applied.

V = vegetables.  Dislikes: asparagus.  Likes: peas picked fresh from the garden, onions, roast parsnips, sweet corn, roast potatoes, jacket potatoes, parmentier potatoes.  Enough?

W = what makes me late.  Nothing if I can avoid it.  Being on time for an appointment means being there five minutes early.  If we are making a journey that involves being at the other end by a specific time, I am likely to leave home half an hour early "to allow for heavy traffic", which rarely materialises.

X = X-rays.  There was a time in the summer of 2011 when I seemed to have an x-ray or a scan of some other sort every couple of weeks.  That was when I had a cough which I couldn't shift.  My GP sent my for an x-ray which showed a shadow on my lung.  Panic stations - until it proved to be a plug of mucous.  What a relief that was.  (See N = Nicotine above.)

Y = yummie food.  Cream cakes of all shapes and sizes.  Crumpets oozing butter.  Muffins (that's English muffins, not those American monstrosities).  Fish and chips.  I could almost say, just food!

Z = zoo animal favourite.  I would almost choose the penguin, but purists might point out that the penguin is a bird, not an animal.  And anyway, it's penguins in the wild that I think are so amusing.  So the choice comes down to either the meerkat of the Rhesus monkey.  I can watch both for absolutely ages and to choose one over the other is extremely difficult.  Oh what the heck.  Meerkat.

~~~~~

The snow has gone entirely but my pictures are not quite exhausted.  This was taken on the golf course approaching the Roman Camp on Saturday afternoon.  It makes me think of tundra on the Downs.


Sunday, 27 January 2013

Coffee

I gave a brief mention to coffee in yesterday's meandering post and, since then, my mind has meandered far and wide on just this one subject.  So much so that I think I had better get some of those thoughts off my chest (if you'll forgive the biological mix-up - or even if you won't).

My mind started by wandering back into the past and those far off days when I was a young buck about town.  Hah!  I was never that, I was more an innocent at sea.  But either way, there were no things as coffee shops back then a few years either side of 1960; they were coffee bars.  I suppose there were illicit deals done in at least some of them, but coffee bars were, on the whole, fairly innocuous places.  There were two in Brighton that I favoured.  The Continental was in Castle Square.  This was an ordinary shop-type construction with a large, plate glass window.  The coffee was, I remember, served in glass cups, fairly wide, shallow ones.

The other favourite was the Penny Farthing.  This was an old, narrow building in East Street,  spread over several floors with small tables squeezed into some difficult places for the waitresses, one of whom was to become the Old Bat.  She moonlighted there for a while to supplement the fairly low salary she earned at the day job.

There were others, but those two are the ones that stick in my mind (partly because of the company I had in each).

Coffee shops have, of course, been around for two or three hundred years or more.  That bastion of the insurance world - Lloyds of London - started out as a coffee shop and it was customary for many deals to be conducted in similar premises.  We never seem to hear of such places in Victorian times but back in 1861 one Abraham Packham, then aged 21 - a 1st cousin three times removed to the Old Bat - was a waiter at the Jamaica Coffee House in St Michael's Alley in the City of London.  It is now the Jamaica Wine House, a Shepherd Neame pub, which links it to me as Deborah Shepherd - my 6x great grandmother - lent her nephew John Shepherd the £3000 to start a brewing business - now Shepherd Neame.  According to its web site, the Jamaica Wine House was originally London's first coffee shop, which opened in 1652 and counted Samuel Pepys among its early customers.

Something I haven't noticed for quite a few years is the smell of roasting coffee wafting out of a shop door.  There used to be one such shop in George Street but it's probably a charity shop now; most of the George Street shops seem to be.  I always used to enjoy that smell.  But it's funny, coffee always smells better than it tastes.  I wonder why?

Talking of taste, I said (or implied) yesterday that I actively dislike the coffee sold by those new chains such as Starbucks, Costa and Cafe Nero.  And for goodness sake, what is it with all these new-fangled drinks like skinny latte or americano?  Coffee used to be either black or white, with or without sugar.  I can just about cope with cappuccino but I don't even begin to know what all the rest are.  At least if I order a coffee in France I know what I will get: a small black espresso which both smells and tastes good.  It's much the same in Italy, although there the quantity of coffee served as an espresso is so minute that I have in the past resorted to ordering a cappuccino.

I will drink my coffee white if I have to and, indeed, very occasionally choose to do so but for preference my coffee should be, as Talleyrand said, black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love.

But how did we come to start drinking coffee?  I quote from the Weekly Wire web site.
Although coffee seems to have evolved in Ethiopia, no witnesses recorded who discovered its virtues or first cultivated it. We have only myths. For example, there is the story of Sheikh Hadji Omar, an exiled dervish who would have died in the desert if a ghost had not led him to discover the coffee plant.
Another popular legend, frequently displayed in coffee shops, attributes the discovery of coffee to an observant Arabian goatherd named Kaldi. Usually his goats were lazy and compliant. Then one day he noticed that they perked up considerably after eating the berries of a particular plant. In fact, they danced about on their hind legs in a drug-induced frenzy. Understandably, Kaldi felt he could use a little excitement in his own life, so he ate some of the berries. As a result, he didn't doze off once that afternoon. His mind seemed sharper; his heart raced; and for the first time goatherding seemed like a promising career choice.
Nearby was the monastery that would eventually grow up into the holy city of Mecca. After observing the buzzed Kaldi capering with his flock, one of the monks tried the miraculous discovery himself. Soon he was zapped. He took some berries back to the monastery, and the brothers discovered that now they could pray until dawn without nodding off. In time they shared this pious stimulant with others.
There are at least two grains of truth in this story. Coffee beans did indeed become standard equipment for all-night prayer sessions, and coffee was chewed long before it was drunk. Prior to being processed into a drink, raw coffee has a high protein content. Sir Richard Burton, the English explorer, reported that when he traveled in central Africa in the 19th century, the locals invariably presented visitors with a handful of wild coffee beans to chew. "According to the Arabs," he wrote, coffee "has...stimulating properties, affects the head, prevents somnolency, renders water sweet to the taste, and forms a pleasant refreshing beverage...."
Eventually addicts expanded the menu. First someone got the notion of crushing the berries and mixing them with that appetizing staple of early diets--fat. (The standard calculation was that a hunter or traveler required a daily ration of this concoction roughly the size of a tennis ball.) Next, a courageous gourmet fermented the pulp and drank the result. Later there was a drink incorporating both hull and fruit. Not until the 1200s or so did someone finally roast a coffee bean over a charcoal fire.
Soon the practice of drinking coffee spread across the land and began to flourish in cities such as Mecca. Coffee, which suited the Muslim religion's intellectual, anti-alcohol attitudes, has been called "the wine of Islam." With surprising speed, travelers carried the new beverage throughout the Muslim world. The first coffeehouses began to appear, complete with a number of activities proscribed by strict Muslims, including gaming, music, singing--and even, Allah forbid, dancing.
Worst of all, while gathered together over their stimulating coffee, troublemakers began to discuss the world around them and to question the wisdom and motives of their rulers. Naturally, this made the rulers uneasy. In the mid-17th century, one Ottoman official declared coffee drinking not only illegal but punishable by severe penalties. First offenders received a beating. Second offenders could look forward to being drowned.
So now you know.  Or maybe not.

~~~~~

Given the snow, it is hardly surprising that our local golf courses have been closed.  This was the view of the Roman Camp from the south-west on Friday.  It is as well that there are gorse bushes on the camp.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

The French connection

Sam called again yesterday.  Sam works for Consumer something-or-other - I have never caught the second word because I have usually switched into auto-deaf mode by that stage of the phone call.  I know it was the same girl who rang on Thursday as I recognised both the name and the voice.  She called at an inconvenient time again, although any time is inconvenient for calls of that nature, just as I was pouring my lunch-time coffee.  She got rather short shrift from me.

"You called me yesterday.  I didn't want to speak to you then and I don't want to speak to you now.  Goodbye."

I know these people are often youngsters trying to earn a living or working their way through university but that doesn't make the calls any less irritating.

And talking of irritating, there are those tannoy announcements at Asda: "This is a colleague announcement".  Actually, it's only slightly irritating - but why can't they call these "staff announcements"?  Or would that be too reminiscent of the old class system?  Back in the distant past - in the 19th century or so - to be on the staff of a company was better than being a hired hand.  Somebody on "the staff" would have an office job or supervisory role.  Heaven forfend he should ever get his hands dirty!  But "colleague" is better by far than "co-worker".

Another American import I can't stand is Starbucks.  This has nothing whatever to do with the company playing by the rules and therefore paying no Corporation Tax in the UK.  It's just that their coffee is the worst I have ever tasted.  Absolutely foul!  I don't like Costa Coffee or Cafe Nero either but they are marginally better.  There are no two ways about it: the best coffee is to be bought in France.  Sitting at a pavement cafe in the warm sun and sipping un café while watching the world go by!  Heaven!

Talking of France, it's time I got to the theme of the title.  The Old Bat gave up on the French-themed meals yesterday and slipped across the border into Italy.  We had spaghetti Bolognaise.  Followed by chocolate pudding.  Actually, the choc puds provided a very tenuous - even nebulous - French theme.  The French don't do choclate puddings; they don't do puddings full stop.  The nearest they get if moelleux au chocolat,which is basically a chocolate sponge with a runny centre.  We don't have it in England - except that our local Italian restaurant here in Patcham serves it described as chocolate truffle.  But to get back to the matter in hand.  Some years ago we stayed with the cousin of a fellow member of the congregation.  This cousin - Gary - and his wife - Wendy - had moved to France to breed showjumping horses.  To earn a few francs, they offered bed and breakfast, along with an optional evening meal.  We always opted for the meal as Wendy is a superb cook.  Wendy also had a market stall in several towns where she sold chocolate puddings to an increasingly regular clientele.  As I said, a very tenuous French connection.

~~~~~

That's better!  The view from the bedroom this morning:


But just to the left (or east):

Friday, 25 January 2013

I'm here

And you're there.

Which pretty well exhausts that topic of conversation.

~~~~~

The Old Bat managed to keep the French connection going with last night's meal: coq au vin.  I wonder if she'll manage it again tonight.

~~~~~

Have I ranted recently?  Perhaps not, so I'll indulge myself.  (And why shouldn't I?  After all. I am a cantankerous old x\#*!)

I got another one of those telephone calls yesterday, which makes three (or is it four?) so far this week.  All from the same company.  The person on the other end asks for me by name, and then introduced himself or herself by name and says (s)he is from Consumer (something) - doing research with a questionnaire that will take a couple of minutes.  Why is it that these calls always come at an inconvenient moment?  Not that I have any intention of answering their questions anyway.

We do have caller identification on our phone but that is of no use if the caller is using an ex-directory phone (like my brother) or if the call comes from abroad when the ID reads "International call.  Number unavailable".  We subscribe to the Telephone Preference Service which means that we get very, very few cold sales calls from English-based companies but that doesn't work with people calling from overseas.  And companies have learned to get round that by not selling but simply carrying out research or a survey.

There was a time when we got so infuriated by these wretched calls that we decided not to answer any international calls.  As luck would have it, I forgot and did answer the next one - and it was from Sue, the lady who looks after our French house.  So we started answering those calls again.

But those Consumer something people are a blooming nuisance!

~~~~~

We' ve still got ice rather than snow although down in the valley most of it has gone.  The Downs look white still.  Pity the sky is such a dull grey.


Thursday, 24 January 2013

I shouldn't be here

Indeed, as I sit here typing this I should be sitting in my car reading a history of the First World War as we hurtle under the English Channel towards la belle France.  That's the beauty of the Chunnel, although when it was first proposed I was adamant that I would never use it.  Now, however, I am a convert.  Granted, it seems much better organised than the Channel ferry ports (and I've used quite a number in my time) and the crossing is so much quicker at just 35 minutes compared to a minimum of an hour and a quarter.  The big thing in its favour as far as I am concerned is that we stay in the car.  Now that the Old Bat has mobility challenges, it makes for a much easier crossing for her.  But that's all by the bye.

As I said, I shouldn't be here.  We had planned to travel over today to hide away for a week and to stock up on the usual - wine, coffee, cheese and so on - while enjoying a bit of the different life-style.  However, the OB became a little anxious about the snow and I was unable to persuade her that we were most unlikely to become stuck either en route or once we reached La Prévière.  So, like the gentleman I am, I bowed to her wishes.  And here I am, typing a fresh load of drivel instead of heading towards my favourite restaurant where we would certainly have eaten tomorrow.

The OB's idea of a sop to Cerberus was to prepare cassoulet for last night's dinner on the grounds that if we couldn't go to France, France could at least come to our table.  So, pork and beans it was - and the pork was English, not French!

Hey ho, here are the (newish) red and white check tablecloths at Au Vieux Castel, which is where we should have been eating tomorrow.  The photo was taken while sitting at our usual table - beside a heater!


Wednesday, 23 January 2013

More anniversaries

I told you yesterday that it was the 10th anniversary of Les Lavandes being a little piece on Anjou returned to English control.  There have been other anniversaries this month which I have overlooked either because I forgot all about them or because I don't recall the exact date.  For example, it was somewhere at the beginning of January 1953 - ie 60 years ago - that my brother and I were sent away to school.  Before anyone gets any funny ideas about my family being rich enough to afford boarding school - or about my brother and I being sufficiently badly behaved to need approved school - let me hasten to disabuse you of either notion.  My brother and I were sickly children suffering badly from asthma and it was decided our health would benefit from living in the clean air of the Isle of Wight rather than the polluted air of the Medway towns.  The school in question was a charitable establishment for delicate children run by nuns.

Another anniversary was picked up by my daily rag although I saw nothing on television.  This was the 150th anniversary of the world's first underground passenger railway.  The Metropolitan Line ran from Praed Street to Farringdon Road in London.  I can't imagine it was a particularly pleasant means of travel given that the engines were steam-powered, but it has led to underground railways, sometimes called the Metro after the first one, being built in cities all over the world.  I know I'm going off at something of a tangent, but I find it staggering that the map of London's underground railway lines issued in the 1930s is still basically the one used today - with the addition of the new and extended lines.  It is also the inspiration for many other maps of underground railways.  And what a classic of simplicity it is.


That is the original map above, while this (below) is the current version.


This month also sees my cousin David reaching his big seven-oh.  David and I don't see very much of each other these days, partly due to him living in Rome, but there was a time when we saw each other a lot. We get on very well - we generally have done all our lives - but there were a couple of occasions when fights broke out between us.  I have vague memories of David and I rolling around the playground at our junior school with most of the other boys standing around watching us trying to beat each other to pulp.  What caused the fight and how it ended are now not simply shrouded in the mists of time (to coin a phrase) but completely lost to all human cognizance. 

The second occasion on which we fought was officially blessed in that it was a boxing match.  We must have been about 13 and in the same form at school when our gym master decided to introduce boxing to the curriculum.  After ages of undertaking exercises while dancing on our toes, we were eventually allowed to place four benches to form a square and to select boxing gloves that more or less fitted.  Then we paired off with another pupil of similar height.  David and I managed to pair off. and we were, I believe, the first pair to enter the ring.  As we did so, David whispered to me, "Throw a punch as hard as you can".  This puzzled me, as neither he nor I were keen on this so-called sport, but I did as he asked.  Whereupon David leapt out of the ring, rushed out of the school hall (which doubled at the gym) and along the corridor - with me hard on his heels.  We did a circuit of the school before re-entering the hall and then the ring.  David immediately fell to the ground as if my punch had connected while I stood over him with both hands raised in triumph.

We never saw the boxing gloves again.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Completion day (reprise)

Ten years ago today I attended the office of the notaire who was handling the transfer to us of what was to become our French getaway house.  I have published this before but felt that a re-run would be in order in honour of the anniversary.

~~~~~

Maitre Legrand's office that morning was even more crowded than Monsieur Detroit's (the estate agent) had been when we exchanged contracts. I was a good five minutes early, but even so I managed to arrive last, to find an assortment of chairs from baroque to bentwood arranged theatre style in front of Maitre Legrand's imposing desk. I was ushered to my place in the front row of the stalls by the modern French equivalent of Uriah Heep. Seated to my left, on the opposite side of the aisle, were Monsieur and Madame Erlanger (the vendors), while on my right was a nondescript lady of indeterminate age. She introduced herself, but she was so immediately forgettable that I cannot for the life of me remember her name. It might have been Hermione, Hydrangea or just plain Mary. I gathered that she was English and was there to act as my guide and interpreter. Behind the Erlangers was Monsieur Detroit, while sitting behind me was another man who might have been dragged in off the street for all I know. He was never introduced to me, nor was his function explained. Uriah Heep sat on Maitre Legrand's right to pass him the papers as they were needed, while to Maitre Legrand's left sat his secretary. I didn't manage to fathom out quite why she was needed, but perhaps Maitre Legrand did nothing unless she was present to record the proceedings.

Maitre Legrand started the proceedings by clearing his throat in a particularly French way, though if I was asked to explain the difference between the French way and the English, I would have to admit defeat. It just sounded particularly French at the time. It was his responsibility as a representative of the French state to see that everything was done according to the book. This involved reading aloud what seemed like the entire Old Testament. I gathered that he was actually detailing the past owners of the land, from whom Mrs S and I would derive a good title. There was a little difficulty as he started becoming a little impatient with the interpreter. After every couple of paragraphs or so, he would stop so that she could provide me with a translation. But Maitre Legrand must have been in a hurry to get to a lunch appointment, because he started reading again before the previous translation was complete. This meant that the interpreter failed to hear everything and had to ask for bits to be repeated, which made Maitre Legrand even more impatient.

Eventually, Maitre Legrand finished reading and it was time for me to say "I do", or something similar. After that, Monsieur Erlanger had to sign each one of several hundred sheets, affirming aloud with each signature that the contents of the page were true and correct. I had to do it twice: once for me, and once as attorney for Mrs S. Maitre L handed cheques to Monsieur Detroit (his firm's commission) and Monsieur Erlanger, the latter being quickly grabbed by his wife and stuffed into her handbag. I was handed three large bunches of outsize keys.

I had read all the books and magazine articles, so I knew what would happen next: we would all decamp into a bar and celebrate the completion of the deal, during the process of which Monsieur Erlanger and his wife would become my bosom friends and come over to cut the grass for me every week (except that we don't have any grass).

Well, I don't know about all those authors, but it didn't happen like that for me. Maitre Legrand and his secretary hurried off to their lunch engagement. Monsieur Detroit positively raced back to his car. Monsieur Erlanger stomped off frowning, with the walnut scurrying along three paces behind him, clutching her handbag to her chest as if it contained the crown jewels (though I don't suppose France has any crown jewels). Uriah Heep wrung his hands and vanished into the basement. The unknown man who had been sitting behind me lit a cigarette and strolled off down the street with his hands in his pockets, whistling cheerfully but tunelessly. The interpreter, whatever her name was – I wish I could remember it, coughed delicately and vanished in a puff of smoke. Actually, it was exhaust fumes from her car which had been parked right outside the office. So it was that I was left standing on the pavement, alone, and with three enormous bunches of outsize keys hanging from my left hand. My right hand was half outstretched as I was fully expecting to shake hands with everybody before going to the bar. In fact, I had shaken hands with nobody. And  I couldn't even call Mrs S on mobile as she was incommunicado in the school library. What a let down!

~~~~~

Cheers!  The Old Bat with friends Jane and Bruce.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Let them eat cake

Or horse.  Or pig.

There has been something of a furore recently after the discovery that beefburgers sold by a number of supermarkets, often under their own-name brands, contained a significant quantity of horse meat, in several cases as much as 27%.  There were also found traces of pork.  Understandably, Jews and Muslims have been distressed that they may have eaten meat from pigs but as this was completely unintentional and, indeed, through no fault of theirs, I am sure their God will show mercy on them.

What most people have found distressing is the idea that they have eaten horse meat.

(Short digression: you notice that we say "horse meat" whereas most of the meat we eat has different names from the animals.  Cow meat is beef, pigs give pork and sheep give lamb or mutton.)

What the majority of people seem to have overlooked is, to my mind, far more important.  How did this pass inspection?  If unwanted meat can so easily find its way into the chain, how can we be sure that all the meat is actually fit for human consumption?   Then, of course, there is the fact that somebody somewhere in the chain has passed off cheap horse meat as the more expensive beef - which is fraud.  But to most people it is simply the fact that they may have eaten horse that is the cause of their distress.

English people - townies, at any rate - are peculiarly sensitive about what meat they will eat.  If it comes from an animal that they might have kept as a pet - rabbit, dog, cat or horse - it will not be eaten.  Personally, I have no such hang-ups.  Well, almost no such hang-ups.  I'm not sure that I would be very anxious to eat dog or cat, let alone squirrel, hedgehog or (shudder) rat.  I have never knowingly eaten horse but I might have done as I have eaten steak tartare in Paris.  The Old Bat refuses to touch veal because she sees in her mind's eye calves penned tightly out of the daylight so as to keep the meat pale.  My protestations that English veal is not raised this way cuts no ice with her.

One of my sons has never been able to eat venison since we had a barbecue on my cousin's farm.  Venison burgers (made on the farm) were being grilled while, over the fence, the remainder of the deer herd grazed quietly. 

Then there was the Easter that we visited to find two delightful Jersey calves, Crocus and Splodge (don't ask me: I didn't name them!).  These creatures were an instant hit with my young daughter.  By the time of our next visit only Crocus was there.  My cousin's three children and our two boys were sworn to silence about the origin of the roast beef that Liza served.  As always, we visited the farm shop and brought away a quantity of meat: venison, mutton if there is any, and beef.  A few Sundays later, we were sitting at the table with roast beef when daughter raises her fork with a piece of beef impaled.

"Is this Splodge we're eating?"

We sheepishly confirmed that it was.

"Tastes good, doesn't it?"

~~~~~

So this morning's challenge was a walkover.  No, I didn't have to walk to the dentist.  The buses were running their normal service.  At least, the one I was interested in was, so up with the ladder, Jack!  And by some chance, my jaw was back to normal when I woke.  The dentist couldn't explain it either, and he could see nothing wrong.

~~~~~

The snow is melting and the grit a neighbour has put on our road has worked.  If I can clear the drive and across to the wheel tracks in the road this afternoon, I should be able to get the car out tomorrow for a trip to the doctor, another to the supermarket and yet another to the vet!

~~~~~

The woos seemed very monochrome this morning - until i spotted a splash of colour almost hidden.


Sunday, 20 January 2013

Tomorrow's challenge

Half past four in the afternoon and it's still snowing.  It has been snowing steadily all day and although I cleared the front steps yesterday - and two wheel tracks down the drive in the over-optimistic hope that I might soon get the car on the road - it is now impossible to see any difference between the cleared bits and the uncleared.  About eight this morning I saw a guy from up the road drive his Range Rover up, stopping every so often to shovel grit from the back.  But he needn't have bothered - it's completely buried by now.  It was about lunchtime that buses started running fairly near to us and the 5B is apparently still going, albeit by a different route from usual.  The service 26 has been withdrawn "due to deteriorating conditions on Ditchling Road".

And so we come to my challenge for tomorrow.  I have an appointment with my dentist at five past noon.  This is a follow-up to my pre-Christmas appointment when he attached a temporary crown to a tooth pending the manufacture of a permanent one.  This would not normally take a month, but my dentist commutes between England and Malta (I must pay him too much) and he has been spending four weeks on the island.  Tomorrow is his first day back at work - if he manages to get back to England.  Many flights to and from England have been cancelled because of the weather.  It's not just the snow, the visibility is very low as well.

My challenge is to get to the dentist's surgery, which is on the other side of the city.  On normal conditions I would estimate the walking time between my house and the Blatchington Road surgery as about an hour and a half, maybe a bit more.  I would usually drive, but that's not likely to be an option.  Failing that, I can catch a bus about a quarter of a mile from the house and get off only a couple of hundred yards from the dentist's.  I have no idea how long the journey would take but I would guess at about 40 or 45 minutes.  If the buses are running.

In other circumstances I would be tempted to defer the appointment but things are such that I need to see a dentist.  And soon.  I think I have developed an abscess as I am unable to close my upper and lower sets to chew.  Which makes eating difficult.  Very difficult.  I was most annoyed yesterday not to be able to eat the gammon steak for dinner, and the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding will not be gracing my plate this evening.  I have subsisted on spaghetti in tomato sauce and biscuits which dissolve when sucked long enough with the occasional cube of chocolate to provide variety.  Tonight, the Old Bat will boil my potatoes (so I can mash them) instead of roasting (which I much prefer) and she has offered to purée the vegetables.  Dessert will be a mousse.  As we are due to go to France on Thursday you will understand my anxiety to get this matter cleared up.

So I will get up a little earlier than usual - just in case.  After walking the dog I will ring the surgery to see if there is a dentist available to see me.  I will then check to see if the buses are running and, if they are, what route they are using.  If there are no buses I will set off at about 10, quoting Captain Oates' famous words: "I may be some time".

Sneaky shopping tricks

We generally make two trips a week to supermarkets interposed with occasional visits to real butchers as we refuse to buy meat from supermarkets.  I say "we" make the trips but that's not really the case.  It used to be that the Old Bat would visit Asda on Tuesday afternoons while I walked the dog but somehow that has become a double-handed shopping trip with me tagging along.

The Friday shopping trip is different.  This involves a visit to Sainsbury's over in Hove and is usually done by the Old Bat alone on her way home from the MS Treatment Centre.  If for some reason I have driven her to Southwick, I pop back to Sainsbury's and do the shopping before picking her up again.

I am, of course, well aware that supermarkets use all kinds of devices to increase their turnover, such as placing small items like packets of chewing gum by the tills to entice people to add one to their shopping.  Even the musak is carefully chosen to induce the right mood in shoppers, something which I still have difficulty in getting my mind around.  I also watch out for the trick where a pack of two items works out to be more expensive than buying two of those same items separately.  The Old Bat is well tuned in to all those tricks but there is one that I cannot persuade her is not a give-away but a device to get her to spend more money at Sainsbury's.  That is the "price match" coupon.

Asda is about the only supermarket I ever use where one is not snowed under by an avalanche of tickets at the check-out, tickets offering double points on particular goods (or sometimes your whole shop) or 50p off lingerie and so on.  But there is only one that I know of where shoppers are given a coupon for money off their next shop because another supermarket has a lower price on goods one has bought.  The Old Bat comes away from Sainsbury's moaning that her coupon is for only 3p or exclaiming with delight that her price-match coupon is for £1.14.  In vain do I try to explain to her that this is a way by which Sainsbury's entice her into their shop again within the seven-day validity of the coupon.  If they really wanted her to buy the goods from them at the same price as she would pay at Tesco or Asda, they should reduce their price to match.

And it seems so obvious to me.

~~~~~

Hey ho, it's snowing again.  I would like to upload a picture of snow-covered hills under a brilliant cerulian sky but here in England we never get a blue sky when there's snow on the ground.  And as I have taken no such pictures on my trips to Switzerland, this will have to suffice.  Seen through half-closed eyes, this view of Tenaya Lake in Yosemite does look as though there is snow on the ground.  Actually, it's bare rock.




Saturday, 19 January 2013

I'm glad I didn't give away the Scotch

Don't get me wrong: I don't have a drinking problem.  I'm not saying I don't drink.  I'm not saying I have never been drunk.  And I'm not saying that I wasn't getting close to having a drinking problem at one time.  But I do like a drink, especially a glass of wine with my dinner in the evening.  In fact, that glass of wine is really a glass and a half.  Between us, the Old Bat and I consume a bottle of wine every two days.  Hardly excessive, I would have thought.  And that was the view of my consultant rheumatologist.  Back in September he put me on a different drug - methotrexate - to combat arthritis, which had pretty much crippled me for the better part of three months last summer.  Now, methotrexate has a pretty high potential toxicity as far as the liver is concerned and I was asked about my drinking habits when the drug was first being prescribed.  The consultant considered that a glass and a half of wine a day was within bounds.  I voluntarily stopped drinking a lunch-time glass with the bread and cheese when we were in France and I also gave up the (occasional) Scotch and water nightcap.

Because of the potential damage that methotrexate can cause to the liver, my GP would prescribe only sufficient of the drug to last a month.  Before each renewal of the prescription I had to have a blood test.  The first (before I started on the drug) showed no problems.  The one after I had taken the drug for a month also showed no problems, but the next showed an increase in one measurement which, while still within acceptable bounds, needed watching.  Then the test done just before Christmas showed that measurement almost off the scale.  My GP stopped prescribing methotrexate immediately and I made arrangements to have a further blood test at the beginning of this week.  As luck would have it, I was also due to see the consultant again and the results of the blood test were available for him.  That measurement was back within bounds again, much to my relief.

The consultant and I between us decided that as I have had nary a twinge since coming off the methotrexate almost a month ago, we would just monitor the situation, asking my GP, who I am due to see this coming week, to prescribe simple anti-inflammatory  drugs such as those I was on before, these to be taken (also as before) as and when I consider necessary.  Which is good news as it means I can go back to that lunchtime glass when in France.

And that is why I am glad I didn't give away the Scotch.

~~~~~

When I woke this morning I hoped it had all been a bad dream, but no, we still have three or four inches of snow.  Guess who'll be walking to Asda?

~~~~~

When buying at the French market you need something to carry the goods in.  How about one of these colourful bags on one of the stalls?




Friday, 18 January 2013

South Downs

The Downs as seen from the bedroom window just after lunch today.  They are out there somewhere.


Snowed in

The fields were green when I sat down to my muesli but by the time I got up from the table everywhere was already white.  It has been snowing steadily all day and by 11.30 we were snowed in as far as vehicles are concerned.  It doesn't help that the road to our house is a steep hill and the drive is even steeper - about 1 in 4!  I had thought that the council would keep the roads open for buses but it seems the snow has been too much for them.  (It doesn't take much.)  We live on the borders of Patcham and Hollingbury - served by the 5B and 26 buses.














The Old Bat would usually have gone to the MS Centre this morning but cried off.  We also decided we had enough basic foodstuffs to defer the regular Friday shopping trip until tomorrow - although it might mean I have to walk to the shop about a mile and a bit away.  We shall see.

The Biskers - the winner

Maybe it's something to do with my age, but it seems to me that the golden era of the situation comedy was back in the 1970s and 1980s.  None of the recent shows have seemed at all funny to me.  But, as I said, maybe that is something to do with my age.  And I have to say that very few of the American sit-coms aired on our televisions have amused me.  There was one, I remember, with Lucille Ball and Dick van Dyke which was fairly amusing but nowhere near reaching the short list for the BISCAs.

While I have been mulling this over in my mind, several shows which I had forgotten about have surfaced in my memory, although in most cases I can recall little about them other than their names!  Oddly enough, though, there are twp sit-coms from way back that I do recall with pleasure although it seems that very few others remember them at all.  There was After Henry, starring Prunella Scales, and A Fine Romance with husband and wife team Michael Williams and Judi Dench.  And there were shows such as The Liver Birds and The Likely Lads.  All good, clean fun and well worth watching.

Most, in fact all of the shows I have mentioned are the sort to raise a smile and a chuckle rather than a belly laugh.  Perhaps among the best known belly-laugh-producing shows is one of the earliest television sit-coms, Steptoe and Son.  And we mustn't forget Fawlty Towers or Only Fools and Horses.

To my mind, the best sit-coms are not necessarily those which produce belly laughs.  Some of the perhaps gentler shows which rely on less farcical humour and more on wit are those which I can watch time after time - and often see something I had missed before.  There are two outstanding shows like that: Dad's Army and As Time Goes By.

And the winner is:

As Time Goes By, starring Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer.

I was going to insert a YouTube clip but there are simply too many to choose from.  Do have a look if you don't know this show.

~~~~~

Yet another shot of the French market; this time, the olive stall.


Thursday, 17 January 2013

The Biskers, part the second

Yesterday I introduced you to the idea of the Brighton Situation Comedy Awards, the BSCAs or Biskers.  Today I should like to tell you what the judging panel will be looking for when deciding which show to honour with this prestigious award.

Judging panel, huh!  There is only one member of the panel: me.

And you might be wondering what form the presentation will take and where it will be held.  Well now, I had been thinking of the coffee stall beside the roundabout at the junction of the A23 and the A27.  It seemed a reasonably accessible place with sufficient parking but there was one major snag.  If the weather on the day of the awards ceremony should turn out to be inclement, the crowds would be sheltering under just one large umbrella as this is basically an open air venue.  So I had second thoughts and have settled on the caff just beyond the Pylons on the A23.  Granted, it's on the southbound carriageway so attendees will need to drive up to Pyecombe and turn to come back to it.  But if it were on the other side, attendees would need to drive to Pyecombe to return home.  Anyway, there should be just about enough parking - and it is an indoor venue.

We (that's the royal "we") are in discussion with a number of celebrities and it is too soon as yet to announce who will be presenting the awards.  I am hoping that the evening's star attraction will be an actor from Porridge.  He was in the episode were Fletcher was admitted to the prison hospital and played the part of the man in the fourth bed on the left.  It was a speaking part, although I have to admit that his only line was to call, "Nurse!"

Oh dear, I've run out of time again and I still haven't explained what the judges will be looking for.  Well, there's always tomorrow.

~~~~~

Still wandering around the French market in Southwick Square.  Just look at these strawberry tartlets.


Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The BSCAs

You've heard of the Oscars, the Golden Globes and, possibly, the BAFTAs.  I am introducing a one-off awards ceremony known as the BSCAs, or Biskers.  But before we get to the awards ceremony, let me tell you a little of the background to the Biskers.

Some two, three or four years ago - I am unable to be too exact as my memory is fading faster and faster as my age increases, also faster and faster it seems - anyway, back then the Old Bat and I found that night after night we were sitting twiddling our thumbs and staring at a dark television screen.  Like so many of our generation - and, indeed, the following generations - we were quite unable to amuse ourselves with conversation or cards or by making music ourselves and we would sit gazing vacantly at the flickering images presented to us by one or other of the television broadcasters.  Except that we had found ourselves with nothing, absolutely nothing, that we wanted to watch.  On any of the 734 (or however many there are) channels.  That was when I started buying box sets of situation comedies.  My purchasing habits have extended a little and have recently included past television drama series and the occasional film.  Deciding on my most recent purchase was a tad difficult.  Should it be that 1970s drama, Colditz, or the sit-com from about the same time, Open All HoursColditz won, but it set me thinking (which is always a dangerous thing).  What, I wondered would I say was the best situation comedy of all time?  And so we have the Brighton Situation Comedy Awards, the Biskers.  But what, you ask, are the requirements for a show to be short-listed?  In fact, is there a short list?

Let's start with the second question as the answer to that is considerably shorter than the answer to the first.  No.  Well, not yet.

It is at this point that my intention was to launch into a full explanation of what attributes a show would need to display in order to be considered for the short list.  Unfortunately, I am unable to do so for two reasons:
  1. I haven't yet worked out just what those attributes should be; and
  2. I have an appointment with my consultant rheumatologist and need to leave almost right now.
It may be that those of an unkind disposition will read that second reason as an appointment with the men in white coats, but we'll let that pass.

~~~~~

To continue our mooch around the French market, we visit the baker's stall.  He has more than just bread on display.  There are also these rather tempting patisseries and charcuteries.


Tuesday, 15 January 2013

He probably was guilty, but...

I don't know if it is inscribed in the Magna Carta, specified in an Act of Parliament or simply accepted as part of the unwritten common law of England, but the understanding is that any person is innocent until proven guilty.  And that's the nub: proven guilty by either a bench of magistrates or a jury consisting of twelve persons selected at random.  That is what is leaving a nasty taste in my mouth in connection with Jimmy Savile, OK, that as well as the other.

For the benefit of readers of this blog who come from a different planet, sorry, country, I should explain the background to my comments.  Jimmy Savile - Sir Jimmy Savile, OBE - died in October 2011.  He had started out as a DJ and became a television presenter on Top of the Pops as well as Jim'll Fix It, a show in which the dreams of children were fulfilled.  Always dressed outrageously... exotically... and driving a pink Rolls Royce with a trademark cigar, Jimmy was considered a true English eccentric.  He served as a volunteer porter at a hospital in Leeds, a visitor at Broadmoor secure psychiatric hospital and at Stoke Mandeville hospital for paraplegics.  He raised millions on sponsored runs etc, hence the OBE and then the knighthood.  However, after his death allegations were made that Jimmy Savile had, over many years, sexually abused young girls and hospital patients, especially at Broadmoor.

It was not long before the number of people making such allegations had moved into three figures and the media had accepted that Savile was guilty.  A number of investigations have been launched and, at the end of last week, the official report of the Metropolitan Police Service and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was published.  I have not read the whole report, but I can say that paragraph 4 of the introduction states that the investigation "collated all the allegations against Savile, irrespective of where the offences took place".

That is an official report and in one sentence at the beginning of the report it moves from "allegations" to "offences".  And Jimmy Savile has never been found guilty of any of these allegations.

I'm not saying that all or, indeed, any of the people making the allegations are hoaxers, jumping on a bandwagon in the hope that something might accrue to their benefit.  Nor am I suggesting that Jimmy Savile was whiter than the driven snow: indeed, I suspect he was guilty as hell.  But neither he nor anybody else can give his side of the story; he cannot be proved guilty in accordance with the law of the country.  That's what leaves the nasty taste in my mouth; the fact that anybody can, after their death, be considered guilty as a result of unproved allegations.

~~~~~

Got the phone fixed but only by ringing the customer service centre from the shop.  And nobody tried to sell me a new phone!

~~~~~

We occasionally have an invasion of French market traders who set up a French market for a day, selling such delicacies as bread, olives, cheese etc.  And other things, like these table cloths.


Monday, 14 January 2013

Thrs a thng

Although I have owned a mobile phone for many years, I have yet to use it to send a text message.  I suppose in all honesty I should admit that I rarely use it to make a phone call - and never to receive calls.  In fact, the phone is rarely switched on - and we make a point of not telling people the number.  I have no wish to receive a raft of calls like the one we received some years ago when we were driving to the south of France.  I forget now just why the phone had been switched on: possibly I half expected a call to say that my mother had been taken ill or something along those lines.  Anyway, we received several calls, all of which seemed to come from the same person.  I can't be dogmatic about that as it was the Old Bat who answered as I was driving at the time.  Eventually, she told the caller to delete our number as it was costing both him and us a fortune - and no, Cathy wasn't able to come to the phone and no, neither of us was going to the football that evening.  I nearly flipped when the bill came and I saw what it had cost me to receive all those calls I didn't want.  Nowadays I switch the phone on when we are in France - once a day, just to check.  And that's about the only time I use it - to make a booking at the village restaurant if I can't face trying to track down Nicholas and, if I'm successful, get away from him in under half an hour.

As I was saying, I have never sent a text message.  I've never seen the need - but that is about to change.  We were told on the lookerers course on Saturday that after we have checked sheep, we should send a text message confirming all is well and advising the voltage and pulse rate of the electric fence.  I told the chief honcho that I would need instruction on sending text messages, which gave rise to general laughter.  Head honcho pointed out that the web site specifically says that one requirement of becoming a lookerer is sending texts.  I politely corrected him and told him that the web site says it is a requirement that lookerers have mobile phones; it says nothing about sending text messages.

Yesterday, younger son and granddaughter arrived for lunch so I took the opportunity of sending him a text - just to make sure I knew what I was doing.  It went very well, considering, right up until after I saw the screen saying that my message was being sent.  Then the on-screen message changed to read, "Message failed".  We tried all sorts to get my mobile to send a text message, to no avail.

As it happens, my mobile phone company has a shop in Brighton.  I will hie me there this afternoon and no doubt some spotty-faced underage geek will give me a scornful look and sort the problem in 30 seconds flat or he will look at my ancient mobile phone and try to sell me a newer model.

~~~~~

This peaceful scene is a mile or so down the road from our French house.


Sunday, 13 January 2013

Something I've learned

If one holds down the "Alt Gr" and presses the "e" key, this comes up: é.  An "e" with a cute accent!  It works with the other four vowels as well.

I still don't know how to get a grave accent or a circumflex straight from the keyboard.

Lookering

I'm pleased to announce that I am now a qualified lookerer having attended the course yesterday.  You've never heard of lookering?  There is a suggestion that "lookerer" is a Sussex word and I must agree that it sounds like it.  I first heard - or rather, read - it about a couple of months back on another blog.  Although the meaning seemed pretty obvious given the context in which the word was used, I nevertheless looked it up in my dictionary.  This is not the world's most comprehensive (English) dictionary - the New Oxford Dictionary - but it is no pocket-sized volume either.  The word wasn't there.  I Goggled it and the first results led me to the web site of Brighton & Hove City Council which confirmed what I thought.  A lookerer is basically a stock watcher (with "stock" as in livestock) and, in the case of BHCC, a volunteer part-time shepherd.  The Council, I discovered, were wanting to recruit more lookerers.  It sounded an interesting thing to do, so I applied.  One of the requirements is that would-be lookerers attend a one-day course.  As I said at the start, I attended the course yesterday.

The city of Brighton & Hove has within its boundaries a number of areas of rare ancient grassland, unimproved pasture which is the habitat of numerous flowers and insects found only on this particular type of land.  In order to conserve this centuries-old sheep pasture, the Council has contracted with a sheep farmer for him to provide animals to graze the appropriate areas.  These are generally small pockets of land and are scattered around the edges of the city so it would be impractical for the farmer to attempt to visit all his stock with suitable frequency.  In view of the locations, the rangers and farmer have agreed that visits should be made to each site twice daily when sheep are grazing there.

So the course covered the theory of how this pasture came about, why it is important to conserve it, common sheep ailments and how to spot them, sheep and the law.  Then the afternoon was spent on the sheep farm near Lewes where we learned the intricacies of electric fence netting and how to handle sheep.

I found it all most interesting and the farm is in a delightful situation at the opening of a valley running back into the Downs.  Unfortunately, that means that the recent rains have rund off the hills into the yard - which is now covered in mud up to six inches deep, some thick and glutinous, some sloppy and watery.  Fortunately I was wearing wellies but those who wore hiking boots came away with wet, dirty feet.

Now I wait to see when my first live lookering is due.

~~~~~

These sheep on Clayton Hill seem happy enough.


Saturday, 12 January 2013

Is your signal really necessary?

I have been following with interest the correspondence in the magazine of the Institute of Advanced Motorists concerning the idea that there are times when it is not necessary to signal one's intention to turn.  This correspondence has been dragging on for ages as the magazine is only published four times a year.  What I witnessed the other day was, I suggest, an occasion when a signal really was superfluous.  I was walking along the pavement when the driver of a car parked thirty yards or more ahead of me and facing the direction in which I was walking, started to indicate his intention to pull away from the kerb.  I was the only pedestrian in sight, there were no other parked vehicles within a hundred yards and there were no moving vehicles in sight.  That driver probably flicked on his indicators before even checking for other traffic, doing so as an automatic thing.

OK, so that is an extreme example, but I seldom indicate my intention to turn right at the crossroads at the end of our road.  I have to give way so any driver of the major road will probably be completely uninterested in what my movements will be: I have to wait for him to pass before doing anything.  However, if another vehicle is approaching the junction from the road opposite me, then I signal.  I do the same if there are pedestrians who will need to know my plans.

The argument is that signalling a proposed turn should be a conscious action, not something that is done automatically.  It should be an action taken only after the situation has been assessed, almost a reminder that an assessment is needed.  A reminder to look specifically for other road users and pedestrians.  Yes, I can see the other person's point of view, that signalling intentions is so important that it should be an automatic action, but I still prefer my way.

On the other hand, one of my biggest gripes is about people who fail to signal.  If I am waiting to join a roundabout and the driver of a car already on it fails to signal his intention to leave by my road, I often lose the opportunity to pull away.

But don't let me get started or I'll never stop!

~~~~~

Following on from yesterday's picture, here is another of the River Adur, at low tide this time.


Friday, 11 January 2013

Pass the.. er... um...

I don't know if it was a result of research by scientists or just the opinion of a newspaper feature writer, but it was suggested this week that the best time for married couples (and unmarried couples as well, I suppose) to chat, discuss matters and make decisions is over breakfast.  Whether it was a group of scientists or one solitary writer who came up with that premise, they or he had never visited my house at breakfast time.  I suppose when we were in the first flush of married life, when the stars of love were still in our eyes, we might have taken breakfast together - but that was many years since.  For much of my working life I had left home long before the Old Bat placed foot on floor.  Things are not so very much different now I'm retired.  I rouse myself to shower and dress, then see to the dog and take out yesterday's newspaper and any other items destined for recycling while the kettle boils and the coffee machine burbles.  Pour the tea and take it upstairs.  After that, I eat my muesli (or bite-sized Shredded Wheat depending on which I am "on" at the time), drink a cup of coffee and glance at the front page of the paper.  Madam might get up while I am washing up the few bits or - as seems to be happening increasingly frequently - she might decide she wants another half an hour in bed which usually means another hour at least.

Breakfast when we are in France is different.  Over there I still take her a cup of tea and then I read a book while I drink mine.  Once the Old Bat has reached the shower room I switch on the coffee machine, then I wait until she is getting dressed before I depress the toaster in the hope - usually a vain hope - that the toast will pop just as Madam enters the kitchen for breakfast.  That was the general scheme of things up until the visit before last.  It was then that the extra half-hour business started and on our last visit it happened every day.  So I started eating my breakfast toast and marmalade in splendid isolation before driving off to buy fresh bread for lunch.

But I can't imagine us holding any sort of meaningful discussion at the breakfast table even if we were there together.  The Old Bat just isn't a morning person.  If we could hear each other over the crunching of cereal and the scraping of the burnt bits of the toast, any conversation would probably run along disjointed lines akin to this:

"Pass the... er... um..., please."

"Good heavens, look at this!" (reading the newspaper). "Sorry, what was that you said?"

"I've dropped a pill."

"The butter?  Oh, you want the marmalade.  What colour?"

"Mind the thingy doesn't get it."

"It's alright, the dog doesn't like marmalade but she'll grab your toast if you drop that...  There's a repeat of that show we liked tonight.  But it starts at half seven so I'll record it, shall I?"

~~~~~

I see that a 12 month ago, over the Christmas and New Year period and well into January, I was taking the Old Bat to her oxygen treatment sessions on Fridays and would grab the opportunity to take pictures in the Shoreham area.  Like this one of Lancing College, seen from Mill Hill across the River Adur. The Gothic revival chapel is said to be the largest school chapel in the world. The school was founded in 1848.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Enough of your blarney!

When I think back and picture myself in my early teens I hardly recognise the boy I see: shy, retiring, timid even.  Certainly not a young man full of easy confidence in himself.  Not that I'm claiming to be full of confidence even now, but I am certainly not afraid to stand up in front of a crowd of strangers and say my piece.  I hope I'm not considered verbose even though I am often the first to speak on a matter raised at a Lions meeting.  I do try to let others start the discussion but very often everybody else seems reluctant to do so.  If I don't say something, nobody else will either!  (I nearly used the word loquacious instead of verbose but decided it's just that little bit less derogatory.)

If I am not verbose, then neither do I consider that I have the gift of the gab.  Verbosity and the gift of the gab are often seen as synonyms although to my mind they are not quite that.  Verbosity, to me, is when somebody just can't stop themselves talking even though what they are saying is not entirely relevant or to the point.  The gift of the gab, on the other hand, indicates to me a useful propensity for saying the right thing at the right time - and not necessarily using hundreds of words to do that.  Eloquence would be another word to describe almost exactly what I mean.

Another near synonym would be blarney, but that is reserved almost exclusively for the Irish and implies, to my mind, a generous helping of over-the-top flattery.  Just why every Irishman is considered to have kissed the Blarney Stone is something I have never discovered.  Oh, did you not know that?  The Blarney Stone really does exist.  Blarney is a small town in southern Ireland not far from Cork.  Blarney Castle dates from medieval times and is now little more than a ruin.  It is there, high in the walls, that you will find the world-famous Blarney Stone.  To kiss it, one needs to lie on one's back with one's head sticking out over a gap (with a considerable drop), lean down and back to kiss a stone in the opposite wall.  And not just any stone; only the Blarney Stone counts.

The Old Bat and I took a holiday in Ireland back in about 1967 or 8 and it was then that I kissed the Blarney Stone - and here is the photographic proof!


And while we're on old pictures, here's another of the Old Bat.  She must have been about three - and no, that's not me holding her hand!



Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Young love

The Old Bat was just replacing the phone when I arrived home on Monday morning after my meeting with the accountants.

"That was Maggie B.  She rang to tell me my picture is in The Argus today."

(The Argus is the "local" newspaper, originally for Brighton but nowadays more of a general Sussex paper.)

She went on, "It was when I was May Queen back in 1959.  Something to do with the 30th Brighton Scouts."

And that, she claimed, was all she could remember about the occasion when the local paper first published her picture.  Do I need to tell you that I rushed round to our nearest newsagent's shop, despite having been banned from the premises (but that's another story), and bought a copy of the paper?  And there it was, the picture of the Old Bat - on the nostalgia page.  (Where else?)  "Does anyone know this smiling May Queen?" asked the paper.  The Old Bat is adamant that her name should not be divulged so I have not rung the paper.  I had hoped the picture would be on their web site but so far it has not appeared so I have scanned it.

Seeing the picture, which dates from before I first met the Old Bat, reminded me of those early days in our relationship.

We met in the banking hall of a branch of Midland Bank.  The Old Bat - but she was still a Young Bat then - and I both worked for Barclays Bank but at different branches.  In those days, junior members of the staff of banks within a small area met every morning to exchange cheques drawn on those other bank branches that had been paid in by account holders; it was called local clearing.  It so happened that the branches at which we two were employed were close together and formed part of the same local clearing group.  I was immediately stricken by this attractive young lady but I was shy and, in any case, already had a steady girl friend.  The Young Bat didn't appear on local clearing very often but I eventually plucked up enough courage to suggest we met for a coffee after work.  I was, frankly, rather surprised when she agreed.  Somehow, things just didn't progress from that cup of coffee and, in any case, the Young Bat appeared even less often on the local clearing.

I was transferred to another branch some miles out of town but that girl was always lurking at the back of my mind, even though many folks rather assumed that in the fullness of time, my then girl friend and I would marry.

It was approaching Christmas and a friend of mine announced that he would be hosting a party.  My girl friend was in training as a nurse and already knew that she would be on duty on the day of the party.  I wanted to go but it would have been bad for my reputation, my street cred, to turn up without a girl.  Was it possible, I wondered, that the very attractive girl from that other branch of the bank would come with me?  I didn't know if she was still at that other branch but I did at least know her name.  After several days during which I picked up the phone numerous times only to put it down before making the call, I eventually told myself that faint heart etc.  She remembered me - and she agreed to come!  I don't suppose my work for the rest of that day was exactly the best, but so what?  She had agreed to come!

The party was at Rod's house, which was in the same part of town as mine;  the Young Bat, on the other hand, lived two buses away, a journey of about three-quarters of an hour.  She suggested that she should catch a bus to a spot she would easily recognise and I could meet her there rather than have me travel all the way to her house.  So it was that, although I knew in which road she lived - which just happens to be one of the longest in the city - I didn't know her exact address.  But that didn't seem very important - at the time.

We left the party in time to catch the last bus out of Hangleton but too late for the bus that would pass the Young Bat's house.  This meant the last three-quarters of a mile would be on foot - uphill all the way.  By then it was bitterly cold and I was being led along streets I didn't even know existed when the Young Bat suddenly fell to the ground in a faint.  So now I had a girl lying on the ground in a faint, I didn't know where she lived, and I didn't know where I was anyway!  It was late and there was nobody around, but one house - just one - was showing a light at an upstairs window.  I managed to get the girl onto her feet and half carried her to that lighted house.  The lady who eventually answered the door took pity on me - or rather, on my companion - and allowed us in so that she could warm up and come round enough to tell me where she lived.  It turned out that we had only another couple of hundred yards to go.  Her mother was still up waiting for her when we got there - but what a way to meet your new girl's mother for the first time!

I did eventually do the honourable thing and break it off with my previous girl friend and it was not that much longer before the Young Bat and I were engaged.  This grainy picture dates from then and has long been one of my favourites.