Sunday, 30 June 2013

Two coffees, please

I am breaking one of my cardinal rules today and re-posting something that originally appeared nearly two years ago on another blog.

I do like French coffee. Ask for a coffee in a French bar or restaurant and what is automatically brought to you is an espresso; small, dark, strong and (one hopes) hot. There is one bar we used to stop at regularly where I became aware of a bit of a scam over coffee and Englishmen. I ordered a coffee in exactly the same way as every Frenchman does - "Un café, s'il vous plait" - expecting the usual espresso. What came was un double, a large (double-size) espresso at twice the price. This happened several times before I twigged and insisted on being served a normal café.

The Old Bat likes her coffee white - which leads to several different complications. The first doesn't really matter, but we do find it amusing when her request for café au lait (coffee with milk) is repeated by the waiter or waitress as café crême (coffee with cream). She actually prefers milk to cream in her coffee but this doesn't matter as she is invariably served with milk. We have never fathomed why it is that in some bars, white coffee is café au lait while in others it is café crême.

The next question isn't always asked: does she want her milk hot or cold? It is always brought in a separate jug to be added as she wishes, but sometimes it is brought hot and sometimes cold - and sometimes, albeit rarely, she is given the choice. In our favourite restaurant the proprietor remembers that she prefers her milk cold, but he always makes a point of checking that is what she wants - especially in cold weather when she does sometimes ask for hot milk.

The really awkward complication arises in our village restaurant. What size cup does she want? In most places the answer is accepted readily: small. A standard espresso is served with its accompanying jug of milk. Except at Le Fourneau. Nicholas, bless him, complicates matters by asking is the size is normal, medium or large. The problem is that sometimes his 'normal' is the standard espresso but sometimes it is un double. A request for a 'small' rather throws him, even if the request is spoken in French.

Which reminds me of another complication that arose while we were in the Auvergne. It was while we were on our way to the source of the Loire and we decided to stop at a roadside bar for a coffee. There was a man behind the bar of about my age (ie getting on a bit) to whom I posed my request for two coffees, one white, one black. I spoke in French, as usual, in the expectation that my request would be understood despite my English accent.

[Going off at a tangent: I am told that the French consider French spoken with an English accent to be sexy, just as we think of English spoken with a French accent.]

So, I expected to be understood - but I wasn't. So I repeated the order. Still the Gallic shrug and a puzzled expression. I tried using slightly different words. 'Two drinks,' (waving two fingers), 'one black coffee,' (waving one finger), 'and one coffee with milk,' (waving one finger again). At this, the barman disappeared and returned with a lady (his daughter?). I repeated my request for two coffees, one white, one black, in my very best French with a sexy English accent. The lady turned to the man and said exactly the same as I had (but without the sexy English accent) and, wonder of wonders, he understood!

That is the only time I have had difficulty in making myself understood when ordering coffee.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Another of my favourites

Robert Goddard has long been my favourite author.  I was travelling to Plymouth by train years ago for a weekend with the Joint Services Interrogation Unit to which I was attached and was reading a Wilbur Smith adventure novel.  A man sitting opposite asked if I had read Goddard.  When I told him I had not, he recommended the books to me, suggesting I should first read In Pale Battalions.  I did, and was very quickly hooked.  Nowadays, when I suggest to people that they might enjoy the books, I always make the same recommendation: read In Pale Battalions first.

Back when I started reading his books, Mr Goddard had only about three published.  He has since brought out one a year, each one of which I have bought, and the next is due out on 4th July.  The synopsis/introduction I have seen is
1919. The eyes of the world are on Paris, where statesmen, diplomats and politicians have gathered to discuss the fate of half the world’s nations in the aftermath of the Great War. A horde of journalists, spies and opportunists have also gathered in the city and the last thing the British diplomatic community needs at such a time is the mysterious death of a senior member of their delegation. So, when Sir Henry Maxted falls from the roof of his mistress’s apartment building in unexplained circumstances, their first instinct is to suppress all suspicious aspects of the event...
 I shall be placing my order as soon as I get back to my computer.


Meanwhile, this is probably where we will be eating tonight, the restaurant in our village in France.  The patron's wife, Florence, does the cooking and very good it is too, while Nicholas sees to front of house.  He has been described as a combination of Basil Fawlty and Manuel, which is not all that far from the truth!  A cabaret in his own right, but I do have to get myself into the right frame of mind to enjoy it.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Local boy made good

One of the most popular authors these days - in Brighton, anyway - is local boy Peter James.  This has become especially so since he started writing the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series, all the books in which are set in Brighton.  His earlier novels, however, are not to my taste.  The latest Roy Grace book was published earlier this month and, as usual, my good friend Tony was given a copy by his son as a Fathers' Day gift.  When he has read them, he lends them to us.  The Old Bat enjoys them as much as I do.

We are at present in France, where we manage to do a lot of reading, but Tony had not finished the latest (Dead Man's Time) in time to lend it to us before we came away.  However, he just happened to be on Brighton station last Saturday and saw a young lady giving away copies.  Yes, giving away!  Tony (who has a bit of a thing about the Old Bat) got himself in position to be given a copy which he promptly brought round and presented to her ladyship.

The reason behind the giving-away became apparent when we looked at a flyer inside the book.  It appeared to be a collaboration between Visit Brighton and Southern Railway in an effort to attract more tourists to the city - though why they were giving the books away to people who were already here is something of a puzzle.

There is a new, interactive web site on which one can discover more about Roy James' Brighton at - although when I tried to use it last Sunday it was more inactive than interactive.  Possibly it was not working due to large numbers of visitors and things might have calmed down a bit by now.


If I am correct, the foxgloves will be in bloom in the lanes around the village.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

A few firsts

The first film I remember seeing at the cinema was The Cruel Sea.  I was 11, or very nearly so, and at school in Ventnor, on the Isle of Wight.  This was a residential school run by an order of nuns.  I have often wondered what it was that persuaded the nuns to take children of that age to the cinema to see a war film.  Even now, 60 years on, I still think it was one of the best war films ever made.  And I have seen a few of that genre: Reach for the Sky, The Dambusters, Yangtse Incident, The Longest Day, Bridge on the River Kwai inter alia.

Which leads nicely into the first record I ever bought.  But before that, the first 45rpm record, which was the theme from the film Bridge on the River Kwai.  I had bought a few 78rpm records previously as that was all we could play for some time.  My very first record would have been on the Embassy label, Woolworth's own.  It was either Carolina Moon or Dream, Dream, Dream.  Being on the Embassy labels, they would both have been cover versions.

And then there was my first car, a pre-war Ford which was 25 years old when I bought it for the princely sum of £20.  But hey!  It went.  I managed to get 60 miles an hour out of it on one occasion - or that was what the speedometer showed.  It was on a downhill stretch of road with a following wind.  I drove that car from Brighton (Hove, actually) to Coventry to see the new cathedral, slept in the car (a distinctly uncomfortable experience) and then came back down Britain's first - and then only - motorway.  As I tootled along in the left-hand lane, a Jaguar passed me in the middle lane as though I was stationary and a Rolls Royce passed him in the outside lane as though he was stationary!

I had to stop at garages frequently with that car - to fill up with oil and check the petrol; it guzzled oil furiously.  There was a time when I miscalculated and there was a loud clatter from the engine.  A big-end had gone.  I managed to get the car towed home (a story all of its own) and I and the lad next door stripped the engine down and rebuilt it.

I had my first RTA in that car.  Driving back to Brighton down the A23, I braked as I approached traffic lights.  But nothing happened and I hit the car in front, which hooked itself onto the car in front of that.  They had to be separated by a garage but I was able to drive home - very carefully.  Fortunately, nobody was hurt.  The police did try to do me for something - probably driving without due care or some such - and I had to prove to them that the brakes were working OK.  I told them the brakes had been seen to and they wanted to see the receipt from the garage but I had done the work myself.  In the end, they just gave up.


And here is my first car - with me working on it.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Memory? Or imagination?

First (or any early) memories can be both fascinating and dubious.  Fascinating because when one reaches my age, they refer back to a time when the world was quite different.  And dubious becasue one can never be entirely sure that they really are memories and not figments of one's imagination based on what one has been told.

My first memory dates back to the dark days of World War II.  I recall lying in bed watching the searchlight beams as they criss-crossed the night sky searching out German bombers.  And then just after the war, the large pits that had been dug on the ridge of the North Downs where we quite often went for walks.  These were tank traps, dug to stop tanks making progress in the event of an invasion.  Are those true memories, I wonder?

Another early memory is from another occasion in the years immediately after the war, possibly about 1947.  I was probably about 5 and my brother about 3.  Our mother had rented a place somewhere on the Isle of Thanet - Ramsgate or Broadstairs, I think.  The weather (I was told) was not good.  In fact, it was pretty awful - not that I remember.  My memory is of seeing my brother standing at the top of the staircase moments before he fell down it.

I was talking to a friend the other day about early memories and saying how interesting our children and grandchildren would find them.  We both agreed that we really should make the time to set down at least some of them.  But that is the difficulty - making the time.  There always seems to be something either more important or more urgent that needs doing.  One of these days, maybe . . .


This picture of me, my brother and my mother may well have been taken in 1948 as the empty deck chair suggests my father was with us.  My brother and I are wearing dreadful knitted swimming costumes.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013


I do find that memories can be triggered by the strangest things.  The other day, as I was setting off from the car park to walk in Stanmer woods, a family was just arriving back at their car.  One of the family was a boy of about 8 or 9 - wearing long trousers.  That was what started this train of thought - this train of thought that will, in all probability, become circuitous.

Seeing that boy made me think of how things have changed.  When I was that age, no boy under 11 or 12 wore long trousers in normal circumstances.  I don't suppose any boy of that age possessed any long trousers, anyway.  And nobody wore jeans; indeed, I doubt one could even buy jeans in the England of the early 1950s.

I was reminded of my first pair of long trousers.  I must have been 12 or 13 before my mother bought them - at (I think) Featherstones, a men's outfitters in Rochester High Street.  I can't remember why we went to Rochester to buy them, but I suppose it is possible that Featherstones were the stockists of my school uniform and as these trousers were for school wear, it made sense to my mother.  I was very self-conscious when I donned those trousers at home later that day and was told to go next door to show my grandmother.

I said those trousers were for school wear, but that meant that they would be worn at any time.  It was considered quite normal for boys to wear their school cap (or Cub cap) whenever leaving the house and I can distinctly remember wearing my school blazer (it was a beautiful purple jacket) and cap when on holiday.


As well as poppies, there are great swathes of ox-eye daisies in bloom.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Popeye can still have his spinach . . .

. . . and Olive her oil.

I don't recall ever eating at a restaurant where I was presented with a bowl of olive oil in which to dip my bread.  Apparently, this is done in plenty of restaurants on the continent, but not - as far as I can recall - at any where I have eaten.  On the other hand, I have often eaten in restaurants where an unmarked bottle of olive oil was placed on the table for sprinkling over pizza.

It was planned by the European Commission that this practice should be banned from next year in order to protect consumers from being served any old inferior oil.  It seems the proposal was to be adopted simply because there were too few countries that opposed it.  Many - including, I am sorry to report, the United Kingdom - simply abstained.  Under the proposals, olive oil would have to be served in labelled bottles (presumably still sealed) so that people would know they were not being fobbed off with rubbish oil.

Fortunately, after strong public reaction, the proposal has been withdrawn.  But it now takes its place in the Daft Legislation Hall of Fame, along with other European directives such as:
  • Bananas must not bend abnormally.
  • Bananas should be at least 5.5in long and 1.05in round.
  • Peaches below 2.2in diameter must not be sold between July and October.
  • Carrots must be 0.75in wide, apart from baby carrots. 

I think all of these directives have been rescinded as well.  At least, I hope they have.  But that is a flavour of what it is like to live in a country which is a member of the European Union and ruled by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels.


And another thing.

It is still possible to have one's milk delivered to the door here in England.  It comes in glass bottles with, as far as I have been able to ascertain, no label of any sort.  I have no problem with that personally, but I do find it passing strange that this practice is permitted.  Given the nanny state we now live in, that is.


A roadside scene in France.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Au revoir pendant une semaine

Demain on partirons pour la belle France. J'ai laissé quelques messages planifiées de façon à ce que vous me manquez pas trop. A bientôt.

Reading labels

I suppose if I had followed the advice given to me and my fellow students (although in those far-off days we were called pupils) by the master who taught religious instruction I might have read the back of the car park ticket I mentioned yesterday.  He (our RI teacher) told us we should read everything that came into the house, even if was only the back of the corn flake packet.  I'm sure that if he had been teaching nowadays his advice might be a little different.  Back then I'm sure we didn't receive the avalanche of rubbish that comes through the door nowadays advertising double glazing, solar panels, Chinese and Indian takeaways, pizzas - even travelling knife grinders.  There is just no way I am going to sit down and read every word of the menu for a Chinese takeaway, from the egg noodles through the chop suey and on to the free prawn crackers if your order is more than 25 pence.  Make that £25.  Nor will I read the 78 varieties of toppings available on the pizzas, which they think are the best in town.

That said, we (that is the Old Bat and I) have taken to reading more carefully the labels on foodstuffs since the quack told me I had a 30% chance of getting heart disease and I needed to reduce the level of my cholesterol.  And so it was that I was idling glancing at the nutrition guide on a bottle of semi-skimmed milk.  "Less than 2% fat" it proclaimed in a prominent position on the front of the label.  The label on the bottle of whole milk standing right beside it proclaimed "Less than 3.6% fat".

(Yes, we buy both semi-skimmed milk - for me - and whole milk - for the Old Bat.)

Then I looked at the small print.  On the semi-skimmed: "Typical values per 100ml - Fat 3.6g of which saturates 2.2g".  On the whole milk: "Typical values per 100ml - Fat 3.6g of which saturates 2.3g".

Eh? Should there not be a greater difference?

It was quite obvious, even to me, that the supermarket had a problem with the labels on their semi-skimmed milk.  Presumably, all the labels for that size bottle - the 2 pint bottle - had been printed incorrectly.   I rang the customer help line to let them know.  I'm not entirely convinced that the young lady I spoke to fully appreciated the reason for my call.  She insisted on telling me the nutritional values of semi-skimmed milk despite my assurances that I wasn't greatly interested in knowing what they were (or even are, as I don't suppose there has been any alteration since yesterday) and that the reason for my call was to point out that Asda had a problem.

Granted, this is not exactly earth-shaking, but I know that there are an increasing number of people who absolutely have to rely on buying products that meet certain guidelines - gluten free, for example - and they really do need to read the labels.  But if this label is incorrect, how many more are?

Later:  I have received a phone call from Asda saying that the message has been passed to their buyers but they don't work at weekends so I will hear nothing more until next wee.  By which time I will be in France.


Another picture of that field of poppies.

Saturday, 22 June 2013


Yes, me!  Can you believe it?  I was dropped from the team!  Me, who was the highest scorer for the team last year.  Well, I might have been - I can't actually remember the details but I know I did score pretty well with my three balls in one game.  But all the same . . .  Well, it hurt to be told I wasn't wanted.  At least, it would have hurt had I been told but I wasn't.  Not in so many words.  The team members' names were announced - and mine wasn't among them.

Last night was held the final event in this year's Zone Olympics for Lions Clubs in our area.  This was the skittles match in which each club could enter one team of six players.  I have to admit that in previous years, Brighton's team has not exactly outclassed the opposition.  In fact, we have usually done not at all well, so perhaps it was time to make a few changes.  Our team last night included on two players from last year, but if my memory serves me correctly (and that doesn't happen so very often nowadays) one of those players achieved the distinction last year of winning the wooden spoon for the lowest personal score of the evening.

But despite having been dropped, I did get a game.  One club had nobody there so we made up a team for them from the spectators.  Ironically, our team of misfits actually won the event - which was my way of thumbing my nose at Brighton's selection committee (of one).  Having said that, the Brighton team did manage a pretty creditable third place - and that was more than enough to make us winners of the John Wilkinson Memorial Trophy as we had already won the shove ha'penny, the pool, shuffleboard, quiz and 10-pin bowling.

All in all, a very pleasant evening with an excellent buffet and good company.  There was certainly plenty of friendly banter flying about.


As I walked across 39 Acres during the week I noticed a field with a dense display of poppies - the same field where I photographed the display four years ago.  I haven't managed to get up to the field yet, so this was then:

Friday, 21 June 2013

I could have kicked myself

I mentioned earlier this week how the Old Bat and I lunched at the pub at the Devil's Dyke and I paid £2 to park.  Having expended that large amount of cash (which, incidentally, was donated by the Old Bat as I had no change - but I did pay for lunch) I returned to the Dyke to walk the dog later that afternoon as the ticket was still valid.  It was only on the following day that I removed the ticket from the car - and that is when I could have kicked myself.  It was only then that I noticed the ticket was in two parts with a counterfoil which could be torn off along the perforations.  On the back of the counterfoil it was announced that the cost of the ticket would be reimbursed when spending £10 or more in the pub!

Maybe that will teach me to be more observant in future.  But I doubt it.


When walking in the park one day last week - or maybe it was the week before.  But whenever - I was chatting to a fellow dog-walker who suggested we go to look at "his" Judas tree.  He called it his tree as he had paid for it.  Quite a few people had responded to a plea from the council to cover the cost of new trees they wanted to plant.  I had never before heard of a Judas tree and, although this one is still young and small, was mightily impressed.  It has very attractive, deep pink flowers which come out before the leaves - some of them directly from the trunk of the tree.

Quite how the tree acquired its name is a matter of conjecture.  It is a native of the eastern Mediterranean, so some say the name is a corruption of Judea, where it is found.  Others say that the name was given because it was from one of these trees that Judas Iscariot hanged himself.

Not a variety I had heard of before.  As my old granny would have said, "You learn something new every day, then die and forget the lot".

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Another worry

We had a Lions' meeting last night.  In fact, there were two: a meeting of the Housing Society management committee followed by a business meeting of the club.  I think I managed to behave reasonably well at the management committee but I do get bothered by business meetings of the Lions Club.

It's not always my fault.  At least, I don't see it as being always my fault.  But I haven't said what it is that bothers me.  We will gloss over the unkind comments made by various undesirables
on yesterday's post in which I said that I find it difficult to make small talk at receptions and similar occasions.  What bothers me is that at Lions' meetings I say too much.  There is seldom an item for discussion on which I have no opinion, and I always seem to make my opinion known whereas others manage to say almost nothing during the entire meeting.

But, as I say, I don't see it as being always my fault.  Sometimes it's because I am asked directly what I think about a proposition.  Whether that happens because I am known for having strong opinions or whether it is because I am one of the longer-serving members of the club and am therefore seen as a sort of eminence grise, I could not say.  Other times we sit in silence after a proposition has been made or a question posed.  Somebody has to start the discussion and that somebody, far too often, is me.  Like last night.  One of the Lions had asked for money for something (just what is immaterial) and we sat there until, finally, I asked how much he wanted (he hadn't said).  Anybody could - indeed, should - have thought of that question, but, as usual, it was me who raised my voice.

It sometimes becomes quite embarrassing, but I wonder how long meetings would last if I didn't speak up?


Yesterday we saw the village of Poynings from the top of the Downs.  The cricket field lies just outside the village.  Here it is.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Nothing to say

"I'm worried about Jim."  Eons ago, in the days of steam radio, there was a programme called Mrs Dale's Diary.  I don't remember now if this was broadcast daily or weekly - I never listened to it - but it was essentially the day-to-day story of her life told by a doctor's wife.  The doctor was Jim and Mrs Dale seemed to be worried about him in every episode that I accidentally caught the sound of.

I'm not worried about Jim, or Tom, or Dick, or Harry, but I am worried about me.  I couldn't say without checking how long I have been pecking away at the keyboard to post on this blog; it might be three years, it might be four.  But in all those months I cannot recall there being a single day on which I have failed to post something.  Actually, that statement is not true as there have been days when I have had no access to a computer , although on quite a number of occasions when I have been away from home I have had something in the pipeline and scheduled to be uploaded in my absence.

All the same, there have, I contend, been no days when I have had access to a computer on which I have failed to post something.  I always have something to say.  Except for today - and that's what worries me.

It wasn't always like this.  My garrulousness, I mean.  As a teenager I was painfully shy and self-conscious.  It was Scouts that changed me.  When we moved to Hove I was 15 years of age.  My brother, who is younger than me, and I were both involved in the Scouts and we joined the troop at our local church, bringing the numbers up to five!  (The troop had not been going very long.)  Within three years or so the numbers had risen to over 40.  I had stayed on with the troop and had morphed into a leader, an Assistant Scout Master as they were called in those far off days.  It so happened that the two "adult" leaders left us, leaving me to run the troop.  I was actually too young to run the troop officially, but needs must.  This meant that I had to speak to parents, sometimes en bloc, and as a result, I lost most of my shyness.  Nowadays I have no qualms about speaking in front of an audience of several hundred - but I still have no small talk for cocktail parties and receptions.

Given that I had nothing to say at the start of this, I shudder to think what might happen when I do have something to say!


Another picture taken at the Devil's Dyke.  In this one we are looking down from the hills at the village of Poynings.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

It was nice while it lasted

We have had another brief - very brief - burst of summer.  Yesterday was the day for the monthly Scouting connections lunch, which was held at the Devil's Dyke pub.  This is indeed situated slap bang at the top of the Devil's Dyke, a popular scenic spot on the South Downs.  (I posted the legend of the Dyke, complete with photograph, here.)  The Dyke is the property of the National Trust and there is a £2 charge for parking.  As far as I could tell, there was no let off for blue badge holders so I duly inserted my cash in the ticket machine and displayed the ticket while we had lunch.

Quite surprisingly, there seemed to be little wind right up there on top of the Downs and it was pleasantly sunny and warm.  So much so that I decided to go back in the afternoon to walk Fern.  The car park ticket was valid all day so I had no need to pay again.  That was the first time this year I have walked the dog wearing a short-sleeved shirt with neither jumper nor jacket.  By tea-time the wind had risen and it was a lot less pleasant, but this morning it was again sunny and warm - and almost windless.  Again I walked the dog in shirt-sleeves but as I left the park I could see that a sea fret was coming up.

Oh well, summer was nice while it lasted.

This is the view looking west from near the pub.

Monday, 17 June 2013

There's always something

One of my boasts about my adopted home town is that there is always something happening; carnivals, festivals, London to Brighton something or other (yesterday was the L to B cycle ride with 28,000 cyclists descending on the city), hen or stag parties, party political conferences - indeed, conferences and conventions of all sorts.  But I have only just learned of one convention that has been held annually in the city for some few years now.

For the past 200 years or so, Brighton has had something of a reputation, a reputation for being all sorts of things: edgy, kinky, rough.  The phrase "dirty weekend"  has become almost synonymous with "Brighton".  Somehow things like kiss-me-quick hats seem to have passed the town by - they are more Blackpool or Southend than Brighton - although we do have our share of seedy guest houses.  And the mix of clothing styles never ever causes raised eyebrows.  An elderly man dressed as a pirate, complete with parrot on his shoulder, riding a skateboard through the town centre is considered an every-day type of thing and nobody bats an eyelid.  But I had never suspected something like this.

I have never had a yen to cover myself in body art.  Not for me an anchor on my forearm or "Mum" entwined in roses on my bicep, far less a hunt in full cry down my back with the fox disappearing . . .  Well, you know where.

What I heard of is the annual Brighton Tattoo Convention.

And here's another:

I'm not sure which picture makes me shudder the more.  (Both of them have been borrowed.)

Sunday, 16 June 2013

What the . . . ?

"If you are unable to read this letter . . ."

Yes, it really did say that in an official letter received this week.  I stopped reading at that point as I pondered how anybody who was unable to read the letter could possibly understand those few words.  But the sentence continued.

"If you are unable to read this letter or the accompanying booklet because English is not your first language, ask somebody who can speak English to call [a phone number] for more information."

The letter went on to repeat that sentence in Albanian, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Farsi, Gujarati, Hindi, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Somali, Turkish and Urdu.

Now, don't misunderstand me, I have nothing whatsoever against people who speak those languages - in principle, anyway.  And I fully accept that ours is a multi-cultural community.  But what sticks in my craw is the fact that people come to live here without bothering to learn even the basics of English and expect national and local government and their agencies to provide letters and booklets in the language of the immigrant's home country.  And interpreters for interviews and court appearances.

And all this at our expense!

I'm pretty sure it wouldn't happen in most other countries.  Certainly, French authorities expect me to understand letters and official documents written in French and offer no translation facilities.  I strongly suspect the same applies in Spain, where there are plenty of British ex-pats - and Madeira, which is Portuguese.


At this time of the year I am always delighted to see the cow parsley.  If there is enough of it, I can sometimes catch a whiff of its rather nutty scent.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Remiss of me

I really should have provided some sort of explanation in my earlier post when I mentioned Trooping the Colour.  Trooping the Colour is a ceremony performed by regiments of the British and Commonwealth armies. It has been a tradition of British infantry regiments since the 17th century, although the roots go back much earlier. On battlefields, a regiment's colours, or flags, were used as rallying points. Consequently, regiments would have their ensigns slowly march with their colours between the soldiers' ranks to enable soldiers to recognise their regiments' colours.

Sic transit gloria

Emily, my 6 year old granddaughter, asked me this week why I have hairy nostrils.  She went on to inform me she could see my head through my hair.

The Old Bat laughed uproariously.

"There is nothing so agonizing to the fine skin of vanity as the application of a rough truth."
Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton


Today is the official birthday of Her Majesty the Queen.  This will be marked by the ceremony of Trooping the Colour which will take place on Horse Guards Parade, London.  In honour of the occasion, here is a clip of last year's ceremony.

Friday, 14 June 2013

A literary contradiction?

I read mainly novels, possibly as a form of escapism.  Authors whose works I enjoy include Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens, but only if I'm in the mood.  Most of the books I read are classified as 'crime', such as the Roy Grace novels of local author Peter James or Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley, or 'adventure', which would include books by Frederick Forsyth, Douglas Reeman and Alexander Kent.  I used to enjoy Wilbur Smith's books but his latest works seem to include sex and violence scenes that are just that little bit too graphic for my taste.  Another of my favourite authors was Morris West, but I think he died a few years ago and his books are no longer on the shelf at my local library.

As a young man, by which I mean when I was in my late teens and early twenties, Dennis Wheatley was either top of my list of authors or very nearly so.  Nowadays I find his occult novels so unbelievable that I can't be bothered with them.  That's what I think is very likely to be the case with the book I am reading at present.  I discovered a new author a few weeks ago, Simon Leather, and I enjoyed the book of his that I read.  Perhaps 'enjoyed' is a little strong, but I was quite happy to borrow another of his books from the library.  What I failed to notice is that it is described on the front cover as 'a supernatural thriller'.  The first few chapters seemed OK but now that I am half-way through the book, the supernatural is beginning to appear on the pages.  I'm not at all sure I shall bother to finish this one.

And that's where the contradiction comes in.  I can't get on with science fiction or the supernatural (and that includes Harry Potter) and yet I so enjoyed the Lord of the Rings trilogy that I have read it several times, the last reading being fairly recent.

I suppose I am just a confused muddle of a person.


Another summer picture from the south of France.  This is the village of Seillans.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Odd one out

It was as I was drinking a cup of coffee at a pub the other evening that it dawned on me that I may very well be something of an oddity.  Not because I was drinking coffee in a pub, which is not that unusual these days.  It's not all that many years ago that such a remark would have caused people to raise their eyebrows, I grant you that, but nowadays pubs are a bit more upmarket than the spit and sawdust bars of yesteryear where one could buy beer and other alcoholic beverages and the only food on offer was packets of potato crisps or pork scratchings.  Maybe salted peanuts if you were lucky.  These days probably more than 50% of most pubs' turnover comes from the sale of food; specifically, full meals.  That was the case the other evening.  The blind club had fixed a hog roast at a village pub - and very good it was, too.  I enjoyed a glass of wine with my meal but after the meal I enjoyed a cup of coffee.  No, belay that:  I drank a cup of coffee but there was little about it for me to enjoy and that was when I realised that I might very well be something of an oddity.  At least, something of an oddity here in England.

Come to think of it, there is another reason why I might be one of the odd men out.  I know the words of both the first and the third verses of the national anthem.  (There is a second verse but it is never sung and nobody actually knows the words off by heart.  Or if they do, then they really are oddballs!)  Perhaps I was a little optimistic in claiming that I know the words of the national anthem.  You see, (and I have to explain this for those who land on this blog but don't have the advantage of being British) the third and seventh lines of the first verse are almost identical.  I think I know which way round they go but I might be mistaken.  I think the third line is "God save our Queen" and the seventh, "God save the Queen".  Anyway, if you listen very carefully when our national anthem is sung en masse, you will hear that some people sing one version while others sing the other and yet more just mumble.  But when it comes to the third verse (which isn't sung very often) the majority of people don't know the words.

I can hear the question being asked, "What on earth has all this got to do with drinking a cup of coffee?"  Truth to tell, not a lot.  But there is a connection - me.  And me being an odd man out.

I did say that I drank a cup of coffee but didn't really enjoy it.  And that happens so often when I have a coffee after a meal in this country.  The problem is - or rather, the cause of my problem is that most other English people seem to enjoy coffee that tastes very much like dishwater.  Nobody makes a good, strong cup of coffee the way they (usually) do in France.  And those places that do make the coffee almost strong enough most often use beans that taste pretty awful, like Starbucks, Costa Coffee and Cafe Nero.

I have drunk coffee in England, America, Japan, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Malta, Portugal and Italy among other places, but only in France (and occasionally in Belgium and the Netherlands) have I been served with coffee that tasted right to me and in the right quantity.  In Italy the cups are too small but are delightfully strong, whereas in America the cups are far too big and the coffee too weak.  No, give me French coffee every time.

I thought there was a quote about coffee being a black as the Earl of Hell's waistcoat but I can't find that one, so well just have to accept what Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord said, "Coffee should be black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love".


With the dismal weather we are enduring at present here in sunny (hah!) Sussex, I might wish I was here in Menton in the south of France.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Feeling smug

Yep, that's me.  It is not very often that I have an excuse to feel smug but such is the case today.  Or maybe it isn't really the case but I feel smug anyway.  Now, let me assure you that I know full well that you may very well have no interest whatsoever in why I have this feeling of smugness.  If that is the case I suggest you leave the room now, or simply move on to the next blog - which will, in all probability, be just as yawn inducing as this one.  But if, on the other hand, you are like me and are sufficiently curious to want to know what happens in the lives of other people, then read on.

I do, I really do think I have some justification for feeling smug.  I have finished writing the minutes of last Monday's zone meeting of the Lions and sent copies to the presidents and secretaries of all the clubs in the zone.  OK, so that last little bit was just that - a little bit.  As I have the email addresses in my contacts as a mailing group it didn't take very much effort to send the minutes out.  Along with an updated copy of the zone diary.

The other job I have managed to complete is also Lions-related, specifically Brighton Lions Housing Society.  Did I mention that earlier this year we discovered that we have, albeit inadvertently,  been in contravention of some of the rules for about 50 years?  Anyway, the chairman and I, in my capacity as secretary/treasurer, decided we should get the rules amended so that we are no longer ultra vires.  I have now read through the entire rule book and drafted the necessary amendments.  These have been sent to the chairman for his comments before the next meeting of the management committee.

And on Monday I mowed the lawns front and back, including the verge.  Just as well, I did it on Monday as we have had showers both yesterday and today.


Another mot juste I heard the other day.  I'm told this is an old Finnish saying.

Grandchildren are the dessert of life.


ABroad mentioned in a comment that she wants to visit the Royal Pavilion here in Brighton.  I have posted pictures of the exterior before but never of the interior.  Photography inside it not permitted, so here is a picture of a postcard showing the banqueting room.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Must share this

Worrying won't stop the bad stuff from happening, it just stops you from enjoying the good.

Scratching the itch

I mentioned the other day, or maybe it was only yesterday, that I have always had itchy feet.  I never wanted one of those jobs that would see me flying all over the world only to see the destination airport and the inside of a hotel, either of which might as well be in Los Angeles, Berlin or Delhi.  No, I wanted to see the world, not just 4-star hotels which are the same everywhere.  I was, I suppose, fortunate that in my last job before retirement I was able to scratch my itch, albeit only very slightly.

That job was with a national newspaper here in England, a religious newspaper which catered for a specific church.  The church held an annual convention and the editor of the newspaper, along with several reporters and a photographer, always attended to report on the proceedings.  I always tagged along for a day or three - not because I had any great interest in the goings-on themselves, but it was politic to at least show my face.  The newspaper party, not unnaturally, stayed in hotels in the various towns across England where the conference was held.  It was after I had been in the job about three years that the hotel selected for our party to stay in - it was in Cardiff, I think (which is in Wales, not England) - proved to be a disastrous choice.  The editor was furious with himself for having chosen that hotel, more or less on spec, and in discussion with me agreed that we should change the way the hotel was selected each year.  This would involve somebody visiting the town a few months before the conference to check out the hotels, negotiate a rate and make a booking.

So, I got to visit several towns and cities across the country and spend a little time in each, thereby having an opportunity to see something of the sights.  I spent time in Newcastle Upon Tyne, Southport, Blackpool, Derby, Scarborough, Leeds, Bolton, Huddersfield, Halifax, Edinburgh (yes, that's not in England either) and Norwich, among other places.

But there was always one thing that surprised me.  I was always in those towns and cities at the time of year when dusk fell at about 6.30 or 7.00, just as I was wandering the streets, possibly checking out restaurants in case I would be able to negotiate a better deal by letting staff eat away from the hotel.  As I strolled the streets, lights would be coming on in the windows of the houses I passed and I was allowed glimpses into other people's homes.  I would see those people going about their everyday, domestic tasks and a strange feeling would come over me.  It was almost as though I felt lonely or homesick.  The feeling only ever lasted a very few minutes, but it was there in almost every town I visited alone.


Yesterday I posted a picture of an Indian gate to be found in Hove.  There is another Indian gate in Brighton, the more downmarket part of the city of Brighton & Hove.

One of the most famous buildings in Brighton is the Royal Pavilion, the seaside palace built for the Prince Regent, later King George IV, in the Indian style.  During part of the First World War, the Pavilion was turned into a hospital for Indian troops injured on the Western Front and after the war, it was decided to erect a new gateway to the Royal Pavilion grounds from the south as a permanent memorial in Brighton to the use of various buildings in the town for Indian soldiers wounded in the First World War.

The India Gate is a gift from the people of India to the inhabitants of Brighton and Hove as a thank you for caring for their sons.   It was unveiled on the 26 October 1921 by H.H. the Maharaja of Patiala.

The inscription reads:
“This gateway is the gift of India in commemoration of her sons who – stricken in the Great War – were tended in the Pavilion in 1914 and 1915. Dedicated to the use of the inhabitants of the Brighton, B.N. Southall, Mayor”.
In replying His Highness said. “For many of those who had returned to India he had heard expressions of fervent gratitude for the attention and care lavished upon them by ‘Doctor. Brighton’, whose fame and skill as a healer and health restorer were talked of in many hundreds of remote Indian villages.”

The inscription has now faded and was replace by a wooden plaque in 2007.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Traveller or tourist?

There are very few times when I don't return home after a holiday (or when we have been over in France, which doesn't always count as a holiday)  without driving down the A23 to Brighton.  There comes a point along the road when we round a bend and there across the skyline dead ahead is the bold, bare line of the South Downs.  Pretty much in unison, the Old Bat and I exhale, "Aah!"  For some reason that seems to me to be inexplicable, we are always glad to see that sight, a sight that means we are getting near to home.

You might infer from the foregoing that my wife and I are home-loving birds, never happier than when we are on the inside of our own front door.  Well, yes, we are very happy living where we do, and I delight in being able to wander across the fields on the South Downs.  But to describe us as "never happier than when we are on the inside of our own front door" would be false.  We both enjoy exploring new parts as well as being thoroughly content to come back home afterwards.

I have always had itchy feet and have yearned to travel.  While I am very happy to do the tourist bit by visiting all the usual sights such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Leaning Tower in Pisa, I have always had a nagging feeling of regret when I have been in those far-flung (or not so far-flung) lands, a feeling that I am missing something.  That missing something, what would be the je ne sais quoi if it wasn't for the fact that I do very well sais quoi, concerns people.  Specifically, the people who live there.  It is all very fine and dandy to see where they live, but I want to see more; I want to see how they live.

We never manage to stay for more than a week at a time in our house in France, but over the years we have managed to feel, at least in a small way, that we are a part of the local scene.  We shop as the French do - or we try to, anyway - using the independent, local shops or the stalls in the market.  We have been lucky enough to have been invited into a neighbours' house on many occasions and have become, for a short while, a wee bit Frenchified.  We have also been lucky enough to stay in private houses in America and have again managed to imbibe a little of the culture of the land, seeing at closer than usual quarters how people live.

Of course, in western Europe - at least, in most of western Europe - as well as America and, no doubt, other places around the world, things are no so very much different from how we live in England when one considers the enormous differences between, say, the Indian or Chinese culture and ours.

But I still want to know how the other half lives even if the other half is only across the Channel.  I want to be a traveller as well as a tourist.

That is one of the benefits of the blogs that go under the umbrella of City Daily Photo.  OK, we don't really get to learn much about how people live in those cities, but they do sometimes show fascinating little bits that throw a gleam on local life.  We are - or rather, I am going off on something of a tangent here, but one of the quirky sites I like features pictures of bollards.  Take a look at Bollards of London and see for yourself.

And while on the subject of travel, here is a picture I took in Hove last week.  The Jaipur Gate stands in the grounds of Hove Museum.  Here's what the Council's web site has to say about it:
The Jaipur Gate formed the central portion of the eastern Exhibition Road entrance to the Indian art-ware court of the Colonial and Indian Exhibition held at South Kensington in 1886.  The exhibition was opened by Queen Victoria on 4 May 1886 and attracted 5.5m visitors.
The gate marked the entry to the Rajputana (now Rajasthan) section of the exhibition. The Maharaja of Jaipur paid for its construction. Although carved and assembled by Indian craftsmen, the gate is a hybrid construction designed by two Englishmen, Colonel Samuel Swinton Jacob and Surgeon-Major Thomas Holbein Hendley.
The inscription on the front, in English, Sanskrit and Latin, is the motto of the Maharajas of Jaipur ‘where virtue is, there is victory’. The gate was donated to Hove Museum in 1926 and erected in the garden.  It formed the backdrop to the visit of the current Maharaja of Jaipur in 1986 when he visited Hove to mark India’s independence celebrations.
This must be a view of the back as the inscription says nothing about virtue or victory.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

First? Or last?

Sunday, I mean.  I'm never sure if the week starts or ends on a Sunday.  If we take the week as defined by all those who print pocket diaries, Sunday is the first day of the week.  On the other hand, we are told in the Bible that God made the Earth in six days and on the seventh, he rested.  And Sunday has for centuries been considered the day of rest.  Except for members of the Jewish religion.  For them, Saturday is and always has been the Sabbath.

All that is simply my usual way of meandering into what I really intended writing about, which is a comparison of the week ahead with the week just finished.  This week coming up certainly has the look of being a great deal calmer than the week just finishing.  (You might note that I have been hedging my bets over whether last week has finished already or whether next week has already started - and if you are not completely confused by now you need another drink.)  Last week (or this week, depending on your point of view) was not exactly manic but it did seem to be pretty much a constant stream of errands of one sort or another to be run.  This week (or next week), on the other hand, is looking almost like outer space in comparison.  There are, at present, just two things, apart from shopping trips on Tuesday and Friday.  On Tuesday also, I am duty driver for the blind club so will pick up the two members who live in Brighton and take them to the hog roast arranged at a pub in Ringmer.  Then I must not forget to collect my granddaughter from school on Thursday!  I hope I might find time to finish the minutes of last Monday's zone meeting and at least make a start of redrafting the constitution of Brighton Lions Housing Society where we have been in contravention of at least two rules for something like 50 years!
The Maigold rose

Last week ended on a high note with the Brighton Lions Club charter night celebrations yesterday.  I managed to win first prize in the raffle - a selection of half a dozen bottles of wine - so I was not unhappy.  Plenty of spit and polish during the day as I was driving three other attendees as well as the Old Bat so I hied me to a car wash and then finished it off by hand and vacuumed the inside.  That's not something that happens very often.

It has turned cold again, with a stiff north-easterly wind.  I even resorted to wearing a fleece to walk the dog after breakfast this morning.  But the Maigold rose which is usually in bloom for my brother's birthday finally came into bloom yesterday, exactly a month later than usual.  Now if only Skip could send some of his heat over here . . .

Saturday, 8 June 2013

"Yesterday . . .

. . . all my troubles seemed so far away."  If only!  That may well have been the case with the Beatles but not me; yesterday all my troubles seemed right on top of me.  OK, so it was a day of frustrations rather than troubles.  Being Friday, the Old Bat had a session booked at the MS treatment centre for hyperbaric oxygen treatment.  This involves sitting in what is basically a diving bell for an hour breathing oxygen pumped in at pressure.  For some reason, the session overran by half an hour so although I had finished the supermarket run in plenty of time, I had to kick my heels for about 3/4 of an hour, which meant that I had no time to switch on the computer before lunch.  (Yesterday's post had been written and scheduled the day before.)

We arrived home to find the post had been delivered, including a letter from my doctor's surgery telling me they had the result of my recent bone scan and asking me to make an appointment with the doctor who referred me to discuss this.  I don't actually like the doctor who referred me and I rather suspect I'm not alone in that as when I rang to make an appointment I was offered a choice of three times yesterday afternoon.  That never happens with "my" doctor.

As I switched on the computer later in the afternoon, the phone rang.  But the extension in the office packed up and by the time I got downstairs to the main phone, a message was being left on the answering machine.  But I somehow cut off the message and failed to speak to the caller.  Luckily, I recognised the voice so was able to call Pete back and he told me that one of the charter night menus had the name spelt incorrectly (his fault) and as it was the Mayor's consort, was there any chance of a reprint?

My computer was able to let me do that, but could I access the internet?  Could I heck!  Somehow it transpired that I could read my emails, but there was no way I could get onto Blogger - or my bank's web site where I wanted to transact business.  Somewhere along the line I diagnosed the problem with the phone as being rechargeable batteries that had failed to recharge and after a bit of scrabbling around I managed to locate a couple of replacements which did start charging up.

So, off to the doctor, who informed me that my bone density is low and I apparently have osteopenia, which he told me is a sort of halfway stage between "normal" and osteoporosis.  He prescribed calcium and vitamin D tablets, one to be taken twice a day.  On top of the statins prescribed by "my" doctor earlier in the week as my cholesterol level is high, partly as a result of the rheumatoid arthritis.  So, since Tuesday, I have switched to semi-skimmed milk (and I much prefer the full cream version), cut out cheese (and I do like my Cheddar) and switched to a margarine-type spread instead of butter.  But if all this keeps me on top of the turf for a while longer I suppose it might be worthwhile.  While I was picking up my new medication I also bought a battery charger in the hope (probably a vain one) that I can avoid future problems with the phone.


Brighton Lions Club charter night tonight, the club's official birthday party.  When I joined the club all those years ago it was expected that gentlemen would wear dinner jackets and ladies posh frocks.  It is still the case that most of the men wear DJs rather than lounge suits, but cocktail dresses are usually worn by the ladies.  It is an evening of speeches and toasts after dinner and before the dancing starts.  The programme is:

The Loyal Toast, proposed by the President.

The President then proposes the toast to Lions Clubs International and District 105SE - but makes no speech at this point.  The response to the toast is from the District Governor, who concludes by proposing a toast to Brighton Lions Club.  The President responds, and this is her opportunity to make a speech.

Then one of the Lions proposes the toast to the City of Brighton and Hove, the ladies and our guests (we are still sufficiently politically incorrect to include "the ladies") and there follows a speech in response from the Right Worshipful the Mayor of the City of Brighton and Hove.  Last year I was asked to propose this toast but fortunately I have no speech to make tonight.


I had occasion to make a trip into Hove (that's the posh part of the City of Brighton and Hove) in the week and I walked down George Street where I took this phot of what was at one time the Hove fire station.  That, presumably, was in the days of horse-drawn fire tenders.  The old coat of arms of the Borough of Hove is proudly displayed.

Friday, 7 June 2013

A Sussex miscellany

People from Sussex - and, indeed, the county itself - are sometimes referred to as Silly Sussex.  But Sussex folk will usually retort that in this case, 'silly' is a corruption of 'selig', a Saxon word meaning 'blessed' or 'holy'.  Even the county name - Sussex - is based on the Saxon language and means 'the kingdom of the south Saxons'.

Both Sussex and Kent were, in days of yore, the main part of England where smuggling took place.  Brandy, tobacco, silk and all sorts of luxuries were brought across the narrow strip of water from France.  Boats would arrive at isolated beaches and the goods would be loaded onto pack horses to be carried inland to the gang's hiding place, sometimes a good many miles away.  There were numerous armed battles between the 'gentlemen' and the Revenue men.  Rudyard Kipling captured the scene well in one of his poems:
If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse's feet,
Don't go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,
Them that ask no questions isn't told a lie.
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by.

Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark -
Brandy for the Parson, 'Baccy for the Clerk.
Laces for a lady; letters for a spy,
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by!
The coat of arms of East Sussex
The coat of arms of the old county of Sussex and the new (relatively speaking) counties of East Sussex and West Sussex all feature a mythological bird, the martlet.  This is a bird similar to a swallow or martin - but without feet.

Several English counties have what are regarded as "their" songs but most of these are not really about the county.  There's Ilkley Moor for Yorkshire, for example.  But Sussex has it's own song, the chorus of which is:
For we're the men from Sussex, Sussex by the Sea.
We plough and sow and reap and mow,
And useful men are we;
And when you go to Sussex, whoever you may be,
You may tell them all that we stand or fall
For Sussex by the Sea!
Oh Sussex, Sussex by the Sea!
Good old Sussex by the Sea!
You may tell them all we stand or fall
For Sussex by the Sea.
The South Downs were famous for sheep grazing and before so much was put to the plough it was not uncommon to see a huge flock of sheep watched over by a shepherd and his dog.  (The Old Bat's great grandfather was a shepherd on the Downs.)  They had their own way of counting: one-erum, two-erum, cock-erum, shu-erum, sith-erum, sath-erum, wineberry, wagtail, tarry-diddle, den.  That actually took the tally to 20 as the shepherd would count pairs.

I make it den sheep in this picture.  What do you reckon?

Thursday, 6 June 2013

How would I measure up?

There has been an amalgam of things which have led me once again, as has happened on numerous occasions in the past, to ask myself, "What would I have done?  Would I have found somewhere deep inside me the sort of courage, the daring, that so many of my father's generation displayed?"

I once had the distinct honour of meeting Major Pat Reid.  Major Reid had been a prisoner of war at Colditz, where he served as the British escape officer until his own, successful escape to Switzerland in 1942.  I still have two of his books, The Colditz Story and Latter Days at Colditz.  The first tells of life in Colditz Castle and of his escape, while the latter tells of the last three years of the war at Colditz.  Both make fascinating reading and were the basis for the fictional film The Colditz Story (1955) and the BBC television series broadcast between 1972 and 1974.  We have been watching the DVD of that series lately, there being little else worth bothering with on the gogglebox.  Those DVDs form part of the amalgam.

Another part of the amalgam was reading blogs written to mark the recent Memorial Day in the USA.  We here in England don't have such a day other than Remembrance Day on the Sunday nearest to 11th November - unless it be 11th November itself.  (It just so happened that Memorial Day this year was only a very few days after an English soldier had been hacked to death in Woolwich, London.  One of the "alleged" assailants even made an impromptu speech to a passer-by's mobile phone, his hands dripping with blood.  The Help for heroes web site crashed afterwards as so many people tried to make donations.)

At about the same time, there was a memorial service to commemorate the longest battle ever fought, the Battle of the Atlantic, which lasted for almost six years.  And not long before that had been the commemoration of the dambusters' raid.

Today, of course, is the anniversary of D Day.  I have visited the invasion beaches and Pegasus Bridge as well as Arromanches where there are still the remains of a mulberry harbour and St Mere Eglise where an American paratrooper got caught on the church spire.  I very much doubt that I could have found the courage to storm those beaches or scale the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc the way they did 69 years ago.

I am so very thankful that I have never had to measure up to what my father's generation had to endure.

Today, the anniversary of D Day, each of the more than 9,000 graves in the American War Cemetery at St. Laurent will be decorated with two flags - the French Tricolor and the Stars and Stripes.

 Photo by Erin, aka lapoussine35 at

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Dated trivia

Summer, we are told, officially began last Sunday.  Not that I have the foggiest idea how or when it was made official, or by whom.  Still, there you have it - summer starts on 1st June.  Not that the weather clerk is aware of the fact.  Or, if he is, he is ignoring it.  No, that's not quite the case.  The last few days have been gloriously sunny (although the weather report for Brighton in the Daily Telegraph called it partly cloudy) and temperature yesterday just around the corner from our house actually hit 21.5 degrees.  Celsius, of course, not Fahrenheit.  (And when did centigrade become celsius?  And who decreed that it should?)

Brighton Lions Club joins with the Friends of Withdean Park in organising a small fair called the Lilac Lark on the second Sunday in May, when the lilac collection in the park (previously the national collection but the council can't afford to keep it up to scratch) should be in full bloom.  It wasn't this year.  In fact, it is only now just about at its peak.

It's a bit like the rose we have not far from the kitchen window.  It's a rambler with buds that start almost orange, blooms that start off a deep peach and then slowly fade to a pale yellow.  The variety is Maigold, and there is usually at least one bloom open on my brother's birthday, the 8th May.  With luck, the first bud might be open this weekend, almost exactly four weeks later than usual.

But is summer starts on 1st June, how come Midsummer's Day is 24th June?  Does summer really last just six weeks?  Which leads me fairly well to the trivia I promised in the title.

It used to be the case that everybody knew the quarter days, the important days on which people took up new tenancies and so on.  These were Lady Day, 25th March; Midsummer's Day, 24th June; Michaelmas, 29th September; and Christmas Day, 25th December.  It was easy to remember on which day of each month the quarter day fell.  They were all in the 20s and the number of letters in the month's name was the same as the second digit of the date.  Five letters in March, so Lady Day is 25th March.  Christmas is an exception, but everybody could remember Christmas Day.

Back in the dim and distant past, the new year started on 26th March - goodness only knows why, but it did.  The problem was that the Julian calendar, even though it allowed for leap years, was still not quite accurately aligned with equinoctial times so in in the 18th century, the Gregorian calendar was adopted.  That year, the dates between 26th March and 5th April inclusive were dropped.  So it was agreed that for financial purposes the new year would henceforth start on 6th April although for all other purposes, the new year would start on1st January.  This has caused - and still causes - confusion as some dates between 1st January and 25th March could be, for example, 1752 under the old scheme but 1753 under the new.  But does it really matter?  It's just a piece of generally useless trivia these days.

Here's a picture of some of the erstwhile national lilac collection, together with a horse chestnut in flower.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

My guilty secret

No, that's not right; "guilty" is the wrong word.  Perhaps "shameful" would be better, and I'm not sure that even that is the word I really want.  But whatever.

I have recently switched on the television a few minutes before the start of the programme I wanted to watch only to catch the last minute or so of a programme about people who are compulsive hoarders.  These people just seem to keep anything and everything, from newspapers to bottles, from bits of cars to . . .  well, anything at all, really.  It reminded me of the neighbours of my late mother.  He would go to car boot sales every weekend and bring back all sorts of rubbish which he stowed in cardboard boxes.  Those boxes filled the hallway so that people had to pass through sideways, lined the stairs and completely filled two of the three bedrooms.  In the front room there was a passage to one armchair (his) with a view of the television.  She had to sit in the kitchen.

And there, but for the grace of God, go I.  There, I've admitted it: I'm a hoarder.  I don't go out of my way to hoard things, but I have great difficulty in throwing away some things.  You know, that length of wood which might well come in handy one day, or the half a tin of paint which I might need to use to touch up whatever it was I used the paint on (only I've forgotten).  I put paintbrushes in jars of white spirit and then forget all about them but still don't get round to throwing them out.  And I must have hundreds if not thousands of odd screws - if only I knew where they are.

For some inexplicable reason, I never throw out a map.  OK, so maybe the reason is not quite inexplicable.  I like maps; I can spend many a happy hour with an atlas, exploring the world in my imagination.  But I really cannot see a lot of merit in still keeping a 1963 road map of France.  If it were just, say, Paris, it might be different.  After all, the streets in the centre of Paris, the part that tourists visit, are hardly likely to have altered their positions during the last 50 years, whereas new major roads, especially autoroutes (as the French call their motorways), are springing up all the time across the country.

And I have several CDs that I never play because I don't actually like the music on them.  So why do I insist on keeping them?  And all those tape cassette thingies?  I don't even have a working tape player now - unless, of course, there's one in the cupboard behind the armchair . . .

One of these days I really must take the bull by the horns and make a clean sweep of things (if you will pardon my mixing of thingummies).

Meanwhile, would anyone care to buy a pair of axle stands?  There's only a little rust on them.  Or maybe an Amstrad 1512 computer?


Casting my mind back to whenever, this is Ribeauville, a small town in Alsace, north-east France.

Monday, 3 June 2013

What shall I do today?

I retired a little more than 11 years ago.  (Yes, I know that makes me old.  Tell me about it.)  Shortly after that momentous day, my (also retired) next-door neighbour told me, "I give it three months.  Then you will wake up in the morning and ask yourself, 'What can I do today?  How can I fill all those hours until bedtime?'"  That was, as I said, 11 years ago and I still have never asked myself those questions.  You will have noticed, I hope, that the title of this little piece is "What shall I do today?", not "What can I do today?".

I have always felt sorry for those people who have been so involved in their working lives that they have no time for hobbies or other interests outside the job.  They are the people who, when they retire, find time dragging.  I am convinced that this is a major cause of them turning up their toes within a year or two of their retirement.

Maybe I was less dedicated to my job than some of those people but the fact remains:  I still have plenty with which to occupy myself.  Sometimes, indeed, there is just too much.  Luckily, that is not really the case today.  I finished off and sent out the June edition of the Brighton Lions' newsletter last week; I have printed out 100 menu cards for our Charter night dinner and dance this coming Saturday.  And that is a bigger job than it might sound.  Each menu card is personalised with the name of the attendee on the front and his/her choice of menu on the inside.  That's the easy bit as I use the mail merge facility in WordPerfect.  But then each card has to be fed into the printer by hand - twice, inside and outside - as the card doesn't feed properly otherwise.

So, what shall I do today?  Well, the grass could do with being mown and the wind has deposited a fair amount of rubbish in the front garden while the dustmen have been on strike.  Or I could make a start on the redesign of the back garden that I talked about quite a few days ago.  And then it has been suggested that I could update the video I made some years ago for the Lions' web site.  This was done using Photoshop Elements and even if I say so as shouldn't, it wasn't bad for only my second effort.

Or maybe I could make up a new one using photos of the South Downs and various sound effects?  Oh dear.  That's the trouble with today's world - decisions, decisions, decisions.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

60 years ago today . . .

. . . a young woman was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Union of South Africa etc etc.  This clip shows part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations last June and illustrates the affection in which she is held.

I am so glad I was born an Englishman.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

My entrance music

It started with Suldog and spread through Skip.  Both have posted clips of the music they would like to be played whenever they enter a room.  Now it's my turn.

This actually was my entrance music long, long ago.   At the time I was a member of a darts team and when we entered a room to take part in a competition, we whistled part of the Grand March from Aida, by Guiseppe Verdi.  I have watched and listened to several clips on YouTube and this is the one I like best, "our" bit starting at the 3:39 mark.