Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Interesting facts

Or maybe not.

Buck recently posted a YouTube clip of the Top Secret Drum Corps of Basel which he described as simply brilliant.  (I wouldn't disagree with that.)  It seemed familiar somehow and it dawned on me that I had watched the display on television.  It was at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo last August - and (coincidentally) I had posted the very same clip on this blog.  Then I recalled posting another clip of drumming, this one by the Royal Marine Band.  Having failed to find it again on YouTube, I tried a search of my blog.

I haven't found that clip, but I did find some very interesting posts about all manner of subjects, from whistling to history, from the cost of maintaining cathedrals to snake oil remedies.  Well written and full of interest, if I hadn't realised it was me wot writ them I'd be following that blog.

What I did find surprising is that whereas the vast majority of my posts go completely unnoticed by the hordes of ignorant blog surfers (apart from the few members of the intelligentsia who read every word I write), one blog has been read 417 times!  Astonishing!  That blog was about the possibility of the motorway speed limit being raised from 70 to 80mph and was entitled Speed Kills.  I wonder if just having those words in this post will attract hordes of readers?  Time alone will tell.

I still have not been able to track down that clip of the Royal Marines, but here is one I have found of them at the Basel tattoo.  Less frenetic than the Top Secret Drum Corps, but pretty impressive all the same.


And now one of my own pictures.  It was somewhat murky up in the woods of Stanmer Park yesterday afternoon.  Whether it was mist or low cloud, I couldn't say.


Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Cogitations

Awake very early this morning, at least an hour before the alarm, and unable to go back to sleep although reluctant to get out of bed, I spent the time in meditation.  Most of my thoughts were occupied with the Lions Housing Society.  I am a member of the development sub-committee which is to meet next week to consider plans for a further development.  We have the opportunity to buy a plot of land but during my hour or so of thought I came up with a considerable number of points we should think about before we can decide whether or not to go ahead.  I wonder how many I will remember if I try to write them down?

First, perhaps, is the question of finance.  We probably have sufficient in the bank to buy the land but would certainly need to raise a loan to build the flats.  Should we go ahead and pay cash for the land or should we conserve what we can of our cash and borrow money to complete the purchase?  Or should we calculate the total estimated cost of the proposed development - land and construction - and obtain some sort of agreement in principle before we go any further?

But maybe before we even get to the question of finance we should be considering what we would like to build.  The present owners of the land have planning permission for, I think, five houses.  We don't want houses, we want flats.  We could probably build 20 flats on much the same footprint as five houses, but maybe we should talk to the planners at the council before getting to tied in.  There would be no point in buying the land if we are not permitted to build a block of flats.

And would 20 flats be what we want?  Would it be better to go for something more - 30 or 40 flats?  What would be the difference in running costs?  Possibly a greater number of housing units would be more financially viable in that employing the right number of staff could be more easily afforded.

Staffing is another matter to be considered.  Could our office staff - 1 full time, 1 part time - cope with managing more flats?  Would we need to employ another part-time worker if the current part-timer could not extend her hours?  If so, do we have sufficient office space or will they manage to "hot desk"?  And what about caretaking?  We currently employ one caretaker to cover three blocks of flats at different locations.  There is no way he could cover another block.

And so on and so forth.  By the time the alarm finally sounded my mind was in a turmoil.

When I did get out of bed and open the curtains it was to see a grey, overcast day.  Thirty minutes later there was something of a mist and it had started to rain.  For the first time in I don't know how long, I walked the dog in the rain.  I can't say it improved the experience, especially as I discovered that the waterproof I wore isn't.

If there is rain in the Bristol area, my farming cousin will probably be pleased as it will encourage the grass to grow to feed the deer and cattle.  On the other hand, they are holding a largish family party at the weekend (yes, we shall be there) which will involve a barbecue and tables spread in the yard so rain will not be welcome.

The farm as seen from across the fields:


Monday, 29 July 2013

Arise, Sir Wotsit

There have been suggestions recently that Michael and Carole Middleton should be elevated to the peerage.

(If, by chance, you have been living on a desert island or a distant planet for the last week, I will tell you that Mr and Mrs Middleton are the maternal grandparents of the baby who is third in line to the English throne, the new Prince George of Cambridge.)

I have no reason to suppose that Mr and Mrs M are anything other than perfectly decent, honourable people.  But what have they done to deserve such a signal honour?  Other, that is, than having a daughter who caught the eye of a Prince?  Not that it would be any skin off my nose if they were to be made the Earl and Countess of Somewhere-or-Other.

Come to think of it, plenty of folk have been honoured for less.  Indeed, the whole system of honours probably came about because some men were stronger and tougher than others from whom they stole land, castles - kingdoms even.  And even now there are plenty of people who receive honours just for doing their jobs.

The honours system in this country is rather quaint.  Apart from the peerage - the viscounts, baronets, barons, lords, earls and dukes and so on - there are a number of orders of chivalry, eight in fact.  There are the Orders of the Garter, the Thistle, the Bath, St Michael and St George, the British Empire and the Royal Victorian Order, plus Companions of Honour and the Order of Merit.

Several of those orders have within them, different ranks or classes; Members, Officers, Knight (or Dame) Companions or Commanders, Knight (or Dame) Grand Crosses and so on..


The one we hear of the most is the Order of the British Empire. I have to admit that I get a little hot under the collar when I hear of some of the people who are made Members or Officers of the Order of the British Empire.   Too often this honour seems to be awarded to people simply for doing their jobs.  Actors, sportsmen, lollipop ladies.  Just because they are particularly good at what they do does not seem to me to be sufficient reason for honouring them and it diminishes the honour for those who have done something extra, something of value to the country or the local community.  That's what honours should be for.  As an aside, I might add that my father declined the offer of being made an MBE.  Three such honours were to be awarded to members of the crew of the ship on which he was then serving and it was suggested he should be one of the three.  His view, like mine, was that simply tossing out awards like a handful of sweets tossed into a crowd of children was demeaning and devalued the award.

So, an honour for Mr Middleton?  Frankly, it would make no difference to me one way or the other, but has he done something to deserve it?  Not as far as I am aware.

~~~~~

The weather broke at the weekend in this part of the world, though I believe it broke earlier in the week "oop north" - just as the children's long school holidays started!  It is considerably cooler and I have wanted a thin jacket when walking the dog after breakfast.  This morning we walked across 39 Acres to a spot where I knew wild raspberries are growing.  Sod's Law was inoperative, rather to my surprise, and although somebody had been there over the weekend, I was still able to pick a few ripe ones.  They amounted to only a couple of ounces or so but will add a delightful flavour to a dessert today or tomorrow.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Don't tell anyone I said so, but . . .

I did think of adding my twopennyworth by simply commenting on either (or both) of Suldog's or Skip's blogs (I put them in that order because that is the order in which they were posted) but my second thought was, "What the heck!  I'll take a chance.  The Communications Data Bill isn't law yet.  Is it?"  Anyway, even if it is, I am still living in a country where freedom of speech is accepted as the norm.  For a little while longer.

The bill, if enacted, will compel ISPs to store details of electronic communications such as visits to web sites, emails and mobile phone conversations, the details being retained for a year and accessible to the police (some say with no need for a warrant) in order to fight cybercrime.  Or that is what we are told.  Numerous other Government agencies and departments also wanted to have access to the information: the National Health Service, fire authorities, the Food Standards Agency.  And if them, why not Uncle Tom Cobley and all?

Of course, we are assured that if we are not exchanging plans for blowing up Tower Bridge or similar, then we have nothing to worry about.  As if anybody planning to blow up Tower Bridge would say so in plain language.  But that is not the point.  I certainly don't want any Tom, Dick or Harry, even if he is a police officer, to be able to access my private conversations or correspondence.  Such a law would, I suggest, be but the first step towards George Orwell's vision in 1984.  What would be next?  The power to listen in to conversations on landlines?  Opening my post?  Government control of newspapers?

And that's not entirely facetious.  It was discovered that certain newspapers had been hacking into the telephone conversations of newsworthy people and, as a result, many members of Parliament have called for what amounts to the first stage of state control of the press.

Fortunately, the Communications Data Bill has been dropped by the Government, although there have been calls for it to be reborn, and so far the newspapers have managed to avoid what those MPs have been calling for.

We have no written constitution in the UK so freedom of speech is not enshrined in paper in the same way as in other countries and I doubt if Magna Carta could be called upon as protection against things like to Communications Data Bill.  We need to remain vigilant.

~~~~~

You could almost be forgiven for thinking this is a picture of the Place du Tertre in Montmartre.  In fact, it's East Street, Brighton.


Saturday, 27 July 2013

Update 2

I never cease to be amazed at the power of this Internet thingy.  In March last year I wrote about some sketch books that dated from about 1830 and that had been the property of one Lt Henry Jervis (here).  I also mentioned the mystery that I had uncovered surrounding him (and here).

Only today, I received notification of a comment left on one of those posts by an Indian lady (I assume she is from India) telling me about a book written by our 'Enery and published in 1834.  I even managed to find a copy of it uploaded on openlibrary.org. 

I must say that this looks to be a fascinating site.

Update

Earlier this week, I detailed the correspondence that had passed between me and Christine in connection with my télépéage account (here if by chance you are at all interested) and I wondered if I would hear any further before my next visit.  Yeah!  The new badge arrived today and my new "senior" account is open.

Fruit salad

The harvest from our fruit and veg last year was almost nil.  The runner beans were all eaten by slugs.  The onions rotted in the ground.  The parsnips failed to germinate.  The rhubarb - well, I don't know what happened to that.  I did manage to pick a few peas.  The jackdaws got all the pears.  The plums rotted.  There were just two apples.  I was crippled with arthritis when the blackcurrants and gooseberries were ready so we missed those.  We did get some raspberries and blackberries, but overall, it was not a good year.

Unfortunately, I was laid up again so never did manage to dig the vegetable patch and sow beans and peas and such like.  Indeed, the runner bean poles are still in situ from last year - and the blackberry brambles in the hedge have grown so long and thick they could well be on guard duty round the palace of Sleeping Beauty.

But . . .

I have picked most of the blackcurrants this year - and it has been  a pretty good crop.  The gooseberries will need another week or so.  The raspberries will be there (I hope) in the autumn and there should be a good picking of blackberries.  On the other hand, I still haven't found the rhubarb, but the plums look good so far, there are plenty of pears on the tree and the apples are starting to look excellent.


Friday, 26 July 2013

Heart ache

This week I had another of those moments.  It's not easy to describe one's feelings when such a moment occurs.  Not for me, anyway; others might well find it much easier.  For myself, I find it necessary to resort to clichés and talk about the world standing still, my heart aching.  Yes, those phrases may very well be considered clichés, but they are clichés simply because they do describe so accurately just how one feels.  My heart did ache.

I wrote only last Friday about the day when my wife was told just what her problem meant and the moment when she said to me, "It's not going to go away, is it?"  That was one of those moments that is etched so deeply on my memory that I shall never forget it.  Nor will I ever forget my feelings as she said those words.  I can only describe it as an aching heart.

And this week I had another heart-ache moment.  It came about in a way that I can do no better than call trivial.  A letter, addressed to the Old Bat, arrived from Nissan advising that her car was subject to a recall - something to do with the tightening torque of the steering wheel fixing bolt.  That car has only been out of our garage twice in the last I don't know how many months.  Six?  Seven?  Eight?  On both occasions, I drove it: once to charge up the battery after we had called out our breakdown company, the other to buy a new battery.  I had suggested, very tentatively, towards the end of last year that we should perhaps consider selling her car but the Old Bat vetoed that idea as she wanted to retain her independence.  Since then, she may perhaps have driven the car once.  She can no longer walk to or from the car without assistance although once in the car she can drive perfectly well.

Anyway, to get back to the letter.  I said I would take care of the matter.  Much to my surprise, she suggested that the time has come to sell the car.

I find it difficult to imagine - no, not difficult, impossible to imagine the thoughts that go through somebody's head when, at a comparatively young age, they have to face up to the fact that they will never again be able to do something as simple as walk to the car, drive away, park and walk to a shop or whatever.

I know she's not in pain, she has told me so, but she must get so frustrated at her lack of mobility, and at the knowledge that it will never improve.  All the same, as a fellow Lion remarked when we were talking yesterday, she always presents a cheerful face to the world even though, as he remarked, her condition has worsened so much over the last two or three months.

~~~~~

Another sunset, this one as seen from the back garden.


Thursday, 25 July 2013

O sleep, O gentle sleep, nature's soft nurse

I have a very strong recollection of going with my wife-to-be, now known as the Old Bat, to look at furniture.  We looked at dining room furniture (table and chairs and a matching sideboard), we looked at three-piece suites (sofa and two matching armchairs) and we looked at bedroom furniture (wardrobe, chest of drawers, dressing table and bed).  My strongest recollection is of the salesman telling us not to stint when it came to buying a bed.  We would, he explained, spend a third of our lives in bed so it would be as well to ensure our comfort.

It is generally accepted that the average person (if such a creature could ever be found) requires eight hours sleep in every 24.  Exactly a third of a day.  I am, of course, discounting children and thinking here of adults.  I have heard people say that as they get older they require less sleep.  I find that passing strange.  When I was working I had no great difficulty in going to bed at about 11.00pm while getting up again at 5.00am.  Six hours was quite enough.  Indeed, there were many times - well, quite a few - when I would stay up and awake all night when running Scout overnight hikes and things.  Now I am retired, though, eight hours sleep a night is much more the norm.

Now I come to think of it, I did doze on the train both going to work and coming home in the evening, so perhaps that six hours was really nearer to seven or seven and a half.  It was Winston Churchill who famously insisted on an afternoon nap.  Maggie Thatcher, on the other hand, was reckoned to need no more than about four hours sleep a day.

I had been mulling this over in my mind for quite some time - by which I mean on and off for a week or two - when, quite by chance, I started reading a book in which the main characters opt for a designer baby.  The consultant asks them to select a wide variety of things such as height, sporting ability - and how much sleep their child will need as an adult.  He points out just how much time is spent sleeping that could be spent far more productively.

That is much what I have been thinking.  If, instead of sleeping for eight hours, I were to sleep for only four, I could actually do something extra.  Of course, just what I could accomplish during those hours of darkness is another matter.  Obviously, gardening would not be the number one choice - although I could spend time during the daylight hours . . .

Oh, this is getting far too complicated.  I think I shall just continue to enjoy my eight hours rest every night.  If I can get eight hours.  Over the last couple of weeks or so that has been a tad difficult.  Nights have been too sticky for me to sleep long, late and deep.  It was only yesterday that I woke feeling I had really slept, and that because the temperature had dropped somewhat.  Humidity has been on the high side, as witness this current situation report from yesterday afternoon:



By the way, the title is a quote from William Shakespeare.  But he also wrote: "O sleep, thou ape of death".

~~~~~

This time of the year - the second half of July and during August - seems to be the time when we get the best sunsets.  That might be a false impression because the sun is so far to the north that we can see at least something of the sunset from the back garden.  This one, however, was taken from the field known as 39 Acres in July last year.


Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The son is shining

I can recall nothing much at all of the events some 31 years ago when the Prince and Princess of Wales celebrated the birth of their first son.  Even though my memory of that day is so dim, I am certain that there was nothing like the general euphoria, the media frenzy that has accompanied the birth of Britain's latest future king.  Even the Royal Navy got in on the act this time round with all Naval ships flying the white ensign from the main mast as well as at the stern.

The company aboard HMS Kent mark the royal birth. Credit: MoD
Perhaps you are thinking that, if I wanted to blog about the birth of Prince Whatsisname of Cambridge I should have had something prepared, ready for me just to cut and paste before clicking on the "publish" button, similar to the way newspapers keep obituaries of famous people on hand just in case.  Or, given that the new Prince was born on Monday, you are thinking that I have left it a little late to add my twopennyworth to all that has been said and written in the past 36 (or 48) hours or so.  But there was no thought in my mind that I would so much as mention the matter.

What changed my mind was my astonishment at the interest shown all round the world in what is, when all said and done, a fairly insignificant event.  Just look (in the photo on the left) at the crowds of news people outside the London hospital where Kate gave birth.  And some of them have been in place for a week or more.  But why all this interest?  Granted, the new arrival will one day be King not just of the United Kingdom, but also of Australia, Canada and New Zealand (among others) - always assuming that those countries do not transform themselves into republics during the intervening years.  That, however, does not explain the interest shown in such counties as Germany and the United States.  It's not as if ours is the world's only Royal Family.  There are others in Spain, Monaco, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.  And that's just Europe.

There is a certain something about our Royal Family, a mystique, a je ne sais quoi.  I suspect that much of the Family's current popularity is a result of example shown by the Queen who has served the country so steadfastly for 60 years.  Prince Philip has done his bit as well.  But this young couple, William and Kate, have really captured people's hearts.  Perhaps it stems from the late Diana, Princess of Wales, the Duke's mother.  The mass hysteria exhibited after her death has, I suggest, never before been seen in England - and never since.  So many people watched as the young Prince William walked in the funeral possession, many was the woman who so wanted to mother him.  Some of his mother's charisma can been seen in William and he seems to instinctively gel with "ordinary" people.

As for Kate, well, she is the quintessential girl next door.  It helps that she is good-looking and elegant, but, despite having been educated at Marlborough and having parents who own a house worth seven figures in 18 acres of grounds, she is down-to-earth and among her ancestors not so very far back are coal miners and navvies.  Ordinary people feel comfortable in her presence; she is "one of us".  But Kate is a fairy tale come to life: a village girl who married a prince.  Her background helps, as do the facts that she asked for no servants in the Welsh farmhouse she and William have been living in and she has been seen doing her shopping in the local supermarket.  And William is known to like a drink in the village pub when he and Kate are staying with her parents.

On the other hand, British people don't want "cycling Royals" like there are in, say, the Netherlands.  We want our Royals to approachable but distant, we want them to have the common touch but to be special as well.  William and Kate have that in spades, which goes some way to explaining how so many British people regard her as "our" Kate and have taken such an interest in her baby.  Some of that feeling must have rubbed off on the rest of the world.

For many people, the fairy tale continues.

~~~~~

It occurs to me that when the new Prince reaches my age, the Second World War will be as far back in history fo him as are the Crimean War and the American Civil War for me.  Now there's a thought.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Télépéage? Non!

(This is a continuation of the story I started yesterday.)

I had looked into the possibility of using télépéage but found that I was expected to pay for the privilege of paying for the privilege of driving along a toll section of the autoroute.  Frankly, it was bad enough paying to drive on the road without having to pay more to use the automated system of paying.

But then a new stretch of autoroute was opened.  On this stretch of road the tolls were collected by a new company.  (Perhaps I should explain that in France, there are a dozen or more companies operating toll roads.  Each one offers a télépéage service, which can also be used on any other autoroutes.)  And Alis, as the new company was called, made no charge for the use of its télépéage system.  What's more, users of this system could nominate a section of the motorway where a discount would be allowed against the standard toll.  I applied and duly received my tag, or badge.

Wunderbar.  No longer did the Old Bat have to hang out of the window to use the machines.  No longer did I have to fumble for the debit card when we left a motorway.  And we were paying less as well!  As a committed miser, that was the best part as far as I was concerned.  No, not really.  The best part was having a car whip past me on the approach to a toll station, only for me to leave him way behind as I used the télépéage and he (the driver, not the car) fumbled for loose change.  Sometimes it would be another ten minutes before the same car passed us again.

This relatively painless procedure (painless until the charge hit my bank account the following month) was the case until we approached the first toll station on our latest visit.  As usual, we used the lane reserved for télépéage,only to find that the barrier stayed down.  What was more, the machine spewed out a ticket.  There was nothing for it but to take the ticket and pay at the exit.  But the same thing happened at the next toll station.  And the next.  For some reason, the tag had stopped working.  I checked to see if I needed to insert a new battery, but it seemed there was no battery in the gizmo.

Then, by chance, I discovered that Alis had a different contract available, a contract that was only for "seniors", people over 60, and that this contract allowed a discount not just on one section of the A28, but over the whole stretch operated by Alis.  Furthermore, the discount rate was greater than I had been enjoying on just the one section.  The downside was that if I used the autoroute fewer than 15 times in the first 12 months, a one-off charge of 20 euros would be levied.  Using a trusty spreadsheet program, I calculated that I would still be in pocket, even after paying the one-off charge.

I composed a letter in my very best French saying that I wished to cancel my contract and returned the gizmo.  I also told them the gizmo had stopped working.  Then, not wishing to confuse the situation, I allowed a week for that letter to reach Alis before I downloaded the new contract, completed it and sent it off.

Three days later, I received an email from a lady called Christine.

We have received a contract for the Liber-t Senior. As you have also a Liber-t Confort which is without charge, could you confirm me that you want to subscribe to the Liber-t Senior. This contract offer 30 % of discount on our section of A28 between Rouen – Alençon but there is a condition for the first year.  You will have to do 15 travels on our section in order to not pay the 20 € of charge the first year only.


In fact, this offer could be interesting for you if you take our motorway.


I look forward to hearing from  you.
Best regards.
I replied, telling her that I had returned the old tag (which was not working) and wished to cancel the old contract.  Within minutes, another email from Christine arrived.
If the problem concern the tag which had stopped working, we can send you a new one and this is free.
I confirmed that I wish to subscribe to Liber-t Senior and need a new badge/tag.
    Christine responded:
    In fact, you want to subscribe to the LIber-t Senior and a new tag on the Liber-t Confort ? In the case to change the tag, you will have to return the old one in the next 30 days.
    I tried to be more specific and confirmed that:
    1. I wanted to cancel the old contract;
    2. I wanted a new "senior" contract and a new tag for that contract.

    The response was an automated email telling me that Christine was on holiday and to contact Pascal.  I have yet to hear from him.  I had hoped to get this all done and dusted before France subsided into its annual August slumber . . .

    Watch this space.
    ~~~~~

    I did mention at some time how our English skies seldom have the intensity of blue that is seen in Mediterranean countries.  But it does happen sometimes, as can be seen in this picture of Brighton's Royal Pavilion.


    Monday, 22 July 2013

    Télépéage

    I drive a good few miles each year on French motorways, or autoroutes as they are known en France.  I do find that driving on those roads can, if I am not careful, almost lull me into sleep.  On one occasion I joined a motorway and drove to our usual stopping point at a service station, a journey which takes almost exactly 45 minutes, and I had seen no other vehicle - travelling in either direction!  After dark, with the windscreen wipers going continually, it can be particularly dangerous and as good as a professional at hypnotizing the driver.  Many is the time I have wished to see more traffic just so that I would have something to engage my brain.  On the other hand, when driving on the M25 in particular, I have wished I could be on the A28!

    (For those who don't know the M25, think Washington beltway or Paris péripherique.  Not that I have driven the périferique, and the one time I drove the beltway it seemed nothing like as bad as the M25.  Route 101 south of San Francisco might be a closer comparison.)

    Many of those autoroutes are toll roads, something of which we here in England have little experience.  There is just one major toll road in England, although there are a number of bridges and tunnels where a toll is charged.  When we bought our cottage in France I obviously opened a French bank account and, being wholly accustomed to using plastic, I very soon applied for a debit card.  This made it easier to use the péages, the toll roads, as it is so much easier to pay this way than to use cash.  The usual system, although it does vary sometimes, is to take a ticket on entering a section of péage and, when leaving either at a junction or at the end of the toll section, insert the ticket into a machine to be told the cost.  If using plastic, one then inserts the card, removes it and the barrier lifts.

    All this is fine and dandy - unless the person nearest the machine happens to be the Old Bat.  I think she must have short arms or something.  No matter how close I drive to the machine (and remember: although these are placed on the driver's side, that is for French cars and it is the passenger side for English cars) the Old Bat has to release her seat belt and practically squeeze out of the window to reach.  It was never thus when my friend Chris was with me, and on those occasions when the Old Bat is driving and I get to use the machines, I have no problem either.  But we found a way round this particular snag.  It's called télépéage.

    Every French toll station - well, nearly every one - has one lane reserved for télépéage.  Télépéage users have a transponder thingy stuck on the inside of the windscreen.  At the toll station, a radio signal is transmitted which records the entry of the vehicle to the toll section and causes the barrier to raise.  On exit, a signal is registered which raises the barrier and notes the cost of the journey.  All done automatically.  Each month, the total cost is charged to one's bank account.  All very easy and very convenient.  As a by-product, on busy days in the summer, one can sail in total serenity, figuratively thumbing one's nose, past long queues of cars (mainly English) waiting to pay in cash and be on one's way with no delay.

    Simples, as the meerkats would say.  (If that reference is lost on you, check it out here.)  And so it was - until the last time we were in France.

    To be continued.
    ~~~~~

    I can't even get away from them up on the Downs!


    Sunday, 21 July 2013

    Motown meltdown

    I was sad to learn this week that Detroit has gone bust.  Not that I have any great reason to root for the city, but it is one of the few large American cities that I have visited.  (Just for the record, the others are Boston, New York, Washington and San Francisco and I have also driven straight through Reno.)

    I've just checked and I see it was actually nine years ago that I was in Motor City - July 2004.  I was there for the Lions' International Convention and I spent all of a week in the city.  I freely admit I wasn't greatly impressed - but then, I'm no fan of cities full stop.  I flew into the city airport and was whisked through immigration faster than I have been at Boston, Washington, New York or San Francisco.  It seemed the immigration officials actually wanted me to visit.  That was the only time I have ever been met by somebody holding up a card with my name.  The driver took my case and I travelled into town in style in the back of a limo.

    There was time to see a little of the city in between the Lions activities.  Although the water front (or should I call that the river front?) was attractive enough between my hotel and the Joe Louis Arena, there were large parts of the city no much farther away that were very run down, with big spaces where building had once stood.  I took a ride on the monorail (am I right in thinking it's called the People Mover?) to see a bit more and I took the wrong exit from a station I decided to get off at.  This led me straight into a casino - my first ever visit to such an establishment.  I was astonished to see how many people were playing the slots and the intensity with which they watched the dials spinning round.  And this was only about 10.30 in the morning!  It took me a good 20 minutes to find my way out of the maze and onto the street.

    It was in Detroit, at that convention, that I first met Skip and GS in person.  Skip and I had "known" each other electronically for some time and it was good to meet up in real life - and to be introduced to his delightful wife.  Grandma Skip had family in Detroit and they were generous enough to invite me to share in a barbecue to celebrate a family birthday.  It was Independence Day as well, but I think the birthday took precedence.

    It was a good week, and I have fond memories.  This is how I remember Motor City:


    Saturday, 20 July 2013

    If I ruled the world . . .

    If I ruled the world,  
    Every day would be the first day of spring.  
    Every heart would have a new song to sing, and we'd sing of the joy every morning would bring.

    Fat chance!   Actually, I'm not at all sure what I would do if by some miracle I were to wake up one morning to find that I ruled the world. I don't know that I would want to do so, anyway.   It would be different if I found, instead, that I ruled England.  Or at least, that I could introduce any law I wanted for England.

    I would rule that every bicycle would have to be entered on a central register and each bike owner would have to pay an annual charge to maintain that registration.  Just as we car owners do already.

    With a bit of luck, doing that would drive all cyclists off our roads.
    There are two things about our roads these days that really wind me up.  One is almost entirely the fault of the local council which seems determined to drive all car owners out of Brighton.  Come to think of it, the same council is largely instrumental in laying on the second thing that winds me up.

    The first of these two things is bus stops.  Now, I am a great fan of buses - when I want to go into town.  Otherwise, they just tend to get in the way and block the road.  Especially when they stop to let down or pick up passengers.  This wouldn't be so bad if the council had not intervened a few years ago.  Where we had some nice wide roads, roads wide enough for cars to park both sides and still allow traffic to flow in both directions, buses used to pull in at stops.  This allowed other road users to pass them easily - but that was too much of a good thing for motorists so the council thought up a way of stopping cars.  The pavements at bus stops were extended a few feet into the street, thereby ensuring that buses blocked the traffic as they stopped to pick up or let down passengers.

    That's irritating enough, but at least I know that the buses usually - or maybe just sometimes - have a couple of dozen or more passengers.  Bikes, on the other hand, transport only one person at a time.  Buses do manage to speed up between stops.  Bikes, on the other hand, rarely go faster than 10 - 15 miles per hour.  And until the road is perfectly clear of traffic driving towards me, I am stuck behind those ruddy cyclists!  This means that I and a host of other motorists are being delayed (possibly all those passengers on the bus as well) and are discharging more fumes into the atmosphere, buring more fuel and thus aiding global warming (if, indeed, global warming really does exist - which is open to debate).

    Our dear council stands accused of aiding and abetting cyclists.  One of the main thoroughfares in the town is the Old Shoreham Road.  Until quite recently, this was the main east-west route but has less traffic since the bypass was built.  All the same, it was and is a busy road.  It helped that the road was just about wide enough to get two lanes of traffic in each direction at all the traffic lights so that vehicles turning right did not block others going straight ahead.  Simple, really.  Until the council decided to "improve" the road by inserting a car-wide cycle lane each side of the road.  This has resulted in queues of cars while the occasional cycle passes them all with ease.  And people boarding buses - or alighting from them - have to cross the cycle lane to do so.  Yes, I know I implied there are few cycles using those lanes but that's not the point.

    As a motorist I pay a "road tax" each year of £165.  Some people pay a good deal more as this tax varies according to the emissions each car makes.  But cyclists get to use the roads - for which I am paying! - without having to contribute a bean.  So, if I ever become Prime Minister I will immediately impose a tax of £100 a year on every bike.

    Ah well.  Dreaming is tax free.

    ~~~~~

    The French market was in Southwick Square again yesterday morning.  I ignored there please and made all my purchases at Sainsbury's.  Those French stallholders convert their prices from euros to sterling at an exchange rate very advantageous to themselves and then round up their prices a bit further.  A good bit further.

    Still, there are some colourful sights.  These are tablecloths.


    Friday, 19 July 2013

    En France profonde

    In deepest France.  Which is a bit of an exaggeration as we are only going to Normandy, almost the closest part of France to England.

    I was saying the other day how I had discovered that a cardboard box which I thought contained an old computer, actually held (amongst other things) several hundred 35mm slides which I had optimistically left with a photographic agency.  The agency never did sell any reproduction rights to my photos - or if they did, I never saw any royalties.  Maybe that's why they went bust.  Among those slides were a few I had taken on our first family holiday in France.  It would have been about 1980 when I drove our Morris Marina estate car off the ferry at Cherbourg and on past St Lô to the village of St Romphaire, near to which village was the farm where I had arranged to rent a gîte.

    Boy, was it hot!  We visited Mont St Michel one day, taking with us a packed lunch of cheese sandwiches.  When we undid the package we found the cheese had melted.  After a day or two, we had a thunderstorm at almost exactly 4.30 every afternoon.  The storms only lasted for about 10 or 15 minutes and 15 minutes later, everything was bone dry once again.

    The farmer and his wife who were our hosts still milked their cows by hand in the field - and this was only about 30 years ago.  I daresay things have changed a bit since then.


    Thursday, 18 July 2013

    Decision, decisions

    So yesterday I gave in.  It was something like two years ago that I created a Facebook page for Brighton Lions but I had pretty much forgotten about it and certainly had made no attempt to update it since 2011.  It came back into my consciousness a couple of months ago but I had been reluctant to actually do anything.  I think it was me subconcsiously deciding not to go with the giant, ie F/b, but to support the little guy and use Blogger.  OK, I know, Blogger is Google is BIG.  But then another of our members posted a few pics and it dawned on me that I was wrong to impose my idiosyncratic views on the Club when F/b is the social get-together site of choice for so many people.  I bit the bullet and updated the page.  But that was just the start.  Having done that, I needed to make sure there was a link on each page of our web site.

    In the wayback I have used frames when building web sites on the grounds that changes in site navigation only need one alteration to be made whereas if the navigation is on every page, one tiny amendment can mean almost hours of work.  So it was with the addition of the F/b link.  But eventually it was done and dusted.

    Now I have to think what to do - if anything - about the Club's blog.  It does seem superfluous if we are using Facebook regularly - but if I take it down I will need to make another change to the navigation on the web site!

    Ho hum.

    ~~~~~
    
    Nevada, 2006
    
    It's still stonking hot here.  At least, we think it's stonking hot.  It has hit 31* - which is knocking on 88 Fahrenheit - and we are in need of rain.  I was talking to my farming cousin earlier this week.  He has been busy making hay and cutting silage but he wants rain.  So does my garden.  I've been picking blackcurrants and the gooseberries are well on the way - but I get the feeling they would swell up a bit if only we had some rain.  The apples are looking good this year - much better than last - and there seem to be plenty of pears and plums, although the plums will probably do something horrible as they do most years.  The grass is looking burnt and the view from the bedroom yesterday morning shows the pastures very brown.  Reminded me of Nevada.

    Sussex, 2013 - and the grass is turning brown





    Wednesday, 17 July 2013

    An occasional urge

    Temperatures over the last few days have been such that it would have been cruel to take the dog for the usual walk immediately after lunch.  Instead, I have waited until the evening.  Not, mind you, that it has been what one might call cool then.  When I arrived home the other evening just before 8.30 the thermometer in the car was still registering 23*.  That would be considered a pleasantly warm, summer afternoon temperature.  Luckily, the humidity was not high so it still felt just that - pleasantly warm.

    An evening stroll up the Waterhall valley was delightful.  I was able to spend a few minutes watching the tadpoles in the dew pond while, on the other side, sundry birds came to drink or bathe.  There were song thrushes, chaffinches, blackbirds and various others I was unable to identify as I had no binoculars with me.  A lone swift was darting about over the pond while a pair of green woodpeckers was busily hunting for ants on the path.  I did spot a warbler but not clearly enough to identify which breed.  And, of course, overhead were wood pigeons and rooks, while the football pitches hosted crowds of black-headed gulls.

    I have not smoked for a little over two years but that pause by the pond would have been a natural time to light up.  Strangely enough, I found it very easy to stop smoking back in 2011.  I had tried before, but my abstention had never lasted more than six months.  I think that this time there was rather more incentive.  Having been diagnosed as suffering from lung cancer only to find I wasn't acted as quite a prod.  I was also determined not to let down all those health service people who had pulled out all the stops for me before finding that my cancer wasn't.

    That said, there have been occasions when I would have liked to pick up the pack and my lighter.  It does strike me as odd that these occasions have rarely been at what would in the past have been trigger points.  Every smoker and ex-smoker will know about those, the times when one automatically lights a cigarette.  Frequently - or even usually - it is out of habit but there are times when a cigarette just complements the moment.  Like when enjoying a cup of coffee after a good meal.  One of my trigger points was letting the dog off the lead as I entered the local park, or letting her out of the car in Stanmer woods.  Or at Waterhall, for that matter.

    Two years.  Well, a little more than that, more like two years, one month and ten days.  Does that mean that I'm not yet an ex-smoker, just a smoker who has not smoked for two years etc?  Perhaps we one-time-smokers are like recovering alcoholics.  But no, the urge just isn't there now.  Well, most of the time it isn't.

    ~~~~~

    While we were looking at pictures of Brighton seafront I should have posted this picture, taken on Palace Pier.  You can tell it's an old picture as the West Pier can be seen still standing!

    Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    Time travel

    When they were but youngsters, my children liked to watch Dr Who on the television.  The good doctor was (and still is as the programme is still running) described as a Time Lord, somebody with the ability to travel through both space and time.  I'm not sure that the children who comprise the audience either then or now actually believe in the possibility of travelling through time, but hey! nothing is impossible.  At least, that is what Napoleon said, according to a French electrician from whom I was seeking a quotation for some work.  But that's another story.

    The quotation (Napoleon's, not for the work) does bring to mind one of the most interesting museum's I have visited in France.  Actually, to call it a museum is a tad inaccurate.  It is actually the house where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last years of his life, the Château du Clos Lucé at Amboise.  On one floor of the house are scale models of many of Leonardo's inventions, while in the grounds some of those inventions have been constructed in full size.  Among them are what might be described as a machine gun and a tank, while Leonardo drew plans also for a parachute and a helicopter. Remember, this was 500 years ago!

    If Leonardo could "invent" things like a helicopter 500 years ago, who is to say that time travel will not be possible at some stage in the future?  In one way, time travel is already with us.  After all, the light from some distant planets and stars takes several years - even hundreds or thousands of years - to reach us.  Is it not possible that some form of sentient life on one of those distant planets could have invented a very powerful telescope and might even now be watching Custer's Last Stand or the Battle of Agincourt?

    Now I come to think of it, it is already possible for us to travel backwards through time.  When we come back from France, we leave Calais at, for example, 8.00pm but as the journey takes just 35 minutes, we arrive in England at 7.25pm - before we have left France!

    But if time travel were available to us, what period would I like to visit?  And should I go backwards or forwards?  I'm not at all sure that I would want to travel forwards and risk seeing what a mess my generation made of things, so perhaps my journey would be back through history.  There are most certainly some periods and events I would want to avoid: the Roman empire at its cruel height, building the pyramids in Egypt, the Black Death.  None of these seem suitable for even a short visit.  Perhaps a glimpse of California at the time of the gold rush, or the English countryside during a fine summers day in the mid-1930s?

    Of course, what I would want would be modern comforts while I just observe life going on.  In that case, watching the pyramids being built would be no problem, so long as I am not one of the slave labourers!

    But maybe, just maybe, I'll stick with what I know - the present day.

    ~~~~~

    It's haymaking time.  Not quite the sort of thing that Constable would have seen, but this is what it looks like nowadays on the South Downs.

    Monday, 15 July 2013

    Television serendipity

    Yes, I really have given this piece the title "Television Serendipity".  I realise that it might seem to you to be an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, like an honest antiques dealer or a cheap lawyer, but serendipity is what I found on the television yesterday afternoon.

    Now I come to think of it, linking the words "television" and "afternoon" is something of an oddity for me.  I may well have been retired for more than eleven years but I still have this mindset, a mindset which some people might describe as puritanical, which tells me I should not be watching television in the afternoon.  I still can't get out of the feeling that the day should be taken up with work and relaxing activities (there's another oxymoron for you) should be left until the evening or when one is on holiday.  There really is no reason at all why I should not watch television during the day and leave things like ironing and such housework as I do until the evening.  But I don't.

    Now look at me: I'm blethering away again on something completely off-subject.  Let's get back on course - and "getting on course" has a loose connection with yesterday's television viewing.

    Hilary and local Lions at the reception.
    I had been warned that Auntie BBC was to broadcast a programme about Hilary Lister's dream to sail round Britain - solo.  Hilary, a quadriplegic who can move only her head, is also a member of a Lions Club.  It was after she became paralysed that she took up sailing, controlling the boat by blowing or sucking on three straws to raise or lower the sails, change course etc.  She made her first attempt back in 2008 and I met her at a reception Brighton Lions organised for her and her team when they stayed overnight at Brighton marina.  It was only in 2009, or maybe 2010, that Hilary finally achieved her aim but quite why the BBC have taken so long to broadcast the programme has not been explained.



    Anyway, I wanted to watch it.  The programme, which lasted an hour, was to be aired starting at 6.30pm, a time which is completely hopeless for me as we would be eating.  So I set the recorder.  But our recorder has developed an irritating occasional fault.  Sometimes, when it is switched on a message appears: "Updating software".  I can't imagine what software they might be that would need updating but once the machine goes into this mode, everything freezes until the machine is manually told to stop updating.  So late in the afternoon I switched on to check that the recorder had not done the dirty on me.  It hadn't, but when I switched off the recorder, I found the television was showing a programme about birds of South America - scarlet macaws, condors, cranes, humming birds, vultures and harpy eagles et al.  Neither the Old Bat nor I had seen any advance publicity about it, but what an intriguing programme it was.  This - nature programmes - is what the BBC does superbly well and I will make a note to either watch or record the programme next week when it will be looking at Asia and Australia through the eyes of birds.

    Television serendipity indeed.

    ~~~~~

    This picture, showing the same stretch of Brighton beach as the picture I posted yesterday, shows the beach at 4.00pm yesterday.  I've "borrowed" it from the Daily Telegraph web site.  You can see why I keep out of town over summer weekends.


    Sunday, 14 July 2013

    The Great Storm

    We have had no rain here for quite some time and for the last couple of weeks the temperature has generally been into the 20s during the day, hitting the highs of about 27*.  I grant you that 27* (Celsius) is not very high compared to the places some of you inhabit, but to have such high temperatures for such a long period is not normal - even here on the sunny Sussex coast.  It is noticeable that the grass is beginning to turn brown and some gentle rain would be welcomed by keen gardeners.  I'm not sure that all the farmers would appreciate it as they are busy hay-making.

    This slightly unusual spell of fine weather puts me in mind of 1976.  There have been good summers since then - it was only two or three years ago that we went so long without rain that rivers and reservoirs dried out.  But 1976 is firmly in the folk memory as a long, hot summer.  The Old Bat remembers it vividly as she was pregnant with our daughter, who was born 37 years ago this week.

    That year there were standpipes in towns and we were encouraged to run baths no deeper than four inches or so - I don't remember the exact depth.  In August we had a holiday at Mrs Longman's B & B in north Devon, close to Westward Ho!, a place we returned to year after year as she looked after us so well and the beach was/is long and sandy.  Daughter was only about three weeks old when we went and I remember that Mrs L was most insistent that we ignored all restrictions on water supplies when it came to bathing the baby.  What was more, she washed the nappies!

    That is the best summer in our collective folk memory now, although for my parents' generation there were earlier ones.  They talked about the dreadful winter we had in 1947, but I have no recollection of that at all.  We have had a number of winters with short spells of severe weather but I don't really think there has been a terribly bad winter for quite a number of years.

    What many people do remember, though, is the Great Storm.  It was in October 1987 that hurricane force winds ripped across southern England uprooting thousands of trees, knocking over telephone boxes, hurling garden sheds across neighbours' gardens and generally causing mayhem.  The signs are still there today in Stanmer woods if one knows what to look for.

    But again, that storm was as nothing compared with the hurricanes of the West Indies and southern USA, or the tornadoes that whip up Tornado Alley.  We might moan about our weather here in England, but if we are honest with ourselves, it's really very gentle compared with other places.  Indeed, it has been said that we don't have weather, we have climate.  And our climate is about the best in the world for growing certain fruits - apples and strawberries especially.

    ~~~~~

    I have been posting pictures taken one day last week when I was on the seafront here in Brighton.  We can't leave without seeing the pier, complete with the funfair on the far end!



    Saturday, 13 July 2013

    To the library

    I've mentioned before that one of my favourite authors is Robert Goddard and it was only a couple or three weeks back that I said I would order his latest title, The Ways of the World, on my return from France.  I did just that but it was a few days after the book arrived before I was able to open the cover.  Well, I could have started reading it earlier but I decided to finish the book I had started, whatever that might have been.  Anyway, I finished the book yesterday evening so I must hie me to the library today for some more brain fodder.

    I can't say that I thought The Ways of the World one of Goddard's best offerings.  He contrived a few coincidences too many for my liking and certainly there was one event that, to my mind, needed some explanation.  And the ending - well . . . words fail me.

    I rarely buy books, preferring to save my spondoolicks for other things.  Why should I buy books when we have a very good free library service?  I know people who do buy the books they read - and then never seem to turn them out.  Almost every room in their houses is lined with bookshelves and the books are rarely if ever taken down and read again.

    The one snag with using the local library is that it is small and the stock of books is not the greatest.  This means that I can have difficulty in finding books I want to read, but it also makes me try out different authors so I suppose there is an up-side.  Anyway, I'm off.  There's just time to leave you with another picture.

    This one shows the Brighton seafront to the west of the Palace Pier and was aken from the said pier.  This stretch of the seafront is where all the big hotels are located - the Norfolk, the King's, the Holiday Inn, the Metropole, the Grand, the Old Ship, the Thistle, the Queen's, the Royal Albion.


    Friday, 12 July 2013

    Gone shopping

    Friday morning.  The Old Bat is at the MS Treatment Centre for her hyperbaric oxygen session so I have taken myself off to the supermarket with the shopping list.  At least, that is the situation if you are reading this.  Of course, I do fully appreciate that you might not be reading this while I am in the supermarché but I am writing this on Thursday and will ask Blogger very nicely to schedule it for posting tomorrow morning.  I really cannot even begin to think why it is that I want my posts to show in the morning.  Anytime at all during the day would be quite alright, but there it is.

    It seems that I have been doing the Friday shopping run for several months now.  It always was the case that the Old Bat would drive herself to the MS Centre and do the shopping on her way home, then the wind started getting up and as she is so unsteady on her feet, I was dragooned into driving her so she could take my arm while walking.  "Dragooned" is a particularly poor choice of word as it implies that I didn't want to do it whereas I am quite content to help where I can.

    I must say that the Old Bat has been remarkable stoical about her gradually deteriorating condition.  I don't remember how many years ago it was - three, possibly four - that we were at King's College Hospital in London when she was told that there is no treatment for it.  After we had returned to the car she said to me, "It's not going to go away, is it?" - rather tearfully - and that is the only time she has shown anything like self-pity.  I do try to avoid doing things that she can no longer do, such as going on the Brighton Wheel yesterday, but quite obviously that is not always possible.  Somebody has to walk the dog, for instance.  But it certainly does cramp her style.

    Mention of the Brighton Wheel prompts me to post this picture taken while I was on the Wheel on Wednesday.  This is the view to the east.  You can see Volk's Railway - the oldest electric railway in the world -running along the top of the beach as far as the marina, the man-made harbour in the distance.  Beyond that are the chalk cliffs running past Roedean to Rottingdean, Saltdean and on eventually to Beachy Head (although we can see no further than Peacehaven in this picture).


    Thursday, 11 July 2013

    Perchance to dream

    But before we get onto that, just a quick catch up from yesterday when I mentioned the first Ashes test.  England supporters were biting their nails as our side was bowled out for a paltry 215 runs.  However, things were soon made more even when the Aussies were just 19 for 2, though they made something of a come-back to end the day on 75 for 4.  Could be this match won't last the full five days.

    Late yesterday afternoon things started to cool down and it was really quite comfortable going to bed.  I managed the best night's sleep for several days - and without dreaming (as far as I am aware).  I know I dreamed the two nights before - even though I can't remember too much about those dreams.  I do recall that in one of them I was with my wife, an elderly lady, another lady of an indeterminate age and my two younger children when they were children.  (What had happened to the elder son is still a mystery.)  We were trying to get to Euston station on the London Underground but were lost and none of the trains were going where we wanted to go.  It didn't help that my wife, with our two suitcases, and the other two ladies became separated from me and the children.

    Those dreams can't have been a result of me eating cheese as I have eaten none for several weeks.  Perhaps it is all to do with my ka leaving my body.  Many years ago I read a theory that while we sleep, our spirits (or kas) leave our bodies and travel on other astral planes.  What happens while our kas are travelling comes back to us as dreams.

    Yesterday evening the weather man told us that yesterday was the seventh consecutive day that temperatures had exceeded 25* somewhere in Britain whereas this time last year we had rain and floods.  Which just goes to show the vagaries of the weather here in England.  At least it is consistent in its inconsistency.

    It is still a lot cooler - and cloudy - this morning so I am glad that I took the opportunity yesterday afternoon to go into town and take a ride on the Brighton Wheel.  I had noticed earlier that visibility was excellent - no heat haze - so I grabbed the chance.  The Wheel is on the seafront, right by the Palace Pier.  Well, it always used to be called the Palace Pier.  Now it has been renamed as Brighton Pier but most locals still refer to it under its old name.

    This picture shows the Wheel and was taken from the Palace Pier.


    Wednesday, 10 July 2013

    Ashes to ashes

    Among the better things that we Brits (horrible term!) have given to the world is cricket.  Not that the world in general appreciates the gift.  Just about every country plays football (another English invention) but cricket is pretty much restricted to the older Commonwealth countries such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.  Perhaps strangely, cricket doesn't seem to have taken off in Scotland - although the Dutch play the game.

    Today sees the start of the first test match between England and our keenest adversaries, the Aussies.  Why international cricket matches are called "tests" is something I have never even considered, and I suspect few other Englishmen have either.  They just are.  A test match is scheduled to last five days whereas county matches are generally four day affairs.

    Anyway, today is the first day of the Ashes series, a series of five matches.  Matches between
    England and Australia are known as Ashes series because back in 1882, an English team lost on home soil for the first time - to Australia.  The next day, a mock obituary ran in the Sporting Times "in affectionate remembrance of English cricket, which died at the Oval on 29th August, 1882".  It added: "The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia".  When an English team toured Australia the following year and won the series 2-1, the English captain was presented with a small urn containing the ashes of a burned bail.  130 years later, that urn is still the prize.  The urn is not exactly the world's most stunning sporting trophy, standing as it does little more than four inches tall.   But it is one of the most keenly contested.

    British sport seems to be on something of a high at present.  Our cricket team is considered by most to be number one in the world (and already holders of the Ashes), an Englishman won the Tour de France last year (and another is currently in the lead), a Brit (OK, a Scot) won the men's singles at the US Open and also at Wimbledon (and the Olympic gold), and we did extraordinarily well at the Olympics.  Could be that the Ashes will remain in these islands.

    ~~~~~

    Not exactly the Ashes, just a local club match on Patcham Place playing field.





    Tuesday, 9 July 2013

    Poppies

    The field seen from our bedroom window
    For the last week I have been wanting to drive out along the road towards Ditchling Beacon to take photographs in a field of oil seed rape that is now smothered in poppies.  Although the weather has been warm and even at times hot, there has not been an opportunity for me to do this when the sky has been blue.  Not that the English sky is very often the blue one associates with Spain or Greece.  Our sky blue is a much paler version, almost looking washed out.

    But yesterday morning the sun was shining and the sky was blue, albeit the English washed-out sky blue, so off I set.  I was pretty happy with the results, as well - except that I got a slight touch of sun-stroke!  I can't decide which picture I like the best, so here are a handful of those I took.


    I thought the blaze of poppies in front of the Chattri particularly apt as the Chattri is the spot where were lit the funeral pyres of Indian soldiers who died in Brighton of wounds sustained in the trenches of Flanders 98 years ago.




















    Monday, 8 July 2013

    Anyone for tennis?

    I didn't get my shandy yesterday as the meeting was postponed.  One Lion couldn't make it, another was ill and the other will be a newcomer to the planning so we decided to reschedule.

    Yesterday was also men's final day at Wimbledon.  Not that I'm a great fan of tennis.  In fact, it's not a sport that I watch very much as I find it tends to become boring.  The winner of the gentlemen's singles competition receives £1.6 million in prize money with the runner-up receiving £800,000.  Even the first round losers were paid £23,500!  It's the same for the ladies' singles: £1.6 million for the winner and £800,000 for the runner-up.  That strikes me as a little unfair.

    I have no argument with equal pay for men and women - far from it.  But equal pay should also mean equal work (and equal responsibility, but that's not my point here).  So why is it that ladies' tennis matches are the best of 3 sets while gentlemen's are the best of 5?  The ladies do, at most, only 60% of the work that the men perform and yet they are paid the same.  Seems to me the pendulum has swung too far in one direction.

    ~~~~~

    Wimbledon fortnight, for many, means strawberries and cream.  Up until about 12 years ago, for me and Brighton Lions it meant door-to-door selling of carnival programmes.  Our carnival was held on the third Saturday in July and for about 6 weeks before that, we had teams out five nights a week knocking on doors in an attempt to persuade people to hand over 50p for a programme.  We got a wide variety of responses.

    "I shan't be here.  When is it?"

    "I don't live here; I'm just babysitting."

    "Brighton Lions?  Is that something to do with Brighton Tigers?"  [Brighton Tigers was the then-defunct ice hockey team.]

    Just occasionally, "Of course!  I know the Lions do a lot of good and spend the money locally."

    ~~~~~

    Still on the subject of sport, we here in Brighton certainly can get our fill.  We might not have professional tennis (we would have to travel to Eastbourne for the nearest tournament) but we do have professional cricket and football as well as greyhound racing and horse racing.

    I think the first horse races in Brighton were held back in the 1790s when men would ride a little way out of town to the track on White Hawke Down.  Nowadays the race track is still in much the same place but the hill has been renamed Race Hill although the housing estate nearby is still called Whitehawk.  Perhaps surprisingly, the race track is still basically on the edge of town with extensive downland and sea views.

    All of which serves to introduce today's picture, which is another of those prints made from 35mm slides and was taken at Brighton races.


    Sunday, 7 July 2013

    Too sticky

    I am just too hot and sticky to think up anything to post today, besides which I've got a meeting later to discuss the Old Folks' Christmas Party.  At least the meeting is to be in a pub so I can have a shandy!

    Just to keep things ticking over, here is one of those old 35mm slides with a picture of Eilean Donan castle in the western Highlands of Scotland.


    Saturday, 6 July 2013

    Hidden treasure

    Or maybe I should change the title to "Among my souvenirs".

    Many years ago we had the loft partly boarded, a window put in the roof and created a room which was intended to be a playroom for the children.  Since they left home it has become my office-type space with my laptop computer and my desktop, plus two printers and an external hard drive for backing up.  It has become something of a glory hole as well with sundry boxes of stationery and numerous lever arch files.  There are also three dead laptops and a dead desktop computer.

    [I wonder why they are called desktop computers as nearly everybody keeps them on the floor, whereas laptops are kept on the desk.]

    The other day I was searching among the detritus for some card on which to print two or three copies of the Brighton Lions Club directory for those members without computers (yes, there are still some).  I was sure I had a few sheets but I'm blowed if I have been able to find it.

    On the floor at the foot of the bookshelves (on which there are no books) is a cardboard box measuring about 18" x 18" and about 15" deep in which is stored an old Amstrad computer the bpoys advised me to hang onto, possibly as they thought that by the time I turn up my toes it might be a valuable antique.  At least, I thought there was an Amstrad in there.  Until, out of curiosity, I opened the box while looking for the card. 

    So that's where they are!

    I knew I had a lot more 35mm slides than I have been able to find and I had been puzzled about where they had disappeared to (and as I shouldn't end a sentence with whatever that word is I've typed a bit more).  What I had forgotten is that I had left many slides with a photographic agency in London.  When they went bust, I reclaimed my slides and left them in my office, which was also in London.  On my retirement I boxed them all up and brought them home, since when they have never been unpacked.

    There were lots of other treasures in the box, such as correspondence from a genealogist concerning my family tree (I had been wondering what I had done with that as well) and an album of 10 x 8 prints from a few of my better slides.

    So now I have a lot more work to do, scanning all those old slides.

    And I still haven't found that card.

    ~~~~~

    Another thing I have found is Internet Explorer.  I rarely use it as I prefer Firefox but for some reason it vanished from my desktop.  The link was there but if I ever tried to open IE, nothing happened.  This week it's come back.  Strange.

    ~~~~~

    More foxgloves.  It's 25 years since I last saw so many in the local woods.  It was in October 1987 that hurricane force winds swept across southern England, bringing down great swathes of trees.  Where the sun was able to shine on parts of the woods for the first time in many years, huge numbers of foxglove seeds germinated in the summer of 1988.

    These foxgloves are in Stanmer Great Wood, in an area that was coppiced three or four years ago, but this is the first year the foxgloves have bloomed.


    Friday, 5 July 2013

    It's true!

    Every cloud does have a silver lining.  Yes, I know that is a cliché, but so what?  I have discovered it to be true.  Or maybe it's just a bit of positive thinking.  Or lateral thinking.

    Whatever, I have discovered the silver lining in this particular cloud.

    I have fond memories of a family holiday way back when I was a young teenager.  My parents rented a cottage in Somerset, with the Bridgwater Bay beach just across the dunes from the cottage door.  Lunch each day was fresh bread, New Zealand butter and real Cheddar cheese.  It's those lunches that I really remember.  Food fit for a king. Good, mature Cheddar has ever since been just about my favourite cheese, although Stilton and Roquefort are pretty high up the list as well.  You can imagine, therefore, my horror when my doctor informed me that cheese, especially hard cheeses like Cheddar which are 30% fat, is now off the menu as far as I am concerned.  That is, if I want to reduce my cholesterol level to bring down the 1 in 3 chance of heart problems.

    The silver lining in this?  I have rediscovered Bovril and now, instead of lightly salted butter and Cheddar cheese on my lunchtime rolls, the first is spread with a butter substitute and Bovril while the second is scrumptious with homemade jam, strawberry, raspberry or apricot.  Life is still pretty good.

    (The Bovril web site is quite fun.  And the packaging has hardly changed since I was a boy.)




    ~~~~~

    Back in the courtyard of our French cottage, the flower border was full of colour with three different roses (one peachy cream, one white and one red - only just visible in the picture), a purple clematis in the far corner and blue lavender which was almost hidden by the foxgloves growing just outside the border.  I rather like the herb Robert at the foot of the drainpipe with its pink flowers and red foliage even though most people see it as a weed.  I call it God's gardening.


    Thursday, 4 July 2013

    Here - and there

    I had just finished a bowl of cereal at breakfast time when I glanced once again out of the window.  What I saw was much the same as yesterday morning: mist and a very light drizzle.  In fact, pretty much as the Met Office forecast for today as shown to the right.  Then I looked at the forecast in the morning paper: sunny with temperatures between 20 and 25 degrees (67 to 77 for those still using old money).  The front page of the paper announced that we are to have a heat wave with temperatures of 30 and more - starting next week.  Reminds me of what the Red Queen told Alice: "Jam yesterday and jam tomorrow but never jam today".

    Meanwhile, I wait with bated breathe (not literally) to see if this sea fret will clear as it did yesterday.  As we drove along the cliff top in the evening sun to the Lions dinner meeting at Rottingdean the English Channel looked positively Caribbean in colour.

    On the same table as the Old Bat and me was a member of Burgess Hill Lions who I have not seen for a good while.  He and I travelled with a Lions aid convoy to Bosnia soon after the war out there had finished and we spent part of the evening reminiscing.  (I posted the Secret Diary of the Sarajevo Seven on this blog back in 2010, starting here, so you can follow our adventure from there if you feel inclined.)

    And for the second month running we won a raffle prize!  This month it was just one bottle of wine, but that brings our winnings to seven bottles in two months.  Perhaps I should buy a lottery ticket.

    ~~~~~

    After I had visited the boulangerie in Pouancé last Sunday morning (a baguette and a couple of strawberry tartlets) I drove to the lake in the hope that the great crested grebes might have returned and nested.  The lake almost forms a partial moat at the foot of the castle ruins.


    The field opposite is where the crowd congregates to watch the Bastille Day fireworks, but last Sunday it was a crowd of fishermen who were occupying the bank. There was a fishing competition in course!


    Meanwhile, a fisher of a different sort waited patiently on the other side of the lake.  That's a heron on the fishing stage.