Thursday, 31 October 2013

Grumpy Old Man Day

You might think that today, 31st October, is Hallowe'en.  I call it Grumpy Old Man Day.  You see, this, for me, is not the eve of All Hallows' Day, or All Saints' Day, the night when ghosties and ghoulies and all kinds of nasty, scary things are out and about.  Although, now I come to think of it, that is exactly what happens today!

Trick or treat.  What idiot came up with that idea?  He has to have been American: no true-blooded Englishman could ever have countenanced allowing children to demand money with menaces.  Children, after all, should be seen and not heard.  Seen, for preference, for a few minutes before bedtime when Nanny brings them to meet their parents.  Of course, that is while they are young children.  As soon as they reach the great age of 7 or 8 they should be packed off to boarding school.  With luck, another pupil's parents will be foolish enough to invite them to visit for the school holidays.

Unfortunately, the Old Bat doesn't share my views about this horrible habit we have imported from America.  She is only too delighted to buy a pumpkin, throw away the inedible inside (I don't like pumpkin pie or soup or anything) and cut out the features of a rather wierd-looking face which, duly illuminted by a nightlite, is placed beside the front door to indicate to the brats of the neighbourhood that we are prepared to dole out sweets to any who care to come calling.  That, of course, means that we have to buy, not only the pumpkin, but a barrel-load of sweets as well.  The only benefit is that I get to eat any left-overs.

There was one memorable year when our supply of treats was exhausted.  The doorbell rang for the umpteenth time and I wearily went to answer the call.  There on the step were five hopeful young girls.  I had just two sweets left.  Fern, the dog, had come to the door with me and provided me with inspiration.  I suggested that, as their treat, the hopefuls could pat the dog.  That, in their view, was far better than getting another sweet.

So tonight I shall place the pumpkin, duly illuminated from inside, beside the front door.  I shall also switch on the outside light for safety's sake - and gird my loins, preparing my rictus grin.  But that nightlight will be extinguished early as tonight I have a treat as well.  My daughter is to arrive from the Midlands and she and her brother are taking the Old Bat and me out to our local Italian restaurant by way of belated celebration of an event that occurred 49 years ago.  My grumpy old man act will be short-lived this year.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Those sporting times

There I was, quietly minding my own business . . . Well, minding other people's business really.  I was reading blogs, but I was getting along with things in my own, quiet way, when something hit me.  Not literally, but the blog I was reading brought two things straight to the front of my memory, one of which I thought I had completely forgotten.  The Cranky Old Man's post was about ice hockey (which he called "hockey" - a different sport here in England which the Americans call "field hockey") and how the US team won some competition or other and the country came to a halt to watch the game on television.  Anyway, it brought to mind two occasions I can remember when England came virtually to a standstill because of sporting events - and I don't count last year's Olympics even when Mo Farrar won his second gold medal.

The first occasion I was reminded of was way back, getting on for fifty years ago now.  It was a Saturday afternoon, 30th July, and England had won through to the final of the World Cup.  (I'm talking football here, proper football, not rugby football, nor American football, nor Australian football.)  Given that the game was invented in England it seems surprising that this was the first time our team had been in the World Cup final.  That year the opponents were Germany.  England won a famous victory which is still talked about today - and that was the one and only time we won the cup!

The football match was of interest mainly to the men of the country, but some years later both men and women wanted to watch Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean as they took to the ice in Sarajevo for the free dance ice skating routine in the 1984 winter Olympics.  Ice sports have never been very popular in this country, but that young couple had almost everybody entranced and their 1984 routine was especially spectacular.  I well remember staying up until 2 or 3am to watch their performance but whether it was at the Olympics or the World Championships I don't recall.  Possibly the Olympics, the performance delayed because of a power cut.  Either way, it was tremendous.  And here is the video of their last amateur performance at the World Championships in Ottawa.  Spellbinding.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Stirring the pot

With all possible respect to the Thanksgiving Comes First brigade, I have to tell you that I am well into Christmas thoughts.   hope that is not contrary to your aims and objectives, but even if it is, there's little either you or I can do about it.  Yes, I fully agree that Santa Claus or Father Christmas, Rudolf and the rest of the boys in the band should stay secreted away until Advent is upon us - or at least until after Stir-Up Sunday, which is the last Sunday before Advent.  All the same, a certain amount of planning does need to be done well before then, especially by those organising Christmas events - or those needing to place orders for stock to sell in their shops. 

Stir-up Sunday gets its name from the collect of the day which starts, "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord".  This is traditionally a reminder to housewives to make (that is make, not buy) the Christmas pudding.  Other traditions surrounding this are hat every member of the family should help stir the ingredients and that, while stirring, each should make a wish.  But Stir-up Sunday is still a few weeks away and in the meantime I have been stirring or trying to stir things up in Brighton Lions Club.

I have been a member of Brighton Lions for more than 25 years and in that time the club has been very successful in raising money.  The members also take on service activities, but raising funds has never seemed to be much of a problem.  What I have started to complain about is the fact that the club has not been spending the money as fast as it has been coming in.  Yes, there have been years when we have spent - or committed ourselves to spend - considerable sums, as much as £50,000 in some years.  But in the last financial year we spent nearly £12,000 less than we raised and our charitable expenditure reached its lowest level for at least seven years while funds sitting idle in the bank at the end of the year (and not committed or held as essential reserves) were in excess of £100,000.

I made this point in the newsletter I produced and despatched over the weekend.  The president almost immediately emailed me to say how much he agreed, but he also pointed out that he has tried to persuade the club to donate funds for two causes recently, neither of which was approved.  I agree that giving money for the restoration of an electric tram is not something that Lions should do, but I did half-heartedly support his idea to install defibrillators in secondary school.  I say half-heartedly because I needed to be persuaded that this would not be a waste of money.  There are few, if any, statistics to indicate how many times these machines would be used and I have a sneaking suspicion that they would hang on walls unused until their became obsolete.  But I'm open to arguments to the contrary.  I have had to warn the president that his next idea - to donate money to a local charity rescuing stray cats - will not be approved.  The club has always insisted that money should be used for humanitarian purposes, not plain animal welfare.

(I don't really want to start yet another paragraph with the word "I" but I can't think of a better way.)

I have started looking into the local talking newspaper (which sounds like an oxymoron) and have found that our president has a direct link in that his best friend takes care of the technology for the organisation.  He (the best friend) hopes to convert the newspaper to USB sticks in the nearish future, so perhaps there will be something we can do there.  The MS Treatment Centre told me last week (or the week before) that they need money to buy a piece of equipment they have had on loan, so that looks like another £4,000 we will spend.

Who knows, maybe something really big will come up, but I'm sure we could, as a club, be rather more proactive.  I certainly hope so.


The daily picture is usually a landscape-type photo and I generally steer clear of portraits, partly because I'm pretty hopeless at them.  However, I am quite pleased with some pictures I took at the weekend featuring my six-year-old granddaughter.  Here's one of them.

Monday, 28 October 2013

And it came to pass . . .

"Pass" is pretty much what it did do.  The predicted hurricane-force wind.  OK, it rained heavily yesterday late afternoon and during the evening, and the wind got up, but not what we were warned to expect.  It can't have been - at least, not right here - as there is no structural damage at all that I have seen and only one branch thicker than an inch that had fallen in the wooded part of the park.  Leaves a-plenty, and twigs, but nothing that would do more than make one say "ouch" if they hit one on the head - except for the one branch.  Our apple tree has fallen and I will have to call in tree surgeons to remove it, but given the way it fell a couple of weeks ago it is hardly surprising that it has gone again.

Having said that, our local paper reports on its web site that winds reached 99mph, there were no trains until at least 9am, bus travel has been disrupted (not surprising along the cliff-top coast road) and police report 125 trees down.  A boy was washed off the beach at Newhaven and power lines are down across the county, including part of Hove.


I have been thinking quite a bit over the last few days of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and her complaint about her phone being bugged by US agents.  My first reaction when I heard of this was, "Did she really not think this might happen?"  Surely, I reasoned, she would not be so naive as to think that only non-allied countries would want to know what was going on in the minds of the German authorities - or those of any country, for that matter.  Then I wondered if she was just upset that the German security service had not managed to do the same to the American government so her complaint was just a fit of pique.  Of course, her complaint may very well be just for show, for home consumption, as it were.

One of the things that bothers me most about the state of the world today, at least, the state of things in England, is the huge amount of snooping that goes on.  It's not just phone hacking.  Think of the number of closed-circuit cameras there are operating in any town, the vast majority installed by non=government agencies over which few people have any control.  There are cameras constantly watching shoppers in supermarkets, department stores - and even corner shops and petrol filling stations.  We are told that if we are doing nothing wrong we have nothing to fear.  But that is not the point.  Yes, I know that these cameras do help to solve crimes - but I object to being watched over by all those "big brothers".  My private life - even the bits of it that I live in the public view - should be private and is the business of nobody else.

(End of rant.)


At least the storm has cleared things a bit.  This was the view from the bedroom this morning.  The wind was still fairly strong but at least we had some blue sky.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Bewitched, bothered and bewildered

Bewitched, certainly -by my granddaughter, who will be with us later today.  But then, grandfathers are expected to be dazzled by their granddaughters, are they not?

Bothered, that too - but we'll come to that in a moment or three.

Bewildered, definitely - by my local council.  It's too long a story - and really too parochial as well - to go into the reasons (yes, reasons, plural) here but I will say just one thing.  The council has applied to develop a transit camp for travellers - sited in the South Downs National Park, an area renowned for its natural beauty and the so-called green belt which pretty much precludes building or development - into both a permanent and a transit site.  There would be twelve sites for travellers to park their caravans permanently, together with a day room, kitchen etc etc as well as the transit sites where travellers can park for up to three months at a time.  Now, I may be quite wrong, but it seems to me to be an oxymoron to talk of travellers having a permament site.

But back to the botheration.  It's the weather - or rather, the forecast weather.  Yesterday was fine, blowy but fine.  The grass dried enough for me to get the mower out, I hope for the last time this year.  The wind got up more later and we have had a gale blowing most of the night with squally showers.  A couple of times I woke to hear the rain hammering down.  All the same, I stayed dry when I walked the dog this morning.  What is bothering me is what we are supposed to be getting overnight tonight - hurricane-force winds.

I can remember the time, back in October 1987, when Michael Fish, the BBC's chief weatherman, announced on television that a viewer had asked about the hurricane due to come.  There would be no hurricane, announced Mr Fish.

That night, Hollingbury Copse, just up the road from us, was flattened.  Sheets of corrugated iron and whole garden sheds flew through the air.  Large swathes of Stanmer Woods became inaccessible due to fallen trees, although, bizarrely, some parts survived without losing a single branch.

This time round, the weather people are being more cautious and warning of problems.  But hurricanes?  No, not here in England.  Just stiff breezes, but it takes more than a breeze to deter a real fisherman.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Sic transit gloria mundi

Emily (six years old): "Grandma, I've been teaching Grandad to dance."

"That's nice, dear.  Is he any good?"

"No, he's rubbish."

That's the trouble with the youth of today: no respect for their elders and betters.


The old centre of Brighton, what used to be the fishing village of Brighthelmstone, is a warren of narrow alleyways known as The Lanes.  Fifty years ago this was an area of quirky shops, many of them junk shops masquerading as antique dealers.  It has since gone up-market and now there are real antique dealers, jewellers, boutiques and even art dealers.  The quirky shops have transferred to the area known as North Laine.  That is laine with an "i" and is singular.

The North Laine is the name of the area just to the north of the old village.  This was the name of the field where the villagers would take their sheep each day before bringing the animals back into the fold every evening.  (There is a lot more information on the Wiki site right here.)

There are a number of alleys (or twittens, to use the local word) in the North Laine, including one running from Bond Street.  This was known as Bond Street Lane.  Back at the end of 2011, or thereabouts, the Council put up a new street sign, but spelled the name "Bond Street Laine".  Those self-appointed guardians of Brighton's history and tradition, the Brighton Society, immediately asked the Council to replace the sign, spelling the word correctly.  Meanwhile, somebody took it on themselves to paint out the offending letter.

The Council refused to take steps to replace the sign, claiming that there was a lot of red tape involved in changing the name of the lane.  But the name hadn't changed: one of the Council employees had made a mistake when ordering the sign!  I bet if a sign had been put up spelling "Street" as "Strete" they would have very quickly done something. I have to say that, despite my somewhat snide remark about "self-appointed guardians", I agree with the Brighton Society over this.

My photograph was taken in February last year.  I must go back one day to see what the sign looks like now.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Getting there

I finished the newsletter and picked up the specs so that's a couple of jobs off the list.  Now it's off to the superwotsit.  Meanwhile, I'll just calm myself down looking at a sunset picture I took when in France a couple of weeks ago.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Things beyond my ken

Why it is that I can be wide awake at 5.00am but sleeping like the dead when the alarm goes off two hours later.
Why the National Black Police Association is not considered racist.
Why I can breath quite happily through my nose until the dentist starts working in my mouth.
Why I seem to have turned into a right royal grouch this week.


Funny how some weeks there seems to be so much to do.  I was out Monday evening (Lions toad in the hole competition), Tuesday there was a visit to the butcher, then shopping at the supermarket, yesterday at the dentist (nothing needed except a visit to the hygenist) and deliver fireworks tickets around the town, this afternoon my brother and sister-in-law will be with us, tomorrow I have bingo in the evening (no, I don't play.  The Lions run sessions at retirement homes.)  The usual visit to the MS centre tomorrow morning with a trip to the supershop while the Old Bat is hyperoxygenating (that's a good word).  Somehow I have to fit in finishing the Lions newsletter, deal with the rules changes for the Housing Society - which seems to involve the Financial Standards Authority in a complicated way, collect spectacles from Asda - the list seems almost endless.  But I suppose it keeps me out of mischief.


Sausages for dinner yesterday, some we bought from the butcher on Tuesday.  He makes his own and they are very good.  In the past we have tried his Lincolnshire, pork and garlic and various other varieties.  These were pork and chestnut, a first.  Just as good as the others.


I have started reading my first Tom Clancy book, Red Storm Rising.  It's big, isn't it?  What with everything else to be done, I seem to manage only four or five pages a day.  It could be a while before I finish it.


Royal Crescent, Brighton, has been home to a number of famous people, including Sir Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright.  According to Wikipedia, it was "built in the late 18th and early 19th century as a speculative development on cliffs east of Brighton by a wealthy merchant, the 14 lodging houses formed the town's eastern boundary until about 1820. It was the seaside resort's first planned architectural composition, and the first built intentionally to face the sea. The variety of building materials used include black glazed mathematical tiles - a characteristic feature of Brighton's 18th-century architecture."

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Canine Companions

I suppose that in all honesty I really cannot blame Skip for the subject of today's post, but he did mention dogs - or rather, a dog - in his post on Monday.  You can see it right here if you have not already read it.  Dogs are frequently at the forefront of my mind as I spend quite a lot of my time with one, walking Fern, the springer spaniel, a couple of times a day.  As it happens, only a few days ago I watched a television programme about dogs - but maybe we'll come back to that another day.  Today I'll just tell you about the dogs that have been part of my life.

(OK, you can move on to another blog right now if talking of dogs just makes you yawn or if you are one of those non-dog people.  I quite appreciate that there are dog people and there are non-dog people.  Surprisingly, even some of my best friends are non-dog.)

My wife, commonly referred to as the Old Bat, and I have kept dogs almost all our married life.  We acquired our first almost exactly a year after we were married and apart from short gaps after the demise of each, there has been a dog in our home ever since.  That first dog, Sandy, was a rescue dog, a collie-cross.  We were a little concerned about how she would react when our first child was born, especially since she had by then been with us for more than five years.  But we needn't have worried; she just accepted the baby as hers.  When he (the baby that is) was left in his pram outside a shop, Sandy was the most attentive guard, warning any would-be cooing women to keep their distance.

Our second dog was big and black, a flat-coat retriever.  He was named Rags by the children for a reason that made perfect sense at the time.  It might even make sense now if I could remember it.  Rags adored children and he thought it the equivalent of his birthday and Christmas rolled into one when he was taken to meet the children from school.  My daughter learned to walk by hanging onto his tail, something that never bothered him.  He entered into the spirit of the game when he was made to lie on the floor with his head on a cushion and the doll's blanket was laid over him.  I shall always remember the day the whole family took him for a walk across the snow-covered golf course.  The children each had a large, plastic sack to use as a toboggan.  When we came across a steep part where other children were already sledging down, my younger son called to Rags to sit on the sack with him.  As soon as they reached the end of the slide, Rags ran back to the top and joined the end of the queue for another turn.

Rags was succeeded by Bramble, a golden retriever.  She, too, was happy about children - and lambs.  While on the farm one spring, two lambs had to be brought into the house as the ewe died in "childbirth".  Bramble was quite happy for them to attempt to suckle her, even though she had no milk, of course!  She became most distressed when one or other of the lambs called out and she was unable to check that all was OK.  There was one spring when we had a lamb in the garden to bottle feed.  I made a pen for it on the lawn, but Bramble worked out how to open the pen and we found her sitting inside while the lamb was happily chewing the wallflowers.

Our present dog, Fern, is another who adores children.  When our grandson was just walking she was still a puppy and they would chase each other round the dining table.  When Ben fell, Fern would stop and wait for him to get up.

This is Fern (a few years ago now) with one of her young friends in the park.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The gentle giant

I don't know what it is about them, but there are some people who make me smile whenever I see them.  One such is a man whose name I don't know but whom I see almost every time I visit a particular restaurant in Châteaubriant.  This restaurant is also run as a bar, one of the few bars in the town that stay open during the evening, and the gentleman in question is a regular drinker there.  He is a large man, both in height and girth, and his hands are like spades.  As I say, I don't know his name - we have never been introduced - but he always greets us warmly, shaking my hand and giving the Old Bat a hug and a kiss.  He has several teeth missing, is never dressed exactly smartly and frequently needs a shave.  But his round face is friendly and he takes a great pleasure in helping out during busy times.  Last week, one of the two men who own and run the restaurant was unwell.  The other was busy in the kitchen, so the gentle giant stepped in and showed people to their tables.  As we left, there were more hugs, kisses and hand-shakes before he held the door open for us and bid us "bon retour".  Those were the only two words of his that I understood, the rest being in such a strong accent that they were completely unintelligible to both of us.  But words really aren't needed, just seeing him makes me smile.

This is the restaurant.  It doesn't look too good from the outside.

But inside is much better. The food is good as well!

Meat is cooked on this charcoal grill.  (The table cloths have been changed since this picture was taken.)

Monday, 21 October 2013

The Immortal Memory

It was 208 years ago today that Admiral Lord Nelson led the British fleet - out-numbered in ships, guns and men -  to victory over the combined French and Spanish fleets, thereby ensuring the Napoleon would be unable to invade England.  Indeed, there are those who maintain that it was this victory that paved the way for Wellington to finally defeat the French at Waterloo almost ten years later.  Certainly it meant that there would be no challenge to the Royal Navy's supremacy of the seas for more than 100 years.

I am still able to recall how interesting my history teacher made this subject with his chalked diagram of the battle - similar to the picture below.

Of course, every Englishman (or nearly every Englishman) can quote Nelson's famous signal:

Many naval institutions hold Trafalgar Night dinners.  According to the Royal Naval Museum Library,
The Loyal Toast: Diners should stand - unless the company are naval officers who are specifically authorised to remain seated. The toast itself, by Royal decree, is "The Queen".
The Immortal Memory toast: A Trafalgar Night speech is usually made by a guest of honour. If a speaker has not been arranged, the proposer of the toast will precede it with some Nelsonian comments, and can vary in length according to the custom of the diners. The toast itself is "The Immortal Memory" and is drunk standing in total silence. This is customary out of respect of the memory of the Admiral.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

That reminds me

Seeing that phone box in Pouancé (I mentioned it yesterday) reminded me of a holiday we had once in Malta.  Or should that be on Malta?  Anyway, we were staying in Valletta and fancied a country walk.  So, we caught the bus to a small village down the coast and set off, following footpaths in the general direction of a tourist attraction known as the Blue Grotto.  We had remarked on how quiet it seemed with not a single bird to be seen or heard when it dawned on us that all the birds had left to avoid being shot, shooting being one of the main sports on the island.  Not that the absence of birds has any bearing on anything at all, really.  I just threw the comment in as a sort of make-weight.

Now, Malta - as you probably know - is quite a small island in the Mediterranean Sea between Italy and the north coast of Africa.  It was for many years a British colony or dependency or some such so it would not have surprised me to see a telephone box.  What did surprise me was to spot, seemingly abandoned in a field, a dustcart painted in the Brighton Council livery.

It was during that holiday that I had one of those "wow" moments.  We had taken a ferry across from Malta to the smaller island of Gozo and walked up to the main town, Victoria.  As we strolled through the apparently deserted narrow streets of the town, we heard a snatch of music.  Children, young children, were singing a song from The Sound of Music, "Doh, a deer, a female deer".  We walked on, attempting to track down the source.  Eventually, we found ourselves outside the open window of the local primary school where the children were having a singing lesson.  To hear that sound in those narrow streets, otherwise silent, was almost magical.

On the bus back from the ferry to Valletta, we were near a group of German tourists, one of whom was sitting at the front and showing much interest in the bus and the driver.  At the terminus, he explained that he was a bus driver in Germany.  He said that he noticed the speedometer wasn't working.  The driver explained that he didn't need one as there are no motorways on Malta!


At the Kingston roundabout on the A27 dual carriageway stands a burger van.  The owner uses an old toll booth as a store.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Cherchez la femme

Or rather, cherchez le bibiotheque.  The owner of the restaurant in the French village where we have a hideaway is always keen to suggest outings we might enjoy.  These are usually nothing to our liking, often being things such as car boot sales.  (I wrote a bit about him here.)  On this occasion, he suggested we might like to watch a game peculiar to Haut Anjou, boules de fort.  This, Nicholas assured us, is completely different from petanque, or boules as it is often called.  And so it is, as you can see from this short video clip.

Nicholas told us that this is played in Pouancé, the nearby town, every Sunday at a court behind the library.

Neither the Old Bat nor I could recall ever seeing a library in Pouancé or signs indicating where it might be hidden, so the very next morning, after I had visited the boulangerie, I set off to seek le bibliotheque.  It was not marked on the street plan in the centre of town, although seemingly every other vaguely public building was indicated, so I drove the streets looking for clues.  I had no luck whatsoever.  However, I did spot a red English telephone kiosk like this

in somebody's back garden.  I also found this impressive drive leading to what appears to be a pretty large residence.  Impressive, no?

Friday, 18 October 2013

A challenge

When we see a tumble-down house as we drive through the lanes and villages of Haut Anjou, the part of the Pays de la Loire where "our" village is situated, either the Old Bat or I will sometimes remark, "Now, there's a challenge!"  Indeed, we have seen quite a few houses that would present challenges not insurmountable to fit DIY enthusiasts - which would rule me out on two grounds.  One of those potential challenges is in a hamlet just half a mile or so from "our" village.

 Le Fourneau, as the hamlet is called, consists of three fairly modern, detached houses and two rows of tiny cottages facing each other, three on one side of the road and four (or are there five?) on the other.  There is also one other, old, detached house, cosiderably larger than any of the old cottages.

It must have been about nine years ago that we first saw this house.  It was empty then and has remained so ever since.  Our first thought on seeing it was that it possessed great potential, even though it was something of a challenge back then and is more so now.  There is a small garden at the back which slopes gently down to the lake.  I took this picture standing in the garden.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

A pity

One thing that is seen in France which I don't think I have ever seen in England is a house left to decay and, eventually, fall down.  This is a surprisingly common occurrence with older properties and size seems to have no bearing on the matter.  The Old Bat and I have watched this house as it has gradually given way to old age and the elements.

It looks as though it must have been a beautiful house at one time.

This cottage, in the same village as the large house above, is now almost invisible having collapsed further and become overgrown by brambles and other weeds.

I understand that this is often the result of the inheritance laws in France.  When a person dies, the law requires that the estate be divided between numerous relations.  A house can then be owned by six, seven or more people and if they can't agree on what to do with it, it just stands there deteriorating.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

1066 and All That

When we go over to our hideaway in France, we drive there by one route and back home by another.  There are two places I always look out for, one in each direction.  Coming home, via Rennes, Caen and Pont de Normandie (which is just outside le Havre) we pass by a village called Corps Nud - which does, quite literally, translate as "naked body".  I keep meaning to make a short detour just to see, but always spot the turn off a fraction too late.  In the other direction we go via Rouen, le Mans and Laval and although we don't see the village itself, I always smile when I spot the signpost to Sillé Guillaume.  "Guillaume" is the French way of spelling William, but what "Sillé" might mean, I have no idea.  But it always reads to me like "Silly William".  I do quite often wonder what it would be like to give my address as either Naked Body or Silly William!

Silly William brings me back, admittedly by a slightly roundabout route, to the title I have ascribed to this morning's meandering thought processes.  "1066 and All That" is the title of a book purporting to cover the entire history of England.  The blurb (which I have copied shamelessly) states: "A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates".  It is many years since I read the book but I seem to remember that the authors considered that the real history of England started in 1066, nothing that happened before that date being of any consequence.

1066 is possibly the only historical date remembered by many English people.  It was in that year that William, Duke of Normandy, crossed the Channel to claim the English throne.  To do so, he fought and beat Harold at the Battle of Hastings.  Harold was killed by an arrow which hit him in the eye.  That is possibly the entire history of England as known by many people.  Indeed, I knew little more than that until last week - despite having seen the Bayeux tapestry.  But while waiting for the Old Bat to emerge from the ladies', I was glancing at a tourist information leaflet written in both French and English and it gave the actual date of the battle - 14th October.  

(My old granny used to say that you learn something new every day, die and forget the lot.)

It made me realise just how little I do know about the history of my country.  I know nothing about the Crimean War, for example, other than the fact that it was fought in the Crimea, the Charge of the Light Brigade and Florence Nightingale.  I really must do some studying!


On our way, we pass quite close to this farm, which I always think looks an attractive group of buildings.  Pity it's so close to the motorway.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Just like the bad penny . . .

I've turned up again.  It was so good to get away from everything for a few days.  Well, nearly everything.  I did spend some time out in the courtyard trimming the jasmine that climbs up one post of the pergola.  It doesn't grow quite as quickly as the wisteria, thank goodness, but it does need keeping in its place.  This year I thought to take the electric hedge trimmer with me and I did in an hour what, in other years, it has taken me the better part of a day to accomplish.  One of the few times when I have managed to plan ahead!

I was amazed to find on getting home last night that we had covered a little over 1120 miles during the week (that figure is not unusual) at an average fuel consumption of 52.4mpg.  That's a more frugal figure than I have ever managed in this car.

It meant an earlier than usual getting up time last Monday, the day we went, and the view from the bedroom was almost magical - or mystical - or something.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Back to Blighty

We have some beautiful country here in England, some of the most magnificent views being in the Lake District in north-west England.  This is one of the wettest parts of the country but I have been very lucky on all my visits.  There has been rain, sure - and snow as well - but more sun that I had a right to expect.  Like the day we drove into Great Langdale.  Just imagine waking up to this view every morning.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Old Sturbridge

When the Old Bat and I visited New England in the way back, we spent a very pleasant half-day wandering round the village of Old Sturbridge.  This is (or was then) a reconstruction of an old Massachusetts-style village with the characters dressed appropriately.  An excellent introduction to that period in history.

Friday, 11 October 2013

When evening falls

The evening shadows were beginning to fall when I took this picture from the bedroom about four weeks ago.  I've only just discovered it on the camera!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Cloth Hall

During the First World War, the Belgian town of Ypres was almost completely destroyed, including the medieval Cloth Hall.  The centre of the town was rebuilt after the war to the same design, as near as possible, using old paintings and photographs.  This is the rebuilt Cloth Hall in all its 20th century medieval magnificence - although my photograph is not of the highest quality.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

That "wow" moment

They say (whoever "they" might be) that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.  Certainly, there have been times - more than I like to remember - when I have arrived only to ask myself (like Peggy Lee), "Is that all there is to it?"  I regret to say that those "wow" moments have been few and far between.  Far too few.  There are, however, several that I am able to remember.  I'm reasonably sure that I have mentioned at least one of them before, but maybe I can be excused for telling about it one more time.

The Old Bat and I had driven from Brighton to Italy to spend a brief, all too brief, holiday in Tuscany.  We visited most of the usual tourist haunts - Florence, Siena and so on - and, of course, Pisa.  I'm not entirely sure just what I expected of Pisa.  The size of the city surprised me; I had expected a much smaller place.  I drove around, following what I thought were the appropriate tourist signs for the city centre and car parks.  After what seemed like a three day camel ride, I managed to find a parking spot.  We walked out of the car park, crossed a busy road and then strolled perhaps a hundred yards along a side street before coming out into a large piazza.

That was my "wow" moment.

There in front of me were the baptistry, the cathedral and the leaning tower, all gleaming white in the morning sun.  And scarcely a tourist to be seen!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

While I'm away

I'm pretty sure that was part of a line from a song.  I seem to remember that it went something like, "While I'm away, oh please remember me.  Soon I'll be sailing far across the sea."  Not that it is of any importance.  But I'm off to stock up on the usual goodies available so much more cheaply across the Channel.  I thought to leave you with one or two piccies in my absence - not many words except for brief descriptions.

Looking back over my "work" so far this year, this picture is well in the running for favourite of the year.  I had taken numerous photos of the rape flowers in the fields over in France while driving around (no, not actually while driving.  I did stop the car to take them.) but one day I took a stroll along a lane going out of the village and came across a fruit tree (cherry?  plum?) at the side of a field.  The whole scene, with the rape flowers, the trees just coming into leaf, the blue of the sky and the white clouds as well as the white blossom, just looked so fresh that I couldn't resist.

Monday, 7 October 2013


It's been something of a grandchild weekend, great fun and a great blessing.  After Emily on Saturday, the two grandsons were with us yesterday afternoon.  I enlisted their help to climb the fruit trees and pick the apples and pears.  Unfortunately, the apple tree gave way with Max (6) up the ladder and Ben (10) climbing one of the branches.  Luckily, neither of them was hurt.  We were now able to pick all the larger apples - which were, of course, at the top of the tree.  My son heaved the tree upright and I propped it up with the ladder.  What is needed is a good pruning on the side that is over-heavy and then it should survive.  After the apples, the pears - with no more alarums and excursions, thank goodness.

It is good to have slaves to help in the garden!

That's it while I pop across to France to top up.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Wombling free

Today's earworm: the Wombling Song.

Our six year old granddaughter was with us for dinner yesterday (sausage and mash with broccoli, followed by strawberry trifle) and somehow the subject of the Wombles arose.  Since that television series dates from 1970 or thereabouts it was hardly surprising that Emily had never heard of them.  I was able to remember the first few lines of their theme song and my son found it on the 'Tubes.  Emily found it great to dance to.  Maybe you would like to as well?

Saturday, 5 October 2013

All bets are off

I have never been a betting person, but that doesn't mean that I have never had a bet.  I have taken part in sweepstakes and even contributed my tuppence on very odd occasions when somebody has been going to the betting shop to place bets on a race such as the Derby or Grand National.  Heck, I've even visited the tote at the greyhound stadium and, more frequently, given the ladies who come round the tables in the restaurant my betting slip and the one pound stake.  Oh yes, when I get into the swing of these things I really go mad!

There has, in all my 70+ years, been just one occasion when I have entered a betting shop - and that was to pick up a charity collecting box they had on their counter!  Casinos, however, are a different matter.  For a while I even had a membership card for a casino here in Brighton.  Which might sound a little odd as I said I am not a betting man.  The only reason for me joining as a member was so that I could visit the restaurant when the Lions club held dinner meetings there.  I never did frequent the tables or slot machines.

My first visit to a casino came about quite by accident.  I was in Detroit for the Lions' international convention and took a trip on the people mover, as I seem to recall they name their overhead train.  I had decided to get off at a particular station as it looked as though there were some shops nearby where I might buy gifts to take home with me.  Unfortunately, I used the wrong exit from the station and found myself in a casino.  It took me all of 20 minutes to fight my way through the throngs of weary, dispirited looking people who were doggedly feeding coins into one-arm bandits before I emerged on the street.

I was thrown out of the casino in Monte Carlo.  No, that's something of an exaggeration.  I was not exactly thrown out as I never did get in.  The Old Bat and I had entered the vestibule and were about to go further into the depths of Hades when a security man told me I was not welcome.  In fact, I later realised, it was not me that was unwelcome, it was the camera I was carrying.  The OB was most upset, but I did try to make it up to her.  That would have been her first time in a casino so when we were in Carson City for a night, I took her into one there.  That was enough to put her off for life.

And what were we doing in Carson City, you ask?  Well, we were on holiday in California and had been to Yosemite.  We were due to be at a Lions meeting further north in the state so we cut across into Nevada as that seemed to be our shortest route.  Carson City sounded a romantic, wild west type of place where I could imagine gun-slingers fighting it out in a dusty street.  It wasn't quite like that, but it seemed a pleasant enough little place, even if it was over-endowed with casinos.  At least I didn't get thrown out of any of them.


I didn't take any pictures of Carson City, but a few miles north and back across the state line is Bridgeport, CA.  This looked to me like a slightly updated version of a wild west town.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Moving house

No, not us - although moving house does seem to be in the air at the moment.  My friend Chris and Mrs Chris have recently moved after trying for at least two years to sell their house so they could downsize and, perhaps just as importantly, lose the expense of upkeep of the swimming pool.  My brother has also been trying to sell for at least as long, so far unsuccessfully.  Other friends were persuaded to move from Brighton to Wimbledon so as to be nearer their family.  As they are both in their 80s, they no longer need a large, four-bedroomed house with a big garden (which they struggle to control) so they put the house on the market and accepted an offer the same day.  They will be moving next week to a two-bed flat.  Having lived in the same house for 30+ years, they have accumulated much that will have to go.  I called round last week and found cardboard boxes stacked in the hall, each labelled, "charity shop", "Lions books" etc.

I dread the thought that we might ever move.  We have (I think I mentioned the other day) lived in this house for something like 44 years and while neither the Old Bat nor I could really be called hoarders, we would probably need a removal lorry and at least two skips.  I have been in the habit of keeping the packaging from things like computers and printers, just in case they need to be returned.  Needless to say, they never do so all those cardboard boxes are stored in the loft as I always forget to throw them out.

Also stored in the loft are various cases and bags, each because it might be needed one day.  There is, for example, a hard-shell suitcase for air travel - but it is too small to use when we go to France and need to take bedding and towels, so there is another very large case for that.  Then there is a stack of the children's board games which might be useful when the grandchildren are a little older.  Quite why we have kept the slide projector, the projector and stand and screen is beyond me, but we have.  We also have an old electric train layout from when the boys were into that sort of thing.  We used N gauge rather than OO and tried to build a scene with fields, hedges, trees, hills and rivers.  And that's just one side of the loft.  I shudder to think what might be in the other!

We shall just have to stay put until we are carried out in our boxes.  Then the kids can have the joy of going through everything saying to each other, "Do you remember . . ."


One of the cryptic crossword clues this week reminded me of Skip:
American shoots African lion (11 letters)


"Do you remember . . ."  Time does play tricks on us - or I find so.  It seems much more than two years ago that we were in that mystical part of France known as the Auvergne.  As usual, we had rented a cottage and this was the garden.

Thursday, 3 October 2013


I spent several rather tedious hours yesterday trying to improve a low-resolution graphic (a sponsor's logo) so that it would reproduce satisfactorily on a large - VERY large - poster.  I changed it pixel by pixel, only to find that the end result was exactly the same as before I started.  Most frustrating.  Things did improve after I switched off the computer in disgust, partly at myself for being unable to do what seemed a simple enough, albeit tedious (as I said earlier) task, partly because I suspected that a gremlin had taken up residence in my computer's innards.

The Old Bat cooked a very tasty risotto - one of my favourite comfort foods - for dinner, after which we spent a couple of hours in front of the goggle-box.

The latest (4th) series of Downton Abbey started airing about ten days ago.  As we had not then finished watching series 3, I set the recorder and yesterday evening we watched the first episode of the new series.  I have to confess that I had not really noticed something so many of the professional television critics had pointed out: that the standard of the scripts - and, indeed, the plot - in the 3rd series had slipped from the heights of the earlier episodes.  Yesterday evening I realised what I had missed.  If the rest of this series is up to the standard of the first episode, Julian Fellowes (the script writer) will have done a first-rate job.  He is ably assisted by the members of the cast, especially Michelle Dockery who plays a blinder as Lady Mary, and Dame Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess.

After that, we switched to real time TV.  Well, a programme that we watched as it was broadcast.  This was one of those superb BBC nature programmes, this one the first of a series of four programmes about the British seasons.  The photography was superb, even though I felt there was a touch too much of speeded-up footage, the sort that shows a tree as it changes from winter to spring.  The voice-over, although a bit twee at times, was remarkably unobtrusive and, indeed, absent completely at times as, for example, we watched a barn owl hunting.



With today's photo we get back to the streets of Brighton, this being Lewes Crescent, Kemp Town, in the east of the city.

Most of these house have been divided into flats, but  a complete house did come onto the market fairly recently with a price tag of over £3 million.  This is the agent's description:
There are many historical rooms and artefacts within the house including a 'wind indicator', the lavishly decorated Drawing Room and listed 'King's Loo'. However, the house is currently used as a wonderful home and is now arranged over 6 floors, offering 5 bedrooms, plus a master suite, 2 magnificent receptions including the first floor Drawing Room, still with its original beautiful hand painted ceiling and walls, and the ground floor Dining Room with the ornate grapevine moulded cornice. On the lower ground floor are the kitchen fitted in a Shaker style with the original range plus all the necessary modern appliances needed in a modern kitchen, breakfast area with water feature, dining room, family room, wine cellar, utility room, shower room and plenty of store rooms, crockery and linen cupboards having been there since it was first completed in 1830. The second floor comprises the master suite offering the main bedroom, 2 dressing rooms and a full bathroom having a central roll-top bath with glass shower enclosure. There are 3 further bath/shower rooms within the house with a further four bedrooms being on the third and fourth floor. To the rear of the house are two rooms which could form a separate self-contained area for staff. The house also benefits from the use of the beautifully kept private Kemp Town Enclosures; a 6 acre private garden which also gives direct access to the beach via a tunnel under the road.
Dream on!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

What a wonderful language

I suppose laguages other than English have their oddities such as giving inanimate objects a gender (How can a window be feminine?  It's too easy to see through.) but English most certainly has its quirks.  Or perhaps I am using too broad a brush and it is not so much the language that has the quirks as the way in which it is used by those whose mother tongue it is.  For example, what on earth could have caused somebody to come up with the phrase "right as rain" to describe something good?  I suppose if one lived in a place where there was an almost permanent drought the phrase might have some meaning.  But in England?  A similar phrase is "as right as ninepence".  What does ninepence have to do with the price of fish?  Of course, "the price of fish" (or sometimes tea) is simply a substitute for, well, anything, really.  Just another of those odd sayings that seem to have no meaning at all.  Like describing a bad-tempered person as a bear with a sore head.  And we link both rain and animals in the phrase "raining cats and dogs".

One can, perhaps, understand how some phrases have come into use.  A long wait for something would seem to be as long as "until the cows come home" to a farm worker centuries ago, although I have noticed cows congregating by a gate when they realise that it is getting close to the time for something, feeding or milking or whatever.

Some people say that English is the richest language in the world.  This opinion is based upon the fact that we have so many synonyms and near synonyms, words that describe exactly various different nuances.  Some of our words are derived from Latin-based languages, some from Greek, and some from Teutonic or Scandinavian sources.

Given the vast richness of the modern English language, it seems to me a great shame that so few of our youngsters can use even the smallest fraction of what is available to them.  OK, so it's not only the young who are so poor at communicating, it's something that afflicts all ages and probably has done for many centuries.  But why do so many people think it big and manly to sprinkle Anglo-Saxon sexual terms so liberally in every sentence they utter?  I remember my old scoutmaster suggesting that this was not such a good idea.  "What," he asked, "do you say when you get really angry?"

And then there are the "just a moment, I need to think" words.  "I mean, like, my mouth, like, is running, I mean, faster than my brain, like."

"Milton! Thou shouldst be living at this hour."  Or perhaps not.


With the "real" autumn approaching, there are signs that leaves are changing colour and the first are falling.  This is a view in Stanmer Great Wood.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Confusion worse confounded *

* Milton, Paradise Lost, ii, line 996.

Our dustmen - sorry, refuse collectors (or operatives, as the sign on the back of the dustcarts states) call every week on Tuesday mornings.  The recycling team calls fortnightly, also on Tuesday mornings.  Residents are expected to put their wheelie bins (general rubbish) and/or recycling boxes (paper, metal, plastic in one; glass in another) on the pavement in front of the house before a specified time on the appropriate days, but not earlier than another specified time.  Which is all very well if (a) you are available to move the bins and boxes in the allotted time span and (b) have somewhere to put the bins/boxes at all other times and (c) are physically capable of moving said bins and boxes to the correct place.  As our drive is very steep uphill to the pavement, the Old Bat is incapable of moving the bin as required.  Because there was a time when I was away a lot, she made arrangements with the Council for the dustmen to collect the bin and boxes from where they are kept just outside the back gate.  And that system has worked well for a number of years.  In the main.  There have been occasional lapses when our regular crew have not done the round.

But all is about to change.

We received a communication yesterday, 30th September.  The letter told us that new rounds are to be introduced from 7th October and our collection days will change.  The accompanying leaflet gives details of our collection dates for 2013/14 and states that our recycling will be collected on Fridays, starting this coming Friday, 4th October - three days before the letter se changes come into effect.  Our refuse, it says, is collected every Wednesday (it's not - see above) and this will change to Mondays.

Could it be that the wrong leaflet was sent to us, or does the team under the Executive Director Environment, Development & Housing (in other words, the Cityclean people) not know what is happening?  Fortunately, it doesn't really matter to us - unless the new team forget to collect our rubbish - but it really could be a case for another quotation (tho' I don't know its provenance): "and chaos reigned supreme".


Here's another Brighton building that has seen various uses.

Photo: Tony Mould

This was opened in in about 1891 as a Congregational chapel. In 1920 the chapel was converted into the 370-seat King's Cliff Cinema, and sound was installed in 1930. In 1947 it became the Playhouse Repertory Theatre, but was taken over by Myles Byrne in 1949 as the Playhouse Cinema. In 1951 it became the Continental, specialising in foreign films but concentrating on pornographic films from the late 1960s until it closed in December 1986. In 1990-1 it was converted to houses.