Monday, 31 March 2014

To the pub!

We read much about diets in the daily newspapers, and I have a fascinating new one which will thrill my readers. It's called the Beer Diet. We all know that a 'calorie' is the energy needed to heat 1g or 0.0350z of water from the temperature of 21.5 centigrade to 22.5 centigrade. This Law of Thermodynamics dictates that if we drink 200ml or 8oz of cold water at the temperature of 0 degrees centigrade - and of course, this is just for the sake of our argument, so don't rush off and try it, we will need 200 calories to heat the water until the temperature reaches the point of 1c.

For a precise balance of corporal temperature, we need approximately 7,400 calories to heat 200g or 8oz of cold water to normal body temperature of 37c (200mlx37c). To keep this body temperature, our body uses the only source of energy available in our system: body fat. In fact, our body needs to consume this fat to keep the right body temperature, as shown by the Law of Thermodynamics.

Now, if someone drinks a pint of beer at the temperature of 0c, this person should lose roughly 18,500 calories (500ml x 37c). But we shouldn't forget to deduct the calories for beer which are approximately 800 for each 500ml of beer intake.

For all of these reasons, we can conclude that a person who drinks a very cold pint daily may lose 17,700 calories. Clearly, the colder the beer, the better it is to burn calories.

So, why waste your time in the gym if cycling and running will consume only 1,000 calories per hour? Friends, do not be silly - losing weight can be simple and very pleasant. All you need to do is to drink lots of pints of cold beer daily and let the Law of Thermodynamics take care of the rest. Long life and health to all. What are you waiting for? Go to the pub - NOW!!!

Saturday, 29 March 2014

When I grow up, I'm going to be . . .

I have not heard anybody say that in a good many years, not even my grandchildren.  What I might have said when I was of an age to say it, I have no idea.  I do recall that at different times I had dreams of opening the batting for England (not a hope!) or being the captain of a destroyer (not much chance of that either!) but I don't recall ever wanting to be an engine driver, which was supposed to be the ambition of every boy.

With the benefit of hindsight, that never failing source of 20:20 vision, I can say what I think I might have liked to be, work that I might well have found more pleasurable that what I did do.  Whether I would have been any good at either of the two careers is another matter entirely.

I was employed as the general manager of a small newspaper company at about the time that the internet and the world wide web were becoming a reality.  Or perhaps they were already in existence, although the idea of web sites for the common business was still in its infancy.  It was at that time that I saw an advertisement and signed up for a one-day course in writing hypertext mark up language - HTML.  Given that the course lasted for only one day, you will appreciate that it covered merely the basics - and only just about covered those!  All the same, I found it fascinating.  I bought books about it and very soon started designing web sites just for fun.  Since then, despite still only having a very basic knowledge, I have designed several web sites, principally for my Lions Club.  It is something that still gives me pleasure and provides an outlet for that spark of creativity hidden deep inside me.  It is also something I would have liked to take up as full-time employment.  At least, I think I would have done.

The other occupation I have long had a hankering to do is writing.  I'm not suggesting that I would be at all good at it; in fact, I rather think I would be very mediocre if not downright awful.  I did, many years ago, come up with a series of children's stories about Henry Horse, in which Henry, a young horse, was involved in all sorts of mischief or heroic activities.

But I just don't have a vivid enough imagination to think up the plots that "real" authors come up with.  No, that dream is just that - a dream on a par with opening the batting for England!

Thursday, 27 March 2014

A tale of three pubs

The village of Wateringbury in Kent really does have a name that is most misleading.  Yes, there is a small stream, but the village is - or was - better known for its beer.  Whitbread's Brwerey was situated in the village - and there were a good many of Whitbread's pubs as well.  There were the Harrow, the Phoenix, the Telegraph, the North Pole - and the three "royals".

There was the King's Head

And the Queen's Head

And there was the Duke's Head.  But Whitbreads wanted to move the the licence to other premises in the area. The necessary document was return with the following notation, "Permission is given to remove The Duke's Head". Obviously, there must of been someone at the brewery with a sense of humour at the time and that it exactly what they did! Hence the name thereafter.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014


I used to think that collecting was mainly a boy thing but I have long since revised my opinion.  This was partly due to the Old Bat starting to collect plates, the decorative ones that are hung on walls.  She ended up with the entire series of plates with animals painted on them - gorillas, lions, zebras and so on - and another smaller series illustrating London street criers such as the baked potato man, the hot chestnut seller and the milkman.  The animal plates are now hung on the wall in the hall, while the street sellers are on the stairs.  Well, they are actually on the wall beside the stairs.

As a boy, I had several collections: car numbers, then train numbers, then bus numbers.  I half-heartedly collected cigarette cards and, more keenly, stamps.  But my big "thing" was inn signs.  Not the socking great name signs that you see hanging outside pubs but miniature versions of them.

Whitbreads was a Kentish brewery situated in the village of Wateringbury.  They had pubs across Kent and into Sussex and south London - before they became a national chain - and were well-known for having decorative signs outside their pubs, signs with pictures rather than just the name of the pub as their main rivals, Shepherd Neame, did.  Way back in the later 1940s somebody had a bright idea of a way to attract business.  They produced aluminium miniatures of the inn signs of 50 of their pubs, each of the featured pubs being given a supply.  These were to be given only to people buying drinks at the pub.  They very quickly became collectors items for us schoolboys.  There was, however, a problem.  Well, two problems, really.

First, we had to encourage our fathers and other adults to visit the pubs whose signs had been produced in order to collect them.  Then having acquired one of the signs, it had to be protected.  being simply painted aluminium, it was easily scratched or bent.  So we wrapped each sign in a sheet of toilet paper.  This was not the soft tissue we know today but the hard stuff, usually Izal, which was fairly rough on one side but shiny on the other.  It was somewhat thicker than tracing paper but could be used for that in an emergency.

I think the first three series - each of 50 - were produced in aluminium, but the 4th and 5th series were printed on card.

One of my favourites was the sign for a pub called the Startled Saint which stood close to the Battle of Britain airfield at West Malling.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Thanks to Google

Heading this way today.  I have never been able to get a picture of our French cottage in the same way that Google have done with the entire building and courtyard in the shot, together with the outbuildings.  This dates from September 2009 and we were in residence when the Google camera car came past.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The story of a pork pie

I had a pork pie for lunch the other day – a Melton Mowbray pork pie.  I haven’t been to that small market town for many years, not since the Old Bat and I were staying with friends of her family in a village not so very far from there. I don’t remember if the village is in Leicestershire but has a postal address in Nottinghamshire or vice versa, but it is small and sits pretty much on the county boundary.

For many years we were puzzled about why a family from Brighton should be so friendly with a butcher from a small East midlands village. How did the families come to meet? We knew that my wife’s grandfather was buried in the village churchyard, but quite why that was remained a mystery, the answer to which was beyond anybody’s knowledge. OK, smart arse, he was buried there because he was dead, but what had taken him, his wife and my very young father-in-law to that spot in the first place?

I did – eventually – stumble upon the answer. But the whole story could provide the plot for one of those novels that leads the reader through goodness knows how many twists and turns before revealing that all those fantastic theories were just so much rubbish. The real answer is the simple one. And that, in this case, was how it turned out.

But let me start at the beginning.

My wife’s grandmother – Helena – was born in Liverpool in 1878. Her parents were Humphrey and Margaret, both of whom had been born in Ireland and who had presumably moved to Liverpool in search of work. Helena was the younger of two girls, her elder sister Margaret having been born almost 10 years before her. By 1881, Humphrey had moved to London with his elder daughter, the census taken that year describing him as unemployed, and a widower. There was no trace of Helena and I have never been able to find any record of her mother’s death.

By 1902, Helena had moved to Brighton where she taught music and singing. It was in that year she married William, my wife’s grandfather. William had been born in Australia, his father having emigrated there sometime in the late 1860s. It was in Melbourne that William’s father met and married an Irish girl. After she died, the two surviving children (William and his sister) were sent to Brighton to live with their paternal grandparents. My late father-in-law (another William) was born in 1904. In 1908, William, Helena and the young William were staying in the Notts/Leics village of Plungar when William died. He was buried in the village churchyard as there were insufficient funds for his body to be brought back to Brighton.

My late parents-in-law remained friendly with people in Plungar, especially the village butcher and his family, and there were frequent visits both ways. Indeed, my wife spent many of her summer holidays in the village. We still exchange Christmas cards with the butcher’s daughter and daughter-in-law. But none of us – parents-in-law, village butcher and family, old Uncle Tom Cobley and all – had ever managed to work out just what the connection was. Until, quite by chance, I learned that, after her mother’s death, Helena had been adopted by a couple living in Plungar. They eventually moved to Brighton, bringing Helena with them. And the rest, as they say, is history.

As I said, so often the simplest answer is the right one.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

The Big Society

It was way back in 2010 that David Cameron launched his "big society" drive to empower communities.  But I do have to wonder if he was actually aware of just how big our society already was, and has his initiative really made any difference?  This was brought to mind once again yesterday evening when I switched on the television for the 10 o'clock news.  The Sport Relief telethon had been running during the evening (and would continue to run later) but at that stage, some £31 million had been raised.  That sounds an enormous sum of money, especially when one considers that the Poppy Appeal last November raised in excess of £40 million and Children in Need - also last November - raised another £31 million.  But when one considers that the population of this country stands at more than 63 million, the total of those three big appeals represents an average donation of £1.66 per head of population - hardly a king's ransom.

On the other hand, there are plenty of other charities also raising money - Oxfam, Save the Children, Cancer Research, Guide Dogs for the Blind et al - so the grand total of charitable donations made each year is well in excess of that £100 million mentioned above.  And I would suggest that those donations represent just the tip of the iceberg as far as the Big Society is concerned.

Each week, thousands of people run youth groups such as Scouts and Guides or provide football coaching, all on a voluntary basis.  There are people walking puppies for the various assistance dog organisations such as Guide Dogs and Hounds for Heroes.  There are people volunteering to drive blind or crippled folks to meetings and treatment, there are the lifeboatmen, community first responders, people acting as secretaries and treasurers to sundry organisations, the people manning the telephones for the Samaritans or touring the streets at night ministering to the homeless.  Even on a much smaller scale, there are people who pick up shopping for their neighbours and keep an eye on the elderly or infirm.

And all this was already happening long before Mr Cameron (or any other politician for that matter) thought to make a difference.  The Big Society has been with us for donkeys' years - and will doubtless be with us long after the current crop of politicians have passed.


Down in the Lanes area of Brighton, this narrow entrance - just about 2' 6" wide - leads to a tiny courtyard and a small cottage, once a fisherman's home, now a restaurant.  I've not eaten there for some years, not since it changed hands, but it was at one time one of my favourites.  It had only four tables on the ground floor but could seat more upstairs and was always crowded, but only with locals.  Just what is with the singing barber and the red, white and blue hats next door, I have no idea!

Friday, 21 March 2014

Well, here we are.

Another Friday at the factory, so it's orf we jolly well go, first to the MS Centre for Madam's hyperbaric oxygenisation (that's two good words for a Friday morning) and then to Sainsbury's.  At least I should know where to find most of the things I want, unlike at our local Asda these days.  They're into a complete make-over of the store so nothing is where it should be.  Indeed, almost half the store was closed down when I was there earlier in the week, and the pharmacists and opticians are in the car park.  Well, to be accurate they are in Portakabins in the car park.

I spent a good part of yesterday on paperwork coming out of the Lions meeting on Wednesday evening.  For my sins - for the next three months, anyway - I am looking after the grant applications amongst other things.  That usually means that I have a few letters and emails to deal with after our meetings and this month has been no exception.  I have also put to bed the April issue of our monthly newsletter so that can be sent out on Sunday before we head off for sunnier other climes.  Although it's likely to be similar rather than other.

Meanwhile, let's carry on with our short tour of Brighton.  Almost opposite the brasserie in yesterday's picture is Brighton Town Hall.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

I got away with it.

We are told that ignorance of the law in no excuse, but when the law in question is, to say the least, somewhat antiquated, not to say obscure, there must be some excuse in one's ignorance.  And we do, still, have laws in this country that are way past their "best before" dates.  Every now and then some law officer attempts to bring to the attention of the powers that be some of the laws whose usefulness has long since passed on and the relevant laws are rescinded.  For example, I understand that for many years it was illegal to eat mince pies and Christmas puddings, these having been banned by the Puritanical Oliver Cromwell's government.  A couple of laws of similar obscurity have just been - or are about to be - repealed.  I have most certainly been guilty of breaking one of them, although my guilt in the case of the other is less cast-iron.

Under the 1872 Licensing Act, it was an offence to be intoxicated while in charge of a cow.  I'm not sure that I could have been accused of this, although there was one occasion when it might have been touch and go.  It happened one Easter while we were on my cousin's farm for a few days. 

When we are on the farm, it has become something of a habit to open a bottle of wine as soon as the clock strikes six.  That is consumed, along with a few crisps and similar nibbles, before the commencement of and during the preparation of the evening meal.  Our version of an aperitif and amuse-bouches, you understand.  Occasionally, a second bottle is needed as we don't usually sit down until about eight.  Then another bottle is breached.  By the time dessert is served, both Julian and I will have sunk too much to even consider getting behind the wheel.  On one dark and rainy night, just as Liza was about to serve dessert (baked Alaska, in case you are interested - her first attempt at the dish), the phone rang.  It was somebody whose garden backed onto a field of cows, one of which had broken through the fence and was busily devouring the flowers and shrubs so carefully cultivated.  Julian and I had no choice but to find torches, wellies, waterproofs and fencing tools, trample through a bed of nettles and drive the cow out of the neighbour's garden before repairing the fence, all in the dark and with the rain pouring down.  I was certainly close to being in charge of a cow while intoxicated on that occasion.

But there is no doubt about my guilt under the other law.  It most certainly would be a fair cop - if anyone could be bothered to charge me with the offence.  And this law is not so very old as it dates only from 1937.  Under the Grey Squirrels (Prohibition of Importation and Keeping) Order, people were required to report the presence of grey squirrels on their land so that the animals could be destroyed.  Many a time I have watched the squirrels in our garden - and failed to report their presence.  But at least I now know that I won't be hauled off to the Tower of London!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

"This time next year...

..we'll be millionaires."

So said - frequently - Del Trotter in the sit-com Only Fools and Horses.  Of course, it never happened.

[Classic comedy following the misadventures of two wheeler-dealer brothers Del Boy and Rodney Trotter who scrape their living by selling dodgy goods believing that next year they will be millionaires.]

But it has come to pass!  Not for Del Boy or Rodney, admittedly, but a certain Neil Trotter won £107 million in last week's Euromillions Lottery.  Neil, a car mechanic, comes from south London, just like the fictional Trotters.  Personally, I think, in fact I know that if I had won £107 million (actually, it is very nearly £108 million, but what's £0.9 million when we're talking about those kind of figures?) I would have wanted to keep my name out of the papers.  I don't think I would even want to win that sort of money.  Even if that is invested at just 1% interest, the annual return would be a million!  Of course, there would be tax to pay on that income, but even so!

I suppose that if I did manage to win that sort of money, I would be able to make some pretty substantial donations to charities in which I was interested.  But all the same, I am more than happy as I am, thank you very much.  £107 million is one headache I do not want.


Another shop window snapped on my rare trip into town on Monday.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

In a fog

The French - or, more accurately, the Parisians - are all in a tizzwozz over air pollution.  It seems that this is so bad in Paris that restrictions on the use of cars have been introduced.  Only cars with odd registration numbers are permitted on the roads on certain days while only cars with even registrations on other days.  Similar measures have been introduced in several other cities, including Rennes, Caen and Rouen.  "So what?" you ask.  Well, although I have no intention whatsoever of driving in Paris, it is the intention to travel down to our French cottage next week.  While Rennes and Caen are not on our outward route, we do ring the changes on the way back and touch on those two cities.  But they have ring roads, which I am pretty certain will be exempt from the restrictions.  That, however, is not the case with Rouen and our outward route takes us right through the centre of that city, although I do miss the really old part.

I spent a considerable time yesterday searching the internet for more information about the restrictions.  For a start, do they apply to cars registered in countries other than France?  If so, on which days is it permissible to drive what cars?  It was all to no avail, there seeming to be a dearth of information out there.  I suspect that cars with odd numbers will be permitted on the odd days of the month - which would mean that my car with its 57 plate would not be permitted in Rouen next Monday, the 24th.  But if that were the way it worked, odd numbered cars would get two consecutive days over 31st of one month and 1st of the next - which would be grossly unfair.  Oh well, it might be all done and dusted by next Monday anyway.

Rouen is actually a bit of a nightmare at the moment, and has been for a good many months.  I used to drive through the city by following signposts, but that route takes one a good few miles out of the way and involves a long road through an enormous industrial area where the speed limit changes every couple of hundred yards, being reduced for each set of traffic lights - of which there are many - and immediately raised.  I eventually, thanks to my friend Chris's sat-nav, found a much shorter and less frustrating route.  But the bridge we use to cross the Seine has been closed for months, possibly the result of a serious fire, and looks to remain closed for a long time to come.  This means I have to negotiate a length of three- and four-lane road, solid with traffic, before crossing the river by another bridge.  It's only about half a mile, but it seems more like three!

Actually, driving through Rouen doesn't bother me at all, even with the traffic jams.  At least it's interesting, which is more than can be said for many of the motorway stretches.  Not that I'm really complaining.


As I was not walking the dog yesterday afternoon, I went into town.  Not something I do very often, but I had my reasons.  I just had to take this picture!

Monday, 17 March 2014

Bed rest

Well, not exactly bed rest, but definitely rest is needed.  That's what the doctor order.  The animal doctor, that is.  The vet.

We - the dog and I - took our usual, almost habitual walk in the park after breakfast this morning, another glorious, sunny morning, quite the opposite from what Holly-the-weather predicted yesterday evening.  As we were approaching the top of the park, where the lead is put on for the walk back along the streets, Fern spotted a lady we know and the result was a mad minute in which she (the dog, not the lady) rushed to and fro.  She ended up sitting holding up one paw and looking very sorry for herself, after which she limped over to Dee (the lady) for Dee to check that she had no thorns in her paw.  Nothing immediately obvious, so we walked home very slowly, Fern (the dog) limping all the way.

As luck would have it, I already had an appointment to take Fern to the vet this morning for her annual booster jabs so there was an opportunity for the leg to be examined by a professional.  The vet concluded that Fern had sprained the wrist joint and prescribed rest, rest for at least a week.  Short walks only, no matter how much better she seems.

That is a bit of a blow, given that the weather is forecast to be reasonable all week, but it does mean that I will have more time to spend in the garden.  More energy, too.

Talking of gardening, I cut the grass yesterday.  First time this year.


This green carpet in Stanmer Great Wood is made up of bluebells leaves.  It's comforting to know that we should be back in the woods by the time the carpet changes colour.

Sunday, 16 March 2014


I had given no thought to Biggles for many a year - nor his colleagues Ginger and Algy and the others whose names I don't remember.  It was a passing comment left on her Facebook page by my cousin's daughter (which makes her my cousin, too) that brought him to mind.  The BBC had created a list of 100 books of which they believe the "average" reader has read only 6.  She scored 48, whereas my score was only 26.  (You can check it out here if you're interested.)

On the list was Swallows and Amazons, bu Arthur Ransome.  Mr Ransome wrote quite a few books in that series and I think I read them all as a boy.  They introduced me to a life I could never lead, one with a degree of wealth.  The books were about a group of children and the adventures they enjoyed when they got together during the school holidays.  It was only during the holidays that they could see each other as they were all at different boarding schools.  They had a couple of sailing boats and their adventures always centred on those boats and the lake on which they sailed.

I borrowed the Swallows and Amazons books from the library but the Biggles books were all mine.

The author was Captain W E Johns, himself a former pilot in the Royal Flying Corps and the the Royal Air Force.  James Bigglesworth (Biggles) was also a pilot in World War I, and after the war carried on flying in a commercial capacity, before again becoming an ace fighter pilot in Word War II.  Nowadays it would stretch my credibility, but as a teenager I was unaware of any apparent inconsistency and lapped up the tales of adventure and daring-do.

Perhaps it is partly due to Captain Johns that I enjoy reading so much even now.


A glorious day here on the English South Coast.  This morning I suddenly decided on a change in my usual routine.  Instead of walking along pavements to our local park, I put the dog in the car and drove to Stanmer woods.  And what a pleasure it was.  The sun was shining fit to scorch my eyes out.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Hidden agenda?

There has recently been a flurry of comment and criticism of the English system of education, comparing ours unfavourably with that of China.  The basics of that are common enough in that about once every six weeks or so there is another body of criticism about our education system in which it is described as failing in one way or another.  When I read this week about a tweet posted by a 20-year-old beautician from Blackpool - and a bonny lass she is, if the photo I saw does her justice - my immediate reaction was, "This just proves it; our education system is not simply failing, it has already failed".  But that was just a knee-jerk reaction, not so very far distant from the numerous insulting comments her tweet drew from people across the globe.  This is what she had tweeted:
If barraco barner is our president why is he getting involved with Russia, scary
That, on the face of it, is a particularly stupid comment from an English girl.  Has she never seen the US President's name spelled out?  And what's this about "our president"?  We don't have such a person.  And if we did, it would not be Mr O.  And just to make matters worse, it appears that this young lady claims to have 17 GCSEs!  Considering that it is the aim of most secondary schools to get their pupils to pass 5 GCSEs and the brainier students might pass 11, 17 does seem a trifle excessive, especially for a beautician.

No, I said to myself, there's more to this than meets the eye.  It seemed to me that there could be several possible reasons behind what appeared to be an exceptionally stupid comment.
  1. The young lady really is as dumb as she seems.
  2. The school she attended failed abysmally in the attempt to educate her.
  3. This was just a heavy-handed attempt at humour aimed solely at her friends.
  4. This was an attempt as self-publicity which has back-fired.
But whatever the reason for the tweet, I'm sure it will have been completely forgotten in a few days.  Except by the young lady concerned.


A misty morning, as seen from the bedroom window.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Looking back

This week I have sat in the sun enjoying a cup of coffee al fresco, admired the daffodils at their peak, been astounded by the number of violets in bloom, marvelled at the almost acrylic yellow of the celandines and stood still for minutes to enjoy being serenaded by a song thrush.  On Wednesday, the temperature as measured by my in-car thermometer hit 20 degrees and it was still 18 yesterday afternoon.

This week last year I was trekking through deep snow to the supermarket, the road outside our house being impassable.  According to the Beeb, "Freezing temperatures in March [2013] made it the UK's joint second coldest since records began more than 100 years ago, the Met Office has said".  They went on to report, "Average temperatures across the UK are set to reach 7C to 8C (44F to 46F) on Saturday and 9C (48F) on Sunday.  By next week they should be back to normal for April at about 11C (51F)."

I'm not sure what these little blue flowers are - chionodoxa, perhaps (glory of the snow) - that are in bloom in the park this week.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Gone fishing

No, probably not.  Indeed, definitely not.  Fishing is just not me.  In fact, sport and me are not exactly bosom friends.  I did play sports when I was at school.  At primary school, which was up until the age of 11, we had no playing field.  This was a Victorian school, by which I mean that it was built in the days of the Queen of that name, so we had a playground covered in tarmac and surrounded by iron railings.  We were occasionally taken, walking in a crocodile formation, to public playing fields about a mile and a half away where we could play football.  At senior school (from age 11) I played rugby during the winter months - unless I could get out of it, which I usually managed to do - and cricket in the summer.  We were given a couple of lessons in hockey and attempts were made to teach us to swim in the cold, open-air pool.  I have subsequently tried other sports: football, tennis, badminton, stoolball, darts, snooker, pool etc.  I enjoyed playing badminton, although I was never any good.  My problem is that I have almost no hand/eye co-ordination.  Or foot/eye co-ordination, come to that.  The only sport at which I managed to achieve a modicum of success was rock climbing.

My childhood dream of opening the batting for England in a test match against Australia could, of course, never come true.

Although I have never much enjoyed running about a field, kicking a ball (or failing to kick the ball in my usual fashion) I can well understand that people get pleasure from doing this.  Or throwing a dart straight into the double top.  Even running - although I have frequently wondered what on Earth possesses people to run marathons.  But I cannot for the life of me see how anybody could enjoy fishing.  Especially beach fishing.  If one wants to sit and read or meditate of just sit, fine, go ahead and do that.  But why sit watching a rod and line in the hope that some poor, unsuspecting fish might come along and take the bait - only for you to throw it back in the water?  It just doesn't make sense to me.

But then, who said it has to make sense?

And this is fun?

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Murphy's still around

It was 4.40 when I woke this morning and for the next two and a half hours I lay alternately awake and dozing lightly until I decided I had had quite enough of that, thank you very much, and what I really, really wanted was a soothing, long, hot shower.  Then, after breakfast, washing up and loading the washing machine, it was time to take the car to the garage for servicing.  On those occasions I take the dog with me and walk home through the park, a total distance of rather more than a mile so an adequate walk for both of us - especially as it's uphill most of the way.

At this point I should explain that our drive rises steeply to the road, a gradient of at least 1 in 5, maybe even nearer to 1 in 4.  If the car is well laden, it is not unusual for the bottom to scrape as we go over the top.  It happened yesterday when there was only the Old Bat and me in the car and I simply assumed that I had managed to find the spot where the ridge is highest and/or the rear tyres needed a little air.  It scraped again this morning with just the dog and me in the car but I carried on, reasoning that the garage would check the inflation of the tyre as part of the service.  A little way down the road I could feel that not all was as it should be.  On checking, I realised that the rear nearside tyre was only half inflated - but I thought it should be enough to get me to the garage.

Wrong. A little further on, just at the steepest point of the road, I had to stop.  The tyre was very nearly flat.

To get to the spare wheel and the jack and other necessary implements, one has to lift the floor of the boot.  Which is where the dog travels.  She is not so well trained that I can tell her to sit at the side of the road and be confident that she will stay there so I put her on the lead and struggled to use one hand to remove the spare wheel and all the accoutrements, after which the dog was returned to the boot.

The dog does tend to panic at things out of the ordinary - like when I get the steps out to change a light bulb - so I decided to leave the car where it was while I took her back home.  The wheel nuts had, of course, been tightened with an airgun so were extremely difficult to loosen and I was just a tad anxious as I released the parking brake and hoped that by engaging reverse gear the car would stay in place and not roll down the hill into a nearby car.  I had to stamp on the wheelbrace to get the nuts shifted - but the car didn't roll away and I have now left it at the garage and walked home by myself.

I wonder if they will get the tyre mended for me?  I didn't think to ask them to do that although they know why I was late getting there.

Oh well, if it's not one thing it's another, as my old granny used to say.


Just for a bit of fun, spot the difference.  This, by the way, is the River Havre at Oudon, close to its confluence with the Loire.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Murphy comes a-visiting

Some organisation or other conducted a survey recently into just where in the bedroom people kept their alarm clocks.  Just why on earth anyone would want to research that is quite beyond me, but I have come to the conclusion that universities especially will conduct research into anything if some mug or other is willing to cough up the spondoolicks.  Anyway, whatever the background reason for the research/survey, the result did rate a mention in the fish-wrap.  It might even have been as recently as last week that we learned that one in three people place their alarm clocks so that they have to get out of bed to switch them off.  I can't say that I was surprised to learn that, but neither was I unsurprised.  Frankly, I found it all a bit of a yawn.

(Sorry about that.)

I used to do the very same thing when I was working and needed to be out of bed at the crack of sparrow-fart, or even what seemed to be still the middle of the night for at least six months of the year.  My aim was to be out of the house at or very soon after six o'clock so I could be at my desk just after eight.  I didn't actually have to be at work until nine - or even later.  I was, after all, the Boss - or the nearest the staff had to a boss as I was responsible only to the board which was comprised entirely of non-executive directors.  I had figured that if I caught a train sufficiently early in the morning, I would be sure always of getting a seat, and there was less chance of the train running late.  It also meant that I could leave the office early with a clear conscience, thereby ensuring that I got a seat for the return journey and also got home early enough to actually have an evening to enjoy.

All that, though, is entirely off the point, which is that I still use an alarm clock, although now it is a radio alarm with a snooze button and it is situated so that I can easily press that snooze button.  I'm not really sure just why I continue to use an alarm, although I try telling myself it's so that I am up in time to let the dog out before there is a puddle in the kitchen.  And there are days - at least one every week - when I do need to be up and about because of things to do, places to be, and people to see.

But - and this is where Murphy comes in with his flaming law - during the last week or so I have taken to waking up at least half an hour before the alarm goes off, except on the days when I need to be up.  And those are the days when I have great difficulty in not pressing the snooze button!

Monday, 10 March 2014

After the Lord Mayor's Show

There is an old proverb that says, after the Lord Mayor's Show comes the dust cart.  I suppose it's about on a par with the one about pride going before a fall.  But for me, this past weekend, it was the other way round.  After the debacle of Saturday came the delight of Sunday.  It really felt as though spring had arrived and, for the first time this year, I walked the dog in the afternoon with no jacket.  Mind you, I didn't really think it warm enough for the t-shirts that quite a few people thought suitable wearing apparel.  I didn't wear the wellie boots either, for the second (or was it the third time) this past week.  It's even warmer today, and after a meeting with an official from the Council, three of us sat in the sun with a coffee.

It was an interesting meeting.  The three of us from Brighton Lions Housing Society were due to meet with three officials from the Council to discuss the possibility of the Housing Society buying from the Council the freehold of a plot of land where we have built flats.  We currently have a lease on the land which has about 53 years to run and we would be very keen to obtain the freehold as this would add significantly to the value of our portfolio and thus make borrowing money for the next development somewhat easier.  It has taken us three years to get to this stage - and then two of the three people we were supposed to meet didn't bother to attend.  Inefficiency, arrogance or just plain bad manners.  Fortunately, the one who was there seemed quite keen on the idea and, with luck, we could see further progress in the fairly near future.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

In which I act like a dumb blonde

I arrived in Asda's car park not very long after ten this morning and was astonished at how full it was, especially since the store had opened only at ten o'clock.  At least, that is when I think they open on Sunday mornings.  It was not that I wanted to do any shopping, but they have cash dispenser machines which are the nearest to us and I needed to ensure I had enough cash to pay the plumber when he finishes the job, which I hope won't be too much longer now.

I blame it all on the Old Bat (of course).  I was  quite content to leave the landing floorboards squeaking.  In fact, because I have long known where to tread so as to avoid making the boards squeak, I had almost forgotten that they do so.  The trouble is that the Old Bat shuffles and is unable to avoid the squeaky bits - and she complained that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE.  That was a couple of weeks ago but, give her her due, she hadn't mentioned it again so I can't say she was nagging me.  All the same, yesterday afternoon, after I had spent time digging the garden, I got out the tools.  It was easy enough to lift the carpet, drill a hole in each one of the offending floorboards, insert and tighten a screw in each hole and replace the carpet.  I think it probably took me longer to find the tools than it did to do the job.  A was checking something on the computer when the OB called out that there was water dripping through the kitchen ceiling.

I had been over-confident.  I was quite sure I knew where the pipes ran under the landing and that there would be no problem inserting the screws where I did.  It's easy enough for you to say it - and I know I should have checked, but I really didn't think I needed to.

I managed to find a plumber willing to turn out early on a Saturday evening but I had punctured one of the heating pipes.  Now our central heating was installed back when 10mm pipework was the norm - and the plumber had nothing he could use to repair our pipe.  He left things safe, promising to send one of his men to a supplier who is open on Sundays and the guy is due here any minute.  Meanwhile, I spent three hours mopping up and we finally ate some time after 9.00pm.

Luckily, I am able to shut off the water to the heating separately so we still have water for tea and coffee - and flushing the toilet and showering - but if we want hot water for washing up, that means boiling a kettle.  Also luckily, the temperature has risen nicely so we have not frozen.

Next time I will remember - measure twice, cut once.  Or, check it's OK to insert a screw there!

Now, where is that plumber?

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Another week done and dusted.

Well, nearly done and dusted.  And what has happened in this last week?  Nothing all that exciting; well, not as far as I am concerned.  There seems to have been a spot of bovver in a country called Ukraine which the West's politicians have tried to influence without any success and where they have no intention of following up their bluster with any real action.  There has been a trial started in South Africa, which seems to have our British media all excited but which leaves me completely cold.  The Met - that's the Metropolitan Police Service in London - are in trouble once again (when are they ever out of it?) with all sorts of allegations about cover-ups, lies, corruption and goodness knows what.

As for me, well, as I said, I had the car valeted at enormous expense.  I discovered some cousins who lived in San Francisco.  (Could it be that, if I continue searching, I will find that the Uncle Skip who is not my actual uncle but simply a "good mate" is really a cousin?)

And in other news, there is forecast to be a shortage of escargots.  A report in the paper mentioned that there is some sort of a bug which is likely to wipe out the entire population of those edible gastropods that are almost synonymous with French cuisine.  I rather like them, although I have to admit that snails really have just about no flavour at all.  What I like is the mix in which they are cooked and served: olive oil, garlic and mixed herbs.

So, on the subject of food, I am being asked to drive us to the local Marks & Spencer food store.  They are once again offering their "dine in for two for £10" deal which we consider very good value.  it comprises a main dish, a side dish and a dessert for two people, together with a bottle of wine.  It's almost as good as going out for a meal: no preparation, ease of cooking, and hardly any washing up!

Friday, 7 March 2014

An extra one

Skip, it's Friday.

If I ruled the world

Well, maybe not the world.  Maybe not even this little part of it, but I have been thinking how the English system of justice could be improved.  This all stems from my piece at the beginning of the week about serving on a jury.

[You missed it?  It was a proper tour de force, a magnum opus.  You could try going back a day or three to find it...  Or just click here.]

OK, now you've caught up, I will continue.

One of the problems that members of a jury face is that each one, when it comes to discussing a verdict, will have a different recollection of the evidence presented.  Some will have taken extensive notes, others hardly any.  And the longer the trial has lasted, the more difficult the jurors will find it to recall accurately what was said.  In Parliament, every word is recorded and (I believe) published the following day in Hansard.  There would, of course, be a cost involved, but it should be possible to have a similar scheme arranged in courts, even if only for the longer or more complex cases.  It would also mean that the judge would have no need to take his (or her) extensive notes and save having to call a halt while he (she) catches up.

And another thing: complex trials.  Or trials involving complex details and facts.  Sometimes a case does involve complicated or specialised details, things that are not understood by the man on the Clapham omnibus.  [That's an obscure reference to the "average man".]  And if, as so often happens, one of these trials is to last for several weeks, the difficulty becomes even greater.  This is fair to neither the person accused of a crime nor the prosecution team, the "Crown".  Maybe in some complex trials there is a case for selecting jurors only from people with the appropriate background and, therefore, knowledge to understand the case.

Then there is the matter of lengthy trials.  Potential jurors are, typically, called to do jury service for up to two weeks at a time, although I understand that if there is a chance that somebody will be asked to serve on a jury in a lengthy case, they will be asked to confirm their availability.  But even short cases can cause difficulties for employers, as I know from experience, so maybe there could be an argument for the establishment of a pool or corps of professional jurors to be called on for trials expected to last in excess of a given time.

I am quite often heard to say that if something ain't broke, don't fix it, and I am in no way suggesting that the English courts of law are broken.  But improvements could be made.  Maybe I should write to the Lord Chief Justice - but I won't.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Back in my own car

I must say I am very pleased to be back in my own car.  Not that I'm sitting in it right now, you understand, but it is back on the drive.  It has been in the bodyshop for a few days while the damage I did when trying to knock down a wall was repaired.  And a very good job they have made of it.  The company was kind enough to lend me a car while they had mine, but it was just a small, red bug-type vehicle - a Peugeot 107.  Granted, it drove well enough and was OK for getting around town - not that I did very much of that - but when we went shopping I had to struggle to get the three bags into the boot.  It really was that small!

I really am a medium to big car person, especially as so much of my driving is done on 400+ mile journeys, most of which are on motorways.  And anyway, how could I get all the wine in the boot of a small car?

Over the years I have owned what seems in retrospect to have been a multitude of cars.  Only one Ford - my first car - then an Austin A30, an Austin A40 (the Farina model), followed by another Austin - the 1100 - then a succession of Morris Marinas, followed by Vauxhall, Volvo, Peugeot, Renault, Volkswagen, Toyota, Nissan (in no particular order).  I think my favourite of all was the old Volvo Amazon estate car.  I don't remember what mileage it had done but the car was about 20 years old when I bought it.  It ran sweet as a nut, doing about 27 miles per gallon around the town, and was extremely comfortable.  Granted, it didn't have all the refinements that I would look for in a car nowadays, but I was very fond it.  I don't have a picture of my car, so I have borrowed a picture of a similar vehicle.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Pancake Day

It was only as we were walking round Asda yesterday afternoon that I remembered what day it was - Shrove Tuesday, or as we more commonly call the day before Ash Wednesday, Pancake Day.

It is a long-established English tradition that pancakes are eaten on the day before Lent starts in order to use up all those rich foods before the fast begins.  Just like Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  And just in case you are unaware, Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday.  So, we had our pancakes for dessert, topped in the traditional way with lemon juice and sugar.  And just for the record, English pancakes differ from the American version, which is more like what we call a drop scone.  And we don't eat pancakes for breakfast!

Another long-established English tradition is the pancake race.  This originated in the Buckinghamshire village of Olney back in 1445 and has been, it is thought, held there every year since, making yesterday's race the 569th!  The story is that a woman living in the village was so busy making her pancakes that she forgot the time.  When she her the church bell being rung to announce the imminent start of the shriving service, she raced to the church still holding her frying pan and wearing her apron.  So now, pancake races involve running while carrying a frying pan and tossing the pancake.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

In the interests of justice

Something I read recently – and just what it was has now gone clean out of my mind – reminded me of the time I spent sitting on a jury.  Not a talent show jury, all though there was one occasion many years ago when I was one of the carnival queen selection committee, which was a jury of sorts.  No, I am talking about a real court room jury, the sort of thing we used to see on the Perry Mason show.  Although perhaps not quite like that, as the jury I sat on was an English one rather than American.  As my experience was way back – getting on for four years ago – it’s probably not out of order for me to talk about it.  Or write about it, for that matter.  I don’t think that I am at all likely to end up in jail for contempt of court after this long.  Mind you, at the time we were warned very sternly not to discuss the case outside the jury room on pain of…  Well, what it would have been in pain of was never exactly spelled out, but we instinctively knew that whatever it was, it would have been unpleasant.

Our English system of justice is still based on the Magna Carta that King John was forced to sign nearly 700 years ago.  It is because of that “great charter” that anybody accused of a crime is entitled to be judged by his peers as represented by a jury of twelve “good men and true”, although of course in this day and age that includes women as well as men.

So it came to pass that I received a letter instructing me to report at the court on a stated day.  I duly turned up at the appointed time and after going through the security checks, waited in a collecting area with the other 20 or so who had also been called for duty.  We were duly led backstage (as it were) and given the introductory talk before being deposited in the waiting room to, well, wait.  We had been advised to bring reading material as there would be delays, sometimes quite lengthy.  Eventually, probably only about mid-morning but it seemed much later, fifteen of us were led into court.  Only twelve were needed but there were three “spares” in case somebody had personal knowledge of either the case or the defendant.  All went smoothly, and I was one of the chosen.

We took our places in the jury box, noticing that in front of each of us was a pencil and a few loose sheets of paper, these obviously having been torn from a spiral-bound notepad, and were addressed by the judge before the trial started.  There were three defendants, two men and one woman, each of them facing a charge of affray and one a further charge of causing bodily harm.  I no longer remember the details of the charges but do know that incidents had occurred at three different pubs in the villages of Pevensey and Westham, in the main street of the village of Pevensey, and that somebody had been attacked as he walked through the grounds of Pevensey Castle.  As we listened to the various witnesses, we members of the jury took notes.  Some were detailed, some fairly scrappy – and some completely non-existent.

There did seem to be an awful lot of times when the jury was sent back to our room while legal points were raised with the judge (mostly, I suspect, by one of the three defending counsel) and we started quite late – 10.00am – and finished early – usually by about 4.30 – so although the jury really needed to pay attention during the questioning of witnesses, this didn’t require the full effort for too long at a stretch.

The case had, we were told at the start, been scheduled to last a week but it was only on day four that the jury retired to consider its verdict.  As we sat around the table, it quickly became obvious that some of us who had not taken extensive notes were unable to recall things said by certain witnesses, things that other members of the jury considered significant.  Even those who had taken copious notes disagreed about some details!  After some time, we had all agreed that all three defendants were guilty of affray, but there was one juror who could not agree that the prosecution had proved one defendant guilty of causing bodily harm.  He conceded that it was likely, even probable, that the defendant was indeed guilty but considered that the evidence was too circumstantial for guilt to be proved “beyond reasonable doubt”.  However, we were in the end able to agree a verdict of guilty.

After the forewoman had pronounced the verdict we learned that the one accused and found guilty of causing bodily harm was already subject to a suspended prison sentence for causing bodily harm.  I, at least, felt that this added justification to our verdict, not that such justification was needed.

And so my jury service ended after just a week.  It was an interesting experience, although not one I particularly wish to repeat.  The best part was that I discovered a sandwich bar close to the court where they sold the most delicious bacon sandwiches!

I have been on record as saying that I believe the English system of justice to be the best in the world – not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with the system in many, if not most, other countries.  All the same, there are difficulties that could be addressed, even if some improvements could only be made if money were no object.  But maybe I’ll get to that another day.