Friday, 28 February 2014

Guess what today is?

28th February - the last day of winter!

I'm sorry to say that I failed to get into the garden yesterday.  Well, what i mean is that I failed to do any work in the garden.  I had hoped to finish digging one bed for the veggies, but when I was out with the dog we had the most ginormous hail storm.  The sun did come out again afterwards, for about three minutes, but things still looked too black to make another sortie worthwhile.  So I started drafting something about jury service - which might sometime see the light of day.  Meanwhile, I'm off taking the Old Bat to her regular Friday morning oxygen session - which she seems to think helps her but I believe to be mainly psychosomatic but if she believes it does her good, that's good enough for me.  While she is there I will take me for a wander round Sainsbury's and pop in to the Housing Society office.  We have a meeting coming up with some gents from the Council to discuss the possibility of buying the freehold of a plot of land which we currently rent and on which we have built 30 flats.  Could be interesting as the Council's valuer came up with a figure of £450,000 whereas ours came up with £90,000!  The Council's valuer wants us to pay the Council for the flats we built!

~~~~~

It was good to see this blossom in Stanmer Park during the week.  Makes me think spring really is just around the corner!


Thursday, 27 February 2014

Relax, BP.

I did try telling myself that but it did little good.  I was just getting more and more wound up as there was so much I wanted to check, read and otherwise use the internet for yesterday afternoon.  I had walked the dog, dug over some more of the vegetable patch (there's almost the whole of one side done now and the neighbourhood cats have been taking great delight in fertilizing it for me) and done the ironing (yes, really!) so it was time once more for me to settle down at the computer.  But I was frustrated.  There was no internet connection.  And that was how matters remained until I gave up and sat down with the crossword.  I didn't manage to finish that either!  But, thankfully, things seem to be back to normal again this morning.  Like it rained some more overnight, so the woodland paths in the park are thick with slippery mud again.

Which reminds me.  I still haven't heard about the new web site I have developed for the Friends of Withdean Park.  Perhaps I should chase that up.

Talking of new web sites, the Lions Club in Britain and Ireland have a new site and a new domain name.  They have changed from lionsclubs.org.uk to lionsclubs.co.  I like the look of the new site but it is a pity that it has gone live while many of the links are still inoperative and the list of clubs is way off completion.

~~~~~

It was back to Stanmer Park for our walk yesterday afternoon.  I am still keeping away from Stanmer Woods as there is far too much mud.  39 Acres and the Roman Camp are off limits, too, as the car park has been invaded by "travellers".  But a stroll across the grass is OK.  It was reasonably sunny and probably quite pleasant in the sheltered garden of Stanmer House, now a pub, so some hardy souls enjoyed their refreshment al fresco.


Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The road to Hell

It has been said by some, including my old granny, that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  And I am quite possibly on that road, having started out today full of good intentions.  I was going to write a fascinating blog about the referendum that is due to be held in Scotland this coming September, or maybe it would be a subtle exposé on the life and times of a member of a jury.  That done, it was my intention to drop off a hard copy of the Brighton Lions monthly newsletter to the one member in Brighton who has no email, collect some hearing aids for recycling to third world countries (sorry, that's probably not a politically correct term but I can't immediately think what I should write instead), check there are no begging letters for Brighton Lions at our postal address, and then go to the surgery for a blood test.  At least those are only done every three months now.  This time last year it was every two weeks.  Then, always assuming I had received replies to the emails I sent out on Monday asking questions, I would be able to press on with the web site I have agreed to develop and the outing for young carers that the Lions are to fund.

So much to do, and so little time in which to do it.  But it's far better than sitting here twiddling my thumbs and wondering what I can do to pass the time between breakfast and lunch - as well as walking the dog, that is.

Then just as I was checking my emails - and, to my frustration, there were no replies to any of my questions - my connection to the interwotsit upped and went.

Anyway, I have visited the local vampire dressed in a nurse's uniform, found the car park to the hearing centre blocked by road works (more frustration) so I parked illegally in a loading bay and got away with it, checked there were no begging letters and delivered the newsletter.  Now I'm back at the keyboard (having unloaded the dishwasher and moved the sheet and duvet cover from the washing machine to the drier (I'll iron them later)) and my internet is back.  But there are still no replies.  Maybe I'll simply read the blogs I try to follow.

In the meantime, while I'm busy writing those highly fascinating blogs in my head, here's another picture I took while up on the Downs behind Falmer on Monday.


Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Hail to thee, blithe spirit!

The last few days have seemed almost as though winter was thinking of turning into spring.  There are daffodils in bloom, although there are still plenty yet to come, and with a fair amount of sun our crocuses - of which we have thousands in both back and front gardens - actually came fully into flower.  The flowers had been standing there looking very disconsolate and refusing to open up under the seemingly permanent gloom and cloud cover.  I have even started to clear the vegetable patch of weeds but I do find these days that after 20 or 30 minutes of digging, my back starts to remind me not to be over-ambitious so my horticultural efforts have to be reined in.  Still, it's a start - and maybe I have already cleared enough to grow a few peas.

The woodland paths in our local park have for weeks now been slippery and, at times, inches deep in mud but they had started to dry out.  Note that I wrote "had"; we probably didn't have more than a shower or two during the night, but those paths are slippery again this morning.  I have found that the fields up by the Chattri, and 39 Acres as well, have dried out nicely so yesterday I decided on a change of route.  I drove out to the back of Falmer to take the footpath up towards Plumpton Plain and Lewes - one of my favourite walks.  Unfortunately, that path was still extremely muddy in several places, not helped by the farmer driving his tractor over it as he flailed the hedgerows.  What did surprise me was that the field on practically the top of the hill was almost like a bog.  Given the height of the land comparative to its surroundings and the fact that the bedrock is permeable chalk with not a lot of soil on top, I did find this surprising.

What I found especially delightful was the sight and sound of a skylark, the first I have heard singing this year.

This is the view of St Mary's Farm from the approach to Balmer Down.


Monday, 24 February 2014

Especially for Skip...

...given his "thing" about cats.  (Just sorry it's a budgie and not a duck.)


Sunday, 23 February 2014

Twerking on Saturday

(Borrowed image)
I spotted that picture on another blog and it immediately reminded me of a true Irish story.

As a schoolboy, I put my name down at the newsagents to take on a paper round when a vacancy occurred.  I did get called on once or twice to stand in when one of the regulars was away, but I never did get a round of my own.  I was complaining one day about being short of cash when our next-door neighbour told me that her sister, a supermarket manager, was looking for a schoolboy shelf-stacker to work after school on Fridays and Saturday mornings.  That sounded to me considerably better than having to struggle out of bed in the early mornings, often before dawn, and take a three-quarters of an hour walk in all weathers, so I hied me down to Bellman's (the supermarket) post-haste and was taken on to start that very week.

I was put on the dairy food section.  This involved me taking a box of half-pound packs of butter from the walk-in fridge, stamping each pack with the correct price (no bar codes in those days!) and replenishing the chiller counter, always remembering the need for correct rotation.  Hardly the most exacting work mentally, but even if I did have to go into the fridge on cold days, it was way better than a paper round.

There were two or three other boys employed as well, but otherwise it was an all-female staff of till operators and shelf-stackers.  Except for one man, the general factotum-cum-odd-job-man-cum-cleaner.  He was a man of mature years (remember, I was a teenager so he might have only been in his 40s), an Irishman.  One day, Paddy (yes, that really was what we called him) told me that he didn't like walking on Saturdays.

"But," I replied, "the buses run on Saturdays just like the rest of the week.  Why do you have to walk?"

"Oi don't mean walking," he responded.  "Oi mean working."

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Chinese confusion

We were at the kitchen table eating dinner last night when a face appeared at the door.  Actually, it was more than just a face, it was a whole body.  It was a student of oriental parentage, probably here in Brighton at one of our English as a foreign language schools, of which we have several.  Hosting foreign students is almost a cottage industry in this city with many families letting out a spare bedroom to earn a little extra cash on the side.  This particular student, when I opened the door, held out a phone with an address shown.

"Excuse, please.  Where is this number 10?"

Our house is number 9 and the house next door is number 11.  He seemed to think that number 10 should have been in between but that little green men had whisked it away.  I explained that it was on the other side of the road, down the hill and over the crossroads.  I think he went away even more puzzled than when he arrived.  Perhaps I should have put my coat and shoes on and taken him to find number 10, but I was in the middle of my meal.

I don't know what system is used for numbering houses in China, if they even have a system, but here in England we usually have odd-numbered houses on one side of the street with the even numbers on the other side.  This causes few problems to us as we are born into the system but there are occasional difficulties - such as with our road.  There is a stretch of the road on our side where there are no houses while the houses on the other side have already started, so number 1 is not opposite number 2.  In fact, number 1 is opposite number 20 and the first few houses on the other side give every appearance of being in a different road altogether.

There was a time when houses were numbered consecutively along one side of the street, the numbers then continuing in the opposite direction on the other side.  That system is still in use in some streets here in Brighton but is generally pretty obvious.  What has long puzzled me, however, is the system used in America where houses have such enormous numbers - 4487, for example - even though there are only a hundred or so houses in the street.  And the house next door might be something like number 4652.  I expect it is all very simple really, but it seems totally illogical to me.

~~~~~

One last picture from last Sunday's walk across the Downs.  This is looking south across Brighton.


Thursday, 20 February 2014

Fresh veg

So exercise is good for the brain as well as one's physical health,as we discovered yesterday.  Of course, the other thing - or maybe just one of the other things - that is good for the body and probably the brain as well is good, fresh fruit and veg.  There was a time when most of the hoi-polloi, the serfs and vassals, ate only what they grew themselves or found in the woods and hedgerows and fields.  And there is a lot to be said for growing one's own vegetables.  from plot to plate in less than 30 minutes means that very little of the goodness has slipped away from the food, which tastes all the better for that.  There is nothing quite like a helping of peas that were still in the garden only a few minutes ago!  But, of course, we are no longer able - or willing - to grow it all ourselves.  Which means that by the time we get to buy the vegetables in the supermarket, there being a dearth of greengrocers' shops nowadays, everything is past its best and on the road to rot.

But I am always puzzled why it is that the carrots we buy in France when we stop off at the supermarket in Calais on our way home, are so much fresher than any we can buy in England.  What is it that Auchan does that Asda, Sainsburys and Tesco don't?  It certainly seems to me that Auchan must source their vegetables from local producers.  At least in part.  There are no vegetables or fruits that do not start deteriorating as soon as they are picked, although some rot quicker than others.  And yet supermarkets bring in products from thousands of miles away.  What I call French beans - often now called dwarf beans - are on sale all year round and they are brought in from Egypt, Kenya and even Guatemala!  And they taste almost like a different bean from the ones I grow myself.

Of course, some fruits retain their freshness longer than others.  Take oranges, for example.  Which reminds me of a story about the first orange I ever saw.

During my early years, oranges and lemons were in very short supply.  Indeed, they could not be bought in England for love nor money.  We were at war, and there were far more important things to be transported by the convoys than the vast quantities of citrus fruit we are nowadays accustomed to seeing in the shops.  I was about 5 or 6 when I went into hospital to have my tonsils removed.  Another boy a few years older than me was in the bed next to me and we were the only children in a mens' surgical ward.  One of the nurses took pity on us and gave us each an orange.  This was something completely new to me but the other boy, being a little older, remembered them and showed me how to puncture the skin with my teeth in order to suck the goodness out.

When the nurse came by to collect her oranges, possibly the first she had managed to buy for several years, she was horrified to see that they had been eaten.  She hadn't dreamed that we would know they were edible and thought we would simply play with them like balls.

~~~~~

Returning from the Chattri, this is the view we see of Hollingbury with the Roman Camp being the high point.  Those Iron Age dwellers certainly had a good view.


Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Cross words

I read a report in yesterday's newspaper about some recent research undertaken by a university in America somewhere, possibly Chicago.  It seems that the researchers had discovered that exercise is more beneficial than doing puzzles in warding off dementia as we get older.  (Yeah, yeah - I know.  Research, huh!)  Their conclusion was that the brain shrinks as we get older but exercise encourages it to expand and, at least partly, fill up the empty space.  Quite why this should be was something they had not discovered but they surmised that it had something to do with exercise increasing the flow of blood.

Well, if this research is indeed correct, that's a very good reason for owning a dog.  I spend somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours each day just walking.  Not especially briskly, I agree, but at least parts of my body are moving and that must do something to help the blood flow through the narrowing veins and arteries.  I also make an attempt to do two sudoku puzzles and a crossword each day.  Not just in case that will help stave off dementia but because I enjoy solving puzzles.  So I don't bother with the quick crosswords or the general knowledge ones either.  With those you either know the answer or you don't - in which case it can often be looked up.  No, my preference is for the cryptic variety.  These involve a modicum of lateral thinking and are, I think, both more enjoyable (especially when I can complete one) and better exercise for the grey cells.

Talking of crosswords, I had a few yesterday,  Cross words, that is.  With myself.  I was backing the car out of a tight space when my attention was momentarily distracted.  I failed to stop in time and crashed into a wall.  Looking on the positive side, nobody was hurt and the wall was undamaged.  The only damage was to the car and my pride - although it will extend to my bank balance in due course.

~~~~~

My walk last Sunday took me to the top of the Downs from where I could look over at the village of Pyecombe nestling beneath Wolstonbury Hill.


Tuesday, 18 February 2014

An Englishman's jacket



There are three jackets hanging in my wardrobe.  No, there aren’t – there are five.  I was forgetting the two suits, one a dark grey, double-breasted, pin-stripe suit that I bought, I think, for my younger son’s wedding 16 years ago, and which still fits me and is now worn only for funerals.  The other is my penguin suit that I wear for Lions Clubs’ charter nights and nothing else.  That just leaves the three jackets that don’t have matching trousers.  Sports coats, I suppose they would be called, although only one is of a traditional sports coat style in that it is tweed.  Mind you, I probably wear the dark suit more than I wear any of these jackets now.

Before I retired I wore a jacket every day.  Well, every working day.  I am of the generation that was accustomed to wearing a jacket and tie to work, although I did relax sufficiently to wear non-matching jacket and trousers rather than the suit I had worn when working in the bank.  I am also of the generation of Englishmen who at one time considered that the only type of sports coat that one could (or should) buy was made from Harris Tweed.

My first sports coat – indeed, the first jacket I ever owned that was not a school blazer – was Harris Tweed.  I bought it when I was 17.  It was a light, almost Lovat green tweed with those traditional leather buttons made to look like Turks head knots.  In those days I would never have dreamed of going out with a girl without wearing a jacket and tie – me, not the girl.  I had a supply of white shirts – white being the only acceptable colour – and a range of woollen ties, each being a plain, single colour.  I remember a dark green a light green, a yellow and a brown.  And, perhaps surprisingly as it seemed to tone with the jacket, a light blue.

Like most Englishmen, I became very attached to my Harris Tweed jacket.  Harris Tweed is famously long-lasting and after a while, jackets made from that Hebridean cloth mould themselves to fit one’s body when they become supremely comfortable.  I probably had that sports coat for about 20 years, and still wore it in the garden, before one day I discovered that my wife had committed what was almost the ultimate of sins.  She had thrown away my beautiful Harris Tweed sports coat.  It was a long time before I forgave her.  In fact, I’m not entirely sure I ever have really done so.

~~~~~

Continuing my walk from yesterday, this picture shows how isolated is the Chattri.

 

Monday, 17 February 2014

Sunshine and floods

I mentioned that we had blue skies yesterday and that I hoped to get into the garden.  I did indeed, but before that I spent a happy hour or more wandering across the Downs with the dog.  We weren't the only ones enjoying the break in the winter weather.  Shortly after I had taken this picture, the whole group cantered off towards the Chattri.  Fern (the spaniel) doesn't 'do' horses so we cut off in a different direction to keep out of their way.

It was only after a cup of tea that I got into the garden where I spent an hour dead-heading two hydrangeas and pruning the roses (better late than never). 

I checked our local newspaper's web site this morning and was surprised to see that the main Brighton to Lewes road was partly closed yesterday because of flooding.  This morning there are no trains from Brighton to London, again because of flooding - at Patcham.  It seems the ground water level is some 47 metres above ordnance datum level and the flooding is just water seeping out of the ground.  On the other hand, the paths through the woods in the local park seemed drier this morning!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

What a difference a day makes

I'm having a little difficulty in getting my head round the tremendous variations we are seeing in our weather.  On Friday, the rain heaved down pretty much all day.  Then in the evening the wind got up.  By the time we went to bed it must have been blowing about 80mph; the weather girl reported that late in the evening there had been a gust of more than 100mph on the Isle of Wight, some 50 miles away from us.  We lay in bed listening to somebody's wheelie bin slamming into something repeatedly and plastic milk bottles rattling around the drive.

Yesterday was still windy, but much brighter and I thoroughly enjoyed a walk on the edge of Stanmer Woods and through the park for the better part of an hour in the afternoon.  Today we have sun and a cloudless blue sky.  There must have been a touch of frost overnight as there were still hints of it in the shadowy places when I walked the dog after breakfast but in the sun it felt really quite warm and spring-like.  If it manages to stay like this I might even get out into the garden this afternoon.

Probably the first job to be done is to deadhead the hydrangeas, especially the large plant in the front garden.  I have deliberately left the plants alone - on the advice of a professional - to provide protection for the new buds in case of bad weather but I think the time has come for the new buds to look after themselves.  Besides, the old, dead flower-heads make the place look untidy.  And I don't want to tempt thieves.

I have yet to hear of it happening here in England, but there has been quite a spate of theft of hydrangea flowers across the Channel.  Around Calais, at any rate.  It seems that smoking hydrangea flowers produces an effect similar to one of the hallucinogenic drugs, LSD or something.  So I really should remove the temptation.  You can read a report here, from which I see that it is the leaves that are smoked, not the dried flowers, and the similarity is with cannabis.

Despite the sun we have here today, my picture is another taken on Friday.  This is Southwick recreation ground, again taken through the windscreen and not Photoshopped in any way.


Saturday, 15 February 2014

Valentines' Day?

It came and it went, having passed me by almost completely unnoticed.  Granted, I could hardly miss all the advertising both in the newspapers and on the television from the supermarkets competing with each other in their offers of "Dine in for 2 for £20".  It seems not all that long - though it is likely longer than I think - since Marks and Spencer started their offer of "Dine in for 2 for £10" and it is all of a sudden that the real supermarkets (I don't count M&S as a "real" supermarket) have brought out their offers.  The original M&S offer, which the old bat and I have taken up on perhaps three occasions, covers a main dish with a side dish, a dessert and a bottle of wine.  We think it good value, especially as the wine alone is usually priced at £7.  Not that I would reckon to pay that much for a bottle of plonk as it is so much cheaper in France.  But I still consider it good value.

Anyway, there I was wandering round Sainsbury's yesterday while the Old Bat was enjoying her oxygen-swilling session.  There were strawberries in heart-shaped plastic containers, lashings of pink greetings cards which no doubt had tacky messages (I didn't bother to look) and Sainsbury's own "Dine in for 2 for £20" offer, which I didn't bother to check.  One of the supermarket offers included chocolates and another - or maybe the same one - offered fizz instead of plonk.  We stuck with the sea bass fillets the OB pulled from our freezer yesterday morning.

You might gather that my dear wife received neither flowers nor chocolates nor even a card from me to mark 14th February, let alone a romantic candle-lit dinner in a posh restaurant.  Me and romance just don't go together and I can't recall even sending a valentine card when I was a callow youth.  There's absolutely no chance of me doing so in my dotage.

~~~~~

Sainsbury's car park yesterday, through the car windscreen.  I promise I have done nothing apart from pressing the button on the camera!




Friday, 14 February 2014

Weather report

Yesterday I started to say how tedious this weather is becoming.  The boffins at Oxford University have announced that England is currently experiencing the wettest winter for at least 250 years.  I'm unsure quite how they know that as although there are some pretty elderly dons at Oxford, I rather doubt any of them can remember that far back.  The BBC's science correspondent told us the other evening that the storms that have been battering England and Wales (and other parts of western Europe) are the result of a heavy rainstorm that caused flooding in Indonesia.  That caused the Pacific jet stream to change its course, thereby causing the polar vortex that has hit Canada and the USA.  This in turn affected the course of the Atlantic jet stream, resulting in our storms.  So the flooding of the Somerset levels, Worcester, Gloucester, the Thames valley et al is an indirect result of flooding on the other side of the world.  Knowing that will, I am sure, be of no consolation to those poor folk who have been forced out of their homes - or the farmers who will probably be unable to grow crops this year.

While I do feel for those folk, we must remember that our flooding is as nothing compared to the floods which seem to hit Pakistan and similar places with almost monotonous regularity.  What does surprise me is the fact that our weather, or the result of it, is being broadcast and published in so many other countries.

I am fortunate in that I live relatively high up almost at the top of a hill.  If my house were to be flooded there would be no hope for England.  Having said that, we do get the wind, especially as it funnels down the drive between our house and our neighbour's.  Even so, I doubt it has reached the 108 mph recorded on the Lleyn peninsula of north Wales or the speeds seen on the Lancashire coast and inland as far as Manchester, where people were blown off their feet this week.

We have been very grateful for the occasional bursts of sunshine that we have had.  This picture was taken from my bedroom yesterday afternoon, not all that long after a heavy hail storm.


Thursday, 13 February 2014

Changed my mind

Again.  Although yesterday I did not so much change my mind as realise that what I had intended to write was not really appropriate.  Today, however, there has been a proper change of mind.  I was thinking, while trudging through the mud in the park as I walked the dog, that I would moan write about the tedium of this winter's weather.  But Jenny left a comment on yesterday's blog which stirred me up to produce yet another rant.  Yet another rant, indeed, at the local council here in Brighton.

I have something of a quandary in that I like Brighton as a city in which to live - especially Patcham, my part of the city - and the Old Bat is a native of the place (while I am a mere incomer of some 50+ years).  BUT, and it is a big but, I am driven almost mad by the actions of the council.  And it seems to make no difference which political party is in control.  At the moment we have the Green Party in the ascendancy and, in my view, they are probably the worst of the lot.  But all the parties seem intent on driving visitors out of the city - and yet visitors have played a vital part in the economy and prosperity of Brighton for two hundred years!

The cost of parking in Brighton is astronomical.  Last year, visitors who were lucky enough to find a parking place on the seafront - a near-miracle in itself - were faced with a charge of £20 to park for the day.  And that had to be prepaid at a parking meter.  In £1 coins.  No notes, no £2 coins.  One could use 50p, 20p, 10p of 5p coins as well as £1 coins, but who on earth carries £20 in £1 coins to feed into a parking meter?

We used to have a park and ride scheme operating.  The large-ish car park at Withdean Stadium is not right on the edge of town, but it is not in the centre either.  Parking was free and buses into the city centre ran frequently, with a fare of £2 single.  It was a well-used scheme but cost the Council too much, so they stopped the subsidy.  As a result, more people want to drive into town and park their cars.  Which, I suppose, increases the revenue from parking meters.  Mind, you, the park and ride scheme was stopped two or three years ago but all the signs are still in place to confuse visitors.

Mention of revenue raised from meters leads me to mention also the residents' parking permits and the controlled parking zones.  These zones are gradually reaching further and further across the city.  Residents in the zones have to buy permits to park on the street and parking meters are installed for use by non-residents.  This, of course, drives out the people who need to park for the day so they can get to their places of employment and they have to park just outside the zones.  Until the residents in those streets complain about difficulty in parking, so the residents only zone is extended a little further.  And so it goes on.  A recent report showed that Brighton collects more revenue from motorists parking per dwelling than any town outside central London.  In my view, the council just regards parking as an extra source of revenue and fails to spend the money raised (I hesitate to say earned) in the way it is intended to be spent: on improving roads and transport generally.

And don't get me - or hundreds, possibly thousands, of other drivers - started on the ridiculous bus lanes and cycle lanes that are squeezing a growing number of private cars, vans and lorries into a reducing space.

One final point.  We found it cheaper to park on the seafront in Cannes and in Monte Carlo than it was then in Brighton!

~~~~~

Visitors to the city pass through the pylons in yesterday's picture before reaching Patcham.  Here they are greeted by one of the family of tin men who stands by the Victorian horse trough.  Nobody will own up to changing the clothes on these men but they are changed from time to time.



Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Well now

I had thought of starting my blog today with an apology, a public apology because I realised that I had publicly slated somebody.  That heinous crime (why is heinous always associated with crime but never sin?) was committed publicly on this very blog so, even though the gentleman in question (I have never met him but I will give him the benefit of the doubt and describe him as a gentleman) is most unlikely ever to stumble across my unkind words, it seems only right and proper that my apology should be made here as well.  But hey!  I have looked up what I said and I did not slate him after all.  OK, so I didn't exactly crown him with laurels either, but my words do not call for an apology.  But it has made me think and I have decided that I really must be conscious of the fact that I am not talking quietly to a few friends over a pint but I am in fact SHOUTING TO THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD when I commit my thoughts to the depths - or heights - of the world wide web.

That was brought home to me some weeks back when two different people made contact with me as a result of them stumbling across this blog.  One was a man I have never met but I had mentioned his father (and grandparents) on the blog; the other realised that I had probably attended the same school as him back in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

So, fellow bloggers, heed the gypsy's warning.

~~~~~

Back in 1928, the boundary of Brighton was moved north and on the new boundary, two stone pillars were erected to act as a sort of gateway to Brighton, the main road from London passing between them.  When that road - the A23 - was widened, it had been planned to demolish at least the western pylon (as they are known) but there was a huge public outcry so the northbound carriageway now runs outside the old gateway.  Travellers from the north, however, still enter Brighton through the gate.

The western pylon bears the words:
'Hail guest, we ask not what thou art.
If friend we greet thee hand and heart.
If stranger, no longer be.
If foe, our love shall conquer thee.'
I couldn't get both pylons in the picture without getting run over.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Confused

That's me.  Confused, I mean.  Let me make two points to explain why.
  1. There are surely very few people in the Western world who are unaware that the most expensive winter Olympics ever staged are being held in Sochi right now.
  2. The BBC broadcast a couple of programmes and our weekend newspaper published a splurge to mark the fact that this coming Friday will be the 30th anniversary of Torvill and Dean's row of perfect sixes in the ice dance at the Sarajevo winter Olympics.
Now I had always thought that Olympic Games are held at four-year intervals.  And if my arithmetic is anything like as good as I believe it to be, 30 is not divisible by four.  So should the Olympics not have been held two years ago?  Not that I give a damn either way.

But in some ways, I live in confusing times.  Or maybe it's just that I live in a confused country.  For instance, go into a pub here in England (or Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland) and you will order beer in the old imperial measurements, by the pint.  In the supermarkets, milk is sold by the pint.  Petrol, on the other hand, is sold by the litre, the new-fangled metric system of measurement.  Yet when we calculate the fuel consumption of our cars we talk of miles to the gallon, not litres per hundred kilometers as they do in other European countries.

When we (that is, the Old Bat and I) visit the butcher, all his meat is priced at so much a kilo.  The Old Bat asks for, for instance, a pound of sausages - and the butcher is happy to oblige.  Even though his scales measure only in metric kilograms.  Some years ago, it was decreed by Parliament that, in accordance with a directive from the European Union in Brussels, all goods such as vegetables should be sold in kilograms and the prices were to be so displayed.  A market trader somewhere up north continued to sell his bananas at so much a pound as he said that was what his customers wanted.  Nevertheless, he was prosecuted and found guilty, thereby becoming known as the Metric Martyr.  As an aside, it was only last year that the EU said it was never their intention that we should be forced to sell goods in kilograms rather than pounds.

Longer distances are still expressed in miles, such as the distance between two towns, but short lengths are often expressed in metric centimeters.  Sports confuse the two systems.  Horse racing still uses miles (and furlongs: a furlong is one eighth of a mile, 220 yards) but athletics has abandoned the old 100 yards (yes, 100 not 110), 220 yards, 440 yards and the mile and we now have 100 metres, 200 metres etc.  They are much the same as the old imperial distances, as, in the words of the old rhyme, "a metre measures three foot three.  It's longer than a yard, you see."

And if all that is not confusing enough, in horse racing they still refer to guineas.  A guinea is (or was) one pound, one shilling.  A shilling was one twentieth of a pound - now five pence - so 100 guineas is £105.

Perhaps it's no wonder they can't hold the Olympics in the right year!

~~~~~

Not so much a confusion but something of a puzzle.  This notice was in front of a tree in Stanmer Park, though it's no longer there.  But why did the Russian ambassador visit Brighton and Stanmer in particular?  And why was he asked to plant a tree?


Monday, 10 February 2014

The smoking gun

The House of Commons is to debate today on whether or not to ban smoking in cars carrying children.  Their Lordships in the upper House have already indicated that they view the proposal favourably and it seems highly likely that this will be passed into law.  But I have reservations.  No, it's more than that; I think this would be a bad law.

It's not that I think smoking in a car in which children are being carried is a good thing, it's just that I cannot see how such a law could be enforced.  And haven't I heard it said that an unenforceable law is a bad law?  That said, a proponent of a ban is quoted in today's newspaper as saying that similar laws are enforced successfully in Australia and Canada.  She didn't say, or the paper failed to continue the quote, just how the law is successfully enforced in those countries.  I have visions of policemen at road junctions, especially where there are traffic lights, peering into cars to see if anyone is smoking and if there are children in the car.  But what about those roads in the country, or the long stretches of main roads and motorways, where there are no traffic lights and cars travel too fast for snoopers to check them?  Without low level cameras aimed at the interiors of passing cars, and the attendant army of people watching the films, there is no way that such a ban could be upheld.

My second reservation is that if this proposed ban does become law, it just extends the way the state is exerting control over so many aspects of our lives.  There are already, in my opinion, too many "nanny knows best" laws.  I don't call myself a libertarian, but I do think we should be allowed a modicum of discretion over how we live our lives.  How long, I wonder, will it be before there are laws telling us what we may eat and on what days?  Do we really want to regress to the stage where the English government (under the rule of the Puritan Oliver Cromwell) banned mince pies?

I presume (or is that "assume"?) that if this does become law, there will be some clarification.  Would the proposed ban only apply to cars when there are children in them, or would it apply to any car that is used, however infrequently, to transport children?  If it is to apply only when children are actually in the car, then it is, I suggest, almost pointless.  What about the instance, for example, when a smoking driver spots a neighbour and her child walking home from school in the pouring rain.  The driver stubs out the cigarette to offer the neighbour a lift.  But isn't it a fact that the noxious vapours are still in the car?  On the other hand, if smoking is to be banned in any car that carries a child at any time, I will be unable to collect my granddaughter from school (on the infrequent occasions that I am asked to) because my wife smokes the occasional cigarette in the car as we drive down through France.

Yes, I know: my second and third reservations are just flippant.  But I still believe that an unenforceable law is a bad law - and this would, to all intents and purposes, be unenforceable.

~~~~~

Still in Falmer, this white building is, I believe, used as the village hall.  It dates from either 1837 or 1839 - I forget which.


Sunday, 9 February 2014

Ordnance Datum Level

I must say that one of the benefits of writing this blog over the last diddly-dum years has been an increase in my general knowledge.  I've learned all sorts of things and now know, for instance, what pulled pork is.  Coincidentally, despite that not having been something generally known in England, there have been a smattering of mentions recently.  The latest is in a booklet of Heston Blumenthal recipes distributed with yesterday's newspaper.  Now if you are a reader from across the sea, that name quite possibly means sweet Fanny Adams to you so I'll explain.

Mr B is a chef (yes, you had already worked that one out) who owns a restaurant - The Fat Duck - which was Michelin's restaurant of the Year back in 2001.  There is a tasting menu offered at the restaurant - allow three and a half hours - priced at £195 per person.  I've not eaten there.

And here's another thing: sweet Fanny Adams.  The origin of this phrase is actually quite gruesome as it refers to the abduction and murder of 8-years-old Fanny Adams in 1867.  The culprit was quickly found and tried and executed in December that year.  (You can read the whole story right here if you have a mind to.)  But I will quote the last couple of paras from that link:
Poor Fanny's headstone which was erected by public subscription and renovated a few years ago still stands in the town cemetery on the Old Odiham Road. It might have been our only reminder of the tragic affair had it not been for the macabre humour of British sailors.

Served with tins of mutton as the latest shipboard convenience food in 1869, they gloomily declared that their butchered contents must surely be 'Sweet Fanny Adams'. Gradually accepted throughout the armed services as a euphemism for 'sweet nothing' it passed into common usage.

As an aside, the large tins in which the meat was packed for the Royal Navy, were often used as mess tins and it appears that even today mess tins are colloquially known as 'fannys'.
But what of Ordnance Datum Level - which is where we started out?   Well, that is connected with the recent spate of flooding.  Although some of the problems have arisen as a result of strong winds and very high tides and others because swollen rivers have burst their banks, the level of the water table has been causing concern as well.  It would seem that the ordnance datum level is the average level of the water table.  Here in Patcham ground water was reported last week as being 40 metres above ODL - that's 130 feet higher than average.  No wonder water has been seeping up out of the ground into some houses.  I was surprised to find a spring gushing water in the park the other morning - something I have never seen before - and water was pouring out at least as fast as at the spring which is considered to be the source of the River Loire!

If I manage to keep blogging for another diddly-dum years, who knows what else I might learn?

~~~~~

I took a detour on the way home from Stanmer Park on Friday afternoon into the village of Falmer.  This is the church.


Saturday, 8 February 2014

WWrriittiinngg

I have noticed that two of the most prolific fiction authors, Tom Clancy and James Patterson,
frequently write their books in conjunction with another person. Like that book shown on the right: TOM CLANCY with Mark Greaney.  I have often thought it something of a cop-out, to have a book published ostensibly as one's own when another person has contributed to a greater or lesser extent.  But to what extent did Mr Greaney contribute to Threat Vector?  Presumably it was a reasonably significant contribution he made or his name would not be seen on the front cover, even if it is in very much smaller print than Mr Clancy's name.  This matter of an author "with" another writer is something that has been puzzling me off and on for some time, possibly even years.  This week, though, my puzzlement reached greater heights still.  Or greater depths.  Whichever seems the more apt.

A friend whose taste in reading matter is not a million miles away from mine recommended an author of whom I had not heard, or perhaps whose books I had not really looked at when visiting the library.  Anyway, when I was at the library earlier this week, I borrowed a book by Nicci French.  Whether or not it is to my liking I cannot yet say as I have only just started it.  But I was surprised to find that Nicci French is not actually a person.  or rather, she is not just one person.  "She" is two people, husband-and-wife team Nicci Gerrard and Sean French.  And just how, I wondered, do they set about writing a book between them?  I had visions of them sitting side by side, fighting for control of the keyboard.  Or perhaps they take it in turns to write the chapters, a bit like the old party game of consequences.

And it turns out that that is exactly what they do, as they explain on their web site.

~~~~~

We had some blue sky again yesterday.  I decided that the grass of Stanmer Park would be the best place for walking the dog as the woodland paths are so squelchy and muddy.  I was surprised that so few others had made the same decision as I had.


Friday, 7 February 2014

A hundred years

Later this year we will be living on the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of what became known as The Great War, the War to End War - World War I.  I am surprised by just how much interest is being shown across the country even now, several months ahead of the actual anniversary.  The BBC has already aired the first two of four programmes about the war and last night they showed the first of two programmes about Royal Cousins at War.  I had forgotten - or maybe I never knew - that our own King George V, Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm and Russia's Tsar Nicholas were all grandsons of our Queen Victoria and therefore cousins.  And as if that were not enough, the Sunday Telegraph has been publishing a monthly supplement dedicated to commemorating the war for some time now.

I did find that Jeremy Paxman's programmes (the series of four above) - at least, the only two to have been shown so far - were perhaps a little superficial although there were attempts to make the matter more personal.  He interviewed a lady who, as a child, lived in a coastal town when it was bombarded by the German navy and another lady produced photographs of uncles killed in the battle of the Somme.  But I suppose it would be impossible to deal with such a large matter in any real depth during the course of four hour-long programmes.

The Telegraph supplements do try to dig a little deeper with more in-depth features.  These
supplements are being sponsored by Lord Ashcroft who has assembled a large collection of Victoria Crosses.  In each issue of the supplement we read the story behind two or three of the awards made during World War I.

The Victoria Cross (VC) is Britain's highest military award for valour in the face of the enemy.  The medal is a typical example of British understatement being a dull bronze suspended on a plain crimson ribbon.  Since its inception in 1856, it has been awarded some 1357 times with three recipients receiving a second award (a bar).

It was originally believed that the medal were cast from Russian cannons captured in the Crimea although it now seems that the guns were actually of Chinese origin.  There remains only 358 oz (10 kg), stored in a vault maintained by 15 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps at Donnington, Telford. It can only be removed under armed guard. It is estimated that approximately 80 to 85 more VCs could be cast from this source. A single company of jewellers, Hancocks of London, has been responsible for the production of every VC awarded since its inception.

And there you have it - more information you didn't really want.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Stormy weather

Picture: GLYN KIRK/AFP

The wind has, thank Heaven, dropped this morning.  It's not often that I find my life governed by the wind, but it was yesterday.  I had promised the Old Bat that I would take her out to eat at our local Italian but the wind got stronger and stronger through the afternoon.  By tea-time is was pretty obvious that the wind had become too strong for the poor dear to venture out, even as far as the car on the drive, so we had a quick re-think and I went out for a Chinese take-away.

Along the coast here the wind reached 70+ mph although in Cornwall and Devon it peaked at over 90.  According to the Beaufort scale, winds in excess of 73mph are classified as being hurricane force.  We don't often get winds that strong here in England.  As Eliza Doolittle was taught to say (in My Fair Lady), "In Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire hurricanes hardly ever happen."

The pictures have all been lifted from the Daily Telegraph web site and show Newhaven (above), just along the coast from us, Porthleven, Cornwall, (below) where the OB and I enjoyed a coffee with my brother and his wife just about where that wave is at its highest, and (bottom) the remains of Brighton's West Pier even more badly damaged.
Picture: ANNABEL MAY OAKLEY-WATSON/REX FEATURES

Picture: GLYN KIRK/AFP