Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Les Mis

What a topsy-turvy weekend this has been.  On Saturday the weather was not too bad at all, especially during the afternoon when we were able to sit in the garden at my elder son's house after a family lunch.  Sunday was OK, but yesterday was a typical English bank holiday.  It rained.

Talking of topsy-turvy, two of my three grandchildren worry me.  My elder grandson, aged 11, is not especially fond of chocolate and if he is given chocolate at Christmas, the chances are there will still be some left at Easter.  My granddaughter, (soon to be) 7, actively dislikes chocolate.  What is wrong with them?  Fortunately, my younger grandson, 7, will happily stuff it into his mouth until he makes himself sick.  At least one out of three is normal!

I was a bit concerned this morning about the dog.  She hates foxes and at the slightest hint of one in a near-by garden (which happens frequently) she barks like fury.  Especially at three in the morning - which also happens frequently.  But this morning, as we were walking to the park, a fox cub was coming along the pavement towards us.  Fern was on a lead while in the street and I took a firmer grip.  The fox cub ducked underneath a car and Fern walked past as if nothing was there.  Very strange.

Anyway, to get back to Les Mis.  There has been nothing we wanted to watch on the box the last couple of evenings - in fact, more than the last couple - so on Sunday we decided to watch the DVD of Les Mis√©rables the Old Bat had been given for her birthday.  Even before I retired 14 years ago, this had long been a fixture in London's West End but I could never claim to have heard a song from it.  Unlike those Rogers and Hammerstein musicals of my younger years, such as South Pacific, and all the others (The Student Prince, Gigi etc etc, culminating in the greatest of them all, West Side Story) or more modern ones such as Phantom of the Opera, where everybody would recognise something, the music from Les Mis remained unknown.

To say we were disappointed would be to put it mildly.  But at least I had never paid out London theatre ticket prices, plus train fares and a meal, to watch the show.

Last night's film - Quartet - was very much more entertaining, especially Dame Maggie Smith, who is, as always, superb.

Monday, 26 May 2014

European dis-Union

I rather surprised myself last night by staying up late to watch the results of the European election being announced.  Not all of them - I couldn't face staying up that late, and besides, the political pundits employed to analyse and comment on the results started to get on my nerves.  But I kept at it until a quarter past midnight.  By then it was apparent that across Europe there had been a swing towards the Euro-sceptic parties of both the left and the right.  In France, the far right Front National is expected to have the most MEPs with over 20 likely to be elected.  In Greece, the far left held sway, while in Germany it was still the centrist pro-Europe parties that proved the more popular.

Here in Britain we elected 73 representatives across nine regions under a proportional representation scheme.  In total, there were candidates from no fewer than 30 political parties and groups, including such oddities as the Pirate Party, the National Health Action Party and Yorkshire First.  The party with the fewest votes was Liberty GB with just under 2,500 votes - 0.02% of the total poll, but the party with the greatest share of the vote - 27.5% - was UKIP, the UK Independence Party.  Their stance is for the UK to withdraw completely from the European Union, no ifs or buts, just out.  The Liberal Democrats, who are almost fanatically pro-Europe, lost all but one of their MEPs.

I suspect that this result will not be repeated in the general election next year but it will be interesting to see how the main parties react to this shot across the bows.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Put it in the drawer

There is just one piece of advice that I can remember being given to me by the bank managers who were my immediate bosses for 25 years, a piece of advice I try to take on board when I receive a letter that causes me to erupt.  My boss told me that on occasions such as that, I should dictate my reply (bear in mind that, in those days, it was axiomatic that a reply was sent on the day a letter was received) and have it typed.  Then I should put it away in my desk until the next day.  If I still wanted to send it then, go ahead and do so.

I am also reminded of something my friend Skip wrote on his blog way, way back:

One day I hopped in a taxi and we took off for the airport. We were driving in the right lane when suddenly a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us.

My taxi driver slammed on his breaks, skidded, and missed the other car by just inches! The driver of the other car whipped his head around and started yelling at us.

My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy. And I mean, he was really friendly.

So I asked, 'Why did you just do that? This guy almost ruined your carand sent us to the hospital!'

This is when my taxi driver taught me what I now call, 'The Law of the Garbage Truck.'

He explained that many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it and sometimes they'll dump it on you.

Don't take it personally. Just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. Don't take their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home, or on the streets. The bottom line is that successful people do not let garbage trucks take over their day.

Life's too short to wake up in the morning with regrets, so ... 'Love the people who treat you right.
Pray for the ones who don't.' Life is ten percent what you make it and ninety percent how you take it!

I have been trying to follow that philosophy this week, having received emails from both the daughter and the granddaughter of one of the tenants of the Lions Housing Society.  (Quite why I should have been the recipient is a puzzle as I am merely the Hon Treas.)  They claimed that our tenant had been upset (as were they) by the fact that we had arranged for trees and shrubs to be pruned as they were blocking the light of some tenants.  The emails were distinctly unpleasant an, in some places, factually incorrect.  I replied simply saying that I noted their comments and regretted any upset that had been caused.  But that was not enough.  One of the responses I received was, "I appreciate your response (as brief as it is) to my email and do hope you act upon this matter. Otherwise I write in vain, but I will pursue this and I will not stop if ignored."

Yesterday I received another email couched in extremely angry terms.  I was sorely tempted, but resisted, and this morning, as I was walking the dog, I mulled over how to reply.  I have now replied pointing out, "if you are or she is unhappy with the way the buildings and grounds are maintained, you are perfectly at liberty to make alternative arrangements for her accommodation."

There comes a time when it just has to be called as it is.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

50 years on

I nearly, very nearly, started out to comment on the results of the local elections that were held on Thursday but decided against doing so in case I fell into the trap that our local television political editor found.  Talking last night about how Ukip had won a lot more seats on local councils than expected, he described this as a shot in the arm for the main political parties.  I feel sure that he really meant it was a shot across the bows.  Similarly, he described something as "painting a different story".  Was he half cut, I wonder?  Or maybe going down with flu?

But enough of this nonsense.  I have been giving a few passing thoughts to the speech I have to make just two weeks from today and what I should say when proposing the toast "The City of Brighton & Hove, the Ladies, and Our Guests".  I have it in mind to say something about how Brighton has a form of magnetism and has for many years attracted all sorts of people.  Every year, several hundred drivers in their veteran cars drive from London to Brighton and several thousand exhausted cyclists arrive in the city having ridden from London.  There are vintage commercial vehicles, vintage motorcycles, Minis, Morris Minors and numerous other runs and rallies.  Fifty years ago it was Mods and Rockers who staged a running battle on the seafront.  These days we are frequently invaded by the equally unwelcome travellers who set up illegal encampments around the city.  Fortunately, many of our visitors are very much more welcome...  And so on and so on.

Meanwhile, the saga of the car continues.  It was three weeks ago today that I was rear-ended.  As we are fast approaching the day when the Old Bat and I are due to travel to France, I started chasing up the bodyshop on Wednesday.  I had earlier been told that the repairs would be finished this coming Thursday, the day after we are due to leave but the repairers were asked to move my car up the list.  On Wednesday I was told that it was in the paint shop and should be ready for me by Tuesday next - which would just be in time.  Yesterday I was told that it might be ready but the schedule was still the end of next week.  I rang the insurance company and after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, it has finally been agreed that I should ring the garage first thing on Tuesday and if my car is not going to be returned to me that day, I can take the hire car to France.  I would rather take my own car, but hey! At least I will still be able to go.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Square roots

No, this is not about complicated mathematical processes, it's rather a follow-up to correspondence in the letters page of my daily.  the letters editor published an epistle from a correspondent who was complaining about what he saw as a fad for restaurants to serve food on square plates.  This brought forth a positive eruption of letters complaining about all sorts of other niggles caused by restaurants: the use of "jus" rather than "gravy"; "pan-fried" instead of plain "fried"; "drizzled with"; "on a bed of"; and so on and on - and on.  Personally, I can't see what all the fuss is about.  When I eat in a restaurant, I'm far more interested in the standard of service and the quality of the food on the plate rather than the shape of the crockery.  And if the restaurateur wants to use fancy language on the menu, well, so be it.

But now I come to think of it, I have no recollection of having been served my meal on a square plate any time I have eaten out recently.  Round plates, oval plates, even triangular plates, but no square ones.

This correspondence has coincided with something else I saw, possibly on the web, where it was stated that square plates - wooden ones - were used in the Navy back in the times of England's wooden walls, the frigates and ships of the line of the 18th century.  This, it was claimed, was because square plated fitted the cramped tables better than round ones.  It was also claimed that the plates had edges called "fiddles" to stop food sliding off the plates in rough seas.  I think that is going a bit far, although I do remember that in my father's time at sea, tables on the mess decks had edges that could be raised in rough weather and these edges were called fiddles.  Anyway, it was alleged on the same site that the meals served to the seamen on those square plates were of better quality than many people ashore enjoyed and this gave rise to the term "a square meal", meaning a good tuck-in.

It's a lovely story, but a bit far-fetched.  After all, the word "square" has long been used to mean honest, fair, true.  Even Shakespeare used it in that sense - though why I should say "even Shakespeare" I don't know.  But he was writing what, 200 years before Nelson won the battle of Trafalgar so the word used in that sense certainly pre-dates the Navy's wooden platters.

We don't use the word very much in that old sense now.  In fact, there are only two occurrences that spring immediately to mind - winning fair and square, and setting something square, usually in construction.

Well, now that I've squared that off I must get on with Lions business, deciding what to buy for the food bank as I've been allocated £1000 to spend amongst other things.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Apathy rules

Today is election day.  In some parts of the country, two elections are being held: one for the local council and the other for members of the European parliament (MEPs).  I have never found out just why it is that elections for local councils are held at seemingly random times across the country, but there you are.  We have no local election here in Brighton until - I think - next year.  Coincidentally, that is also when the next general election will be held.  Just in case I have managed to confuse anybody, let me summarise.  Here in England (I say England as the situation is different in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) there are generally three "levels" of elections:
  1. Elections for our local district councils (or whatever other name they might have such as city councils or borough councils).
  2. General elections for our Members of Parliament.
  3. European elections for our Members of the European Parliament.
I commented that the situation is different in other countries of the UK.  That is because - unlike England - each of those countries has its own parliament or assembly.  And why not in England?  Don't ask - because nobody knows - and it's quite a sore point with many people.

Many people - and I may well be one of them - will not bother to vote in today's European election.  There is some complicated way of deciding who has won that election and it may even be that each region elects more than one MEP.  And I don't even know just how far my European constituency (the region) extends.  I do know it covers South-East England but I haven't a clue what constitutes South-East England.  Nor do I know (or much care) who is my MEP - or are my MEPs.

I do know that there are, broadly speaking, five main political parties with candidates standing in this election.  We have received literature (a small flyer) from just two of those parties.  There are (in no particular order):
  • The Conservative Party (Tory), on the right;
  • The Labour Party, on the left;
  • The Liberal Democrat Party, no-one really knows where they stand;
  • The Green Party, very much a minority party at present with strongish ecological ideals;
  • The United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip), campaigning to take the UK out of the European Union (EU).
Plus several even more cranky groups.

The leader of the Tories, David Cameron, has promised that if his party wins next year's general election, he will renegotiate (I think he should say he will attempt to renegotiate) the terms under which the UK is a part of the EU and, after that, they will hold a referendum on whether or not we should stay in Europe.

The Lib-Dems are very much pro Europe and would never countenance us leaving - and quite probably don't want to renegotiate our terms of membership.

I haven't managed to work out quite when the Labour Party stands - nor the Greens either.

Ukip is forecast to gain many votes from disaffected Tories who want out of the EU - and probably some Labour supporters as well.

The Tory party seems to be confusing today's European election with next year's general election as they are warning that a vote for Ukip is a vote for Labour.  but many men in the street consider that a vote for Ukip today will be a warning to the Tories to harden their stance on Europe before next year's election.  After all, they would argue, it is the Westminster Parliament, not the Brussels/Strasbourg Parliament which is the more important in our lives.  That, however, is a somewhat simplistic view, although it is the unelected European Commission which proposes most European legislation which is then rubber-stamped by the European Parliament.  And much of that legislation is either nonsense or goes completely against the systems that we have used to govern our country for many centuries.

An example of the former is the Working Hours Directive (which has been obediently adopted by Westminster).  This makes it illegal for anybody to work more than 48 hours in a week.  Of course nobody wants unscrupulous bosses bullying workers into running machinery for 15 hours a day, seven days a week.  But if a shelf-stacker in a supermarket works an eight hour shift for six days and then wants to do another shift on the seventh day to earn overtime, why not allow this?  And what about people being classifies as working when they are asleep?  Doctors - or anybody else - who are "on call" are classified as working.  So, a doctor might be on call overnight, but have no call outs and sleep in his own bed for eight hours, possibly for two or three successive night, but that means he must cut back on his actual work.

And what also irritates people - no, it angers them - is the way the European Commission and the European Parliament waste money.  Added to which, there are so many black holes in the accounts that the auditors have refused to sign off the accounts for twenty years or more!

Is it any wonder that apathy rules.


Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Stuff happens

Was it Donald Rumsfeld who said that?  Not that it matters a jot who said it, stuff does happen.  And not always bad stuff.  For instance, I won a prize last Saturday.  No, not the jackpot in the national lottery: you need to buy a ticket for that and I haven't bought one of those for many a long year.  My prize was a bottle of wine, and I won it for being a member of the winning team in a kurling competition.  I didn't know anything about it until Monday, when Tony brought my prize round to me.  The reason for me not knowing about it was not that I had been blind drunk but simply because I wasn't there!  I was supposed to have been a member of the four-man team from Brighton Lions Club taking part in a competition against other local Lions Clubs.

[Note: "four-man team" is not a sexist remark.  It was a team of four men, none of our lady members wished to take part.]

[Note also: "kurling" is the indoor version of the winter sport usually played on ice-covered lakes or rivers or ice rinks.  The "stones" in kurling have ball-bearings on which to run across a polished floor.]

I had also had to cry off running the Friday evening bingo session.  You see, the Old Bat had taken to her bed on Friday - I even had to ask for a home visit by a GP.  It was simply a fairly mild infection but the poor dear has had arthritis attack one of her knees very badly just recently.  She is not very mobile at the best of times and while unwell and in bed, needed me to be around for when she had to go to the loo.  So my excursions over the last few days have had to be kept fairly short - and timed to fit in with calls of nature.

Anyway, there was no substitute available for Saturday evening, the three-man four-man team from Brighton won, and the organising club insisted that the fourth bottle be presented to me.

And in other stuff, it was also on Friday that I heard from my insurance company that repairs to my car would be completed on Thursday, 29th May.  That just happens to be the day after we are due to go over to France - by car - so I telephoned the insurers.  The young lady (well, she might be young) I spoke to told me that the third-party's insurers who are paying for the repairs and the hire car I am driving, would not pay for the hire car once my own was ready, even if I did happen to be out of the country at that time.  I pointed out politely (I believe) but firmly (I hope) that it was the insurers responsibility to put me as near as possible into the position I would have been if the accident had not happened.  This meant that I was under no obligation to alter previously booked travel arrangements.  And in any case, the car had been in the body shop since 6th May - nearly two weeks already - and when I had first spoken to my insurers, I had told them of my travel plans and been assured that my car would be ready before then.  She called back a few minutes later to say she had asked the body shop to move my car up the list for repair.  I have rung today and been assured that it is nearly ready.  I hope.

Anyway, the Old Bat is once again up and partly about, although my culinary skills are being tested to the utmost as she is not able to prepare meals.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Sumer is icumen in

Sure, deck your lower limbs in pants; 
Yours are the limbs, my sweeting. 
You look divine as you advance.
Have you seen yourself retreating?

So said Ogden Nash.

Before we go on, let me explain that the title is not a result of me having developed a severe form of dyslexia.  Sumer is icumen in is an English medieval song, a composition for several voices, probably written at Reading Abbey in the mid-13th century.

We have been blessed with glorious weather the last two or three days with temperatures in the mid-20s yesterday.  And guess what?  All the summer dresses got their first outings of the year.  And I do have to wonder just what Mr Nash (Ogden, not Beau  - although now I come to think of it, Beau Nash would probably have died of apoplexy.) would had said about all the acres of white flab on display in Asda yesterday afternoon.

Now, I lay no claim to be the epitome of sartorial elegance.  Far from it - but I do try to dress more or less appropriately.  By which I mean that I take into consideration my age, shape and destination when deciding what to wear.  For instance, I consider that I am too old for jeans (I know there are people as old as or even older than me who would disagree) and my neck is too turkey-like for collarless shirts.  In the appropriate place I may well don a pair of shorts, but they have to be of a reasonable length - and not football shorts either!

But why is it that the chunkiest young ladies insist on wearing the skimpiest of skirts and tops?  So many seem to have thighs like tree trunks, and yet they are quite happy to display them by wearing skirts that only just cover their knickers.  Far better, in my opinion, to wear a floaty, long skirt and keep people guessing.

A building site or the beach (or the back garden) are the appropriate places for men to go shirtless - not the High Street or the supermarket.

I'm not suggesting that we should go back to the fashion of wearing jacket and tie in the tropics or covering the legs of the piano for the sake of modesty, but I do think a little decorum would not go amiss.  This, for instance, is not the correct dress for shopping:


Mind you, I do like a bit of bacon!

Monday, 19 May 2014

Religious intolerance

Given the title of this post - which I have already typed - you might have thought I am going to write about modern conflicts between Christians and Muslims or between Sunni and Shia or possibly even between Jews and Palestinians.  If so, you would have been wrong.  I am going to tell you something of the conflict between Roman Catholics and Protestants, but not the conflicts that raged no so very long ago in Northern Ireland, the Troubles which still cause anguish.  What follows is a sort of history lesson, history from 400 years ago and more.

I had occasion earlier this month to make one of my rare trips into the centre of Brighton.  I had time to spare before the meeting that was the reason for my excursion so I wandered around with my camera.  I particularly wanted to take a picture of the Cricketers, a pub in Black Lion Street that is claimed to be the oldest in Brighton.  The sign over the door says that the pub was established in 1547.  Unfortunately, I was unable to take a picture as a plumber's van was parked right in the way.  I hung around for a while and just as I thought he might drive away, a drain clearer's van pulled up right behind him.  I gave up and, as a result, have had to borrow this picture from Tripadvisor.


The pub has quite a history.  Well, it would, given that it has been there for 450 years or so.  This was author Graham Greene's favourite pub - hence the Greene Room - and it features in Brighton Rock and Travels with My Aunt.  There is also a tale that Jack the Ripper was a customer.

"Brighton ghost-walker Rob Marks is convinced Robert Donston Stephenson was the infamous murderer.  Stephenson lived in Brighton for a time and his ghost allegedly haunts The Cricketers pub where he stayed.  Mr Marks said Stephenson was a trained surgeon – the Ripper removed many of his victims’ organs – and lived above the pub in Black Lion Street in the first half of 1888.

The pub was a well-known haunt for prostitutes. Stephenson was linked to murders, including one in The Royal Albion hotel in the city, but moved to Whitechapel on July 26, 1888. Just days later, the first of the Ripper’s prostitute victims was found dead in a side street.

Mr Marks said: “Some believed The Cricketers is haunted by his ghost. “He stayed there in 1888, close to the time of the murders in Whitechapel. He was one of the prime suspects and remains one.”

Right next door to the Cricketers is the Black Lion.  The present building (pictured by Tony Mould) dates from 1974 but is an exact reconstruction of the old brewery founded by Deryck Carver.

Carver was a 16th century asylum seeker, fleeing to England from Flanders where he was persecuted for his Protestant faith.  He founded the brewery which he named after the Black Lion of Flanders and he grew his hops on land nearby.  During the reign of Queen Mary I, it was illegal to follow any religion other than Roman Catholicism.  Carver and several others were arrested in October 1554 for reading the Bible in English, only Latin was permitted, and he was taken to Newgate Gaol in London.  Found guilty of heresy, he was sentenced to death and, on 22 July 1555, was burned in a barrel outside the Star Inn in Lewes, the first of the Protestant martyrs.



Sunday, 18 May 2014

Buttercups and cows

I don't consider myself a particularly good photographer despite some people telling me that my work is good.  I think I am more of a journeyman snapper, although I do keep trying to improve the standard of my "work".  One thing I try to achieve is to take pictures that capture the spirit of the place being photographed.  Mind you, different people see places quite differently so when I look at a photograph I have taken, it probably tells me a completely different story to the one it tells somebody else.

(I'm really starting to waffle now and probably making no sense at all.)

Anyway, many years ago we - by which I mean the Old Bat, the three children and I - spent a holiday in Normandy.  We rented a cottage on a farm and I was delighted to see the old farmer and his equally old-looking wife take their three-legged stools and a bucket each into the pasture each afternoon.  There they would procede to milk their small herd of cows - by hand.  In the field.  And this was only about 35 years ago.  I did take several pictures with my trusty 35mm camera but they were on slide film and I haven't managed to find them for ages.  All the same, my memory is of pictures that positively scream of Normandy.  And I have been trying to replicate them for the past two or three years.  Well, not quite replicate since I doubt there is any French farmer these days peasant enough to milk in the field by hand.  So I would settle for the ideal substitute:  cows, preferably red, grazing in an orchard smothered in buttercups and with the trees in blossom.  Since this appears pretty well unachievable, I settled for red cows grazing in a field of buttercups without a fruit tree in sight.

I could almost have taken the picture in my garden yesterday.  If there had been cows around - which there weren't.  I had the buttercups.  Yes, they look great with their bright yellow flowers.  But do they have to crowd out my raspberries?  And the blackcurrant bush on the left of the picture?


Saturday, 17 May 2014

Made in Sussex

Many places have given their names to things, especially foods.  In England alone we have Cornish pasties, Eccles cakes, Yorkshire puddings, Lancashire hot-pot, Chelsea buns - and that's just scratching the surface.  It's not just food, though.  Think of Staffordshire bull terriers and Tamworth pigs.  But when it comes to my county - or, more accurately, the county of my birth - Kent, there is nothing I can think of.  I can think of nothing. (Let's get the grammar correct!)  Zero.  Zilch.


I am proud to call myself a Man of Kent.  (Never a Kentish Man.  I thought I had waffled the difference to death and am amazed to discover that it was as long ago as September 2008 when I explained the difference.  If you really want to know, just follow this link.)  OK now?  You understand the important distinction?  Then I'll carry on.

As I was saying, I can think of nothing that carries the automatic appellation "Kent", like those pasties and puddings of Cornwall and Yorkshire.  But my adopted county - in which I have lived these past 50+ years - is Sussex, although it was chopped in half about 40 years ago and is now two counties - East Sussex and West Sussex.  Given that Sussex actually means "the land of the South Saxons", adding a further geographical denominator seems to me just a trifle excessive.  However, the powers that were didn't see fit to consult me first.  They just went ahead and made the chop.


But as for Sussex nomenclatures, well, there's Sussex cattle for a start.  An adaptable, hardy breed, they have even formed their own society!  It is believed that the Sussex breed of today is descended directly from the red cattle that inhabited the dense forests of the Weald at the time of the Norman Conquest.
albeit now uncommon.






On the food front, we have the Sussex pond pudding. Made of a suet pastry which encases a whole lemon, with butter and sugar, it is boiled or steamed for several hours.  While cooking, the filling ingredients create a thick, caramelized sauce, which upon serving and cutting of the pudding, runs out and pools around the plate,
creating a “pond”. After cooking for so long, the skin of the lemon almost candies like a marmalade in its own juices and that of the butter and sugar.

Dating back to the 1500s is the Sussex trug, a wooden basket mainly used for gardening.  According to Wikipedia, it is made from a handle and rim of coppiced sweet chestnut wood which is hand-cleft then shaved using a drawknife. The body of the trug is made of five or seven thin boards of cricket bat willow, also hand-shaved with a drawknife.  There are, even today, a few firms where the trug is made by hand, such as the Truggery.





But Sussex is, as far as I am aware, the only British county to have it's own song, "Sussex by the Sea".


Friday, 16 May 2014

Cabbages for boys

The temptation is strong, very strong.  So strong that I fear I may give way to extravagance when I go shopping later today.  If I do, I shall come home with a new potato peeler.  There is already a potato peeler in the kitchen drawer and it works perfectly well - in the hand of the Old Bat.  When I peel potatoes, I have to use it like a penknife, as if I am sharpening a pencil.  It is supposed to be an ambidextrous peeler, one that can be used by both right-handed and left-handed people.  The Old Bat is left-handed and it works just fine for her.  I am right-handed and it doesn't work fo me - unless, as I say, I use it by pushing it away from me.  Just why only one of the "blades" works as it should is a mystery, but since it is the Old Bat who generally does the cooking we have no great problem.  Unfortunately, she is unwell at present and, as far as I can tell, is unlikely to be back in harness properly for quite some time.  So, the cooking has become my responsibility.

I don't actually "do" cooking.  If pushed, I can grill sausages and heat up a can on baked beans, but otherwise I have to rely entirely on instructions as I go along.  Detailed instructions.  In fact, very detailed instructions.  Take the other evening, for instance.  I don't remember now what I was cooking, but I announced that I had just put whatever it was into the oven.  That was when I learned that when I am told to put something in the oven at 200 degrees, I should preheat the oven first.

"It's obvious," exclaimed the Old Bat.

"Not to me," I responded.

You see, I was never taught cooking.  In my day, from the age of 8 boys and girls attended different schools.  Mixing of the sexes was acceptable for infants, but that was as far as it went.  Girls were taught things like needlework and cookery while boys did more macho things like woodwork.  Actually, at my school it was metalwork.

My mother didn't help.  She was of the old school of thought: men went out to work while women stayed at home to wash and clean and cook.  So she never taught me anything in the kitchen.

I started off by typing in the title of this post - "Cabbages for Boys" - but have somehow got myself way off track.  Anyway, when I went shopping earlier in the week, I bought a cabbage, some of which I cooked yesterday.  It was actually a savoy cabbage.  In the olden days, when I were but a nipper, one of the programmes on the wireless was farming news.  The announcer would read out the market prices paid for various animals and vegetables, one of the latter being cabbages for boys.  For many months - possibly even years - I wondered why girls and even grown-ups had no cabbages before it dawned on me.

What the announcer actually said was, "Cabbages, savoys".

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Never volunteer!

That was advice my father gave me.  He was adamant that this was an unwritten rule in the Navy (and probably the Army and Air Force as well) but in civilian life, that rule went by the board.  There have, indeed, been times when I have refused to volunteer - many times - but there are occasions when one just has to bite the bullet.  There was one such occasion for me just before Christmas last year.  I had stated quite publicly that the Lions Club had too much money and that we needed to seek out ways of spending it.  I acknowledged that this could be done quite easily, just by giving a substantial chunk of cash to, say, the local hospice.  But I had in mind that our largesse should be distributed a little more widely than that.  We needed to find some more obscure causes to support with several smaller donations.  Of course, nobody actually took me up on this, which came as no surprise.

One of our members had for some years acted as grants administrator; any person or body asking us for money would be investigated by him and he would make a recommendation to the club.  That was the theory.  In practice, he turned down many applications without the club ever hearing about them.  This, I felt, was wrong.  It was not his place to decide that we would not support something, it should be a club decision.  I had been wrestling with this problem for some time, aware that when I become President in July I will have an opportunity to do something about this state of affairs.  but how to do something without causing offence was the real challenge.  Then it was solved for me.  The grants administrator asked to be relieved of his duties.  This was where I volunteered (nobody else did anyway) - and for the last few months I have been seeking out ways of spending money - and giving the club the say on which requests to decline.

So yesterday morning I found myself at a local food bank.  It had struck me that food banks are doing a vital job even though we are supposed to be coming out of a recession.  I wanted to learn more at first hand so that I could put a proposition to the club.

I was amazed.  I already knew that there are several charities and churches offering help to the homeless in the city - we have recently bought one of them 100 sleeping bags for distribution - but I was unaware of just how many food distribution points there are or how many people they serve.  The one I visited seems to be careful in who it helps and for how long the help is given, people they help having to be referred to them by one of 40 or so agencies such as the Citizens Advice Bureau.  What really hit me was that this food bank sees an average of 50 to 60 people each week, even though they generally help people for no longer than 4 or 5 weeks at a time, usually while state benefits click in.  And this in a comparatively small city in the wealthier part of the country.  The problem in some areas must be horrendous.

The club meets next week and I shall ask for a budget of at least £500 (I would prefer £1000) to buy food for this worthwhile cause.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Frantic day

I'm going a bit berserk today and have no time to think of anything, but this,  published by the San Francisco Globe, has been brought to my attention.


Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Arctic Star

Later this year will see the 100th anniversary of my father's birth.  he was determined to follow his father's example and go to sea.  Although once rejected by the Royal Navy, he re-applied after a couple of years and was accepted.  His 22 years of service took him to most other parts of the world and, during the 1939-45 war he earned the Atlantic Star, the Africa Star and the Pacific Star for service in those theatres.

Although he was not involved (as far as I am aware) in any of the Russian convoys, he did serve in the Arctic and was on HMS Sheffield during the hunt for the German battleship Bismarck.  It was only towards the end of 2012 that the Government announced the inauguration of a new award for personnel who served in the Arctic during the Second World War, almost 70 years after the end of the war and long after many of those eligible for the award had died - my father included.  Nonetheless, as his surviving next of kin (my mother had also died by then) I applied for the medal on his behalf.

It arrived yesterday, 23 years and nearly one month after his death.


Monday, 12 May 2014

Coincidences

Some strange coincidences surrounding Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy of the USA have come to my attention.

Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846.
John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.

Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860.
John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.

Both were particularly concerned with civil rights.
Both wives lost their children while living in the White House.

Both Presidents were shot on a Friday.
Both Presidents were shot in the head.

Lincoln's secretary was named Kennedy.
Kennedy's secretary was named Lincoln.

Both were assassinated by Southerners.
Both were succeeded by Southerners named Johnson.

Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808.
Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.

John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Lincoln, was born in 1839.
Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated Kennedy, was born in 1939.

Both assassins were known by their three names.
Both names are composed of fifteen letters.

Lincoln was shot at the theatre named 'Ford.'
Kennedy was shot in a car called ' Lincoln' made by 'Ford.'

Lincoln was shot in a theatre and his assassin ran and hid in a warehouse.
Kennedy was shot from a warehouse and his assassin ran and hid in a theatre.

Booth and Oswald were assassinated before their trials.

A week before Lincoln was shot, he was in Monroe, Maryland.
A week before Kennedy was shot, he was with Marilyn Monroe.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

So when did that happen?

When I was but a whippersnapper, buses (or maybe they were still called omnibuses back then) were staffed by two people.  The driver sat in splendid isolation in his cab, almost as if he were an emperor on his throne.  Come to think of it, a bus driver was considered "somebody" in my world.  The driver was accompanied by somebody inside the bus, the person who was responsible for ringing the bell to tell the driver it was safe to move away from a stop.  That person would also help old ladies on and off the bus, instruct passengers to "move right down inside, please" and, possibly most important of all as far as the bus company was concerned, take the fares and issue tickets.  When I was really young, the tickets were made of card, were pre-printed , came in different colours according to the denomination, and were carried in a wooden rack with spring clips.  When issued, the ticket had to be punched, or clipped, to indicate the stop at which the passenger boarded - or was to alight.  The correct title for the man who issued the tickets was conductor, but he was commonly called a clippie as he had to clip the tickets.  I say "he" was called a clippie, but it was rather more that the women doing that job were referred to as clippies.  And the women were not called conductors; they were conductresses.

In just the same way, actors were men; women who acted were actresses.

So just when did the words actor, author, conductor and the like become bisexual?  Or are they now asexual?  Transgender perhaps?

And just as puzzling to me - in fact, even more puzzling to me, is why did those words change?  What is wrong in calling a lady who acts, an actress, and a man, an actor?  Is it demeaning in some way to have different nouns indication gender?  If we take this to its logical conclusion, we shall have neither men nor women, just persons.

~~~~~

Off now to the Lilac Lark, where Brighton Lions will be running pig races.


Saturday, 10 May 2014

I told you so

It's not that I'm an alcoholic, but I do enjoy a glass of wine with my evening meal.  Better still, a glass and a half.  That still leaves me under the recommended maximum daily intake of alcohol - except for those days when I go out after we've eaten and I might have another glass.  Or even, occasionally, two.  Despite all this consumption, I still have difficulty in agreeing with the over the top descriptions printed on the labels of wine bottles.  "Notes of gooseberry and lemon grass."  "Tropical fruits."  "Hints of cherry and nettles."  What a load of tosh!

Years ago, our local supermarket had a cafe which has since been removed and the space absorbed into more productive shelving.  Anyway, they held a series of wine tasting evenings which was attended by the old Bat and me along with a couple of neighbours.  the "expert" oenologist tried his best to get us to distinguish the subtle tones of the wines offered, but maybe our noses were just not up to scratch.  Whatever the reason, we none of us could smell or taste quite what he could.

I do know that there can be a tremendous difference in the taste of the really cheap wines and the most expensive.  On a family holiday in France once, we put this to the test.  I can't say that we bought an expensive wine, but having paid several francs (this was before the invention of the euro) for a bottle one day, we paid a little less each day until we reached the rock bottom.  This was almost a "bring your own bottle and we'll fill it" wine.  It would have been useful for cleaning paint brushes but after the first sips, we refused to drink it and poured it away.  But that aside, my palate is not sufficiently sophisticated to appreciate the differences between cheap - well, fairly cheap - wine and something costing, say, £25 a bottle.  And why anybody would want to pay hundreds of pounds for a bottle of wine is way beyond my understanding.

It has long been my opinion that some of the best value wines are those selected by supermarket buyers and bearing the supermarkets' own labels.  These wines tend to cost less than most others and they are of consistent quality.  What's more, they are usually good.  And that was proved recently in one of those many wine concours.  Many of the gold medal winners were supermarkets' own label wines.

Like I said, I told you so.

Friday, 9 May 2014

The Skull Cracker

Last Saturday, Michael "the Skull Cracker" Wheatley walked out of an open prison.  Wheatley has a history, a criminal record, stretching back decades, viz:

:: 1980s - Michael Wheatley is jailed for the first time for nine years for a post office raid.
:: 1988 - While in prison he is given permission to go to hospital, but fails to return to jail and goes on the run. He goes on to commit a series of nine armed robberies.
:: 1989 - Wheatley is jailed for 16 years his crime spree, reduced to 11 years on appeal, on top of his original nine year prison term.
:: 1992 - Authorities temporarily release the serial robber to go the optician, and he goes on the run for a second time. Again he commits a string of robberies - this time eight raids.
:: 1993 - He is jailed for seven years for his latest batch of crimes, on top of the 20 years he is already serving.
:: 2001 - Wheatley is released on parole from his cumulative 27 year sentence, and within weeks is back to his old tricks, staging another series of raids on banks - 13 in 10 months. Prosecutors said he meticulously planned his crimes, targeting small branches that he knew, ranging from Southampton in Hampshire to Royston in Hertfordshire.
He used an imitation firearm - a blank firing semi-automatic pistol - but as the raids continued the levels of violence escalated. He pistol-whipped a 73-year-old woman in one robbery, and would often often grab a female customer, putting the pistol to their head.
:: 2002 - Wheatley is given 13 life sentences for the series of robberies, and ordered to serve a minimum of eight years before being considered for release.The Old Bailey heard he had returned to a life of crime after a relationship with a woman he met while in custody turned sour, and she spent his money.
:: May 3 2014 - The serial offender is released on temporary licence from Standford Hill open prison in Kent and takes the 9.20am train heading towards Stratford International station in east London. He fails to return to the jail by 6pm, and the alarm is raised.
:: May 5 - There is a confirmed sighting of Wheatley at 7.55pm in the Strawberry Hill area of Twickenham, and several homes are searched but he is not found.
:: May 7 - A branch of the Chelsea Building Society in Sunbury-on-Thames, Surrey is robbed by a suspect who threatens a member of staff with a handgun, being given money from a safe before running away. Police begin to investigate whether Wheatley is the culprit.
Later in the afternoon Wheatley is caught and arrested in east London along with another man, aged 53, on suspicion of conspiracy to commit armed robbery. Wheatley is also held on suspicion of being unlawfully at large.

The obvious question is, what did the prison authorities think they were doing when (a) they let him out to visit opticians etc, and (b) why on earth was he at an open prison?  No doubt we will be told that after an enquiry, lessons have been learnt.

But what makes a man turn to a life like Wheatley's?  I suppose the trick cyclists will come up with all sorts of faffing answers, like his mother rejected him right from birth or some such; society is to blame; and so on and so on.

People like him must have almost no imagination, otherwise they would see what miserable lives they are going to have.  Yes, they deserve to be locked away, but I would suggest that they also deserve our pity.

~~~~~

Meeting House Lane, Brighton, Wednesday this week.


Thursday, 8 May 2014

Furry Day

Today is my brother's birthday.  He is not a famous person and has lived a very ordinary sort of life.  He moved to Cornwall on retiring from Hampshire police and now lives in a small village not far from Falmouth.  But his birthday is marked each year in another nearby town, Helston.  They call 8th May, Flora Day or Furry Day, and perform the famous Flora Dance - although, in all truth, this is not done in celebration of brother's birthday but to mark St Michael's Day, which is also the 8th May.

(Back in the 70s, the Irish broadcaster and television presenter made it famous with a recording of what he called "The Floral Dance" but note that there is no final "l" in the correct title.)

The town is decked out with bluebells, gorse and laurel leaves gathered from the surrounding countryside.  When the big bass drum strikes the first beat of the dance at seven in the morning, the spirit of the day is stirred and the celebrations commence. Some eighty couples dance through the streets, entering selected houses and shops to drive out the darkness of winter and bring in the light of spring with gentlemen wearing shirts and ties and the ladies in light summer dresses. This is followed by the Hal-an-Tow, a boisterous mummers’ play which tells the history of Helston with the participating characters singing about the challenge of the Spanish Armada, the English patron saint, St. George, and the fight between St Michael and the devil.  The children of the town dance at 10.00am wearing flowers and lily of the valley and at midday the formal dance of the day begins with men wearing morning dress and the ladies decked out in magnificent ball gowns and hats that could be the envy of Ascot. To round off the day of dancing, the Evening Dance starts from the Guildhall at 5pm.

What a way to celebrate my brother's birthday!

Borrowed from the West Briton newspaper.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Confused

I suppose it is possible that I am starting to get senile.  I have, after all, used up the entire three score years and ten allotted to me so I am into the grace period, that time when so many of us start to lose our faculties.  But first, the back story.

Brighton Lions Housing Society, of which I am the treasurer, was granted a lease on a plot of land owned by what is now Brighton & Hove City Council and the Society built a block of flats.  We have been trying for some time to persuade the Council to sell us the freehold of that land but every time we approached them, we were told, "No way".  Four years ago we started again, but this time we were more determined.  It took two years, but we eventually had a meeting with the chair of the housing committee and the official heading the housing department.  This was at the flats.  The Council subsequently arranged for a valuation to be done.

Some months later, when we had heard nothing, we chased up the official only to find that he had moved on.  His successor had assumed we were no longer interested as we had not responded to the valuation.  When we explained that we had not been given a copy of the valuation, one was sent to us.  We arranged for our own valuer to come up with a figure and a meeting was arranged with three officials from the Council.

[A parenthetical note: the Council's valuer said £400k, ours said £90k, but the Council's valuer wanted us to buy the flats we had paid to have built.]

The three representatives of the Lions duly turned up for the meeting at the agreed time back in March.  One of the Council's officers was there, one had not been told of the meeting, and the third forgot.  A new date and time was arranged, only for that meeting to be cancelled by the Council officials.  But at last we have another meeting - this afternoon.  And this time, no fewer than four Council officials are due to attend.  There's just one problem - and that is what is causing my confusion.

We were originally told the meeting would be at 15:00 GMT, which as 14:00 British Summer Time.  Why the Council were using Greenwich Mean Time when the rest of the country was in British Summer Time was a matter I did not wish to go into.  Anyway, just five minutes later, the lady who sent the email confirmed that the time is 15:00 BST.  Then we got another message confirming the time as 16:00 GMT, then finally, two days ago, another confirming 15:00 GMT.  But today we have been told the meeting is to be at 15:00 BST!

Is it any wonder I'm confused?

~~~~~

And talking of confused, there is a small car park at the field known as 39 Acres.  It consists of a fairly narrow strip of land parallel to the road but with a 5-foot high bank between the road and the car park.  There are entrances at each end and most regular users have been in the habit of entering at one end, parking along the west side of the strip so that other cars can pass, and exiting at the other end.

The Council have been installing large posts at car park entrances, leaving just enough room for a car to pass through but not enough for travellers' vans and caravans.  Like this:


That is what I would have called the exit from the 39 Acres car park.  At the entrance, the posts are set further apart for some reason - possibly to allow Council tractors access.  To deter travellers, a third, removable post has been set in the middle.  This means that people using the car park will need to do a 15-point turn in order to get out.  But one unfortunate driver didn't spot the third post until too late.




Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Dear Editor

I have never had a letter published in a newspaper.  Of course, I realise that the fact that I have never written a letter to a newspaper is the fundamental reason for this.  Judging by the number of times I see the same correspondents' names in the letters page of my daily, some people must spend half their lives writing to editors.  There are two men in particular, one from Surrey and one from Cornwall, who seem to have letters published almost every week.  I do wonder how many of their messages fail to make to cut, or does the letter editor see their names and think, "Aha!  This is one I must include!"  Perhaps those correspondents have something over the editor?

I say that I have never written to any paper, but that doesn't mean that I have never been tempted.  The last temptation was just a couple of days ago.  The Sunday before, one of the papers (OK, I'll tell you - it was the Mail.) published a two-page article about how a town had been taken over by the loonies.  The article alleged - or at least implied - that the Council concerned had tried to introduce meat-free Mondays, sheep as a traffic-calming measure, and transgender toilets (whatever they are).  Anybody merely glancing at the large print and no reading the whole piece - and probably some who did read the whole piece - would have gained the impression that the meat-free Mondays were compulsory across the city (rather like Oliver Cromwell banning mince pies) and that sheep could be found roaming through the shopping centre.  The city concerned?  Well, Brighton of course - the only place in the country where the Green Party has a majority on the council.

But the truth is not quite as loony as it might have seemed from the newspaper article.

Yes, the Council did try to introduce meat-free Mondays, but only in Council canteens.  And they very soon dropped the idea when manual workers pointed out their need for a substantial meal.

There was also a plan to introduce free-ranging sheep - but only on part of the land within the city boundary that is also part of the South Downs National Park.  Granted, I think it's a loony idea but it was not as bad as the Mail tried to imply.

It was not entirely surprising to see that there were a number of letters in the latest issue, this last Sunday, including one from a local resident.  He was complaining bitterly about the Green Party's introduction of almost unused cycle lanes which have resulted in more traffic congestion, and the high cost of parking which has driven away shoppers.

Now, I must make it clear that I have never voted for a Green Party candidate and cannot imagine ever doing so.  They seem to me to be complete loonies, nut-cases, fruit cakes, with a raft of daft ideas.  BUT I was tempted to write in reply to that letter to point out that the cycle lanes are not the fault of the Greens - they were introduced when the Council was controlled by the Labour Party and had the support of the Tories as well.  The whole damn lot are loonies!

( I feel better now.)

Monday, 5 May 2014

Bank holiday blues

It goes without saying (but I will say it all the same) that when one is retired, a bank holiday is just another day like all the rest - every day is bank holiday for us!  Nonetheless, I am always delighted when the weather is fine as it makes so much difference for those who are still working.  And today, the early May bank holiday, the weather is fine.  The only blue is in the sky.  But I am becoming frustrated.  The Old Bat woke feeling under the weather and has kept to her bed.  That being so, I have brought the laptop downstairs - it's too long a story to go into why I can't use the office and the desktop computer.  It might be that the world and his dog are using the internet or it may be that the laptop is painfully slow - probably the latter.  Either way, I'm not going to continue for much longer.

I'll just report that neither the dog nor I are feeling any repercussions from Saturday's malarkey and the hire car company rang yesterday to say they had a car for me so I now have transport again.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

...but you should see the other chap!

Yesterday afternoon was bright and although not especially windy, was not as warm as it might have been.  I dithered between walking across 39 Acres and round the Roman Camp or going across the fields from the Upper Lodges to Stanmer Park for the afternoon walk, eventually opting for the Upper Lodge fields.  Entering the car park involves a right turn across the on-coming traffic and I waited for three cyclists, followed by three cars, before starting my turn.  I was about to pull across the road when...

WHAM!!

...and the car shot forward almost 20 feet.  I had been rear-ended.

As I sat in the car regaining my breath, three people came running out of the car park, having been alerted by the sound of the crash.  The two men positioned themselves either side of the accident to control traffic while the lady checked that the children in the other vehicle were OK and then called the police.

Fortunately, nobody was hurt, although I was worried about the two young children in the van that had hit me.  One was aged about 5 or 6, the other only about 2 or 3, but both seemed to be fine although a bit shaken.

Two police cars arrived, as did a Council highways man in his pick-up to clear the road of bits and spread sand over the diesel spilling from the van.  I was able to drive home, albeit very slowly, but the van had to be towed away.

After I had managed to persuade the dog to leave the car (she was unhurt despite having been in the boot) and a cup of tea, it was time to call my insurance company.  The guy on duty was great.  He assured me that my no claims bonus would be unaffected and, as I had taken all the details needed, he would waive my £250 excess.  He sorted out a body-shop for the repairs and had a truck sent to collect my car for secure storage until it can be delivered to the body-shop after the bank holiday.  He also arranged a hire car - although the local branch has no vehicles available until Tuesday.

I wonder what car I will be given on Tuesday?  Naturally, this morning I thought of three jobs I would like to do today - for each of which I need a car!  It's inconvenient for me, but it's probably worse for the other driver, a youngish chap (compared to me) in his early 30s.  He is a self-employed carpenter and, I assume, needs the van for his work.  He had the decency to ring me yesterday evening just to check that the dog is OK and he assured me that the boys are fine, which was a great relief.




Saturday, 3 May 2014

Back seat drivers

I really should start by admitting that I am not a good passenger.  By which I mean that if I am travelling by car, I prefer to be the one doing the driving.  If anyone else is behind the wheel, I find that I need to bite my tongue.  The Old Bat has been driving for almost as many years as I and is a perfectly sound driver.  All the same, when she is driving I sit there with my foot itching to hit the brake or press on the accelerator, or I want to change gear.  It is with the greatest difficulty that I manage not to criticise as she cuts across the other lane on a roundabout.  In fact, I have taken to reading while she drives if only to provide myself with a form of distraction.  But that can have its problems as well.  You see, the old dear fails to see road signs.  Not always, but quite frequently.  This means that if I am not paying attention, we will go sailing past the motorway exit that we want and end up adding 50 miles or more to the journey.  All of which might be very interesting - though I doubt it - but has nothing to do with what I set out to tell you.

If you have been paying attention you will recall that I changed my car a couple of weeks ago.  I really find it astonishing how much cars change in what is really a very short period.  When I first started driving, there seemed to be very few technical advances in cars over a period of seven or eight years.  Now, I find that even two years cover some fairly major changes.  Well, they seem major to me.  There was a time when electric windows seemed very advanced, but now all but the most basic cars have them.  And then somebody invented a way to realign the exterior mirrors just by pressing a button.  My last car had an electronic parking brake that automatically disengaged when pulling away - gone was the need to balance the clutch and accelerator when releasing the handbrake for a hill start.  But my new car does more than that.  If I stop and remove the key from the ignition, the parking brake is applied without any input from me.

I have never been a great fan of satellite navigation, preferring to use hard copy road maps.  But this car has sat-nav built in.  And I have found it useful already, using it to find a supermarket in a town I don't know on Good Friday.  Mind you, now I come to think of it, sat-navs are just the modern equivalent of navigating by the stars as those explorers of old used to do, but now it doesn't matter if the sky is covered by cloud.  But I must find out how to stop the sat-nav nagging me.  (Is it simply coincidence that the nagging voice is female?)  I'm fed up with hearing someone tell me, "You have exceeded the speed limit".

Friday, 2 May 2014

How did that happen?

There I was, happily drifting through the month, vaguely remembering the poem "Oh, to be in England now that April's there", when all of a sudden I was no longer in April but May had sneaked in on me.  Now, I have nothing against May; it's a great month as months go.  Both my brother and I were born in May so it must be a pretty good month.  But I would have liked just a little more warning.  After all, it's quite unfair of those months to sneak up on a chap while a chap is happily musing about another month.  Anyway, we're here now, and there's no way back.  Well, not until somebody invents a real time machine.

I don't think I would very much want to go back in time.  I suppose it could be interesting to pay a visit to, say, the 16th century just to see what life really was like, but I wouldn't want to stay too long.  A couple of hours would be about enough time, I would think, to get a flavour of life.  Certainly no longer than half a day.  Just imagine it: no tea or coffee to drink, just small beer.  No car to get around in, just a horse to ride or use Shanks's pony.  No flicking a switch to get instant light.

Even if it was merely a matter of winding the clock back a bit, say 20 or 30 years or so, I don't think I would want to go through all that again.  But would I?  Go through all that again, I mean.  Perhaps it would be rather like those computer versions of solitaire and we could undo something and try a different way.  I suppose that could have its advantages in that if a decision I made turned out to be wrong, I could simply change my mind.  But just imagine what chaos could ensue if everybody had the same opportunities - and perhaps different people could wind the clock back differently.  I might wind the clock back 10 years, but a friend, colleague of family member might want to wind the clock back 20.  We'd none of us know what was happening or where we were!

Looking the other way, I wouldn't want to know what lies ahead.  I've never believed in fortune telling or horoscopes and I am really very pleased that they are just a load of flannel.

It all puts carpe diem into a different perspective.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

I know a field where skylarks sing

Wow!  Get me!  All poetical there; in fact, positively Shakespearean.  Actually, I can't think what came over me.  A touch of heatstroke, perhaps, as the thermometer climbed as high as 15 or maybe even 16 degrees yesterday.  All the same, I do know a field where the skylark sings.

There was a time - and not so many eons ago, either - when one could walk out over the fields and hear not just one but a whole chorus of skylarks.  These days, unfortunately, their numbers have dwindled to the point where it is a treat to hear one of those "blithe spirits" as he soars skywards and drifts slowly towards the earth using wings as if they were a parachute before dropping the last 50 or 60 feet like a stone.  Twice this week I have been walking across a field (the same one on both occasions) when I caught a snatch of the song and was able to stand and watch as the tiny bird climbed almost vertically until he was no more than a small speck against the blue of the sky.

It is many years now since I last saw another bird that was common in my youth - the yellowhammer.  When walking on the Darland Banks (the part of the North Downs immediately behind my then home town) at this time of the year there would always be one or more renderings of "a little bit of bread and no cheese", as we used to think of the bird's song.


But hearing that skylark really brightened up my day.  Funny, isn't it, how the little things can make so much difference.  They say that it's the little things that can push a person over the edge so that a murder is committed.  I can understand that, but I find it immensely pleasing that little things can work the other way as well.