Thursday, 31 December 2015

New Year's Eve

I have never really been one for celebrating the change of the year.  To me it seems no more than switching from, say, May to June; not worth losing a lot of sleep for that either!  There was a time - granted, a good many years ago now - when I was never even certain that I would have finished work in time to see the New Year in.  As I say, it was a long time ago, half a century or more.

Back then I was working in a bank and 31st December was balance day.  Or, rather, it was Balance Day with capital letters!  Balance Day came round twice a year - 30th June and 31st December - but the December balance was arguably the more important as that was the end of the bank's financial year (as well as the end of the calendar year, but that scarcely rated on the bank's consciousness).

On New Year's Eve, after balancing each of the tills - to the penny - and everything else that had to be balanced daily, we would set to and post the day's work, a job which was usually left until the following morning.  Then that had to be balanced as well.  Then, and only then, could we set about doing the real Balance Day work.  This involved, inter alia, using large pre-printed sheets of paper and entering the name of every account and its balance.  By hand. In pen and ink.  And then adding them up - without using the clunking adding machines which was almost the full extent of mechanisation in those days, this being long before computers were in general use.  we were doing well if we left the bank before 10.00pm; later was the norm.  Far too late to bother going home, changing, and going out again.  We were too knackered anyway.

Now I'm just too old.  The Old bat and I will probably watch a film we've recorded.  I have recorded several over Christmas and still have two to watch, High Society and Cockleshell Heroes.  For once, The Sound of Music wasn't shown - nor The Bridge on the River Kwai; both were regulars for many years, along with The Great Escape!  I'm looking forward to High Society as I had quite a crush on Grace Kelly when I was a teenager.

Here are Bing and Frank, but unfortunately not Grace!  Enjoy.


Monday, 28 December 2015

Why do I do these things?

Although I am an advocate of not fixing things that are not broken, I do from time to time get an urge to tinker.  Today I decided that the Brighton Lions Club web site could do with a slight alteration to make life easier when new pages need to be added or old, out of date pages deleted.  It shouldn't be difficult, I told myself.

I lied through my teeth.

To get to what I wanted, the whole site needed to be redesigned.  That involved firing up my laptop - which takes about half an hour to warm up.  Even after it has warmed up, a key stroke involves the machine clunking away for what seems like several minutes before another key can be stroked.

I've been at it all day - well, most of the day - and I am still far from the end.  There is a slight chance, a very slight chance, that I might have the new, improved version up and running in time for the new year!

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Will Adams

Caught up in heavy traffic (well, heavy-ish) the other day, my mind wandered off (as it seems to do more and more frequently these days) and eventually settled on what I remember as a pink stone clock tower standing beside a main road in Gillingham - the Will Adams memorial.

I have to say that in my memory, the colour was much more pink than it appears in the picture.  But that is beside the point.

As a boy, I lived in Gillingham, in a street just off the A2, which was the main road from London to Dover, also known as Watling Street, the old Roman road.  The A2 was also the road used by people from London to reach the seaside resorts on the isle of Thanet, principally Margate.  There were comparatively few privately owned cars back then, and coach outings to the seaside were very popular in the summer months.

One summer, when I was probably aged about 8 or 9, my father was serving on a ship in Chatham dockyard and would be at home every evening and weekend.  On fine Sundays, after tea, he would take my brother and I for a walk along the top road (as we called the A2) just to see the traffic jams as the coaches made their way back from Margate and approached the bottleneck just along the road at Chatham.  We would walk along the road as far as the Will Adams memorial before turning back for home.

Although I knew it was the Will Adams memorial, I had no idea who Will Adams was - nor was I at all interested.  Since then, however, I have discovered that Will is (or was) Gillingham's most famous son!

Says a lot for Gillingham, doesn't it?

Anyway, according to the Wiki:
"William Adams (24 September 1564 – 16 May 1620), known in Japanese as Anjin Miura (三浦按針: "the pilot of Miura"), was an English navigator who in 1600 was the first of his nation to reach Japan. One of a few survivors of the only Dutch East India Company ship to reach Japan from a five-ship expedition of 1598, Adams settled there and became the first ever (and one of the very few) Western Samurai.
"He was the model for the character of John Blackthorne in James Clavell's best-selling novel Shōgun (1975), which was adapted as a 1980 TV mini-series, a 1989 computer game, and 1990 Broadway musical."

It would appear that the good people of Gillingham have taken Will to their hearts as there are now an NHS treatment centre, a school and a pub bearing his name - as well as an annual festival!

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Non sequitors...

...but with a slight Christmas theme.

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week I had to be out of bed as soon as the alarm sounded.  I was on duty at Santa's grotto and it was a bit of a rush to get through the chores (and walk the dog, which is not counted as a chore although it often is) if I was to arrive at the garden centre in time to don the red suit and false beard.  I really did not want to turn out those three mornings and last night, as I went to bed, I luxuriated in the thought that today I could press the snooze button twice - or even thrice!  Naturally, I was wide awake before the alarm went off this morning!

I had never "been" FC (or SC) before and I was most apprehensive as I took my seat, but it turned out to be great fun on the whole.  Mayhap I will volunteer again next year.

Some people seem to get very snooty about those round robins, the annual letters delivered with Christmas cards from friends and family in which they describe with glee the academic successes and sporting prowesses of their offspring or grandoffspring.  We got just a very short note from each of two friends, neither of which was at all boastful.  I can't think why people get so  hoity-toity about them.  They don't have to read them!  Personally, I like to see them and I miss the one my mother used to receive each year from a cousin of mine who emigrated to Australia.  (I fully expected to see his son's name in the Australian cricket team so a good a player was he, according to his father!)

But why is it that some people sign their card as being from 'John, Jean, Jonathan and Jeanette' when Jean is the OB's chiropodist/hairdresser/whatever, John her husband who we have met socially only once, and the other two her children whom I would fail to recognise if I tripped over them in the gutter!  John might be content - in a vague sort of way - to have his name connected with the good wishes, but the children would say, "Who?" and just don't give a proverbial.  It's worse still when people add the dog's name, the cat's name - and even the flaming goldfish!

And while I'm ranting about cards, I have never understood the need to hand cards personally to everybody with whom I work - or people I will see on Christmas Day!  I don't like simply handing greetings cards to anybody; it seems to pointless when all I have to do is open my mouth to say something along the lines of,

Christmas
to us means a special occasion
when we can express our sincere thanks
to those whose friendship we cherish.
May you have a wonderful, joyous time.

Bah humbug!

Anyway, I do wish all that you wish yourselves at this special time.  And I do hope that God has a sense of humour!

 

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Burning the Clocks

Each year, on 21st December, a free public event known as Burning the Clocks is held in Brighton.  This involves people making lanterns from paper and willow, then processing through the city to the beach, where all the lanterns are burned on a huge bonfire.

Yesterday's parade (Pic: The Argus)

This could, perhaps, be described as a traditional Brighton event - except that it only started in 1993!  But every tradition has to start somewhere, so why shouldn't this be called a new tradition?

I am (almost) ashamed to admit that I have never watched the parade or the bonfire, but here is a video of last year's parade and bonfire.


Monday, 21 December 2015

Christmas is coming

I don't have a goose getting fat, but I do know that Christmas can't be far away.  Apart from the number of houses there are decorated with all sorts of flashing tat, there have been two massive hints given to me over the weekend.  The first was on Saturday when our friends S & C, together with their friends J & D, held their 19th annual Evening of Christmas.  This involves 30 or more people cramming into their house and joining in singing carols and Christmas songs as Sheila plays the piano, Diane the flute and john the cello.  The guests bring nibbles and bottles and a thoroughly good evening is enjoyed by all.

Then yesterday, Sunday, morning, the Old bat said, "We must bring put up the decorations".  I had been fully expecting this and had already brought the decorations out of the loft and into what is laughingly called 'the little front bedroom'.  Although intended as the third bedroom, it is only big enough for a small single bed (which we no longer have) and we now treat it as a box room.  Anyway, the Old Bat's "we" really meant "you" (ie me) and I duly obeyed.  So now we have a decorated tree - a real one! - and a few streamers round the walls, so I know Christmas isn't far away.

Going back to Saturday, one of the carols we sang was the Sussex Carol.  This, and the Coventry Carol, are - as far as I am aware - the only two (English) carols to be named after places.  According to the Wiki, Ralph Vaughan Williams heard it being sung by a Harriet Verrall of Monk's Gate, near Horsham, Sussex (hence "Sussex Carol") and wrote down the tune and words, the words having been first published by Luke Wadding, a 17th-century Irish bishop, in a work called Small Garland of Pious and Godly Songs (1684). It is unclear whether Wadding wrote the song or was recording an earlier composition.  here it is being sung by the choir of King's College Chapel, Cambridge - who sound a whole lot better than we did on Saturday!


Friday, 18 December 2015

In grateful memory of...


...the supermarket plastic bag.

Tough, long lasting - indeed, almost indestructible! - cheap and capable of multitasking.  What a boon you were to every household.  As ever, we didn't know how much we would miss you until you were no longer with us.

Back in the day, when my mother went shopping she took her shopping bag with her.  At the greengrocer's she held the bag open as the greengrocer tipped potatoes and carrots into it.  I expect she had a different bag for use at the butcher's (I certainly hope so!) and maybe another for use at the baker's, that one probably being used at the grocer's as well.  Or maybe the butcher's bag was used there.

Then came the supermarkets which saw the benefits of cheap advertising by giving away plastic bags.  Plastic bags that would blow into trees in the autumn and only just about disintegrate by the time the daffodils were in bloom.

But - and here's the rub - plastic bags that could be used for a limitless list of other things: holders of rubbish (even dog mess) which could be tied close and put into rubbish bins; containers for those bottles taken to a friend's house and just passed over; a handy way of carrying almost anything to be handed to someone else.  Nowadays I have to scratch my head and puzzle out what to use to take Message in a Bottle bottles to a retirement home or 20 bags of £1 coins to the organiser of the bingo for the elderly.  Those supermarket bags were just right!

Maybe I should just buy me a hundred or so.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Christmas lights

Even small villages in France seem to delight in putting up lights as Christmas decorations, although they are generally secular in nature, wishing people 'happy holidays' rather than 'merry Christmas'.  In the village of Soudan icicles are hung from the high roof of the church's east end, while the trees in the car park beside the church are srrung with lights in various colours.


In Pouancé, however, there are fewer lights but boxes wrapped in bright paper are hung from every conceivable place to decorate the town.


Just up the road from us,a near neighbour has more lights in his front garden than there are in the whole of Pouancé!


Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Where did that week go?

It seems quite impossible that the OB and I have been back in England for a week - and I have neither read others' blogs nor blogged myself!  I suppose there are two reasons for that.  First - and, this week at least, pre-eminent (a word which Blogger fails to recognise) - the sheer pressure of things to be done, mainly Lions-related.  But there is, as well, the small matter of habit.  I find that I get into the habit of doing things - and then, once the habit is broken, it can be difficult to get back.

Anyway, I was walking through the wooded part of our local park this morning in the softly falling rain when I was brought up short.  I stopped and listened.  Yes, that was a blackbird I had heard singing.  And there was another!

I'm not a great naturalist or ornithologist, but I thought that the only bird one would hear singing at this time of the year is the robin.  Other songbirds don't start until much nearer the nesting season.  Of course, we are getting near to the shortest day, but the worst part of the winter is usually January or February.  Surely those two blackbirds don't really think that spring is just around the corner?  It would be great if they are right!

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Product placement?

It is generally not my practice to make commercial endorsements or to place products in this blog.  After all, the companies making the products don't pay me to advertise their wares!  I grant you that I may well have mentioned a particular restaurant where the OB and I have enjoyed a meal, But that, as a rule, is as far as I have gone.  Today, however, I propose to change all that.

Marks and Spencer used to be considered the very epitome of Englishness; no middle class lady would buy her unmentionables at any other store.  Marks and Sparks had a reputation for quality and value for money.  How they wish that were still the case!

Somewhere along the line the company branched out from its tradition of selling clothing and accessories and added food to the list of products to be found in their stores.  The quality of their foodstuff has the reputation that their clothes once did for quality, although it tends to be at least a little on the pricey side.

It was quite a few years ago that they introduced their 'Dine In For £10' meals.  This scheme offers customers a main dish, a side dish, a dessert - and a bottle of wine, the basics of a meal for two.  And all for the price of £10.  there are plenty of people who have poured scorn on the idea, claiming that the main dishes are skimpy, there is too much emphasis on chicken, or they could prepare the whole thing for less than £10.  The Old Bat and I disagree.

Yesterday, for example, we enjoyed fillets of sea bream with a garden pea, mint, cheese and lemon zest topping, served with parmentier potatoes - and the OB cooked a little broccoli as well.  Our dessert was raspberry panna cotta.  The fish was delicious, the topping giving it a bit of zing, and the parmentier potatoes are quite possibly the best I have ever eaten.  As for the panna cotta, it was smooth and creamy - just what panna cotta should be.

And here ends the commercial break!

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Oddballs

It has been rumoured that Brighton is the eccentric capital of England.  The town - OK, now the city if we include Hove, actually - certainly seems to have had at least its fair share of, well, not to put too fine a point of it, oddballs.

I suppose it could be said to date back to the time of the Prince Regent, later King George IV, some 200 years ago.  He it was who had what was pretty much a bog standard farmhouse enlarged and converted in the Royal Pavilion we see today - seemingly Indian-inspired architecture decorated internally in the Chinese style.

A friend once told me how he was sitting in a pub in central Brighton, idly gazing out of the window, when he saw a man dressed as a pirate, complete with a stuffed parrot on his shoulder, come round the corner of the street, put his skateboard on the ground, and skate off.  That man was 60 if he was a day - but nobody batted an eyelid.

Brighton is also thought to be the only place where a block of council flats has a blue plaque.  The city of Brighton and Hove awarded Doreen Valiente a blue plaque to commemorate her life and honour her achievements. The plaque is the first in the world awarded to a witch.  According to the Doreen Valiente Foundation web site, "Doreen Valiente remains, simply, the most influential woman in the world of modern Witchcraft".

Possibly the city's best-known eccentric today is Disco Pete. In his mid-70s, Pete will bne seen anywhere in the city where there is open-air music - as here on the lower promenade, although he is usually dressed much more colourfully.


Thursday, 26 November 2015

Thanksgiving Day

It is just conceivable - indeed, it is highly probable - that what I am about to commit, first, to the screen and, later, to the world at large through the good offices of Blogger and the Intertubes (as Buck was wont to call it) will cause offence.  All I can say is, if it does cause offence to you, you need to grow up and get over it.  I am just as much entitled to my opinion as you are to yours.

So, here goes.

Today is Thanksgiving Day.  At least, it is in what were at one time the colonies and also in the wider lands that joined with them to become the US of A.  But over here in Merrie Olde England I am giving thanks as well.  I am giving thanks that I am not a citizen of that vast country across the ocean.  And since I am not, I don't have to rush around like a demented something or other just to spend the day with members of my family and eat turkey and pumpkin pie.

Now don't get me wrong; I am more than happy to spend time with my family.  I just don't fancy having to travel several hundred miles to do so, and then travel the same distance back again after a few hours.  And I have nothing against roast turkey, which I will be eating with my family (or some members of it) on Christmas Day.  But I have an intense dislike of pumpkin pie - or any other dishes made from pumpkins.

And then there is this obligation to go shopping on the day after Thanksgiving (always assuming one is not back at work that day).  We seem to have imported Black Friday into England, I am sorry to say, although I fail to understand quite why that should be.

Actually, the one thing I have in favour of Thanksgiving Day is that once it is over we can start thinking about Christmas; although, in truth, we have been thinking about Christmas for quite a while now.  Father Christmas arrived in his grotto at the garden centre last weekend, duly assisted by members of Brighton and Adur East Lions Clubs.  The invitations to Brighton Lions pre-Christmas party for elderly folk were distributed two weeks ago.  And I received my first Christmas card on 10th November!

One of the great things about Christmas in England is that the holiday (remember, that's a corruption of holy day) last two days - Christmas Day and Boxing Day - even though Boxing Day is becoming more and more like Black Friday year by year.

Hey!  How about that?  When Boxing Day falls on a Friday we could have two Black Fridays in one year!

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Lockdown

Troops patrol an empty city (Photo: newsworldindia.com)
I really can't make up my mind whether the action of the Belgian government is right or wrong.

Brussels is in Day 3 of lockdown.  Schools are closed, the metro is not running, armed troops patrol almost deserted streets and people have been advised not to congregate and - preferably - to stay indoors.  All this follows "intelligence" that the murderous Isil thugs planned attacks in Brussels similar to those in Paris.

Of course, one can't expect the Belgian government to tell the world exactly what intelligence they have received or how they obtained it, but I remember our government claiming to have intelligence that Saddam Hussain had weapons of mass destruction.  I hope this latest intelligence is more accurate that was that!

But doesn't locking down the city play into the hands of the terrorists?  Is it not part of their planning to instill fear everywhere?  It seems to me that by closing schools and offices and shutting down the metro, the Belgian authorities have been spreading alarm and despondency among the population.

On the other hand, if the authorities had not taken this action but simply put more police and armed troops on the streets, they would have been blamed if there had been terrorist attacks.  A clear case of damned if you do, damned if you don't.

It was, perhaps, not on the same scale, but I recall the days, weeks and months when we expected the IRA to plant bombs in London - in addition to the ones they did plant.  People went about their daily lives as usual, albeit with a little more care about potential suspect packages and litter bins were taken off the streets.

It's easy for me to say it, safe as I am in Brighton, but I do tend to think that it would have been better for the Belgians to say simply, "Keep calm and carry on".

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Explaining the Middle East

I stumbled across this Pulitzer-Prize-worthy piece on the dreaded f...book.  It's (apparently) by someone called Hassan Ali, who obviously knows how many beans make four.  Anyway, by the time you have read it you will be better informed than any of the BBC's Middle East correspondents.

"President Assad (who is bad) is a nasty guy who got so nasty his people rebelled and the rebels (who are good) started winning (Hurrah!).  But then some of the rebels turned a bit nasty and are now called Islamic State (who are definitely bad!) and some continued to support democracy (who are still good).

"So the Americans ( who are good ) started bombing Islamic State ( who are bad ) and giving arms to the Syrian Rebels ( who are good ) so they could fight Assad ( who is still bad ) which was good.
By the way, there is a breakaway state in the north run by the Kurds who want to fight IS (which is a good thing) but the Turkish authorities think they are bad, so we have to say they are bad whilst secretly thinking they're good and giving them guns to fight IS (which is good) but that is another matter.
"Getting back to Syria.
"So President Putin ( who is bad, cos he invaded Crimea and the Ukraine and killed lots of folks including that nice Russian man in London with polonium poisoned sushi ) has decided to back Assad ( who is still bad ) by attacking IS ( who are also bad ) which is sort of a good thing?
"But Putin ( still bad ) thinks the Syrian Rebels ( who are good ) are also bad, and so he bombs them too, much to the annoyance of the Americans ( who are good ) who are busy backing and arming the rebels ( who are also good).
"Now Iran ( who used to be bad, but now they have agreed not to build any nuclear weapons and bomb Israel are now good ) are going to provide ground troops to support Assad ( still bad ) as are the Russians ( bad ) who now have ground troops and aircraft in Syria.
"So a Coalition of Assad ( still bad ) Putin ( extra bad ) and the Iranians ( good, but in a bad sort of way ) are going to attack IS ( who are bad ) which is a good thing, but also the Syrian Rebels ( who are good ) which is bad.
"Now the British ( obviously good, except that nice Mr Corbyn in the corduroy jacket, who is probably bad ) and the Americans ( also good ) cannot attack Assad ( still bad ) for fear of upsetting Putin ( bad ) and Iran ( good / bad) and now they have to accept that Assad might not be that bad after all compared to IS ( who are super bad).
"So Assad ( bad ) is now probably good, being better than IS ( but let’s face it, drinking your own wee is better than IS so no real choice there ) and since Putin and Iran are also fighting IS that may now make them Good. America ( still Good ) will find it hard to arm a group of rebels being attacked by the Russians for fear of upsetting Mr Putin ( now good ) and that nice mad Ayatollah in Iran ( also Good ) and so they may be forced to say that the Rebels are now Bad, or at the very least abandon them to their fate. This will lead most of them to flee to Turkey and on to Europe or join IS ( still the only constantly bad group).
"To Sunni Muslims, an attack by Shia Muslims ( Assad and Iran ) backed by Russians will be seen as something of a Holy War, and the ranks of IS will now be seen by the Sunnis as the only Jihadis fighting in the Holy War and hence many Muslims will now see IS as Good ( Doh!.)
"Sunni Muslims will also see the lack of action by Britain and America in support of their Sunni rebel brothers as something of a betrayal ( mmm - might have a point) and hence we will be seen as Bad.
"So now we have America ( now bad ) and Britain ( also bad ) providing limited support to Sunni Rebels ( bad ) many of whom are looking to IS ( Good / bad ) for support against Assad ( now good ) who, along with Iran ( also Good) and Putin ( also, now, unbelievably, Good ) are attempting to retake the country Assad used to run before all this started?
"So, now you fully understand everything, all your questions are answered!!!"

Thursday, 19 November 2015

A bit of a Barney

A couple of days ago we were warned to batten down the hatches in preparation for storm force winds and possible flooding.  Mind you, this wasn't so much for people living in what is sometimes referred to as the 'soft' south-east and was mainly directed at the south-west and north-west of England, Wales and Scotland.  Along the south coast we were supposedly less likely to receive the heavy rain, although winds gusting up to 80mph were predicted.

This was Storm Barney.

For some reason I have not heard, the British and Irish meteorological offices have decided to 'honour' certain winter storms with names, just like hurricanes.  Quite what criteria storms have to display in order to be so honoured is another thing I have failed to take in, although I suspect nobody has bothered to tell we huddled masses.  Anyway, Abigal arrived last week - and the next one will be named Clodagh (a sop to the Met Éireann I presume).

So we did get strong winds and lashings of rain.  Then it cleared up - only for the wind and rain to come back again.  And again.

Waves crash into the lighthouse at Newhaven, East Sussex

 (borrowed from The Argus)

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

What happened to the stiff upper lip?

It used to be the case that Englishmen were proud of the fact that in any adversity they would demonstrate a stiff upper lip.  I have to wonder what happened to our sang froid as it seems we no longer possess it.  These past few days demonstrate that fact.

Tower Bridge and the arch at Wembley Stadium have been floodlit in the colours of the tricolore.  Many of us have changed our Facebook images, even if only temporarily.  Yesterday, we English joined with the rest of Europe in holding a minute's silence in memory of the victims of the atrocities in Paris.  Even banks and shops stopped work to join in.

There was a time when, faced with any sort of tragedy or disaster, Englishmen would have, perhaps, paused for a moment and then gone about their business.

This did not mean a lack of care or empathy.  It was exactly the same if the disaster was personal.  It was simply considered 'bad form', selfish exhibitionism even, to show grief or pain in front of others who, possibly, did not share one's pain.  Men would do no more than wear a black armband in the event of the death of a relative, although women - the gentler sex - were expected to don mourning dress, 'widow's weeds'.  Nowadays we are expected to wail and gnash our teeth - just like hysterical Frenchmen.  And as for the flowers and toys left at the scene of a death...

It seems to me that it all started with the death of Princess Diana.  It was in 2007 that Jonathan Freedland, wrote in The Guardian, "The conventional wisdom [now] holds that Diana week was an outburst of mass hysteria, an episode when the British public lost its characteristic cool and engaged in seven days of bogus sentimentality, whipped up by the media."

It appears that we are still enthralled by mass hysteria.

Monday, 16 November 2015

An object of derision

Yep, that's me.  The innocent cause of much merriment.

All because of my mobile phone.

Contrary to popular belief, I do have one.  My children...  Not that they are children any longer, so I will instead refer to them as my two sons and, to a lesser extent, my daughter find it most amusing that I have a mobile phone.

"But," they exclaim, "you never switch it on!"

That is so untrue.  I do switch it on when we are in France.  In fact, over there I switch it on when I get up and it stays switched on until we go out to eat in the evening.  But I see no point having it switched on while I am in England.  It is there, in my pocket, in case I need it in an emergency.  Otherwise, I use the landline.  Phone calls through the landline - to UK geographic numbers and landlines in 35 other countries as well as most UK mobiles - cost me nothing.  My children sons and daughter all use mobile phones constantly.  Their landlines are solely for Internet usage.  I think.

But I see no need to pay, what, £35 a month or thereabouts? just to carry around a phone larger than the one I have.  Slimmer, perhaps, but definitely larger in other dimensions.  And so, when my son's partner saw my mobile phone on Saturday she fell about laughing - and insisted on taking a photo of it.  A photo that is now on F/b with comments poking fun at yours truly.

But let them deride who must.  My mobile phone costs me nothing, unless I actually use it, and it works.  It's not all-singing and all-dancing, I grant you.  But I don't need that.  I just need a phone that I can use occasionally - as a phone.

As it's not broke, I have no intention of fixing it.

My trusty old Nokia

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Paris, nous sommes l'un avec vous

I have been there just three or four times but I can't say that Paris is my favourite city.  Paris in the springtime means nothing to me, and the idea that strolling along the banks of the Seine is romantic just seems to me plain daft.

But it's not only Paris.  I may well have been born and bred a townie, but cities are not really my thing.  I worked in central London, barely outside the boundary of the City, for fourteen years and in that time I did discover parts of the city that were not unattractive, but I was always very pleased to breath clean air again when I alighted from the train in the evenings.

I have never visited quite a few cities in my time, both English, Scottish and 'abroad', although there are many that have, so far, eluded me.  I have never visited Rome, Vienna or Berlin, but I have been to Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen (which almost fails to qualify as a city), Venice and Florence, as well as New York, Washington and San Francisco.  But my favourite by far is Amsterdam, which I deem more romantic than either Paris or Venice.

So Paris may not be my 'thing' - but I am one with all those Parisians who declare they will not be cowed by terrorist atrocities such as those that were perpetrated this weekend.


Friday, 13 November 2015

The best laid plans

I had planned to do so much today.

I won't bore you with a long list of the various things I intended to get done but I will just let you into the secret of one thing on the list.  I had planned to get my post finished before Skip got up, which isn't easy because he gets up ridiculously early, especially for a Californian.  My hope was to beat Skip at his own game by announcing to the world at large:

It's on Friday this month!

But he's already been up for hours by now - although I don't think he has posted anything about the 13th as yet so maybe I have got in first after all.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

And it came to pass

To carry on from where I was so rudely interrupted yesterday...

Back at the beginning of time - well, soon after the interwotsit started to become available to every Tom, Dick and Harry - I decided that my company should send me on a course to learn the intricacies of Hypertext Markup Language, commonly referred to as HTML, which is the standard markup language used to create web pages. I'm not too sure just why I felt it would be a good idea for me to know about this, but as I was the boss, there was no difficulty in the company paying for me to attend the course.  It was only one day, anyway.  I found it extremely interesting and, although I had learned only a very limited amount, the purchase of the Idiot's Guide book padded out my knowledge.  Thus it was that I designed web sites for Brighton Lions Club and even the Lions District.

Time passed, and I discovered that there were companies selling stuff on the Internet, companies that were prepared to pay a small introductory commission to people owning other web sites; companies such as Amazon and W H Smith, along with many other names that nobody had (or has now) never heard of.  And so I developed an on-line shopping mall.

It never did raise much money.  I suppose that is hardly surprising when the rate of commission was perhaps 2.5% and companies would only pay over the commission once it amounted to £50, which would need (if my arithmetic is correct) sales worth £2,000.  We did get some money from Amazon, but the rest just died quietly.  Another thing against us was that for any commission to be earned, shoppers would have to go through our web site to the retailer's, making it just too fiddly.

But now, I have discovered a different way.  All it needs is for people to:
1. Visit www.brightonlions.org.uk/easyfr.html and click on the “Support Us Now” button.
2. Register as a supporter of Brighton Lions Club Charity Trust Fund.
3. Download the donation reminder button. This puts a small program onto your computer so that…
4. …when you visit an online retailer who is part of the scheme, you will be reminded to make the donation.

Easy peasy!

So, if you are planning to do Christmas shopping on-line through Amazon or Argos or John Lewis - or any of more than 2,700 retailers! - you know what to do.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

If it looks too good to be true...

Well, yes, as a confirmed cynic that cliché has been a guiding light in my life for many a long year.  But while there's life, there's hope, and it's the exception that proves the rule - just to add to the abundance of clichés which save me from having to think of my own words.

And it is just possible that I stumbled across two of those exceptions yesterday.  Well, I'm being a little economical with the truth when I say that I stumbled across them.  Yes, I did just happen across one of them, but the other was thrust in front of my nose - or should I say my ear? - as the result of a telephone call.

The caller explained that he had been referred to me by the president of Brighton Lions Club, though quite why el presidente thought I would be the one to deal with this remains a puzzle.  Joe - for that, I believe, is the caller's name - explained that he works for a company that has helped numerous schools and charities in south-east England to obtain funding for IT materials such as laptop computers.  I am not sorry, or even ashamed, to confess that my first thought was that two or three of us had been talking about how a projector linked to a laptop would be useful and had even been thinking about making an application to the National Lottery to see if we could get a grant.  Could this, I wondered, be the way to go?

My second thought was: What's in it for you?  (My innate cynicism coming to the fore.)

However, I suggested that Joe should send me an email providing further information.  After I had digested that, I might get in touch.

The email came though and, inter alia, referred me to the company's web site.  I hied me thence and, scrolling through the testimonials, I discovered that they had assisted another not-too-distant Lions Club.

And as time is running away with me once again, I think I had better leave it there and finish the tale tomorrow.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Missing days

It was back in the mid-18th century that the calendar was changed - September 1752, to be exact.  Up until the 2nd September that year, the UK had been using the Julian calendar, which meant that the British calendar was 12 days behind the calendar used across Europe.  2nd September in England was 13th September in France.  This must have led to a certain confusion when dealing with international payments, albeit nothing like the problems we would face today if that date difference still existed.

Anyway, an act of Parliament decreed that the day after Wednesday, 2nd September 1751 would be Thursday, 13th September, thereby bringing the British calendar in line with that used on the continent, the Gregorian calendar.

BUT, the change brought problems.  People clamoured to be given back the eleven days that had been stolen from them!

I'm feeling a bit like that at the moment, wondering who pinched several days of my life.  I have been so incredibly busy that there has simply been no time to even think of anything to blog about, let alone compose something almost sensible!

Oh well, maybe tomorrow.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Thursday, 5 November 2015

It's an ill wind.

As every English schoolchild knows, today - 5th November - is Bonfire Night.  This is the night when we let off fireworks and light bonfires to burn effigies of Guy (Guido) Fawkes, a member of a Papist plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament when the King was there.  Fortunately, the terrorists plans were leaked to the authorities in time for the planned atrocity to be forestalled.  That was in 1605.  Yes, 410 years ago, and we still celebrate the occasion.


It was as far back as 1952 that the then members of Brighton Lions Club agreed to pool their fireworks and to put on a display for the Brighton Girls Orphanage.  That display was organised every year until 1975.  In 1976 the display was moved to a public arena as a fund-raiser.  Admission was 40p for adults and 20p for children.  This year we are charging £10 and £5 for some £10k-worth of fireworks.

Some years ago the venue was changed to the County Cricket Ground but this year Sussex County Cricket Club decided they wanted no display and we have been forced to find a new venue again.  We have moved to the Racecourse, but have to hold the display tomorrow rather than on the traditional day.  Meanwhile, the cricket club have decided that they will hold their own fireworks display tonight.

It has been raining much of the afternoon and the forecast for this evening is more rain.  The forecast for tomorrow is much better.  Could it be that people will give tonight's display a miss and come to ours instead?

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

When life gives you lemons

I was intending to post this yesterday but time simply ran away with me, mainly while trying to finish writing my talk for tomorrow!  It's still only about half done; I shall just have to wing it - which will probably be better anyway.

But to get back to the lemons.  Of course, you all know the rest of that proverb: make lemonade.  And very positive thinking that is, too.  Unfortunately, it's not always possible to think positively when life throws lemons in one's path.  Just think of the words of the song:

Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet
But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat.
And, for your increased delectation, here are the Seekers singing it.


I'm sorry to say that life has been chucking a few lemons around my family of late.  It's now seven or eight years since the Old Bat was diagnosed with a progressive neurological complaint.  The medical term is corticobasal degeneration.  This is when cells in a particular area of the brain start dying off and the patient gradually loses the power to control the limbs, can have difficulty swallowing and suffers deterioration in speech.  The progression can be all but imperceptible, but over the weeks and months becomes ever more noticeable.

And now my younger son, in his early 40s, has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis

It's difficult to have any positive thoughts about that.

But no doubt things will seem a little better tomorrow.  Or the day after.  Or next month.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

There's something wrong

I woke to fairly thick mist, even fog, and it was still around when I walked to dog after breakfast.  (It always amazes me how many drivers seem to think that their cars are glow in the dark as they fail to switch on any lights, even in the thickest fog!)  By the time I got back home, the sun had broken through and it was unseasonably warm.

Forgive me mentioning this, but today is the first Sunday in November.  That means:

Picture begged, borrowed or stolen.

That's right - the old crocks.  Whoops! Sorry, that should read the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.  More than 600 cars manufactured before 1905 will wend their way into town, most of them arriving about lunchtime or earlyish afternoon.  (Full details, including pics of all the cars, here.)

Usually the weather provides added zest to the event, either raining or being extra cold, probably with a stiff breeze.  But today, for the first time that I can remember, the weather is positively balmy.  Or barmy - you choose.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

A brief history of Brighton, part 3

Brighton grew from a village with a population of about 400 in 1086 to a sizable market town by about the 14th century.  The main industries were still farming and fishing, although the geographical size of the town may well have diminished.  The coast was constantly being eroded by the sea and in 1340 a writer said that the sea had recently 'swallowed' 40 acres of farmland.

The first map of Brighton - or Brighthelmstone as it was then known - was made (it is thought) in 1539 - although it depicts an event that occurred 25 years earlier!

This was an attack on Brighthelmstone by the French under the command of Prior John.  They burnt the town completely, including the Priory of St Bartholomew.  Or nearly completely.  The church of St Nicholas can be seen on the map, standing on a hill just to the north-west of the town.  That church survived, possibly because reinforcements arrived to drive the French away before they reached St Nics.  Although the town was almost completely destroyed, it was rebuilt along the lines of the original streets, and the layout of the Lanes still reflects the shape of the town prior to the raid.

The French Protestant church
I think it is fair to say that the people of Brighton have forgiven the French for that raid.  Indeed, there are probably very few residents, even those whose families have been born, lived and died in the town for generations, who are even aware that it took place. 

Until very recently there was a French protestant church in the town, the only Huguenot church in Britain outside London, but that has now been converted into a house as the congregation dwindled and was unable to maintain the building.

The French Apartments
The town even has its own Loire-style château!  This was built near the end of the 19th century as a convalescent home for patients from the French hospital in London but was sold in the 1980s and converted into flats called the French Apartments.

St. Nicholas church dates from the mid-14th century, although there may well have been an earlier church on the site.  I wrote earlier this year about the Lady Edona watching from the churchyard for her sweetheart to return - it's here if you would like to see the story.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Yesterday

Murky, misty and really rather miserable.  I was not at all keen to take the dog for a walk in the afternoon but we headed off into Stanmer woods.


Thursday, 29 October 2015

Reminiscing

I got on to Y/t yesterday afternoon and before I realised what was happening, I had found many of the singing stars os my 20s and even teenage years.  A couple of hours later I had listened to the Seekers, the Carpenters, Matt Monro, Adam Faith, Emile Ford and the Checkmates and so on.  I even rediscovered skiffle!

And here it is, as demonstrated by Lonnie Donegan in The Battle of New Orleans:


Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Greenwich Mean Time

Now that we have put the clocks back and are running on GMT, winter is "officially" here.

I have never really understood that once-used phrase, daylight saving.  I haven't heard it used for many a long year but have a feeling that it was given when British Summer Time (BST) was introduced as a reason for putting the clocks forward an hour in the spring.  Perhaps it was an attempt to blind people with science, but there was and never has been a way to "save" daylight.  Old Ma Nature doles it out and we take it or leave it.

But it does seem perhaps a tad strange that the world's time revolves around a somewhat obscure and, certainly at one time, run-down part of London.  There was a time when Greenwich (the London Greenwich, not that bit of New York) was really rather posh.  (That bit of NY might have been for all I know, but it's London I'm on about here, OK?)  It was an outer suburb of the capital, practically a village in Kent.  Nowadays one hits the metropolis many miles away and Greenwich, to some of us, might as well be central London.

Of course, this GMT business goes back a few years. Greenwich was the site of the Royal Observatory, although it was later moved to Herstmonceux Castle here in Sussex and is now goodness knows where, and as such, was the centre of all things astronomical and, by extension, horological.  This was all happening back in the days when Britain (or maybe it was simply England) was one of the, if not the, world's greatest maritime powers.  Ships' captains were becoming agitated because although their navigational skills and astronomical knowledge was sufficient for them to know fairly accurately the latitude of their position, that is, the distance they were from the equator, they had no way of telling how far round the world they had sailed.  Their longitudinal position.  I gather that in order to calculate this, they needed accurate timepieces.

In the fullness of time, somebody managed to invent a clock that worked even in the roughest seas and which kept reasonably accurate time.  Now all that was needed was a starting point.  As I said, England (or Britain) was one of the world's leading maritime nations, so it seemed quite natural to base the starting point right here.  And where better than at the Royal Observatory?  And so it was that the Greenwich Meridian, nought degrees of longitude, became the starting point.  And so Greenwich Mean Time was born.  Or invented.  Or discovered.  Or something.

But I have never quite worked out the reason for the "mean" time.  Wouldn't Greenwich Time be sufficient?

In any case, it's all very nearly academic now as GMT has been more or less done away with.  I think it's only the good old BBC that still insists on using it.  Everyone else has switched to Co-ordinated Universal Time.  Which, for some strange reason, is abbreviated to UTC.

A pity, really.  Greenwich Mean Time sounds so much more romantic.

By the way, please don't assume that any of the above is 100% accurate.  It just makes a good yarn.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Monday, 26 October 2015

Your cat

Found this on F/b and couldn't resist stealing borrowing it.


Thought Skip in particular might appreciate it.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

The Crystal Sceptre

The Crystal Sceptre: that sounds like - and I think probably is - something from one of those witches and warlocks computer-generated games.  But it is also a part of English history and was put on public display yesterday, the first time ever in its nearly 600 years history.

It was 600 years ago today, St Crispin's Day, that English soldiers led by King Henry V defeated a French army near the village of Azincourt, known to we English as Agincourt.  Henry had thought himself entitled to become King of France but when that was denied to him, he said he would settle for Aquitaine, Brittany and Normandy among other parts of France.  And he wanted Princess Catherine, daughter of the French king Charles VI, as his wife.  It was the French refusal to agree to this that led to the start of the Hundred Years War and Henry's invasion and, eventually, the Battle of Agincourt.

I could easily become distracted here and give an account of the battle in which the English army, generally accepted to have been outnumbered by 4 to 1, was victorious - but by doing so I would probably forget all about the Crystal Sceptre.

Taking an army across the Channel to France, besieging the port of Harfleur for three months and then generally wandering about the French countryside, marching some 260 miles in just two and a half weeks, was an expensive undertaking.  To help finance the expedition, Henry had borrowed heavily from the City of London and various wealthy merchants.  The City chipped in 10,000 marks, about three million pounds in today's money.  As a token of his gratitude, the King commissioned the Crystal Sceptre to be a gift to the city.

Photo: Christopher Pledger, from the Daily Telegraph
The sceptre is 17 inches tall and consists of a carved rock crystal stem inlaid with gold.  The jewels which decorate the crown at the top of the stem were sourced from the far corners of the known world; red spinels from what is now Afghanistan, blue sapphires from Ceylon and dozens of pearls plucked from the seas of the Arabian gulf.




Also from the Daily Telegraph

Just when the sceptre was presented to the City of London Is not known, but it is featured in a painting of the coronation of Queen Catherine of Valois, Henry's wife, which took place in February 1421.  In the picture it can be seen held by the lord Mayor of London - or so I am told.

The sceptre has never before been seen on public display and is normally only removed from its place of safe keeping for coronations and for the swearing in of each new Lord Mayor of London.  It will be on public display for just six weeks.


Saturday, 24 October 2015

A brief history of Brighton, part 2

A few days ago I told how Bristelmestune became established and we whisked through some 4,000 years of history in about ten seconds.  We left the story (the first part is here) in 1086 when the population had grown to about 400 souls.

Back then, the village was all but cut off from the rest of the country to the north.  What is now the Weald of Kent and Sussex was covered by an almost impenetrable forest - St Leonard's Forest - and change on the sea shore happened very gradually as modernising influences seeped slowly through.  For the next few centuries, fishermen lived on the foreshore below the cliff, while above them were farmers.  Each day, the farmers would drive their flocks of sheep and their few cows out of the farms
and into the fields cleared from the edge of the forest on what are now the South Downs.  There were, I understand, five large fields or laines - north, west, hilly, little and east - and even now there is an area in the city known as the North Laine.

Medieval Brighton (although the town was not yet called by that name) was bounded by four streets, named rather unimaginatively North Street, West Street, South Street and East Street.  All but South Street still exist and the area inside the square is filled with narrow lanes (not laines) and is known, unsurprisingly, as The Lanes.  (Those old Sussex men must have been a stolid lot, not given to flights of fancy.)  By the beginning of the 16th century, there was another street running from north to south - Middle Street! (And it's still there.)

The area between Middle Street and East Street became known as the Hempshares where fishermen grew hemp for ropes and nets, the paths between the allotments eventually becoming the Lanes.  It was probably at the eastern edge of the Hempshares, close to East Street, that the Priory of St Bartholomew stood.  There is nothing of it left now except the name, Bartholomew Square, the site of Brighton Town Hall.

"The Priory was home to many nuns, who became victims of pirates and smugglers as this stretch of coast line became increasingly used for illicit ends. This became such a problem that soldiers were stationed nearby, hoping to halt the rising smuggler trade and protect residents, including the nuns of the priory.  It is a truth universally acknowledged that no woman can resist a man in uniform, and regardless of the wrath of our lord the residents of St Bartholomew’s were no exception. Such was the love between one nun and a soldier, that they soon laid plans to desert their respective posts and elope, choosing a life of shame and slander over honour and spiritual fulfilment. Unfortunately the lovers were caught, and the nun had to face up to both the wrath of the Lord, and more pertinently, the wrath of her senior sisters. Her punishment, it was deemed, was to be entombed within a small room of the grounds of the priory and left to suffocate – a common method of capital punishment as it was seen to absolve an individual of a murder, whilst ensuring that the job was done properly. In Silas’ own words, ‘her wails and moans must have been heard long into the night as the walls of her tomb grew ever higher’. Yet although she was certainly shuffled off this mortal coil, there have since been reports of apparitions and ghostly sightings of a woman around the boarded up passageway between Brighton Place and Meeting House Lane. Silas hypothesised that this might have been the intended meeting point for the two lovers, and the area is now haunted by a displaced spirit still searching for her lost soldier."  (From the Brighton Dome blog.)

The new street sign - with the "i" blocked out by a local.
And finally, to revert to the word "laine".  The words "lane" and "laine" are not interchangeable, although some three or four years ago the Council decided to put a name sign on a narrow alley off Bond Street.  "Bond Street Laine" they called it, much to the indignation of certain locals, although that, apparently, was the name allocated by East Sussex County Council more than thirty years previously.  Harried by local history societies, the Council applied to the magistrates' court to change the name to "Lane", but, in view of the costs involved, decided not to pursue the matter.  So a narrow alley in central Brighton is still known as a meadow!

Friday, 23 October 2015

Busy day

I have spent much of the day struggling with a newish concept for English charities: charitable incorporated organisations.  My mind is bushed and there is no way I am going to attempt an explanation.  Nor can I find the mental energy to write anything, so I will simply post an autumnal picture taken in the Forêt de Juigné, not a great distance from our French hideaway.



Thursday, 22 October 2015

A brief history of Brighton, part 1

Although I am not a born Brightonian (the Old Bat is), I have lived in Brighton for 45 years.  In fact, I have lived in what is now the City of Brighton & Hove for nearly 60 years.  Mind you, the former town has been know as Brighton for rather longer than that.

It started out, as far as we can tell, as Bristelmestune.  Indeed, that is how it is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, although it was also known as Brighthelmstone, especially for 400 years or so between the 14th and 18th centuries.  The name is supposed to be of Saxon origin, deriving from Beorthelm + tūn—the homestead of Beorthelm, a common Saxon name associated with villages elsewhere in England. The tūn element is common in Sussex, especially on the coast.  That said, there are examples of people living in the area much earlier than in Saxon times.

A Neolithic (New Stone Age) encampment dating from about 3000BC stood on Whitehawk Hill, there was a Bronze Age settlement in what is now Coldean and Hollingbury hill fort (generally known to locals as the Roman camp) dates from about 200 or 300BC.  The Romans did come eventually, in the 1st century AD, and built a number of villas.  After the Romans left in the early 4th century AD, the Brighton area returned to the control of the native Celts. Anglo-Saxons then invaded in the late 5th century AD, and the region became part of the Kingdom of Sussex, or South Saxons, founded in 477 AD by king Ælle.

The village had been built where there was easy access for boats and in a spot sheltered by the hills to the north - the South Downs.  A stream, the Winterbourne, flowed into the sea to provide water.  By the time of the survey for the Domesday Book, the population was about 400 and an annual rent of 4,000 herrings was established.

Now, the city is the largest on the south coast of England with a population estimated at 281,000 in 2014, greater than Portsmouth, Southampton or Plymouth.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Trafalgar Day revisited

On 21st October 1805, a British fleet commanded by Admiral Lord Nelson (he of the one eye and one arm)  defeated a combined French and Spanish fleet off Cape Trafalgar, south-west Spain.  Nelson flew his flag in HMS Victory, commander Captain Hardy.


Nelson: “Order the signal, Hardy."
Hardy: “Aye aye, sir"
Nelson: “Hold on, that's not what I dictated to Flags. What's the meaning of this?"
Hardy: “Sorry, sir.”
Nelson (reading aloud): “England experts every person to do his or her duty, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religious persuasion or disability----what gobbledegook is this?”
Hardy: “Admiralty policy, I'm afraid, sir. We're an equal opportunities employer now. We had the devil's own job getting 'England' past the censors, lest it be considered racist.”
Nelson: “Gadzooks, Hardy. Hand me my pipe and tobacco.”
Hardy: “Sorry sir. All naval vessels have now been designated smoke-free working environments.”
Nelson: “In that case, break open the rum ration. Let us splice the main brace to steel the men before battle.”
Hardy: “The rum ration has been abolished, Admiral. It's part of the Government's policy on binge drinking.”
Nelson: “Good heavens, Hardy. I suppose we'd better get on with it. Full speed ahead.”
Hardy: “I think you'll find that there's a 4 knot speed limit in this stretch of water.”
Nelson: “Damn it man! We are on the eve of the greatest sea battle in history. We must advance with all dispatch.
Report from the crow's nest please.”
Hardy: “That won't be possible, sir.”
Nelson: “What?”
Hardy: “Health and Safety have closed the crow's nest, sir. No harness, and they said that rope ladders don't meet regulations. They won't let anyone up there until a proper scaffolding can be
erected.”
Nelson: “Then get me the ship's carpenter without delay, Hardy.”
Hardy: “He's busy knocking up a wheelchair access to the fo’c’sle, Admiral.”
Nelson: “Wheelchair access? I've never heard anything so absurd.”
Hardy: “Health and safety again, sir. We have to provide a barrier-free environment for the differently abled”
Nelson: “Differently abled? I've only one arm and one eye and 1 refuse even to hear mention of the word. I didn’t rise to the rank of Admiral by playing the disability card.”
Hardy: “Actually, sir you did. The Royal Navy is under represented in the areas of visual impairment and limb deficiency.”
Nelson: “Whatever next? Give me full sail. The salt spray beckons.”
Hardy: “A couple of problems there too, sir. Health and safety won't let the crew up the rigging without hard hats. And they don't want anyone breathing in too much salt - haven't you seen the
adverts'?| .
Nelson: “I've never heard such infamy. Break out the cannon and tell the men to stand by to engage the enemy.”
Hardy: “The men are a bit worried about shooting at anyone, Admiral.”
Nelson: “What? This is mutiny.”
Hardy: “lt's not that sir. lt's just that they're afraid of being charged with murder if they actually kill anyone. There's a couple of legal-aid lawyers on board, watching everyone like hawks.”
Nelson: “Then how are we to sink the Frenchies and the Spanish?”
Hardy: “Actually, sir, we're not.”
Nelson: “We’re not?”
Hardy: “No, sir. The French and the Spanish are our European partners now. According to the Common Fisheries Policy, we shouldn't even be in this stretch of water. We could get hit with a claim or compensation.”
Nelson: “But you must hate a Frenchman as you hate the devil.”
Hardy: “I wouldn't let the ship's diversity co-ordinator hear you saying that sir. You'll be up on disciplinary report.”
Nelson: “You must consider every man an enemy, who speaks ill of your King.”
Hardy: “Not any more, sir. We must be inclusive in this multicultural age. Now put on your Kevlar vest; it's the rules. It could save your life.”
Nelson: “Don't tell me - health and safety. Whatever happened to rum, sodomy and the lash?”
Hardy: “As I explained, sir, rum is off the menu! And there's a ban on corporal punishment.”
Nelson: “What about sodomy?”
Hardy: “I believe that is now legal, sir.”
Nelson : “In that case .......................kiss me, Hardy.”

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Tokenism rules!

It is just possible that some people may be offended by the odd word or two or even the opinions expressed in this post.  Believe me, I am not out to offend, I'm simply ignorant of the currently politically correct terminology/

Anyway, tokenism in all its forms offends me.  You know what I mean: why should anybody employ a man/woman/black/Asian/lesbian just so that the ethnic or whatever minority is represented?  Surely any position, be it paid or voluntary, should be filled by the best qualified person available?

This has come to the forefront of my mind because of a new television programme soon to be aired by the BBC.  It also raises the question; should art reflect real life or try to influence real life?  The programme I'm talking about is a fictional police drama set (and filmed) right here in Brighton.  the local paper printed pictures of  five members of the cast.  Three are white, one Asian and one black.  Now, I know that the population of Brighton contains people of all shapes sizes and colours - but it just so happens that none of the police officers I have seen in the city have been anything other than white.

A long-running (police) series - now finished - was set in the fictional English county of Midsomer and filmed largely in Buckinghamshire.  Each programme was set in what many would describe as idealised English villages, full of thatched cottages, village greens and country pubs.  The sort of places where the entire population is white.  There were complaints that no coloured person appeared in the cast, so one programme featured an Asian pharmacist and his daughter.  Tokenism.

And we see the same thing happening in posed photographs for advertisements: a group of people, supposedly from England, contains one each white, black and Asian.  Yet the population of England is nowhere near so evenly spread.  The 2011 census showed that 87% are white, 7% Asian and just 3% black.  The remaining 3% were basically mixed or other races.  Shouldn't our television programmes and so on reflect that ratio?

OK, rant over!

Monday, 19 October 2015

Dumbing down

I don't know that I entirely disapprove of the trend towards a more casual lifestyle that is becoming evident in society but there are times when I think it has gone, or is going, just a little too far.  The time was when the BBC required announcers on the radio to wear evening dress - presumably only after about 6pm! - in case they had to interview guests on their way to or from dinner and who were dressed accordingly.  Nowadays, television news readers - well, the men, anyway - always wear a suit and tie, but it is increasingly common to see reporters tieless.  My opinion is that a reporter (or correspondent) covering a press conference should dress for the part, which means at least wearing a tie if the person involved is a man.

A more casual approach has also grown up around what were at one time fairly formal occasions.  Most men attending a Lions Club charter night dinner and dance still wear dinner jackets and bow ties.  At least, they do in this country.  And when smoking was still legal, nobody would light up until given permission to do so after the Loyal Toast.  Similarly, nobody left the table until the Loyal Toast had been drunk; nowadays people wander about at will.

Some years ago, when I was President of Brighton Lions Club, the guest of honour was the Mayor of Brighton, who, that year happened to be a lady.  Everybody had been served with their starters but nobody was eating.

"Why is nobody eating?" the Mayor asked me.

"They are waiting for you to start," I replied.

Can you imagine that happening today?

And the office dress code has become almost redundant.  When I started my working life in a bank, men were expected to wear suits Monday to Friday, a suit being matching jacket and trousers.  Sports coats were permitted on Saturdays.  A sports coat was made from tweed and the definition didn't cover other "smart casual" jackets that are seen these days.  Actually, I'm not sure that they even existed back then.

But I have to say I'm more than happy just to look at the ties in the wardrobe and wear one only very occasionally.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Feeling my age

I have been a regular visitor to the local pharmacy for some time and have got to know the girls quite well, one of them being especially friendly.

For the record, there are eight different drugs in the cupboard supplied to me under prescription; thanks heavens for the NHS!

Anyway, it was a damp, drizzly day with a very cold north-east wind blowing when I called to collect a new prescription on Friday.  As I left, the young assistant (probably aged about 30, although I am very bad at guessing the age of young ladies) said to me, "Now you wrap up warm".  I know she meant it kindly, but it is only today that it has dawned on me how this is something the young say to the elderly!

Saturday, 17 October 2015

The birds and . . .

While walking the dog this afternoon across the South Downs, I was astonished to see a small flock of swallows.  Swallows in Sussex in mid-October!  I think I have heard of them over-wintering in England occasionally, but surely that only happened in the south-west?  Still, I don't suppose they will be staying around much longer.  It's very definitely getting colder.

Thinking of birds, I have been trying to find out if house sparrows and greenfinches interbreed.  There is a flock of sparrows around here with several greenfinches in its number.  While they have the greenfinch's yellow wing flash and the rump and tail markings of the greenfinch, their body colour is much more drab than usual, closely resembling a plainer female sparrow's brown than the finches more vivid green.

Maybe I've stumbled upon a naturalist's first!

Friday, 16 October 2015

Pens again

It's quite possibly something to do with my age, but I find these days that the slightest thing can trigger memories.  Like the word 'pens'.

It was way back in 1960 that I started employment with a High Street bank.  In those days, of course, I was the lowest of the low - and my duties as a junior clerk were in line with my lowly status.  Mr Biro, that Hungarian gentleman, had invented the tool that has desecrated handwriting but it had not then become the common implement that it is today.  Back then, dip pens were still in widespread use and it was my duty, every morning, to ensure that the inkwells on the customers' side of the counter were full and that the nibs on the pens were not splayed, and to change the blotting paper.  Woe betide me if the Chief Clerk spotted one of the previous day's blots!

There were machines, complicated adding machine type things, on which customers' statements were typed but the bank's ledgers were hand-written.  These ledgers were large - possibly two feet from top to bottom and eighteen inches across and they could be three inches thick.  They were loose-leaf binders which could only be opened in the presence of two people, each of whom held one of the two keys needed to open the ledger.  Blank sheets were also kept strictly under dual control.  The ledger clerks each had two inkwells and two pens, one for black ink, the other for red.  Ballpoint pens were strictly forbidden.

It was only years later that the bank discovered that the ink in ballpoint pens lasted better than the Stephens' blue-black or red that was the standard issue.

Another of my duties as a junior was to accompany the First Cashier (definitely Initial Capitals!) to collect coins from another branch.  The branch at which I worked used a lot of change, most of it 'bought' from us by the local shopkeepers, and we never had enough paid in.  Another branch across town got too much paid in (the bus company banked with them) so we would, from time to time, go there to collect some.  We hired a flat-bed lorry to transport it, and on the return journey it was my job to ride shotgun, sitting on bags of pennies, threepenny bits, sixpences, shillings, florins and half crowns.

Some two years later I had been transferred to a different branch (promoted) and I was responsible for manning a sub-branch two mornings a week - just me and a pensioner employed as a guard(!).  One of my customers was an elderly man aged 90+.  He had retired from the bank in the 1930s and, if I was not busy when he called, I delighted in hearing his tales of life in the Union Bank of Brighton in the 19th century.  I recall him telling me that the bank (later subsumed into Barclays) had two partners; one acted as the manager, the other as the cashier.  Favoured customers would be invited to "step along to the end of the counter and partake of a glass of Madeira".

How things have changed!

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Pens

I had to buy a new pen the other day.  I have been retired for more than thirteen years and in all that time this is the first pen I have bought.  In fact, I didn't (as far as I can remember) buy any pens for some few years before I retired.  Well, you know how it is.  When one works in an office where pens are bought by the truck load, the occasional one slips into the jacket pocket either accidentally or accidentally on purpose, and - hey presto! - there's another pen at home for writing the shopping list, completing (or attempting to complete) the crossword puzzle and all sorts of other nefarious uses.  Morally, I suppose it is incorrect, a form of theft, but my attitude (and I was the boss) was that the leakage caused this way by the staff was so slight as to be ignored.

Anyway, since I retired I have still had any need to buy a pen until this week.  I have managed to maintain sufficient stocks of advertising pens, often sent by charities in the hope that I would complete the accompanying direct debit mandate or catalogue sales companies, for the need not to arise.

I do have a very nice fountain pen - somewhere - and I would prefer to use that as it impels me to improve my handwriting considerably compared to the doctor-type scrawl which is all I can manage with a ballpoint pen.  But I do find it a drag to have to wave the paper about in the air to get the ink to dry, and I do seem to be forever needing to refill the pen so it rarely sees the light of day.

Of course, since I bought the new pen there have been several arrive in then post and I have discovered a few more in other parts of the house.  But isn't that just the way of the world?

And just in case you might be under the impression that I bought some extravagantly expensive writing implement, I should tell you that I bought a pack of ten for the princely sum of 28p!

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

River Trout

No, I'm not posting anything about fish.  In fact, I've nothing for you today so I thought I would simply post this picture, taken almost exactly eleven years ago, of the River Trout, Vermont.  I had caught a glimpse of the river as we crossed a bridge and I thought it might be worth a picture so i stopped the car.  By the time I got back to the bridge, serendipity had come into play and the cows had decided to take a drink, vastly improving the picture.