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


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


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
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


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.

Monday, 12 October 2015

On this day . . .

Edith Cavell, a British nurse, was matron of the Berkendael Institute in Brussels from 1907, where she helped pioneer modern nursing techniques in Belgium.  She was in England on leave when war broke out in 1914 but quickly returned to Belgium, where she insisted that soldiers of both sides should receive medical care without fear or favour.  But she did help British soldiers to escape and was arrested by the Germans in 1915, charged with treason.  Found guilty, she was sentenced to death and the next day, 12 October 1915, she was executed by firing squad.

The British government used her death as an effective propaganda weapon and, such was the anger in Britain, recruitment numbers rose from 5,000 to 10,000 a week.  In Canada, she was featured on a poster urging men to enlist.  Postcards were printed as well.
Her body was exhumed in 1919 and given a military escort to Westminster Abbey for a memorial ceremony, after which she was re-buried in the grounds of Norwich cathedral.

Just before her execution, she is reported to have said, "Standing as I do in view of God and Eternity, I realize that patriotism is not enough. I have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone".

Sunday, 11 October 2015

The Mary Rose

Thirty-three years ago today, the timbers of the Mary Rose were lifted above the waters of the Solent, more than 400 years after she had sunk.

According to BT: "The recovery of the vessel - Henry VIII’s naval flagship – had taken 11 years and cost some £4 million to achieve, and was even then jeopardised through technical issues with the complex apparatus used in the salvage operation.

"The ship’s hull had already been emptied and braced, then attached to a frame that was gradually lifted to take its remains off the sea bed. A huge crane was then used to lift them onto a specially-constructed cradle, cushioned with air bags.

"With a number of small boats in attendance filled with spectators – including Prince Charles, President of the Mary Rose Trust - the raising of the cradle, hull and lifting frame began early on the morning of October 11, with the timbers of the ship breaking the surface at 9.03am.  As they did so, a cannon was fired from the ramparts of Southsea Castle, where the king had stood and watched his flagship keel over four centuries earlier."

Construction began on the Mary Rose in 1510 and she was launched in July of the following year. The ship weighed around 500 tons when first built; it is estimated that around 600 trees, mostly oaks, were used in her construction.
  • The ship was substantially rebuilt in 1536, turning it into one of 700 tons and adding an entire extra tier of broadside guns. These and other, later improvements may have contributed to its loss nine years later.
  • The Mary Rose could have operated with a crew as small as 17 when laid up in peacetime, but at war would usually have held somewhere between 400-450 men, and sometimes as many as 700 in extremely cramped conditions.
  • While engaging French ships on the day of her loss (19th July 1545), the Mary Rose made to turn but a strong wind made her lean heavily over to the right, allowing water to gush in through her open gunports, which were as little as a metre above the water line.
  • As few as 35 men from the crew of at least 400 survived the sinking.  Several were killed by cannon, other objects or men falling on them as the ship keeled over, while many others were crushed trying to reach the upper decks via narrow companionways.
 The preserved remains of the ship and numerous artefacts are now displayed in a purpose-built museum in Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard, close to HMS Victory, probably Britain's most famous warship.  I have been on the Victory, and hope one day to see the Mary Rose.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Food for kings

Borrowed from the Daily Mail
Hot buttered toast spread with Bovril!

I know the French think that they invented good food, but they are wrong!  There are, too, lovers of Italian, Indian, Greek, Thai, Chinese and Japanese cooking - and I don't mean to suggest that those cuisines are without any merit - but to my mind, the whole world owes a great deal to Great British cooking.

Not everybody - not even every Englishman! - likes Bovril and perhaps it is something of an acquired taste: according to the Wiki, Bovril is the trademarked name of a thick, salty meat extract, developed in the 1870s.    Much to my surprise, I found that Bovril was invented (if that's the right word to use for a food product) by a Scotsman in Canada at the request of the French ruler, Napoleon III.  Well, that's almost true.  In fact, Napoleon III wanted beef, a million tins of it, to feed his troops in the Franco-Prussian War and gave the order to John Lawson Johnston, the Scotsman living in Canada.  Storage and transport for a million tins of beef would prove problematical, so Johnston developed 'Johnston's Fluid beef', later to be known as Bovril.

I don't know if Bovril's distinctive brown glass jar is registered as a trademark.  If not, it certainly ought to be.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

What happened to Rover?

There was a time when dogs would be called Rover or Fido or Skipper.  On the whole, the names used for dogs were not names that would be used for babies, although there were exceptions.  Farmers - especially shepherds - used a number of traditional names, names that were short and distinctive - Rob, Meg, Gyp, Beau and so on.  the OB and I almost cringed when we were told the name of the dog we took from a rescue centre half a century ago: Sandy.  It was not that Sandy was a particularly embarrassing name to have to call in the park, but it was just too common.  We would have preferred something a little more original.

Our second dog was bought as a puppy and we allowed the children to give him his name.  They decided on Rags, being heavily influenced by the children's television programme, Blue Peter.  Then came Bramble - a name I later found to be surprisingly common - and now, Fern, a sort of continuation in the same vein.

There seems recently to have been a trend developing for people to give their dogs real names.  Not that Rover and Gyp aren't real names, of course.  I suppose what I mean is human names as opposed to canine ones.  Walking in the park the other day, I looked down to see a small, pug-like dog trying to climb my leg.  "Geoffrey," its owner called, "what do you think you are doing?"  Well, I assumed the owner was calling her dog and had not confused me with someone else.

But I ask you: Geoffrey?  For a dog?

I have also met Nigel, Eric and Albert in the past few months.  Now I scan the hatched, matched and despatched columns looking for a boy called Rover.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015


The first time I visited Pouancé I thought what a scruffy, unprepossessing, little town it was.  That was almost exactly thirteen years ago.  My opinion since then has changed little.  I still think it is a scruffy, unprepossessing, little town - but I have really come to like the place despite its less than attractive appearance.

Pouancé is situated just in the Maine et Loire département of France (almost the equivalent of our counties) facing into Brittany.  In the way back, a Duke of Anjou built a castle there to defend his dukedom against marauding hordes of Bretons and nowadays the town proudly proclaims its château-fort - despite the fact that there is very little of it left, although it does look somewhat better when seen from the airfield.

Not far from the castle is the 15th century town gate, the Porte Angevine seen here from both sides.

Delusions of grandeur persist in the meant-to-be-impressive hôtel de ville - but it's only one room deep!

And despite the town being on the back road to nowhere, the junction in front of the hôtel de ville has been named  "the crossroads of Europe"!

All the same, there are some very attractive or intriguing little corners.

Monday, 5 October 2015

There's a conspiracy afoot.

It has nothing to do with Messrs Cameron, Corbyn, Farage or the other fellow whose name I have completely forgotten.  Indeed, it is international rather than domestic.  I think it is probably something to do with Mr Putin.  After all, the salt mines are in Siberia, aren't they?

You see, it does have a salty connection.  It is a conspiracy to bring down the West by preventing us from washing up, thereby forcing us to use dirty dishes and develop sundry foul and noxious ailments.  A form of bacteriological warfare.

Many years ago, the Old Bat and I were introduced to the delights of dish-washing machines when visiting a cousin in the wilds of Scotland.  After we returned to civilisation, we set about extending our kitchen to give us room to install one of these beasts.  Well, we planned to extend the kitchen anyway and it just so happened that by doing so we could fit in a dishwasher.  Dishwashers, as you are possibly aware, have to be fed with salt, supposedly (if you believe the adverts) to make glassware sparkle.  A couple of weeks ago I tipped the last of the salt into the machine so, on my next visit to the nearest supermarket, I went to buy a fresh supply, only to find an empty space on the shelf.  A few days later, at a different supermarket, I had the same experience.

Has the supply of salt from the Siberian mines been cut off?

Of course there are things that, for one reason or another, have to be washed by hand - using a washing-up brush.  I decided weeks - or maybe even months - ago that our washing-up brush was way past it's best before date.  I fully intended to buy a new one, but somehow it never made its way onto the shopping list until I wanted to buy dishwasher salt.  And if a thing is not on the shopping list, there is no chance that I will remember it when I arrive at the store.

I trawled Asda and Sainsburys, looking for washing up brushes, in vain.  I went round again, double checking.  None.  In France, I tried at Auchan without success, then Super U.  Still nothing.  Are we now not supposed to do washing up?

I did eventually find one - just one - hiding at the back of a shelf in Leclercs and we drove back from France last week triumphantly waving our new washing up brush from the car window.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Gimme the moonlight

I have actually been back from France for a few days now but such has been the frantic pace of life that there has been far too little time to string together a few words worth posting on the blog.  There is still plenty that I should be doing, but what the heck.

We don't use curtains in France.  We do have curtains, but those in the bedrooms are really only there for show, as decorations.  They are flimsy gauze and would be absolutely useless at shutting out any light at all.  But we do have solid, wooden shutters and they do the job most admirably.  Most of the time.  The shutters are mounted on the outside of the windows and close into the recess.  This means that there are narrow gaps between the window surround and the shutters on both sides and at the top and bottom.  It just so happened that when I got into bed one night last week, the full (or all but full) moon was in a clear sky and was at exactly the right height to shine through the gap at the top of the shutters and onto my pillow.  It brought to my mind a night in 1953.

I was then away from home at school in Ventnor, a small town on the south coast of the Isle of Wight.  Ventnor is built on a hill and the school was almost at the top.  My dormitory windows provided a view across the town and out over the sea.  The windows were uncurtained and for some reason I no longer know, there was a time when I would lie in bed trying to keep awake as long as possible.  I could measure the time by the striking of the church clock, which was both visible and audible from my bed.  The night I particularly remember must have been in June that year, after the naval review in Spithead held to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.  The Chilean navy had been represented by a three-masted sail training ship and it was that ship I recall seeing as it sailed across a moonlit sea in the early hours one morning, a sight I have never forgotten.