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Lions Club web site could do with a slight alteration to make life easier when new pages need to be added or old, out of date pages deleted.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,

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!