Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Election fever

Prime Minister David Cameron made the trip to Buckingham Palace yesterday to formally ask the Queen to summon the new parliament to meet on Monday 18 May, and so begins officially the 2015 election process.  Just 24 hours in and already I am bored both with and by the same-old same-old.

There was a time when a voter had - in reality - just three choices; to vote for the candidate representing the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, or the Liberal Party.  Granted, there were always a few wild cards like Screaming Lord Such or the occasional Communist Party candidate, and even a sprinkling of independents.  But none of them ever had a snowball's hope in Hell of ever being elected.  No, it was just the Tories, the Socialists and the Liberals - now the Liberal Democrats through a series of splits and amalgamations.  And of those, it would be either the Tories or the Socialists who formed the government.  How things have changed.

Over time - or so it seemed to me - the Conservatives moved towards the centre, the Labour Party edged in as well - and lo and behold!  there was little to tell the difference between them.  The result?  The mish-mash that we have endured for the past five years, a coalition of the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems forming a government.  This has meant that neither party has been able to do much of what it laid out in its manifesto because a coalition required compromise.

This year, things are even worse.  As well as the three "main" parties, we have the UK Independence Party, who want us to leave the EU; the Green Party, who don't seem to know quite what they want or how to achieve it (just look at the mess they have made of running Brighton & Hove); Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalists who have always fielded a few candidates in Welsh constituencies; and - the fly in the ointment - the Scottish Nationalist Party., who are expected to take many of Labour's traditional seats in Scotland.

The whole thing is beginning to resemble those parliamentary farces they have in Italy where the country is so often governed by a coalition of three or more parties.

I wish I could simply hibernate for the next five weeks.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Daylight savings

I really can't imagine why the powers that were saw fit to describe putting the clocks forward an hour in summer as saving daylight.  It doesn't matter a fig how we set our clocks; Old Ma Nature doesn't allow us to put daylight aside, saving it for later.  We are given our however-many-hours each day.  If we decide not to make use of it, tough.  We won't get those hours given to us again.

Putting the clocks forward at an unearthly hour yesterday morning hasn't helped me at all today.  I've still run out of time and I am only now, shortly before the Old Bat serves up tonight's supper (moussaka, in case you're interested), getting round to thinking about blogging.

So that's it; I've thought, I've done.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Who do we think we are?

The English are, without mincing words, a mongrel race.  We have, mixed up in our blood, vestiges of Celts, Saxons, Angles, Jutes, Danes, Vikings, possibly Romans, and definitely French.  Well, Norman - and the Norman blood is basically Viking, Norman being a corruption of Norseman.  That, at any rate, was my thinking.  Of course, all those racial sources are centuries old and there have undoubtedly been more blood-types thrown into the mix during the last couple of hundred years, but I am concerned here with the long ago.

I wouldn't say that my ideas have been blown out of the water exactly, but they have most definitely been subject to - shall I say - modification.  Research published earlier this month shows that there are distinct DNA grouping around the country.  For example, the Cornish DNA is different from the Devon as shown on this map.

The research studied the DNA of "white British people who lived in rural areas and had four grandparents all born within 50 miles (80km) of each other. Since a quarter of our genome comes from each of our grandparents, the scientists were effectively obtaining a snapshot of British genetics at at the beginning of the 20th century."

What is quite surprising is the lack of Norman influence in the DNA, most people being distinctly Anglo-Saxon.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Thoughts on reading the newspaper

Actually, I wasn't so much reading the local freebie yesterday as glancing at the advertising wrap-around.  There, with two photos, one six months before, the other six months after (according to the captions), was a young lady who was quoted as saying, "I'm getting married in six months and i need a brilliant smile".  I was so enraged that I n early smacked the dog over the head with my bowl of muesli.

"No!" I shouted, "you don't NEED a brilliant smile; you would like to have one."

You probably guessed by now that I am on one of my favourite hobbyhorses; the sloppy use of the English language.  I know, I really shouldn't get so worked up about such a little thing as the use of "need" in place of "would like".  but I'm afraid it's just a red rag to a bull as far as I am concerned.

The English language is considered by many to be the richest language in the world.  We have more words to describe a gradation of emotion than any other language, so why do professional copywriters (and a host of others to whom words are a way of making a living) use only the top and tail of that list: love, and hate.  What's wrong with all the words in between, such as like, dislike, abhor, adore and all the others?

My second thought is not a rant, merely a "wonder why".  It concerns the crash of the German plane that, it transpires, was the result of the co-pilot suffering from depression and committing suicide, at the same time killing all the passengers and the rest of the crew.

Why have the European authorities not adopted the American rule that if the pilot or co-pilot leaves the cockpit, another member of the crew moves in so that there is never just one person in the cockpit at any one time?

And why did nobody notice that the co-pilot was ill?

Friday, 27 March 2015

A load of Blarney

Skip mentioned that he is planning a holiday - alright, he calls it a vacation, which sounds a bit like doing Number 2s - in Ireland.

I think that perhaps my vast experience of the Emerald Isle might be of some use to him in his planning so as a matter of civic courtesy I propose to warn him tell him of some of the delights to be found.

It was way back in 1965 that i first visited what Skip might think of as The Ould Country.  The Old Bat and I flew into Dublin, where we picked up a hire car.  We spent just the one night in Molly Malone's fair city - and what a flea bag it was.  We couldn't wait to get out and head south for Wicklow and Waterford.  They make very nice crystal there, not that we could afford to buy any given our impecunious fairly-newly-married status.  From here we headed westwards, towards the rougher part of the country.

Firs stop (or it might have been the second; it happened so long ago that I've forgotten most of the details) Blarney castle for to kiss the jolly old Blarney Stone.  Yes, you doubting Thomases, it really does exist!

You have to lean backwards and reach across the gap to kiss the stone while being held safely by the local guide - always assuming you have tipped him sufficiently.  And no, that's not me in the picture, though I'm sure I had a photo somewhere.  there are, naturally - this is Ireland after all - several legends surrounding this stone, which, on being kissed, bestows eloquence on the kisser.

Some say it was Jacob’s Pillow, brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah.  It was also said to be the deathbed pillow of St Columba on the island of Iona. Legend says it was then removed to mainland Scotland, where it served as the prophetic power of royal succession, the Stone of Destiny.  When Cormac MacCarthy, King of Munster, sent five thousand men to support Robert the Bruce in his defeat of the English at Bannockburn in 1314, a portion of the historic Stone was given by the Scots in gratitude – and returned to Ireland.  A witch saved from drowning later revealed its power to the MacCarthys.

Both the Old Bat and I survived the experience and carried on the the far south-west of the island.  It was here, for the first and last time in my life, that I was persuaded to mount a real horse!

You will notice that scant regard was shown for health and safety.  But I much preferred the dogs at a farm we stayed at.

We booked into a hotel in Killarney for a couple of nights, allowing us to take a day trip round the Ring of Kerry.  It seems to have been developed into a much more popular tourist attraction than is was back in 1965.

Part way round, we stopped at a cottage advertising morning coffee.  The lady asked us where we were staying and we told her we were in Killarney.  She promptly exclaimed that everybody in that wicked city was a thief - and then proceeded to charge me at least twice what I would normally have paid for two coffees!  I was too gob-smacked to say anything!

We then headed north along the western coastline into Galway and Connemara.  I suppose it could have been considered scenic, but to me it was desolate and lonely.  The fields were littered with large rocks, the houses little more than thatched hovels.

Anyway, Skip, I'm sure you will enjoy your holiday, though I confess I have never been back again.

Thursday, 26 March 2015


So I took a leaf out of Skip's book, who had taken a leaf out of...  Well, never mind.  What it comes down to is that I tried out that thingy where you type in your name and the computer tells you what a wonderful person you are.  Guess what?
You are full of energy. You are spirited and boisterous.
You are bold and daring. You are willing to do some pretty outrageous things.
Your high energy sometimes gets you in trouble. You can have a pretty bad temper at times.

You are wild, crazy, and a huge rebel. You're always up to something.
You have a ton of energy, and most people can't handle you. You're very intense.
You definitely are a handful, and you're likely to get in trouble. But your kind of trouble is a lot of fun.

You tend to be pretty tightly wound. It's easy to get you excited... which can be a good or bad thing.
You have a lot of enthusiasm, but it fades rather quickly. You don't stick with any one thing for very long.
You have the drive to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time. Your biggest problem is making sure you finish the projects you start.

You are usually the best at everything ... you strive for perfection.
You are confident, authoritative, and aggressive.
You have the classic "Type A" personality.

You are very intuitive and wise. You understand the world better than most people.
You also have a very active imagination. You often get carried away with your thoughts.
You are prone to a little paranoia and jealousy. You sometimes go overboard in interpreting signals. 
As I say, hmm.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015


Few things are impossible to diligence and skill. Great works are performed not by strength, but perseverance.
Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784) 

The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will; and the other from a strong won't.
Henry Ward Beecher (1813 - 1887)

I have never been quite sure if the Old Bat is obstinate or persevering; perhaps the answer is both - in equal measure.  However, this past week  she has demonstrated her perseverance.  When we came back from France at the beginning of last week, she was well into developing a cold.  Today, she has finally succeeded in passing it on to me!

Actually, she must be feeling pretty rough because she has asked me to cook dinner.  ME!  COOK!  This calls for my version of penne a la matriciana.

And the cold calls for my favourite cure: fresh air and scotch.  I've had the fresh air - a couple of hours out with the dog - and I have promised myself a scotch this evening.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015


Richard of York gave battle in vain.

Indeed he did, at Bosworth in 1485 - although whether the acronym refers to King Richard III or his father, another Richard, Duke of York, who died at the battle of Wakefield and thus failed to become King of England, is uncertain.

What turbulent times those were, back in the 15th century.  England was riven apart by the Wars of the Roses in which the Tudors of Lancaster vied with the Plantagenets of York for the throne.  They were called the Wars of the Roses because each side had a rose as an emblem, the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York.  Bosworth was the final battle in the wars which led to the death of Richard, the last of the Plantagenets, and the rise of the Tudors.  (One needed to be pretty tough to be a king back in those days; the king was expected to lead his army into battle.)

Richard's body, stripped naked, was dragged from the battlefield and buried in a shallow grave at a monastery in Leicester.  The monastery eventually gave way to a car park (though I assume other buildings were there in between) and an architectural dig discovered the skeleton some two and a half years ago.  It was proved to be the skeleton of Richard III by DAN comparison, as explained by the University of Leicester:
"Cecily Neville, Richard’s mother, would have passed down her mitochondrial DNA type to all of her children. This means that Richard III and Anne of York inherited the same mtDNA from their mother - and as long as Anne’s daughter(s) had a daughter, who had a daughter (highly likely in an age when eight to ten children was common!) and so on, the mtDNA type (or a near identical type) will have been passed down those lines of descent. Michael Ibsen and Wendy Duldig are two such female-line relatives of Richard III."
Anyway, the remains are to be re-interred later this week. Last Sunday, the coffin containing the skeleton was taken from the University to Bosworth and then back to Leicester where it is to lie in state in the cathedral.  I was amazed how many people turned out to watch:

Copied from telegraph.co.uk

There is still some confusion - and, indeed, argument -over whether or not Richard was the evil man portrayed by Shakespeare who was responsible for the murders of his two nephews, both of whom were before him in the line of succession and by whose deaths he became king.  It has been suggested that this story was made up by the Tudors, the last of whom was still ruling when Shakespeare is believed to have written his play (1592).  The Bard would not have wanted to cause offence to the sovereign, so he would have toed the party line - he probably knew no different anyway.

On the other hand, Richard is said to have been a good king and was responsible for introducing a number of significant changes to English law, including the presumption of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and a reformation of the jury system.  But history is written by the victors.

Either way, on Thursday this week, King Richard will receive a proper burial - 530 years after his death!

Monday, 23 March 2015


You, dear reader, may blame Suldog for this post, if indeed blame is to be attributed.  You see, Jim wrote about how, when he was a few years younger than he professes to be now, he managed a baseball team which was known (or maybe unknown) as the Green Sox.  You can read about it right here if you feel so inclined.

I told him (in the comments), "One day - if you twist my arm very hard - I'll explain how I opened the batting for England against Australia"

Jim, who is never one to shirk a challenge, immediately took me up, replying, "I would LOVE to hear the story. Cricket, I assume"

So you see, it really is his fault that I am inflicting this cricketing tale on you.

I had quite forgotten about this story until I read Jim's post and I would have thought that it probably happened in the summer of 1954.  That may well be the case, but I had also thought that the Australian cricket team were touring England whereas they were in England in the summer of 1953.  But exactly when it happened is immaterial.

At that time, it was possible to buy a game which I now find is spelt "Owzthat".  The tin measures just over an inch on the longest side and contains two hexagonal dice.  One is the batsman's die and the sides are numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and Owzthat.  (I should perhaps explain that, in cricket, the fielding side appeals to the umpire by shouting, "How's that?")  The second die is the umpire's and the sides are marked ‘bowled’, ‘caught’, ‘not out’, ‘stumped’, ‘L.B.W.’ (leg before wicket) and ‘no ball’.

The batting side starts the game by rolling the batting die. Any runs signalled are recorded on the scorecard. When a 'owzthat' appeal is signalled, the umpire die is rolled for a decision. The batsman has a 1/3 chance of being not out, if the 'Not Out' or 'No Ball' is signalled. As in real cricket a 'No Ball' entitles the batsman to an additional strike (roll) and an extra run. A batsman is out if 'bowled', 'stumped', 'caught', or 'L.B.W.’ are signalled, and the next batsman comes to the crease. Depending on the cricket format the batting side is dismissed when all the batsmen are out or and if the over limit is reached. The other side then bats in an attempt to score more runs and hence win.

The game I remember was the one in which England (me) played Australia (can't remember who) and I opened the batting together with the now legendary Len Hutton.  Among the other members of the England team were Peter May , Colin Cowdrey and (my favourite) Godfrey Evans.

I know that England won the real-life Ashes series of 1954-55, but just who won the match in which I played is a fact lost in the mists of time.

There are several Owzthat games for sale on Ebay with asking prices as high as £30 - but I don't think I will be tempted, although this was a very popular game 60 years ago.

Sunday, 22 March 2015


Or rather, royalties.

I have received an email from Amazon telling me that the first royalty payment for Lavender For My Lady is on its way.  Not that I will see any of it as it is all being paid to Brighton Lions Charity Trust.  All £5.06 of it.  I don't think the treasurer will have any difficulty in explaining that the Lions are not engaging in money laundering!

It is said that everybody is entitled to their 15 minutes of fame.  Or something like that.  Well, I'm pleased to tell you that you, my faithful regular readers, can claim your 15 minutes-worth.  Maybe even more than 15 minutes.  You have, after all, had the opportunity to read the words and take part in electronic conversation with a best-selling author.  Yes, folks, that is me.  Mind you, Lavender appears to be slipping in the Amazon best-selling list.  I've just checked and see that it has fallen from number 203,228 to 249,917.  Calamity!  Disaster!

Saturday, 21 March 2015


My education, after infants school so we're talking from the age of 7 upwards, was single-sex.  juniors, aged 7 to 11, were split into boys schools and girls school.  In my case, the two schools were in the same building, although there was no interconnection.  Even the playground was divided by  a high chain-link fence.  From the age of 11, we were still in separate schools only these were on completely different campuses.  (Should the plural of campus be campi?)  I had no sister, but two girl cousins (one of whom I hardly ever saw, the other being ignored because her brothers were much more fun) and only one girl in the street (but she, and her brother, were largely ignored as uninteresting).  It wasn't until I was in the 6th form at school - aged 16 or 17 - that we were introduced to the girls in the neighbouring school, being encouraged to go to their school after hours for dancing lessons.  Perhaps it was because of my very limited contact with girls that I was awkward and shy about approaching them.  I have certainly felt that a mixed education would have made life very much easier when it came to going out with girls.

But just this week, a few senior educationalists have advocated single-sex education on the grounds that it allows boys to be boys and girls to be girls for longer.  They claim that by keeping the genders separate, there would be less pressure on each to play up to the other.

Trouble is, I can see good points in both single-sex and mixed education.


Whether or not it stems from my sheltered upbringing I couldn't say, but I am convinced that I will never understand women.  I suppose that if, at nearly 73, I haven't yet mastered the technique, there is little hope that I ever will.

But why is it that women can leave the second half of a sentence unspoken - and other women will know exactly what has not been said?  by the time two or three women have been just a couple of minutes into a conversation, I have lost it completely!

And please tell me that the Old Bat is not the only woman who says "Umm" both when she means "yes" and when she means "no".  It happened yesterday.  I asked if she would like me to do something which I thought she might find difficult and she answered, "Umm".  When I started doing it she almost screamed, "Why are you doing that?"

"Because you said, 'Umm'."

"But I meant 'No'."

I just couldn't be bothered to ask why she hadn't simply said that two-letter word.  Sometimes it's easier and better not to say anything.

Friday, 20 March 2015

This, that - and possibly the other

Well, that was very nearly a non-event.  The solar eclipse, I mean.  Here in south-east England the eclipse was due to be only about 83% although in other parts of the country I gather it was more like 95% or greater.  The only problem was the cloud cover - which in Brighton remained 10/10.  It did get a bit gloomy while I was out with the dog, and the temperature dropped quite dramatically.  But that was all.

I understand that the next major eclipse will be in 11 years' time.  I wonder if I will still be around to see it?


I have reached the stage of rarely bothering to correct people when, after we return from a short visit to France, they ask, "Did you have a good holiday?"  My point is that we haven't been on holiday; we've simply been living in our other home for a while, doing all the usual things like redecorating and gardening.


That takes care of the this and the that, but I've completely forgotten what the other was going to be!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Place names

This is, in a way, a sort of continuation of my post yesterday.  Or maybe it's just an offshoot.  Either way, the origin of place names some times jumps up and grabs me by the throat.  Or rather, the subject does.  I'm talking, really, about English place names; the names of towns and villages in this country.  There are many towns in Australia, America and Canada with names of English places, presumably because some of the early immigrant settlers in those places gave them the names of their home towns.  While that provides a hint to genealogists, it does little explain the real meaning of those names.

Many English (and Welsh and possibly Scottish) place names derive from two or three principal sources: Celtic, Roman and a sort of mixture of what is sometimes called Old English and sometimes Anglo-Saxon, ie Teutonic, languages.  For example, most people know that towns and cities whose names end in -caster, -cester or -chester were Roman camps or forts.  Examples are Lancaster, Worcester, Rochester.  Cornwall has many towns and villages starting Tre (Trenerth, Trenean, Trengale, Trengume, Trenhorne, Treningle, Treninnick are just a few).  These all date to Celtic times and the Tre means hamlet, village or town. 

But by far the most common source is Anglo-Saxon.  A common ending of town names is -ham, which is another word for village, town or even settlement.  The inclusion of -ing-, leading to the ending -ingham - as in Gillingham - means "the place of the people of", the first part of the name providing the clue to the local chieftain.  In the case of Gillingham (the Kent and Norfolk towns) it was Gylla but in Dorset it was Gythla, although I rather suspect that there were three chieftains each called Gylla.

Anyway, my old granny always said that little things please little minds, little pants fit little behinds.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Christmas dinner

Having managed to tear ourselves away from our second home in France, we had our Christmas dinner last night, probably the first time that anybody has eaten their Christmas dinner on St Patrick's Day.  And we didn't eat cabbage and whatever, nor was roast turkey on the menu.  But I suppose I should admit that it wasn't really Christmas dinner that we ate, but our Christmas present from my elder son.  He had given us a voucher for a meal at a pub some 30 minutes away, a pub that has received some very good reviews for its food.  And, in our opinion, those reviews are very well deserved.  I had an absolutely delicious starter of Welsh goats' cheese and caramelised onion tart on rocket while the Old Bat ate whitebait.  My main course was pan-fried guinea fowl served with mashed sweet potato, puy lentils and mange tout and the OB had Sussex lamb cutlets with roasted new potatoes and beetroot.  When we asked, the young lady who served us told us that the lamb came from Romney Marsh, which explained its magnificent flavour.  And we both chose Baileys panna cotta topped with chocolate for desert.

I only have the vaguest memory of ever having driven through the village once before.  Litlington is a small place with the pub where we ate - the Plough and Harrow - dating from the 17th century and tea gardens.

What I had never known until this morning when I looked up the village on the 'net is that Mrs Fitzherbert lived in the village.  It was she who married Prinny, who was to become Prince Regent (and later King George IV) and the man behind Brighton's Royal Pavilion.  The couple married in the village church and their names were recorded as Mr and Mrs Payne.  The marriage was, of course, illegal as Prinny had not obtained the consent of the King and, in any case, Mrs Fitzherbert was (I believe) a Catholic.

According to one source, Litlington is one of those Saxon fortified hill villages probably settled by Aelle after 477AD.  The name is derived from Wlitu(white) el(people) ington(fortified village on a hill) so becomes 'The white fortified village on the hill'.  Originally these ingtons were located at the top of the hills as defensive positions but moved lower down into the more productive lowlands once the area was under Saxon control. The white village probably refers to the chalk land surrounding the village.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Princess Row, Scene 10 - and the challenge!

The better weather that day had done little to inspire Max to start a new picture but at least he had thought about art for a change.  Idly flicking through some old magazines while Roger was watching television during the evening, he chanced upon an article about the Brighton Festival; in particular about the Artists= Open Houses.  It was not something he had ever taken part in: their own house was too small and he had never been able to face the bother of taking his pictures to another house where, as he put it, some ignorant amateur would hang his work as badly as it could be done.  Besides, he dreaded the thought that the chocolate-box kittens and pastel Downland views of other artists (not that he considered them to be Areal@ artists) would attract red Asold@ stickers, whereas at the end of the Festival he would be left to remove every one of his paintings.  He was surprised to see from illustrations of some of the art displayed the previous year that there were pictures displayed which looked almost as challenging as his own.  The article included a contact we site address.  Max deliberated for only a few minutes before powering up the computer and filling in the registration form.


So, the challenge.  Quite simply, where do you think the story should go from here?

Here are a few possibilities to stimulate your thoughts:

  • Does Irena act as a detective to solve a problem, with Tom as her (unlikely) assistant?
  • If there is a matter needing Irena to act as a detective, would that be:
  • financial irregularity spotted by Roger?
  • something arising from Max taking part in an Open House?
  • Could the new owner of the Carstairs' house know something in Irena's past which she wants kept secret?
  • Does Katie disappear, possibly kidnapped in a case of mistaken identity?
  • Does the burgeoning friendship between Tom and Irena develop further?
  • Who will buy the Carstairs' house, and what effect will he/she have on the storyline?
You may well feel that the comments box provides insufficient space for your contribution to this sure-to-be-best seller and, if so. you are welcome to email the next chapter or two to me at a special address set up for only this exercise: brighton.pensioner@orangehome.co.uk.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Princess Row, Scene 9

The first two weeks of January passed as those weeks so often do, with cold, grey, damp, miserable weather.  After a hectic time fulfilling commissions for Christmas, Nikki found she now had time on her hands, especially after Katie had gone back to school, and she couldn=t think what to do with herself.  Roger began to feel even more that his was a dead-end job and that he was just going through the motions in order to see the end-of-month pay slip.  The excitement of the pier picture had faded for Max and the grey light was not conducive to starting on a fresh canvas.  Ted and Val Watson didn=t really notice much difference from a month before: Ted still enjoyed his daily pint at the Porter=s B three on Sundays B and Val thought of little beyond her diet of television soap operas.  The Gee-Gees weren=t seen in Brighton, but a local estate agent was seen to visit number 72. A couple of days later, a board was fixed to the drainpipe advertising the house was for sale.
After two weeks of gloomy weather, Sunday was completely different: bright, dry B almost warm even.  Tom felt in need of a breath of fresh air after lunch and decided on a stroll along the sea front.  By coincidence, Irena had made the same decision and opened her door just as Tom was pulling his shut behind him.  Despite being next-door neighbours, they had neither spoken to nor even seen each other since Christmas Day.
>I was just going for a walk along the sea front,= announced Irena.  >It seemed a pity to waste such a nice afternoon just sitting around indoors.=
>Same here,= replied Tom.
They headed off towards Queen=s Road together in an awkward silence.  It was quite normal for Tom to have nothing to say for himself, the garrulousness of Christmas Day being a result of all the wine he had drunk, but Irena didn=t usually suffer from the same difficulty.  Years of telling strangers what lay in store for them had disposed of any shyness that she might have had.  By the time they reached the bottom of West Street, she had put Tom much more at ease and they were chatting quite comfortably.
They went through the underpass to the promenade and, by unspoken agreement, turned towards Hove, away from what they still regarded as the Palace Pier, Irena=s place of work.  The café on Hove Lawns was open for business and they went in search of a pot of tea.
>What made you take up fortune-telling?= asked Tom, feeling quite bold.
>Heavens, that was a long time ago.  I really wanted to be an actress but I just wasn=t good enough, so when I left school I got a job in a shop.  A fair came to town and I went along with some other girls.  We all had our fortunes told.  One of the girls got quite friendly with a chap who worked at the fair.  He told her that the fortune teller was having to give up and asked her if she knew anyone who would do it.  I think it was just a bit of a joke, really, but she took it seriously.
>I had always been a bit of a dreamer and could see pictures in the fire and all that sort of thing, so I tried looking at the patterns made by tea leaves in the bottom of cups.  I found I could see pictures in them as well, so it wasn=t too difficult to link them into stories about peoples futures.  Just for a giggle, and as a bit of a dare, I went along to the fair and offered to stand in for the fortune teller.  She never did come back, and when the fair left town, I went with them and it went on from there.=
Tom sat in silence and thought about this.  It sounded so much more exciting than the life he had led, going straight from school into his caretaker=s job at what was then the Polytechnic, a job he was still doing more than forty years later.
>I must seem a real stick-in-the-mud to you,= he ventured.
>No, not a stick-in-the-mud, just steady.=
>That=s the same thing, isn=t it?=
>I don=t think so.  Anyway, look at me.  I=ve been in the same place now for, what, fifteen years or so.  Perhaps I=ve got steady as I=ve got older.  But it=s starting to get chilly.  How about we head back and I toast some crumpets for tea?  I bought a pack when I was shopping this week and this seems just the right sort of day for them.=
Irena was about to put the crumpets under the grill when Tom had a thought.
>I=ve got a real toasting fork next door.  If we use that, we could sit in front of the fire to toast the crumpets.=
>This really brings back memories,= said Irena later, as they sat on the floor taking it in turns to hold the toasting fork, >except that we had a coal fire when I did this as a girl.=
>Whereabouts was that?=
They sat discussing their childhood memories until Tom happened to glance at his watch.

>Good heavens,= he exclaimed, >It=s eleven o=clock!  I must be going.=