Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Kissing is out

Yesterday being a fine, sunny summer's day I decided on a walk across 39 Acres and around the Roman Camp, which - as I'm pretty sure I have mentioned before - has nothing whatsoever to do with the Romans.  It's official name is Hollingbury Hill Fort and it dates from the Iron Age, thus predating the Romans in the British Isles by about 600 years.  Nevertheless, the locals, for some reason I have never discovered, call it the Roman Camp.  The defensive ditch and the ramparts remain, although the ditch is probably not as deep and the ramparts not as high as when the fort was constructed some 2500 years ago.  At a rough guess, the camp/fort covers about 30 acres with perhaps a quarter covered in gorse.  Each year, the council cuts a section of the gorse down to the ground but it very soon grows again and the oldest plants are well over six feet tall.  But what surprised me yesterday was the lack of blooms.  Not a single yellow flower was there to be seen!

Now my old granny was full of wise and not-so-wise, pithy and not-so-pithy sayings, but never once did I hear her say, "Kissing's in season when gorse is in bloom".  But with no gorse in bloom, presumably kissing is out of season.

Not that it makes much difference to me at my age.

Situated within the ramparts are a number of disc barrows, a relatively rare kind of Bronze Age burial mound which predate the Iron Age defensive measures by anything up to about 1500 years.  They would have been the burial sites of important people, possibly chieftains.  The largest in the Roman Camp provides quite a view across Brighton and out to sea.  Several times I have seen people picnicking on this spot, probably quite unaware of what they are sitting on.  The evil in me has always prodded me to enlighten them but I have managed to resist the temptation.  So far.


Monday, 29 June 2015

Sunday traditions

As we ate our roast pork yesterday, I fell to wondering if the Old Bat and I are the last people to follow that Olde English tradition of eating a roast meal on Sundays.  For as far back as I can remember - and probably even farther back than that - Sunday has meant roast dinner.  But we have adjusted the tradition a little: we eat dinner in the evenings.

When I was a child - and, indeed, for some years after we were married - Sunday dinner was eaten in the middle of the day.  This is (or was) probably a throwback to the old days when the main meal of the day for the working classes was dinner eaten at dinner time.  The next meal would be tea, usually eaten at about fine o'clock, and consisting of bread and butter and jam, followed by cake.  I say bread and butter, but for many of us it was bread and margarine, butter either being unavailable or too expensive.

So, dinner - roast dinner - at 12.30 or 1.00pm or thereabouts.  Accompanied by the Light Programme of the BBC wireless - it wasn't called radio back then.  For many years, the programme at 12 noon was Two-Way Family Favourites with Jean Metcalfe in London and Bill Crozier in Cologne.  The format was simple:record requests selected alternately by relatives in Britain and (mainly) soldiers stationed in Germany as part of the BAOR, the British Army of the Rhine.  That was followed at one o'clock by programmes like the Billy Cotton Band Show, The Navy Lark or Round the Horn.

I have tried to find snatches of those shows but as they were radio and not television (back then) it has proved beyond me.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Poppies

Too busy today to think of anything to write, so here is a picture taken on the Downs way back in June 2011!


Saturday, 27 June 2015

Royal thoughts

Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have, this week, been on a state visit to Germany.  The television news here in Britain has just about covered it, as have the newspapers.  Well, the quality press at any rate.  What I and others have found astounding is the reception they have received with the sort of crowds we might expect to see in Commonwealth countries or, in London, on special occasions.  This is the picture, printed in The Times, of the crowd greeting the Queen's appearance on a balcony in Frankfurt.


They are on the balcony just above the Union flag in the centre of the picture.

Meanwhile, this was happening in Windsor:-


Then there's this:-

Friday, 26 June 2015

"Thank you, dear"

Then there was the evening when the laugh was on me.  This was back in the old days when Brighton Lions ran the annual carnival (before we were elbowed out by Gay Pride).  We would have several thousand programmes printed at no cost to us - there are still companies that will provide this service by selling the advertising space in the programme - and for anything up to six weeks before carnival day we would have teams out Monday to Friday evenings selling the damn things at 50p a pop.  It was hard work, especially for those of us - the majority - who had been at work all day, but we compensated by meeting at 6.30pm in a pub, selling from 7.00 till 9.00, and ending up back where we started - in a pub!

One particular evening I was in a team of 4 or 5 as we worked our way down Elm Drive.  Somehow I was managing to sell programmes while the rest of the team were having no luck at all.  "What's the trick?" they asked me.  "How come you're managing to sell programmes while we are all getting doors shut in our faces?"

I told them there was a knack to selling on the doorstep - not that I really knew anything about it but I thought it sounded good.

"Hold out a programme in you left hand, " I told them, "and almost put it into the prospect's hand.  They will automatically take it from you and many people will be too embarrassed/ashamed or whatever to seem mean enough to try giving it back to you.  Then you ask them if they will support Brighton Lions Club by buying a programme.  While you ask them, keep nodding your head slightly.  This should induce them to nodding as well, signifying a yes answer to your question.  Now they have the programme in their hand, they are nodding yes, they will buy a copy.  It's really just simple psychology."

Then I had a thought.  "Hey, just watch and I'll show you."

With that, I walked up the next path and knocked on the door.  (I never bothered to ring the door bell; too many didn't work.)  A little old lady answered and I went into my routine.  As soon as I had finished, she said, "Thank you, dear," and shut the door in my face - keeping hold of the programme!

You can imagine the laughter as I walked back down the path.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

My (yawn) talk

I know I mentioned that I had agreed to give a talk about Brighton Lions Club to a local group and that it was only after I had agreed that I discovered they expected me to talk for an hour.  I had some very helpful suggestions from readers, like t a l k  v e r y  s l o w l y, and tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you have told them.  Yeah, well.

Anyway, I have started drafting out something and in an effort to stop my audience falling asleep, I have decided I need to include some human interest stories.  And that has left me scratching my head, although I did remember something I thought might be appropriate.  What follows is lifted straight out of my book, Diamond Geezers, the story of the first 60 years of Brighton Lions Club, available from Amazon as an e-book or paperback.

It is usual for a District Governor to adopt a catch phrase or motto for his year of office.  One opted for ‘If it isn’t fun, don’t do it’ or words along those lines.  Given that many of the Lions’ service activities are hardly likely to engender much fun, that might be seen as a little too simplistic.  However, there certainly are times when Lions, like any other people, are capable of behaving in a way that could be seen as inane or even almost insane.  Take the example of Salisbury Lions.  In 1990 they wrote to a number of Lions Clubs, of which Brighton was one, asking each of the clubs to write a letter as if it was from a gnome who was travelling round the country.  The letters were to be sent to a bed-ridden lady in Salisbury, who was in considerable pain, in the hope that they might brighten her days a little.

As it happened, Brighton Lions were organising a day’s outing to an activity park at Bognor Regis for disadvantaged children.This seemed an ideal subject for a letter from the gnome, who wrote:

‘Wow! What a weekend that was! I finally made it to Brighton – a place that I have wanted to visit for years. The weather wasn't really beach weather though, and in any case the beach is all stones. At least, that was all I could see, but the locals assured me there is some sand when the tide goes down a bit.

‘The Lions Club felt it might give you the wrong impression if I told you that I spent the weekend in Brighton, so they very kindly took me on an outing they had arranged for disadvantaged children from the town. Apparently this was the second such outing this year. They must be mad! There were over 50 children involved this time and the Lions took them to a large playground‑cum‑activity centre called Rainbow’s End in Bognor Regis, which meant an hour on the coach each way.

‘It was after lunch that the fun really started. One little boy – only about 4' 6'' tall, but 10 years old – claimed he had been pushed into the pond by a duck. After consoling him, one of the Lions suggested he should sit in the sun for a while to dry off. "No fear," he said. He was “going back to kill that b..... duck!”’

Wednesday, 24 June 2015


I would find this especially useful in France when I have to drive on the wrong side of the road!  I have tried to work out which country this was in but can't see the registration numbers clearly enough.  America, I suspect.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Agility

I'm not sure whether my age would be described as the upper low 70s or the low middle 70s, but either way, I have noticed a distinct falling off in my agility in recent months.  Many of my joints now creak almost as loudly as a wooden sailing ship in a storm.  Just a few short weeks ago - or was it months? - I would bend down to pick something off the floor without a thought.  Now, such an action needs to be planned as if it were a military operation, taking into account all the 'what ifs' and having contingency plans for the worst case scenario.  For instance:
  • Is there something I can lean on for support as I try to bend down?
  • What if my knees can't push me back up again?  Is there something I can use for leverage to bring me back to optimum operational height?
  • Suppose me knees collapse completely and I fall on the floor.  Is there somebody in the house who will come to my rescue?  If there is nobody in the house who can do it, can I reach a phone to call for outside assistance?
  • If I have to call for outside assistance, is there a door unlocked so that they can get in without breaking a window?
And so on and so forth.

Anyway, I have accepted that I have reached the stage of increased physical ineptitude.  It does from time to time cause me concern that my physical abilities are waning do fast, especially as the Old Bat increasingly needs my assistance and I do try to keep as active as I can.  Walking the dog twice a day helps in that regard.  But physical agility is not the whole story and I must also consider my mental abilities.

Playing bingo is said to help wrinklies keep mentally alert - but that's most definitely not for me.  I'm sure a couple of evenings in a bingo hall would drive me right round the bend!  No, I prefer to exercise what mental faculties I still possess by attempting to complete the two sudoku puzzles published in my newspaper every day and then switching to the cryptic crossword.  But for the last week or ten days I have been too lazy to do that.  I must get back to it or my brain cells will shrivel up and die.

Monday, 22 June 2015

The Burning Question of the Day

Lewes (that's pronounced as two syllables, Loo-ess, with the emphasis on the first) is the county town of East Sussex, about 7 or 8 miles from Brighton.  I have long thought it a delightful little town with an interesting history and an amazing mix of architectural styles.  It is built on a hill overlooking the River Ouse, an important waterway and valley through the Downs, important enough for the Normans to build a castle.  A substantial section of keep remains, giving views of Lewes and surrounding countryside.  The castle's former tilting yard is the site of, perhaps, the only remaining bowling green of the type Sir Francis Drake would have played on. Political rebel Tom Paine is reputed to have had his inspiration for "The Rights of Man" after playing here.

The Battle of Lewes was fought in May 1264 in what is known as the Second Barons War between King Henry III and Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester.  As a result of his defeat, the King was forced to surrender many of his powers.  The battle, perhaps, underscored the power of Magna Carta and could be said to have resulted in "the first tentative steps towards representative democracy".

The worst avalanche ever recorded in Britain occurred in Lewes in 1836.  A large build-up of snow on the nearby cliff slipped down onto a row of cottages called Boulters Row (now part of South Street). About fifteen people were buried, and eight of these died. A pub in South Street is named The Snowdrop in memory of the event.

But Lewes is perhaps best known for the annual Bonfire Night celebrations.  There are a dozen or so bonfire societies in the town and on 5th November every year, each processes through the town to its individual bonfire site.  Although this is a commemoration of the gunpowder plot of 1605, it also commemorates the 17 protestant martyrs who were burned at the stake in Lewes during the Marian Persecutions of 1555 to 1557.

Towards the end of October 1554, a Bible-reading was taking place in the home of one Dirick Carver, a brewer from Brighthelmstone (now Brighton) with John Launder, Thomas Iveson and William Veisey. Under the command of Sir Edward Gage, the High Sheriff of Sussex, the four men were arrested at prayer. It was a short matter of time before they were brought before the court of Bonner, the Bishop of London in Newgate, London. They were kept there until 8 June 1855. After forced confessions were signed, their fate was sealed.

On 22 July 1555, Dirick Carver, was taken by his Catholic persecutors, to Lewes town centre to be burned outside of the Old Star Inn, where the Town Hall currently stands. His Bible was taken from him and thrown into a barrel on the pyre. The crowd called to him, pleading God to strengthen his resolve and his faith. He knelt down and prayed, but was then forced to climb into the barrel too.

Carver took his Bible and threw it into the surrounding crowd. His final words were: “Lord have mercy upon me, for unto thee I commend my spirit and my soul doth rejoice in thee!” His Bible was preserved and is on display in Lewes Museum today. Clear evidence of his blood splattered on the pages of Judges, Zephaniah and Ruth is a graphic reminder of his physical ordeal.

Bonner, the Bishop of London, was not convinced that the heretics were being persuaded back to the Roman faith, so he arranged the largest bonfire of humans the town or indeed the country had seen. On this day, 22nd June, in 1557, Richard Woodman, George Stevens, Alexander Hosman, William Mainard, Thomasina Wood, Margery Morris, James Morris, Denis Burges, Ann Ashdon and Mary Groves were burned outside the Star Inn, Lewes - now the Town Hall.  Of these ten, only Woodman and Hosmer had been brought to trial. The others had been apprehended within the two or three days prior to their martyrdoms, hurried to Lewes and together suffered in one fire.


(Mankind has come a long way in the past 450 years, he commented sarcastically.)

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Obsolete signs

A few days ago I reposted a blog referring to obsolete signs on motorways and illustrated it with a picture of a sign dating from 1828.  There is another obsolete sign nearer to home that is even older.  It is to be seen on the side of a toll booth beside the Kingston roundabout, a building used as a store by the roadside caterer and, as you can see, dates from 1770:


Saturday, 20 June 2015

Inches or centimetres?

What brought it into my mind I just cannot imagine.  Let's face it, the origin of our imperial measurements is hardly a matter of world-shattering importance.  But there's no accounting for the human mind (and probably even less accounting for the canine mind).

So there I was, idly musing on the ways the imperial and metric units of measurement were decided on.  I had long been of the understanding that the imperial units of length were based largely on the human body.  I have no idea where I picked up this piece of debatable wisdom, but I have long thought that the inch is either (a) the width of the thumb at the base of the nail, or (b) the length of the thumb from the tip to the first joint.  A foot is... well, the length of a foot - and it just so happens that it is twelve times the length of an inch.  A yard is the length of a man's stride - but I have no idea why there are 1760 yards in a mile.  Oh, hang on!  A furlong (220 yards) was the length of a strip of field a serf was allowed to use back in medieval times, and eight furlongs went into a mile.  And an acre (I know, it's not a measurement of length) is the amount of land that could be ploughed in one day by a man and one horse.  And it just so happens that an acre can be a square plot one measuring furlong on each side, ie 4840 square yards.

The metric system, on the other hand, was devised in France at the time of the revolution when the aim was to scrap all things associated with the old order.  It was decided that the basic unit of length should be the metre and that the length of the metre would be one ten-millionth of the distance between the North Pole and the Equator.  What a pity that they calculated that distance incorrectly!  And while they were about it, they decided that the old system based on 12s would be replaced with a system based on 10s, which seems logical given that we have ten fingers (if you include the thumbs).  What they overlooked was the fact that a system of dozens is much more convenient when it comes to dividing by anything other than 2 or 5.

If you happen to be in London, specifically Trafalgar Square, you may find on the steps the standard lengths of feet and yards in brass:

Image: Wikipedia Commons.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Clayton

Clayton is a small village nestling under the steep, north face of the South Downs just to the north of Brighton.  the village, or what there is of it, lies on a narrow lane off the main road.  Here there is a cluster of house and the village church, which has medieval wall paintings done by the monks from the Priory at Lewes (which no longer exists).  There is a pub just outside the village on the main road.

The village has three claims to fame:
  1. A house just outside the village is the home of Dame Vera Lynn, the Forces' Sweetheart of World war II.

  2. On the hill above the village stand two windmills - Jack and Jill.

    Jack (left) and Jill as seen from the bottom of the hill.
  3. Clayton Tunnel, a railway tunnel worthy of note because at the time it was built in the 1840s it was considered a marvel of the engineering world. The tunnel, which is 2,066 metres long, is still in daily use as the main London to Brighton line gets swallowed up by it.  Reputedly haunted, it was also the scene of one of Britain’s worst railway disasters in 1861 when a three train pile up left 23 people dead and 175 injured in the tunnel.  The northern entrance to the tunnel is fashioned like a castle and really is a dwelling house.


And finally, the village as seen from Jack and Jill:

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Waterloo

London's biggest and busiest rail terminal?

The song which won the Eurovision song contest in 1974 and propelled ABBA onto the world stage?

No, neither of these.  The Belgian village near which Napoleon's army was defeated 200 years ago today.

I'm not going to wax lyrical about the heroism of the British and Prussian troops or about how this battle finally brought peace to Europe for diddly-dum years.  No, just an amusing little anecdote I heard recently.

As a result of her defeat, France had to pay huge reparations to the victorious allies. Yet this may have been the making of modern France, suggested Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph.

Brillat Savarin, who died in 1825, wrote that when Britons, Germans etc descended on Paris to get what they were owed, ''they came with extreme voracity and with stomachs of uncommon capacity… The Queen City, ere long, became one huge refectory.’’ After a bit, ''All true Frenchmen… rubbed their hands, and said: '…they have spent this evening more money than they took from the treasury in the morning.’ "  Brillat Savarin called it ''The Power of Gourmandise’’.

"Nowadays, against all previous human experience, much of the power of gourmandise has switched to London. Paris has become uncompetitive. If only the silly French would give up the euro, they would fatally undercut us, and grow rich once more by helping the leaders of the world grow fat" wrote Moore.

I wonder if the Parisian waiters were as surly back in the 1810s as they can be now?

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Lies, damned lies, and...

Well, you know what comes next.

Statistics.

I really don't know why I have it in my head that that phrase was coined by the Duke of Wellington whereas I really know full well that it was Mark Twain.  Not that it matters one jot - for the purposes of today's blether - who coined the phrase.  It just seems apt if it were the noble Duke, the victor of Waterloo, the anniversary of which battle occurs tomorrow.  But enough.

In a few idle moments before lunch this morning I was glancing back at my blog to see what I was blethering on about this time last year, and the year before, and the year before that.  Now, I'm not one for turning up the stats very often.  I know that there are a small handful of people who hang on every word I write sometimes check in to see what crap in spewing from my brain, but on this day last year - or maybe it was the year before - or maybe it was another day completely.  Anyway, I nearly fell off my chair when I spotted that one post had attracted no fewer than 1098 page views!  On checking out the post, I rather wished I had not written it as it smacked a little of self-pity.  But the second half was a little amusing and I will repeat it here for the benefit of those who missed it the first time round (which I now find was in August 2012).  Here it is:
It's quite common to see signs warning of new road layouts when there has been no change in the road for two years or more.  Both in England and in France one sees signs on motorways advising that services are now fully open or there is a new restaurant.  Those signs seem to stay there for years and years.  But this must be one of the oldest obsolete signs in the country if not the world.  It dates from 1828 and is on the bridge at Sturminster Newton, Dorset.


Pic by Steinsky from Wikipedia.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Your song is: "You're Beautiful" by James Blunt!

I know, I really shouldn't have done it  but I rather suspect more people than would care to admit it have tried those "What is..." quiz things on the dreaded F/b.  It's actually all Skip's fault.  You see, he came up with Wild Thing by The Troggs and claims this was because he'd like to be a buch pilot and help put the fire out.  I wasn't asked any question like that, which is perhaps why I ended up with the song I did and a sort of description of me that reads:
You are the sort of person who just likes to take life quick easy. If anyone needs a hand, you're always the first one there – but, at the same time, you're ever the one organizing everything. You'd much rather just see where life takes you – what's the point in trying to push it in a certain direction? Better to sit back, relax and have a good time.
And if that doesn't convince you that those quiz things are a complete nonsense, I don't know what will!

Monday, 15 June 2015

1215

Yep, 1215.  The year, that is.  Not a quarter past noon. 15th June 1215, to be exact.  In other words, eight hundred years ago today.


King John was not a popular monarch, and he was eventually more or less forced to submit to demands made by a group of rebel barons.  The agreement between the monarch and the rebels was known as Magna Carta, the Great Charter, and was accepted on this day in the year 1215.  I say 'accepted' whereas many places indicate that the charter was signed by King John.  That was not the case as its acceptance was marked by the King's Seal on it.

There is quite considerable controversy - and has been for centuries - about just how much influence Magna Carta has had on the evolving law in this and other countries.  There are those who claim it to be the foundation of the rights of all men, freedom from tyranny, true justice, habeus corpus and all the other things we so often take for granted.  On the other hand, much of what was originally agreed and incorporated into the charter has since been nullified.  There are also those who claim the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (French: D├ęclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen) of the French revolution is a more fundamental document in the history of human and civil rights.

Although it is accepted that Magna Carta dates from 1215, there are other, later versions accepted by kings after John's death, right up to version of 1297 which confirmed it as being part of English statute law.

The charter was sealed, supposedly, on an island in the River Thames near Runnymede and I was most surprised when I stopped off there the first time that the only form of monument erected by my countrymen was a pillar with an almost illegible inscription.  Nearby stands a much more impressive memorial erected by the American Bar Association.



Nearby, too, stands another memorial:



The site of the memorial seems to very appropriate given the quotation from JFK's inaugural address.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

The old cloth bag

It was just one of those days yesterday.  As soon as I had walked the dog after breakfast, I had to set off for the Lions craft fair, at which I was to act as deputy assistant treasurer - or maybe it was assistant deputy treasurer - the club's treasurer being engaged all day on other club business.  But my boss had set me up well, providing me with the floats for the individual stalls and all I needed for collecting the money from the stalls after the event.  Included in the latter were a number of cloth coin bags as used by the banks.

It was these that sparked the memory.

It was more than 50 years ago that I started work in a High Street bank at a branch that served a lot of shops, many of which would come into the bank for change.  We gave out far more small change to the shopkeepers than they ever paid in so we had to bring in the coins from elsewhere.  'Elsewhere' was another branch of the bank across town, the branch at which the bus company paid in their takings, which were mainly coins.  And so, every once in a while, somebody in our branch - not me, I was only the junior - would engage the services of a lorry driver with an open, flat-bed lorry.  Two of us would trundle through town and load up several hundred bags of coins, bags containing £20 of pennies or £100 of silver coins, either sixpences (tanners), shillings (bobs), two-shilling pieces (florins) or half crowns (two shillings and six pence).  The bags for the pennies were blue, those for the silver being white.  And there were green bags for the threepenny bits.
Threepenny bit
There were no bags for pound coins back in those days as they, the coins, had not been introduced.  We still used pound notes.  And ten shilling notes.

Anyway, having loaded the back of the lorry, it was time to drive back to "my" branch - with me reclining on the coin bags on the back of the lorry doing my best to look as though I was riding shotgun!

A couple of years later I found myself at a different branch in a small country town which still calls itself a village.  Part of my duties involved manning the sub-branch in a smaller village a few miles away every Tuesday and Thursday morning.  I and a pensioner who was employed as my guard - really! - would catch the bus to and from the sub-branch.  At the end of the morning, all the cheques and paying-in slips and anything else would be packed into a brief case to take to the parent branch for processing.

From time to time, I would end up with more money at the sub-branch than I needed.  When that happened, the surplus would be taken back to the main branch with all the paperwork.  On the bus.  Bear in mind that the surplus could - and occasionally did - amount to £2500 and that this was in the days when £3000 would buy a three-bedroom, semi-detached house.  I had long decided that if anybody tried to snatch the brief case from me, they could have it and welcome.  Then it occurred to me that if I stuffed the notes into my pockets instead of the brief case, if the brief case should be snatched...

But of course it never happened.

The simplest things can stir up the most amazing memories.

Friday, 12 June 2015

There's truth in them thar sayin's

So many of those old saws, sayings, proverbs or whathaveyou contain at least a grain of truth.  None more so, methinks, than 'work expands to fill the time available'.

Of course, the word 'work' means so much more than earning one's daily crust or the necessary chores about the house.  Indeed, in this context 'work' can sometimes be pleasurable or semi-pleasurable activities.

Then the phone rings and quite interrupts my train of thought.

But it's really quite surprising how walking the dog, doing the shopping, ironing the washing, meeting the (Lions Housing Society) bank manager to discuss a £4.6 million loan (which he more or less agreed on the spot), setting up a craft fair, fixing the old folks' pre-Christmas party venue and entertainer, calling a bingo session for another set of wrinklies, attending the Charter presentation for a new Leo Club, a pub lunch with friends...  I'm exhausted just writing about it!

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Gaga Radio

It was my trip to the supermarket earlier this week that brought the memories flooding back.  Memories of a period about five o'clock on winter Saturdays when absolute silence was the rule.  My father sat beside the radio listening to the football results.  When he was not serving overseas, my father regularly bought his postal order and sent off his football pools coupon, hoping against all experience that one week he would hit the jackpot by forecasting seven drawn games and winning the Treble Chance.  I think the most he ever won was ten and six - 53p in new money.

The programme - Sports Report, I think it was called - was introduced by a snatch of this music:


I can hear those results now.  The reader (could it possibly have been James Alexander Gordon all those years ago?) was always very careful over his voice inflections and one could tell as he read the name of the home team whether the match was a home win, an away win or a draw.

Then there was the shipping forecast.  This was broadcast at set times during the day, possibly before the 6.00am news, possibly in place of the standard weather forecast.  I don't remember those details.  The seas around the British Isles are divided into areas such as Rockall, Shannon, Viking, Heligoland.  I don't suppose there are many people who actually know where all those areas are, but they were ( and possibly still are for all I know) read out in a prescribed order, each followed by a code-like series of numbers indication such things as wind speed and direction, visibility, barometric pressure.  All way above my child's head.

And the market report.  Not the stock market, but the stock market: prices of cattle, pigs, vegetables of various types.  The one that always puzzled me was, "cabbages for boys".  It was many years before I realised they were really saying, "cabbages, savoys".

It was a savoy cabbage I bought in the supermarket.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Another commemoration

It seems that barely a week goes by without there being some anniversary to be celebrated or event to be commemorated.  Although I doubt if anybody knows the exact date, this year sees the 200th anniversary of the Gurkhas joining the British army.

I have come across two slightly different versions of the story of how this came about, but, according to the BBC, "After suffering heavy casualties in the invasion of Nepal, the British East India Company signed a hasty peace deal in 1815, which also allowed it to recruit from the ranks of the former enemy.  Gurkhas - whose name comes from the Nepalese hill town of Gorkha - began joining the East India Company, and later the British army."

Gurkhas are famed as fierce fighters and have served in every major conflict during the past 200 years, winning no fewer than 13 Victoria Crosses, the highest British military decoration for valour.

Some 50 or so years ago, Brighton Lions Club revived the Brighton Carnival.  A major element was the procession which formed up in Hove and made its way along the seafront and up through the town to the park where the fair was held.  In its heyday, the procession comprised about 85 floats and several marching bands, two of which would be military bands.  Given the length of the parade, it is hardly surprising that gaps arose, much to the concern of the police.  The following year, the second military band was supplied by the Gurkhas.  The Gurkhas are part of the Light Brigade and march at 140 paces per minute.  I have thoughts of the floats in front of that band really cracking on the speed to avoid being trampled to death!

In this video clip, members of the Brigade of Gurkhas march from Wellington Barracks down the Mall to the Gurkha Statue where a memorial service was held to mark 200 years of service, . As they marched out of the barracks to Scotland the Brave, the Gurkha units were led by the Band, Pipes and Drums and the Queen’s Truncheon. 30th April 2015.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Bird-brained

I have come to the conclusion that the chaffinch must have one of the smallest brains in the avian world.  And what, you ask, leads me to this momentous conclusion?  Well, just listen to its song.  The wretched bird is quite content to sit on the telephone wire and "sing" this song over and over for half an hour or more.  If he had a brain it would drive him made!


Monday, 8 June 2015

On the Beach

I can't imagine the degradation I would feel if I were to be asked where I live and I were forced to answer, "On the beach".  The listener would immediately have a vision of the hard pebbles that form the beach at Brighton and the dossers who can be found seeking what little shelter there is under the pier.

And yet, just a few miles along the coast, that response would have a completely different meaning.

The ancient town of Shoreham-by-Sea - to give it its full title although it is more commonly known simply as Shoreham - is a town of three parts.  There is Old Shoreham, a town on the bank of the River Adur, dates back to pre-Roman times.  The church, dedicated to St Nicolas, is partly Anglo-Saxon.  Old Shoreham is, perhaps, best remembered for the old wooden toll bridge, built in 1781 following an Act of Parliament.  Before the building of the bridge the Adur presented the one major obstacle to east-west communication along the coastal plain of Southern England. The choices open to the traveller wishing to cross the Adur were to travel miles out of the way and use the bridge at Bramber, to ford the river on horseback or to use the ferry that was operating at that time on the site of what is now the bridge.

Shoreham tollbridge with St Nicolas' church in the background.

Despite the new Norfolk Bridge being opened in 1833 a mile or so the the south, travellers were being charged to use the bridge until 1970, when the Shoreham by-pass, with its great flyover across the Adur, was opened.

Towards the end of the 11th century, the Normans established the town and port of New Shoreham at the mouth of the River Adur.  The port remains active with a power station, a lifeboat station, wharfs, quays and boatyards.

Shoreham Beach, to the south of the town, is a shingle spit deposited over millennia by longshore drift.  Converted railway carriages became summer homes around the start of the 20th century, and 'Bungalow Town', as it was then known, became home to the early UK film industry. Shoreham Beach officially became part of Shoreham-by-Sea in 1910. Much of the housing in the area was cleared for defence reasons during the Second World War and most of what remained after the war is now long gone, having been replaced by modern houses, many of which are very expensive, architect designed constructions.

There is a footbridge linking the Beach to New Shoreham, but driving from the eastern end of the Beach to the shops in the town involves a journey of some miles.

New Shoreham seen from Shoreham Beach

So, if somebody tells you that they live on the beach, they might be wealthier than you think!

Sunday, 7 June 2015

What a Swell Party That Was

(With apologies to Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra who sang the correct version in High Society.  The film also starred Grace Kelly, on whom I had a very definite schoolboy crush.  What a beautiful woman!)

Anyway, the party.

Last night we celebrated Brighton Lions Club's 64th charter anniversary.  The venue was a golf club high on the South Downs, right beside the Devil's Dyke.  It was a glorious summer evening, although windy, and the windows of the clubhouse afforded panoramic views across the Downs, over the city of Brighton & Hove and out to sea.  The reception area is furnished with leather armchairs, although nowhere near enough for all of the guests to sit.  Round a right-angle corner is the dining area with its high windows giving us that fabulous view as we ate.

The food was great with two choices for each course, plus a vegetarian option.  Those of us who chose the Portobello mushroom stuffed with Stilton, leek & parsley were not disappointed.  I heard no comments about the alternative starter, a fairly basic soup.  The main course involved a choice between sea bass on a bed of roasted cherry tomatoes with a basil pesto or Guinea fowl with cream, mustard and bacon sauce.  These were served with parmentier potatoes cooked with rosemary and a selection of fresh vegetables including courgettes, carrots, broad beans, French beans, petit pois and mange tout.  For dessert we could choose salted caramel and dark chocolate pots topped with edible gold lustre or white chocolate panna cotta with strawberry coulis.You could hear sighs of delight all round!

Entertainment was provided by a singer/guitarist who quickly had the dance floor crowded, so accurately did he judge the taste of his audience.  What's more, he kept the volume at a level which enabled people still sitting at the tables to hold conversations!

I've attended a good many charter dinners over the years, but it is a long time since I was still there at the end as I was last night.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

The Longest Day

71 years ago today, the English Channel was filled with ships of all sorts and sizes, almost exactly four years to the day since the little ships had brought back the remains of the BEF from the beaches of Dunkirk.  Dunkirk may have been a defeat, but I still consider that it was the basis of the return journey four years later.  It was what Dunkirk meant to the British people that formed the resolve to win the war, to win at all costs.  The Dunkirk spirit.

There has been much talk about how important it is for the children of today to visit the World War I battlefields in Flanders.  I fully agree, and only wish that it had been brought home to me years ago so that I could have taken my children to see the Last Post ceremony at Ypres.

Equally important, I think, is for children to visit the Normandy beaches.  And this is something I did manage to do.  It was a little more than 30 years ago (if my memory serves) that we rented a cottage in Normandy for the summer half-term week.  The children would have been about 13, 10 and 7.  We took them to see Pegasus Bridge, the mulberry harbour (or what remained of it) at Arromanches - and we visited the vast American war cemetery at St Laurent sur Mer.


That day, just as in the picture (borrowed from Tripadvisor), the Stars and stripes and Tricolor were planted at the foot of each cross as it was just a few days before the anniversary.

I have visited many war cemeteries over the years, mostly British, and each one has the same atmosphere or ambiance.  There is a kind of peace, a peace tinged with both sorrow and pride.  There is a silence, a restful silence.  The cemetery may be beside a main road, but somehow the noise of the traffic is muted.

The day 30 or so years ago, my children commented on the feeling that they were not alone as we walked between the rows but it was only the youngest who found it spooky..

Friday, 5 June 2015

A bi'a culjur

Earlier this week my interest was piqued and since then, at odd moments, I have been dipping into A Shropshire Lad by A E Housman.  Poetry isn't generally my thing.  I probably spent far too much time at school dissecting the works of Shakespeare, Coleridge, Wordsworth and all the other boys in the band.  But we never got to any poet later than Keats: not Belloc, not Kipling, not Housman.  Not even the poets of the Great War.  I have subsequently read bits of Belloc, Kipling and sundry of the War poets, but I had never, until this week, tried Housman.  I had heard of his Shropshire Lad but had assumed that this was simply his best known poem.

Doh!

A Shropshire Lad is not A poem, it is a collection (the intelligentsia call it a cycle) of over 60 individual poems which, as far as I have so far been able to tell, are all written as if by a young man from that county.  Mayhap I've not yet read sufficient, but what I have read so far seem rather melancholic.  Like this, possibly one of the better known:
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
I don't think I have ever been to Shropshire, which is rather a pity as I understand it is a county of glorious countryside.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

A true story

This might seem rather like a fairy story - but I promise you it is true!

It was more than 50 years ago, back in 1962, that Brighton Lions Club opened Lion House.  This was a large house which the club had bought and turned into flats to be let to elderly people at affordable rents.

Two years later, there was some almost unbelievable news for the club. Ken Carlisle was the manager
of Martins Bank in Brighton and, a keen Lion, he always made a point of wearing the Lions’ badge in his lapel. One of his wealthy customers spotted the badge and expressed interest in the activities of  the Lions Club. Ken explained something of what the club had achieved, mentioning Lion House in
particular, and went on to say that the Lions were keen to buy another property to use as affordable housing for the elderly.

The customer, who insisted on complete anonymity, was so impressed with the activities of the club that she offered a donation of £15,000 to help build a block of flats if the club could find a suitable site.

By the early summer of 1965 a suitable site had been identified. The Corporation owned the site and a two-pronged approach was made. First, there was the question of whether the Corporation would be prepared to lease the site to Brighton Lions Housing Society, and second, would they grant a loan to enable the Society to build a block of twenty to twenty-five flats.

In December came the news that the Corporation were willing to lease the Manor Way site to the Housing Society for a period of ninety-five years at a ground rent of £5 a year. Approval had to be obtained from the Ministry of Housing, which was at first unwilling to agree, pointing out that the market rent for the site would be £480 and that the Corporation would therefore be subsidising the Lions Housing Society.  However, a Lion blessed with a silver tongue explained to the Ministry that the Housing Society would be relieving the Council of the need to subsidise the housing of several elderly people and would actually be saving the Council money. The Ministry eventually gave way.

The anonymous Martins Bank customer increased her donation and, with a loan of £8000 from the Council, the Society considered it had sufficient funds to build a block of twelve flats.  The flats were finished by February 1968.

It had been a condition of the lease that a further block of flats had to be constructed within five years and by 1971 the Housing Society was getting perilously close to the time limit for starting the second block. Although reserves had been built up by saving each year’s surplus, there was nowhere near sufficient money to build another block of flats. However, the Corporation agreed to grant a mortgage and construction of the second block, this one consisting of eighteen flats, started in 1971. It was opened in 1972 and the whole complex was known as Lions Court.

Lions Court
A few years after the completion of the second block at Lions Court, the Society had the opportunity to buy a plot of land at a substantial discount to the market price and six bungalows were built in 1977.  The development, off Withdean Avenue, Brighton, is known as Lions Gardens.

Lions Gardens

A very substantial mortgage was raised in 1992 to enable the Society to buy a partly built block of 37 flats in the Deneway, Westdene, Brighton. These were completed in 1993 and named Lions Dene. Included in the development is a doctors' surgery and a large residents' lounge which is used by Brighton Lions Club for its business meetings.

Lions Dene

A further block of 42 flats in Rowan Avenue, Hangleton, known as Lions Gate was officially opened by Dr Tai-Sup Lee, the Lions' International President, in April 2004.

Lions Gate
And now, with 110 flats and 6 bungalows already owned, we are almost ready to start another development.  Together with the chairman, I am due to meet our bank manager next week to discuss the possibility of borrowing £4 million plus.  As with all our developments, the flats will be let to persons of retirement age at affordable rents.

And on top of that, we have been negotiating for six years (!) with the Council to buy the freehold of that land we are leasing.  At long last it looks as though we might be getting somewhere.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Skylarks

The skylark is, we are told, in danger here in England due, in the main, to intensive farming methods.  I am always so delighted to hear them when I walk the dog across the Downs.

Apparently, one of the most popular pieces of classical music is Ralph Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending.  It has never really worked for me, but I'm going to insert a video of the music played by Nicola Benedetti with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton.  You can make up your own mind. Please don't think you have to listen to all 16 minutes!



This afternoon, my skylark pleasure was doubled.  I happened to see one spring into the sky - they always seem to materialise about six feet above the ground - and claw his way into the heavens, his song tumbling to earth.  And just as his song ended, another bird appeared!  Here is another clip, this time the real sound of the skylark.  I know which I prefer.  Again, you don't need to listen to all of it.


Tuesday, 2 June 2015

June is Bustin' Out All Over

So it was the first of June yesterday.  I walked the dog across the Downs in the afternoon, blown to kingdom come by the wind.  Most of the people I saw were wearing anoraks - and I almost wished I had dug out my gloves and scarf!  The car thermometer showed 11 degrees Celsius - low 50s Fahrenheit - and the wind chill factor would have reduced the "feel" by several degrees.

Leaving the wood for the last stretch downhill across the field, I could see the murk building over the Channel.  Less than five minutes later, as I was driving home, the rain fell so hard that the windscreen wipers, on the automatic setting, were swishing at double speed.

Flaming June!


Many years ago - and I'm talking more than 50 years or half a century - my then girl friend was very keen on those old Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals - The King and I, Oklahoma, South Pacific, Carousel.  Her parents were just as keen as she and owned all the LPs of the soundtrack recordings.  LPs, remember them?  Long playing records that turned at 33rpm and which we played on the radiograms that were such important items of furniture in the lower middle class households!  This was long before the days of DVDs and even video tapes!

So, on the evenings when her parents were out and she was responsible for safeguarding her two younger sisters, said girl friend and I would play those old LPs.  We played them so often that I should be able to say immediately which musical any song came from - but I failed with June is Bustin' Out All Over.  For some reason, I would have said it is from Oklahoma when of course it is from Carousel.

Yesterday being the start of June, I did consider posting the Y/T video of the song - until I saw that it runs for eight minutes!  I didn't really think any of my readers would be likely to last that long - but hey!  If you are into R&H (as opposed to G&S or S&M) you can see the whole thing right here.

Flaming June!

Today we have gale-force winds and rain - and we still have the central heating turned on.  In June!

Did somebody mention global warming?

Monday, 1 June 2015

Brighton's last Mayoress

Let's get one thing straight right from the start.  I'm pretty sure none of my regular readers would make this mistake, but there might be others who drift by and I wouldn't want them to go away with the wrong idea.

Despite what various online dictionaries claim, in my opinion a mayoress is NOT a lady mayor.  A lady who is a mayor is just that - a mayor.  She should be addressed as "Madam Mayor".

A man who is a mayor is also just that - a mayor and should be addressed as "Mister Mayor".  But his lady consort is a mayoress.  A lady mayor doesn't have a mayoress, she has a consort.  And that, it has been announced, is what future Mayors of the City of Brighton & Hove will have be they male or female.

I haven't the foggiest idea how long the term mayoress has been in use but I would be willing to bet it goes back at least a couple of centuries.  And now - in Brighton at least - it is to be cast aside as if so much history and tradition counts for nothing.  It is that history and tradition that make we English (British, is you must) what we are.  History and tradition cast aside, no doubt, on the altar of political correctness.