Monday, 31 August 2015

Bank holiday weather

Our little pigs in their tutus won't be getting their run out today.  As this is a bank holiday, the Minister for Rain is at work.  And how!

Last night, just as I was about to send Fern down the garden before she went to bed, the thunder and lightning started.  I sat reading for a while until I thought the storm had gone by, but Fern refused to go out in the rain.  I put her on the lead, donned a waterproof and wellies, and off we went into the dark - only for a flash of lightning to illuminate the garden, whereupon Fern dragged me back into the house.  Midnight saw me walking her down the road until she found a good spot on the verge to have a pee.

I woke during the night to hear the rain hammering down and when I finally shrugged off the effects of Morpheus, it was to hear the thunder once again.  But fortunately, by the time I was ready to take Fern for her post-breakfast amble, the rain had stopped and it held off long enough for us to walk to the park and back.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Pigs and things

Tomorrow should be a wet day.  It is, after all, a bank holiday, the last bank holiday before Christmas.  One of the nearby Lions Clubs is due to hold a donkey derby, provided the field is still accessible, and Brighton Lions will be there with our famous racing pigs, hoping to raise barrels of cash.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Why is it . . .

  • that one end of the shoelace gets so much longer than the other even though they were the same length when I first laced my shoes?
  • that women squeeze the toothpaste in the middle of the tube?
  • that a woman is unable to read a newspaper without screwing it up?
  • that I can look at and admire a view or a picture, but when I so much as glance at an attractive young lady I am a dirty old man?

Friday, 28 August 2015

Nature's bounty

I've been picking blackberries this afternoon, big, luscious, juicy blackberries, about the sweetest I have ever tasted.  And I don't have to go far to pick them; just down the garden.  There are brambles growing in the hedge that separates our garden from our neighbour's.  One advantage of having blackberries in the garden - in addition to not having to go far to pick them - is that I can wait until they are at their peak.  When we had to pick our fruit along the lanes and in the woods, it was always a case of having to pick what was available because as sure as eggs are eggs, someone else would be coming along very soon after you had gone and would pick what was left.

When I was a lad it was always something of a ritual at this time of the year.  My mother, my brother and I would set off with our . . .   I don't actually remember what we used to collect the berries in.  It was way before Tupperware had arrived, before margarine came in plastic tubs so maybe we used baskets of some kind.  Even 20 or so years ago the Old Bat and I would make our way along the old railway (the footpath where the Hove to Devils Dyke railway had run many years before) with the dog and those cardboard pick-your-own punnets to pick the blackberries, just two among a crowd of other pickers.  But these days?  This year I have seen just one person picking blackberries in the park.  Maybe people just don't bother any more.

Apart from crab apples (which I mentioned a few posts back) I harvest nothing from the hedgerows.  I'm not a lover of country wines such as dandelion and burdock (not that I have ever tried that particular one) and my one attempt at elderflower wine was a disaster, and we don't drink gin so the sloes are of no use to me.

I did have a picture that I intended to use to illustrate this post, one of the Old Bat picking blackberries, but I can't find it!  I suppose I might have deleted it by mistake and I will have to search the recycle bin (which hasn't been emptied in months - or even years).  But while I was looking through the archive photos, I came across these.  First, Brighton's Royal Pavilion at night:

Then my daughter, aged 4.  She is now a deputy head at a secondary school!

Thursday, 27 August 2015


A few random thoughts inspired by last night's dessert.

A few years ago, the idea of anybody naming their daughter Peaches would have been considered distinctly odd.  Then Bob Geldorf did it.  I'm not sure that anyone has followed suit, but by now it doesn't seem particularly odd any more.  Especially when you think of some of the other names that children have been saddled with.  Yes, I know that last sentence should really read, "Particularly when you consider some of the other names with which children have been saddled" but who cares?  Anyway, other strange names.  Two children at my grandson's school were named Scooter and Box.  I have to wonder what possessed their parents.

I think the funniest name I have come across - and this is true, I swear it - belonged to a customer whose surname was Pisitpong.  Just to make matters worse, his initial was I.

       "Mr Sandman, bring me a dream.
       Make her complexion like peaches and cream."
Why on earth would anyone want a complexion like peaches and cream?  All sort of blotchy red, yellow and white?

Way, way back we didn't get fresh peaches in this country; we could only buy them in tins.
On the occasions when we were invited to my grandmother's for Sunday tea, the tinned peaches would be in the centre of the table, decanted into a large fruit bowl.  After we had eaten the required two slices of bread and butter, we were served with peach slices in smaller fruit bowls, part of the set with the large bowl.  The special fruit spoons (including a matching serving spoon) would have been taken from the padded box in which they resided when not in use.  These were rather oddly shaped spoons, not unlike these:
(Does anyone ever use fruit spoons these days?)  Cream was never served.  Perhaps it was unobtainable, or maybe simply too expensive?  Instead, we poured evaporated milk on the peach slices and thought we were eating peaches and cream.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Enough is enough

I suppose we might have needed a drop of rain; it had been pretty dry for quite some time.  But then, that is much as we might have expected given the weather we had on St Swithun's Day.
St Swithun's day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain.
St Swithun's day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain nae mare.
According to the Royal Meteorological Society,
The St Swithun's Day legend is an old one – the earliest surviving written reference dates back to the 14th century – although its roots are much disputed. St Swithun (or Swithin) was an Anglo-Saxon bishop of Winchester who died in around AD862. The clergyman requested that his remains be interred among the common people outside the church, but in 971, after he had been made patron saint of Winchester Cathedral, his body was dug up and moved to a new indoor shrine. According to some writers, this caused sufficient displeasure in the heavens for a terrible downpour to strike the church and continue unabated for 40 days, hence the legend. The only problem with this theory is a complete and utter absence any evidence, with no early account of the reburial mentioning the slightest drop of rain.
It may seem a little odd for me to be writing (even if it is mostly copied from elsewhere) about St Swithun's Day given that it is 15th July but the 40 days finished on Sunday.  Since then it has done nothing but rain in this neck of the woods! The weather during the preceding 40 days was much the same as on 15th July: mixed.

There is a strong whiff of wet dog in the house.  Those raspberries that have ripened in the garden have been smashed to pulp.  Yesterday the water was spouting up out of manhole covers and on Monday, south-east England had more rain in 12 hours than it receives on average during the whole of August.

Does anyone know the steps of the Stop Raining Dance?

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Just say, "No".

That is something I have learned to do; say, "No".  I had always found it difficult to refuse when asked to do something, and even difficult not to volunteer when volunteers were needed.  But somewhere along the line it crept into what passes for my consciousness that always agreeing to take on jobs was not necessarily doing anybody any favours.  And those jobs weren't always continuing jobs; they could just as easily be one-offs.  Like the latest job I have agreed to take on.

No, that's wrong: it is not a job.  But it is a task, and a difficult one, at that.

A friend of mine died last week.  Not an especially close friend - certainly in the geographic sense as he and his wife moved out of Brighton almost two years ago to be nearer to one of their sons in south-west London.  But I had known Jason for nearly 30 years as a fellow member of Brighton Lions Club.  And I had a great deal of respect for him so when I was asked yesterday to speak at his funeral I readily agreed.

I have started drafting what I wish to say and already I am on draft number 3.  Or is it 4?

I wish I could have refused but there was no way I could do so on this occasion.

Monday, 24 August 2015

End of the silly season?

August is often referred to as the silly season, typified (according to the Wiki) 'by the emergence of frivolous news stories in the media'.  This weekend has provided the media with an opportunity to forget the frivolous as there has been quite a bit of real news, some good, some bad.

Sport featured quite heavily, what with the fifth and final test match and the world athletics championships.  Australia trounced England in the cricket, but England regained the Ashes having won the series 3-2.  Personally, I was quite pleased that Australia won that match as it was the last test that will be played by the retiring Aussie captain.  There was good news coming out of China, where two of Britain's favourite athletes won gold medals, Mo Farah in the 10,000 metres and Jessica Ennis-Hill in the heptathlon.  Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton led from the front to win the Belgian Grand Prix, his sixth win of the season, and extend his championship lead over Nico Rosberg.

Belgium also featured in another news story as it was in Brussels that a Moroccan boarded the Amsterdam to Paris express with the intention of committing mass murder.  It was the courage and quick thinking of American off-duty servicemen, especially Spencer Stone, that saved the day, although the would-be assassin's gun had jammed anyway.  Not that Mr Stone knew that.

But since Saturday afternoon the British media has been mainly concerned with the tragedy that happened just a few miles away from here at the Shoreham Air Show when a vintage jet fighter crashed onto the busy coastal trunk road, killing at least eleven people.  Police warn that they are still sifting through the wreckage and when the plane is lifted today they may well discover more bodies.

This was Britain's worst air show disaster for more than 60 years.  The worst ever was at Farnborough in 1952 when 29 people were killed when a De Haviland 110 exploded in mid-air.  I was there on the day, although I have no memory whatsoever of the tragedy.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Acute accent

I have to admit that I had never thought of it as an insult, or even a display of superiority, but I suppose it could be construed as such.  At least, a writer in yesterday's paper described it as an insult, a calculated insult, even though I suspect his tongue was very much in his cheek.

When ever I enter a restaurant in France, the waiters or waitresses immediately tag me as English.  And they are right; there is something quite undefinable about every Englishman that identifies his nationality.  I don't even have to open my mouth, the staff know I am English without hearing my execrable French spoken with a distinctive accent.

My grasp of the lingua franca is, admittedly, somewhat tenuous but I know just about enough to read (most of) the menu and to order my meal.  All the same, many a time the waiter or waitress has replied in English to confirm my order.  I have always taken that as a king gesture, even if at times it has given rise to a certain confusion.  But is it really a subtle insult or display of superiority?

"Huh, you Eengleesh, you 'ave no idea 'ow to speak our beautiful language whereas I, a mere French waiter, 'ave a full command of your mixed up mumblings."

I have been surprised to be offered a menu in English in some distinctly out of the tourist way towns and villages.  Another subtle dig?

On the other hand, the last English menu I saw in France had been produced by a non-English speaking restaurateur who had used a computer to translate from the French.  That, together with his typing errors (at least, I assume that's what they were) led to some hilarious and, frankly, quite unintelligible descriptions.  It didn't help that anyone ordering from the English menu had to point to what they wanted while the restaurateur read to dish in the equivalent place on the French menu.

And I recall reading somewhere, although this was many years ago so it may no longer apply, that the French consider French spoken with an English accent to be sexy, rather like the way English women loved the accent of Charles Aznavour.  And it's not often that I am considered sexy!

But now I come to think of it, I was once at a supper in California with several dozen Americans.  The woman sitting next to me exclaimed that she found my accent cute and she could listen to it all night.  I didn't take her up on the offer, and not just because the Old Bat was with me.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

It doesn't happen often

Perhaps I should qualify that statement, even simply by adding the words "in England".

This afternoon it is more comfortable indoors than out, which in itself is not exactly unusual.  What makes it unusual today is that it is uncomfortably warm and sticky out of doors.  I have just this minute - well, maybe five minutes ago - come back from walking the dog.  Although I decided against Stanmer woods (too crowded on a fine Saturday afternoon, and with Brighton & Hove Albion playing at home getting to and from might be tedious) I deliberately chose a route where we would be sheltered from the sun.  Even so, Fern was flagging a bit by the time we were nearly done.  Mind you, the temperature had come down a bit by then.  It was 28 when we started out and by the time we got home again it had dropped to 27!

Friday, 21 August 2015

Penny post

It was as long ago as 1840 that the penny post was introduced, the template on which most postal systems in the world are based.  Pillar boxes were introduced in the Channel islands in 1852 and were to be found on the mainland the following year.

When I think that to post a letter nowadays even second class postage costs a minimum of 53p, which is ten shillings and sixpence (half a guinea) in 'real' money - 126 times what it cost back then.  Of course, the average wage has increased by rather more than that, so one penny wasn't really as cheap as it sounds.

But the level of service is, perhaps, not quite what it was.  I have heard tales of how one person could send a letter in the morning, inviting a guest for tea that afternoon, and receive a reply before the guest arrived!  I have myself seen a postcard written by my late father-in-law to his then fiancée confirming that he would be home the following day and obviously sent in full confidence that it would be delivered early the following morning.  Nowadays we are lucky if a letter arrives only two days after it has been posted.

Which leads me to the point of today's rant.  If you look at the picture of a post box you will see that all sorts of information is provided, particularly the day the next collection will be made and the time of the last collection from that post box.

All very hunky-dorey. But not so very long ago I stopped off to post a letter on a Friday morning, a letter I really didn't want hanging around very long although I forget now just what was so important.  This was at about 9.40, that's 9.40AM.  The metal plaque indicating the day of the next collection showed Saturday and I simply assumed that the postman had made a mistake.  Then I saw that the time of the last collection had been changed.

The last collection is now made at 9.00AM!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

In praise of dogs

It has always seemed to me that there are four types of people: cat people - perhaps the most common, dog people - a close second, people who are both cat people and dog people, and people who are none of these.  I don't claim to be a great cat person, but I am most definitely a dog person.

The Old Bat and I acquired our first dog when we had been married for just about a year.  Sandy was a rescue dog, a collie cross aged about a year to 18 months when she decided that we were the people for her.  She looked very proud and pleased with herself as she led us away from the RSPCA shelter.  It was another five years before our first son was born and we were just a little apprehensive, wondering what Sandy's attitude to this interloper would be.  We needn't have worried.  She assumed it was her duty to protect the baby and, indeed, that was what she did.  When the OB popped into a local shop, she would leave Sandy tied to the pram - and Sandy demonstrated her protective nature one day when, alerted by furious barking, the OB rushed out of the shop to find a woman trying to look at the baby.

After Sandy came Rags, a flat-coat retriever.  Rags was a long-legged bundle of energy, seemingly impossible to tire out no matter how long the walks.  He was the gentlest, most loving of dogs and children could do anything with him.  My daughter learned to walk holding onto his tail, and she and her friends would treat him as a living doll, making him lie down to be covered with a blanket as if he was going to bed.  Being taken to meet the children from school was pure heaven for Rags.  One winter the whole family walked across the golf course with plastic bags to use as sledges.  When we came across a slide down a steep bank, the children tagged onto the end of the queu waiting to slide down - and Rags went too.  He rode with one of the boys and when he reached to bottom, he raced round to take his place in the queue for another slide.

Next came Bramble, a golden retriever.  She, too, was very fond of children (although she couldn't eat a whole one in one sitting) but her preference was for teenagers.  She also had a very strong maternal instinct.  One year we were left on the farm for a day while my cousin and her husband went off to their son's passing out parade at Sandhurst.  In the passage outside the kitchen was a pen with two cade lambs.  Not surprisingly, they bleated from time to time - which got Bramble very agitated as she considered we humans should go to see to the babies.  Despite having no milk herself, she was quite willing for the lambs to suckle her.  At one time, we had a lamb in the back garden.  I had made a pen of chicken wire, but Bramble learned how to open the pen and let the lamb out - while she went and sat inside the pen.

And now we have an English springer spaniel, Fern.  As a puppy, she and our elder grandson would chase each other round the dining room table.  When the toddler, as he was then, fell over, Fern, herself only six months or so old, would stop and wait for him to get up.  She still adores young children and really young puppies.

There are benefits to keeping both cats and dogs, but to my mind the benefits of a dog versus a cat are greater.  Both provide companionship, but a dog needs to be exercised, which gets me out walking twice a day.

But what beats all that hands down is that dogs can be trained to do so many things.  To act as guide dogs for the blind or hearing dogs for the deaf; assistance dogs for the disabled or calming influences for some autistic children.  But surely the greatest asset is that some dogs can detect cancer long before the symptoms show.  That really is scarcely credible.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Goodbye, Wednesday

The Old Bat and I seem to be on a health thing at the moment.  I had a blood test yesterday in preparation for my appointment with the rheumatologist next week, and this morning the OB had a CT scan ready for her next appointment with the oncologist in a couple of weeks' time.  And each one has been or will be at a different surgery, clinic or hospital.

So that was my morning gone. This afternoon, once I had walked the dog, I hightailed it to my son's house to see to the cats, the rabbit and the chicken.  Son and partner, together with my two grandsons and son's partner's daughter, have been at our place in France for a couple of weeks, due to return on Monday.  As they were getting ready to leave for the Dieppe-Newhaven ferry, they realised that their passports were still with the reception desk of a hotel they had stayed at for a couple of nights.  But no, said the hotel, we haven't got them.  So followed a dash to Paris to get emergency travel documents.  They managed to switch the ferry crossing to Tuesday - but then couldn't get the documents in time for that ferry and the next available one is tomorrow.  What a way to end a holiday.

Now, I've got bedding to iron and a treasurer's report to prepare for tonight's Lions meeting . . .

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Apologies and pardons

The Japanese Emperor Akihito has for the first time expressed "deep remorse" over Japan's role in World War Two, but his Prime Minister Abe said that future generations should not be "predestined to apologise" for their country's wartime actions.

I do so whole-heartedly agree with him.

Don't get me wrong; I am in no way condoning the way Allied prisoners of war were mistreated.  But it does seem to me to be ridiculous that countries should be expected to apologise for deeds that were carried out by earlier generations.  Emperor Akihito, for example, was only seven years old when Pearl Harbour was attacked so he can hardly be blamed for that.

But it seems to be the in thing for some countries or tribes or communities to demand apologies from others for things that were done not just a generation or two back but, in some cases, centuries back.  There was the case not so long ago when Maori people in New Zealand demanded an apology from Britain for occupying their land.  There has even been a demand for Britain to apologise for the part it played in the slave trade which was banned by the British Parliament over 200 years ago - a ban which the Royal Navy sought to impose on other nations by stopping the slave ships.

I also consider it slightly . . .  I was going to write "ridiculous" but that isn't really the best word; "odd" isn't a lot better.  But anyway, there are those who have tried to get people pardoned for committing crimes that are no longer crimes.  The best example is that of Alan Turing.  Turing is sometimes described as the father of modern computing and it was he who led the section responsible for breaking the German codes during World War II.  But Turing was prosecuted in 1952 and found guilty of committing homosexual acts, when such behaviour was still a criminal act in the UK, and accepted chemical castration rather than prison.  He died from cyanide poisoning shortly before his 42nd birthday, the coroner's verdict being suicide.  There has been something of a campaign for Turing to be pardoned, which seems pointless to me.

And then we have the matter of so-called deserters or men executed for cowardice in World War One when they were, in fact, suffering from shell shock, what we might now call post-traumatic stress.  They would not be found guilty today - at least, many of them wouldn't.  I can understand their descendants seeking pardons, of course I can, but I have to wonder what is the point?  Should we also pardon those who were hanged - or transported - for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving family?

When it comes to a matter of possibly apologising for the deeds of our ancestors or pardoning people who committed crimes that are no longer crimes, I think we need to remember that we cannot turn back the clock, neither do we bear any responsibility for the deeds - or misdeeds - of our forefathers.  I can't get worked up about any of it.  As Lady Macbeth said, "what's done is done and cannot be undone".

Monday, 17 August 2015

Crab apples

The Old Bat likes to make a little crab apple jelly.  Not to eat on its own - although I have seen her spreading it on bread - but principally to mix with balsamic vinegar to make a sauce for the tuna steaks.  Now, crab apple trees are not particularly common, although I have discovered two or three growing in the verges of roads around Patcham.  Each year I drive around those roads, scooping up the mangled crab apples from the pavement.  However, for the last two years there have been no crab apples!  The OB even had to resort to using red currant jelly instead, until my cousin donated a jar of his  jelly, made from crab apples found on the farm.  That jar, alas, is now empty.

I recently took to walking the dog in a new area that I have passed almost daily for years but never bothered to investigate.  And what a delight it is.

I have never seen such a variety of wild flowers growing in a comparatively small area.  Poppies, ragwort, knapweed, clover, scabious, ladies' slipper, toadflax, milfoil, mullein, even harebells and possibly 18 or 20 other varieties that I couldn't identify.

Harebells, sometimes known as the bluebell of Scotland, are not very common in Sussex.

But the icing on the cake - if you'll forgive the slightly mangled metaphor -is that I have found not just one but two crab apple trees laden with ripening fruit!

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Kohima Epitaph

Photo: Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The words are achingly familiar but, like many thousands of other, I am sure, I was completely unaware that those lines are known as the Kohima Epitaph are engraved on a plaque on the memorial to the 2nd Infantry Division at Kohima Military Cemetery.

Yesterday, 15th August, was the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.  The war in Europe had ended some three months earlier with the surrender of Germany, but in the Far East the Japanese fought on until atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  After all the excitement of VE Day in May 1945, the fact that British, Commonwealth and American servicemen were still fighting in the far East was overlooked by many, leading to the British Fourteenth Army, fighting the Burma campaign, considering themselves "the Forgotten Army".

I am (almost) ashamed to say that I know next to nothing about the war in the Far East.  I have long been aware that Malaya, Singapore and Burma - then all part of the British Empire - were overrun by the Japanese, but that is in large part thanks to the film The Bridge Over the River Kwai.  Until yesterday I had never heard of Kohima.

Anne MacIntyre is the daughter of one of the men who fought in the Forgotten Army, which she describes as "the last great multi-racial army to fight under the British flag. One great quality shines out from this campaign and that is the enormous extent of the comradeship and sense of ‘belonging’ that united the British, Indian, Ghurkha, Burmese and African."  She goes on to describe in great detail the Battle of Kohima, turning point of the war in the Far East, which you can read here.

I find it staggering that this battle, often called the Battle of Imphal and Kohima, is considered to be one of my country's greatest battles - yet until yesterday I had never heard of it.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

American history

Well, maybe not, but these are alleged to be genuine things written by school pupils in history essays.

  • Sir Walter Raleigh is a historical figure because he invented cigarettes and started smoking.
  • Christopher Columbus was a great navigator who discovered America while cursing about the Atlantic. Later, the Pilgrims crossed the ocean and this was called Pilgrim’s Progress. Many people died and many babies were born. Captain John Smith was responsible for all this.
  • One of the causes of the Revolutionary War was the English putting tacks in their tea. Finally the colonists won the war and no longer had to pay for taxis.
  • Soon the Constitution of the United States was adopted to secure domestic hostility. Under the constitution the people enjoyed the right to keep bare arms.
  • Abraham Lincoln became America’s greatest Precedent. Lincoln’s mother died in infancy and he was born in a log cabin which he built with his own hands. On the night of April 14, 1865, Lincoln went to the theatre and was shot in his seat by one of the actors in a moving picture show. The believed assassin was John Wilkes Booth, a supposingly insane actor. This ruined Booth’s career. 

Friday, 14 August 2015

From the sublime to the gor blimey

Or the other way round.

We have, I'm sure, all heard of internet trolls and the way some people seem to get their kicks by posting rude or insulting comments on social media sites.  It's not something of which I have any personal experience, but it came very close to home yesterday.

A cousin's son is married to one of the BBC weather girls and I discovered quite by chance that a number of people have uploaded to Y/Tube videos of her presenting the weather forecast.  I was idly scrolling through them and occasionally reading some of the comments when I came across one which read something like (sorry, I've forgotten the exact words), "this girl just gets uglier" and then another (probably submitted by the same man) along the lines of, "I pay the BBC X pounds a year so why can't they employ good looking girls".  I was merely irritated by the sexist element in this, but absolutely infuriated by the unkindness of the comments.  I know Nina personally and find her an attractive person.  In fact, oddly, she is better looking in the flesh than she is on television!  But that is entirely beside the point.  Just what sort of slug can be bothered to post unkind, rude, derogatory comments such as those?

I'll have to stop there or I'll blow a fuse or have a stroke or something!

Later, I came across this quote by Mark Twain:
Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.
And to change the subject completely, we did get a drop or two of rain yesterday.  I copied this picture (credited to the Press Association and I hope they won't mind) from the Daily Telegraph web site.  It shows the A23 - the main Brighton to London road - in Brighton yesterday.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

You can't cure stupid

There are times when I worry about myself.  Take yesterday afternoon, for example.  I walked the dog and, on returning to the car, opened the boot and let her in.  (It is an estate car.)  Then I walked round the side and opened the door.  As I sat down I wondered what had happened.  It didn't feel the same as my seat.  I shut the door and then noticed something was missing: the steering wheel.

I'd only opened the back door and got in.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Who'd've thought it?

I am astonished, astounded, amazed!  My flabber, as they say, is well and truly gasted.  I would never have dreamed by my blog could have so much influence.

Yesterday, I wrote about the price of milk and said that I would be happy to pay more, provided the increase in price was paid to the farmers, many of whom receive less for their milk than it costs to produce.  Within hours of me posting that, Morrisons, one of the Big Four supermarket chains in this country, announced that they would introduce a new 'brand' of milk, milk for farmers, which would carry a premium and would see an extra 10p per pint paid to the farmers.  It's just a shame that it is to be sold only in 4-pint bottles (we can't easily fit that size in our fridge) and, in any case, there is no branch of the chain situated conveniently for me.

I wonder if the other supermarkets will follow the lead?

It is a start, but I still think that this should have been applied across the range of milk without resorting to the introduction of a new 'brand'.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015


Being a person of mature years, I can well remember the days when the milkman would call daily (except Sundays) and leave fresh milk on the doorstep in glass bottles. For some years, the Old Bat and I were part of an ever-declining number of people who supported the local dairy, refusing to haul our milk from the supermarket, even though supermarket milk was considerably cheaper.  We believed - or maybe just hoped - that the milk delivered to our doorstep (by now on just three days a week) was fresher than could be bought at Tesco or Asda or wherever and had probably travelled fewer miles.  But when the dairy used an increase in VAT as a reason for putting up prices, I cancelled our order.  VAT is not charged on milk so an increase in the tax was not a valid excuse for a price rise.

One of the few speeches I learned in preparation for exams when at school mentions milk.  It is a speech by Lady M in Shakespeare's Scottish play in which she says that her husband is "too full of the milk of human kindness" to take the shortest route to acquiring power.  I don't think any of our supermarket companies could be charged with being too full of the milk of human kindness towards dairy farmers.  For years, farmers have complained that they are forced to sell their milk at prices lower than the cost of production.  This, I imagine, applies mainly to the smaller farms; huge, industrial-sized concerns will reap the benefits of large-scale production, quite possibly by keeping their herds indoors instead of letting the cattle roam the pastures and eat their natural food.

We are warned, too, that world production of milk is increasing while consumption - notably in China - is falling.  But I am not interested in long-life (UHT) milk, I want fresh milk, the fresher the better.  And if it needs another 5p or 10p on the price of a pint, I'm quite prepared to pay that - so long as it is the dairy farmer who benefits.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Well, that was fun!

Or maybe not.

The Pensioner/Old Bat household routine on a Sunday evening differs - slightly - from that on other days.  That is because we are staunch traditionalists, and it is traditional (in all the best English households) for Sunday dinner to be a roast.  It matters not what the meat is; lamb or pork or beef or chicken, whatever, but it must be roasted.  Yesterday was no exception and the Old Bat roasted a gammon joint.  Naturally, to accompany a roast joint there are roast potatoes.  Two other vegetables will be served as well; yesterday they were carrots and broccoli.  If the joint is beef, there will be Yorkshire puddings.  With lamb, mint sauce.  With pork, apple sauce and stuffing balls.  With gammon, white sauce.  And of course, gravy with every meat except gammon.

The routine might vary slightly from one Sunday to the next, but the basics are that the OB drains the vegetable saucepans and leaves me to serve the veg, immediately washing the saucepans as they are emptied.  The gravy (or white sauce) is poured into the gravy boat and the saucepan washed.  The pans are left to drain while I remove the meat from the oven and transfer it to the carving dish, along with the roast potatoes (and Yorkshire puddings or stuffing balls as appropriate).  The roasting tins are then left in the washing up bowl full of hot water.

After we have eaten, I wipe the saucepans as necessary, remove the roating tins from the bowl and pour away that water, preparatory to filling the bowl with fresh water to wash the wine glasses, anything else that doesn't go into the dishwasher, and the roasting tine.  But last night, when I emptied the bowl, the water stayed in the sink.  It did eventually drain away, but it took the better part of five minutes.  Water has been taking longer to drain these past few weeks, and I knew that the time was fast approaching when I would have to remove and clean the U-bend under the sink, but I had expected a little more notice!

So I spent several minutes removing the U-bend, one of the nuts seeming to have become welded.  There was a little gunk in the bend, but not enough to cause a blockage.  It took me almost as long to unscrew the cap at the rodding point outside the kitchen where I found more gunk.  Again, not enough to cause a blockage.  The pipe goes through two right-angle bends and two shallower bends after leaving the sink unit and before exiting the kitchen and I reasoned that the blockage was probably in one of those right-angle bends.

I do have one of those gizmos that you push through a pipe and then screw round to clear blockages, but mine is in France, the only place that I have ever used it.  And I have no plunger - not that I thought one would be any use.

So I took the washing up upstairs to the bathroom and did it there.  I did contemplate going out this morning to buy another of those gizmos (are they called mice?) but instead, decided to call in a professional.

He arrived within a couple of hours and spent all of five minutes clearing the sink.  As he said, it helps to have the right equipment.  In his case, a mouse, a wet-and-dry vacuum cleaner with a good hard suck (and blow) - and the largest plunger I have ever seen.

Naturally, it cost me.  But at least I won't get to spend another evening on DIY plumbing - and I won't have to do the washing up in the bathroom either!

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Going up!

Back in the 19th century there was a craze for building out over the sea.  Brighton's west Pier was but one of those constructions, opened in 1866.  There's not much of it left now; indeed, even less than in this photograph, which I took four years ago tomorrow.  Nowadays the craze seems to have turned through ninety degrees and construction is upwards.  Portsmouth has its Spinnaker Tower and Brighton is shortly to have the i360, a 531-foot tower constructed on the sea front close to the one-time entrance to the West Pier.  According to the Wiki: "When complete it will be Britain's highest observation tower, with a viewing platform at 138 metres (453 feet), and views along the coast, across the South Downs and across the English Channel.", provided by "an ascending and descending circular viewing platform with a capacity for 200 people."

I have to confess to a slight unease concerning the financing of this project, desirable though it is.  The total cost is said to be £46 million, but the city council has lent to developers £36 million, having borrowed that sum themselves from the government.

The tower is not due to open until next year but is already the highest building in Sussex with more to go.  I have yet to see it on site, but it is seen easily from the Roman Camp, dwarfing the Metropole Heights and Theobald House blocks of flats

Saturday, 8 August 2015

On the doorstep

I can't now recall quite why we ended up living in Brighton.  By "we" I mean my parents and my brother and I: and in truth, "we" never did all live in Brighton; we lived in Hove, actually.

It was nearly 60 years ago now, back in 1957, that my father retired.  He was only in his early-mid-forties, but he had served his time in the Royal Navy - more than 20 years - and he was retiring on pension.  That pension, however, would be insufficient to keep a family of four, two of those four being fast-growing teenagers, so it was essential that new employment be found.  Dad applied to the Civil Service and was offered a job in the branch that audited local councils' books.  To be more exact, he was offered the choice of three jobs.  Each involved the same work, but there were three teams needing someone and he was offered the choice of joining the team based in Bath or the one in Truro or the one in Hove.

Although by then my paternal grandfather was dead, my other three grandparents were still alive and kicking, and living in the same town in north Kent that we had been living in, Gillingham.  I rather suspect that it was this that pushed us to live in Sussex.  Bath was - and still is - in Somerset in the West Country while Truro is well down the peninsula of Cornwall.  Travelling from Bath to see my grandparents would be bad enough, but Truro would involve a three-day camel ride.  At least if we lived in Brighton (or Hove, actually) a visit to Gillingham would involve no more than a day out.

(Coincidentally, my brother, when he retired from the police, found work in Truro!)

I have no doubt that I would have been just as happy living in either Bath or Truro - although if I had I would never have met the Old Bat.  But I am very happy to live in Brighton where I have the South Downs National Park on my doorstep.  Well, nearly on my doorstep.  This is a panorama made up from six photographs that I took yesterday afternoon while walking round the Roman Camp.  The view is, very approximately, from north-west to north-east looking out across the SDNP.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Harvest home

We've been back from France for over a week but I've only just rescued the camera from the car so now I can bore everybody with my holiday photos!  Well, just this one, maybe.  This is the field next to our cottage.

Thursday, 6 August 2015


Before we last trekked to France I returned the books I had borrowed from the public library but borrowed no more.  I had plenty of books to read, including the recently published third of Roberts Goddard's trilogy.  Now I have finished all of them and find myself too busy to visit the public library during its rather restricted opening hours.  I have instead resorted my private library.  Sounds a bit posh, doesn't it?  But it really is a fairly small collection of books that I consider good enough to keep by me.  The one I selected to read again is The Cruel Sea, by Nicholas Monsarrat, published in 1951.  It was very quickly made into a film, released in 1953, starring Jack Hawkins, Donald Sinden, Denholm Elliott, Stanley Baker, Liam Redmond, Virginia McKenna and Moira Lister.  It is a few years now since I last read the book although I did watch the film again, ooh, a couple of years ago. (I have the DVD.)  I first saw the film in 1953, when I was but a wee bitty laddie away at school on the Isle of Wight.  It does seem to me now to be surprising that the nuns who ran the school allowed we pupils to see a war film.  The only other film we were taken to see that year was the film of the Queen's coronation!

As I say, it is a long time since I read the book and I had forgotten just how Monsarrat draws us into the story and how well he makes characters and scenes come to life.

The book opens thus:
This is the story - the long and true story - of one ocean, two ships, and about a hundred and fifty men.  It is a long story because it deals with a long and brutal battle, the worst of any war.  It has two ships, because one was sunk and had to be replaced.  It has a hundred and fifty men because that is a manageable number of people to tell a story about.  Above all, it is a true story because that is the only kind worth telling.

First, the ocean, the steep Atlantic stream.  The map will tell you what that looks like: three-cornered, three thousand miles across and a thousand fathoms deep, bounded by the European coastline and half of Africa, and the vast American continent on the other side: open at the top like a champagne glass, and at the bottom like a municipal rubbish dumper.  What the map will not tell you is the strength and fury of that ocean, its moods, its violence, its gentle balm, its treachery: what men can do with it and what it can do with men.  But this story will tell you all that.

Then the ship, the first of the two, the doomed one.  At the moment she seems far from doomed: she is new, untried, lying in a river that lacks the tang of salt water, waiting for the men to man her.  She is a corvette, a new type of escort ship, an experiment designed to meet a desperate situation still over the horizon.  She is brand new; the time is November 1939; her name is HMS Compass Rose.

Lastly, the men, the hundred and fifty men.  They come on the stage in twos and threes: some are early, some are late, some, like this pretty ship, are doomed.  When they are all assembled, they are a company of sailors.  They have women, at least a hundred and fifty women, loving them, or tied to them, or glad to see the last of them as they go to war.

But the men are the stars of this story.  The only heroines are the ships: and the only villain the cruel sea itself.
Doesn't that just draw you in?  I know it does me.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Sunday shopping

I suppose that if I were so inclined - which I'm not - I could find out what the law about Sunday trading is in Germany or the Netherlands, in Italy or Spain.  But, as I say, I am not so inclined.  I don't even know what the law is in France, a country I visit fairly frequently;  I do know that French shops are, for the most part, closed on Sundays.  The exceptions are boulangeries (bakers) who have to open as French bread doesn't keep for 24 hours and they don't have that horrible plastic-wrapped muck we see in every supermarket.  I do know of one smallish supermarket that opens for about three hours on Sunday mornings, but otherwise everything is closed.

Despite the inconvenience of shops being closed, French people seem to cope perfectly well.  Yet here in England, supermarkets are regularly open on Sundays, albeit only for six hours.  The law is that only shops of less then 3,000 square feet may open for longer than six hours on Sundays.  But there are moves afoot to change the law, possibly allowing supermarkets to open for longer.  The argument is that this will mean more jobs and that supermarkets will make more money so they will pass on some of that to customers in the form of lower prices.  £64 million pounds has been mentioned.

Just who do those people think they are kidding?

Firstly, supermarkets do cut prices in an effort to attract shoppers from their rival stores but why should they cut their prices just because they are making more money?

Neither do I accept the premise that more jobs would be created if supermarkets opened for longer on Sundays.  Current staff would simply be expected to work longer hours.

And where is all this new business to come from?  The nearest supermarket to me is already open from 7.00am Monday right through to 10.00pm Saturday and then again from 10.00am till 4.00pm on Sunday.  Being open more hours won't bring in more customers; it will simply spread the customer flow over a longer period.

I try very hard not to visit any shop on a Sunday, not for any reason of religion but just because I think there are six other days in which to do my shopping.  I appreciate that some people must work on Sundays - emergency service staff, for example - but couldn't we just shut the shop one day a week?

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

RIP Cilla

I certainly recall her as a singer - about 50 years ago now - but I never consciously watched her hosting those television programmes Blind Date and Surprise, Surprise.  I say 'consiously' as I have distinct memories of seeing snatches of both programmes, probably when my daughter was watching them.

Cilla Black died on Saturday at her Spanish home, aged 72.  Although the initial reports were that the post mortem had proved inconclusive, it is now being said that she suffered a stroke.

Born in Liverpool to working class parents - her father was a docker - it would seem that she never let stardom go to her head.  She managed to hang on to her scouse (Liverpool) accent all her life and remained down to earth, despite owning a 10-bedroom house in England and a villa in Spain.  An obituary I read reported that she vacuumed the English house herself every Sunday, "just in case the Queen drops in".  And I can hear her saying that in the cheeky way she had.  And if the Queen had dropped by, I'm sure Cilla would have used that northern English phrase to invite her in: "Step inside, Luv".

She was an approachable person and willingly posed for photographs with fans at the airport when she left for Spain last week and again at the Spanish airport. A sad loss.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Operation Stack: the effects

I wrote yesterday about the fact that the M20 motorway had been closed to turn it into the world's largest lorry park.  I understand that traffic is now flowing again and there are no more than the usual delays in crossing the Channel.

It is nearly two weeks since the Old Bat and I went over the France.  We passed a long line of lorries parked up on the hard shoulder of the motorway, but the road was still open and we had no problems in getting to the Channel Tunnel terminal.  The train operating company had sent a text while we were on our way just to confirm that we would have no difficulty.

When we came back last week it was a different story.  There were no problems in France - well, we encountered none, although there were plenty of would-be immigrants milling around just outside the tunnel terminal, no doubt waiting for darkness when attempts to evade security would be easier.  We saw only short queues of lorries, but there are three motorways leading to Calais and the main port is on the other side of town from our approach.

On joining to M20 in Kent, we once again saw the effects.  The far side of the motorway, leading to tunnel and ferries, was closed and there were lorries parked up on the hard shoulder on our side as well.  Until we reached Ashford, at which point the motorway was closed on our side too with traffic diverted into Ashford and then along the single carriageway A20 to Maidstone.  I decided to follow my nose across country having spent a good half hour queuing to leave the motorway.  Ashford was grid-locked and it was this that really brought home to me how so many people other than would-be Channel crossers were affected by this problem.

I'm not sure which group of people were (or are still) the more deserving of my sympathy.

  • There were the transport companies whose lorries were probably several hundred miles from where they should have been throwing schedules into chaos and causing problems for their customers.  In some cases the lorries were carrying fresh food which reached the point where it had to be thrown away.
  • There were the lorry drivers having to endure many hours of doing nothing at the side of the road.
  • There were the local residents who were experiencing great difficulty in going about their normal lives.  The grid-locked roads meant that there was no way of estimating how long a journey might take whether that journey was simply to the local shops or to a vital hospital appointment.
  • There were the businesses losing money because their customers just couldn't get to them - or who decided against even trying.  Leeds Castle is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Kent and they said that their visitor numbers were down by 30% on last year while Operation Stack continued.
  • And then there are the immigrants themselves, many of whom have left war-torn countries or countries where they have little hope of earning a living.  Whether they be asylum seekers or so-called economic migrants, they have endured hazardous journeys and are having to live rough on the outskirts of Calais.  And who are we to say they should not attempt to find better lives for themselves by migrating?  Isn't that what thousands of our own fellow countrymen did when they emigrated to Australia, Canada, the USA?
Meanwhile, the problem is likely to continue for some time and Operation Stack will almost certainly be re-activated in a week or two.  Just how to solve the problem is exercising minds both sides of the Channel.  The British blaming the French and the French blaming the British does nothing to help - and what about the Italians and others who happily speed the migrants on their way towards the twin goals of Germany and England?

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Operation Stack

I cannot begin to calculate how many lorries would have to park nose to tail to form a queue 30 miles long but that's what they had in Kent last week and on several other occasions during the last couple of months.  I say a queue 30 miles long -yes, THIRTY - but it was, in fact, only 15 miles long, but the lorries were parked in both the left hand lane and the right hand lane of a three-lane motorway, leaving the centre lane free for police cars and other emergency and service vehicles.  At one point, the average waiting time in that queue was 18 hours!  Small wonder that portaloos had been placed at intervals along the hard shoulder and that meals and drinks were being delivered to the lorry drivers caught up in the mayhem.  That is Operation Stack, the parking of lorries bound for Calais but delayed.

Most of my British readers will be well aware of the existence of this problem but for those dropping by from more distant shores, I will provide a brief background before I go on to what I really want to get off my chest.

You must realise that the English port of Dover in east Kent and the French port of Calais provide the shortest ferry crossing route between Great Britain and continental Europe.  (Dover claims to be the busiest port in the world as it has so many sailings in and out, not all of them to Calais.)  Calais is also the site of the French end of the Channel Tunnel, the English end being near Folkestone, just a few miles from Dover.  Between them, the Dover-Calais ferries and the Channel Tunnel carry most of the goods being imported and exported between the UK and Europe.  The Tunnel also has high-speed trains connecting London with Paris, Brussels and other European cities.  On top of that, there are the private cars using both ferries and tunnel for business and holiday purposes.

There are two principal reasons for the M20 motorway, leading to both the tunnel and the ferry port, being turned into the world's biggest lorry park..  The first is a purely local matter: the sale of a ferry company by one operator to another will cause job losses to French seamen.  They have called a number of wildcat strikes and have set fires on roads leading to the Calais port and on railway tracks at the entrance to the tunnel.  This has, obviously, caused disruption to services.

The second reason is rather more complex, involving as it does, citizens of various Middle Eastern and North African states.  People from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and other countries are anxious to settle in Europe.  So anxious are they, that people smugglers cram them into unseaworthy boats to cross from Libya to Italy and from Turkey to Greece.  But Italy and Greece are not the preferred destinations of the majority of these illegal immigrants.  A large proportion of them head for England as that is the only language in which they have at least a few words - other than their mother tongues.  As a result of what is called the Schengen agreement, people can pass freely between most European countries in the same way as they pass from one county to another.  So, once in Italy or Greece, the migrants slowly make their way across Europe to Calais to attempt the short crossing to their El Dorado, their Shangri-La.  But the UK has not adopted the Schengen agreement and our borders are, officially at least, closed.  People crossing into the UK are subject to checks - and the would-be immigrants would not be allowed through.  They must therefore seek clandestine ways to enter the UK, such as hiding in the back of lorries, riding on top of the lorries or even on lorry axles.  Others try to jump onto the trains carrying lorries through the tunnel.  Understandably, accidents happen, accidents which only exacerbate the problem caused by the striking seamen and result in further delays.

But that's enough for today.  It's time to put the kettle on and then see if there are any gooseberries to be picked.