Sunday, 29 November 2015

Product placement?

It is generally not my practice to make commercial endorsements or to place products in this blog.  After all, the companies making the products don't pay me to advertise their wares!  I grant you that I may well have mentioned a particular restaurant where the OB and I have enjoyed a meal, But that, as a rule, is as far as I have gone.  Today, however, I propose to change all that.

Marks and Spencer used to be considered the very epitome of Englishness; no middle class lady would buy her unmentionables at any other store.  Marks and Sparks had a reputation for quality and value for money.  How they wish that were still the case!

Somewhere along the line the company branched out from its tradition of selling clothing and accessories and added food to the list of products to be found in their stores.  The quality of their foodstuff has the reputation that their clothes once did for quality, although it tends to be at least a little on the pricey side.

It was quite a few years ago that they introduced their 'Dine In For £10' meals.  This scheme offers customers a main dish, a side dish, a dessert - and a bottle of wine, the basics of a meal for two.  And all for the price of £10.  there are plenty of people who have poured scorn on the idea, claiming that the main dishes are skimpy, there is too much emphasis on chicken, or they could prepare the whole thing for less than £10.  The Old Bat and I disagree.

Yesterday, for example, we enjoyed fillets of sea bream with a garden pea, mint, cheese and lemon zest topping, served with parmentier potatoes - and the OB cooked a little broccoli as well.  Our dessert was raspberry panna cotta.  The fish was delicious, the topping giving it a bit of zing, and the parmentier potatoes are quite possibly the best I have ever eaten.  As for the panna cotta, it was smooth and creamy - just what panna cotta should be.

And here ends the commercial break!

Saturday, 28 November 2015


It has been rumoured that Brighton is the eccentric capital of England.  The town - OK, now the city if we include Hove, actually - certainly seems to have had at least its fair share of, well, not to put too fine a point of it, oddballs.

I suppose it could be said to date back to the time of the Prince Regent, later King George IV, some 200 years ago.  He it was who had what was pretty much a bog standard farmhouse enlarged and converted in the Royal Pavilion we see today - seemingly Indian-inspired architecture decorated internally in the Chinese style.

A friend once told me how he was sitting in a pub in central Brighton, idly gazing out of the window, when he saw a man dressed as a pirate, complete with a stuffed parrot on his shoulder, come round the corner of the street, put his skateboard on the ground, and skate off.  That man was 60 if he was a day - but nobody batted an eyelid.

Brighton is also thought to be the only place where a block of council flats has a blue plaque.  The city of Brighton and Hove awarded Doreen Valiente a blue plaque to commemorate her life and honour her achievements. The plaque is the first in the world awarded to a witch.  According to the Doreen Valiente Foundation web site, "Doreen Valiente remains, simply, the most influential woman in the world of modern Witchcraft".

Possibly the city's best-known eccentric today is Disco Pete. In his mid-70s, Pete will bne seen anywhere in the city where there is open-air music - as here on the lower promenade, although he is usually dressed much more colourfully.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Thanksgiving Day

It is just conceivable - indeed, it is highly probable - that what I am about to commit, first, to the screen and, later, to the world at large through the good offices of Blogger and the Intertubes (as Buck was wont to call it) will cause offence.  All I can say is, if it does cause offence to you, you need to grow up and get over it.  I am just as much entitled to my opinion as you are to yours.

So, here goes.

Today is Thanksgiving Day.  At least, it is in what were at one time the colonies and also in the wider lands that joined with them to become the US of A.  But over here in Merrie Olde England I am giving thanks as well.  I am giving thanks that I am not a citizen of that vast country across the ocean.  And since I am not, I don't have to rush around like a demented something or other just to spend the day with members of my family and eat turkey and pumpkin pie.

Now don't get me wrong; I am more than happy to spend time with my family.  I just don't fancy having to travel several hundred miles to do so, and then travel the same distance back again after a few hours.  And I have nothing against roast turkey, which I will be eating with my family (or some members of it) on Christmas Day.  But I have an intense dislike of pumpkin pie - or any other dishes made from pumpkins.

And then there is this obligation to go shopping on the day after Thanksgiving (always assuming one is not back at work that day).  We seem to have imported Black Friday into England, I am sorry to say, although I fail to understand quite why that should be.

Actually, the one thing I have in favour of Thanksgiving Day is that once it is over we can start thinking about Christmas; although, in truth, we have been thinking about Christmas for quite a while now.  Father Christmas arrived in his grotto at the garden centre last weekend, duly assisted by members of Brighton and Adur East Lions Clubs.  The invitations to Brighton Lions pre-Christmas party for elderly folk were distributed two weeks ago.  And I received my first Christmas card on 10th November!

One of the great things about Christmas in England is that the holiday (remember, that's a corruption of holy day) last two days - Christmas Day and Boxing Day - even though Boxing Day is becoming more and more like Black Friday year by year.

Hey!  How about that?  When Boxing Day falls on a Friday we could have two Black Fridays in one year!

Tuesday, 24 November 2015


Troops patrol an empty city (Photo:
I really can't make up my mind whether the action of the Belgian government is right or wrong.

Brussels is in Day 3 of lockdown.  Schools are closed, the metro is not running, armed troops patrol almost deserted streets and people have been advised not to congregate and - preferably - to stay indoors.  All this follows "intelligence" that the murderous Isil thugs planned attacks in Brussels similar to those in Paris.

Of course, one can't expect the Belgian government to tell the world exactly what intelligence they have received or how they obtained it, but I remember our government claiming to have intelligence that Saddam Hussain had weapons of mass destruction.  I hope this latest intelligence is more accurate that was that!

But doesn't locking down the city play into the hands of the terrorists?  Is it not part of their planning to instill fear everywhere?  It seems to me that by closing schools and offices and shutting down the metro, the Belgian authorities have been spreading alarm and despondency among the population.

On the other hand, if the authorities had not taken this action but simply put more police and armed troops on the streets, they would have been blamed if there had been terrorist attacks.  A clear case of damned if you do, damned if you don't.

It was, perhaps, not on the same scale, but I recall the days, weeks and months when we expected the IRA to plant bombs in London - in addition to the ones they did plant.  People went about their daily lives as usual, albeit with a little more care about potential suspect packages and litter bins were taken off the streets.

It's easy for me to say it, safe as I am in Brighton, but I do tend to think that it would have been better for the Belgians to say simply, "Keep calm and carry on".

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Explaining the Middle East

I stumbled across this Pulitzer-Prize-worthy piece on the dreaded  It's (apparently) by someone called Hassan Ali, who obviously knows how many beans make four.  Anyway, by the time you have read it you will be better informed than any of the BBC's Middle East correspondents.

"President Assad (who is bad) is a nasty guy who got so nasty his people rebelled and the rebels (who are good) started winning (Hurrah!).  But then some of the rebels turned a bit nasty and are now called Islamic State (who are definitely bad!) and some continued to support democracy (who are still good).

"So the Americans ( who are good ) started bombing Islamic State ( who are bad ) and giving arms to the Syrian Rebels ( who are good ) so they could fight Assad ( who is still bad ) which was good.
By the way, there is a breakaway state in the north run by the Kurds who want to fight IS (which is a good thing) but the Turkish authorities think they are bad, so we have to say they are bad whilst secretly thinking they're good and giving them guns to fight IS (which is good) but that is another matter.
"Getting back to Syria.
"So President Putin ( who is bad, cos he invaded Crimea and the Ukraine and killed lots of folks including that nice Russian man in London with polonium poisoned sushi ) has decided to back Assad ( who is still bad ) by attacking IS ( who are also bad ) which is sort of a good thing?
"But Putin ( still bad ) thinks the Syrian Rebels ( who are good ) are also bad, and so he bombs them too, much to the annoyance of the Americans ( who are good ) who are busy backing and arming the rebels ( who are also good).
"Now Iran ( who used to be bad, but now they have agreed not to build any nuclear weapons and bomb Israel are now good ) are going to provide ground troops to support Assad ( still bad ) as are the Russians ( bad ) who now have ground troops and aircraft in Syria.
"So a Coalition of Assad ( still bad ) Putin ( extra bad ) and the Iranians ( good, but in a bad sort of way ) are going to attack IS ( who are bad ) which is a good thing, but also the Syrian Rebels ( who are good ) which is bad.
"Now the British ( obviously good, except that nice Mr Corbyn in the corduroy jacket, who is probably bad ) and the Americans ( also good ) cannot attack Assad ( still bad ) for fear of upsetting Putin ( bad ) and Iran ( good / bad) and now they have to accept that Assad might not be that bad after all compared to IS ( who are super bad).
"So Assad ( bad ) is now probably good, being better than IS ( but let’s face it, drinking your own wee is better than IS so no real choice there ) and since Putin and Iran are also fighting IS that may now make them Good. America ( still Good ) will find it hard to arm a group of rebels being attacked by the Russians for fear of upsetting Mr Putin ( now good ) and that nice mad Ayatollah in Iran ( also Good ) and so they may be forced to say that the Rebels are now Bad, or at the very least abandon them to their fate. This will lead most of them to flee to Turkey and on to Europe or join IS ( still the only constantly bad group).
"To Sunni Muslims, an attack by Shia Muslims ( Assad and Iran ) backed by Russians will be seen as something of a Holy War, and the ranks of IS will now be seen by the Sunnis as the only Jihadis fighting in the Holy War and hence many Muslims will now see IS as Good ( Doh!.)
"Sunni Muslims will also see the lack of action by Britain and America in support of their Sunni rebel brothers as something of a betrayal ( mmm - might have a point) and hence we will be seen as Bad.
"So now we have America ( now bad ) and Britain ( also bad ) providing limited support to Sunni Rebels ( bad ) many of whom are looking to IS ( Good / bad ) for support against Assad ( now good ) who, along with Iran ( also Good) and Putin ( also, now, unbelievably, Good ) are attempting to retake the country Assad used to run before all this started?
"So, now you fully understand everything, all your questions are answered!!!"

Thursday, 19 November 2015

A bit of a Barney

A couple of days ago we were warned to batten down the hatches in preparation for storm force winds and possible flooding.  Mind you, this wasn't so much for people living in what is sometimes referred to as the 'soft' south-east and was mainly directed at the south-west and north-west of England, Wales and Scotland.  Along the south coast we were supposedly less likely to receive the heavy rain, although winds gusting up to 80mph were predicted.

This was Storm Barney.

For some reason I have not heard, the British and Irish meteorological offices have decided to 'honour' certain winter storms with names, just like hurricanes.  Quite what criteria storms have to display in order to be so honoured is another thing I have failed to take in, although I suspect nobody has bothered to tell we huddled masses.  Anyway, Abigal arrived last week - and the next one will be named Clodagh (a sop to the Met Éireann I presume).

So we did get strong winds and lashings of rain.  Then it cleared up - only for the wind and rain to come back again.  And again.

Waves crash into the lighthouse at Newhaven, East Sussex

 (borrowed from The Argus)

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

What happened to the stiff upper lip?

It used to be the case that Englishmen were proud of the fact that in any adversity they would demonstrate a stiff upper lip.  I have to wonder what happened to our sang froid as it seems we no longer possess it.  These past few days demonstrate that fact.

Tower Bridge and the arch at Wembley Stadium have been floodlit in the colours of the tricolore.  Many of us have changed our Facebook images, even if only temporarily.  Yesterday, we English joined with the rest of Europe in holding a minute's silence in memory of the victims of the atrocities in Paris.  Even banks and shops stopped work to join in.

There was a time when, faced with any sort of tragedy or disaster, Englishmen would have, perhaps, paused for a moment and then gone about their business.

This did not mean a lack of care or empathy.  It was exactly the same if the disaster was personal.  It was simply considered 'bad form', selfish exhibitionism even, to show grief or pain in front of others who, possibly, did not share one's pain.  Men would do no more than wear a black armband in the event of the death of a relative, although women - the gentler sex - were expected to don mourning dress, 'widow's weeds'.  Nowadays we are expected to wail and gnash our teeth - just like hysterical Frenchmen.  And as for the flowers and toys left at the scene of a death...

It seems to me that it all started with the death of Princess Diana.  It was in 2007 that Jonathan Freedland, wrote in The Guardian, "The conventional wisdom [now] holds that Diana week was an outburst of mass hysteria, an episode when the British public lost its characteristic cool and engaged in seven days of bogus sentimentality, whipped up by the media."

It appears that we are still enthralled by mass hysteria.

Monday, 16 November 2015

An object of derision

Yep, that's me.  The innocent cause of much merriment.

All because of my mobile phone.

Contrary to popular belief, I do have one.  My children...  Not that they are children any longer, so I will instead refer to them as my two sons and, to a lesser extent, my daughter find it most amusing that I have a mobile phone.

"But," they exclaim, "you never switch it on!"

That is so untrue.  I do switch it on when we are in France.  In fact, over there I switch it on when I get up and it stays switched on until we go out to eat in the evening.  But I see no point having it switched on while I am in England.  It is there, in my pocket, in case I need it in an emergency.  Otherwise, I use the landline.  Phone calls through the landline - to UK geographic numbers and landlines in 35 other countries as well as most UK mobiles - cost me nothing.  My children sons and daughter all use mobile phones constantly.  Their landlines are solely for Internet usage.  I think.

But I see no need to pay, what, £35 a month or thereabouts? just to carry around a phone larger than the one I have.  Slimmer, perhaps, but definitely larger in other dimensions.  And so, when my son's partner saw my mobile phone on Saturday she fell about laughing - and insisted on taking a photo of it.  A photo that is now on F/b with comments poking fun at yours truly.

But let them deride who must.  My mobile phone costs me nothing, unless I actually use it, and it works.  It's not all-singing and all-dancing, I grant you.  But I don't need that.  I just need a phone that I can use occasionally - as a phone.

As it's not broke, I have no intention of fixing it.

My trusty old Nokia

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Paris, nous sommes l'un avec vous

I have been there just three or four times but I can't say that Paris is my favourite city.  Paris in the springtime means nothing to me, and the idea that strolling along the banks of the Seine is romantic just seems to me plain daft.

But it's not only Paris.  I may well have been born and bred a townie, but cities are not really my thing.  I worked in central London, barely outside the boundary of the City, for fourteen years and in that time I did discover parts of the city that were not unattractive, but I was always very pleased to breath clean air again when I alighted from the train in the evenings.

I have never visited quite a few cities in my time, both English, Scottish and 'abroad', although there are many that have, so far, eluded me.  I have never visited Rome, Vienna or Berlin, but I have been to Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen (which almost fails to qualify as a city), Venice and Florence, as well as New York, Washington and San Francisco.  But my favourite by far is Amsterdam, which I deem more romantic than either Paris or Venice.

So Paris may not be my 'thing' - but I am one with all those Parisians who declare they will not be cowed by terrorist atrocities such as those that were perpetrated this weekend.

Friday, 13 November 2015

The best laid plans

I had planned to do so much today.

I won't bore you with a long list of the various things I intended to get done but I will just let you into the secret of one thing on the list.  I had planned to get my post finished before Skip got up, which isn't easy because he gets up ridiculously early, especially for a Californian.  My hope was to beat Skip at his own game by announcing to the world at large:

It's on Friday this month!

But he's already been up for hours by now - although I don't think he has posted anything about the 13th as yet so maybe I have got in first after all.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

And it came to pass

To carry on from where I was so rudely interrupted yesterday...

Back at the beginning of time - well, soon after the interwotsit started to become available to every Tom, Dick and Harry - I decided that my company should send me on a course to learn the intricacies of Hypertext Markup Language, commonly referred to as HTML, which is the standard markup language used to create web pages. I'm not too sure just why I felt it would be a good idea for me to know about this, but as I was the boss, there was no difficulty in the company paying for me to attend the course.  It was only one day, anyway.  I found it extremely interesting and, although I had learned only a very limited amount, the purchase of the Idiot's Guide book padded out my knowledge.  Thus it was that I designed web sites for Brighton Lions Club and even the Lions District.

Time passed, and I discovered that there were companies selling stuff on the Internet, companies that were prepared to pay a small introductory commission to people owning other web sites; companies such as Amazon and W H Smith, along with many other names that nobody had (or has now) never heard of.  And so I developed an on-line shopping mall.

It never did raise much money.  I suppose that is hardly surprising when the rate of commission was perhaps 2.5% and companies would only pay over the commission once it amounted to £50, which would need (if my arithmetic is correct) sales worth £2,000.  We did get some money from Amazon, but the rest just died quietly.  Another thing against us was that for any commission to be earned, shoppers would have to go through our web site to the retailer's, making it just too fiddly.

But now, I have discovered a different way.  All it needs is for people to:
1. Visit and click on the “Support Us Now” button.
2. Register as a supporter of Brighton Lions Club Charity Trust Fund.
3. Download the donation reminder button. This puts a small program onto your computer so that…
4. …when you visit an online retailer who is part of the scheme, you will be reminded to make the donation.

Easy peasy!

So, if you are planning to do Christmas shopping on-line through Amazon or Argos or John Lewis - or any of more than 2,700 retailers! - you know what to do.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

If it looks too good to be true...

Well, yes, as a confirmed cynic that cliché has been a guiding light in my life for many a long year.  But while there's life, there's hope, and it's the exception that proves the rule - just to add to the abundance of clichés which save me from having to think of my own words.

And it is just possible that I stumbled across two of those exceptions yesterday.  Well, I'm being a little economical with the truth when I say that I stumbled across them.  Yes, I did just happen across one of them, but the other was thrust in front of my nose - or should I say my ear? - as the result of a telephone call.

The caller explained that he had been referred to me by the president of Brighton Lions Club, though quite why el presidente thought I would be the one to deal with this remains a puzzle.  Joe - for that, I believe, is the caller's name - explained that he works for a company that has helped numerous schools and charities in south-east England to obtain funding for IT materials such as laptop computers.  I am not sorry, or even ashamed, to confess that my first thought was that two or three of us had been talking about how a projector linked to a laptop would be useful and had even been thinking about making an application to the National Lottery to see if we could get a grant.  Could this, I wondered, be the way to go?

My second thought was: What's in it for you?  (My innate cynicism coming to the fore.)

However, I suggested that Joe should send me an email providing further information.  After I had digested that, I might get in touch.

The email came though and, inter alia, referred me to the company's web site.  I hied me thence and, scrolling through the testimonials, I discovered that they had assisted another not-too-distant Lions Club.

And as time is running away with me once again, I think I had better leave it there and finish the tale tomorrow.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Missing days

It was back in the mid-18th century that the calendar was changed - September 1752, to be exact.  Up until the 2nd September that year, the UK had been using the Julian calendar, which meant that the British calendar was 12 days behind the calendar used across Europe.  2nd September in England was 13th September in France.  This must have led to a certain confusion when dealing with international payments, albeit nothing like the problems we would face today if that date difference still existed.

Anyway, an act of Parliament decreed that the day after Wednesday, 2nd September 1751 would be Thursday, 13th September, thereby bringing the British calendar in line with that used on the continent, the Gregorian calendar.

BUT, the change brought problems.  People clamoured to be given back the eleven days that had been stolen from them!

I'm feeling a bit like that at the moment, wondering who pinched several days of my life.  I have been so incredibly busy that there has simply been no time to even think of anything to blog about, let alone compose something almost sensible!

Oh well, maybe tomorrow.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Thursday, 5 November 2015

It's an ill wind.

As every English schoolchild knows, today - 5th November - is Bonfire Night.  This is the night when we let off fireworks and light bonfires to burn effigies of Guy (Guido) Fawkes, a member of a Papist plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament when the King was there.  Fortunately, the terrorists plans were leaked to the authorities in time for the planned atrocity to be forestalled.  That was in 1605.  Yes, 410 years ago, and we still celebrate the occasion.

It was as far back as 1952 that the then members of Brighton Lions Club agreed to pool their fireworks and to put on a display for the Brighton Girls Orphanage.  That display was organised every year until 1975.  In 1976 the display was moved to a public arena as a fund-raiser.  Admission was 40p for adults and 20p for children.  This year we are charging £10 and £5 for some £10k-worth of fireworks.

Some years ago the venue was changed to the County Cricket Ground but this year Sussex County Cricket Club decided they wanted no display and we have been forced to find a new venue again.  We have moved to the Racecourse, but have to hold the display tomorrow rather than on the traditional day.  Meanwhile, the cricket club have decided that they will hold their own fireworks display tonight.

It has been raining much of the afternoon and the forecast for this evening is more rain.  The forecast for tomorrow is much better.  Could it be that people will give tonight's display a miss and come to ours instead?

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

When life gives you lemons

I was intending to post this yesterday but time simply ran away with me, mainly while trying to finish writing my talk for tomorrow!  It's still only about half done; I shall just have to wing it - which will probably be better anyway.

But to get back to the lemons.  Of course, you all know the rest of that proverb: make lemonade.  And very positive thinking that is, too.  Unfortunately, it's not always possible to think positively when life throws lemons in one's path.  Just think of the words of the song:

Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet
But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat.
And, for your increased delectation, here are the Seekers singing it.

I'm sorry to say that life has been chucking a few lemons around my family of late.  It's now seven or eight years since the Old Bat was diagnosed with a progressive neurological complaint.  The medical term is corticobasal degeneration.  This is when cells in a particular area of the brain start dying off and the patient gradually loses the power to control the limbs, can have difficulty swallowing and suffers deterioration in speech.  The progression can be all but imperceptible, but over the weeks and months becomes ever more noticeable.

And now my younger son, in his early 40s, has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis

It's difficult to have any positive thoughts about that.

But no doubt things will seem a little better tomorrow.  Or the day after.  Or next month.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

There's something wrong

I woke to fairly thick mist, even fog, and it was still around when I walked to dog after breakfast.  (It always amazes me how many drivers seem to think that their cars are glow in the dark as they fail to switch on any lights, even in the thickest fog!)  By the time I got back home, the sun had broken through and it was unseasonably warm.

Forgive me mentioning this, but today is the first Sunday in November.  That means:

Picture begged, borrowed or stolen.

That's right - the old crocks.  Whoops! Sorry, that should read the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.  More than 600 cars manufactured before 1905 will wend their way into town, most of them arriving about lunchtime or earlyish afternoon.  (Full details, including pics of all the cars, here.)

Usually the weather provides added zest to the event, either raining or being extra cold, probably with a stiff breeze.  But today, for the first time that I can remember, the weather is positively balmy.  Or barmy - you choose.