Thursday, 31 March 2016


When I read the article in the newspaper some two weeks ago, I had to check the top of the page just to make sure of the date.  Given what I had read, I really thought it must be April 1st!  But no, it was still mid-March (more or less) - and since that day I have learned more about Boaty McBoatface.

I have now reached the web site of the Natural Environment Research Council from which I learn (and I quote):
"The Natural Environment Research Council’s (NERC) new polar research vessel will be the UK's largest and most advanced research ship yet. She will allow scientists to carry out research safely and efficiently, even through the harshest of winters, in both Antarctica and the Arctic. To celebrate the launch of our new research ship, we have launched the #NameOurShip campaign. Currently we’re calling her ‘NPRV’, which isn’t very catchy! So we’re inviting you to suggest a name for her."
Although numerous names have been suggested, the top three are - in the usual reverse order:
3. RRS Poppy-Mai, this being the name of a girl only a few days old and destined not to live much longer.  18,340 votes.
2. RRS Rocinante.  And this is where I have to confess that I failed to understand the second reason for suggesting this name.  The first was, of course, a reference to Don Quixote, which seems to me to be rather an unfortunate link!  19,858 votes.
1. RRS Boaty McBoatface. The reason?  "It's an absolutely brilliant name."  108,473 votes.

I am well aware that the Man (or somebody) once commented that a rose by any other name, and so one, but I just can't get my head around the idea that serious scientific research could be undertaken on a vessel name Boaty McBoatface.

Boaty McBoatface:  sounds to me like a nautical equivalent of Thomas the Tank Engine, suitable reading for nobodu over the age of 7.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Weather report

It has been almost a perfect spring day with just a light breeze from the south or south east, a blue sky with puffy clouds, and the sun actually had some warmth in it!  Walking the dog on the Downs this afternoon was a delight.

What a pity the forecast for the weekend is dismal.  Still, we will be at the farm with good company and good food.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Little things

I have heard it said that it is the little things that cause relationships to break up.  That is something I can believe as it is nearly always the little things that niggle and irritate the most.

But the converse is also true: little things can provide an inordinate amount of pleasure.  I am still smiling inwardly with the pleasure I received from a little thing just this morning.  As I reached the kitchen sink to do the washing up after breakfast I glanced out of the window.  Just a few feet away was a song thrush, hammering a snail (although it looked to me as though the snail was already out of its shell).

That was about the third occasion inside a week that I had seen a song thrush in the garden although my previous sighting was a long time before that.  This is a species that has been in severe decline for a number of years so seeing one has been good.

After watching for a few moments this morning, I turned away for something - and when I turned back there was a second thrush coming up the garden.

I do so hope they are here to stay.

And just to add icing to my pleasure, a wren appeared.  Certainly one of my favourite birds, more often heard than seen, and possibly my top favourite.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Funny things, names

It's quite wrong, I know, but I find that if I have met somebody with a particular name, I expect any others with that name to be physically like the first.  For example, I once knew (very slightly) a girl named Dawn.  She was slim, not very tall and attractive - almost pretty - with shoulder-length dark brown (or maybe black) hair.  I have, since then, met two more Dawns.  Both are (or were) large, and one of them was decidedly plain.

(Skip, I have never met PHG so I am not talking about her!)

But I still persist in expecting any Jenny (or even Jennifer) to be blonde.  Such is the power of a name.

Talking of names, I have two given names, or what used to be called Christian names.  The second is Anthony.  Now, there's nothing wrong with Anthony as a name, and most of the Anthonys I have met have been likeable enough guys.  But I just don't see me as an Anthony - or Tony, which is what all but one of the Anthonys I have known have been called.  So I rarely, if ever, use that bit of my name.  Mind you, very few English (British?) men use their middle names.  Does anybody even know the middle names of David Cameron, George Osborne or Boris Johnson?  Does anybody even know if they have middle names?

During my working life I had, for a number of years, close contact with the Methodist Church.  Or at least, numerous members of it, especially ministers.  One thing that struck me was how many Methodist ministers used their names in a completely different way from most men.  They used their middle names in preference to their first Christian names.  So whereas most Englishmen would give their name as, say, G A Brown or simply George Brown, many Methodist ministers would use the Rev G Andrew Brown as their name.

I have implied that Englishmen, except for Methodist ministers, tend to forget their middle names, except for using the initial in a fairly formal setting (Mr G A Brown or G A Brown Esq), but their seems to be a tendency among our erstwhile colonial cousins to use the first Christian name in full followed by the second initial - George A Brown.  Examples: Donald J Trump, George W Bush, and many more.

Like I say: funny things, names.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

I don't know

There doesn't seem to have been much happening since I last opened the blog, but there doesn't seem to have been much time when there wasn't something happening either!  It has generally been small stuff, sometimes irritating, sometimes not.

For instance, I must have been asleep or drunk or stupid some time ago when I clicked on a link to say, "Yes please, let me know when I can update to Windows 10".  I had second thoughts and every time an annoying box popped up to tell me that my free download was now available, I just closed it straight away.  I have heard differing opinions about Windows 10.  One person had to call in a professional to sort out his computer, while another seemed to think it was the best thing since sliced bread.

(Why is sliced bread considered such a great thing?)

Any way, one day towards the end of last week I left the computer running while I went for lunch.  When I got back to the desk I was alarmed to find that Windows 10 was being downloaded.  It seemed to take forever - rather like those old days when I was running the latest thing, Windows 95!  Eventually I was able to try it out, very apprehensively.  And it worked!  What really astonished me was that I was able to load, open and run my old web site design programme, Frontpage 2000, which worked with every operating system up to Windows Vista but was unavailable on Windows 8.

Then I got an automatic update to Office - and my Access-based accounts package would not open!  Fortunately, the chap who wrote Simply Books was available on the support line and he very quickly got things up and running again so I have been able to update the accounts for the Lions.

One of the new things in Windows 10 is the web browser Edge.  This even lets one draw on the screen, like this:

OK, so I need to practise writing with a mouse, but you get the idea.

Friday, 11 March 2016

The sound of summer

Does summer have a sound?  Probably not exactly A sound, but as far as I am concerned there is one sound which, if heard early in the morning, always reminds me of summer.  I heard that sound this morning.

The first thing to enter my consciousness (after I had silenced the alarm clock) was the sound of a wood pigeon calling from the sycamore tree in a neighbour's garden.  I was instantly transported backwards in time about 60 years or so.  It was an August in one of the early years of what some optimist told us was to be the 'new Elizabethan age' for England.  (Whatever happened to that, I wonder?)  It was my very first week-long, summer camp with the Scouts.  We - about 24 or 30 boys plus one adult leader - set off by train from Gillingham (the one in Kent), crossed London by Underground with all our personal kit, the camping gear having been sent on beforehand.  We managed, all of us, to arrive at Paddington Station.

(The was no sign of the bear as he was still in darkest Peru.)

From here, we caught a train to Bath and changed to another, local train for Freshford.  From the village station we walked through the lanes to the farm that was to be the site of our camp.

It seemed like a journey to a foreign country for me.  We had left from a station built in brick with cement rendering, the standard method of construction in the Medway towns, in a train painted Southern Railway green.  At Paddington we entrained in maroon carriages and, on the journey, passed through station constructed from local stone with signs and lamp posts all painted in Great Western Railway maroon.  These were nothing like any buildings I had ever seen.

And at Freshford, the locals even spoke a foreign language!  I remember one old farm hand asking me, "Be 'ee gowin' to zee Gillingham play this zeason then?"  And he pronounced Gillingham with a hard G, as in the Dorset town, instead of the soft, Kentish G.

Every morning that week, when I woke in my sleeping bag constructed of two blankets and half a dozen blanket pins (oversize safety pins) (none of our families would have been able to afford proper sleeping bags) the sun was shining.  And every morning there were wood pigeons calling in the trees along the side of the field where we were camping.

And that is why, as far as I am concerned, the wood pigeon's call is the sound of summer.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

(Has that title got you humming quietly to yourself?)

So the pin-up girl of tennis has tested positive for a banned substance.  I think that many who saw her press conference when she announced this fact instinctively felt sorry for her.  I know I did.  Many also praised her for being upright and open about it..  But it wasn't all that long before my innate cynicism clicked in.

The substance in question was melodonium.  Melodonium is apparently used to treat heart problems such as angina.  Maria Sharapova claims that she has been taking this for ten years under prescription.  But at least one medical 'expert' (my quotation marks) has said that this drug would be prescribed for short periods only.  In any case, is it likely that a world-class sportswoman will have a heart problem?  For ten years?

Then there is the little matter of how MS acquired this drug.  It is manufactured in Latvia and is not approved for sale in the USA, which is where the young lady has been living for some 12 years or so.

Granted, melodonium was not banned until January this year, but as a professional athlete, MS should have been keeping up to date with the list of banned substances, especially as this one has been on the watch list for some time.

No, her heart-rending pleas during her press conference were, I suggest, worthy of Oscar nomination.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Mad March Hares

All right, all right! I know they're not hares - and the picture wasn't taken in March either.  (They are summer flowers, not spring ones.)  But this is the picture for March on our kitchen calendar selected by the Old Bat.

I nearly told you that I have never seen a hare, but then I remembered that I have actually seen two: once in Cambridgeshire, out on the fens, and the other in France.  We don't, as far as I am aware, have hares down here in sunny (or silly) Sussex and this was the nearest we could get for the calendar.

It must be great to watch hares boxing, but, sadly, it is a sight that I am never likely to enjoy.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

And while I'm on a rant

Please stop calling it Mothers' Day if you are on the eastern side of the Atlantic.  Over here it is Mothering Sunday.  It's those damn Yanks who will call it Mothers' Day!

And in case you don't know how it came about, it all started, so it has been said, when servant girls were allowed a day's holiday to visit their mothers whom they would not otherwise see as they were expected to work seven days a week.

Well, that's the story; believe if you will.

Fathers' Day, on the other hand, was invented by a greetings card company!

Saturday, 5 March 2016

And another thing . . .

Here in Brighton we have recycling boxes, not wheelie bins.  These boxes measure about 2' x 1' x another foot or so deep - maybe a bit bigger but not all that much.  Most houses have two of them and we are asked to put glass in one, paper, metal and plastic bottles (just some bottles, not all plastic is suitable and we are left to guess which is which) in the other.  The paper etc box is barely large enough to take two weeks' supply of newspapers etc but mostly we get by.  The glass box usually has not very much in it.

But if we have to separate our recycling, why do the collectors just throw it all in together?

Friday, 4 March 2016

As the King of Siam said,

"Is a puzzlement."

I have never managed to work out just how Facebook calculates the number of people any one post has reached.  I'm not a great user of F/b but I do try to publicise Brighton Lions Club through the medium.  The puzzle comes when one post soars away to hundreds of people reached but the next crawls to fewer than one hundred.  A case in point: one day I published a pic of a cheque for £5k being presented to the local hospice: 485 people reached very quickly.  The next post publicises a fund-raiser: 85 people reached.

Oh well, never mind.  I'm not unhappy in my ignorance, just puzzled.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Chapter 2638

There has been quite a stir these past few days about speaking foreign languages.  Well, there was one article in my paper following a report that one of England's more obscure universities had undertaken research into people who speak more than one language compared to people who speak just the one.

Don't worry - I'm not going to start a discussion about the results of the survey even if I could
(a) remember them, and
(b) understand them.

I'm sure many people, me included, could dream up better ways for universities to spend money, but there we are.

Anyway, some years ago, I and three other members of Brighton Lions Club - the International Relations sub-Committee - were lunching in Ypres.

Interjection No 1: The International Relations sub-Committee consisted of four regular members (with the occasional substitute) who would spend a day visiting Calais, Boulogne or Dieppe with a view to (a) enjoying a good lunch, and (b) stocking up on wine, beer and spirits.

Interjection No 2:  That's Ypres in Belgium, in case you mistook the town for another Ypres.  Unlike those folks across the pond we do not automatically add the name of the country to the name of the town or city as in Paris, France.  Or London, England.  As far as we are concerned there is onloy one Paris.  And only one London for that matter.

So there we were, in the sun outside a restaurant in the main square.  We noticed that the young waitress spoke to us in almost faultless English and that she spoke to others in German.  We asked how many languages she spoke: it was five - Flemish and French (the two languages of Belgium), English, German and one other, probably Spanish or Italian.

In Venice, the OB and I met a Romanian who also spoke five languages.  He told us that he had learned English by watching television!

Last summer, a group of us from Brighton Lions Club visited a Lions Club in Bavaria.  (For the geographically challenged, that is a state in Germany.)  Almost without exception, the members of our host club spoke English, some so well one would think it was their mother tongue!

I speak a little French - enough to get by in a restaurant or in a simple (very simple) conversation with a neighbour, but it frequently surprises me how few English people speak even a smattering of words in a foreign language.  Surely it is a matter of simple courtesy to be able to say 'please' and 'thank you', 'hello' and 'goodbye' in the language of a country one visits?

I sometimes wonder if there is something in the genes of English people (English rather than Scots, Welsh or Irish) to prevent us mastering foreign languages/  There is also the matter of simple laziness.  Many foreigners and English have pointed out that the international language of business, shipping and air travel is English.  Why bother to struggle with French, German, Spanish or Hindi if they all speak English anyway?  And if they don't, just say it again, louder.

At the table next to us one time in France, an area mostly devoid of British immigrants and even more devoid of British tourists, were four men.  They seemed to be speaking English, although each of them had a foreign accent.  It eventually came to us, the OB and I.  Two of the men were French, the other two German.  Their only common language?  English, of course.

Which just goes to prove the point; there is no need to learn a foreign language.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

St David's Day

Or, as the BBC weather girls have been insisting, the first day of meteorological spring. Meteorological spring? I thought, the first time I heard it.  And then it dawned on me.  Not spring, but what she meant by meteorological spring.  To meteorologists the year is divided quite neatly into four season.  March, April and May are spring; June, July and August summer; September, October and November are autumn and, quite obviously, December, January and February are winter.  Simple, isn't it?  If only the weather would oblige!

I didn't exactly throw open the curtains this morning as it seemed a tad gloomy, somewhat darker than it has been of late.  But when I did draw them back, what a dank and drear sight met my eyes. The Downs across the valley were shrouded in low cloud and hidden from sight.  The trees and bushes in the garden were dripping, although there was no proper rain. All the same, the daffodils are in bloom in the park - as are the snowdrops in the woods.

The first, tender leaves have appeared on sycamore trees and I have spotted just one windflower. Spring is on the way, despite the dankness of today.