Thursday, 30 June 2016

The day Sussex died

A hundred years ago, on 1st July 1916, British forces in north-western France launched the battle of the Somme.  This major offensive was to last until November that year, but the first day has been recorded as the blackest day in the history of the British Army.  That day it suffered 58,000 casualties, one third of them killed.

But it was the preceding day, 30th June, that was later to be described as the day Sussex died.

"Between the towns of Bethune and Armentieres, in the Pas de Calais, lies Richebourg l’Avoue. Richebourg is surrounded by other villages and small towns, some with slightly more familiar names, at least to those with an interest in the Great War. Aubers, Festubert, and Neuve Chapelle are just some of the scenes of battles fought in 1915. Mention Richebourg to many people and their response is an unknowing look or a shrug of the shoulders. Yet Richebourg played a significant, if somewhat dubious, role in the Battle of the Somme, and an infamous one in the history of Lowther’s Lambs, officially the 11th, 12th and 13th (Southdowns) Battalions of The Royal Sussex Regiment.
The Battle of the Boar’s Head, Richebourg l’Avoue, was planned as a diversionary action to make the German Command believe that this area of the Pas de Calais was the one chosen for the major offensive of 1916. The intention was to prevent the Germans from moving troops to the Somme area, some fifty kilometres to the south."  (From the website of the Royal Sussex Living History Group.

In the battle, 350 officers and men were killed or died of their wounds, and 750 were wounded.  Of those, some 70% were known to have been born and lived in Sussex and many of the rest, although born outside Sussex, would have been resident in the county. Among the dead were six pairs of brothers.  Another family had four brothers in the battle; three were killed and the fourth taken prisoner.  Seventy-seven towns and villages in Sussex were affected by the fatalities, the greatest number of which came from Brighton and Eastbourne.

Among the dead was Company Sergeant Major Nelson Carter:

Nelson Victor Carter was born at Eastbourne on the 9th April 1887 and was educated at Hailsham. In December 1902 he enlisted under the name of Nelson Smith into the Royal Field Artillery, where he attained the rank of Bombadier, but was discharged on the 17th August 1903 as medically unfit. Declared fully fit in August 1906 he again enlisted into the RFA and served three years with the regiment. However, whilst on service with the RFA in Singapore he was once again declared medically unfit and returned to England and discharged.

Upon the outbreak of WWI, Carter joined Lowther's Own in September 1914, promoted corporal on the same day, then sergeant and later Warrant Officer Class II. Nelson Carter was sent to France attached to 'A' Company, 12th Bn, Royal Sussex Regiment, and served with this detachment until his death on the 30th June 1916 whilst winning his Victoria Cross, Britain's highest award for gallantry..

For the award of the Victoria Cross: [ London Gazette, 9 September 1916 ], Boar's Head, Richebourg l'Avoué, France, 30 June 1916, Company Sergeant-Major Nelson Victor Carter, 4th Company, 12th Bn, Royal Sussex Regiment. 

 "For most conspicuous bravery. During an Attack he was in command of the fourth wave of the assault. Under intense shell and machine gun fire he penetrated, with a few men, into the enemy's second line and inflicted heavy casualties with bombs. When forced to retire to the enemy's first line, he captured a machine gun and shot the gunner with his revolver. Finally, after carrying several wounded men into safety, he was himself mortally wounded and died in a few minutes. His conduct throughout the day was magnificent."

Another almost-forgotten hero from a forgotten battle.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016


It's well known that I can resist anything - well, almost anything - except temptation!  This morning I had occasion to visit the bank and the only free-to-park space was outside the baker's.  Now, usually often I visit the bank I fail to take cash with me but this morning I did have a few coins - just in case I had to use a metered space.  So there was nothing for it.  I had to call in to the baker's.  And there I was faced with a dilemma: jam doughnuts or Chelsea buns?  Both are to die for!  It was the doughnuts that won - and I did buy two so the Old Bat could share in my wickedness.

Sunday, 26 June 2016


I don't suppose for one moment that I am the only person who, when reading something written by someone I know, hears that person's voice.  I had never really thought about that until a friend who had bought a copy of my book told me how much she had enjoyed it, and went on to say that she could hear me telling the story as she read it.

(A shameless bit of self-advertising - but all profits go to Brighton Lions Club Charity Trust Fund.)

Now I come to re-read that paragraph, I can't remember just why I decided to start this post like that. Although I suppose 'recognition' is a vague connection with what I had set out to think about.

Anyway, I have just finished reading what is, I think, the latest offering from Alexander McCall Smith.  Mr Smith - or Mr McCall Smith as he might prefer to be called although his name is not double-barreled - must be one of the most prolific writers working these days.  I think the latest count is 51 novels for adults, 27 children's novels and 13 academic tests. Plus a number of anthologies and short stories. He is, perhaps, best known for the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series about Mma Ramwotse.  These books are set in Botswana although others of his are set in Edinburgh.

The book I have just finished is My Italian Bulldozer, set - as the title suggests - in Italy. Obviously, I knew who the author was before I even opened the book but, had it be covered in plain brown paper and had I opened it at random and started to read, I would very quickly have known who had written it.  Mr McCall Smith's distinctive, some might say idiosyncratic, style of writing is instantly recognisable.  It is a style that is well-suited to the (supposedly) slower and more leisurely lifestyle of Tuscan villages and Botswana - although I don't think it fits so well in dreary, rain-swept Edinburgh. Reading one of the Ladies' Detective Agency titles is like taking a leisurely stroll with no reason to hurry. The same applies to the Italian Bulldozer.

Over the years I must have read books by hundreds of different authors.  In some cases there might have been 20 or even 30 books written by the same author.  But I don't think I have come across another writer with such a distinctive literary style as Alexander McCall Smith.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

The aftermath

Stolen from John Delaney

All over bar the shouting

When I heard the news yesterday morning, my reaction was a mix of euphoria and relief.  I am, however, concerned that some people are - quite literally - scared.  Scared that this country is now on the slippery slope towards fascism, racism and isolationism.  I think the leaders of both the Remain camp and the Leave camp must share the blame for this, the Remain leaders for inciting fear and accusing the Leave camp of those things, and the Leave camp for not doing (or saying) enough to counter the accusations.

I don't consider it racist to say that this country is unable to absorb each year the equivalent of the population of Newcastle.  We have insufficient housing for the people in the country now, and the health service and schools are close to breaking point.  We need to establish some system to control the numbers of immigrants, be they from Germany or Ghana, Australia or Austria, France or the Philippines.  And we have always welcomed genuine refugees, the Flemish in the 16th century, Huguenots in the 17th, Jews in the 1930s and 40s, Asians thrown out of Kenya by Idi Amin in the 1970s - and we are taking in Syrians now.

Leaving the European Union does not make us isolationist either.  In fact, it will enable us to look outwards even more, to negotiate trade deals with other countries like Brazil, India, Australia and - yes - the USA, unhampered by the conflicting demands of the 27 other member states of the EU, each of which wants something different.  And it is our own voice that will be heard in the councils of the world rather than a compromise voiced by a collection of 28 (and increasing) countries with wildly different histories, traditions and cultures.

Above all, freedom from the strictures of the EU means that our laws will be made by our elected Parliament, a parliament that we can change, rather than the 60% as now that are decided by unelected European Commissioners.

But nothing will change overnight.  David Cameron, the Prime Minister, has - wisely - announced his intention to step aside so that a new Prime Minister can begin the negotiations for our departure.  This will be a time when the people of the UK need to put behind us the petty bickering and squabbling, the hyperbole and insults of the referendum campaign.  We need a government that is mindful of the needs and worries of all the population.  But this is Britain, so I am supremely confident that all will come good in the end.

We might even get back our blue passports!

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Independence Day?

Well, will this be the day that the people of the United Kingdom reclaim their independence by throwing off the ever-tightening shackles of the European Union?  By telling everyone concerned that we no longer wish to have laws imposed upon us by unelected European Commissioners but want  to be governed by our British Parliament - the mother of all Parliaments - which we can change from time to time at elections?  That we want to be free to agree trading terms with other nations such as the USA, Australia, Japan, China and so on, without being hamstrung by what 27 other countries want?

Or will we decide that Britain is stronger, safer and richer joined in political union with 27 - maybe soon to be nearer 30 - other countries?

I'm not a racist, xenophobic, isolationist Little Englander and I have voted to leave the EU, to reclaim our democracy.  We are big enough and strong enough to make our own way in the world and to play a part in the councils of the world for our own part, not as just one of many European countries, with many of whom we disagree anyway!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Cherry ripe, cherry ripe

Ripe I cry,
Full and fair ones,
Come and buy.

Cherry Ripe is an English song with words by poet Robert Herrick (1591–1674) and music by Charles Edward Horn (1786–1849) which contains the refrain above.

I was born and brought up in Kent, the county known as the Garden of England.  Well, it used to be. Nowadays it is more a Gateway to England (or Exit from England) with the world's busiest ferry port and the Channel tunnel terminal together with their associated motorways and high speed rail tracks.

Anyway, in my youth the county had many acres of hop fields and orchards, especially cherry orchards.  Cherries featured quite heavily in our family's diet during the season, partly because we had a large cherry tree in our garden.  This tree provided us with pounds of fruit every year and we didn't suffer and deprivation by the local birds.  The cherries on this tree were cooking cherries, not dessert fruit.  So cherry pies and stewed cherries were fairly frequent desserts at our dinner table and my brother and I learned the words, 'tinker, tailor, soldier, spy.  Rich man, poor man, beggar-man, thief' at a very early age.  We did eat dessert cherries as well and my memory (which may not be completely accurate) is that whenever we went out to play (in the street, as often as not, in those days) my brother and I each had a handful of the fruit.

But I seem to have developed an allergy to cherries!  Too early for English fruit to be in the shops, I bought some Spanish ones the other day . . . and every time I eat one I start coughing and can't stop for about ten minutes!

I ask you!  A Man of Kent allergic to cherries!!

But maybe it's just the Spanish ones.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Tiger, tiger, burning bright . . .

. . . in the forests of the night.

Well, I don't know about tigers, but there is one very relieved Lion to have escaped the forest of paper that has been threatening to submerge me during the past few days - all to do with Lions.

It's been partly my own silly fault.  I am currently the treasurer of our club and the financial year ends on 30th June.  me being me, I consider that I should have the trustees' annual report and the financial statements completed on 1st July - all 14 pages of them!  That means me having to start a couple of weeks ahead of the year end, producing not just the Statement of Financial Activity, which used to be the income and expenditure account, and the balance sheet, but several spreadsheets to show the independent examiner just how I arrived at some of the figures.

There really is no good reason why these things have to be completed so promptly but I suspect it is simply a throwback to my banking career.  Then we would be required to work on balance day until we had completed everything and knew to the penny how much profit our branch had made that year. I carried this into my subsequent job where I insisted that our auditors came in on the first business day after the year end.  I had to have the accounts finished and audited ready to send copies to the board of directors no more than five weeks into the new financial year for them to be approved at the board meeting which was always scheduled to be held within two months of the year end.

Any way, it's good practice as it means that I have to keep on top of the accounts during the year. None of this frantic sorting of a shoe-box full of receipts after the year end!

And it's not been just the accounts.  All of a rush - after six years of cajoling, nagging and negotiating - the Housing Society solicitor advised that she is ready to exchange contracts and complete simultaneously the purchase of a plot of land owned by the Council and leased to us and on which we have built 30 flats.  She kindly sent me a bundle of documents, all of which had to be read and signed, usually by two people, and returned in good time for the transaction to take place next Wednesday!  Which in turn involved frantic telephone calls to the bank to make sure we could draw down the loan they have agreed to make - and we couldn't because there were still more forms they needed to have completed and questions to be answered by our solicitor. . .

It's a wonder I have any hair left!

Monday, 13 June 2016


Travelling to a Lions event yesterday somewhere in the depths of the countryside I found myself a little lost (if you see what I mean.  And no, I am not Irish, Belgian or Swedish.)  I pulled up outside a village store that appeared to be open.  It was, so I entered and asked the man behind the counter if he could tell me the quickest way to my destination.

"Are you walking or driving?" he asked.

"Driving," I replied.

"Yes," he confirmed.  "That's the quickest way."

Saturday, 11 June 2016

A British tradition.

The Queen - Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II - was born in 1926 - on 21st April. So her birthday was about six or seven weeks' ago.  And yet today, 10th June, is also her birthday. Her official birthday. You see, it's one of those odd things that we Brits do, allow our monarch to have two birthdays each year.

Although in fact that's not quite true.  If the sovereign is born in the summer months (and I don't know just what constitutes 'the summer months') he or she has just one birthday each year.

This business of having two birthdays goes back more than 250 years. Back in 1748, the King was George II.  He had been born in November and he decided that the weather at that time of the year would be too cold, and possibly too wet, for his birthday parade.  He had the idea of combining his birthday celebration with a military parade held in the spring each year.

And so it has been ever since.

That spring military parade is still held each year - it was held this morning - and it is known as Trooping the Colour. Each year, one of the regiments of the Household Brigade - the five Guards regiments, being the Coldstream, the Grenadier, the Irish, the Scots and the Welsh Guards - parades its colour - the flag - in front of the entire regiment. This was originally done so that the soldiers would recognise their colours when in battle.  These days it is purely a ceremonial affair which combines the trooping (parading) of the colours with a royal inspection.

Here is a clip of the BBC broadcast of this morning's parade:

Friday, 10 June 2016

Decision Day is getting closer - just 13 days to go.  I have spotted just one window poster so far, urging passers-by to Vote Remain!  Given the seriousness of this referendum, I am slightly surprised that there are not more posters in windows.  Whole streets seem to be plastered with them for weeks before a general election.  Not that the Old Bat or I have ever considered advertising our political affiliations in such a way.  Not that we really have any affiliations; we tend by nature to favour the right rather than the left but not in any fervent way.

I do wonder why people put those posters in their windows - or, in the case of Americans, use bumper stickers on their cars.  Do they really think that a poster saying, 'VOTE JONES' or some such is going to persuade anybody to change the habits of a lifetime and vote Tory instead of Labour?  In my view it simply advertises that a prat lives in that house.

What I do find quite interesting is that people - the hoi polloi rather than the politicians - are quite willing to tell others how they intend to vote in the referendum, and why they hold their views.  yesterday evening, the OB and I went to our local Italian with a friend.  The owner is Iranian, but it's still the best Italian restaurant for miles around.  Anyway, as we were preparing to leave, Ali asked us  which way we propose to vote.  All three of us are ardent Leavers and said so, whereupon the only other couple still in the restaurant exclaimed, "No!  Remain!"  There was no rancour; we all accepted that we simply had different opinions.  Ali then told us that he had posted his vote - to leave.

Apart from that couple last night, I have only heard two people express the view that we should remain in the EU, and Ali said that his customers - who represent pretty much all age ranges - are 60-40 for leaving.

Whichever way the vote goes, methinks we are in for some interesting times politically.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016


It is far too convoluted a story to try to tell you what brought to mind the few playground fights I had as a schoolboy.  In fact, describing them as 'few' is really something of an exaggeration.  At least, I think it is.  I hope so.  There are only two that I can even vaguely remember - and I don't know what started either of them!  I think I was probably aged 9 on both occasions.

One fight was with (I don't think I can really say 'against') a boy called Roderick Dolling - but the one which was first brought to my mind was with my cousin David.  He, along with his brother Michael and sister Lizzie Dripping, were not just my cousins, they were my best friends.  Anyway, on that occasion David and i went at each other in the playground hammers and tongs until - I assume - either we got fed up with fighting or we were pulled apart by teaching staff.

That wasn't the only occasion on which David and I fought.

The next time was after he and his family had returned from Singapore where his father, a Naval officer, had been drafted with family accompaniment.  On his return, David - who was officially in the school year after me although only a few months younger - was put in the same class as me.  We would have been 12 coming up 13.

One of the masters at our school should never have been teaching.  He seemed to us to be about eleven pence in the shilling, half a sandwich short of a picnic.  I rather suspect now that he was a shell-shocked WWII veteran who returned to his pre-war occupation, but to us schoolboys he was an object of fun and we played him up mercilessly. 'Dinger' Bell, for that was his name, took us for PE. This largely consisted of us doing a form of aerobics in time to the tune of 'Greensleeves' played on the piano by Dinger.

But one day all this changed.

We were told to stand in parallel lines and taught various boxing exercises.  "On dancing feet, commence!" commanded Dinger.  "Exercise number one, lead!"

"Exercise number two, single punch!" and we all jabbed with the correct fist.

After a few weeks, Dinger deemed our performance of these and other exercises good enough for us to be equipped with boxing gloves.  Four benches were placed in a square to act as the ring and we were told to pair off.  David and I were of similar height and we happily agreed to fight each other.

"When we get in the ring," said David, "hit me as hard as you can."

I obliged by swiping hard - a haymaker, I believe it is called - but failed to make contact.  Indeed, I had no intention of making contact.  Nevertheless, David leaped out of the ring, crashed out of the hall/gym and dashed along the corridor - with me in furious pursuit.  We ran right round the school and back into the hall.  On regaining the ring, David fell flat on his back.

We never saw the boxing gloves again.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Mixed feelings

I had been dithering for a long time; should I buy a Kindle?  I know very few people who have bought one.  Or perhaps I should say there are only a few people I know who have bought one.  The general view among the owners seems to be favourable, but - like so many other people - I do like the look and feel of a 'proper' book.

Among the reasons for me to buy such a device are:

  • I have read almost all the books that I fancy in our local libraries;
  • I am too mean to buy real books;
  • and even if I did, they would very soon overflow my limited storage;
  • and in that case, I would be too mean to give them away.
  • And I had already discovered that it is possible to download some books FREE, GRATIS and FOR NOTHING!

Well, that did it.  So I bought a kindly-gizmo thingy last weekend.  And yes, it seems fine - so far.  But I still like the feel of a 'proper' book!

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The best laid plans

As the man said, hey gang aft a'gley.  And they have.  I had expected to have taken the dog to kennels this morning ready for our proposed trip to France.  But that has been postponed - the trip to France, I mean.

France, we were informed by our newspapers and television, is in lockdown.  Oil refineries are strike-bound and at least 40% of the country's petrol stations have run out or are short of supplies.  Other unions are now going on strike as well, the air traffic controllers having only just returned to work.

I had really thought that this was typical scare-mongering by our news media and that, having filled up on this side of the Channel, I would be able to drive down to our cottage, potter around in a limited way, and find enough fuel to return to Blighty.  To be on the safe side, I telephoned a local contact - only to be told that the situation is as dire as our press was making out!  So we will not be going.

I have amended all bookings such as the kennels and the tunnel to early July in the hope that things might have settled down by then.  That means that we are likely to run out of several things we usually buy in France, such as garlic, onions, coffee, orange juice, butter - and WINE!

It's ironic, really, that the strikes are being called because the workers object to proposals to tighten up the labour laws, making it easier for employers to hire and fire - by a socialist president!

Thursday, 2 June 2016

63 years ago

It was raining 63 years ago, on 2nd June 1953.  And London was brought to a standstill.  Not by the rain.

It was Coronation Day.

That was the day when television came into its own in this country.  Many sets were sold or rented so that people could, for the first time in history, be virtually present at such an event.  A colour film was swiftly distributed to cinemas across the land so that those who had been unable to squeeze into a neighbour's house to watch the television could enjoy the spectacle.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

There should be a law against it

Yesterday, the first day of the meteorological summer, I turned the heating on for an hour in the morning and wore a winter coat to walk the dog.  I think the temperature here in sunny Sussex might have peaked at about 12 or 13 degrees Celsius - but I understand that people in Glasgow - yes, Glasgow! - were sweltering under a scorching sun in a balmy 24 degrees.  What, I wonder, has Glasgow done to deserve such treatment?

Anyway, I decided to check back on the blog to the beginning of June last year.  And guess what?  This is what I posted on 2nd June 2015:
I walked the dog across the Downs in the afternoon, blown to kingdom come by the wind.  Most of the people I saw were wearing anoraks - and I almost wished I had dug out my gloves and scarf!  The car thermometer showed 11 degrees Celsius - low 50s Fahrenheit - and the wind chill factor would have reduced the "feel" by several degrees.
Plus ca change etc.