Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Just saying . . .

While walking down the street one day a Member of Parliament suffers a heart attack and dies.
His soul arrives in heaven and is met by St. Peter at the entrance.
'Welcome to heaven,' says St. Peter. 'Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem. We seldom see a high official around these parts, you see, so we're not sure what to do with you.'
'No problem, just let me in,' says the man.
'Well, I'd like to, but I have orders from higher up. What we'll do is have you spend one day in hell and one in heaven. Then you can choose where to spend eternity.'
'Really, I've made up my mind. I want to be in heaven,' says the MP.
'I'm sorry, but we have our rules.'
And with that, St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell. The doors open and he finds himself in the middle of a green golf course. In the distance is a clubhouse and standing in front of it are all his friends and other politicians who had worked with him.
Everyone is very happy and in evening dress. They run to greet him, shake his hand, and reminisce about the good times they had while getting rich at the expense of the people.
They play a friendly game of golf and then dine on lobster, caviar and champagne.
Also present is the devil, who really is a very friendly & nice guy who has a good time dancing and telling jokes. They are having such a good time that before he realizes it, it is time to go.
Everyone gives him a hearty farewell and waves while the elevator rises....
The elevator goes up, up, up and the door reopens on heaven where St. Peter is waiting for him.
'Now it's time to visit heaven.'
So, 24 hours pass with the MP joining a group of contented souls moving from cloud to cloud, playing the harp and singing. They have a good time and, before he realizes it, the 24 hours have gone by and St. Peter returns.
'Well, then, you've spent a day in hell and another in heaven. Now choose your eternity.'
The MP reflects for a minute, then he answers: 'Well, I would never have said it before, I mean heaven has been delightful, but I think I would be better off in hell.'
So St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell.
Now the doors of the elevator open and he's in the middle of a barren land covered with waste and garbage.
He sees all his friends, dressed in rags, picking up the trash and putting it in black bags as more trash falls from above.
The devil comes over to him and puts his arm around his shoulder. ' I don't understand,' stammers the MP. 'Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and clubhouse, and we ate lobster and caviar, drank champagne, and danced and had a great time. Now there's just a wasteland full of garbage and my friends look miserable. What happened? '
The devil looks at him, smiles and says, ' Yesterday we were campaigning.. ....
Today you voted.'
Here we go again.

Monday, 24 April 2017

By George

Or even bye bye, George.

Yesterday, in case it slipped your notice, was St George's Day. I had intended doing a piece about the four patron saints of the British isles - George for England, Patrick for Ireland, David for Wales and Andrew for Scotland - with the emphasis, as is only right, on St George. After all, it was his special day, and he is the patron saint of my country. That post didn't come to fruition for two reasons:

  1. Mike, he of a Bit about Britain, covered it so much better than I would have done, right HERE.
  2. A little DIY job, one I had expected to take me about half an hour, actually took most of the day. Maybe I'll tell you about it when I have recovered.
It just happened that the job I was so unsuccessfully trying to complete required more digital dexterity that cerebral so I was able to ruminate gently about George and patron saints generally. What, I wondered, is a patron saint actually for? What is one supposed to do? I have never seen a job description, nor have I ever seen the position advertised so it all seems a little nebulous.

And who chooses the patron saint of a country anyway? 

Well, I've actually found the answer to that question. An answer, anyway. here is what can be found on the historic-uk.com website:
The original patron saint of England was St Edmund, but his influence began to wane when Richard the Lionheart adopted St George as the protector of his army whilst on crusade. Edmund was finally replaced when King Edward III formed the Order of the Garter in St. George's name in 1350 and made him the Patron Saint of England. The cult of the Saint was further advanced by King Henry V at the battle of Agincourt in northern France.
So now you know.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Cranky dog

I have been a dog owner for more than 50 years and I suppose I would describe myself as a dog person. That said, I'm not entirely sure just what goes to make a dog person, but I like dogs and that's enough for me. What I am not is one of those horse-whisperer types who can get a dog to do just about anything simply by raising an eyebrow. People have sometimes remarked that our present dog - Fern, a springer spaniel - is well-trained. Naturally, I soak up such praise, even though I know full well how little justified it is.


Fern did prove remarkably easy to train in the basics. By that I mean simply "sit" and "come". For some long-forgotten reason we never did progress to "stay" and "heel" is very much a matter of luck, although I have discovered a hand signal that she obeys almost as "heel". i am very much of the opinion that dogs are pack animals and the lone dog in a household has to learn at a very early stage that it is the least important member of the family pack.

One thing that causes problems for many dog owners is the first few nights that the puppy is away from the litter and its mother. But that was no problem with Fern. On her first night in our house she was sent to her bed in the kitchen, the light was switched off and the door shut. She made no noise at all that night - and there was no mess to clear up next morning either! She has always settled down at night with no problem, even in a strange kitchen or scullery.

Until the last two or three months.

For some reason that I have not yet managed to identify, fern now barks after she is put to bed. And this is not barking at foxes (she has always done that if a vixen howls) or asking to be let into the garden. just a few minutes after being put to bed, while I am cleaning my teeth or just getting into bed, she starts barking. Not loudly, but annoyingly. At first I tried ignoring her and she would stop after a minute or two, only to bark again about ten minutes later. And then again sometime in the middle of the night. And again as I was under the shower in the morning.

I have tried ignoring her, cajoling, remonstrating fairly gently, standing over her and really telling her off - all to no avail. The last three nights I have tried leaving the kitchen door open. Now she simply barks for a minute as I clean my teeth, after which I go back downstairs and point out to her that she has not been left entirely alone. That seems to settle her and I hear nothing more.

Could it be that she has just gone cranky in her old age? She is 13, after all.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Ash before oak?

Walking in the woods today it was easy to spot the sycamore, hazel and hawthorn trees, if only because they are all in leaf. The chestnut (both sweet and horse) are well on, and the silver birch leaves are starting - as are the loaves on the ash trees. But I saw no sign of oak leaves.

Ash trees in High Park Wood.
We must just hope that there is little truth in the old country saying:
Ash before oak - we're in for a soak. Oak before ash - 'twill be but a splash.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

What happens if . . .?

This afternoon, acquaintances of mine (I can hardly call them friends - I don't know them well enough for that) have been at the funeral of their granddaughter. Aged 11, she was knocked down when crossing the road to catch the bus to school. She was air-lifted to hospital, but to no avail. I cannot imagine what her parents and grandparents are going through.

There was a report in the paper this week about another couple who are facing the death of their child, a baby aged just eight months. The baby has an extremely rare genetic condition as a result of which he is both blind and deaf and he is being kept alive by a ventilator. The hospital applied to the court for permission to discontinue treatment, against the parents' wishes. They, the parents, have raised a vast sum of money - £1.2 million - to pay for treatment in the USA.

I have my view on the court's judgement but that is wholly beside the point of this post. My concern here is that £1.2 million.

There appears to be an increasing number of cases where people - parents, other family, friends - appeal to the public at large for funds to pay for drugs or treatment not available on the National Health Service. This is, of course, in addition to the on-going charity appeals for cancer research, the lifeboat service, over-worked Spanish donkeys, dancing bears in India and many others of variable worthiness. Most of these one-off appeals to attract generous donations. But my cynicism, scepticism or downright stinginess immediately jump into action. Even without questioning the genuineness or otherwise of the appeal, there are things I want to know. Things like:

  • Can I trust the person collecting the money to deal with it properly without dipping into the fund?
  • What will happen to the money collected if the target is not reached?
  • What will happen to the money if the patient dies before the money is spent?
  • What will be done with the surplus if more is donated than is needed?
Those questions are left unanswered too often for me to donate to any such appeal.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Bluebells


For a number of reasons, it was several months since I last walked in the Great Wood at Stanmer. I had been in other parts of the woods, but this afternoon the dog and I returned to the Great Wood. As I hoped, the bluebells were well on the way. There are acres of these delightful flowers and i am pleased to say they are the English variety rather than the dreaded Spanish bluebell which is forcing out the more delicate English with its fragrant scent. This time next week they will be magnificent.

I have always been slightly surprised that there are no primroses in Stanmer, but there are aconites a-plenty, and tiny little violets. And it won't be long before the beech trees are dressed in their spring leaves like this:

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Little green men

I caught sight of a headline one day during the week, but I never did get round to reading the article. Something or other must have distracted me; one of those "Ooh, shiny!" moments, I suppose. Anyway, I gathered from what I saw that radio signals must have been detected in space and that somebody had suggested this might be evidence of alien life.

Astronomy has never been one of my passions. For one thing, there is usually too much cloud in this country for me to see the stars to any extent - and even if there were no clouds, the level of light pollution would seriously diminish one's enjoyment of the night sky. This lack of astronomical passion extends to pretty much everything connected to extraterrestrial activity.

It's not just the cloud cover and light pollution that detracts; the figures involved are, quite literally, beyond my comprehension. I find it almost impossible to understand - or believe - that the light I see from that star actually left that star not just years ago, but centuries or even millenia ago. (I know that in America there are two 'n's in that word.) That, to me, is mind-blowing.

But to get back to the LGM.

Why is it that scientists say that if there is evidence of water on another planet (or whatever), there is the possibility of alien life? Why should water be a prerequisite of alien life? Are those people possessed of insufficient imagination to accept the possibility that other forms of life - the little green men - might have no need of water? Is it not possible even that life might exist in a form that we can't even see?

No - I can't cope with this. Let's change the subject!

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Do I care?

My wife being disabled, I am the not-very-proud possessor of the description 'carer' - a word I don't much care for (if you'll excuse the pun). It's not a job for which I would have applied; indeed, it's not a job for which I am much suited. All the same, it's a job I signed up for more than fifty years ago. Of course, back then the words "for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health" were just that - words. How many of us, when in our twenties, have ever given thought to what life will be like half a century hence?

Please don't think that as I type this I am wallowing in self-pity. That most certainly is not the case. I know full well that there are many, many people who are in situations far worse than mine, and who have been in those situations far longer than I. That, naturally, applies also to the persons for whom the carers care.

But I wonder how many of us, when we see a disabled person with a carer, give a thought to what life is like for the carer? The disability affects the carer as well as the person being cared for. Not to anything like the same extent, obviously, but often in ways that other people just don't realise. Let me simply state a couple of facts and this will be just that - a statement of fact, not a plea for sympathy.

I can't recall the last time I enjoyed an uninterrupted night's sleep. Most nights I am out of bed, helping the Old Bat to the bathroom, twice. Occasionally it's just once, but there are nights when it is three times. Granted, the loss of 20 or 30 minutes sleep is nothing that can't be made up - but it is the disturbance, the waking every two or three hours, that is exhausting. Then there is the amount of time spent during the day simply waiting; waiting for her to finish eating long after me, waiting while she does part of a job so that I can get on with the next part (which she is unable to do). Or, if not actually waiting, walking with her very slowly so that a walk that should take just two or three minutes actually takes nearly ten.

As I said earlier, I know there are people far, far worse off than I am. I have recently read a book (My Life in his Paws by Wendy Hilling) written by a lady who has EB, a rare skin condition which also means her throat is very narrow and she can stop breathing at any time. She and her husband had to take it in turns to sleep for two hours at a time.

In making a plea for people to consider the carers as well as the disabled, I don't mean to suggest that the disabled are not in a much worse situation that the carers. Far from it. I just think that the person behind the wheelchair is very often invisible.

Monday, 20 March 2017

100 today

Dame Vera Lynn, the nation's sweetheart. Difficult to decide which Y/t clip to use to mark her birthday.


Saturday, 18 March 2017

A Saturday rant

Although why it should be a "Saturday" rant I have no idea. There really is nothing special about Saturdays that makes me rant. Any day will do!

The local council (Brighton & Hove City Council - just in case you are interested, which you probably aren't) seems determined to make life difficult for the motorist. It was two or three years ago that parking charges on the sea front were increased to £20 a day. At that time, each individual parking bay had its own meter that had to be fed with coins. No coin of a denomination greater than £1 was accepted, so any visitor wanting to park for the day on the sea front (always assuming he could find a space) was faced with the problem of having to insert twenty £1 coins. No councillor or official seemed to question whether or not a visitor would come armed with £20 in pound coins!

There have been several other things done to make life difficult for drivers: taking one lane of a two-lane carriageway for a cycle lane which is rarely used by cyclists; marking bus lanes that are operational 24 hours a day (not simply in rush hours); imposing an almost city-wide 20mph speed limit - which is ignored by nearly every driver, including police drivers.

OK, I have learned to live with most of those problems - all of them, in fact. But this week I came across another.

"Residents only" parking areas have slowly spread outwards from the centre but there are always a few spaces that residents can use but non-residents as well, so long as they pay at the nearby meter. Many of these meters have been replaced by new ones that do not take money. To park in those areas drivers must first download an app onto their phones and then pay br credit or debit card when they park. Which is OK if you have a suitable phone. I don't. To make matters worse, the council imposes a handling charge for payment by card. So, to pay for a hour's parking, which costs £1, the driver has to pay a surcharge of 15p. That represents an increase in the cost of no less than 15%!

Outrageous!

But the council did promise that, in each street subject to paying, there would be a machine accepting cash.

On one afternoon each week I collect my granddaughter from school. Parking is usually easier in the street at the back of the school, so that is where I head. This street suns roughly north-south, and on the west side of the street parking is restricted to residents only. The back entrance to the school is halfway along the east side. Parking on this side is available for non-residents but on one side of the entrance drivers must pay by card only. So it has been my practice to find a space the other side of the entrance where there is a machine accepting coins. Or there was such a machine. This week I arrived to find a completely new machine, a machine that accepts credit cards. But not cash. I ahd taken coins to pay for parking - but I had no card with me, so I was unable to pay. Luckily, I was not ticketed by a warden. If I had been, I would have gone to court if necessary.

I have to wonder how the council expects to receive payment from people who, for one reason or another, have no credit or debit card. And can they arbitrarily decide not to accept coins of the realm, coins which are legal tender? I wish I knew how to find out.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Storm in a teacup

The OB always likes to watch the cookery programmes of that National treasure, Aunty Mary. Mary Berry, that is. Only her cookery programmes, not the GBBO.  Anyway, all hell broke loose in social media (and then into the national press) after her programme last week.  She was making her version of spag bol, only she doesn't use spaghetti, preferring instead pappardelle, which she claims goes much better than the boot laces. But it wasn't her change of pasta that infuriated people; it was the use of two unexpected ingredients - white wine and double cream. Some viewers were so incensed that they had to change channels or switch off!

Well, really! What is it with some people that they get so upset about such little things? Mind you, there were some Italians who responded that in their home areas it was normal to add wine or cream, so there!!

Although I am no cook and have no aspiration to improve my ability to any great extent, I usually watch those programmes - and salivate over the results MB achieves! And that spag bol - all right, pappardelle bolognese - looked really delicious. the OB cooked spag bol the other evening - and she did use spaghetti and she didn't use wine or cream. But it was still pretty good.

I seem to remember that the National Treasure did something unorthodox again this week, but I'm blowed if I can remember what it was. Perhaps it's because we watched Broadchurch afterwards - and blow me down if there wasn't a cookery hiatus (or something) in that. The leading actor made a cup of tea in a microwave. And if there is one thing guaranteed to stir up the English, it is the age-old argument about how to make the best cup of tea.

For a start, there is the little matter of where the tea comes from. In the 'good old days'. society hostesses would always have two pots of tea on the table and guests would be asked, "China or Indian?" (Note: China, not Chinese.) i don't suppose for one moment that such a question would be asked these days as tea is pretty much a mixture of various varieties. Except that some people prefer Earl Grey with its hint of bergamot.

But discussions (perhaps I should say 'arguments') continue whether tea bags are as good as loose tea, whether or not the tea bags are placed in a teapot or just dropped into the cups. And if one uses a teapot, is it really necessary to warm the pot with hot water before putting the tea leaves in?

Some people claim that they can taste a difference depending on whether the milk was put in the cup before or after the tea. I'm not sure I can believe that - but some people...

The temperature of the water is another moot point. Some say it should be just off the boil, although I have not heard it specified whether just before the boil or a little after. others swear that the water should be just boiling as the bubbles in boiling water enhance the aroma (or the flavour) of the tea.

But whatever our different views on how to make a cup of tea, most English people are united in one thing: you can't get a nice cup of tea in any other country. oh, and the American iced tea just doesn't count as tea!

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Beware the Ides of March

No, the Ides of March is tomorrow, not today. Or should the verb be 'are' instead of 'is'? Is 'ides' plural or singular? Well, it really doesn't matter at all in the context of this blog post. Nor does it matter at all why March 15th should be called the ides.

Ever since Julius Geyser was killed on the day - and Shakespeare famously had a soothsayer warn him to beware the Ides of March - the day has assumed the same sort of doom potency as Friday 13th. And that is why Prime Minister Theresa May was warned against triggering Article 50 tomorrow. I confess that I had hoped she would do so today. The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill 2016-17 was passed yesterday by both Houses of Parliament and ix expected to receive Royal Assent - and thereby pass into law - this morning. But it has been announced that the PM is unlikely to trigger Article 50 before next week.

You might gather that I voted in the referendum last June to leave the European Union as I was - and remain - convinced that the United Kingdom will be better outside that body. I celebration of the passing of that Bill, I give you a video of part of the Last Night of the Proms, including a rather quirky setting of the National Anthem. I was taken aback the first time I heard this particular setting; I wasn't at all sure that I approved or liked it, but it has rather grown on me. See what you think.


Saturday, 11 March 2017

Kindling

I've nearly done it again, haven't I?  Tomorrow it will be a week since I last dipped my toe in the blogwater.  As mt good friend Skip commented, life has a habit of getting in the way.

I have, for as much of my life as I can remember, enjoyed reading.  Some people might look down their noses at my choice of reading matter as none of it is serious, factual staff. I say 'none' when I should, really, say 'very little' as I have been known to take in a bit of history at times.  But biography, for the most part (especially autobiography), leaves me cold.  I might glance at the occasional travel book, but my first love remains fiction.  Even when a pre-teenager, I was a regular visitor at the public library children's section.  Jennings and Biggles were great favourites, along with the Swallows and Amazons books.

Despite my love of books, I have never been one for buying a lot of them.  It was a little different when a standard paperback cost just a shilling, with a book containing more pages costing as much as one and sixpence!  That was a bit rich for my teenage pocket.  I still own remarkably few books, mainly titles that I am happy to read again.  And again.  And again.  There are people who have managed to buy books for decades - and still have every one on shelves that appear in every room in the house.  My attitude has been that borrowing the books I want from the library (at no cost - after all I am careful with my money!) saves me from buying books I think I might like but which I put aside after only a couple of chapters.

Much as I like the feel of a book in my hands - and the smell of a brand new book, although this doesn't comer with library books - there are downsides to my practice.  Nowadays libraries seem much better at weeding out the more battered volumes that I used to come across from time to time, but the books are frequently "well loved" with turned down corners and the (very) occasional comment pencilled in the margin.  But more to the point, there are books written in series.  Not just trilogies, but (for example) Susan Hill's Serailler books and others where the characters are developed little by little throughout the series, even though each book is whole and entire to itself. By starting with, for instance, the fourth book in the series, the reader misses all the nuances of the back story even though the vital parts are covered by the author.

That is a problem I have recently eradicated.  I bought a Kindle.  I do miss the feel of the book in my hands - occasionally - and I do have to pay for my books - for the most part, although many classics can be downloaded free - but the Kindle version is generally much cheaper than even a paperback.  And I don't have the storage problem either.  What it does mean is that I can read a series in the correct order.  I'm currently going through Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series and thoroughly enjoying doing so IN ORDER!

Yes, I'm a convert.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Sixth sense

The last carnival organised by Brighton Lions Club was 15 years ago but I still remember the reaction of some people when we were selling programmes from door to door.

"We always support Brighton Lions. You spend so much of your money locally." We still do. In fact, more than 90% of our charitable expenditure is for the benefit of people in Brighton & Hove.

"Brighton Lions are careful how you spend money."

It was that second comment that came back to me this week. A local group asked us for financial support (I don't propose to go into detail - you will see why in a moment) but for some reason my antennae started twitching. A sixth sense was warning me that we should be careful.

Another memory came back.

(That's one of the things about getting old; life gets interrupted by memories!)

It must have been 40+ years ago that my wife and I and our two young sons spent a few days with my brother, his wife and their son. My brother was then a policeman living on the edge of the New Forest. He and I drove into the forest to walk the dogs. As we set off, he commented on a car parked some two or three hundred yards away, just outside the car park. He felt there was something wrong. When we returned some time later, his hackles rose again so we walked across. It was only as we got much closer that we were able to see the hosepipe from the exhaust into a window. An example of the sixth sense that so many policemen develop.

Anyway, the more I dug into this application for money, the more questions needed to be answered. In my opinion, anyway.

I am probably being over-cautious. I hope so. But we do need to be mindful of our duty of care to those who have trusted us with their money.

Friday, 3 March 2017

In which I provide a recipe

We - by whom I mean the Old Bat and I - were planning on eating out on Wednesday evening. Indeed, I had already booked a table at our local Italian and had been salivating for a day or two as I considered what I would like to eat. They do a good selection of meat and fish dishes, including hot stone steak, as well as pizzas and pasta meals.

(Hot stone steak: steak served on a hot stone for the customer to cook as he/she likes it. The pic is NOT from our local Italian. This is what our local says: "The stone is made of some of the natures finest materials. We heat the stone in our oven to about 600 degrees Fahrenheit and this will allow you to cook your food exactly as you like and the last bite will be as hot and delicious as the first.  The high temperature of the steak stone method sears the steak faster and cooks in the natural juices and nutrients, enhancing the full flavour and tenderness of food. This unique dry cooking method uses no oil or added fat. It ensures a clean and completely natural flavour that is not achievable with other cooking methods.")

I had pretty much made up my mind not to eat my habitual dish - penne alla matriciana - but to try something different. However, I didn't have the option. The OB was unwell and I had to cancel! Luckily, she was feeling a lot better by Thursday, although still not well enough to eat out, and she cooked her interpretation of my version of the matriciana sauce.

My reputation as a culinary expert is decidedly naff. Indeed, for many years, the OB thought I was unable even to burn toast (although I could burn a boiled egg!) but I have proved her wrong on more than one occasion. It was when she took to her bed a couple of years ago that I really came into my own. Left to my own devices at fairly short notice, I decided to experiment with whatever i could find in the kitchen, and my matriciana (perhaps it should be called patriciana) was born. It really is a very simple recipe, quick to cook but extremely tasty. I simply took a handful of pasta (penne, rigatoni or fusili are best) and, while it was cooking, I fried a couple of chopped bulbs of garlic and half an onion, sliced, together with 100 grams of pancetta, and heated half a tin of chopped tomatoes. When cooked, mix it all together and serve with grated parmesan.

Simples.


Thursday, 2 March 2017

Market research

Somehow, earlier this week I managed to get myself involved in undertaking an MR survey online. it brought back a few memories because, a good many years ago, I signed up as a market researcher. it seemed a relatively harmless and even simple way of earning some extra money at a time when my self-employed status was actually costing me money instead of bringing it in.

Surveys were conducted, mainly, in one of two ways; either one stood on the street to ask passers-by to spare a few minutes or one knocked at doors to find interviewees. Apart from the fact that most people declined to waste their time, the main challenge was to find the right people to interview. One was always given a brief stating how many people were to be interviewed and the demographic make-up of the number, broken down into age groups, gender and socioeconomic bands. And once one had found a suitable candidate who was willing to answer the questions, people in certain occupations had to be excluded. it might have been a harmless way to earn money, but it certainly wasn't as simple as I had expected.

Then one had to ignore (as best one could) the apparent inanity of the questions. take an example from the survey i have just completed. I was asked to indicate which coffee brands represented value for money. Since I had never bought more than three-quarters of the brands and hadn't the vaguest notion of the different prices, I was quite unable to express a definite opinion - but there was no 'don't know' option and i couldn't go on the the next question until I had marked each brand! I am sure that most people will have been in the same situation over one or more of the questions - which, I suggest, makes a mockery of the results,

But that's market research!

A much more interesting way of conducting research was as a mystery shopper. I only managed to get two of these assignments. One was to make appointments to view retirement properties for a fictitious relative and report how my enquiries were handled. For the second assignment, I was employed to visit a number of pubs, at each of which I had to buy a pint of lager. the brewers had recently installed a device on the pumps which the bar staff were supposed to use once the pint had been poured, and I was to check that this was being done. Now that's a much better way of conducting research!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Weather forecasts

It is now some years since the Old Bat and I crossed the pond for a leaf-peeping trip in New England. While there, we must have suffered a joint momentary lapse in common sense or scepticism (that's the English spelling) or something. Anyway, we bought a weather stick.

These weather sticks were apparently invented by the Abenalki Indians of Maine.  the lumpy bit at the top in the picture is fastened to a vertical surface and the whippy stick points up if it is going to be dry or down if there is rain coming. They work in much the same way as a water diviner's stick or those man and woman weather houses Or so it is alleged.

I wonder if the professional weather forecasters of the BBC should use one of these - or a length of seaweed! - instead of the "sophisticated" computer programs on which they rely.

On Sunday evening I was relieved to see that although the forecast for Monday was rain for most of the day (and it did), Tuesday should turn out quite well. I was relieved because Brighton Lions had an outdoor activity planned for Tuesday afternoon.  yes, I know that planning an outdoor activity on 28th February sounds a little bonkers, but we were planting a tree and this is the best time of year to do it. The tree is in memory of one of our long-serving members and it was to be planted in a local park, the park where he had frequently watched his sons running and where the Lions had, for many, many years, held the annual carnival.

But on Monday evening the forecast had changed! There would be rain for most of Tuesday morning with a dry interlude just before lunch time, with heavy rain returning in the early afternoon. And our tree-planting was scheduled for two o'clock!

Yesterday morning I wondered why i could hear no rain as I drew back the curtains, only to see a brilliant blue sky, a brilliant blue sky that was completely cloud free! Some clouds did come across during the morning - but no rain. Thankfully, the forecast proved wrong and it stayed dry for us to plant the tree.


Mind you, just as set off to walk the dog a little later the heavens opened!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

A Luddite's Lament

A Luddite?  Me?  Just because my mobile phone was bought umpteen years ago and has long been a museum item, that doesn't make me a Luddite.  No way!  I remember the old days when washing went into the boiler in the steamy kitchen and had to be swished around with a wooden stick, then rinsed and wrung out by hand before being squeezed through the mangle and hung on the line - which had to be hoisted by means of a rope through a pulley. No, I'm a great fan of washing machines and tumble driers, so I'm no Luddite.

Today - just in case you've forgotten - is pancake day. Mardi Gras. It also happens to be the day of the week when I do a little light shopping at our local supermercado.  On the shopping list - it being pancake day - was a bottle of lemon juice. (There is a part-used bottle in the fridge, but the Old Bat likes to be sure.)  And guess what?  The one thing they had sold out of was bottles of lemon juice!  So much for computerised stock maintenance!

I really shouldn't have been surprised as I have had previous experience of this sort of thing.  It was back in late November or early December in 2015 that the Old Bat wanted some ground almonds, an essential ingredient when icing the Christmas cake.  There was none on the shelf, so I asked a shelf-stacker just down the aisle. "Oh," he said, "we seem to have had a run on that the last couple of days."

Then there was the time my Lions Club wanted to buy things for a local food bank.  I prepared a list of what we wanted and went to the customer service desk, partly in the hope of being offered a discount but mainly because I wanted to be sure that there was sufficient stock on collection day.  The duty manager was called and I was told they couldn't help me.  The local staff had no way of overriding the computer to ensure the stock would be delivered!

(Another store - a different company - gladly ordered what we wanted and left it packed on trolleys in the delivery area for us to collect.  And I got the loyalty points on a thousand pounds of goods!)

No, I'm not a Luddite - but i do wish that companies would make sure their computer programs actually do what is wanted!

Monday, 27 February 2017

Will power

Well, I've managed it.  Indeed, not only have I managed it, I have gone the extra mile!  And no, I am not talking of running a marathon - these days I don't even run for the bus!  What I have done is drag myself away from Blogger for a whole month!  And that is despite having numerous thoughts that I wanted to blog about.  Naturally, I can't recall any of them now that I'm sitting at the keyboard.

I've still kept myself pretty busy, although far too much time has been spent travelling to and waiting in hospitals.  I once read a piece of advice - probably in a novel somewhere - that one should not allow oneself to become ensnared in the hands of doctors.  And how right that advice seems to me.  Apart from my GP - whom I see only rarely - I have now no fewer than three - yes, three! - consultants at the hospital who seem reluctant to let me go.  And yet I think that there is nothing basically wrong with me.  I don't propose to bore anyone with all the details but I will just mention one of the consultants.

Dr Hurt (and can there be a less appropriate name for a doctor?) took over my case a couple of months back.  I had been seeing a different doctor who was monitoring my breathing following a short spell in hospital last April/May time. dr C (the original consultant) referred me to Dr H as she has a special interest in ABPA (allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis - look it up if you really want to know more!). At our first consultation, Dr H decided to refer me for respiratory therapy. So I got the call to see a therapist.  She gave me breathing exercises to do for 15 minutes once or twice a day. But that makes me cough!

At the second consultation, Dr H decided that laboratory tests would be a good idea, so now I have to make another trek to the hospital.

I shudder to think what the dear doctor will come up with when I next see her!

And honestly, I feel fine!

Monday, 23 January 2017

Winter warmers

A very hard frost this morning with fog down in the valley when I left to walk the dog. I hadn't noticed it happening, but by the time we left the park about half an hour later, the fog had blossomed(?) out of the valley and was quite thick around us. And still there were idiots on the road with no lights at all! The temperature was stuck at 2 degrees (Celsius).

I was very happy to see that the Old Bat was preparing tonight's dinner - steak and kidney pudding. A real winter warmer, and the subject of a little doggerel I remember from years gone by:
Steak and kidney, steak and kidney, steak and kidney pud;
That's the kind of lovely grub that really does you good!
It really is high up there among my favourite winter foods, along with such diverse foods as toast and Bovril, shepherd's pie (only it's really cottage pie 'cos it's made with beef instead of lamb) and toasted muffins (that would be English muffins).

I never did see a muffin man, probably because they had stopped trading before I was even born. But I did once see a gas-lighter - a man whose job it was to walk the streets at dusk lighting the gas lamps. I'm not entirely sure I remember the occasion, which was somewhere near the Temple in London, but my mother told me about it. I suspect it was when she took my brother and me to London to see Father Christmas in Gammidges or one (or more) of the other department stores. I think Selfridges didn't have FC, they had Uncle Holly instead - but he still gave all the children presents!

Another of those memories that might be or might well not be is of the searchlights criss-crossing the sky in the search for enemy aircraft.  But I rather suspect that's just folk-memory (or fake memory!)

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Inner peace

By following the simple advice I read in an article, I have finally found inner peace.

The article read: "The way to achieve inner peace is to finish off all the things you have
started".

So I looked round the house to see all the things I had started and hadn't finished.

And before leaving the house this morning I finished off a bottle of red wine, a bottle of
white wine, the Baileys, three Bacardi Breezers, the Jack Daniels, the Prozac, some
Valium, some cheesecake and a box of chocolates.

You have no idea how bloody good I feel.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Source unknown

The horse and mule live 30 years
and nothing know of wine or beers.
The goat and sheep, they also die
and never taste of scotch or rye.
The cow drinks water by the ton
and then at 18 years is done.
Without the aid of rum or gin
the dog at 15 cashes in.
The cat in milk and water soaks
and then in 12 short years it croaks.
The modest, sober, bone-dry hen
lays eggs for nogs, then dies at 10.
All animals are strictly dry:
they sinless live and swiftly die.
But sinful, ginful, rum-soaked men
survive for three score years and ten.
And some of us - a mighty few -
keep drinking till we’re 92!

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Grave stones and memorials

I have from time to time blogged about oddities I have stumbled across (across which I have stumbled, Skip?) such as the pirate's grave at Brockley (read about it here.) or another in Stanmer churchyard (you can find that one here). There is another memorial which I have never seen, even though it is only a mile or so from my front door. Not only have I never seen it, but I had never heard of its existence even until a few weeks ago.

Back in the 18th century, smuggling was almost a way of life for people in south-east England - even more so than in the days of the booze cruise! Brandy, tea, tobacco, silk - all made their surreptitious ways across the beaches. As Rudyard Kipling had it:
Five and twenty ponies,  
Trotting through the dark —   
Brandy for the Parson,  
Baccy for the Clerk;  
Laces for a lady, letters for a spy,  
And watch the wall, my darling,  
While the Gentlemen go by! 
One delightful story concerns the Vicar of Preston, then a small village just north of Brighton. The gentleman in question was also in charge of the parish of Hove, then an even smaller village to the west of Brighton. He would conduct Sunday services in either church on alternate weeks. One Sunday the Vicar turned up to do his duty, but found that the bell was not being rung and, on enquiring why, was told that he had got his preaching timetable wrong. The Vicar, certain that he was right, pressed the Sexton who eventually informed him that he could not carry out the service because the church was full of kegs of spirits and the pulpit was full of tea.

But back to the memorial in Patcham churchyard. The grave is that of Daniel Scales, who, we are told, "was unfortunately shot on Thursday evening, Nov. 7th, 1796." The inscription continues:
Alas! swift flew the fatal lead, 
Which pierced through the young man’s head. 
He instant fell, resigned his breath, 
And closed his languid eyes in death 
.All you who do this stone draw near, 
Oh! pray let fall the pitying tear. 
From this sad instance may we all 
Prepare to meet Jehovah’s call.

There must have been plenty of money in smuggling to cover the cost of that inscription!

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Now there's another worry

For some reason that completely eludes me, the Old Bat and I have started watching a couple of programmes that are, I am sure, not really aimed at low-brow types like wot we are. They are both aired on BBC2, which I always used to think of as the cultcher channel. I know it isn't really, but most of the programmes are the sort that attract the lower-size audiences. I think.

Anyway, these programmes. University Challenge and Mastermind, both of which lean towards the intellectual. Lean? Huh - they're decidedly intellectual.

Look, I'm not going to go to the bother of typing descriptions of those programmes for those to whom they are unfamiliar. Just use the links to find out a lot more.

Naturally, both the OB and I see how many questions we can answer. I do rather better on Mastermind than on the other show, which tends to be for real brainboxes. Now that University Challenge is into the semi-finals the questions have got even harder. So hard that for much of the time I don't even understand the question, let along have a hope of guessing the answer!

Over the Christmas and New Year period both shows featured 'celebrity' contestants. 'Celebrity' was, I thought, stretching things a little, but the questions were definitely easier. So much easier, that I even scored more than one of the celebs did on his specialist subject in Mastermind - a first and probably last for me!

Friday, 13 January 2017

Panic in Brighton

I see that somehow the better part of a week has slipped by since I last found the time to put any of my stupifying thoughts into cyberspace. There has not been anything especially noteworthy - at least, not that I can recall.

Except for yesterday. I did suffer a mild panic attack yesterday evening, a panic attack of which I am now mildly ashamed.

The weather forecasters, scared of doing a Michael Fish, were predicting dire conditions with heavy snowfalls in southeast England.

(Back in 1987, Michael Fish announced as he broadcast the weather that he had received a telephone call from a lady who said she had heard that there would be a hurricane. Mr Fish pooh-poohed this idea. That night we experienced hurricane-force winds during the Great Storm.)

I was due to attend a meeting, a meeting I would happily not attend. All the same, I got my papers together and the Old Bat had dinner ready early. The rain started, as forecast, heavy rain. The drain in our drive was unequal to the strain and we very soon had a growing puddle an inch deep, spreading wider and growing deeper. Then the snow started, about a quarter of an hour before I was due to leave.

The local authority asked people not to go out unless it was really necessary, and I know how quickly our road, a steep hill, becomes impassable. I rang and gave my apologies.

Half an hour later the snow had stopped and the roads were clear!


Saturday, 7 January 2017

Greetings! (again)

When I typed the title of yesterday's blogisode it had been in my mind to mention an eccentric (well, some think it so) habit one of my fellow Lions has, but then I got distracted.

No, that's not quite accurate. I didn't 'get' distracted - I distracted myself!  of course, anyone who knows me will agree that I am a world expert at distracting myself.  You see?  Here I go again!

So, greetings.  My friend David starts letters and email thus:
Dear (Jack or Jill or whoever),
Greetings! Please find enclosed blah blah blah.
It's perfectly harmless but does seem a little... well, peculiar at first, just until one comes to accept it.

Anyway, to get back to the salutation business I was warbling about yesterday.  I have trouble when writing emails.  The standard salutation seems to be, 'Hi Joe' and as my name isn't Joe but I can't bring myself to open communication that way, even though I realise that electronic mail is inherently informal. I usually adopt a brusque approach and open very simply with just the addressee's name, thus: 'Joe,'  (I don't forget the comma; punctuation is important even in informal correspondence.) If I'm feeling verbose I might start, 'Good morning, Joe,' (or whatever time of day it is as I write).

And then there is the closing to contend with. None of the old 'Yours faithfully' or 'Yours sincerely' in these far more casual days. 'Regards' seems to be the standard, falling away to 'Kind regards'.  Well, I reckon I can live with that, although in emails that I have started with just the addressee's name I frequently just sign off with my name.

Modern etiquette just defeats me.


Friday, 6 January 2017

Greetings

(I started writing this two days ago but got myself heavily side-tracked sourcing pass passes and special chairs. See Brighton Lions' Facebook page for more details on that.)

I have continued to muse on the evolution of language and how words fall into disuse, words such as prithee, gadzooks and goodwife - even maiden, except for use as an adjective with over, speech and voyage - but thinking rather of letter writing. That is, my musing was on letter writing rather than words that have fallen by the wayside.

Back in the day, when I started work as a lowly junior in a bank, letters - not envelopes - would contain only one of two salutations (other than strictly personal communications). They would start either, 'Dear Sir' or 'Dear Mr Jones'. If they former salutation was used, the writer would sign off, 'Yours faithfully'; if the latter, formality could slip to, 'Yours sincerely'. Addressing the envelope was a different kettle of fish. Never 'Mr Jones', always 'S Jones Esq', although 'Stuart Jones Esq' was considered acceptable. Addressing an envelope to a lady required the writer to know whether or not she was married since a married lady could be addressed as 'Mrs' whereas an unmarried lady was always 'Miss'. The ghastly 'Ms' - and even more abominable 'Mx' had not then been coined. A married lady's initial was also a slight cause for concern. In very formal communications she would be addressed as 'Mrs S(tuart) Jones, whereas 'Mrs B(ertha) Jones' would be quite correct in less formal situations. Correspondence for a husband and wife could be address to 'Mr and Mrs S Jones', but only if one was certain that they were husband and wife. Otherwise it would be 'S Jones Esq and Mrs B Jones' or something similar.

One of my jobs as a lowly junior was the preparation and despatch of statements to customers of our bank branch. this was all done in-branch, even the typing of the statements. I would have to see that all the paid cheques listed on the statement were there and in the correct order together with any other papers such as dividend warrants. That done, I addressed the envelope by hand - yes, in handwriting, not typing. It was in doing this that, one day, I made an embarrassing mistake. Not that i knew about it for several days until, one morning, I was summoned to the manager's office.

In those days, the bank manager was GOD. In fact, I didn't even meet my manager for three weeks after I started work. One day he passed me on the stairs as he was going to his Private Loo, whereupon he barked, "Who are you?"

With the manager were two people, a man and a lady, the lady in a state of distress.

"Is this your writing?" demanded the manager, handing me an envelope that had contained a statement.

I agreed that it was; I could hardly do otherwise since it most clearly was my handwriting.

"And can you explain," continued GOD, "why you addressed it like that?"

I looked more closely and saw that I had written, 'Mr S Jones and Mrs B Smith'. That would have been bad enough - this was nearly 60 years ago - but the postman had, whether by mistake or design, delivered the statement to the house next door. Mrs Jones, for it was she, was mortified.

Oh well, more tomorrow - or whenever.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

In a word

Language is in a constant state of flux, of evolution - a fact I have bewailed before now. We lose words as they drop our of use; many youngsters would be flummoxed by that very word! And words like 'thee' and 'thou' have fallen by the wayside. At the same time (or maybe not), some words change their meaning. Some people, especially youngsters, might be flummoxed by the phrase 'with gay abandon' now that 'gay' no longer means bright and cheery.

But not all is doom and gloom.  As we lose some words and others change their meaning, we also gain words. Words like 'sexting', which I gather means taking indelicate photographs of oneself and sending them by mobile phone to someone else.  I have never sexted (is that really the past participle?) partly because my mobile phone is archaic and is only any good for making and receiving calls, but also because I don't know anybody whom I dislike sufficiently to harass them with indelicate pictures of myself.

Another word that has been invented, or perhaps I should say coined, during the past few months is Brexit, spelt with a capital B. I know what that means.  Our prime minister has told us that Brexit means Brexit.  So now you know as well.

A new word that has got me confused (I nearly typed 'flummoxed') is 'post-truth'. To my simple mind, the addition of the prefix 'post' simply means 'after', as in 'post-war'. Another 'post' that gets me going is 'post-modernism'. Doesn't 'modern' mean 'up to date'?  How can anything be 'after up to date'?  And what comes after truth I simply cannot imagine. And I don't think I would want to even if I could.

So there you have it - in a word.

Monday, 2 January 2017

2016 and all that

(With apologies to Messrs Sellar and Yeatman.)

I am fully aware that as I get older, time passes ever more swiftly, but just how I have been unable to find even a smidgen of it for ten days or so to write the blog is a mystery that passes all understanding.

At this turn of the year so many people look back over the past twelve months that it becomes almost boring to pick up a newspaper or magazine. Many of those I have glanced at - well, some of them - have indicated that they are glad to see the back of 2016 and seem to be of the opinion that this year can only be better. I can't say that I entirely agree with that sentiment, although there have certainly been some low points in the year just gone for my family and friends. A good friend died in the summer, not surprisingly as he had been going downhill for quite a while. Another friend has been diagnosed with prostate cancer which has now spread to his spine - this to add to his heart problems. My brother has been told he has leukemia, and my younger son was told in the spring that the problems he has been experiencing for the past eight years are actually multiple sclerosis.

But hey! It's a bright, sunny day, albeit a tad chilly. I am waiting for a call to collect son and daughter-in-law from the airport, their plane having just landed. They spent the New Year in New York and somewhere in New Jersey with friends of d-in-l. I have been watching the progress of their flight on flightradar24 and even managed to wave at their plane as it flew over the Downs behind the house! I didn't see them waving back.

That's it for now so I will take the opportunity to wish everybody a happy, healthy and peaceful 2017.