Friday, 23 June 2017

Kindling

I have always been a keen reader and I well remember walking what must have been two or three miles to the public library when I was but 12 years old. I have never been one for buying masses of books; I would then have the problem of either storing them or giving them away, something I would be loth to do. There are some books that I am happy to read again and again, and they do have pride of place on my bookshelves.

But - a few months ago I decided to bring myself into the 21st century. I bought a Kindle!

I was really very dubious about using such a device. There is something special about opening a new book - the smell of it and the crisp feel of the pages. But I rarely managed to be the first to read any of the books I borrowed from the public library so there was little chance of me missing that special feeling.

I still do like reading a 'proper' book, but I have to confess I am very taken with ebooks. There are various advantages:

  • the Kindle fits in a jacket pocket so is easy to take with me;
  • I must have the better part of 50 books in my library, many of which I will read again;
  • the size of the font can be altered at a whim, so I can increase the size when my eyes are tired;
  • the pages are back-lit making reading easier in low light;
  • many 'classics' can be downloaded free of charge, and there are plenty of books priced at less than a pound!
On the other hand, there are disadvantages;
  • in my experience, there is a tendency for errors to creep in due to lack of editorial control over the electronic version of books;
  • one occasionally needs to recharge the battery before the Kindle warns of low battery life - and it is too easy to forget.
On balance, I consider myself hooked.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Not my work

I don't have the foggiest idea who took these two pictures showing what was at one time called the Palace Pier, then Brighton Pier and now Brighton Palace Pier!



Sunday, 18 June 2017

The Book of Jeremy Corbyn

From The New Yorker:

And it came to pass, in the land of Britain, that the High Priestess went unto the people and said, Behold, I bring ye tidings of great joy. For on the eighth day of the sixth month there shall be a general election.
And the people said, Not another one.
And they waxed wroth against the High Priestess and said, Didst thou not sware, even unto seven times, that thou wouldst not call a snap election?
And the High Priestess said, I know, I know. But Brexit is come upon us, and I must go into battle against the tribes of France, Germany, and sundry other holiday destinations. And I must put on the armor of a strong majority in the people’s house. Therefore go ye out and vote.
And there came from the temple pollsters, who said, Surely this woman will flourish. For her enemy is as grass; she cutteth him down. He is as straw in the wind, and he will blow away. And the trumpet of her triumph shall sound in all the land.
And the High Priestess said, Piece of cake.
And there came from the same country a prophet, whose name was Jeremy. His beard was as the pelt of beasts, and his raiments were not of the finest. And he cried aloud in the wilderness and said, Behold, I bring you hope.
And suddenly there was with him a host of young people. And he said unto them, Ye shall study and grow wise in all things, and I shall not ask ye for gold. And the sick shall be made well, and they also will heal freely. And he promised unto them all manner of goodly things.
And the young people said unto him, How shall these things be rendered, seeing that thou hast no money in thy purse?
And he spake unto them in a voice of sounding brass and said, Soak the rich. And again, Pull down the mighty from their seats.
And the young people went absolutely nuts.
And they hearkened unto the word of Jeremy, and believed. For they said unto themselves, Lo, he bringeth unto us the desire of our hearts. He cometh by bicycle, with a helmet upon his head. And he eateth neither flesh nor fowl, according to the Scriptures. For man cannot live by bread alone, but hummus is quite another matter.
And the High Priestess saw all these things and was sore. And she gathered unto her the chief scribes and the Pharisees and said unto them, What the hell is going on?
And they said unto her, It is a blip, as if it were a rough place upon the road.
But they said unto themselves, When the government was upon her shoulders, this woman was mighty. But now that she has gone abroad unto every corner of the land, she stumbleth. For surely it is written that ruling and campaigning are as oil and water, and there shall be no concord betwixt them.
And the chief scribes wrote upon tablets, saying, Jeremy is false of tongue. He hideth wickedness in his heart. And his sums do not add up.
And nobody paid any attention.
And the elders rose up and said to the young people, If ye choose Jeremy, he will bring distress in your toils and wailing upon your streets. Do ye not remember the nineteen-seventies?
And the young people said, The what?
And the elders spake again, and said to the young people, Beware, for he gave succor in days of yore to the I.R.A.
And the young people said, The what?
And the young people said, Jeremy shall bring peace unto all nations, for he hateth the engines of war that take wing across the heavens. And he showeth respect for all peoples, even unto the transgender community.
And the elders said, The what?
And it came to pass that the heathen of this land came among the people, with fire and sword, and slew many among the faithful. And great was the lamentation.
And the High Priestess waxed exceeding wroth and said to the people, Fear not. For I shall bind your wounds and give ye shelter from the heathen, and shall take up the sword against them.
And there came again pollsters from the temple, who said, Will the people not vote for her in this hour of need?
And nobody paid any attention.
And it came to the vote.
And the elders went up to vote, and the young people. And the young people were as a multitude. And in the hours of darkness there was much counting. And the young people watched by night, and the elders went to bed.
And there came in the morning news that the High Priestess had vanquished the prophet Jeremy. But the triumph of the High Priestess was as the width of a nail. And she was vexed.
And the elders and the chief scribes and the Pharisees spoke among themselves, yea, even in the corners of their houses.
And there was great rejoicing amidst the multitude of the young. And they took strong wine, and did feast among themselves. And there were twelve baskets left over.
And of the pollsters there was no sign.
And the people saw Jeremy and said, Surely this man has won? Doth he not skip in gladness like a young hart upon the hills?
And there was great murmuring among the elders. And they said unto themselves, Weep not. For the High Priestess doth but prepare the way. Cometh there not one who is greater than she?
And they said, Behold, for the hour of the redeemer is upon us. And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Prince of Peace. And they cried in one voice, Boris.
And the young people said, Oh, shit.
And the people gave tongue, and made supplication unto the Lord, saying, Lord, let our cry come unto thee.
And the Lord thought the whole thing was absolutely hilarious.
And then the people said, Lord, what shall we do regarding Brexit? For henceforth the High Priestess shall be as weak as a newborn lamb. How shall we hope for continued access to the single market?
And the Lord said, The what?

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Three weeks!

I'm not entirely sure how it is that three weeks have passed since I last cast a few pearls before the swine. But it is!

I have been fairly busy - apart from the week we spent in France ("wineracking", as Skip calls it). Then there have been various things going on, far and near, to distract me. We had an election. That took place only last week, but it seems much longer ago than that. It hasn't helped that the result was a hung Parliament.  Of course, while we were away there was another terrorist attack - on London Bridge and in the Borough Market. And only three days ago there was that terrible fire in Grenfell Tower in London. The media can't complain that there has been no news to report recently!

This morning I spent much of the time updating the Brighton Lions website, Facebook and Twitter pages (here, here and here) and have been working on the Club's accounts in preparation for the year end.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Negative thoughts

Picture credit: The Sun/PA Press Association
This, frankly, is not a picture one associates with the United Kingdom - except during 'the troubles' in Northern Ireland. but following the decision this week to raise the threat level in this country from 'severe' to 'critical' we now have armed police supported by troops on patrol at key sites such as government buildings, railway stations, shopping centres and the like. We even have armed police on trains!

I don't ask why; I know why. But I do have to ask, Is it necessary? What good will be served by having all these armed men in our towns and cities?

Those whose brains are wired wrongly or who have been brainwashed into acting as suicide bombers won't be stopped by a few soldiers or armed policemen. Picture a mainline railway terminus in the rush hour - especially those in London such as Waterloo or Victoria. Ten, twenty or even a hundred police or troops will never spot a determined bomber. The same goes for shopping malls.

Seeing those men around the town doesn't make me feel any more secure because I know that if a madman plans to commit an atrocity, he very likely will - unless he can be caught before he sets off to blow himself to what he hopes will be paradise.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Positive thoughts

I'm not ashamed to admit that I have shed tears at the thought on Monday evening's horror in Manchester. Our television screens and newspapers have been full of the results of that obscene act of evil and I do not propose to dwell on that side of things. It is - perhaps strangely - pleasing that all sections of the media have also highlighted positive matters.

How taxi drivers switched off their meters and offered free rides home.

How off-duty doctors, nurses, hospital porters all went back to work without having to be asked.

How so many people queued to donate blood that the blood transfusion people were unable to cop

How a Muslim man escorted his elderly Jewish neighbour to pay their respects.

How a man and woman who just happened to be passing collected 50 girls as they escaped, took them to a hotel and stayed with them until every one had been collected by parents.

How people took food and drink to hospital staff.

How a local cafe offered free food and drinks to emergency service staff.

I am sure there were many other examples that I just don't know about.

When so many people are not prepared to pass by on the other side when others are in need, there is hope for us all. Evil will be defeated.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The nun's prayer

It was only the other day that I posted about language - and I find myself doing so once again!

I acknowledge that I am in increasing danger of being a pedantic old bore on the subject and have to bite my tongue on more and more occasions when people say 'lay' when they mean 'lie'; 'less' when they mean 'fewer' and 'hopefully' when they mean 'I hope'.  It irritates me even more when I hear somebody (quite often my younger son!) ask in a café or restaurant, 'Can I get' instead of 'May I have'. I always want to say, 'No, you can't get it. The waiter will do it for you.' Another irritant is the response to the question, 'How are you?'  The reply should, of course, be 'Very well, thank you', not 'I'm good'.

These thoughts have been rattling around in my brain for a few days and it was a complete coincidence that a report was published yesterday telling how a so-called expert on the English language had pointed out that a lot of words we think are irritating Americanisms can be found in the works of Shakespeare. For example, he used 'gotten' quite a lot and spelt 'honour' as 'honor' more than he did with the 'u'.

But controlling my tetchiness reminded me of the (supposedly) 17th century nun's prayer. I'm sure many will remember these gist, but just in case, here it is:
LORD, Thou knowest better than I know myself that I am growing older and will someday be old. Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs. Make me thoughtful but not moody, helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all, but thou knowest, Lord, that I want a few friends in the end. Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point. Seal my lips on my aches and pains. They are increasing, and love of rehearsing them is growing sweeter as the days go by. I dare not ask for grace to enjoy the tales of others’ pains, but help me to endure them with patience. I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and less cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken. Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be saint — some of them are so hard to live with — but a sour person is one of the crowning works of the devil. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places and talents in unexpected people. And give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.
Wise words indeed, whether they date from the 17th century or not.

Monday, 15 May 2017

The common tongue

I stopped watching the annual Eurovision Song Contest many years ago. I seem to remember that it started in quite a small way with the (national) television broadcasters from a number of western European countries. Or maybe the eastern bloc countries were involved as well. It became a little tedious, with voting tending to become more and more political and the entries becoming , well, let's say just weaker and weaker. It seemed a little strange to me when countries outside Europe were allowed to enter: Israel, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Australia even!

With 42 counties entering this year's competition, there had to be two or three rounds (I don't know how they organised it!) before the grand final on Saturday. I understand that of the 42 entries, 35 were sung in English, and even the French entry broke into English from time to time.

Earlier this month, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission (who seems to think that because his initial are JC he has some sort of divine right) delivered a speech in French, claiming that, "Slowly but surely English is losing importance".

I am reminded of the theme tune to Dad's Army: "Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Hitler."


Sunday, 14 May 2017

I don't understand

There are many things I don't understand, and many of those things are matters that (probably) seem so very simple to cleverer people. Like why is it that electricity flows along a wire, into a light bulb, and then out along another wire - but we can't use that electricity again. And if we used the electricity to light up the bulb, how come it flows out again?

See what I mean? The answers are quite obvious to at least one of my regular readers. (I kid myself that I have some!)

What's bothering me as I type is my sleeping pattern.

Time was when I was a morning person. Up with the lark, and happy to be so. It bothered me not one whit getting up at 4.00am to set off on holiday before the rush. And for several years I was up at 5.00am to get to my desk in London just after 8.00.

I was told on more than one occasion (by different people) that they found they needed less sleep as they got older. Not unnaturally, I assumed that would apply to me as well. I also assumed that my habit of rising at 5.00 would continue after I retired. Only this week, I was told by a friend that he had been so accustomed to rising at 6.30 when he was working, that the habit was still with him.

So this is what I don't understand. As I get older, I find that I need more sleep, not less. And whereas I was wont to be early to bed, early to rise, I am becoming transmogrified into a night owl! I happily sit reading until 11.30 when I force myself to go to bed. And then I struggle to get up as early as 7.30 - because I'm sure the dog will need to go down the garden!

As the King of Siam said to Anna, is a puzzlement.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

OK - the pigeons

This is going to be about as scintillating as my conversation with the D of E with which I regaled you yesterday.

The sound of wood pigeons cooing first thing on a sunny morning always takes me back more than 60 years to my first summer camp with the Scouts. Twenty-plus Scouts with our one solitary Scoutmaster entrained at Gillingham (the one in Kent) whence we travelled to Charing Cross (a mainline terminus in London). Lugging our personal baggage - all the camping gear had already been sent on as one could in those days - we crossed London by the Underground (it wasn't called the tune then as far as I remember) to Paddington. There we caught a train to Bath.

That journey seemed to me as though we were heading into a foreign country. I was accustomed to building constructed of red brick, but here the railway stations were made of stone. All the stations in Kent and the signs on them were painted green; here they were maroon. At Bath we changed trains again to travel on to Freshford and from there we walked to the farm where we were to camp.

If the buildings seemed foreign, at least the language spoken by the locals was English. Well, a kind of English. This was the first time that I - or, as far as I am aware, any of the other Scouts - had come into contact with the Somerset accent.

"Be Ee goin' to zee Gillingham (with a hard G in place of our soft G) play this zeazon?" I was asked by one.

It was all quite an eye-opener for this young Man of Kent.

I would wake up in the morning, wrapped in my two blankets (no sleeping bags in those days) pinned together with what looked like large nappy pins, just like the ones Scotsmen use on their kilts, to a sort of greenish light as the sun shone through the canvas. And every morning, the wood pigeons would be calling from the trees at the side of the field.

I heard a couple of wood pigeons the other day. They weren't calling; indeed, they weren't in the trees. They were on the flat roof of our kitchen extension. And, boy, were they enjoying themselves! They were boffing like mad - and making a heck of a lot of noise as they thrashed around.  Fortunately, Fern (the spaniel) was not feeling her best. She takes a great dislike to birds on the kitchen roof and they would have felt the rough edge of her tongue had she been 100%.

The next day I was in the bedroom when I heard a tremendous bother going on outside. yes, you've guessed it. It was those wood pigeons on the kitchen roof again! I opened the window to suggest they might like to be a little more discreet. Since then they have taken to using our neighbour's fir tree, which thrashes around as though the wind were blowing a gale when there's absolutely still air!

Perhaps this will be a good year for pigeon pie?

Friday, 5 May 2017

Pigeons can wait

I was planning on commenting about the wood-pigeons, but that will have to wait. The Duke of Edinburgh takes priority.

To look at the newspaper coverage this morning, you might think he had died. Honestly, seven pages - and those the first seven pages - of my daily fish wrap were devoted to his retirement, announced yesterday. And he deserves it. Retirement, that is. After all, he is 95 - 96 next month.

I think he's a great guy. Some people say they don't like him, he upsets some people occasionally with slightly off-the-mark (non PC) comments, but I think he's a real life WYSIWYG. It was a good few years ago that, for some reason long forgotten, I drew up a list of the 6 or 7 people I would like to get together for dinner. Philip was top of my list.

The one and only time I was featured in the society gossip column of a national Sunday paper was because of him. I spent the last diddely-dum years of my career in the newspaper industry and somehow found my way onto the board of the employers' body. It was because of this that I received an invitation to a reception at Windsor Castle. I was standing near the door of one room, chatting to three or four others I knew, when the Duke entered and tripped over the carpet. A couple of days later, I received a phone call from said Sunday paper.

"Where you at the reception at Windsor on Tuesday?"

I confirmed that I had been.

"Did the Duke of Edinburgh speak to you?"

Again, I replied in the affirmative.

"What did he say?"

I told the questioner, thinking that this would be of no interest whatsoever to anybody. It was very much to my surprise to see my name in print the following Sunday, with the conversation quote.

"Do you know how old this carpet is?" asked the Duke.

"No, sir."

"It was made a hundred and fifty years ago in an Indian prison."

Now, tell me: is there really anything remotely interesting to the average newspaper reader in that innocuous conversation?

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

May Day gone

A rather dreary bank holiday weatherwise. But this afternoon I was delighted to smell the cow parsley for the first time this year. A distinctive smell, and perhaps not to everyone's taste, but I like it.

Cow parsley against a setting sun
It's also good to see the apple blossom - including the crab apple which I shall be harvesting later!


Sunday, 30 April 2017

Update 2

I would usually be a far from happy bunny to hear the phone ring at a quarter past eight on a Sunday morning. Today, however, was different, although I was a little apprehensive as I picked up the receiver.

It was slightly lucky that I was even up to answer the phone. With Fern being in "hospital", I had considered taking the opportunity to have a lie-in, especially as for some reason I felt particularly groggy this morning. But good sense prevailed. I guessed that the vet would be making his round of the patients at about eight o'clock and Fern had been the only dog expected overnight so the phone call would be fairly early.

It was good news. Fern was apparently bright and eating well. I could collect her when I was ready.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Update

The vet diagnosed either vestibular syndrome or a stroke. She gave Fern two injections, an anti-inflammatory drug and an anti-nausea drug - and wanted to see her again this morning. Although the same vet did see Fern briefly, the consultation was with another, who agreed with the diagnosis and recommended support care over the weekend. So Fern is now in hospital (at another vet surgery) on an IV drip. They will possibly repeat the anti-nausea injection and try to tempt her to eat something; a little chicken, maybe.

All the makings of an expensive weekend.

Meanwhile, I have finished the redesign of the Friends of Withdean Park website, here.

Friday, 28 April 2017

The best of intentions

The best of intentions, just like the best laid schemes of mice and men, gang aft agley. And they have certainly ganged agley this week! I was going to explain how I spent Sunday - half the morning and pretty much all the afternoon - reconnecting the cables in a double power socket. I had started full of confidence that the job would take 20 minutes or so.

That was Sunday gone.

The next day, Monday, I was pretty well screwed up as a result of Sunday's efforts.

Tuesday saw me determined to put to bed the May issue of the newsletter I produce for Brighton Lions Club. I had been dithering over it for days and I knew I really had to get it finished. (If you are not on the distribution list or seem to have dropped off it, you can read a copy here.)

I had more fun and games on Wednesday. For some peculiar reason, the folks at Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs decided that Brighton Lions Club Charity Trust Fund should complete an income tax return for the 2016-17 tax year. But the letter asking for the return was sent to the previous treasurer instead of to me. This letter indicated that the return should (ideally) be submitted online through the HMRC website. But although I had all the access details for the website - user name, password etc - I wasn't allowed access to the part where tax returns are submitted. I eventually acquired the necessary authority, only to find that I would have to buy special commercial software to complete the tax return! "Bugger that!" i thought, and downloaded a hard copy. It was no great hassle to fill in, but when I came to address an envelope I realised that the address to send it to wasn't actually quoted anywhere, although there was a post code (that's a zip code in the States). But the Royal Mail told me that that post code doesn't exist! I sent the return there anyway.

Yesterday I decided that the website I run for the local Friends of Withdean Park needed a rethink, especially so that there is a mobile-friendly design. So I wasted spent much of the day fiddling. I will get there!

This morning, I took the Old Bat to the MS Treatment Centre for her weekly overdose of oxygen and on the way home I was following a bus when I had a brainwave. Bus tickets can be bought online and displayed on a mobile phone. Surely Brighton Lions should be able to do that with tickets for our fireworks display? It would reduce work and cost in sending tickets out by post - so now I have something else to get my teeth into.

Oh, and the dog is unwell. She became unwell 48 hours ago, quite suddenly, it seemed. On our way back from the park she was walking extremely slowly, and staggering every now and then. She wanted no supper (she must have been feeling terrible!) but seem gradually to improve. Yesterday, she had breakfast and seemed better still. But this morning she has been staggering badly once again so I have an emergency appointment with the vet late this afternoon.

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.